This is Part 1 in a series sharing the best of the family-friendly U.S. Virgin Islands.
The U.S. Virgin Islands, known for their sandy white beaches and turquoise waters, make for a relaxing and fun-filled family vacation destination. Get ready for plenty of island adventures, including swimming with sea turtles, exploring historical sites and feeding stingrays – but save time for building sandcastles on the beach. Easy to reach from most major U.S. cities, the U.S.V.I. are officially a U.S. territory – so you won’t even need a passport. We will showcase 21 unforgettable family experiences over the next few weeks – starting with 9 on the island of St. Thomas.
1. Climb the 99 steps and explore Charlotte Amalie.
St. Thomas is a popular day-stop for cruise ships and thus the most bustling of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Take a self-guided walking tour of Charlotte Amalie, the U.S.V.I.’s largest city and capital. Be sure to climb the 99 Steps (actually 103), a seemingly endless stairway built in the early 1700′s that will take you to the very top of Government Hill.
2. Enjoy a stunning vista of Charlotte Amalie from a historic watchtower.
At the summit of the 99 Steps, you’ll find a picture-perfect view of the port as well as Blackbeard’s Castle, a U.S. National Landmark that once served as the island’s watchtower. Though Blackbeard never lived in the “castle”, this watchtower likely kept Charlotte Amalie protected from the infamous pirate and his pals.
3. Snorkel the crystal clear Caribbean.
Thanks to the awesome visibility, snorkeling is one of the top activities in St. Thomas: Bring your own snorkel/goggles or rent from your hotel/resort.
4. Sip fresh coconut water.
Be on the lookout for vendors selling fresh coconuts on the side streets off Main Street in Charlotte Amalie: watch as the vendor hacks the top off with a sharp machete
5. Swim with sea turtles.
Set sail on the 53’ catamaran, Heavenly Days, to a special protected anchorage near an island where sea turtles love to frolic. The Heavenly Days Snorkel with the Sea Turtles Cruise includes snorkel gear, light snacks, soft drinks and beer and rum punch.
6. Become a certified scuba diver.
St. Thomas is an excellent place to learn to scuba dive. Patagon Dive Center, a 5-star PADI Scuba Dive Center with locations on both St. Thomas and St. John, offers snorkeling lessons for kids ages 5 and up as well as Jr. scuba diving certification courses for kids as young as 8. Young divers will be limited to dives less than 6 feet.
7. Feed the stingrays.
Plan on spending an entire morning or afternoon at Coral World, a marine life park that gives visitors the chance to meet and greet a wide range of animals. Kids will enjoy meeting a friendly seal lion, having lorikeets perch on their forearms as they sip their morning nectar, and petting some not-so-cuddly stingrays and feeding them their fishy snack. Adults and kids who aren’t quite ready to scuba dive but would like to experience exploring underwater with an attached-to-land breathing apparatus should give Snuba or Sea Trek a try. The Undersea Observatory Tower will give you the chance to explore the deep blue sea without getting wet.
8. Dance to the Calypso beat at a beachside Carnival party.
Be sure to head to Iggie’s Beach Bar for Carnival Night, held every Wednesday. Dance in the sand or on the dance floor to Calypso Music, do the Limbo, and celebrate with the Mocko Jumbie, traditional island stilt walker. Local Artisans display and sell their local handicrafts throughout the evening and a Caribbean Buffet offers a wide range of local specialties.
9. Kayak a mangrove forest.
Virgin Island Ecotours will take your family on an unforgettable guided tour of the island’s protected Inner Lagoon Marine Preserve. You’ll spot endangered brown pelicans, blue herons, night herons, egrets, yellow warblers, hummingbirds and more as you paddle past red mangrove trees.
Where to Stay
Family owned and family friendly Bolongo Bay Beach Resort is tucked into a calm cove in stunning Bolongo Bay, St. Thomas. Beachfront rooms are just steps from the sparkling Caribbean are spacious and comfy, with two queen sized beds and basic amenities (cable TV, air conditioning, etc.) but also feature a Euro-style kitchen with a refrigerator, microwave and coffee maker. Bolongo’s All Inclusive package is one of the best in the Caribbean, and its on site restaurants, The Lobster Grille and Iggies Beach Bar & Grill, both offer not only delicious Carribean cuisine but also splendid views. Fun in the sun is always included in your daily room rate, and there are a wealth of water and land activities with free equipment rentals available: Play on paddle boards, Hobie Cats, kayaks, windsurfers, aqua tricycles, swim mats, snorkel gear and more.