Island Time

Off The Clock: Getting Away To St. Thomas, St. John

If those boardroom meetings and sales calls have grown a bit tiresome, the U.S. Virgin Islands can be an easy getaway from the daily grind. No passport is required, no currency exchanges, and several airlines fly into the capital city of Charlotte Amalie. Purchased by the U.S. from Denmark in 1917 for $25 million, the U.S. Virgin Islands are made up of the islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix (to the south of the other two). Located just to the east of Puerto Rico, the neighboring islands of St. Thomas and St. John offer those picturesque beaches seen in postcards – one seemingly pristine beach after another.

St. Thomas Nestled among lush, green mountains, St. Thomas is home to a population of only 52,000 and is only 31 square miles. It offers great shopping, fine dining, and some unique history and Danish architecture. While taxis are available, renting a car offers the chance to a bit more exploration. There is one catch to driving, however. In the USVI, drivers travel on the opposite side of the road as driving here on the continental U.S. The good news – speeds tend to be slow (around a maximum of 30 mph) and because of the island’s size, every locale is within a 30-minute drive. But that change in traffic flow does take a bit of getting used to and can make for some interesting driving through a roundabout or particularly interesting intersection.

My first night on the island, we dined at The Tavern on the Waterfront in the capital city of Charlotte Amalie. The almond encrusted grouper and crab cakes were wonderful, as was the jazz band that created a laid-back ambience as diners looked out on the Caribbean harbor. Other nice dining options abound on the island, including uniquely Caribbean fare. After working up an appetite on Coki Beach, a local beach bar served a tasty burger complete with a side of delectable fried plantains.

Along with Coki Beach, we visited the beach at Magens Bay just in time for the annual King of the Wings festival – with every restaurant on the island battling it out in hopes that its eatery would take the title. Beach-going locals and tourists mingled while tasting. Caribbean jerk proved to be a popular variant. As far as the beach itself, Magens fits the bill with those clear waters and white sands. Numerous other beaches abound on St. Thomas, all within a short drive.

As for accommodations, the island offers plenty of options – from bed and breakfasts to beachside resorts. We stayed on the island’s east end near Red Hook, which offers a cool scene with numerous eateries, bars, and world-class fishing and water sport opportunities. Those on the island for a longer stay often rent a house or condo. One warning, prices can be a bit on the high side compared to other destinations. Most food is imported to the island, so be ready for a bit of a steeper dinner check. But after one look at those beaches, you quickly realize it’s all worth it. Grab a nice book, a beach towel, and get ready to relax.

St. John Grab a ferry in Red Hook, and head over to St. Thomas’s even more laid-back neighbor. At only 21 square miles, St. John hosts only about 4,200 residents, and 60 percent of the island is protected as a national park – including the numerous palm tree-lined, bluewater beaches for soaking up the sun.

Cruz Bay is the largest city on this island and offers numerous restaurants, galleries, shops, and other establishments to pass some time. The city is a launching point for exploring the rest of the island. Beaches like Hawksnest and Maho are perfect for those doing some snorkeling – and sea turtles can be a frequent sight. Maho also makes for a perfect beach if you bring the kids because of the tranquil and shallow, clear waters. Be sure to pull over at the lookout points along the drive through the mountains for some truly breathtaking views.

St. John offers numerous accommodations, including hotels and homes for rent, and makes for a great day trip or even an extended stay. A jeep can make for a nice rental to explore the island. And in this case, exploring can also mean hiking through the national forest for some truly green vegetation and magnificent natural sights.

PERFECT TIMING The U.S. Virgin Islands can be visited year-round because of the constant warm sunny weather, but the best bargains on hotels and attractions are during the summer months. The average winter temperature is 77 degrees, and the average summer temperature is 82 degrees.