Difference between revisions of "Saint Thomas"
Revision as of 01:29, 22 January 2010
St. Thomas is in the Virgin Islands.
The most famous feature, besides the shopping, on the island. Directly across on the northern side from Charlotte Amalie, a crescent shaped bay with a mile of white sand and several bars and small stores. Taxis from downtown cost about 15 dollars, and if there are any cruise ships on the day you go, you can bet it will have at least a few beached white tourist fish.
The trip to Magen's Bay (and back) passes Mountain Top a small conglomeration of shops with a great view of Magen's Bay and beyond; beware of the potent Rum Punch at the bar - don't let it ruin your day! Excellent views of Charolotte Amalie's harbor when descending on the return. (Note: Mountain Top shops/facilities received major fire damage Spring 09,and have not as yet (Nov 09) been restored.)
The next bay to the west of Magen's, on the Atlantic ocean, and in the winter there is the island's only surfing. There is a shop where you can rent boards, but in typical island style, you would be lucky to catch the owner there to rent you one. Better to call ahead a few days and leave a message.
Beautiful small beach near the University, especially nice at sunset. The landing strip for the airport is right on the other side, and the sun sets somewhere out in the middle.
Beach resort, open to the public but you can stay there too if that is where you want to be. Nice beach, rent a snorkel and check out the nice clear water and coral. There are a couple of bars and a swimming pool, sometimes a live band at night, if you haven't had a BBC (Bailey's, banana, coconut) they are pretty tasty.
The best snorkeling beach on St. Thomas. Normal underwater visibility of 100+ feet! Great beach for kids to learn to snorkel. It's very calm and you can feed the fish in about 3-4 feet of water if you want to. They sell dog treats to feed to the fish and it's really cool to see them swarm you for one. Beware of the locals though, you will be asked if you want to buy something 20 times before you make it to the beach, once there you are pretty much left alone though.
If you take a tourist taxi to Coki Beach (they have awnings) you must be sure to take the same driver on return trip. If you try to take a different driver, nasty arguments can happen. Get the name of the driver who took you and make a time for pickup and return. There are no food facilities at Coki Beach, so be sure to plan for this.
This is a private resort, but they allow visitors to use the beach. Not so for the chairs, which must be rented from a very diligent attendant. There are a number of rather large iguanas that wander around the property. They are not pet material, and run off if approached. there is a very nice restaurant on the beach called the Blue Moon; Not only was the food reasonably-priced and delicious, it's one of the few places that will give you free soda refills, and you can't beat the view. The snorkeling was decent close to the beach. There's a dive shop on site where you can rent chairs and other needs, but we didn't go in. Taxis know this resort well, and unlike many islands where you have to prearrange a pickup when dropped off, when you are ready to leave Secret Harbour several taxis are lined up and waiting in front of the resort.
"Downtown" - Charlotte Amalie
This is where most tourists go to shop from the cruise ships. Nearly every day, they visit some of the 300 or so jewelry and other stores in the city (see "Buy" below). But it's a great place to "people watch" as well.
If you happen to be downtown at night, Frenchtown is where the classier places are, for food and drinks. Downtown there are a couple of bars that sport they younger crowd and have loud music etc.
East End - Red Hook
There is a little more nightlife and activities, restaurants in Red Hook, you can catch the dollar taxi (2$ to Red Hook from downtown), it takes about 45 minutes to get there. Don't get stuck there though, unless you have a lot of people in your group, a taxi will not likely take you downtown after about 9PM. Red Hook has ferry service to the island of Saint John.
This is the islands, so naturally the locals are very laid back. You can count on speedy service especially in the areas where they are used to dealing with a lot of tourists though. Some decorum is still important; keep swimwear on the beach, and dress comfortably for other activities.
Say "good morning" "good afternoon" or "good night" when you enter a room, get on a taxi or before you start talking to someone and they will be more friendly, this is the polite thing to do and shows that you aren't a complete tourist.
