The US Virgin Islands are a two-hour flight southeast of Miami, and offer a Caribbean experience that's still part of the US. There are three distinctive US Virgin Islands: sleepy St. Croix, bustling St. Thomas (visited by many cruise ships), and St. John which is largely a National Park.
What's Special about US Virgin Island vacations for families?
The US Virgin Islands offer white-sand beaches, super snorkeling, a major National Park, colonial towns and forts, duty-free shops, and some novel ways to explore the underseas.
Several upscale resorts welcome families, but the USVI offers budget options also: such as "upscale camping" in tent-cottages at Maho Bay on St. John.
Also on St. John: families can explore the Virgin Islands National Park on land and sea, and take advantage of inexpensive Park Ranger programs for their outings. An especially popular section of the National Park is Trunk Bay (photo above), a beautiful bay with an underwater snorkeling trail; admission is only $4/ person.
Generally, it's easy to get around and explore outside your resort. On St. John, for example, you can rent a jeep, and the traffic's light. (St. Thomas is busier-- with left-hand drive!) Meanwhile, rates for colorful open-air "safari" taxis are controlled. Either way, you can sample activities, beaches, self-driving tours, local restaurants, etc.
Finally, for many families, a plus about a US Virgin Island vacation is the lack of a language barrier, and the familiarity of still being in the US.
St. John is a unique Virgin Island in that two-thirds (or three-quarters, depending who you talk to) of it is a National Park: visitors can enjoy terrific opportunities to explore the outdoors. It's easy to rent a jeep and explore the island on your own; alternatively, many tours are also available, on both land and sea.
Fun activities on St. John, US Virgin Islands Families will find it easy to enjoy St.
John, and outings can even be done econonomically.
Virgin Islands National Park
This wonderful National Park was established in the fifties by Laurance Rockefeller, who owned extensive property on St. John. Head to the Visitors Center in Cruz Bay and check out hikes with park rangers, and other Park activities such as nature and history talks and snorkel trips. This Park includes marine areas such as beautiful Trunk Bay.
One of the most-photographed beaches on St. John is Trunk Bay, part of the National Park, and a perfect example of the Virgin Islands' white sand and azure seas. Admission is $4/person (or $15 for an annual family pass).
You can rent snorkeling gear on the spot; put on the flippers and head for the snorkel trail, where underwater signs tell about the lovely fish and coral. Kids as young as six can snorkel. Kids will also enjoy seeing the weasel-like mongooses (mongeese?) in the picnic table area.
Trunk Bay also offers an opportunity to try snuba, a method of snorkeling with an air hose, suitable for kids as young as eight.
Snorkel boat outing
A fine outing on St. John is a boat trip to one or more snorkeling spots. Climb aboard the Sadie Sea for a tour with three snorkel stops. As a bonus, guide/owner Sandy West tells great island tales.
Though the snorkeling may not match Buck Island (on St. Croix), you'll see lovely coral and fish and the variety of visiting three different spots is fun, as is the boat outing itself.
See pictures of these and other outings on St. John.
Getting around St. John:
On St. John, taxis are are called "safari buses" and are typically multi-seat, colorful, and al fresco. (See photo.) Taxi prices are controlled in the Virgin Islands, and reasonable. Many visitors prefer to rent a jeep and explore the island on their own: the island's safe to explore solo, and the traffic's light.
Lodgings on St. John, US Virgin Islands:
- The Westin St. John
Though not an all-inclusive nor specifically a family resort, the Westin is popular with families. Kids enjoy the beach, water trampoline, and daily iguana feedings. Kids programs are offered for ages 3 to 12. Most guests at the Westin explore the island either through tours (land or sea), or on their own in rented jeeps. Both tours and jeep rentals can be easily arranged at the resort.
- Caneel Bay
this luxury resort was established by Laurance Rockefeller. (Reportedly, when he established the USVI National Park, he also negotiated the right to have the only resort on the island for thirty years-- Caneel Bay resort.) Caneel Bay has a Children's Center with programs for ages 3 to 12.
- Maho Bay - deluxe camping resort
Budget-minded visitors can stay on a beautiful beach on the doorstep of the US Virgin Island National Park: your abode is an "upscale tent", a tent-cottage on a platform, complete with many amenities and comforts including bedding. Studios are also available.
