St. Thomas, USVI: the Shopping & Beach Port (we did neither)

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

One of the fun things about cruising is planning what you’re going to do in each port.
Except when you don’t.
Like we didn’t in St. Thomas.
This was our first visit to the Caribbean’s busiest cruise ship port & our plan consisted of getting off the boat & exploring.
Cruise ships dock next to a beautiful yacht marina, where our ship pulled in next to a $200,000,000 yacht . After strolling through the yacht village, we wandered the two miles into downtown Charlotte Amalie, following the sidewalk which ran along the edge of Long Bay.

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

When we got into town, we realized everything we had been told was actually true: it really was just a town full of duty-free shopping. Convinced that there had to be something worthwhile to see, we (luckily) stumbled upon someone from the USVI Tourism Bureau, who pointed us in the direction of several historic homes & Blackbeard’s Castle.

We walked up the hill into the Inn at Blackbeard’s Castle, paid our $14 admission, & had the morning to explore. First up in the self-guided walking tour was the Amber Museum , a really interesting collection of amber pieces, included a piece millions of years old with a fossilized dinosaur footprint in it. Did you know that, because of the way amber is formed, amber pieces with insects frozen inside them (a la Jurassic Park) are actually fake?

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Following the museum, we toured four historic sites: the Britannia House (filled with beautiful West Indian furniture, including many pieces from Barbados), the Pedersen Estate (the only urban archaeological dig in the entire Caribbean), Villa Notman (with its double balcony railings imported from New Orleans), & the Haagensen House (which offers amazing views of the cruise port).

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Finally, we made it up to the site of Blackbeard’s Castle. The “castle,” aka the St. Thomas Skytsborg Tower, was built in 1678 as a watchtower for the harbor. No one is really sure when Blackbeard the Pirate (aka Edward Teach – what a boring, non-intimidating name!) took it over, but they guess it was some time in the 1700s. He used the tower as a lookout for his evil-doings. The tower still stands, & affords amazing views of the entire town of Charlotte Amalie.

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

After exploring the castle for a bit, we popped our head into the Rum Factory, where a small amount of rum is made on site. There is a rum sampling area, where they let you sample as much as you want (score!). We contemplated buying a bottle of the pineapple rum we liked, but ultimately decided we couldn’t cheat on Mt. Gay rum from Barbados.

Exploring the whole site took about two hours &, despite how it sounds, all this was decidedly NOT touristy or cheesy. Except the part where one of the historic homes is now a gift shop. That felt a bit Disney-esque.
We wandered back down the hill into the shopping mecca of downtown Charlotte Amalie. We wandered down Main Street, poking our heads into various shops. Eventually, though, we got sick of being heckled as we walked by the entrance to every store (“Free watch with purchase!” “Get a diamond for the lady!” “Pretty necklace for your beautiful wife!”) & started heading back toward the ship. After being caught in a momentary downpour (a common theme on this Caribbean adventure), we made our way back to Yacht Haven Grande  & decided to stop for a snack.

We pulled up a stool at Fat Turtle  (not at all related to the popular U.S. beach chain Fat Tuesday) & enjoyed a Carib beer & some fish cakes. While there, we watched two wild iguanas frock on the rocks – staring each other down, scampering around & eventually engaging in some momentary adult activities. Sadly, this was one of the highlights of our visit to St. Thomas (the scampering, not the other activities) – you just don’t see huge iguanas running around the streets of DC!

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

St. Thomas was probably our least favorite port during the cruise, but that’s partially our fault. By not doing any research, we really didn’t know what to expect or do. On the other hand, it was kind of nice to just have a “wandering day” on an otherwise packed cruise itinerary.


If you go…

Had we planned better (or done any research what-so-ever), we would have known that in addition to the tower itself at Blackbeard’s Castle, there is also a swimming pool, snack bar, & lounge chairs. The price of admission includes access to all these amenities. The views from the pool are spectacular.

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

If you’re dying for a taste of home, there’s a Wendy’s restaurant at the end of the cruise ship pier. If you’re in need of some last minute items, there’s a Kmart & a Payless Shoes within walking distance of the pier.

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Taxi tours are popular on all Caribbean islands, especially in St. Thomas. If you’re interested in doing a tour, make sure & set a price with the driver ahead of time.

One of the most popular places for cruisers to head is to the world famous beach at Magens Bay . Consistently ranked as one of the top 10 beaches in the world, we chose to skip this often crowded spot. If you decide to go there during your day in port, skip the cruise line excursion there & just take a taxi – it’s about a 20 minute ride from the port.
If you cruise into St. Thomas, make sure & grab a spot in the aft of the ship for sail away. “Parking” is very tight at the dock – you’ll definitely want a good vantage point to see your ship back out of its parallel “parking spot.”
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About christina

Christina is a 30-something D.I.N.K. travel writer & photographer who travels the world often wedged into the middle seat. Follow her on Twitter & Facebook.

2 Responses to St. Thomas, USVI: the Shopping & Beach Port (we did neither)

  1. Tidy-Up Gal May 16, 2012 at 1:55 am #

    oooooh! I heard so much about Fat Turtle but we didn’t get to go :-(. I also remember the view from pic #6!

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