Difference between revisions of "Saint Thomas"
Revision as of 15:53, 10 September 2008
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.
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.
Downtown - Charlotte Amalie
This is where all the tourists come from the cruise ships. Every day they disembark to shop at some of the 300 or so jewelry stores in the city. (See "Buy" below for shopping info.) Most of the ships park next to HavenSight Mall, a mile east of downtown. A few (e.g., Princess) dock at Crown Bay. With many ships in port simultaneously (not unusual "in season"), some ships may anchor outside the harbors.
There are endless taxis (trucks that have been converted with coverings and bench seats) going back and forth from downtown. If you look like a tourist, you will be asked if you need a ride or if you want to buy something every 15 steps or so. Everyone in the city uses their horns liberally, 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.
If you happen to be downtown at night, Frenchtown is where the classier places are, for food and drinks, there is an excellent but expensive seafood restaurant called Oceana at the edge of the water, particularly nice at sunset. 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.
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.
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). 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 $50.00 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.
U.S. currency is used/accepted universally. Sellers in bazaars may not accept credit or debit cards. Major purchases should be made by credit card. ATMs can be found in numerous locations; some may waive some fees for debit/check cards depending on your bank's network affiliation.
When cruise ships are in port (often, usually during daylight), the open air bazaars are full of bustle, and the stores can be busy. All are duty, luxury and sales tax free to customers (merchants do pay various inventory and other business taxes). Four or more large ships in port at once (rarely off-season, frequently in high-season) can put 2-3,000 passengers each on the island, making downtown midday seem like Times Square on New Years Eve. Shopping early can help, e.g., before many of those cruisers finish their tours. You can find a fairly comprehensive list of ship arrivals for the next month or so at  (under "Points of Interest").
On Sunday, early is key. Some stores (mostly downtown) don't open, many open only if a cruise ship is in port, and many of those stores close by early-afternoon. Occasional local holidays/festivals can make shopping problemmatic.
You can shop both downtown and at malls near the cruise ship docks, e.g., Havensight has many of the same shops as downtown, but in smaller versions; Crown Bay has a growing number of key stores. Other stores in resorts, strip malls, etc., dot the island, and tend to serve locals and land vacationers; many stay open on Sundays, e.g., the "main" K-Mart store.
Bargaining is appropriate in bazaars, and should be tried in stores but may be rebuffed in a few for some kinds of items. You should know how to judge the quality and value of major purchases, e.g. know costs of same/similar items back home. Cameras, optics and electronics can often be bought from aggressive U.S. discounters (e.g., some on Internet) for equivalent or lower prices. Ensure that items that need any kind of (service) warranty have one in writing that is usable at home, e.g., for electronics, watches, cameras. Gems, jewelry, watches, liquor, cosmetics and perfumes (often imported) can be very good buys, perhaps more so for U.S. citizens because of generous duty limits. These advantages (at least for "commodity" items) can make the economics of buying in the USVI slightly better for U.S. citizens than in such competitive islands as St Martin, Aruba, Curacao or St Kitts where some prices may be slightly better. Those increased limits depend on making at least half of your purchases in the USVI. Unique, appealing or well-priced items seen elsewhere should not be passed by just because of feared duty costs...often modest. Always consult authoritative sources to obtain correct details on customs limits and duty costs before making extensive purchases, e.g., download and print U.S. Customs "Know Before You Go" at .
You may wish to have stores ship out-sized items home for you (liquor, perfumes and tobacco excluded). Costs for surface shipping can be modest, and some items may already be in warehouses in or near your home country. It avoids danger of damage by baggage handlers, and greatly simplifies any return involving air. Consult "Know Before You Go" if shipping dutiable items.
Several stores offer large and varied selections of foreign and domestic liquors at excellent prices, e.g., (downtown) A.H. Riise or Dynasty for selection/price, (near Havensight) K-Mart, Pueblo Supermarket and Al Cohen's Warehouse for price. Each adult U.S. citizen is allowed to return to the U.S. with four liters (or five fifths) of liquor if they purchase most in the USVI; additionally, if one liter is made or bottled there (e.g., Cruzan rum), you can return with five liters/six fifths. U.S. Customs officials may not charge for 1-2 liters over the limit because the duty payable is so small; they often charge if you are paying duty for other purchases anyway. Other customs enforcement (e.g., Canada) depends on the country's limits and enforcement. (Note: Most "foreign" liquor comes in one liter bottles, some US-produced liquors may be full liter or .75 liter (or "fifths") bottles, and liqueurs may be in still other sizes. Take care about numbers of bottles versus total liters purchased.)
