About St. Thomas
By Hal Peat
It may only be some 32 square miles in size, but St. Thomas is home to plenty of man-made and natural diversity - a dazzling mix of steep hills, unspoiled beaches, lagoons, duty-free shopping in its capital of Charlotte Amalie, and high octane nightlife to keep the most energetic of active travelers fully occupied all day, and all evening. St. Thomas's northern shores face the Atlantic Ocean while its south coast fronts the Caribbean--but wherever you stay, you can easily take advantage not only of the wide variety of water sports at the best beaches and marinas, but also make the easy hop over to one of its nearby sister Virgin Islands. Thanks to the proximity of most locations, you can be windsurfing or swimming on your beachfront in the morning, get out for some more water sport or island exploring in the afternoon, and be back at your hotel and ready for shopping and nightlife in the Charlotte Amalie area during the remaining hours with just a little advance planning.
Adventuring on Land, or in the Water
Most of the leading beachfront resorts can provide you with information on the wide water sport activity operators around the island. Diving is one of the most popular marine activities as there are a wealth of sites ranging from beginner to advanced around St. Thomas and its sister islands. Visibility ranges from 75 to 125 feet (22-37 m.), and reefs are often located close to the island's shores, making them accessible to snorkelers as well. In fact, St. Thomas along with St. John shares some of the best (some 200 different) diving sites in the world. Corals, sponges, wreck sites, are among the many diverse elements dotting the waters, while manta rays, jacks and scores of colorful fish patrol the depths. Since St. Thomas is well known for its charter boat operations, you will have a wide selection of facilities and craft and packages to choose from for either one day or longer charters. Expect to pay anywhere from $250 to $350 per day, depending on the time of year, length of charter, type of boat and extra features you want. For the right package for your interests, you can contact an experienced local operator like Fury Charters and ask for their assistance.
Many of the island's most fascinating sights are under water, but you can still enjoy much of the experience if you do not want to go snorkeling or learn diving by going to Coral World Ocean Park which displays the marine life of the region - colorful species that include queen angelfish, stoplight parrot fish to barracudas and moray eels. The best way to really appreciate St. Thomas is exploring on foot; you get to meet the local people, and above all get up close with the flora and fauna that you would probably miss viewing from a busy road. One great opportunity to do just this is through the Nature Conservancy, which offers a Tropical Discovery Hike through the Magen's Bay nature preserve. This moderately active hike winds downhill in the cool shade of the tall tree canopy and exits onto Magen's Bay beach with time to swim. Another way to launch yourself out on the shallower waters and observe the coastal marine eco-system is kayaking with local outfitter Virgin Island Ecotours. No experience is necessary for a kayak trip through the mangrove lagoons of St. Thomas; the two-and-a-half hour tours are led by trained naturalists and allow for a half hour of snorkeling and beach combing. The mangrove lagoon is home to an amazing array of wildlife: while you paddle, or take the chance to snorkel, you may spot egrets, juvenile reef fish, herons, upside down jellyfish, rays, barracuda or seahorses.
When you are ready to do some exploring on land, you will find St. Thomas also offers an interesting variety of activities ranging from mildly adventurous to extremely relaxing. Other land based activities to look into: take a tour into the upper elevations of the island and the different vistas along the way of the neighboring islands; local tour operators such as Adventure Center or Serenity Tours will transport you up to mountainside heights at notable destinations such as St. Peter Greathouse & Botanical Gardens, a former plantation estate with spectacular views down towards Magen's Bay.
Island to International Cuisine
Be sure to experience some of the many restaurants in and around Charlotte Amalie, especially for the great variety of fresh seafood; the dining choices range from Caribbean specialties to European and American favorites:
Wikked Bar and Grill - Seafood and casual island fare are the order of the day at Wikked's, together with its location on the waterfront at yacht haven grande situated alongside the Charlotte Amalie harbor make it a favorite of the yachting crowd and anyone else shopping or staying in the area and ready for fresh island favorites.
Romano's Restaurant & Art Gallery - The cuisine specialty here is northern Italian and Continental dishes, paired with Italian and California wines. Located in Estate Smith Bay, the interior ambiance recreates an intimate art gallery with paintings on the wall by mult-talented chef/owner Tony Romano, whose art is also found in private collections worldwide.
