The Virgin Islands lie like a necklace of jewels in the sky-blue waters of the Caribbean. Their unparalleled tropical scenery, blessed with bright sunny days and dark starry nights are cooled by fragrant ocean breezes. St. Thomas, with its bustling capital city of Charlotte Amalie, is the most popular port-of-call for cruise ships which stop in the Virgin Islands.
If you’ve decided there’s a cruise to St. Thomas in your future, your next step will be to decide which cruise line offers the most for your dollar. Every one of the big cruise lines (including Royal Caribbean; Carnival; Holland America, and Celebrity) list Charlotte Amalie on their ports-of-call, because the harbor is deep enough that they don’t have to ferry their passengers ashore. Some of the smaller cruise lines, like Windstar, actually originate their cruises in Charlotte Amalie and travel from there to the smaller of the Virgin Islands. These smaller cruise ships are ideal if you want a more intimate cruising experience.
Enjoying a cruise to St. Thomas is one of the most relaxing and simplest ways to see the Caribbean. Your cruise ship will provide you with all the luxury of a fine resort, with plenty of on-board activities usually including a casino, live entertainment, and gourmet cuisine available around the clock.
One reason that St. Thomas is such a popular cruise destination is that it’s duty-free shopping is almost unequaled. Because St. Thomas belongs to the US Virgin Islands, residents of the US have the added benefit of getting a $1600 duty-free exemption per person ($3200 per couple), twice that offered to travelers from other countries. What this means for you is that you only have to pay duty on the amount of your purchases which exceed your $1600 exemption.
Those duty-free exemptions are one reason why Charlotte Amalie draws hordes of shoppers on the days when cruise ships pull into port. During the busiest tourist season, it’s not unusual for half a dozen cruise ships to dock here, adding upwards of 20,000 people to a city with a native population of about 50,000!
But you don’t have to be part of the crowd, if you prefer your cruise to St. Thomas be a little less hectic. St. Thomas has a lovely serene side for those who take the time to find it. You can arrange a tour of its charming historic district with delightful Danish architecture, or escape to Water Island. Enjoy exquisite food at one of its amazing Frenchtown restaurants, or escape from St. Thomas altogether aboard the ferry which will have you on much less crowded St. John in just 20 minutes!
The ferry to St. John departs from the Red Hook Marina in east St. Thomas, where you can take in the sights of Heritage Gade, the replica of a Caribbean village. Spending an hour in Red Hook is a great way to get a taste of what life is like on St. Thomas away from the active scene at Charlotte Amalie.
Your cruise ship staff will have all the information you need about getting around on St. Thomas, and will also have maps you can carry with you to help you negotiate your way through the Charlotte Amalie shopping district. Your cruise line will also almost certainly offer the opportunity to book the St. Thomas on shore excursion of your choice. Onshore excursion options include activities like island tours, horseback riding, private sailing charters, and trips to duty-free shopping outlets which are within walking distance of the dock.
Regardless of how you arrive there, you’ll never regret your visit to St. Thomas. Arriving on a luxury cruise ship, however, will make your visit everything you’ve dreamed it could be!