Cruising the Caribbean: A Port Guide to the U.S. Virgin Islands

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While cruising throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands, be sure to hop off the ship and take some time to explore. From snorkeling with rainbow-hued fish to savoring mouthwatering island delicacies, this guide will help you discover the must-visit gems on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John while you’re at port.

St. Thomas: The Bustling Gateway to USVI

St. Thomas is home to Charlotte Amalie, the largest city in the USVI. With an enticing blend of city attractions, sparkling beaches, and world-class snorkeling, it’s no surprise that most major cruise lines stop here. 

The island has two major docks—Havensight and Crown Bay. Both docks are packed with shopping and dining, so you can get a taste of local culture without going too far, and almost all major cruise lines stop here.

Cruise line excursions can take you into the city or out into the beautiful tropical waters. Book a food tour to sample the Creole and Caribbean flavors of the island, or take a catamaran trip to explore the island’s many bays and coves. 

If you prefer to explore on your own, here are some of the best sights in St. Thomas to add to your itinerary.

Explore Charlotte Amalie 

The 99 Steps on St. Thomas, USVI. Photo Credit: Taryn Parker.

Both Havensight and Crown Bay docks are just a short 10-minute taxi ride from historic Charlotte Amalie. The city is a vibrant blend of Danish colonial architecture, duty-free shopping, and natural beauty overlooking St. Thomas Harbor. Walk the cobblestone streets to shop for souvenirs and take in the bright colors of the homes and boutiques. 

History buffs may wish to visit St. Thomas Synagogue, the second oldest surviving synagogue in the United States. Dating back to 1833, the building has a grand columned facade that gives way to an impressive domed ceiling and Baccarat crystal candelabra inside. The sand floor is a Dutch-Portuguese tradition that you’ll find in only four synagogues worldwide. It’s an awe-inspiring place! 

Just a two-minute walk away, you’ll find 99 Steps, a stone staircase built for easier travel in the hilly city. The stones were imported to the island on 18th-century Dutch merchant ships, using their weight as ballast. When the ships docked and filled their holds with goods to sell, they left the stones behind. Climb the staircase (it’s actually 103 steps) among the palm trees and bright flowers to a fabulous view from the top.

For lunch, stop by St. Thomas staple Gladys’ Cafe to sample the local flavor. They specialize in island favorites like conch, jerk chicken and pork, and fresh seafood. Love hot sauce? Pick up a couple of bottles to take with you.

Soar to Paradise Point

Less than two miles from Charlotte Amalie, the Paradise Point Skyride gives visitors a stunning aerial view of the St. Thomas coastline. A short tram ride will shuttle you 700 feet above St. Thomas Harbor to Paradise Point, where you can see the city, the harbor, and the great expanse of ocean beyond. Afterward, grab a cocktail from the on-site bistro, like the signature Bushwacker with Baileys.

Paradise Point Skyride on St. Thomas, USVI. Photo Credit: Khairil Azhar Junos / Shutterstock.com

Take an Aerial Tour of St. Thomas

Get a truly unique view of St. Thomas and the Virgin Islands with Caribbean Buzz Helicopters. Their 30-minute NoHello Sunshine tour will whisk you across St. Thomas to St. John, past the neighboring islands of Tortola and Jost Van Dyke. It’s a short thrill ride and a one-of-a-kind way to take in the beauty of the islands. 

Go For a Thrilling Zipline Ride

If you need to feel the wind in your hair, soar through the treetops at Tree Limin’ Extreme. Climb high in the rainforest of St. Peter Mountain in a Swiss Army Pinzgauer (a European military vehicle), where you’ll catch incredible views of Magen’s Bay, the British Virgin Islands, and more. Then strap in and let ‘er rip. Careen down six rainforest ziplines with professional guides to keep you safe.

Swim or Snorkel at Magens Bay

On the north side of St. Thomas, the calm waters of Magens Bay are ideal for swimming and snorkeling. A sandy shoreline, gradual seafloor, and crystal-clear waters make this spot a true paradise. Rent snorkeling gear right on the beach, and look for turtles, tarpon, conch, and other tropical fish. Or plan a private boat tour to explore the coastline. 

Wander the Flora at Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden

Just south of Magens Bay, Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden offers a brilliant display of the local plant life. You may find blooming orchids, vibrant bromeliads, and more exotic plants in this lush rainforest setting. A must-see, whether you’re a seasoned gardener or simply an admirer. 

St. Croix: A Cultural Hub with a Slower Pace

St. Croix is the largest island in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but also less commercial, so you can avoid the crowds. With a more “off the beaten path” feel, you may feel more immersed in island culture here. 

St. Croix is home to just one dock, the Abramson Marine Facility, also known as the Frederiksted Pier. Top cruise lines stop on St. Croix, from Royal Caribbean to Carnival Cruises. Your cruise may offer snorkeling excursions on St. Croix, as the clear water makes it easy to see the abundant coral reefs around the island. Or tour the Cruzan Rum Distillery, complete with plenty of tasting.

