The US Virgin Islands include St. John and St. Croix along with St. Thomas. They create the boarder between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, 40 miles east of Puerto Rico and 1100 miles southeast of Miami. Cruise ships from a variety of cruise lines including Carnival stop in the port at Charlotte Amalie, the capitol city of St. Thomas. The city got its name from a Danish queen in the 1600’s when the island belonged to Denmark. The US bought it in 1917 as an outpost to help protect their control of the Panama Canal during World War 1.
Shore Excursions offered in St. Thomas include a variety of snorkel or dive options and trips to nearby St. John, most of which is a National Park with the pristine beauty of undeveloped land and beaches. St. Thomas has a number of island or shopping tours and some powerboat options. Other choices include beaches, dolphins, kayaks, golf, or a pirate castle. The St. Thomas Skyride is both popular and inexpensive. Quite a cluster of gift shops sits right near the dock, and the skyride is within walking distance as well.
Many passengers choose to explore on their own, often piling into one of the many taxis waiting near the dock. Group taxi vans fill quickly with whoever comes by. They take the group to the main part of town, each passenger paying a lower fare for the shared cab and choosing where they wish to get out. Those who prefer not to share or not to wait for a van to fill can take a private cab if they don’t mind paying the price.
The main tourist shops in town lie just a short cab ride away from the dock. Besides all the usual cruise port shops on the main street, we found a group of local booths nearby under a tented roof by the water. They sold local handcrafted items including blue jewelry from the Caribbean stone Larimar. We would have liked to look around the booths a bit more, but got an offer of a random bus tour of the island for $20, which left nearly right away.
St. Thomas has many jewelry stores to choose from and some great deals on prices, making it an excellent place for jewelry shopping. Jewelry lovers who attend the port shopping talks on board also find out where to get things for free. They will say only to shop at the cruise ship approved stores, but often the others have some excellent deals. The main difference is the guarantee given by the ship on merchandise from the stores which have paid the fee for approval and promotion by the ships, though things can cost less at the ones that haven’t.
St. Thomas has an average temperature of 77 degrees Farenheit. It has great beaches, with coral reefs close to shore for snorkeling from the beach. Magen’s Bay is listed as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. I’m not a golfer, but if I was I would boycott any oceanside golf course, including Mahogany Run on St. Thomas because fertilizer kills coral and coral has enough trouble trying to survive these days in the warmer more acidic oceans we’ve created.
The Virgin Islands have a long and often bloody history. Like much of the Caribbean, they were once occupied by the peaceful Arawaks, who were already under attack by the violent Caribs before the Europeans arrived. Columbus discovered and named the Virgin Islands on his second voyage. It was all downhill for both tribes after that. Spaniards raided the Virgin Islands for slaves and many died off from European diseases they had no immunities to or fled to Cuba. By the time other European nations came to colonize the islands, none remained and colonists brought in their own African slaves to work the plantations.
Pirates found haven on St. Thomas, loving the deep port at what is now Charlotte Amalie. Blackbeard and Bluebeard both get mention in island lore. Bluebeard’s castle has become a resort.
The Danish first colonized the island, building a fort and plantations. Slave labor made the plantations profitable. The deep harbor made an excellent trading port, with taverns and warehouses built around the harbor. Initially St. Thomas was a safe haven for pirates, the residents profiting from trading with them. After piracy no longer affected the economy the port remained busy until the abolition of slavery due to its status as a duty-free port.
Hurricanes, fires, and a tidal wave hit Charlotte Amalie in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. The former warehouses once full of trade goods sat empty, abandoned, and in great need of repair for years until finding new life rebuilt as shops for tourists.