The most built-up of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas used to be known mainly for its nonstop shopping in Charlotte Amalie, where thousands of cruise ship passengers descend daily. This port city really is a shopper’s heaven, with stores representing every imaginable luxury product except automobiles, which are rather hard to bring back onto a cruise ship. But Gucci, Bulgari, Nikon, Donna Karan, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Manolo Blahnik—you can find them all here in modern, air-conditioned stores, although, since this is the Caribbean, it also pays to shop Havensight Mall for locally made crafts made of wood, textiles, beads, and other materials.
To leave the crowds behind, book The Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas, which looks somewhat like an Italian Renaissance palace, but with a first-rate spa and health club, a variety of cuisines in its four restaurants, tennis courts, a Ritz-Carlton Kids Club, plenty of electronic bells and whistles, and, instead of Renaissance-era caravels, Hobie-Cats. Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort also offers the full menu of amenities, activities and dining you’d expect from a large (450-room), full-service resort.
St. Thomas is not the epicenter of all-inclusives, but meal plans are available at Sugar Bay Beach Resort & Spa, a 300-room getaway that somewhat resembles a pink fortress and, like the Ritz-Carlton and Frenchman’s Reef, boasts a long list of things to do. Another resort where guests can either go a la carte or buy a meal plan, is Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, a mid-size, mid-priced hotel where people with families often trade up for a suite with kitchen facilities. Incidentally, Bolongo is an endangered species: it’s a Caribbean resort that doesn’t tout cutting-edge spa facilities.
St. Thomas is the gateway for people who are staying at, say, Harmony or Caneel Bay on bucolic St. John, reached by a short boat ride, and every hotel on St. Thomas arranges day-trips there. No one should pass up this opportunity. With some 65 percent of its land mass plus an expanse of its surrounding waters under government protection, St. John is a wonderful place to go hiking and snorkeling before you return to civilization.
BEST TIME TO GO: November through July
FUN FACT: The synagogue in St. Thomas, built in 1833 and still in use, has a sand floor
GETTING THERE: Delta flies from Atlanta and New York (JFK) to St. Thomas
ENTRY DOCUMENTS: Government ID for U.S. visitors; valid passport for Canadians
CURRENCY: U.S. dollar
MUST-TRY LOCAL FOOD: Goat stew at Cuzzin’s Caribbean Restaurant and Bar; tastes like spiced lamb, only much, much better
BEST BUYS: The duty-free exemption for U.S. citizens is $1,600
INFORMATION PLEASE: United States Virgin Islands—visitusvi.com