The Cellar - With a menu featuring local seafood and other American cuisine, the restaurant's setting evokes New York or San Francisco with its dark woods and candlelight. Dining highlights here include fresh grouper, mahi-mahi, Kobe beef and foie gras; you can either share small plates, simply have a glass of wine, or indulge in the Chef's Tasting Menu with up to eight courses.
Where to Stay:
Resorts to Condo Lifestyle or Secluded Villas
Grand style with all the amenities: There are several international brands present around St. Thomas: Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas is prominent amongst luxury accommodation on the east end of the island. The resort combines classic European style architecture with Caribbean friendliness and its own high standards of service. Each of the 80 renovated guestrooms and suites have their own private balcony/terrace. Main resort amenities: an extensive range of cuisine among four dining areas; a spa and a fitness center, tennis courts and its own beach with plentiful water sport options. At the east side of Charlotte Amalie's harbor, there is Marriott Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Beach Resorts, a large-scale 500 room, eight-story high property that provides quantity as well as quality in the form of three swimming pools, five restaurants, eight bars and four lit tennis courts. The Frenchman's Reef location is the full-service large enclave, while Morning Star with its beach location is boutique-scale and somewhat more fashionable. Both offer guest access to spa, gym, water sports such as diving and sailing trips.
At-home condo arrangement: Home away from home condo style living, Sapphire Beach Condominium Resort & Marina on the northeastern corner of the island overlooks a beachfront and gorgeous bay, also offering guests such inclusive activities as snorkeling, beginner windsurfing, Sunfish sailing; parasailing, kayaking, suncats, waverunners, fishing, snorkeling and sailing are also available for a nominal fee. For divers, both beginner and experienced, there is a full-service PADI dive center at beachfront. Each resort suite or villa includes a fully equipped kitchen area and private patio overlooking the Atlantic. On-site aquatic activity ranges from underwater excursions and deep sea dives to sports fishing and sunset cruising, tailored to meet the abilities of anyone from novice to expert adventurer.
Luxurious residential solitude with service: If it's total privacy and villa-style expansiveness that you seek, villa accommodations also are plentiful around St. Thomas. Here are a few popular selections:
Rockworks - Located on the island's quieter north side, this villa is enveloped in a lush garden landscape; its main interior features a large living area, fully equipped kitchen, dining areas and a king bedroom/bath suite. A second king air-conditioned bedroom/bath pavilion sits across a sun deck area. Keeping guests in touch when needed with the rest of the world is satellite TV, wi-fi in the master bedroom, and CD and DVD entertainment equipment.
Carefree - Also on the island's north shoreline and within the gated grounds of Mahogany Run Golf Course, and commanding long-distance ocean views of Tortola and the Virgin Passage, three bed, three and a half bath villa provides seclusion with all the amenities: this includes the vast main level living and dining areas; a workspace with connectivity; exterior verandah for alfresco dining; and also outside are the pool and deck areas. The master bedroom/bath suite is on the main level while two more king bedroom suites are on the villa's lower level; all suites enjoy spectacular sea vistas. Also on hand for entertainment and communication: cable TVs; DVD and CD players, a DSL line and wi-fi throughout the property; office machines; men's golf clubs; and a gas grill.
Casa Lupa - A recent villa presence overlooking Magens Bay, this four-bedroom property evokes period 18-century Italian style with its hand-painted tiles and courtyard entry. Within, guests are treated to two separate pavilions. The fully air-conditioned main pavilion houses both the Great Room with a variety of entertainment options, and the adjacent master bedroom/bath suite, both connected by a covered loggia off the courtyard terrace. Also adjacent to the Great Room are the fully-equipped designer kitchen and dining areas; nearby just three steps down from the shaded loggia is the infinity-edge pool and sun deck set with orange sun umbrellas and chaise lounges. The property's second pavilion across the courtyard terrace features two air-conditioned, main-level suites: the blue queen suite with tiled en-suite bath and its own covered balcony, and the adjacent green twin-bed bedroom/bath suite. A staircase leads down from this level past to Casa Lupa's fourth suite, a totally private haven away from it all, with a small sitting area and en-suite bath. Amenities available at Casa Lupa include cable TV, CD and DVD players, iPod docking station in Great Room, wi-fi connection throughout. Do not forget the gourmet chef's kitchen with two ovens and appliances.