U.S. Virgin Islands
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The U.S. Virgin Islands is an unincorporated organized territory of the United States of America between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of Puerto Rico. It was formerly known as the Danish West Indies. Together with the British Virgin Islands, to the northeast, the territory forms the Virgin Islands archipelago.
These islands are in an important location along the Anegada Passage - a key shipping lane for the Panama Canal; Saint Thomas has one of the best natural deep water harbours in the Caribbean. The terrain is mostly hilly to rugged and mountainous with little level land. There are occasional earthquakes. The highest point is Crown Mountain at 474m.
Tropical, tempered by easterly trade winds, relatively low humidity, little seasonal temperature variation; rainy season May to November. Has experienced several hurricanes in recent years as well as frequent and severe droughts and floods.
During the 17th century, the archipelago was divided into two territorial units, one English and the other Danish. Sugarcane, produced by slave labor, drove the islands' economy during the 18th and early 19th centuries. In 1917, the US purchased the Danish portion, which had been in economic decline since the abolition of slavery in 1848.
The US Virgin Islands choose to follow the mainland US entry requirements. As with the mainland, any non-US citizen must follow the Visa Waiver Program. When travelling to the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S./American Samoan citizens enjoy all the conveniences of domestic travel – including on-line check-in – making travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands easier than ever. As an American territory, travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands does not require a passport for American/American Samoan citizens who are travelling from any part of the United States or its territories, as long as a foreign place is not touched during the journey. Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau only need a passport to enter. Citizens of Canada can do not require a visa for entry, and can study and work under the TN Status. Any citizen of Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, and the US/American Samoa citizen can live, work and travel freely for a unlimited time while in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Upon departure, a passport is required for all but U.S. citizens. The territory is a "free port" in a separate customs zone from the mainland United States; this means that everyone going to the mainland must go through customs, even though there are no customs when arriving from the mainland. A passport is recommended to make returning easier, and you'll have to plan your purchases accordingly and leave a little extra time to make your departing flight.
Visa Waiver Program requirements
Travel under the Visa Waiver Program is limited to tourism or business purposes only; neither employment nor journalism is permitted with a Visa Waiver. The 90-day limit cannot be extended nor will travel to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean reset the 90-day limit. Take care if transiting through the US on a trip exceeding 90 days to Canada and/or Mexico. See Visa Waivr Program requirements for the U.S. mainland for more information.
All travelers arriving in the U.S. Virgin Islands from outside the United States (including U.S. citizens) must meet the requirements for entry (or re-entry) to the United States.
Flights are into either St. Croix or St. Thomas. St. John does not have an airport, but is easily accessible via St. Thomas.
Direct flights into St. Thomas can be found from Chicago-O'Hare, Washington-Dulles, and Newark on United Airlines; Miami, Boston, and New York-JFK on American Airlines; Atlanta and Detroit on Delta Airlines; Charlotte, Philadelphia, and New York-La Guardia (weekly) on US Airways, and Ft. Lauderdale on Spirit Airlines.
Direct flights into St. Croix can be found from Miami on American Airlines; Atlanta (twice weekly) on Delta Air Lines; and Charlotte on US Airways (weekly, seasonal). St. Croix can also be easily reached from St. Thomas by flying Cape Air or also by Seaborne Airlines (which flies seaplanes between Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas and Christiansted, St. Croix).
Ferries run between all three US Virgin Islands, as well as to and from the British Virgin Islands and, on a seasonal basis, Puerto Rico.
Getting around any of the Virgin Islands is fairly easy. All of the islands have bus service and/or a regulated taxi service. Upon docking at Cruz Bay, taxis, rental cars, and scooters are available.
With plenty to explore on all the islands, car rental agencies are recommended. From the lush rainforest to the quaint Christiansted, driving the St Croix island is both scenic and a visual pleasure. Stick to the left-hand side and with a good handful of sharp curves, take your time navigating the roads. Remember that you're on "island time."
Generally car rental rates will be comparable to the mainland U.S. (about $500 per week or $80 per day). If you make advanced reservations, the rates are generally lower. Take out the insurance if you plan to go four wheeling up the steep mountain roads. Throughout St. Thomas, there are colored directional signs to major destinations.
