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Virgin Gorda Overview
Virgin Gorda, the second largest of the British Virgins after Tortola, ranks high in popularity for cruisers. The island is far less developed and generally more scenic than Tortola.
The island was given its name by Columbus, and means "fat virgin." Apparently, looking at the island from the distance reminded him of a reclining naked woman. If you squint and use your imagination you can just about get an inkling of what Columbus saw, but it doesn't take much imagination to understand that Columbus spent way too many sea days solely with the company of his fellow sailors!
There are two main areas of interest in Virgin Gorda: the Spanish Town/Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour at the south end of the island and North Sound at the other extreme. Your ship may dock at Road Harbour, Tortola, and offer water shuttles to one or both of Virgin Gorda's main anchorages, or you may anchor off either location and tender in. Most of the ships anchoring in North Sound are smaller in size -- Windstar, Sea Dream, etc. Each end of the island has something to offer; the south end is best known for the Baths and surrounding beaches; North Sound is the home of The Bitter End.
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Other Eastern Caribbean Cruise Ports:
Freeport • Grand Turk • Jost Van Dyke • La Romana • Labadee • Nassau • Princess Cays • San Juan • St. Croix • St. John, USVI • St. Maarten • St. Martin • St. Thomas • Tortola • Virgin Gorda
English, though Caribbean patois is common.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The BVI use the U.S. Dollar for their currency. ATMs are commonplace.
Where You're Docked
If you are anchored off Spanish Town you will be tendering into the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour, which has plenty of shops and other attractions. If you are in the North Sound you will tender into the main dock at the Bitter End Resort.
Both ends of the island have plenty to offer and are described below.
Safari cabs and mini vans are typical modes of taxi transport. Taxi fares are often predicated on the price for the cab, itself, so the more passengers aboard, the better the per person rate. Be aware that the road system in Virgin Gorda is incomplete, which means that in some cases you simply can't get from here to there without taking a ferry in between. (For example, to get to the Bitter End from the Yacht Harbour, you take a taxi to Gun Creek and then the ferry from Gun Creek to the Bitter End.)
Renting a Car:
At Andy's Car Rental (284-495-5511, from $63 per day) and Speedy's Car Rental (284-495-5240, from $60 per day), reservations are highly recommended. Both will send someone to pick you up at the dock.
Bitter End Ferry (284) 494-2746, www.beyc.com: Runs between Gun Creek and the Bitter End Yacht Club hourly on the half-hour. Free of charge. Takes less than 30 minutes.
North Sound Express (284) 495-2138: Runs between Spanish Town and the Bitter End Yacht Club. Reservations required. Call for rates and schedules. Allow one and a half hours for passage.
Saba Rock Resort Ferry Service (284) 495-7711: Runs between Gun Creek and Saba Rock. Will also pick up at Bitter End. Free of charge.
Speedy's Ferry Service runs frequent ferries between Road Town and Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda. Depending on the vessel and weather allow between an hour and an hour and a half for passage. (284) 495-5240/495-5235, www.speedysbvi.com, email@example.com.
Smith's Ferry Services Runs the same itineraries as Speedy's. Call for rates and schedules. (284) 495-4495 / 494-2355.
Spanish Town Area
Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour Shops: A number of touristy gift, trinket and clothing shops can be found here, offering swim suits, t-shirts, etc.
The Boutique at Little Dix Bay: If you have reason to visit the upscale resort, Little Dix Bay, check out the boutique across from The Pavilion Restaurant for a selection of high-ticket resort wear.
Bitter End Yacht Club: Though called a "yacht club," Bitter End is actually a complete resort, which includes, among other things, a series of gift, trinket and souvenir shops.
Saba Rock: Take the ferry to Saba Rock. (If you ask the front desk at Bitter End they will call Saba Rock on VHF radio to have you picked up.) Next to the restaurant is an interesting gift shop with nautical items, curiosities and treasure-inspired jewelry. Check out the display dedicated to the career of treasure hunter Bert Kilbride.
The Bath & Turtle: Casual dining in small courtyard. Burgers, pizzas, seafood, wraps, rotis, salads and totally top-notch fish & chips. Entrees run from about $7.00 through $15.00. Don't miss the national drink of the BVI, the Painkiller. Open from 11:30 a.m. daily.
Top of the Baths: Casual lunch fare served at the trailhead leading from the road down to the Baths. Requires a taxi ride from the Yacht Harbour but the combination of scenic setting, excellent Painkillers and free use of their swimming pool make it worth the trip. Open from 11 a.m. daily.
Little Dix Bay: The Pavilion Restaurant at this famous resort, reachable in ten minutes by Taxi from the Yacht Harbour (Less than $10 per person round trip) serves a nice buffet spread at $25.00 per person between 12:30 - 2:30 p.m.
The Clubhouse Grille at The Bitter End: Lunch features a full buffet plus one cooked-to-order entree, including burgers, sandwiches and seafood specials. Open daily from Noon - 2:00 p.m. Lunch is a prix fixe of $19.00.
Saba Rock: Serves affordable, casual pub fare from Noon - 4 p.m. daily. You come here more for the setting than the food. The bar extends over the water, and from the dock you can expect to see any number of large fish, including some resident giant tarpon. A small, open-air aquarium is next to the restaurant, and the gift shop includes a nautical museum. Call Saba for pickup (from The Bitter End) at (284) 494-2746.
