It’s just about time for winter thaw! Whether you’re over the sub zero temps, want a bae-cation or it’s spring break time with the kids, it’s about that time to head south to tropical locales. The Caribbean offers some choice spots, most easy to get to, and some surprises…as I recently found out.
The U.S. Virgin Islands, comprised of St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John, are beautiful islands and easily accessible from the States. Most airlines offer nonstop flights into St. Thomas and all of the Virgin Islands are reachable by ferry. The U.S.V.I. are distinctly U.S. with a Caribbean flare, and U.S. citizens don’t need a passport:
St. Thomas– With its white sand beaches, proximity to the U.S. and an abundance of ferries to launch you to your next vacation spot in the chain of Virgin Islands (both U.S. and British), St. Thomas is the perfect base to get your vacation groove going. St. Thomas is a shopper’s paradise– it has no sales tax and offers the highest duty free allowance of all the Caribbean ($1600 vs. the normal $800 tax free exception). Expect to save 30-60% off U.S. prices on watches, jewelry, electronics, perfume, liquor and clothing. Roughly 300 shops line the streets and alleyways of the Virgin Island’s largest town, Charlotte Amalie (Main Street, Back Street and Waterfront) and dozens more are found in Havensight (near the cruise ship ferry terminal), so if you’re serious about shopping, bring an extra suitcase!
Where To Go: Visit one of St. Thomas’ 40 beaches. There is enough variety in the topography of the beaches to suit the most discerning beach goer. If lounging is your thing, head over to Morningstar Beach where you can rent a chair and enjoy some beach cocktails from some of the beachfront bars. Want to snorkel? Secret Harbor is your spot. It pays to know that all beaches in St. Thomas are public, so you don’t have to blow your entire vacation budget on a beachfront resort. However each beachfront hotel does have its own private beach reserved solely for hotel guests.
Where To Eat: The Twisted Cork Café is located in close proximity to the airport in historic Frenchtown, yet it has a distinctively local flare. The owner/bartender, Eric is amiable and knows his drinks. Go in for a late lunch and stay for their daily happy hour. This is Caribbean comfort food at its best.
Where To Stay: Marriott Frenchman’s Reef is the perfect respite. After a multi-million dollar renovation, the hotel features an adults only infinity pool, with a swim up bar and its own private beach on Morningstar Bay.
After you warm up in the the U.S. Virgin Islands, the beautiful journey continues to the British Virgin Islands. The British Virgin Islands, are well, distinctly more British, require a passport, but are equally appealing. The islands are an easy trip from St. Thomas; all of the islands are easily accessible from the U.S Virgin Islands and the other British Virgin Islands by ferry or in some instances, a charter plane.
Where To Go: Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands, is a 60 minute ferry ride from St. Thomas, across the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. Tortola meets the checklist for a prefect island vacation: good weather, abundance of water sports, food, wine, music festivals and plenty of nightlife to keep you entertained. The beaches all around the island are great, but I’ve found that Tortola’s Northern coast has the best beaches, with creamy sandy beaches and calm blue waters. My favorite beaches are Cane Garden Bay Beach and Long Beach Bay.
What To Eat: While lounging on Cane Garden Bay beach, visit Quito’s, a lively beach front bar with a covered patio. Quito has live music and Claudine, their chef, makes some of the best fish I’ve had, hands down! Go for “Claudine’s Lemon Butter Tilapia,” johnny cakes, rice and peas. My favorite libation- Cruzan Confusion, a blend of Cruzan flavored rums (any and all flavors will do), mixed with a splash of pineapple and cranberry juices. Foodies, make sure to stop in at Trellis Kitchen for a meal while waiting for the ferry to take you to Scrub Island Resort. My favorite was the vegetarian version The Full Monty breakfast, which is served all day. If it’s a full moon, you don’t have to drive over to Tortola’s North Shore. Trellis Kitchen hosts the Trellis Bay Full Moon party, complete with fire sculptures. Bonus, Trellis Kitchen also has a host of water sports at your disposal.
Where To Stay: Scrub Island Resort is a lovely resort encompassing the entire small island. Scrub Island has a private ferry for guests leaving from Tortola’s Trellis Bay that runs every 30 minutes or often, at your leisure. The rooms are beautifully appointed in warm earth tone hues, or opt for a villa, hop in your private Jacuzzi, and sip wine while overlooking the ocean.
What To Do: Visit The Baths. The Baths are a national park comprised of gigantic boulders scattered on the beach which form small pools and grottos perfect for exploring or snorkeling. Make sure you have water shoes (not flip flops) for hiking over the rocks and wading in the shallow water. I also suggest throwing a waterproof tote into your beach bag (at all times on vacation). This trick allowed me to hike into The Baths to Devil’s Bay with my D-SLR camera, iPhone, sunscreen and my hat. Devil’s Bay is the perfect spot to snorkel and go coral gazing (just remember, it is generally forbidden to remove the coral from any beach.)
Don’t Miss: If you’re fortunate enough to be in Tortola during a full moon, you can’t miss the opportunity to hit one of the beachfront bars for one of Tortola’s full moon parties. Bomba Shack, a beachside party shack constructed from whatever washed up on the proprietor’s beach in the 70s, is laden with graffiti walls and patrons’ panties dangling from the roof. Bomba Shack is probably the best known and most infamous of all of Tortola’s full moon parties. Definitely an “Adults Only” destination, signs beckon you to “Get Naked for Bomba and Get a Free T-shirt.” Clothing and panties, although optional, are more frequent than not. I partied in shorts and a t-shirt and, thankfully did not stumble upon any naked party patrons. I can actually say that I had a blast dancing on the sand to Caribbean music to the full moon. Not to be missed.
Next, hop on a ferry (or charter a plane) and spend a few days on BVI’s Virgin Gorda whose beauty is unparalleled. I nicknamed this tiny island of 8 miles “God’s playground.” The view from just about any cliff is breathtaking as you gaze out in the azure blue waters of the Caribbean, and the calm waters are perfect for lying on a float and getting your tan on. The island has plenty to offer from great beaches, the ultimate in resorts or private villas, to natural wonders, and of course, plenty of good restaurants.
What’s perfect about this itinerary is you can have several distinct vacations in one, and never have to take more than your flight to St. Thomas. Or you can stay at your hotel on one island and make day trips. Either way, you’ll feel like you have had several vacations in one. And who wouldn’t love that?
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