While on our last cruise vacation on the Carnival Breeze, our first port of call was St Thomas USVI and we didn’t really have a plan set out for what we would be doing. The cruise had several excursions but we try to avoid tours at all costs and explored on our own. After skipping past the many tour caravans at port we made our way to some great spots. Here are the top sights we recommend for a cruise stop in St. Thomas.
Getting There: Just a 25-30 minute walk and by far less by taxi from port, Blackbeard’s Castle is an interesting little gem atop a hill overlooking Charlotte Amelie. From the bottom of the hill you make your way up and stumble upon the 99 steps, another famous attraction at St. Thomas. Just around the corner at the top of the steps your climb one more hill and there lies Blackbeard’s castle.
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To See/Do: The entrance to the grounds is free where you will encounter several statues of pirates of the past with a big prominent statue of Blackbeard at the center of the courtyard. Going up the tower known as Blackbeard’s Castle was $14 USD a head and for an extra two to three floors of view it just wasn’t worth it for us. But the grounds provide a great view of the bay and each statue told a small history of the pirate depicted. There was even “Jack Sparrow” actor walking around with his real steel sword willing to pose for pictures. The whole hike up and time there took a little more than an hour and although not a great spectacle of a place, it was interesting enough to see some pirate history in the morning before heading to a day at the beach and we were the only ones there so it was like a free private tour.
Getting There: With most of the cruise passengers and tourists going to Magen’s Bay, we decided to try something different. After asking a couple of the locals, we found that Coki Beach was popular with the locals and a few tourists also frequented there but nowhere near the population at Magen’s Bay. We found a taxi near Main Street, a popular shopping area full of tourists both from the cruise and otherwise. Most taxis were only interested in providing their caravan tours of the island at $25 USD a head, but after asking around we found a taxi willing to take us to Coki Beach on the other side of the island. It was $8 a person and we rode with two other tourists heading to a hotel on that side of the island.
To See/Do: Upon arriving, we were offered everything from beach towels and chairs to “special greenery” and beer. After politely refusing all offers and making our way past the local masses, we are presented with a beautiful clear beach. The locals were right, it was not heavily populated. After settling onto a spot on the beach we put on our snorkeling gear and headed towards the water. We brought our own but you can rent equipment at about $5 for fins and another $5 for mask and snorkel. You can also rent a paddle board, jet ski or go scuba diving with local outfitters available directly on the beach. The fishes were abundant and colorful along the reefs. Hundreds swim up to you even as you idling near the shoreline with no fear. They feed the fish here as there is Coki World Ocean Park aquarium next door. It was beautiful and well worth the cab fare. Stay Tuned for our video of Coki Beach snorkeling.
To Eat: There is only one eatery at Coki Beach and it’s not cheap but the food was pretty awesome. It was a little shack with mismatched picnic seating and you could never tell who was a server. Jahshae’s Bar and Grill (menu shown) provides your average burgers, chicken fingers and hot dogs, but also some more seafood dishes like shrimp, conch and lobster. We had the jerk chicken and it was deliciously spicy with a hint of cinnamon. The beer buckets were $20 USD for 5 beers which is pretty average when compared to the prices at home.
Getting Back: Getting back was simple as there are a lot of taxis outside of Coki Beach and it was the same fare, $8 USD per person.
Getting There: Main Street is only a 20-25 minute walk from port. It is on the way to Blackbeard’s Castle and can easily be reached without a taxi but a taxi will be only 5 minutes or less. Just make a right past Emancipation Gardens while on Fort Pladsen and then a right onto Norre Gade and you’ll be on Main street.
To See/Do: For those who love to shop, Main Street is the place to go. You have your designer stores at slightly lower prices and duty free. You will find anything from MAC to Chanel or if jewelry is more along your shopping needs anything from Diamond International to Tiffany and Co. The alcohol specials are great as well and when buying alcohol in St. Thomas you are allowed to claim 4 liters of liquor at US Customs as opposed to the 1 liter allowance on other islands. They have any and everything you can imagine on the alcohol shelf. Although not allowed by US Customs, you will also find an abundance of Cuban Cigars here.
Getting There: Fort Christian is slightly outside the Main Street area and if you are walking from port, you will definitely pass it on your right on the way to Main Street or Blackbeard’s Castle.
To See/Do: We called to inquire on a tour of Fort Christian but it is closed for remodeling and apparently has been for years. However, you can walk around the historic red brick building for some great shots of this 300 year old Danish Fort that is also the oldest standing structure in the U.S Virgin Islands. We spent no more than 5-10 minutes walking around the outside of the structure but hope it will be open to view on our next visit.
Although we didn’t get to see Hassel Island, it was definitely tabbed for our next visit with its historic forts and ruins sprinkled all along around the island. Hassel Island is also being proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site and we sorely miss not having the chance this time around. We were only deterred by the way to get on the island and hope that it will be more freely accessible during a future visit.
Getting There: There are currently no public transports to Hassel Island. We called the island preseve and were advised the only way on the island is through a private charter. The only private charter we found is through Virgin Islands EcoTours. They provide a 3 hour tour of the island for $89 USD a person and depart twice a day at 9:30a and 2:00p as well as a 5 hour tour that departs at 9:30a for $143 USD. The way onto the island is via a 20 minute kayak paddle from Frenchtown Marina in Charlotte Amelie.
To See/Do: There are several old forts and buildings on Hassel Island namely Britain’s oldest naval forts. The tour with Virgin Islands EcoTours begins at Fort Willoughby where you can hike around the fort and Garrison House. There is also the Creque Marine Railway one of the earliest marine railway systems currently being renovated by the island preserve. There is also great snorkeling around the island and the Virgin Islands EcoTours makes a stop allowing you time to do so.
Getting There: Señor Frogs is right at the port just steps away from all the cruise ships.
To See/Do: If you’re a cruise passenger and want to kill some time before heading back to the ship, Señor Frogs is a fun spot to hit without the worry of being too far from the ship to embark on time. Although the drinks are a bit overpriced, it is a fun bar and everyone inside just looks like they are throwing caution to the wind and having a great time. There were people dancing on the bar itself and a waitress coming around with jello shots at $3 USD a shot. While not exactly off the tour, as it is mostly full of tourists and mostly cruise passengers for that matter, you can’t help but smile, relax and just have a good time while there.
For a full day in St. Thomas, there is only so much you can fit into your itinerary especially as a cruise passenger. We aimed to maximize our experience and found these to be great spots to explore with our limited time. We tried to get off the tourist trail as much as we could given we were on a cruise and thousands and passengers debarked with us. What other good spots do you know of in St. Thomas?