Port of St. Thomas
If you cruise regularly to the Caribbean, chances are you'll end up in St. Thomas. Its popularity as one of the world's most heavily trafficked cruise ports is well-earned. The island offers something for just about everyone and has the infrastructure that can accommodate a huge daily population influx. In addition to a duty-free shopping scene that's virtually unparalleled, other on-the-beaten-track sites include the world-famous beach at Magens Bay.
In September 2017, the Virgin Islands -- along with many other islands in the Caribbean -- were rocked by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. While St. Thomas worked to quickly recovered its most popular tourist destinations, some have sadly closed their doors indefinitely -- including the SkyRide to Paradise Point. Beloved restaurants like Cuzzin's shut down. However, new restaurants and attractions have popped up in their place, solidifying the island's commitment to welcome visitors.
Nearly every ship sailing an Eastern Caribbean itinerary includes St. Thomas as a port of call, as do many Southern Caribbean voyages. You'll even see St. Thomas on Panama Canal and South American itineraries (when a Florida port such as Fort Lauderdale or Miami serves as a port of embarkation or debarkation). It's not uncommon, particularly during the Caribbean's winter high season, to see six ships or more docked or anchored in a day -- and that can mean an extra 20,000 people mixing into a population hovering in the mid-50,000s.
Believe it or not, it's easy to find some respite from the inevitable crowds by exploring St. Thomas' quieter, more undiscovered side -- a lovely historic district, trips to Water Island (the "fourth" and youngest, U.S. Virgin Island), beaches all over the island and fabulous restaurants in Frenchtown. It's also an easy jaunt via 20-minute ferry to tranquil St. John from the town of Red Hook. Even this town has local character (this is where expat residents of St. Thomas spend their time) that's a far cry from Charlotte Amalie's shopping mall vibe. Just taking transportation to the eastern end of the island will give you emotional distance from the hectic pier.
Even if it's your first time on St. Thomas, don't be afraid to explore. Although locals drive on the left side of the road, the island has an American familiarity that makes it a perfect introduction to the Caribbean style of life. Attractions, beaches, shopping, golf, water sports -- the island offers a wide variety of activities, with new ones added every year. Even if it's your tenth trip, you're bound to find something fun to do, even if that just means discovering a new beach.
Find a Cruise to the Eastern Caribbean
Top St. Thomas Itineraries
Disney Fantasy7 Night Eastern Caribbean Cruise from Port CanaveralPort Canaveral , Tortola, St. Thomas, Castaway Cay, Port CanaveralNow
Caribbean Princess14 Night Caribbean CruiseFort Lauderdale , Princess Cays, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Fort Lauderdale , Grand Cayman, Roatan, Belize City, Cozumel, Fort LauderdaleNow
Norwegian Breakaway7 Night Caribbean - Eastern CruiseMiami, San Juan, St. Thomas, Tortola, Great Stirrup Cay, MiamiNow
Caribbean Princess14 Night Caribbean CruiseFort Lauderdale , Grand Cayman, Roatan, Belize City, Cozumel, Fort Lauderdale , Princess Cays, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Fort LauderdaleNow
MSC Seaside7 Night Caribbean - Eastern CruiseMiami, San Juan, San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Nassau, MiamiNow
Depending on your cruise line and the time of year, your ship will dock at Havensight Pier, the primary dock for cruise ships, or Crown Bay. Each terminal is about a five- to 10-minute taxi ride to downtown Charlotte Amalie. If more than six ships call on St. Thomas in one day, your ship could be anchored in the harbor; the tenders will drop you in the heart of Charlotte Amalie.
The dock at Havensight, in essence, is a mini-downtown. You'll find more than 50 shops, many of which are outposts of Charlotte Amalie's better-known boutiques, such as A.H. Riise and H. Stern. Also within the expansive Havensight Mall, you'll find a post office, ATMs for Bank of Nova Scotia and First Bank and Havensight Pharmacy. Depending on your plan, your American cellphone might work in St. Thomas without roaming charges.
Across the main drag running outside Havensight's facility are convenience stores, coffee shops and museums. The Yacht Haven Grande Marina also is within walking distance of the Havensight Pier. When you exit your ship, turn left and follow the dock around the harbor. It's the first genuinely upscale shopping and dining area, featuring restaurants and shops, such as Coach, bebe, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. (Note: These are not duty-free.)
Beyond the immediate facility, the best bargains on duty-free liquor can be found at Kmart -- no lie! Walk up Long Bay Road to the Lockhart Gardens Kmart (you'll notice a lot of crewmembers heading that way -- a good sign, as they often know where to find the best bargains).