St. Thomas is the most populated and busiest of the three US Virgin Islands. Don't plan to rent your own vehicle here unless you're comfortable driving on the left-hand side!
Fun Activities on St. Thomas US Virgin Island
Ativities that families will enjoy include:
- a visit to Coral World marine park
- Sea Trekking: Down to the briny deep-- and you don't even get your hair wet, when sea-trekking at Coral World. Don an astronaut-type helmet, and walk an undersea trail. For ages 12 and up.
- a visit to Coki Beach, right by Coral World, and a popular spot for sunning and snorkeling
On land, you can explore the colonial town of Charlotte Amalie, ("Amal-yuh"). Its fine old European-style buildings are now duty-free shops that sell perfumes and other stuff your kids find boring; promise them a treat at Hard Rock Cafe, and enjoy a walking tour. ( Pick up a free tourist brochure.)
Overlooking Charlotte Amalie is a Fort named for a Danish King, built in 1672 to protect the town against pirates and European rivals. Kids will enjoy climbing around the Fort, a National Landmark, where they can also pick up some history: The Fort holds the Virgin Islands Museum, and in its old rooms and cells are displays on the islands' natives and the slave trade and revolts. Admission is by donation (-- check web site for updates.)
Keep in mind that you can easily explore the US Virgin Islands National Park on St. John, during a trip to St.
Thomas: the ferry ride is only 45 minutes; the ferry is inexpensive and takes cares.
Lodgings on St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands:
Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort, on St. Thomas, is a large international-style property with an impressive location, and a kids' activity program. Perched on a high cliff above the sea, the resort has a sports pool on an upper level that's popular with kids.
Guests can also head down to sea level and walk past tennis courts to a lovely pool/beach area. Also fun at Frenchman's Reef: take an inexpensive boat shuttle to the historic town of Charlotte Amalie.
Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort and Spa is one of the few all-inclusives in the US Virgin Islands. Rates include meals, snacks, activities, recreation, entertainment and non-motorized watersports (-windsurfing, kayaking, snorkeling, complimentary introduction to scuba.) The resort claims to have "the best hotel snorkeling bay in the Virgin Islands."
Bolongo Bay has 65 beachfront rooms (many with fridges and kitchenettes) and semi-inclusive and all-inclusive rates; condominiums, too. Many sports and watersports are part of the inclusive plans; a diving club is on-site.
St. Croix is the largest of the US Virgin Islands, with 82 sq. miles. St. Croix was a happening spot in the 80's, until Hurricane Huge brought disaster. Today it's a quiet place, with two main towns: Christiansted and Frederiksted. Christiansted dates back to 1734 and is a National Historic Site.
Fun Activities on St. Croix US Virgin Island
Outings that families will enjoy on St. Croix include:
Snorkel at Buck Island National Monument
Buck Island is a terrific place to snorkel or scuba.
On an underwater trail you'll see grottoes, thousands of fish, huge elkhorn coral, and maybe even a sea turtle. The snorkel area is rocky, with no beach; but if you take a day-trip with Big Beard Adventure Tours, you'll make a stop at a lovely beach and get a snorkeling lesson before you reach Buck Island.
As the sun gets low, your kayaks await: Caribbean Adventure Tours took us to Salt River National Park, and a big moonlit bay where Columbus first landed in the New World. (He thought it was Asia, and hostilities followed immediately-- but that's history.) In daytime, you can rent double kayaks and explore on your own.
Stroll the streets of centuries ago, when Christiansted was the capital of the Danish West Indies. (Yes, Danish.) Most impressive are the beautifully resorted ochre buildings at the water's edge. Kids will want to head first to the old Fort Christiansvaern.
Read posted tourist info for history about this port that once traded in sugar and, so tragically, human lives.
Lodgings on St. Croix. US Virgin Islands:
Voted "One of Top 18 Resorts In The Caribbean" by Travel & Leisure Magazine; founded in the 17th century, and family-run for 55 years; this is a unique, classy, property, and it also welcomes kids.
Check the website for Family Packages for two adults and up to three kids.
Chenay Bay Beach Resort: nice beach, cute cottages, close to historic Christianstad-- this could be your place to watch the sunset, if you want a quiet spot with beach activities. Read more and see photos at TWKids.