English is spoken throughout the island.
Cyril E. King Airport (IATA: STT) (ICAO: TIST), 340-774-5100, . This international airport is on Red Point on the island's southwest coast. Local carriers like Cape Air and Seaborne Airlines also offer frequent flights linking the St. Thomas Airport with St. Croix's Henry Rohlsen Airport.
Several airlines serve the island from nearby islands and numerous U.S. mainland cities, e.g., US Airways, Delta, Continental, United, American, Spirit.
Cruise Ships Saint Thomas is a very popular stop for cruise ships on both Eastern Caribbean and Southern Caribbean itineraries. When they're in port (often, usually during daylight hours), you may see many large ships...1-2 off-season, frequently four or more (occasionally eight or so) in high-season. Each can put 2-3,000 passengers on the island. You can find fairly dependable data on scheduled ship arrivals and passenger loads for Saint Thomas and many other ports and dates at .
Once you've used transport (noted below) to reach any area (e.g., "downtown", Havensight, Red Hook), walking becomes the preferred way to get around.
If you want to see the island thoroughly, without the restrictions of a large bus tour by your hotel or cruise ship, consider hiring a cab/driver for a few hours. Many are amiable and well-qualified to show you places the buses can't or don't go, and where buses go, your driver can time your arrival to avoid the bus crowds. For 3-5 hours, a common rate is around $50 per hour, so four or more people can have a "private" tour for much less than all on a "bus" tour. Cab drivers are happy to oblige, so you should have no trouble hiring one at any resort, the cruise ship docks, downtown or in shopping areas.
Ferries leave from Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook to other islands pretty much all day every couple of hours. There are information booths along the waterfront where you can get a schedule for the local ferries and a ferry terminal near French Town for the longer distances (BVI etc). For on-line schedules to plan your outing, try  for getting around the USVI, and  for reaching the British Virgin Islands. If you are going to St. John it is much cheaper and faster to go from Red Hook.
There are two kinds. Tourist taxis, and dollar taxis. Tourist taxis will take you anywhere at a premium, from one end of the island to the other. Airport to Red Hook is probably $30, from Charlotte Amalie to the Airport is about $15, and from Charlotte Amalie to Red Hook about $20. Agree to a price before you get in the car. Taxi prices are PER PERSON so a trip for 4 to Meagans bay for your group could easily run you $50 each way! The big truck taxis will charge by the person, the legitimate taxis will have a meter, and the gypsy taxis will bid for your service and all of them will be waiting in crowds outside restaurants and bars after dark. There are approximately 3,000 taxis on the island, half gypsy (unlicensed).
Dollar taxis run from sunrise to sunset, whenever they feel like it. They have one route with set stops. If you want to ride one, ask someone where to wait for one. They look just like the tourist taxis, but they will be filled with locals instead of tourists. They go from the end of airport road to Sapphire Bay and back, one way. Yes, one way, it goes in a figure 8 from the Airport, through Charlotte Amalie to the mall in the middle, out to the east end, back to the mall and downtown again. If you go farther than the mall then it will cost you $2, for shorter trips only $1. The taxis run at random but frequently enough. The dollar taxis do not run all the way to the airport, so don't try it. Their last stop is near Brewers Bay, a good mile from the terminal.
Endless "safari cabs" (pickup trucks that have been converted to offer 3-5 covered bench seats) go back and forth from downtown and ships' docks...per "Get In" above. If you look like a tourist dockside or on the street downtown, you will be asked quite often but amiably if you need a ride.
General note: Everyone in the city uses their horns liberally...short toots for "hello". They drive on the left side of the street and don't really follow the rules. They don't follow the rules about a lot of things, in fact they are very disorganized, but it can be charming.
The island is arguably the biggest shopping mecca in the Caribbean. All merchandise is duty, luxury and sales tax free to customers (merchants do pay modest inventory and other business taxes).
