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Tips for first timers from a first timer

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Tips for first timers from a first timer

Our family of four made our first trip to St. Thomas 12/16/2010 - 12/23/2010. Below are some tips we learned and wanted to share.

1) We arrived at the airport and rented a car from Budget. We rented from Budget because we thought we wanted to take the car to St. John but we didn't.

Be prepared to spend some time at the rental car counter. They are definitely on "island time". Also, be prepared to pay as much for taxes, fuel and loss of service insurance as you will pay to rent the car.

We rented a mid size car for a week for $259. With taxes, fuel, etc... the total was $459! (Our US auto insurace covered us in St. Thomas).

2) Driving in St. Thomas - Yes, you do drive on the left but it was not a big deal for me. The intersections and turns are interesting and you have to think a little when you do it.

The roads are hilly, windie, have lots of pot holes, and in some instances not marked very well. We made several wrong turns because we weren't sure which way to go.

I recommend not driving at night unless you have too.

3) Where we stayed - We stayed at Sapphire Beach Resort in a unit that was literally less than 30 feet from the crashing waves. We had a corner unit with a wrap around balcony. We helped the owner put up a hammock on the balcony. St. John was directly across from our balcony and was a pretty view. The full moon was incredible on the water!

The beach was really nice with good snorkeling. There was a shop there where you can rent snorkeling equipment, kayaks, paddle boats, floats, chairs, etc... The beach also had a volleyball court.

There was also a point that jetted out and you could walk out there. It's a perfect place for a wedding. The pool was nice and clean.

The Sapphire Marina is literally right next door. It's a great place to get a charter, day sail, wave runners, etc...

Red Hook is about a mile away. It's where you catch the ferry / car barge to St. John. There are also several places to eat and several bars there. We were glad it was so close because lots of places close in Charlotte Amalia ("downtown") when the cruise ships leave around 6:00.

4) Things to do - We went to Coki Beach and Magens Bay and Drake's seat (it's close to Magens Bay). Coki is a very interesting place and is very close to Coral World.

There are several "places" on the beach that rent snorkeling gear, chairs, floats, etc... I don't think the "places of business" are regulated based on their appearance.

The beach is beautiful and has good snorkeling especially close to the rocks where the observatory at Coral World is. The fruit smoothies are really good too (ask for "Roger").

Magens Bay was nice but cost $4 per person admission. If you go, go left at the admission gate and go down the beach aways to get away from the crowd. You can rent the usual beach stuff there but it seemed much more expensive than other places (especially more expensive than Coki Beach).

While I'm thinking about it.... food is EXPENSIVE whether you buy it at the stories or eat out. Expect to pay $12 and up for a burger and fries. Expect to pay $25 and up for regular dinners (fish, etc...). Milk is $5 - $6 a gallon just as an example. We were "lucky" because there is a market in Red Hook that has a lot of useful food products and a bigger market was just a little further down the road.

We took the ferry to St. John one day. We took a St. John with Tony's Taxi. He was Great! The tour was 2 hours long and we saw so much of the island that we might not have ever seen on our own. The sugar plantation at Annaberg was especially fun and Tony did a great job explaining the slave quarters, the manufacturing of sugar, molasses, and rum. He showed us the dungeon that you won't know it's there unless you are with a guide.

There really isn't much shopping or many places to eat on St. John. Everyone said we needed to go to Mongoose Junction (short walk from the ferry) to shop. It was mostly expensive boutique shops.

It costs $6 to ride the ferry in each direction.

We found the best opportunities to barter was with the locals who had tents set up in Charlotte Amalia near the water front. It looked like most of the stores and shops in the buildings were owned by big companies (probably the cruise lines since cruise ships dock close by).

Don't go into Charlotte Amalia when cruise ships are in. It gets very crowded! Cruise ship schedules are posted on the USVI web site.

I'll be glad to answer any questions anyone posts...

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1. Re: Tips for first timers from a first timer


We are a group of four going to St. Thomas in two weeks, also our first time. We are staying at Frenchman's Cove, can you tell me how far that is from Red Hook and from Charlotte Amalia? Also, at St. John's, could you tell me how much you paid for the taxi/tour guide? Any suggestions for good, reasonable food?

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2. Re: Tips for first timers from a first timer

Frenchman's Cove is near the airport and close (< 5 miles) to Charlotte Amalia. Red Hook is on the east end of the island and basically on the opposite side of the island from Frenchman's Cove. I didn't measure it but I would say Red Hook is ~ 10 miles from Frenchman's Cove. It's not a bad drive but the roads wind around and have plenty of hills and curves. We traveled the main roads and there can be some congested areas regardless of which route you take.

The taxi / tour guide on St. John was $25 per person. It lasted two hours and was well worth the money for us. Tony was our taxi operator / tour guide. You can find him "on the square" right as you come off the ferry. Look for the white gazabo to the left and ask for Tony. There are PLENTY of taxis there and they seemed to be nice (mostly open back trucks with seats).

Tony was probably around 70 years old and had lived on the island for 50 years. He pointed out a lot of things we would have never seen / known if we had rented a car and was driving around by ourselves.

Tony was extremely knowledgeable about the island and loved to talk about its' history. He spent a lot of time with us at the sugar plantation at Annaberg. He also told us about the various beaches and coves. He stopped at a point and gave us a good view of Rockafellar Resort which we didn't even know was on St. John.

We found most of the places to eat were all about the same. Nothing really stood out. We ate at Glady's Cafe in Charolette Amalia and Greenhouse. Greenhouse is directly across from the waterfront on the main road. Glady's is down Drake's Passage which is a quaint ally way.

Some locals told us it "wasn't safe" along the waterfront in Charolette Amalia once it got past 8 or 9 pm. EVERYTHING except places to eat close once the cruise ships leave around 6 p.m.

Since we were staying on the east end of the island (Sapphire Beach) and Red Hook was about a mile from our condo, we ate there several times. We ate at Molly Malone's and Fish Tales. Both were good and on the water at the marina. Duffy's Love Shack is directly across the street but we didn't try the food there but heard it was good. There were other places (Big Bambooze and others) but we didn't try those.

We ate several meals in our condo to try to keep costs down. Prices at most of the places we ate at were within the same range ($15 - $30 for most entree's).

I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions and if I can make your first visit an enjoyable one. Our's was!

Gorham, Maine
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3. Re: Tips for first timers from a first timer

Great tips.....love getting input from new people with a fresh perspective! This Tony on St John sounds great, sounds like a wonderful way to get an in-depth overview.

Thanks so much!

Saco, Maine
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4. Re: Tips for first timers from a first timer

Great review! We are also heading to Sapphire Beach Resort and St. Thomas for the first time in February. Which unit did you stay in at Sapphire? Were there many younger kids around (ours are 7 and 5)? Thanks!

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5. Re: Tips for first timers from a first timer

Tony was AWESOME! We have 20 and 13 year old "children" and they even enjoyed Tony. We could tell he liked his job. We saw him several times while on St. John and every time he recognized us and waved and smiled real big. I think we made his day as much as he made ours.

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6. Re: Tips for first timers from a first timer

We were in unit D211. The owner has 4 units at Sapphire Beach and lives in one of them. She was awesome and we helped her put a hammock up on the balcony that she had for a year and a half.

She came to see us and even let us use the adjoining balcony since no one was in the unit beside us.

Sapphire Beach and the condo there was a good choice for our family.

We did see a couple of families on the beach with small children.

7. Re: Tips for first timers from a first timer

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