From the time St. Thomas was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493, this West Indies nation in the eastern Caribbean has been steadily growing in popularity. Today, more than one million cruise passengers visit the island each year, making it one of the most frequented ports in the Caribbean.
Arriving in St. Thomas
The principle cruise dock is in Charlotte Amalie Harbor, just over two miles from downtown. Up to ten cruise ships per day may visit Charlotte Amalie, and several ships may be required to use adjacent piers or tender passengers ashore.
The United States formally took possession of the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1917, making this a very comfortable port for both novice and experienced travelers, though it still exhibits characteristic Caribbean charm with a distinctly European flair sure to welcome every passenger.
- English is the official language.
- The U.S. dollar is the official currency.
- Because the U.S. Virgin Islands are a protectorate of the United States, U.S. citizens may purchase up to three times as much merchandise here without exceeding their duty-free allowance.
Cruise Ship Shore Tours
One of the island's principle activities is shopping, and guided shopping tours are among the most popular shore excursions. Other options include party boats, submarine expeditions, helicopter tours, world-class golfing, and historical tours. Snorkeling and diving excursions are particularly popular, as the island boasts some of the most beautiful water and reefs in the world.
Sightseeing in St. Thomas
Because many passengers feel comfortable given the island's status as a U.S. protectorate, they often seek out the more popular attractions on their own, including:
- Charlotte Amalie: For true shopaholics, there is no better place than Charlotte Amalie, the "duty-free capital of the world." Goods range from local crafts and foods to leather, china, jewelry, clothing, linens, and more. Several streets in the downtown area offer a variety of boutique and stalls, including the Vendors Plaza where hundreds of merchants set up shop beneath brightly colored umbrellas.
- Havensight Mall: For even more shopping, visit this mall right at the cruise ship dock. While most of the souvenirs are geared toward a touristy crowd, occasional treasures can be found here.
- Coral World Underwater Observatory: The most popular attraction on the island, this three-story underwater tower gives guests an up close view of the hundreds of tropical fish that live in the turquoise waters. Tropical gardens, aquariums, and an interactive touch pool are other features of the Observatory.
- Seven Arches Museum: This elaborate residence is more than 200 years old and has been fully restored and furnished with delicate antiques. Guests can tour the home and also take in a superb view of the busy harbor.
- St. Peter Estate: This 11-acre expanse on the northern part of the island is a botanical wonder, with more than 200 species of plants arranged in decorative gardens including an exotic orchid jungle. Waterfalls and reflecting pools add a beautiful touch to the grounds.
- Paradise Point Tramway: This cablecar attraction offers an 8-minute ride to a height of 697 feet, boasting some of the best views on the island. Several shops, a restaurant, and a bar are poised at the summit.
Because so many cruise ships visit St. Thomas regularly, the crowded shopping areas and main attractions are a haven for pickpockets and thieves. Cruise passengers should take appropriate precautions to protect their possessions, including purchases, until they are safely back on board their ship.When planning a trip to the island, it is also wise to consider hurricane season. Eastern Caribbean islands are frequently hard-hit by the massive storms that can appear anytime from June through November, and savvy passengers will take that into consideration when choosing their itinerary.
With stunning vistas and gorgeous waters, St. Thomas is the jewel of the U.S. Virgin Islands. A haven for shoppers, nature lovers, and diving enthusiasts, this vibrant destination is a must-see for any cruise traveler.