Some liquor stores will box your purchases and deliver to your ship, hotel or airport at no charge if you ask and make your purchase early enough, e.g., early afternoon for late afternoon/early evening delivery. That way, you don't have to carry them with you the rest of the day. Others (e.g., K-Mart, Cohen's) often have boxes available, and may box bottles for you. Boxes are usually strong enough to be used as checked baggage if well-strapped with strong tape. (Nylon reinforced (duct tape gives mixed results) Two boxes of up to three bottles each can be strapped together as one piece. Before you tape any box of liquor, check the arrangement of bottles inside (all-upright preferable), and add internal padding (e.g., crumpled newspaper for bottom, sides, top of each bottle), or use bubble wrap or bottle bags/cushions around each, to avoid breakage. Then strap the boxes well, place a name tag on each and write the same information on each box. Do not include highly "over-proof" liquor on flights (e.g., well above 100 proof); all may be confiscated as a fire hazard.
With many airlines now charging for checked baggage, the economics and practicalities of bringing back anything of substantial size or weight gets complicated, e.g., $50 for a third checked piece. Generally, you cannot carry liquor aboard aircraft in or flying to the U.S. because TSA policy says you cannot have larger than 3oz. bottles of liquid in the passenger cabin (under Security Condition Orange/Elevated). All brought on board must fit in a single, clear-plastic, quart Ziplock-type bag.
Some travelers try to avoid this by purchasing liquor at shops inside airport secure areas'(decent prices/fair selection for St Thomas) immediately before boarding return flights. But that can be problematic. Such purchases (within modest carry-on limits) may be allowed as carry-on for that flight leg because the products and their sellers have been security pre-screened. But all your luggage/effects must go through Customs somewhere. If you have a non-stop to your final flying destination (where customs processing will be performed), you may be OK. If not non-stop and you, at any time enroute, must go outside the secure/controlled "area" (e.g., to claim bags for customs processing), liquor you are hand-carrying must go in your checked baggage or be checked separately. Repacking in already-checked bags may be impractical or not allowed. TSA will confiscate the "liquids" if you try to carry them through security check to re-board. (Reportedly, Miami International Airport confiscates thousands of bottles monthly from badly-informed and ill-prepared travelers.)
Some airlines may not accept liquor boxes as separate, checked baggage, so know in-advance from the carrier if they are accepted or you must place them in checked luggage for any part of your return trip. If the latter, first put each internally-padded and strapped box in a strong, leak-resistant plastic bag, tape it closed to resist leaks, then pad it well all-around (e.g., with shoes, crumpled clothing) in the luggage. (An extra (soft) bag can be useful to hand-carry or check loose clothing and other unbreakables displaced by the liquor boxes. Another reason to start your trip packed lightly in fewer pieces of luggage, and to bring a soft empty inside.
- 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 sell you an unmounted stone and its mount separately to avoid duty; it would place them and you at risk. Original art works created there and certain other custom-made items are also treated as non-dutiable; you'll need a certificate of origin from the seller. Consult "Know Before You Go" noted above.
- When purchasing what will be "U.S. Goods Returning" (USGR or AGR) (ask sellers), ensure they provide proper/formal indication on or with a receipt so that the cost(s) will not count against your duty allowance.
- Non-dutiable & USGR/AGR items must be itemized as such on your customs declaration; you might enter their costs with enclosing parentheses to imply they are not dutiable; their costs should not be included in the declared sum of your purchases. Have receipts and certificates for all purchases readily at hand as you pass through customs.
There is a duty-free limit for each person, and you must declare the value of all purchases. Take care with web articles and pamphlets that claim that substantially higher U.S. customs/duty limits (e.g., up to $2400 total or six bottles of liquor per person) take effect when you purchase all or most in the USVI. That may only tease you into spending more... With unexpected duty at customs processing... Possibly confiscation if your customs declaration is perceived as intentionally misleading.
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". Go to Herve restaurant. It is a little expensive, but they have great French and American food. Also, Room With A View, just outside of town has great steaks and seafood. Just a few others include:
There's lots of blended tropical alcoholic drinks here.
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.
The airport also has private aviation operators with amiable, well-qualified pilots and well-maintained equipment. With prior arrangements, they can provide, at modest cost, one to two hour flights in small aircraft to provide different perspectives of the same islands. If no landing elsewhere is planned, passports are not required.
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.