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How to Plan a Trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands

An insular territory of the United States of America, the U.S. Virgin Islands are the easiest overseas territory to visit for Americans. That's why they are so popular among U.S. nationals. Here's Buzzle's brief guide to plan a trip to this Caribbean paradise.
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Best season to visit US Virgin Islands
There are hundreds of duty-free shops, lining the streets and alleys on the U.S. Virgin Islands. Special emphasis is on items such as rum, tanzanite, and gold and diamond jewelry.
Geographically located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, the Virgin Islands archipelago is a group of some 100 hilly islands, rising over clear, blue waters of the ocean. Many of these islands are very small and remote, and well, virtually uninhabited. One part of this archipelago is owned by Great Britain and the other by the United States. In fact, the U.S. owns the three major and most famous islands of the archipelago―St. Thomas, the most commercialized of the three; St. John, the greenest of the three; and St. Croix, the off-the-beaten-path island―alongside the Water Island, which became the part of U.S. Virgin Islands in 1996, and several other minor islands. The U.S. Virgin islands feature some of the most popular scuba diving sites, apart from scenic beauty, and several cultural and historical attractions.

Planning a U.S. Virgin Islands Vacation

U.S. Virgin Islands

Being American territories, U.S. nationals do not require a passport to travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands, owing to which it is among the most favorite vacation destinations of Americans. However, it is interesting to note that the West Indian culture still holds a very strong influence on the islands, and it is reflected through the local traditions, lifestyle, and cuisine. If visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands is on your wish list this vacation season, here are a few tips to help you plan your trip.

When to Visit

The peak season to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands falls between mid-December to the end of April. This is the winter season, but because these are tropical islands, it does not get very cold. Moreover, it rarely rains during this time, and so it is the best time for people wanting to indulge in outdoor activities.

The months just before and after the peak season―November, early December, and May―form the shoulder season. The weather in these months is pretty pleasant, and the islands are not very crowded as well. Those not wanting to compromise much with the climate, but wanting to escape heavy crowds, can opt to visit during the shoulder season.

The rest of the year comprises the off-season. August to October are the wettest months; however, by the beginning of November, the rains start dissipating. The peak of the hurricane season is in the months of August and September.

If you wish to visit during the peak season, you will have to book well in advance so as to get the best possible bargains on hotels and airfares. It should, however, be noted that the islands are crowded with tourists during this time, and therefore, it might not be possible to get very cheap deals, and last-minute bargains may be virtually impossible to procure.

Climate during the shoulder season is pleasant, as mentioned above, and it might be possible to find cheaper hotel deals during this time, owing to lesser tourists.

If you are traveling on a tight budget and are ready to compromise a little with the climate, the off-season may be a perfect time for you to travel. You will not only be able to get really cheap airfares and accommodation deals, but you will also be able to enjoy the islands mostly for yourself.

Entry Requirements and Visas

As mentioned above, U.S. nationals do not require a visa or even a passport to travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Similarly, passports are not required for travelers from any of the United States territories as well. These include citizens of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, Swains Islands, and Northern Mariana Islands.

For all non-U.S. citizens, the entry requirements for the islands are the same as those for entry to the U.S.

How to Get There

Several direct flights to St. Thomas and St. Croix operate from major American cities such as Miami, Boston, New York, Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, etc.

Moreover, there are also several indirect flights to the two islands from San Juan in Puerto Rico.

There are also ferry services on a seasonal basis to all the three islands from Puerto Rico, and on a regular basis from the British Virgin Islands.

St. John does not have an airport but can be accessed via boat from St. Thomas.

Getting Around the Islands

All the major U.S. Virgin Islands have regular and pretty inexpensive ferry services. The schedule keeps on changing from time to time; however, the updated schedule is regularly featured in the St Thomas/St John This Week magazine, which is available free-of-cost at all tourist centers and ticket offices.

Private car rentals is also an option to get around the islands; however, there are several conditions for renting one. For one, you should be at least 21 years old to do so. Moreover, you should own a credit card and a valid driver's license.

Most car rental companies have their desks at the St. Thomas and St. Croix airports, and so, if you wish to hire a car, you can try to find the best possible bargain by inquiring with a few different companies.

You can also hire a motorcycle to get around the islands. It is needless to say that hiring a motorcycle is cheaper than hiring a car.

You can also hire private taxis to commute around the islands. They will charge you per person one way, and so the fares might seem affordable for short distances. However, if you want to travel long distance, a private car rental may be more economical.

Managing the Budget

If you are an American citizen, by opting to travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands, you have already cut down on some of the major costs incurred on long-distance vacations. No passports, no visa charges, free roaming on major service providers, no extra fees on currency exchange, and no sales tax. However, there are certain other budgeting issues which need to be handled.

As far as the accommodation is concerned, while the islands, especially St. Thomas, have numerous high-end resorts, they also offer a number of budget options like budget hotels, hostels, guest houses, and B&Bs. Prices vary from island to island and are high during peak season.

For the most cost-effective accommodation deal, opt for an all-inclusive package, that also covers your meals, activities, and other facilities, apart from lodging.

There are several fine dining options available on the islands, offering some of the most elaborate menus. However, there are several cheaper options for budget travelers as well.

In order to save money on food, eat early, take a heavy lunch, and opt for a light dinner (in most places, lunch is much cheaper than dinner, despite similarities in the menus).

Regarding the beaches, it should be noted that the two most popular beaches viz., Magens Bay on St. Thomas, and Trunk Bay on St. John, have an entry fee. Moreover, owing to their popularity, they are also among the most crowded.

However, there are several free beaches as well, such as the Sapphire Beach on St. Thomas, and the Cinnamon Bay on St. John. While these beaches offer more seclusion and calm than their more popular counterparts, the only expense here would be for renting snorkeling gear, beach games, and so on.

There are many other free attractions in the U.S. Virgin Islands, such as the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John, which you can visit, and not only save money, but also make the most of your vacation.

Health and Safety

Before traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands, you will require certain vaccinations, at least four to six weeks before the date of your departure. These include all the routine vaccines as prescribed by the WHO, and some more. For details on the immunizations required before traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands, visit the official website of the CDC.

You will also require an appropriate travel insurance, which will cover for emergencies relating to health as well as most others.

Furthermore, if you have been prescribed special medication by your doctor, ensure that you carry it with the doctor's prescription.

It is good to know the generic name(s) of your medication, in case you need to buy them over-the-counter.

Furthermore, carry all your travel documents, insurance papers, etc., as you may need to produce them in case of an emergency.

So, head to the U.S. Virgin Islands and make the most of your holiday. Only, remember to take some necessary safety measures. Petty crimes are on a rise, both in St. Thomas and St. John, and so, ensure that you keep your valuables safe, and avoid strolling alone at night.
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Published: January 29, 2014
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