If you’re thinking about a trip to the Caribbean and haven’t yet explored the US Virgin Islands (USVI), definitely think about it. With a total land area of just less than 32 square miles, St. Thomas is one of the islands that makes up the USVI along with St. Croix, St. John, and Water Island. In 1917 St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix were purchased from the Dutch by the United States for $25 million in gold as part of a defensive strategy to maintain control over the Caribbean and the Panama Canal during World War I and U.S. citizenship was granted to the residents in 1927. With an average year-round temperature in the high 80’s to low 90’s, St. Thomas is the most popular cruise ship destination for the Caribbean as well as an overall great destination for land vacations. Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the United States Virgin Islands is named for a Danish Queen. There are two cruise ports in St. Thomas: Havensight and Crown Bay. Crown Bay is the newer port that was constructed in 2007 and can accommodate the newer and larger ships such as Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, Royal Caribbean‘s largest ships.
For this port since we had been to St. Thomas before, we opted not to do an excursion through the cruise line. Instead, we were going to take a cab to Magen’s Bay to spend the day at the beach. After stepping off our cruise ship, the ms Eurodam by Holland America, we made our way through the cruise terminal outside to the taxi queue. There we saw a line of strange looking vehicles that are called “safari cabs,” which are open-air, covered trucks with bench seats. Imagine putting a few bench seats in the back of a pick up and that’s what you’re riding in. Despite the bumpy ride, it wasn’t any kind of a ride that would have scared me off from taking it again. The cost? From the port at Crown Bay to town/Havensight port: $4 per person each way. Since we were continuing onto Magen’s Bay, our fare was $9 per person each way.
After dropping people off to go shopping, our safari cab wound its way up the hillside overlooking the port where three ships were docked here this day: Celebrity Solstice, Holland America Noordam, and Norwegian Cruise Line Pearl. The view was fantastic and although I did notice some people clutching the vehicle or loved ones for dear life, I didn’t mind it and tried to take as many pictures as I could along the way.
We arrived at Magen’s Bay and our driver jumped out to pay the entrance fee, which is $4 for anyone over 12 and children under 12 are free. I took a picture of the entrance sign because I thought it was interesting that you could get married here for only $110! But why Magen’s Bay? We had heard that Magen’s Bay was one of the top 10 beaches to visit so we naturally wanted to see if it would match all the hype. What we noticed immediately was that despite getting there early, we were one of far too many people already there. One of the cruise staff had warned me not to go because she said with so many cruise ships in port it would be crowded.
Walking toward the water, we made our way toward the beach for a few steps and decided we would need lounge chairs. As you can see from the sign, they have this down to a science. $7.00 rental charge per lounge chair plus a $5.00 refundable deposit. You can pay in cash or they do take credit cards. They pull the chairs you want off the stack and you haul them off. Naturally, people don’t want to walk far with their chairs so the most congested area is the one closest to where the rental hut is as well as the food and bar area. After arranging our chairs, the water was calling to us and we got in. The water was crystal clear, the sand was white and soft and it really is a beautiful place. The water is extremely calm so I would recommend it for families with young children and also those not terribly fond of the water.
During the day the beach continued to get full as more and more cruise passengers made their way to Magen’s Bay. This picture is from when we first arrived, but within hours the beach was covered with people. We could identify the cruise passengers by their beach towels (Royal Caribbean prints their name on their towels) and the amount of people arriving never seemed to let up at all. I was fearful if I left my chair for a moment that someone would take it just looking for a place on the beach. We were smart when it came time to get food and drinks because we hit it early before the lines started. I was so excited that they actually had veggie burgers on their menu! How often do we go anywhere, especially on vacation, where I can order right off the menu just like anyone else? I’m giving these guys a big vegetarian thumbs up for thinking of vegetarians. When you order food, it is counter service that requires you to place your order and pay (cash and credit cards), get your receipt, and wait for your food. We used that time to place drink orders at the bar. No buckets of beer here folks as they don’t have a sufficient amount of ice available to keep the buckets filled. You can order beer, which they have in cans (not sure if they had any on tap) and mixed drinks from their drink menu, which are served in small plastic cups. They also have non-alcoholic versions of their drinks, but if you want soda or water, order it with your food. The veggie burgers arrived along with the hot dog we ordered for my son and we carefully balanced our food and drinks in a cardboard box sleeve that we used as a tray.
At about 2 pm we decided to call it quits and head back. I would recommend Magen’s Bay for families that hadn’t been to St. Thomas before and wanted a beach day, especially one they could get as an excursion from a cruise line to remove the difficulty factor in arranging their own transportation. Although a beautiful beach, I wouldn’t necessarily rate it as one of my top beaches that I have ever visited even though it was a nice overall beach. After returning the chairs, we had to go inside the gift shop to get our deposit back and the line was, of course, long. You can always pick up a t-shirt or any one of a dozen different kinds of souvenirs with “Magen’s Bay” on it in the store. We then walked over to where the safari cabs were sitting and if you are on a cruise ship, don’t simply say the cruise line, but also the name of the ship because the dispatcher will put you in the right cab. We had to wait until the cab was full before leaving and then we headed back to Crown Bay.
Once back at the port, we decided to do a little shopping to see if we found anything we wanted to take back. One intriguing part of this port is the sheer number of iguanas that rest on the rocks here. Apparently, these guys are supposedly an endangered species that somehow have taken to living on the rocks. Word of caution: They are not friendly and you should not try to interact or feed them. I have seen far too many people get very close, especially with children and if you would like them to bite you then go right ahead and continue to feed them. They are cute to look at, but do remember that they are animals. Some are missing tails or even a foot or leg from being stepped on so be careful and let them be.
Docked next to our ship was the brand new Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas. Just last year when we were on the Oasis of the Seas, we were docked in the same port in the same spot. When we got on our ship, we admired the Allure as we sat out on our balcony. It was funny to hear people on the safari cabs and even on our ship criticizing both Oasis and Allure. All I have to say is that if you haven’t been on one of these megaships, you can’t criticize them as they are a class of ships all unto themselves.
Overall we enjoyed our time in St. Thomas and I would stay there for a few days or even a week long vacation. After driving in Ireland, driving on the left side of the road in St. Thomas wouldn’t be terribly difficult and I could become accustomed to the wonderful weather.