St. Thomas Food Tours: What's better than getting fed while receiving a serious education about St. Thomas' history and culture? Beyond the shopping, be sure to include this locally owned and operated food tour. You'll indulge in drinks and bites from around Charlotte Amalie while equally gorging upon information about historic sites like Fort Christian, a national historic landmark that dates to the 17th century, or the 99 Steps (though there are actually 103) to experience historic downtown's finest neighborhood with lovely 19th-century plantation homes.
St. Thomas Synagogue: The local synagogue is the Western Hemisphere's second-oldest synagogue (the oldest is located in Curacao). It was built in 1833 by Sephardic Jews and is open for tours. The floor is covered with sand symbolizing the flight of the Jews out of Egypt and across the desert (Raadets Gade and Crystal Gade; 340-774-4312; open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday).
Coral World: One of those hyped tourist attractions that actually lives up to expectations, Coral World -- where you can get up close with sealife -- remains relevant. Located at Coki Beach (cab ride required), it's a 4.5-acre marine park whose highlight is an underwater observatory with 360-degree views of fish and other sea creatures; it's the only way to see fish without getting wet. Multiple tour packages are offered including snuba and a sea turtle experience. (6450 Estate Smith Bay; 888-695-2073)
Mountain Top: A great viewpoint can be found at the island's highest point at 1,500 feet, which also features tourist shops and is popular with the tour bus crowd (3A-18 St. Peter Mountain Road; 340-774-2400; open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, free). Be sure to order a banana daiquiri -- they're famous. On the way in or out, stop off at Phantasea, a tropical botanical garden near Mountain Top open on ship days and weekends.
Pirates Treasure: A Shipwreck Museum and Store: This unexpected museum manages to impress with its scientific treasure-hunting techniques and equipment, fascinate with interactive storytelling (including VR) about pirates through the island's history, and also entertain with plenty of photo ops and amusements for kids to also take part in the fun. Attached is a souvenir shop that includes a serious collection of rare and antique coins and other "treasures" along with the standard plush seals and candy bars. The Shipwreck Museum is within walking distance of the Havensight cruise terminal; most days a deadringer for Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow can be seen cavorting on its balcony.
Frenchtown: Go for a stroll before lunch through this part of town opposite the harbor from Havensight. This eclectic neighborhood was settled in the 18th century by French Huguenots from St. Barth's and is now a neighborhood of fishermen. It is still home to some original descendants, and you can occasionally hear locals conversing in French. Frenchtown Brewing is located here, a mom-and-pop microbrewery tucked away on 24A Honduras, that offers free tastings. Contact them in advance for tours through frenchtownbrewing.com.
St. John: For repeat visitors, nothing beats a day trip to one of the other Virgin Islands just a quick 15-minute ferry ride away. Check out our St. John port profile for more details.
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.
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.
Best for a Half-Day Visit: Magens Bay, St. Thomas' (and some would say the world's) most gorgeous -- and calmest -- beach, is a 20-minute taxi ride. The facility includes a bar, a cafeteria-style eatery and one of the island's best shops for casual wear and bathing suits. A small admission is charged. The fewer ships in town during your visit, the more enjoyable your visit.
Best for Active Types: Coki Beach, adjacent to Coral World, is a well-known -- and crowded -- destination for snorkeling and scuba diving (equipment can be rented there). For fewer lines and a better atmosphere, try Secret Harbour, which also has a water equipment rental shop and a nice -- though pricy -- beach bar (Note: Sapphire Beach, a perennial favorite because of its views of St. John and the British Virgin Islands, has closed its rental facilities, and taxis are discouraged from parking there).
Best on Water Island: If you're looking to add another island to your list, it's hard to beat Honeymoon Beach on Water Island, the "fourth" Virgin Island. Once fairly secluded, it's become busier with ships docking at Crown Bay Marina, as the water shuttle leaves from the same area. Times for the water shuttle are subject to change, but it generally leaves the marina on the hour, Monday to Saturday, until 9 p.m. On Sundays, ferries leave Crown Bay at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon, 1:15 p.m., 3:15 pm and 5:15 p.m. and costs $10 roundtrip. Tip: The burgers at Heidi's Honeymoon Grill receive raves.
Best Secluded Beach: On those days when you really want to get away from it, head down to Brewers Beach, which is past the airport close to the University of the Virgin Islands. While you won't find rental facilities (there is a restroom), the beach is a lovely place to lie out with a towel; you can also watch the planes come and go at the nearby airport. Food trucks set up nearby daily.
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)