You can also explore historic Frederiksted on foot or take a taxi to explore the white sand beaches and stunning scenery of St. Croix on your own. Start with these suggestions! 

Nurture Your Inner Beach Bum

Rhythms at Rainbow Beach on St. Croix, USVI. Photo Credit: Taryn Parker

Just a 10-minute walk from the cruise dock, Rhythms at Rainbow Beach is one of the best beach bars on the island. Enjoy authentic Caribbean food and sip fruity frozen drinks while you listen to live music and soak up the sea views. If the crystal-clear water is calling your name, rent a jet ski, snorkel gear, or a kayak. 

Take a Peek into 18th-Century Life 

Just 1.5 miles inland from Frederiksted, the Little La Grange Farm & Lawaetz Museum honor both the history of the area and the future of organic food production. This National Historic Site includes a plantation house and sugar manufacturing ruins dating back to the 19th century. Now an organic farm as well, the owners grow food to share with the local community. 

Wander the historic grounds to see the exterior of the Great House and the plantation ruins. If you visit on a Wednesday or Saturday, you can also take a guided tour of the museum inside the house, filled with 18th-century artifacts and Caribbean furniture.  

Discover the Art of St. Croix

Local pride is on full display at the Caribbean Museum of Arts, highlighting artists from the USVI, Puerto Rico, and the greater Caribbean. The diverse collections here are inspired by local culture, from the beauty of the islands to the legacy of slavery and colonialism. The museum store is a great place to pick up a souvenir like a beautiful book, print, or piece of pottery.

Snorkel Off Beautiful Buck Island

With so many beautiful beaches and bays, it can be hard to choose just one. But if you want to get a glimpse underwater, consider a short trip to Buck Island, just 1.5 miles north of St. Croix. This is one of the best snorkeling spots in the entire Caribbean, partially circled by a 4,554-acre reef. Follow an underwater trail to look for over 250 fish species, plus turtles, rays, and small reef sharks. This area is so special; it’s protected by national monument status. 

Snorkeling off of Buck Island, St. Croix, USVI. Photo Credit: Taryn Parker.

St. John: A Haven of Natural Beauty

St. Croix isn’t the only island with a rich history and tranquil underwater wonders. St. John is home to some of the most untouched beaches in the Caribbean and the USVI’s largest national park.

It’s also the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands. And unlike St. Thomas and St. Croix, St. John doesn’t have a cruise ship dock. For this reason, most major cruise lines stop at St. Thomas or St. Croix instead. If your ship docks at Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, you can take a $12 round-trip ferry ride to reach St. John. 

However, some of the lines with smaller ships like Crystal Cruises and Silversea, as well as larger Holland America ships, do stop here. Ships moor off of the island and send passengers to the National Park Service Dock on small tender boats.

Your cruise line may offer excursions like snorkeling on Honeymoon Beach or Trunk Bay or touring the island’s expansive national park. But there’s plenty to discover on your own! 

Shop the Boutiques of Cruz Bay

St. John’s principal town is Cruz Bay, a charming, walkable village packed with shopping and dining. Wharfside Village, just next to the ferry landing, is the perfect first stop. Start with souvenir shopping and a quick lunch at this friendly collection of waterside shops and restaurants. Just half a mile up the road, the Mongoose Junction shopping area is a must-see. Among a maze of stone steps and archways, you can browse unique local clothing, jewelry, home decor, and more.

Explore Virgin Islands National Park 

More than 60% of Cruz Bay is dedicated to the Virgin Islands National Park. This protected natural and historic area is home to many island treasures. Hike the trails to scenic overlooks, or take the Reef Bay Trail to the ancient petroglyphs left behind by the Taino Indians. Find the island’s only baobab tree brought by enslaved Africans, or swim the crystal clear waters of Cinnamon Bay. 

Wander the Ruins of an Ancient Plantation

Also within the park, the Annaberg Plantation Ruins serve as an important reminder of the island’s dark past. Once a working sugar plantation, the remains of the mill, sugar factory, and slave quarters can still be explored. Learn about the plantation’s operations and the lives of those who lived there, surrounded by lush tropical foliage and breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea. 

Feast on Fresh Seafood

On the east side of the island, Miss Lucy’s on Friis Bay is a local favorite for Caribbean food. Fried plantains, conch fritters, johnny cakes, and fresh seafood taste even better on a breezy patio with views of the bay. Even if you aren’t hungry, stop by for their famous lime colada. 

Swim, Snorkel, Hike

A 5-minute drive (or a 30-minute hike) from Miss Lucy’s, Salt Pond Bay offers a pristine white beach and some of the island’s best snorkeling. Seagrass beds provide cover for sea turtles, rays, and giant hermit crabs, and protective reefs shelter a rainbow of colorful marine life. Hike to the crest of Ram’s Head for an absolutely stunning view back towards St. John! 

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