On a family cruise that stops at St. Thomas cruise port? Get tips about the port and find out the best things to do in St. Thomas when you only have a day!
Making The Best Of Your Day: Key Tips For St. Thomas Cruise Port
The beautiful island of St. Thomas is the primary cruise port in the U.S. Virgin Islands and it is often featured on Eastern Caribbean itineraries. Ships that stop at the St. Thomas cruise port may disembark passengers at one of three different spots. The two main docs are the West Indian Company dock (most commonly referred to as Havensight) and the Crown Bay dock. And, on particularly busy days, ships may anchor in the harbor and guest take a tender to shore.
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Larger ships such as the Oasis class ships from Royal Caribbean must use the dock at Crown Bay. And, other Royal Caribbean and Celebrity ships will often be scheduled to dock there as well. That said, depending on the number of ships expected in port on a particular day, your ship could be assigned to either port.
If you want a hint as to where your ship is scheduled to dock, you can check out this cruise ship schedule, but be mindful things can change at the last minute. Regardless of which port you dock at, you can easily reach the main part of town by a quick taxi. (The larger shopping areas are within walking distance of the Havensight pier.)
The primary means for getting around the island are walking and taxis.
Charlotte Amalie is not particularly large, and for those so inclined, very much of the town is quite walkable. Particularly, if your ship docks at Havensight. There are several fun things to do in St. Thomas that are right near the dock. For instance the Pirate Treasure Museum, the Skyride and the Havensight Mall, (all discussed below), are a few easy steps from Havensight dock.
You can also take a longish walk from Havensight to downtown Charlotte Amalie and take a self-guided walking tour of some of the main historical sights.
Note that taxi rides are relatively cheap, but they are charged on a per person basis. Most taxis are enclosed vans or small open-air safari-style vehicles that can hold many people. Rates are flat fees based on destination. Depending on the size of your party, you may have a small wait as the driver fills up with additional passengers.
As for ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft, those aren’t available.
Some cruise ship visitors choose to rent cars when they stop at the St. Thomas cruise port. You can find rental cars near the Havensight cruise dock, and for those who book in advance, it may be possible to have a rental car delivered to Crown Bay.
While driving on St. Thomas is a viable option, it’s not one for the faint of heart. First, folks drive on the left-hand side of the road. And many roads are steep with blind turns. Also, Signage and street markings can be less than ideal. You should also be aware that GPS is not very reliable in many areas of the island.
Beware Time Traps!
Please note that St. Thomas local time may often deviate from the “ship time” being used by your ship. St. Thomas is in the Atlantic Time Zone — which is 1 hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time and 2 hours ahead of Central Standard Time. However, St. Thomas does not observe Daylight Savings Time.
Remember that when you’re getting off the ship for port calls, make sure that you have a timepiece that will track the ship time and not automatically reset to local time. Otherwise, you might be at risk of missing your ship when it departs. Likewise, if you are booking independent reservations for shore excursions, you need to make sure to adjust between local time and ship time as necessary. Tour operators always operate on local time.
You should also be aware that St. Thomas sustained significant damage during the double Category 5 hurricanes in 2017 of Irma and Maria. While most of the island has substantially recovered, a few previous top attractions remain closed — such as Blackbeard’s Castle. So make sure you are working with updated information as you make your plans.
Things To Do In St. Thomas: Activities & Excursions
When you’re looking for things to do in the Caribbean, one of the more obvious places to start is checking out the beach options. And this hold true for the St. Thomas cruise port.
On the island of St. Thomas, one of the more popular and family friendly beaches you will find is Magens Bay.
Aside from its beautiful white sand and relatively calm waters, what may make Magens Bay particularly family friendly is the presence of life guards. And, you will also find changing rooms, bath houses with fresh water showers, numerous booths dotting along the beach where you can commission beach chairs and umbrellas. As well as floaties, kayaks and other water toys. The beach is also accessible to several restaurants, bars and shops.
Adult visitors pay $5 and kids under 12 are free.
You can also pre-arrange tour packages that include beach stops at Magens Beach or other popular beaches with other St. Thomas attractions on-line.
Pirates Treasure Museum
St. Thomas has a long fabled history of hosting many a pirate over the years. And several of the notable things to do in St. Thomas revolve around pirates. The Pirate Treasure Museum provides a great family-friendly and interactive opportunity to explore the island’s pirate history.
