Good news for U.S. Virgin Islands travelers: while the islands of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas aren't the cheapest in the Caribbean, there is a wide range of accommodation options for different budgets. From luxury resorts to dive shop digs, there's enough variety for all sorts of travelers, although you'd be smart to reserve ahead during holidays and the winter high season. Best of all, the islands use U.S. currency, so nothing will be lost in translation.
Here's a rundown of lodging options to consider.
As befits its status as a Caribbean tourist hub, St. Thomas has plenty of beachfront resorts with some of the big names that you might expect, including Ritz-Carlton, Marriott and Best Western. All are full service, with restaurants, bars and beaches; no need to bother with local transportation or sketchy equipment rentals. While chain hotels aren't always the most exciting places to stay, at least you'll have an idea of what you're getting.
On St. Croix, where most hotels have fewer than 200 rooms, your best full-service resort bet is the Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Beach Resort & Spa. If you're looking for brand names in St. John, you're out of luck, with the exception of a Westin (a great way to use those Starwood points you've been hoarding).
Chain Resort Resources:
With a colonial history steeped in plantations, the Virgin Islands have architecturally significant buildings that have been turned into inns and resorts.
The Buccaneer on St. Croix is the island's oldest resort, with buildings in the area dating back to settlers from the Knights of Malta. An original sugar mill on the property is used for weddings and receptions. St. John boasts the storied Caneel Bay Resort, originally owned by Laurance Rockefeller.
On St. Thomas, a stay at either Hotel 1829 or the Inn at Blackbeard's Castle includes a free walking tour of Blackbeard's Castle, a pirate watchtower built by the Danes to protect the harbor of Charlotte Amalie in 1679.
Historical Hotel Resources:
For divers heading to the Virgin Islands, a hotel is usually nothing more than a place to stash your stuff before the next boat heads out. Especially on St. Croix, where an underground river cavern known as the Wall attracts divers from around the world, you'll find budget hotels that are geared for the scuba set. In downtown Christiansted, Hotel Caravelle abuts the marina where many boats leave, but it's not on the beach. Sand Castle on the Beach, located on the island's west end, is another popular spot, particularly known for its inclusiveness.
It's a little trickier to find cheap hotels on tony St. John; divers usually go the bed and breakfast route or rent a private home. Bolongo Bay on St. Thomas houses the St. Thomas Dive Club, which offers stay-and-dive packages attractive to those exploring the deep.
Dive Hotel Resources
One of the best values in the Virgin Islands, bed and breakfasts are particularly common within historic Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas. Options here include At Home in the Tropics, Galleon House and Bunker Hill Hotel.
On St. John, Treetops likes to say that it's both "affordable and adorable," a difficult combo to find on this priciest of the U.S.V.I. (with off-season rates starting at $85/night, it's as good a bargain as you're going to find here). With no TV and an adults-only policy, Carringtons Inn on St. Croix may prove the most relaxing vacation you've had in a while.
Bed and Breakfast Resources:
Consider this: Martha Stewart spent the holidays luxuriating in a private villa on St. Croix one year, and Vice President Joe Biden is a regular visitor. While all three islands have vacation homes targeted toward the ultra-rich, do-it-yourselfers will find plenty of more wallet-friendly options.
On St. Croix, choices include Cottages by the Sea or Villa Margarita, a villa close to Salt River National Park, home to the island's bioluminescent bay. You can also arrange rentals through a private owner using VRBO or Airbnb.
Before you book, make sure you ask the owner what's included. Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, a pool and the use of beach equipment such as noodles or lounge chairs are always nice to have.
Vacation Rental Resources:
During Easter weekend, residents on St. Croix take their tents to the beach, where they spend the holiday barbecuing and "liming" with friends. Follow their lead and try a tent cabin at Cane Bay Campground, or have a more upscale agri-experience at the eco-friendly, all-organic Ridge to Reef Farm. (Volunteering on the farm is optional.)
On St. John, you can either rent a tent at Cinnamon Bay within the national park, or have a more upscale "glamping" experience at Concordia Eco-Tents. While camping isn't as common on touristy St. Thomas, you can pitch an old-fashioned tent at famed Magens Bay.
Known as the "fourth Virgin Island," Water Island is a quick water taxi ride from busy Charlotte Amalie -- with a fraction of the people. The Virgin Islands Campground here has screened eco-cottages that share kitchen and bath facilities.
There's perhaps no better way to experience the Virgin Islands than from the deck of a sailboat. On St. Thomas and St. John, private charters are common, with many basing their operations at American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook.
Experienced sailors may want to provision their own ship and travel "bareboat," while those with more shaky sea legs are better off hiring a boat with a captain and crew. While such a trip sounds pricey, the costs can work out to $250/day or less if you're splitting it between several people or couples (the final price depends on how big and luxurious the boat is, whether or not you get your own provisions and if you're hiring a captain).
Sailboat and Yacht Charter Resources
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--written by Chris Gray Faust