The Baths: Thought by many to be the primary reason to go to Virgin Gorda, The Baths is a small beach framed by giant boulders, spewed from an ancient volcano and scattered on land and sea; you climb through them, through caves so narrow and short that occasionally you'll have to drop to all fours to get through, until you come out into a boulder-harbor. Here, you can swim around boulders; bring snorkeling gear; there's not much coral, but the water is most always clear and there's always an abundance of sea life.
Spring Bay Beach: Literally right next door to the Baths, but with fewer people and boulders -- and more space (a great combo day-trip -- visiting the Baths and then heading to the beach).
Savannah Beach: Blessedly under-visited and totally picturesque. Located just north of Spanish Town, any taxi driver can take you here, but you may have to do a bit of walking to get to the beach from the road.
Bitter End Yacht Club: Most of the beaches in North Sound are attached to local resorts, and reachable mainly by their own ferries. Bitter End does have a tiny beach, which is open to outsiders. Not much room here, but it's fun to kick back and watch all the would-be windsurfers and sailors practice their moves off the beach. If you want to try these activities yourself, Bitter End's watersports department will be happy to accommodate you, renting Hobie catamarans, sea kayaks, windsurfers, Boston Whaler outboard skiffs, and sailboats from dinghies to nineteen footers.
Bitter End also offers snorkeling trips of 1 or 2 1/2 hours ($10.00 or $20.00 per person).
Been There, Done That
Sail To Another Island:
Numerous vessels, both sail and power, offer full and half-day excursions to islands fringing Virgin Gorda. By far, the most desirable destination is Anegada, the BVI's "best kept" insider secret. Though the third largest of the British Virgins, Anegada has only 150 permanent residents. Charters anchor off the Anegada Reef Hotel and tender their guests ashore, where they board open air taxis for a kidney-challenging ride through the Anegada Outback to nearly deserted Loblolly Beach, which is as close as you can get to the fantasy beach you dreamed of when you first contemplated visiting the Caribbean. The beach stretches for eight miles, and you can find a spot where you are the only souls visible. To make the experience even better, you can step off the beach into snorkeling reefs superior to almost any in the Caribbean. After snorkeling it's typical to have lunch at the Big Bamboo Restaurant, which features fresh lobster, fish and other seafood.
There is one major caveat, however: you have to be VERY conscious of your ship's scheduled departure time, and take this, as well as any requisite ferrying time, into account when considering an Anegada charter. This is only feasible for ships with late, late afternoon or evening departure times. But, if you can get there, your visit to Anegada will be the highlight of your trip to the British Virgin Islands. Three of the charter operators serving Virgin Gorda are listed below:
Spirit of Anegada (Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour): 44-foot schooner offers full and half-day charters to Necker Island, The Dogs, Fallen Jerusalem, the Wreck of the Rhone, Cooper Island, Guana Island or Anegada. (284) 496-6825, www.spiritofanegada.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Double 'D' Charters (Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour): Power or sail charters to Cooper Island, Norman Island, Anegada or Jost Van Dyke. Note that this is a "private" charter, which means that you must charter an entire boat (up to 8 people sail; 10 people power). (284) 499-2479 / 495-6150, www.doubledbvi.com, email@example.com.
Go For a Dive:
All dive operators offer two-tank morning dives. Contact individual dive operators for the availability or feasibility of "discover scuba" programs for non-certified divers. The British Virgin Islands offer some of the best scuba diving in the Caribbean. Of special interest is the wreck of the RMS Rhone, sunk in a hurricane in 1867, considered by many to be among the top ten wreck dives in the world. Also worthy of exploration are the many reefs in the Dog Islands off the coast of Virgin Gorda. Dive operators serving the North Sound area are:
Dive BVI Ltd.: Located at the Leverick Bay Resort, they will, if booked in advance, pick you up at the Bitter End dock (284-495-5513, www.divebvi.com)
Kilbride's Sunchaser Scuba Ltd: Located at the Bitter End, offers both scuba and snorkeling trips. (800) 932-4286, (284) 495-9638, www.sunchaserscuba.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Yacht Harbour is served by Dive BVI, which has a separate dive shop there.
Go For a Hike:
Take a taxi to Gorda Peak National Park.
Staying in Touch
Though there are Internet cafes sprinkled around the BVI, access to the Web can be iffy. One Internet cafe is located at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour at the chandlery (marine store). Rates run $1.00 per minute with a five minute minimum.
Here are our choices for the best ship-sponsored shore excursions:
Experience Anegada: For a description of this magical island see "Been There, Done That," above. As far as we know only two cruise lines currently offer Anegada as a shore excursion: Regent Seven Seas (transport by charter flight) and Oceania Cruises (transport by motor launch). In either case, these excursions are well worth the steep price tag. Duration about five hours. Price about $200 per person.
Conspicuous In Its Absence, The Baths: Since it is so simple to flag a cab for transportation to the Baths, we do not recommend high priced ship excursions. The only exception would be for ships who tack on value added additions as part of the Baths' experience, as is the case, for example, with Sea Dream Yacht Club, which includes a private beach barbecue at Prickly Pear Island for their guests touring the Baths.
Certified Scuba Dive: Duration: 4 - 5 hours. Price: $85.00 through $129.00. Offered by Windstar and Sea Dream.
For More Information
Call The British Virgin Islands at 1-800-835-8530
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