While you’re visiting the St. Thomas cruise port, dive into the world of pirates and deep-ocean exploration in a two-story museum showcasing authentic ocean artifacts, treasures and dozens of interactive exhibits that educate visitors about pirate life in the Virgin Islands and the nitty gritty of salvage expeditions.
At this museum, you can relive survivor accounts of storm-tossed seas and sinking ships. Explore items from real shipwrecks dating back to 1865 and earlier. Experience hurricane force winds in specially enclosed wind booth. Operate a real underwater salvage machine as you try to collect objects from simulated ocean sea bed. Steer an authentic ship’s wheel or cool your heels in the ship’s brig, and more. You can also swing by the gift shop to peruse the selection of souvenirs, shipwreck artifacts, art work, books, telescopes and gifts.
The museum sits across the street from the Havensight dock and it’s a short taxi ride from Crown Bay. Admission is $16 for adults and $12 for kids. When cruise ships are in town, the museum opens at 9:00 a.m. (local time).
Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden
You will often find this highly regarded botanical garden on a list of the best things to do in St. Thomas. It spans two acres of blooming orchids, bromeliads, lilies, palms, and more. It also hosts stunning views of Magens Bay, the island of St. John and the cruise ship harbor. The garden provides a home to numerous lizards, birds and butterflies. As well as parrots, tortoises and peacocks. The garden has lots of seating areas including a Balinese gazebo where you can stop along a leisurely walk and enjoy the views.
Coral World Ocean Park
Coral World Ocean Park is an extremely popular attraction has lots to offer but its not one of the cheaper things to do in St. Thomas. The base admission price covers quite a bit. General Admission runs $23.50 for adults and $13 for kids.
Explore five acres of exotic aquariums, outdoor pools, nature trails and other marine life stations that feature dolphins, sharks, stingrays and more. Visit the three-story Undersea Observatory where the lower level descends 15 feet underwater. You can view a natural coral reef teeming with fish and other marine life without getting wet. There’s also various talks and feedings throughout the property where you can learn more about the varied wildlife. There’s also a touch pool.
The exhibits included in the General Admission price are: Dolphin Sea Sanctuary, Shark Shallows, Stingray Lagoon, Touch Pool, Caribbean Reef Encounter, Undersea Observatory Tower, Turtle Pool and Critter Corner.
You can round out your day with some very fun and educational add-ons or “Experiences” for an additional fee. Experiences range from $45.50 for a 45-minute trip on a semi-submarine to $182.50 for the 75-minute Dolphin Splash & Swim. Other Experiences include the 75-minute Sea Lion Swim ($133), 45-minute Dolphin Moment ($119), 50-minute Sea Lion Encounter ($93), 45-Minute underwater Sea-Trek ($86), 75-minute SNUBA excursion ($85) and the 45-minute Shark Encounter ($64).
The Ocean Park is adjacent to Coki Beach (no entry fee), so you could easily combine some traditional beach time and water activities with a trip to the Park. You can also pre-arrange tour packages for Coral World Ocean Park that include Coki Beach.
Skyride to Paradise Point
Another popular thing to do in St. Thomas is check out the island’s stunning panoramic views. Paradise Point has spectacular views that are worth the trip up.
The Skyride up to the Point starts right across from the Havensight cruise ship dock. The Skyride is an elevated tram that soars (slowly) 700 feet above sea level. At the top, in addition to the views, you’ll find and open-air restaurant/bar area and souvenir shops. Tickets for the Skyride are $21 for adults, $10.50 for kids 12 and under, kids aged 5 and under are free.
Things To Do In St. Thomas: Side Trips
St. Thomas can also be a great jumping off spot for other day trips in the region. You do, however, have to be cautious about time. If your cruise ship is only in port from 8:00am to 5:00pm, then a visit to places like St. Croix, USVI would probably be unwise. The ferry ride takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes one way.
There are two other islands that are less than a ½ hour by ferry and both are still in the USVI.
Did you know that there’s a fourth U.S. Virgin Island? As of 1996, there is — Water Island.
The island has a 2 ½ miles long coast line dotted with many sandy beaches, secluded coves, bays and peninsulas. Wildlife such as iguanas, turtles and birds populate the island. And, in addition to the beaches, it’s a great location for hiking and biking. For those looking for more quiet things to do in a St. Thomas cruise stop, a trip to Water Island could be a great option for a peaceful day focused on sun and relaxation.
