The three islands and the 60 cays that comprise the US Virgin Islands include some of the most magnificent coast on earth. The area is host to nearly two million vacationers each year. Most of the islands, cays and jutting rocks that make up the territory are clustered around the 30 square mile island of St Thomas which lies 1000 miles south of Miami, 75 miles east of Puerto Rico and just southwest of the British Virgin Islands.
St. Thomas has a year round temperature averaging 78Â°F. The ever-present trade winds keep the air from being unbearably hot. In addition, the region reports lower humidity levels than many of the other places in the Caribbean, making it a vacation paradise in both summer and winter. On nearly any day of the year, there are many hours of sunshine. Rain showers do come, but they're usually a welcome relief and pass quickly.
St. Thomas is the busiest cruise ship harbor in the West Indies. The cruise from the US to St. Thomas is as enjoyable as the time spent at this idyllic destination. Busy Charlotte Amalie ( uh-MAL-ya: named for the wife of King Christian V in 1691), at the heart of the island is the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and it remains the shopping hub of the Caribbean. The beaches on this island are renowned for their white sand and calm, turquoise waters. National Geographic rated the island as one of the top destinations in the world for sailing, scuba diving, and fishing.
Charlotte Amalie, with its white houses and bright red roofs glistening in the sun, is one of the most beautiful towns in the Caribbean. The town is also filled with historic sights like Fort Christian, an intriguing 17th-century building constructed by the Danes. The town's architecture reflects the island's culturally diverse past. A walk through town reveals its international heritage. You will pass Dutch doors, Danish red-tile roofs, French iron grillwork, and Spanish-style patios.
Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St. Thomas, is the only town on the island. Its seaside promenade is called Waterfront Highway or simply, the Waterfront. From there, it is easy to follow any of the streets or alleyways into town to Main Street or Dronningens Gade. Principal links between Main Street and the Waterfront include Raadets Gade, Tolbod Gade, Store Tvaer Gade, and Strand Gade. The capital is known for its delightful shops and patios, winding streets, and Old World Continental flavor.
The Father of the Impressionists, Camille Pissarro, was born on St Thomas in 1830. Though he spent most of his life in Paris he's still thought of fondly as a native son. The Dronningens Gade house where he was born is open to the public. The epicenter of Virgin Islands art is the Tillet Gardens Arts Center, a complex of studios, classrooms and galleries in a lovely setting northeast of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas.
Main Street is home to all the major shops. The western end (near the intersection with Strand Gade) is known as Market Square, once the site of the biggest slave market auctions in the Caribbean Basin. Today, it's an open-air cluster of stalls where native farmers and gardeners gather daily (except Sunday) to peddle their produce. Go early in the morning to see the market at its best.
You'll find an eclectic mix of cuisines on St. Thomas, including American, Italian, Mexican, and Asian. Local Caribbean dishes include seafood specialties like "ole wife" and yellowtail, which are usually prepared with a spicy Creole mixture of peppers, onions, and tomatoes. A popular native side dishes is fungi (pronounced foon-gee), made with okra and cornmeal. Most local restaurants serve johnnycake, a popular fried, unleavened bread.
Because of St. Thomas's thriving commercial activity, the atmosphere is one of vitality and zest for living. Varied nightlife and a resort atmosphere make St. Thomas the liveliest of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Those seeking seclusion can easily find it, however, at a hotel in more remote sections of the island. Hotels on the north side of St. Thomas look out at the Atlantic; those on the south side front the calmer Caribbean Sea.
The landscape includes dense subtropical forests, arid stretches dominated by succulents and coastal mangrove swamps. Indigenous trees include kapok, whose silky seedpod fiber was used as stuffing in pillows and lifejackets; calabash and the teylerpalm, whose delicate fronds make good brooms and were once used to construct fish traps. Madagascan flame trees brighten the vista along with bougainvillea, jasmine and frangipani.
The images gleaned from picture postcards assault the senses in their reality as your ship approaches St. Thomas: stretches of beach flair into the distance, and white sails skim across water so blue and clear it defies description. Red roofed houses color the green hillsides as do the orange of the flamboyant trees, the red of the hibiscus, the magenta of the bougainvillea, and the blue stone ruins of old sugar mills. Towns of pastel-tone villas, decorated with filigree wrought-iron terraces, line narrow streets that climb from the harbor. Yes, this is paradise!