Crown Bay, on the other side, features a recreated stone sugar mill in honor of the island's plantation era. Crown Bay Center businesses include jewelry, clothing and liquor stores, Passengers whose ships are docked in Crown Bay have more limited options nearby than those docked at Havensight. The Crown Bay Marina has a branch of Gourmet Gallery (and the ferry to Water Island leaves from there). Tickles is a charming waterside pub at the marina with nautical decor (open 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily).
You'll need to head downtown for serious shopping and dining.
Good to Know
Adventurous types should be hesitant when wandering off the beaten path in Charlotte Amalie; crime can be an issue. Also, though most ships will dock mid-week -- with Wednesdays in high season accommodating up to six ships in port at the same time -- if you find yourself in St. Thomas on a Sunday, you might discover that many of the shops are closed. Our advice? Head to the beach.
By Foot: Because where you're docked -- or dropped by the tender -- is likely close to downtown, it's easy to get a few steps in exploring the shops and eateries of Yacht Haven and other complexes around Charlotte Amalie. A new pedestrian center is in the works so walking around town and browsing is even more cruiser-friendly. However, if you want to head to the beach or get to other major attractions, you'll likely need some wheels.
By Taxi: Though they exist, individual "cabs" are unusual. In most cases, you'll be shepherded to a van or safari truck that's heading to the vicinity of your destination -- and might make multiple stops on the way as locals ask the driver to let them off. You'll pay a set price per person. Tipping is recommended when a driver is particularly helpful or knowledgeable, but is not required. Taxi drivers like to load up as many people as possible and travel to on-the-beaten-path tourist sites. If you want to veer off that path, you might have trouble finding a driver to take you. If this is an issue, we recommend you rent a car.
By Car: At the cruise ship dock, Avis (340-777-8888) and Budget (340-776-5774) have outposts; reservations are recommended. In downtown Charlotte Amalie, try Dependable Car Rental, with free pick-up and drop-off services (800-522-3076). From Crown Bay, the nearest car rental offices are at the airport (a five-minute taxi ride); Hertz (340-774-1879), Avis and Budget have desks there. Discount Car Rental is next to the airport (877-478-2833).
Remember, drive on the left. It takes a little while to get the hang of it. Also, hand use of cellphones while driving is against the law.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Currency is the U.S. dollar, and ATMs are readily available.
English is the official language, but you might hear French Creole or Spanish spoken, as well.
Food and Drink
St. Thomas features a wide variety of restaurants and beach bars. Most cater to American tastes, but you can find one or two spots that have a more authentic Caribbean flavor, such as Crabbe's and Gladys'. As in St. John, fine dining can be a little hard to come by at lunch during weekends. The same classic tipple -- the bushwacker, a frozen concoction of creamy liquors -- is also popular here. Get yours at the Drunken Clam.
At Amalia Cafe, the owners -- a native St. Thomian who's traveled the world and his Austrian wife -- serve Mediterranean fare amid a historic ambience. Try the bouillabaisse. (24 Palm Passage; 340-714-7373; open 11 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. Monday to Saturday)
E's Garden Teahouse is a quiet spot tucked away near the post office, offering local delights like a saltfish quiche with side salad, in a tearoom that's also covered in local art. Their 30 varieties of tea are also tasty iced. (Open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., until 2 p.m. on Saturday; closed Sundays; 2 Commondante Gade)
Crabbe's Island Grill, formerly Trenchtown Rock, is a reliable spot for some solid lunch with a full bar. Items include fish and chips or a jerk pork burger. (Open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., closed Sundays; Backstreet #64 Wimmelskaft Gade)
Cafe Amici serves Mediterranean cuisine with local influences; the grilled tuna sandwich and salad nicoise are highlights, and everyone seems to love the pizzas. (A.H. Riise Mall; 340-714-7874; open 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays, open later on cruise ship days)
Gladys' Cafe offers Caribbean and American dishes such as lobster-stuffed avocados, with famous homemade hot sauce. Post Hurricane Irma, the restaurant is undergoing some major renovations, and operating out of a smaller cafe across the corridor. During the hurricane, as with many local eateries, Gladys and her team served thousands of free meals to those in need. (5600 Royal Dane Mall; 340-774-6604; open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily)
The rollicking Greenhouse Restaurant is a nice stop for basic burgers and frozen drinks, including a daily happy hour 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. (Waterfront; 340-774-7998; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily)
