Summer's end is creeping up on Road Trip Planners everywhere in the United States and some of them hanker for an exotic beach getaway before Summer gives way to Fall. But what if you don't already have a passport, which takes 6 weeks to arrive and past summer? Or someone in your group doesn't have theirs? Hawaii or the Florida Keys are good options but perhaps you're looking for a more remote vacation? One that has a foreign ambiance? Then consider the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are tucked between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of Puerto Rico. The northeast islands are called the British Virgin Islands and the two regions comprise the Virgin Islands archipelago. If diamonds are rated by the four Cs (caret, cut, color, clarity); then these islands could be rated by the four Ss (sun, sand, sea, surf). And as in Hawaii, all beaches in the Virgin Islands are public, meaning that even though you might arrive at a gated community, you must be given access to the beach…even at the fanciest resorts. Oooolala!
Instead of creating a trip from scratch with your road trip planner, here's one called Exploring the U.S. Virgin Islands, which you can save as your own and add your own notes to the trip. I recommend printing the trip out before you leave so you can jot down your impressions and review the places you visited. Then once you return from your trip, add photos and share the trip - complete with notes and maps - with friends and family.
Below is some information on the four islands that make up the U.S. Virgin Islands: St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix and since 1944, Water Island. You can choose to stay all week on one island and take day trips to the others or you can stay the bulk of your trip on either St. Thomas or St. John then include an overnighter at St. Croix because it's further south.
- St. Thomas (called Rock City by the locals) is enchanting and romantic with a population of about 51,000, nearly half of the total population in the US Virgin Islands. The district is a bit larger than 31 square miles and special points of interest include: Fort Christian, Magens Bay, Magens Bay Arboretum and Blackbeard's Castle. Magens Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and from the harbor in Charlotte Amalie, you'll come across a picturesque village.
- Water Island (a.k.a. Small City) is right below St. Thomas and is accessible by boat (ferry service from Crown Bay on Saint Thomas to Phillips Landing takes only about 10 minutes). Water Island is the fourth and most recently acquired main island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. With 491.5 acres, Water Island is the smallest of the main U.S. Virgin Islands and is a residential island, with a population of 161 (2000 census). There aren't many commercial establishments and only a few homes that are available to visitors, so it's mainly a day trip excursion. The main attractions are its beaches, including Honeymoon Beach. You can also find plantation ruins, and Fort Segarra, an underground fort partially constructed by the U.S. during World War II.
- St. John is to the east of St. Thomas and has the Virgin Islands National Park. Saint John is an amazing island in the Caribbean Sea and part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is the wealthiest and most expensive of the U.S. Virgin Islands, enjoying a level of affluence that is comparable with the nearby island of St. Barts. The island's high level of wealth and prestige has earned it the common distinction of being the "Beverly Hills of the Caribbean". Called Love City by the locals, St. John is one of the world's premiere honeymoon destinations with several notable world class resorts and one of the top ten beaches in the world. St. John is located about 4 miles east of Saint Thomas. It is about 20 square miles in area with a population of less than 4200. It doesn't have an airport so you need to fly into St. Thomas and take one of the hourly ferries over to it.
- St. Croix (dubbed Twin City by the locals) is the furthest south. St Croix rocks! Saint Croix is an island in the Caribbean Sea and part of the United States Virgin Islands, an unincorporated territory of the United States. It is the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, being 28 by 7 miles. However, the territory's capital, Charlotte Amalie, is located on Saint Thomas. Buck Island Reef National Monument preserves a 176 acre island just north of Saint Croix and the surrounding reefs. This is a popular destination for snorkelers.