You can shop many dozens of stores downtown (in Charlotte Amalie), and others in a few malls dotting the island, and near cruise ship docks, e.g.,:
Other stores in resorts, strip malls, etc., tend to serve locals and land vacationers; many of them open on Sundays whether cruise ships are visiting or not, e.g., K-Mart (one walkable from Havensight, & a larger store in Tutu Park...an air-conditioned mall), Cost-U-Less grocer nearby.
U.S. currency is used/accepted universally. ATMs can be found in numerous locations. As anywhere, major purchases should be made by credit card. Most store-front establishments, resorts and restaurants accept credit cards and traveler checks. Few places accept personal checks. Sellers in open-air bazaars may not accept credit or debit cards.
Gems, jewelry, watches, liquor, cosmetics, perfumes, linens and (sometimes) cameras, optics, electronics and fine crystal and china can be good buys, but know the costs for the same/similar items back home. (Some cameras, optics and electronics may be obtained at home from aggressive discounters (e.g., on Internet) for equivalent or lower prices. But those savings can disappear if they charge sales tax, shipping costs, or extra for US-importer warranties.) Price advantages for U.S. citizens may be helped by generous duty exemptions (see below). These advantages can make the economics of buying in the USVI slightly better for U.S. citizens than elsewhere (e.g., St Martin) where prices may be similar, sometimes better. However, unique, appealing or well-priced items seen elsewhere should not be avoided because of feared duty costs...often modest even if you exceed your exemption. (see "Customs and Duty", this section below)
Bargaining is appropriate in open-air bazaars, and should be tried in stores but may be rebuffed in a few for some kinds of items. Here, ensure that items of interest that need any kind of (service) warranty have one in writing that is usable at home, e.g., for electronics, watches, cameras. You need to ask if any warranty is "grey-market" (e.g., see ), international or backed by the US-importer, and understand the consequences of the different kinds. For valuable gems or jewelry, ensure the seller provides a written description and certified appraisal of each item's worth.
In exchange for very large fees, "port shopping advisers" on cruise ships tout certain merchants as more reliable than others, with passenger satisfaction "guaranteed, except for negligence or buyer's regret". But most stores are quite reputable, ready to rectify any problem that's truly their responsibility. Touted or not, smaller retailers such as Artistic Jewelry and Mr. Tablecloth offer quality fully-equivalent to such large and famous stores as Cardow or A.H. Riise. And they may offer items seen nowhere else. The best approach...always thoroughly inspect any high-cost item and obtain a written description or appraisal before accepting it.
Per "Get In" discussion above, when many cruise ships are in port, the open-air bazaar and stores can be crowded...sometimes very crowded. That can compromise bargaining success and how well you are helped even in the best stores with fine staffs. Shopping early or late can help avoid some of the crowds. Stores downtown (Charlotte Amalie) usually open at 0930-1000 and close around 5:00 PM. Half-day, morning ship's tours (the most popular) end about noon back at the ship, and ship itineraries often call for departures at 4-6 PM (with all-aboard as much as an hour earlier). You might time your shopping accordingly.
On Sunday, early can be essential. A few stores (mostly in downtown Charlotte Amalie) don't open, more open only if at least one cruise ship is in port, and many of those stores close by early-mid afternoon. Occasionally, local holidays/festivals make shopping downtown problematic due to street and store closures, e.g., for parades. Most carnivals/celebrations are in late April & early May.
Especially if you must fly to get home, you may wish to have stores ship out-sized or heavy items home for you (liquor, perfumes and tobacco excluded). Costs for surface shipping can be modest, air a bit more but faster. (Your local Post Office, UPS or FEDEX store should be able to give you example costs. "Know Before You Go" noted below indicates the US Postal Service is more convenient for sending dutiable items.) Any methods helps avoid the dangers of damage (or theft) by baggage handlers, greatly simplifies your return home, and allows you to refuse to accept (at/hear home) any shipment that appears damaged. There are requirements for documentation and customs labeling when shipping dutiable items. Retailers should help, and may even arrange everything. If significant customs duty will be involved, you may have to pay it at/near home as you receive the item(s). But ask the merchant if you can simply declare the item on your Customs form as you return home.
