The U.S. Virgin Islands are “America’s Caribbean Paradise” — the place to see moko jumbies dance at a Carnival parade, hear the lilting patois of a Creole dialect or smell the spices in a saltfish pate (all without losing cell phone reception). You can visit either St. Thomas, St. John or St. Croix, or better yet, spend a little time on all three islands. That way you’ll get plenty of pampering, undisturbed nature and colonial history jammed into one vacation. And bonus: you can pay for everything with U.S. dollars.
Each island offers something different. Called “Rock City” for its hilly, craggy horizon, St. Thomas is known for luxury — from the mega-yachts moored in the harbor to the high-end storefronts along Main Street. Located a short ferry-ride east, St. John appeals to honeymooners and nature lovers, with more than 7,000 acres of dedicated parkland plus surrounding pristine beaches. Way down south in the Caribbean Sea, less-visited St. Croix has sugar cane plantations and rum distilleries that offer a glimpse into both the past and the present of the Virgin Islands.
Customs and Culture
Similar to the residents of other Caribbean islands, Virgin Islanders dress casually but conservatively. Wearing a bathing suit — or even sandals — anywhere besides the beach marks you as a tourist.
Since these islands are territories of the United States, their currency is the U.S. dollar. Overall, tipping etiquette is the same in the Virgin Islands as in other parts of the United States; 15 to 20 percent is considered the standard, but more is appreciated for exceptional service.
What To Eat?
The U.S. Virgin Islands offer an assortment of restaurant options that range from white tablecloth establishments to affordable diners and fast food joints. For a good meal, try Frenchtown or Red Hook restaurants in St. Thomas, or the eateries by Cruz Bay on St. John. There are also a handful of good options on St. Croix’s West End.
Most restaurants in those areas will give you the coddling tourist experience, but you might also find the opportunity to try something more authentic. Look for menu options like pate (ground beef, chicken or salted cod wrapped and deep-fried in dough), johnnycake (deep-fried dough), fungi (corn meal) or peas and rice (kidney beans or lentils with brown rice) to eat like a Virgin Islander.
St. Thomas is a major commercial hub and a very busy cruise port, and therefore susceptible to tourist-targeted crime. In the past, there has been concern for tourists safety, partially due to gang violence in the downtown Charlotte Amalie area. Keep your guard up when traveling around town, particularly in the evenings. Take a taxi if possible, and if you have a rental car, keep it locked. Theft is less frequent but still possible in Christiansted or Frederiksted, St. Croix, as well as the Cruz Bay area of St. John.
You should also safeguard your skin. The heat in the Caribbean can certainly be luxurious, but also scorching. Always remember to apply sunscreen before venturing out. Use insect repellent in the evenings when the islands’ “no-see-ums” (tiny gnats) like to bite.