When you come to the Virgin Islands on a cruise ship, it may be tempting to take one of the local taxis or tour buses to see St. Thomas and St. John but please don't. Yes, the taxi's and buses are the easy way to see the highlights of the islands but how much fun can you really have when you visit each place for a few minutes. Instead of doing this, rent a car and take off to explore on your own. You will enjoy this much more.
Driving around St. Thomas and the north shore of St. John is not that hard if you have the right vehicle. You will also quickly get used to driving on the left side of the road. A little research online and by seeing some of my other tips, you will quickly be able to decide what places you would like to see on your own. This will make the trip much more enjoyable and you will get to spent more time where you want to.
A great car rental agency in St. Thomas is Dependable Car Rental. They will pick you up at the airport and take you to their site which is five minutes away. They are always courteous and have good pricing. They also have a good variety of four wheel drive cars including my favorite, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.
We rented car while in St Thomas to have flexibility to go all over the place. If you like to explore, you are much better renting a car. Cab fares add up pretty fast.
Be aware that driving is on the left side. Roads are narrow and you really can not speed up there. There is no need to and you are on vacation after all! Take your time and enjoy the view and the island!
Tommy the Starfish Routes: On St. Thomas - the Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association has posted Tommy the Star Fish signs to help guide you around the island. Just follow the signs to get to the most popular areas for visitors to St. Thomas:
Orange Route: Airport, Downtown Charlotte Amalie, Havensight Cruise Terminal, Morningstar Beach, Bolongo Beach and RED HOOK FERRIES.
Red Route: Four Corners to Smith Bay, including DRAKE’S SEAT.
Yellow Route: CROWN BAY Dock and Marina to MAFOLIE Hotel & Restaurant.
Green Route: Downtown Charlotte Amalie to MAGEN’S BAY BEACH.
Blue Route: Red Rook Ferries to Downtown Charlotte Amalie past North Shore Resorts and major Shopping Malls, including TILLETT GARDENS.
Most visitors from other countries will need visas & passports to enter the USVI’s. Make sure you check well in advance to get your documentation in order for your trip. Check with your airlines for detailed information, or have a look at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration website. Once there, you may feel more at home than the visiting Americans, since this is a very international port!
Cabs are a great option, all considered, even though they are spendy, especially if you expect to be drinking any alcohol, or to be tired from an exhausting day of fun in the sun. Fares are set at fixed rates, so it’s a good idea to keep a print out of the rates with you to avoid arguments over what they should be. Also, try to share cabs when possible, that will make it less expensive for all. Here are links for the set rates:
Cab Fares St. Thomas
Cab Fares St. John
St. Croix not yet available
ONE WARNING cabbies will tack on extra charges for each item of luggage you carry, so if you are just out & about on a day trip, try to keep the tote bags to a minimum - and try not to have anything with you that must be loaded into the trunk!
While car rentals are not cheap, they are certainly available. Check as much information as possible online before you go, don’t wait till you get there. During the peak tourist season (December thru mid-April), you may need to book the car in advance to get what you want, especially if you have a family or group & you wish to rent a larger car or a van.
AMERICANS REMEMBER TO DRIVE ON THE LEFT!!! It’s extremely easy to forget this when the cars are set up for American driving with the wheel on the port side, just like at home. So think verrrrry carefully before you take a chance on drinking & driving, it’s not a wise choice.
St. John (STJ) does not have a major airport, so it is best to just fly in to St. Thomas (STT) & plan to catch the ferry from either Charlotte Amalie or Red Hook, either for a day trip or an extended stay. If you want a longer boat ride, catch the ferry from Charlotte Amalie. To minimize water time and take a bit of a drive on STT, head for Red Hook & catch the ferry there. You can also catch a ferry from STT to St. Croix (STX) from Charlotte Amalie. Either way, I recommend you allow a bit of time to enjoy STT, since it won’t be a fast trip getting there. Both CA & RH have some great restaurants as well as fun cheaper places to eat ( I’ll be building tips for STT, CA & RH presently too, & will link to recommended eating spots. Till then, feel free to email me!)
FAST FERRY RATES & INFORMATION
Link for general FERRY INFORMATION to STX, STJ, Puerto Rico, & the British Virgin Islands (BVI’s)
Even though these islands are US Territories, you will still have to go through customs when you leave, because this is considered an “open port”. On arrival from a US flight, you can just claim your baggage, but when you leave remember to allow some extra time for customs clearance. You'll need your passport or an original birth certificate plus photo ID (check with your airline for valid forms of identification).