Several stores offer large and varied selections of quality and premium liquors at low prices rarely if ever seen in the U.S. They include: A.H. Riise, Dynasty and others downtown; many of the same in Havensight, plus K-Mart, Pueblo Supermarket and Al Cohen's Warehouse near Havensight; A.H. Riise and Supreme Liquors at Crown Bay, with another Pueblo Supermarket nearby. The airport now has stores outside and inside the secure area (airside) (see discussion under "Returning home" below, this section). Most liquor comes in one liter bottles (some larger), some US-produced liquors may be .75 liter ("fifths"), and liqueurs may be in still other sizes. So take care when calculating or comparing cost per ounce or liter.
Some liquor stores will box your purchases and deliver them to your ship, hotel or airport the same day at no charge if you ask and purchase early enough. That way, you don't have to carry them with you the rest of the day. Others (e.g., K-Mart, Cohen's) usually have boxes available, and may box bottles for you to carry. If you have a choice, smaller boxes (e.g., 2-4 bottles each) are much easier to pack and pad in luggage.
Customs and Duty
(emphasis U.S.; please expand)
Always consult authoritative sources to obtain and understand consequences of customs limits and duty costs before making major purchases, e.g., for U.S. Customs, download/print and take with you "Know Before You Go" .
Don't pay duty on what you already own and take on your trip. For fine jewelry, new cameras, electronics, etc.
- Fill out on-line as many Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Forms 4457 as needed to precisely describe the items you're likely to take on international trips and print (see link to form in lower right corner of ).
- Take the items, the forms and proof of ownership to a CBP office, and have a Customs agent certify on the forms that you already own the items.
- Take whatever valuables you choose and related forms on your trip, and have them handy for CBP inspection as you return to the U.S.
Original (in the U.S.) store receipts can be a fair substitute for proof of prior ownership if you lack time or access to a CBP office. Don't count on getting your 4457s certified as you depart the country; CBP officers are often then consumed processing thousands of arrivals and departures.
The following summarizes your duty exemptions/allowances as you return having visited Saint Thomas (actually any part of any U.S. protectorate) on any part of your trip:
- Total purchases: Each U.S. citizen is allowed to return to the U.S. with $1600 in total purchases (up from $800 for the Caribbean generally). At least half the amount must have been purchased in the USVI. Members of immediate families can "pool" those exemptions.
- Liquor: Under a separate duty exemption, but within the above $1600, each adult U.S. citizen is allowed to return to the U.S. with four liters or five fifths of liquor duty-free (up from one liter), with at least half of the value purchased in the USVI. If you purchase at least one liter made or bottled in the USVI (e.g., Cruzan rum), you can return with five liters/six fifths duty-free. With different bottle sizes noted above, take care about numbers of bottles versus total liters purchased for your Customs declaration. The exemptions for wine and beer are different; again, consult "Know Before You Go". Adult members of immediate families can "pool" those exemptions as well. Take care with very large quantities, e.g., Florida treats more than 24 bottles as a commercial importation, requiring an importer's license and payment of state sales tax in addition to duty.
- Gems/Jewelry: U.S. Customs treats loose gemstones (even fully faceted) as "rocks" having no dutiable value. However, if mounted in jewelry, the full cost as finished jewelry must be declared. No reputable jeweler will separately sell you an unmounted stone and its mount to avoid duty; it would place them and you in violation of the law; if discovered by Customs, items may well be confiscated.
- Tobacco: A separate quantity restriction applies to tobacco products. Overages may be confiscated.
- Blacklisted sources: Any goods made in Cuba (or other "blacklisted" countries) will be confiscated by Customs if found. Major amounts may generate a fine as well.
- Unique items: Original art works created here/abroad and certain other custom-made items may also be treated as non-dutiable; you'll need a certificate of origin from the seller.