Unlike other U.S. territories, traffic on the Virgin Islands moves on the left. To add to the confusion, unlike most other places where traffic moves on the left, most cars in the Virgin Islands are left-hand drive as they are usually imported from the U.S. mainland. Potholes are large and numerous, similar to the end of a particularly snowy New England winter. Drivers often either slow to around 5mph or swing into oncoming traffic when encountering the larger holes. For both reasons, one should always pay extra attention when driving and watch out for drivers who drive on the wrong side of the road. Unmarked one-way streets, very narrow two-ways streets, lack of lane striping, and a high incidence of drunk driving also contribute to the relatively high accident rate among American drivers on the Virgin Islands.
To avoid collisions on hairpin turns in the mountainous areas, stay left and slow to 5mph. Some unpaved mountain roads require four-wheel drive, and some drainage ditches wash across the paved roads in the rain forest. There are generally no sidewalks outside of the towns, so pedestrians and bicycles frequently travel along the side of the main road.
There is a rudimentary highway numbering system. Roads are marked with circular signs. Numbers beginning with 1 and 2 are used on St. John, with 3 and 4 on St. Thomas and 5 to 7 on St. Croix. Roads are not very well marked -- some are not marked at all -- and designations can be confusing. Some roads simply dead-end, or end at an unmarked intersection. Signs can suddenly disappear without warning; for example, heading south on Route 40 into Charlotte Amalie, signage is nowhere to be found as you are shuttled onto one-way streets. It is not uncommon to come to a junction where one must turn to stay on the current road. Locals are more likely to know the names of the roads; conversely, tourist maps usually emphasise the numbers.
By taxi and bus
Upon landing at the Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas, one could rent a taxi or take buses to Charlotte Amalie, or to Red Hook, either of which have ferry service to Cruz Bay, St. John. You can "bargain" for most things on the islands, but the taxi and bus rates are regulated. Taxi rates are published by the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission. If you are interested in saving $8, you can walk 3/4 of a mile to Vetern's Drive and catch a safari bus that will take you into town for $1 or $2 dollars if you have minimal luggage.
Taxi rates are charged per person one way. For example, a one way trip from Charlotte Amalie to Magens Bay is $10; round trip for four people will cost $80. If you plan on visiting multiple destinations, renting a car might be more economical.you need to have bus fares too!
Sailboat rentals at Red Hook will allow you to get around by water. If you plan to sail to the British Virgin Islands, a passport is required as of 2007. Although passports are not required for American citizens to travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA) has made the documentation requirements much stricter.
On St. John, get the best idea of the island by chartering a boat for a full day. By doing this not only will one get a wonderful day of snorkeling in, but also see the island from a local's perspective. Try St John Yacht Charters at 340-998-9898.
There is a ferry boat that transports cars between Red Hook, St. Thomas and Cruz Bay, St. John. The dock is separate from the passenger ferries. The sign is really small, so if you can't find the dock, ask the workers by the passenger ferries. The road trip on the car ferry varried from $40-$50 depending on the ferry company and the day. The trip takes about 30 minutes.
Lastly, for a one-stop resource that lists charter companies operating in the U.S. Virgin Islands, consider visiting the Virgin Island Charter Yacht League's site at http://www.vicl.org. The site lists pictures as well as contact information for charters ranging from monohull to power yacht.
English is the official language but there is a local dialect. You may also find Spanish and French Creole being spoken.
Guided Running & Power-Walking Tours - Enjoy a guided running or power-walking tour with Active Island Tours & Events. Cost is $48 for a guided tour through scenic & historic sites, a high performance moisture-wicking shirt, complimentary Cruzan Rum cocktail post-run, and a bottled water. http://www.activeislandvi.com
Water Island Monday movie night - Enjoy the movie on the beach together with the residents of Water islands, Virgin Islands. If you are vacationing in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, Water island is only a short ferry ride. The round trip cost is $10. The movie is organized by Heidi's Honeymoon Beach Grill and is free of charge.
St. Croix is rich with artists. Christiansted is home to many galleries including ISLAND BOY DESIGNS owned by jewelry designer Whealan Massciott (Kenny Chesney is a fan), the MARIA HENLE GALLERY and many more. A stroll around town will reveal these and many more treasures.
The islands are duty-free and have all sorts of shops, with special emphasis on rums, tanzanite, and diamond and gold jewelry. See same subject under St Thomas for discussion.
St. Croix is home to a celebrated week-long culinary festival held each April called the St. Croix Food & Wine Experience which includes wine seminars, dinners with celebrity chefs (Kevin Rathbun, Rocco DiSpirito, Robbin Haas, Gerry Klaskala, Richard Reddington are just a few who joined the fun)and the main event, A Taste of St. Croix, showcases foods from more than 50 of the islands restaurants.