Mafolie's is located at a hotel of the same name, offering gourmet food and spectacular views to diners who wish to make the trip for a more upscale afternoon meal. (Lunch is served 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Sunday brunch is served 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; 7091 Estate Mafolie)
Virgilio's is a fabulous Italian restaurant with eccentric decor -- a large collection of paintings, some quite abstract, cover the high walls. If the paprika ravioli is on the menu, order it. (Dronnigens Gade; 340-776-4920; open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday)
If you're craving sushi, check out Beni Iguana's Sushi Bar and Restaurant. (Havensight Mall; 340-777-8744; open 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily)
The Yacht Haven Marina, an upscale shopping, dining and docking complex located just around the corner from ships docked at Havensight, offers Fresh Bistro (formerly W!kked), one of St. Thomas' few outdoor eateries. This eatery serves farm-to-table fare from neighboring island, St. Croix. (340-775-8953; open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday)
Fat Turtle, in the same complex, also has waterfront seating; it's the place for more casual fare. (Yacht Haven Grande; 340-775-8328; open noon to 10 p.m. daily)
Barefoot Buddha is a great place to stop in for a coffee, smoothie, breakfast sandwich or an iced latte to go during your morning walk around St. Thomas. In a place where fried food reigns, this eclectic cafe offers healthy options and even a cute boutique to browse. (Open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; closes 3 p.m. on Sunday; 9715 Estate Thomas)
Waiting for a Ferry at Red Hook
Fish Tails is a perfect antidote to a day in the sun with its expansive covered deck over the water, and its casual menu of seafood and cocktails. From Wednesday to Sunday, sushi is offered. (6501 Red Hook Road; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; opens at 8 a.m. on weekends)
Duffy's Love Shack is an expat hotspot famous for its huge tropical drinks, though food is served as well. (6500 Red Hook Plaza; 340-779-2080; open 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily) If you find yourself with an hour to kill in Red Hook before taking the ferry to St. John, the best cocktail for you might be Duffy's Love Shack's 64-ounce Shark Tank (five rums, three tropical liqueurs). There's no extra charge to share it. (6500 Red Hook Plaza; 340-779-2080; open 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily)
Duty-free shopping in Charlotte Amalie is an easily walkable mecca. Stores are primarily located on Veterans Drive and, running parallel behind it, Main Street. Barkers occasionally attempt to beckon you into shops (they're paid each day based on the store's sales), but are generally less intrusive than in other Caribbean ports. While St. Thomas enjoys a reputation as a duty-free paradise, it's not quite the bargain it used to be. So, it pays to comparison shop. In the market for a camera, we found the prices to be comparable to those found at Best Buy and more expensive than on Amazon -- with no room for haggling.
Highlights include A.H. Riise (37 Main Street; 800-524-2037), a variety of boutiques selling high-end perfumes, jewelry, antique maps and liquor (they'll deliver your bottles to your ship on request) -- all in an elegant setting. Down Island Traders (Veterans Drive; 340-776-4641) specializes in Caribbean-made or produced foodstuffs, such as spices, out-of-this-world rum cakes, hot sauces and jams, in addition to regional crafts. Del Sol (44 Norre Gade; 340-715-2051) offers T-shirts, hair clips, sunglasses and cosmetics, such as 20 varieties of nail polish that transform into bursts of color when exposed to the sun.
The most interesting shops for quality art and crafts are located outside downtown. Must-visits for aficionados include Mango Tango, which has the island's best selection of original art as well as gorgeous teakwood furnishings -- and a humidor with a wide variety of cigars. (Al Cohen's Plaza, Raphune Hill; 340-777-3060; open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday.) If you're interested in serious arts and crafts shopping, rent a car or hire a driver for the day -- or, consider visiting St. John, known for its art collectives.
Also, check out elegant boutiques for apparel; Nicole Miller and Tommy Hilfiger are among the well-known names with shops downtown. Other fashion finds include Local Color (Veterans Drive; 340-774-2280) for great casual cotton dresses and the Bambini Art Gallery (Back Street; 340-775-4766) for all kinds of pop art.
Otherwise, price shop at so-called "bargain" shops like Perfume Palace, Royal Caribbean (electronics and jewelry), Diamonds International (jewelry) and Little Switzerland (imported china, crystal and jewelry). At Vendors' Plaza, locals hawk straw hats, tropical-print sundresses and T-shirts.
Rum cakes and rum balls made with Cruzan rum (produced on neighboring St. Croix) are popular edible treats that can be found in many souvenir shops.