- You may find goods made in the U.S., e.g., some T-shirts, a few brands of jewelry...ask sellers. They're called "U.S. Goods Returning" (USGR or AGR). If so, ensure the seller provides proper/formal indication on or with a receipt so that the cost(s) will not count against your duty allowance. Similar policy may apply for products made in and returning to other countries.
Non-dutiable items (e.g., USGR/AGR) must be itemized on your customs declaration; their costs should not be included in the dutiable sum of your purchases. Have receipts, certificates and merchandise for all purchases (except foods already consumed or items given to others) readily at hand as you pass through Customs.
As you return home (the U.S.)...
- Other customs enforcement (e.g., for Canada or EC countries) depends on country limits and customs diligence. (please expand)
(Emphasis U.S.; please expand):
If you return home by driving directly from the end of a cruise, you are weight/size limited only by the capacity of your vehicle...and your bank account. You'll go through customs processing at the U.S. port where your cruise ends.
With airlines now charging for checked bags (plus large fees for overweight and too many bags), the economics and practicalities of bringing back heavy or large purchases on flights gets complicated. Such items in luggage can greatly affect size and/or weight, possibly resulting in punitive baggage costs. Results may also be too big, numerous or heavy to be hand-carried on flights. If your purchases induce weight or size challenges, consider shipping what you are allowed to.
Whether checked or carried on flights, highly "over-proof" liquor (actually anything above 140 proof or 70% alcohol...including bottles of perfume/cologne) may be deemed a fire hazard and confiscated. (For perfume or cologne, you may be OK if you wrap, bag against leaks and pack single bottles separately in different suitcases.)
If you fly home from Saint Thomas:
Carry on: For current U.S. carry-on restrictions when flying, go to  Generally, you can't hand-carry bottles of liquids larger than 3 oz. on board aircraft in or flying to the U.S., and all must fit in one quart-size, clear plastic bag. Some travelers try to avoid this by purchasing liquor or perfumes/colognes at shops inside airport secure areas immediately before boarding return flights. As above, that option (and another) is now available at the Saint Thomas airport.
Eat a fresh coconut, there is an old man who comes to the tent market in Charlotte Amalie every day with a pickup truck full of coconuts and a machete and sells them for 2 or 3 dollars, you drink the milk and give it back and he gives it another crack so you can eat the "meat".
In addition to offerings in resort complexes, a few independent restaurants include:
You'll also find others at 
With bottled liquor so inexpensive, most "watering holes" are for visitors.
Most resorts and many restaurants have bars if not nightclubs. You'll also find a few nightclubs in or near most towns.
As a pedestrian, take care with the often heavy traffic by looking both ways before crossing. Remember that they drive on the left side.
At night, the common recommendation is to take a taxi to/from any location, and to avoid walking alone. Virtually all stores downtown (and most locations mentioned above) will be closed and shuttered, with no display windows.
Generally, tap water is potable everywhere.
If you are staying for a few days, consider ferry rides or inter-island flights to St Croix, the British Virgin Islands (passport required) or the islands just east of Puerto Rico (passport may be required). Even just as a day-trip, try St. John, to enjoy the quieter life, less-crowded beaches and limited but wide-range shopping selection at prices similar to Charlotte Amalie. Ferries regularly depart from Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook at the east end of St. Thomas.
The airport has private aviation operators (on north side of the runway) with amiable, highly-qualified pilots and well-maintained equipment, e.g. Ace Flight Center . With prior arrangements, they can provide, at modest cost, flights in small aircraft, to provide perspectives of the area's islands that can be seen no other way. If landing elsewhere is planned, passports may be required, especially for other than U.S. citizens.
There are several small internet cafes located around the island as well as connections offered by the larger resort hotels. Havensight has two and Crown Bay one that cater to ships' crews; they are open to the public.
Cell phones can be used in most places, with some spotty coverage due to mountains and hills. Calls to the U.S. are treated as long-distance, not international.