For a listing of restaurants on the island see www.GoToStCroix.com. Great local food can be found at Harvey's(stew goat), Singh's (roti) and Norma at the Domino Club in the rain forest always has something cooking.
For fine dining, try Tutto Bene, Bacchus, Savant and The Galleon. Rumrunners, located on the waterfront at Hotel Caravelle is perfect for casual, fun dining. They do a great blend of local and traditional American dishes and flavors.
If you want to catch what you eat, go fishing with Carl Holley. His boat, Mokojumbie, ties up on the docks near Rumrunners. he, in fact, supplies many restaurants with fresh fish daily.
The public high schools have had a history of trouble with accreditation, but recent improvements have gotten them accepted on a probationary basis.
To learn about history and culture, visit St. Croix's historic landmarks. St. Croix is home to two forts (one in each waterfront town) and numerous historic buildings. Tours are available at Government House in Christiansted. Whim Great House and the Laweatz Museum offer tours. There is even a self guided island tour called the Heritage Tour, maps are available at various places.
To learn about food and agriculture, come to St. Croix during the annual Ag Fair. You can also visit the VI Sustainable farm (call in advance) and Southgate Farms (both organic).
As a US territory, Americans and American Samoan citizens can come here and work with no special visa or requirements, and they can stay and work indefinately. Foreigners must go through the rigorous process of obtaining a US work permit. See the United States work section for more information.
The economy is quite seasonal, based mostly around cruise ship calls, which taper off from May through September and peak in December and January.
This is the only US territory where driving on the left side (British) of the road is still practiced. There are many theories as to why this is. One theory is due to the prior use of the donkey as a main mode of transportation. Islanders would drive on the left to see how close they were getting to the edge of the many steep and cliff-like roadways. The original donkey trails were then paved over to create what are now the roadways today. Another theory is that as a Danish colony, the Danish West Indies were heavily British-influenced, due to an unwillingness among Danish people to relocate to the Danish colony. This British influence explains the widespread use of the English language even before the United States purchased the islands from Denmark in 1917.
Despite the left-side traffic, cars on the island are generally imported from the mainland U.S. and are left-hand drive. For drivers used to right-side traffic, the switch is pretty easy to make, though you will need to put more conscious thought into turns than normal. In general, other traffic provides an immediate reminder which side to choose. It's easier to forget if you're the only car entering a section of road with a standard U.S. double yellow centerline and no road signs nearby, but there are fewer cars to crash into in that case. The terror of flying past on the wrong side of traffic will pass after the first few cars, and the readjustment back home to right-hand driving will be a pleasant reminder of your trip. In short, don't be afraid of renting a car no matter which side of the road you normally drive on.
Some parts of St. Thomas, especially Charlotte Amalie can be very risky at night. Drugs and other related crime are a major problem, and dangerous public shootouts are a fact of life around St. Thomas. Tourists should exercise extreme caution when getting around as some neighborhoods can be dangerous, even if a well-known restaurant is in a particular neighborhood. If you are not comfortable with navigating a strange island while driving on the wrong side of the road, take a taxi.
St. John is a relatively safe island and usual caution is advised when leaving your car unattended, especially at secluded beaches such as Salt Pond Bay. Your car is not a safe and yes, thieves WILL look under the front seat for your wallet.
If you are driving to a public beach (e.g., Magens Bay) and plan to go in the water, leave as much as possible in the safe at your hotel and use a secure waterproof bag or pouch (there are various belt- and armband-mounted inventions available on the Internet) to carry your keys and most valuable documents on you, rather than leaving them behind on the beach for strangers to rummage through when you are not glancing towards the shoreline.
Low-lying buildings usually use the public water, which is fine to drink. Places up in the mountains almost all have independent water supplies, replenished by the rain that falls on their roofs. The safety of this water depends on regular cleaning and treatment of the building's cistern.
There are several parts of St. Thomas that are not safe after dark, and a couple places that are not safe at any time of day. The islands may seem like paradise, but the crime rate is comparable to many large cities.
Islanders follow a system of greeting which depends on the time of day. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening and good night are the norm. Most people follow-up a salutation with "How are you?" When entering a room with others it is customary to greet people. You may also be greeted with "ya arright?", to which an appropriate response would be "arright!" or "OK". Islanders also use a modified handshake. A normal shake, then a finger clasp, followed by a fist bump.
Unlike Puerto Rico, the mainland U.S. has had little influence on the U.S. Virgin Islands when it comes to homosexuality. Same-sex private acts and marriage are legal, but everything else isn't. Discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation is legal.