Relax and Unwind in St. Thomas
Paradise. For me, the word conjures up images of red sunsets on a white sandy beach, palm trees swaying in the evening breeze, and the smell of freshly caught and cooked seafood wafting through the air. My taste buds are enjoying the memories of my recent visit to St. Thomas, one of the three United States Virgin Islands. St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix were all purchased by the US government in 1917 for $15 million for strategic reasons. One thing that makes these islands special is their proximity to each other, as well as the calm, easy waters that flow between them.
There are two ways to explore the island: by cab or water taxi. Our hotel had a dock located on-site from where the water taxi would depart every hour. It was the fastest way to get into the town of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas’s major hub, as well as the least expensive. Water taxis charge $6 per person round trip. Cabs charge $6 per person each way. Don’t forget to tip!
Fun in the Sun:
- Ahoy, matey! A must see is Blackbeard’s Castle. It was named after the famous pirate, though he never actually stepped foot on the hill. Tickets are $14 and cover a tour of the complex which includes two houses that now serve as museums, multiple bronzed statues of famous pirates, a tower that offers the best view on the island, and of course, a rum-tasting station in the gift shop. You can’t walk away without a bottle of the signature souvenir spiced rum.
- Set sail on the high seas – Deep sea fishing is a tradition for many seafaring vacationers. Full day and half day tours are available, and fishermen are likely to reel in some blue marlin or mahi-mahi in the 30 pound range. Water lovers can also go parasailing, rent jet skis, and sail around the islands.
Duty and tax free. Need I say more?
- Charlotte Amalie features your typical souvenir shops, with t-shirts, shot glasses, and ball caps in abundant supply. But that’s not all. There are also rows and rows of jewelry stores, all eager to sell you their finery so you’ll glitter and bling your way off the island.
- For more upscale stores like Coach, Gucci, and Louise Vuitton, shoppers should head to Yacht Haven Grande. If you’re visiting St. Thomas via a cruise ship, you will make port here, so you won’t have far to go. From Charlotte Amalie, it is a 15 or 20 minute pleasant walk along the boardwalk. Unique clothing, jewelry, boutique shops, as well as restaurants and bars are all located in this area.
- Next to Yacht Haven Grande is another touristy shopping venue called Havensite Mall. It features stores that, much like Charlotte Amalie, specialize in t-shirts, jewelry, sunglasses, and souvenirs. Food is expensive on the island, so if you’re on a budget, Havensite is located just across from several well-known fast food restaurants. Save your money for a delicious and expensive dinner, and do some traditional American dining for lunch.
One of the best things about visiting St. Thomas is the food. In fact, it’s my favorite thing. We ate our way around the island, from the delicious restaurants located at our hotel, to local spots in Charlotte Amalie, to the best restaurant on the island for fresh lobster.
- Coco Joe’s is located at the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef. The bungalow-feel of the restaurant located right on the beach, along with the friendly service of the staff, only added to our dining experience. Coco Joe’s offers a varied nightly buffet featuring island favorites like lobster, prime rib, scallops, shrimp alfredo, baked seafood macaroni and cheese – my personal favorite, as well as fresh fruits, cheeses, salad, bread, and desserts. The cost for this gourmet buffet is between $40 and $50 plus tip. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a chance to meet Chef Jose Villalobos, whose menu is exceptional. Chef Villalobos said he likes to change the buffet options each night to give repeat visitors different selections.
- We had dinner one night at the Lobster Grille in Bolonago Bay. The stuffed lobster was one of their signature dishes, but diners could also choose from a delicious seafood penne with shrimp, lobster and scallops in a lobster cream sauce; a lobster grille combination featuring a fillet and grilled shrimp; or tuna nicoise cooked to order. The price range varied based on the market price of seafood, but regular pasta dishes were in the $30 range.
- Our favorite restaurant was Mim’s Seaside Bistro. We ate there twice, and I’d go back tomorrow if I could. They offer three portion sizes of lobster, surf & turf, Mim’s famous coconut curry lobster, baked stuffed lobster, and an incredibly large portion size of shrimp and crab linguini. The, like many of the restaurants we visited, are located on the beach, where sunset is more than a time of day; it’s an experience.
- Wine & Dine: While cocktails and wine are readily available, the special of the island is a banana daquari. This vacationer fell in love with the island’s Rum Punch, a special mixture of spiced rum, mango, pineapple, and orange. Oh, and if you’re a fan of ice, you’ll have to keep asking for refills. Ice melts incredibly fast on the island.
- What the local’s recommend: Some of our favorite lunch and snack spots in Charlotte Amalie included Coconut’s, home of the ultra thin crust pizza; Gladys’s, where the hot sauce is its own food group; and Bumpa’s, a small sandwich shop overlooking the bay where we got our daily hot fudge sundae.
We happened to be in St. Thomas during the week of Carnival. This local, cultural event has a family focus for the natives. They liken it to when mainlanders invite their family home for the holidays. The Carnival Village featured festive local art, local cuisine, beer, and incredible live music. While the street fair and food vendors are all pleasant during the daytime, it is well advised that mainlanders go back to their hotels or to a different part of the island after 5 pm. Just like any city on the mainland, St. Thomas has its quirks, and this is one of them. Carnival during the daytime is for tourists. Carnival during the nighttime hours is for natives only.
Islanders are never in a hurry. It’s an impressive difference between them and most mainlanders. Our water taxi driver informed us that the way to get the best service on the island is to be kind, offer a smile, and greet everyone with a simple but genuine, “Hi, how are you today?” If this sounds like your kind of vacation, then head on over for some relaxation on an island that still knows how slow-paced a vacation should be.