Need of a beach lover’s break? Pack your bags for the sun-drenched paradise – St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
It’s part of a diverse Caribbean archipelago steeped in a history of pirates and buried treasure. The islands exuding the delicate fragrance of flora and are home to many of the world’s most picturesque shores. And feel free to fill up on rum cakes and to cash in on huge shopping discounts.
Getting there: Cyril E. King Airport (CEKA), on the western end of St. Thomas, is one of the eastern Caribbean’s busiest. This airport offers nonstop flights from the mainland United States. For a lift into town – Charlotte Amalie – take a short stroll to the taxi dispatcher outside baggage claim. Most fares average $4 to $12 USD. Buses also service the airport 6 a.m.-8 p.m. but on no tried nor true schedule.
Staying there: Secret Harbour Beach Resort (www.secretharbourvi.com), nestled on the lovely coast of Benner Bay, is just a short distance from the Red Hook Mall and a great nightlife scene.
The spacious seaside guest rooms offer private balconies-for-two that are perfect for watching Caribbean sunsets. This property has two restaurants and a PADI dive center. There’s plenty of access to any number of recreational vessels and sailing boats – and any other oceanfront activity you could imagine.
Secret Harbour’s studio apartments are situated directly on the beautiful beach (also known as “The Lagoon”) and come fully furnished. Outside: a palm-shaded swimming pool and lighted tennis courts.
Shopping: The three words to remember on St. Thomas: “duty-free shopping.” Downtown Charlotte Amalie is a shopaholic’s bonanza that won’t suck you dry. Drop in any of the myriad discount jewelry emporiums, liquor stores or the open-air Market Square to find super bargains. As a rule of thumb, I suggest waiting on cruise ship throng to clear out in order to avoid long lines and boisterous customers. Find the best deals at the Crown Bay Shopping Center (www.crownbaycenter.com).
Where to go: Ever wonder where those Corona commercials – with the perfect turquoise water and pristine white sand – are filmed? It’s Coki Beach. But due to its popularity, Coki can get a little crowded. To find a secluded stretch of beach, walk down near the end of the cove.
Or hop the water ferry from downtown Charlotte Amalie or the Red Hook dock and go to Trunk Bay in Virgin Islands National Park (www.nps.gov/viis), on the island of St. John. The boat ride adds to a sense of excitement and anticipation. Trunk Bay has perfect powdery white sand and an underwater snorkel trail with plaques describing the sea life and ecosystem. No visit to St. John is complete without a visit to Trunk Bay. There is a $4 fee to access the beach
A safari “dollar ride” bus will get you from the tiny island’s pier to the national park. You might pass a feral donkey on the narrow road leading so keep your hand inside the vehicle, lest you be kicked or nibbled.
Sip: For the best margarita on St. Thomas, drop in at the venerated Coconuts Bar & Grill (www.coconutsvi.com). The nachos will feed a family of four and the Grade-A beef burgers will leave you busting a gut. But with a cocktail this good, who’s to care? The pint-size pub packs a crowd. The clientele is colorful; get there early and stay late.
Sail: Enjoy a sun-filled afternoon and soak in dramatic views of St. Thomas on a classic sailing vessel. Catania Charter (www.cataniacharters.com) will take you through hidden coves, stopping along the way to explore and snorkel. All private charters include an open bar and refreshments as well as snorkel gear to take in the vivid coral and wide variety of ocean life. Half-day excursions run $95 per person, but for the best value, book the sunset cruise for six people at only $400.