For more information see link below for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration website
I won’t list the major airlines that fly into St. Thomas (STT) & St. Croix (STX), but you can often get discounted flights direct from cities on the eastern seaboard & in the southern states. San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJD) is also a US Territory, so many offer connections thru SJD. I’ve always found direct flights myself, but my Mom tells me the SJD experience was pleasant, not a big hassle at all.
Intra-Caribbean flights are offered by Air St. Thomas, Air Sunshine, American Eagle, Bohlke International Airways, Cape Air, Caribbean Sun, LIAT Airlines and Seaborne Airlines (seaplanes with inter-island service, between St. Thomas, St. Croix and San Juan, Puerto Rico) from other islands in the Caribbean.
Hah! I can't count how many half-mangled tourists-on-motor-scooters I've seen on these islands, it's an everyday occurrence. The locals drive like madmen, the Americans aren't used to driving on the left side of the road (so they forget routinely and lean right), the road conditions are appalling, there are usually no shoulders, and these islands are MOUNTAINOUS, not flat like Cozumel!
One recommendation: DON'T DO IT! Get a cab, or at least rent something with 4 solid wheels on the ground.
Since we traveled the islands with two small children it was much more conducive for us to rent a car. This also proved much more conducive for us to see more of the islands. On St. Thomas we were able to drive anywhere, as most of the roads there were paved. Granted, there are many sharp turns and extremely steep inclines/declines to travel – you must have your wits about you to drive these islands. On the whole though, St. Thomas driving was quite east. St. John was another situation altogether. About half the roads on St. John are unpaved, and require 4-wheel drive vehicles to traverse (which can easily be rented in Cruz Bay). Most of St. John’s major sights can however be seen by car – including Cruz Bay, Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay, Annaberg Sugar Mill, and Coral Bay. The road curves and grades on St. John are extreme, but you get used to it. Also be warned, driving in all of the US Virgin Islands is done on the left side of the road. The steering wheel however stays on the left side of the car (as opposed to the right in the UK). Nothing to be afraid of, just take your time getting used to it.
Taxi cabs are offered serving virtually all point on all the islands. They offer a great ride in their rear truck open-air cab layout. They tend to be most useful for cruisers who need to get to one or two locations quickly, and they can be quite expensive. While very convenient, they are probably not the best option for those who are staying on the islands for a week or so.
The best way to get around the islands is to hire one of the giant van taxis that prowl its roads. They're usually reasonably priced (by zone, rather than time) and have friendly drivers. It may seem odd, but they also tend to pick up fellow islanders for free along the roadsides as a courtesy service (the taxis are primarily for tourists). Also, don't be surprised by having to share with several other families, as the vans are large and cabbies try to maximise their fares. There are usually cabs waiting at the major hotels, and they also prowl the main streets of the villages and towns looking for passengers. Ask around, some drivers come highly recommended.
First, I think it would be important to realize this is not an easy island to hike around. Roads tend to be steep in areas, often narrow, sometimes rocky and generally not pedestrian friendly. Necessarily, taxis become your friend.
The Volendam docked at the end of the pier with Norwegian Cruise Line's Nordic Empress and Celebrity's gigantic Constellation in front of us. The walk just to get off the pier was a long one, but for those so inclined, a free shuttle was available to transport you to the Havensight open air mall just at the end of the pier area. From the shopping area, a dispatcher can get you a taxi to wherever you wish to go on the island. The rate for Saffire Beach was quoted to us as $8 US per person per way. However, the driver, without being asked, offered to take the 4 of us for $24 US per way. The driver, Mr. Joseph Hector, said he would come back for us whenever we were ready and so we arranged a time to be picked up. As Saffire beach was at least 20 minutes from the ship and in an out of the way area, this was a most valuable convenience and Mr. Hector was a man of his word.
You'll see them everywhere around the island, but especially at certain tourist stops, such as Charlotte Amalie, Magens Bay and by the cruise ships around Havensight Mall. The prices are quite steep from what I've experienced ($6 for a 5 minute drive down the hill to Charlotte Amalie). But, the more people in your group, the cheaper the price is per person.
They are an excellent way to see the island, being open at the sides, and they stop (annoyingly for locals in a hurry!), at scenic points, so you can get your pictures. Whether you want a lift around the town, to Magens Bay, or around the whole island, they'll take you.
Warning: check the price before you leave - they have a set list of prices printed. You pay the driver when you get off, not on boarding, meaning he could charge you any price if he wanted. I was almost ripped off, but insisted he was charging too much, and he lowered the price.
Magens Bay Road, , 00802, Caribbean
Good for: Couples
7338 Estate Bakkeroe, Charlotte Amalie, Caribbean
Good for: Business
The hotel rooms were old and the bathroom's were rusty, dirty, and downright disgusting. The food...more