Water island has no resorts, taxis, traffic or stores of any kind. Less than 200 people live on the island. It’s like a quiet, mellow island suburb of St. Thomas. Visitors can access the island by taking a 10-minute ride on the Water Island Ferry that leaves from the Crown Bay Harbor.
Be sure to bring along whatever supplies you think you might need for the day – towels, water, snacks, etc. And expect largely self directed activities.
The island of St. John rarely receives cruise ship stops, but it can be easily reached from those cruise ship visitors stopping at the St. Thomas cruise port. Either by ferry or by booking a tour. The most popular and well known attraction on the island is the Virgin Islands National Park. It’s a mecca for nature lovers. It has numerous protected beaches with great opportunities for snorkeling, diving, sailing or other water activities. You can also visit sugar plantation ruins and ancient Indian petroglyphs.
The National Park covers more than half of the islands 12,500 acres. It features beautiful beaches and hiking. Check out 5 Tips for Visiting the Virgin Islands National Park with Children
Families may also enjoy Trunk Bay Beach – particularly the snorkel lovers. Trunk Bay Beach is one of the most beautiful and popular beaches on St. John. And, it has an underwater snorkel trail spanning 225 yards complete with underwater signs that mark the trail and provide information about nearby coral.
The family-friendly beach features lifeguards, a bathhouse, snacks, and souvenirs. This beach has a fee. Adults are $5.00. Kids 16 and under are free.
You can also reserve a variety of pre-arranged tour packages for St. John’s on line that include transportation from St. Thomas.
Things To Do In St. Thomas: Shopping
The St. Thomas cruise port is well known for its duty free shopping. But beware, just because something is duty free doesn’t mean that it is necessarily a good deal. If you think that you may want to buy any significant items (such as jewelry or electronics), check the prices at home before you leave, so that you have a basis for comparison. Also, it’s perfectly acceptable to bargain on prices – particularly on jewelry.
The Havensight Mall is a convenient location to hit many shops at once. As you can tell by the name, it’s right by the Havensight cruise ship dock. The Havensight shopping area also includes Buccaneer Mall and Port of Sale. In this area, you’ll find more than 60 stores including major retailers.
Things To Do In St. Thomas: Local Events
Another way to fill out your day when stopping at the St. Thomas cruise port is to check out local events and celebrations that may be taking place while you are in port. Here’s a sampling of events to consider.
Things To Do In St. Thomas in March
Afternoon on the Green
This annual family fun day takes place on the golf course at the University of the Virgin Islands. It raises money for scholarships for local high school students. This year’s event takes place Sunday, March 22, 2020.
Featuring music, dancing, games and lots of food — there’s a big cooking competition.
Parents are encouraged to bring their children to enjoy the many activities from bounce houses and face painting to traditional games and creating balloon animals.
International Rolex Cup Regatta
Go check out yacht racing at the International Rolex Cup Regatta. Top-ranked international racers come to St. Thomas to compete in front of the world’s yachting press. The St. Thomas Yacht Club hosts the 3-day event. March 27-March 29, 2020.
Things To Do In St. Thomas in April & May
Virgin Islands Carnival, St. Thomas
St. Thomas hosts the second largest Carnival cultural celebration in the Caribbean. And, it’s an opportunity to share in the cultural heritage of the Virgin Islands. Plenty of Caribbean delicacies and other food at food fairs and food & drink booths. Enjoy music, revel in the steel drums, street dancing, parades, fireworks and lots of costumes. Look for the iconic “Mocko Jumbies,” which are people dressed in spirit costumes parading around on 20-feet stilts.
Over the course of a month, events include calypso shows, food fairs, queen pageants (and also pagents to crown younger prince and princesses), steel pan shows, parades and more. This year’s Virgin Islands Carnival runs April 4 to May 2, 2020.
Things To Do In St. Thomas in June & July
King of the Wing Contest
The 11th Annual King of the Wing (KOW) contest will take place on Saturday, June 6, 2020, on the shores of Magens Bay beach on St. Thomas. Teams consisting of the top local restaurants, businesses, organizations and chicken wing connoisseurs compete to claim bragging rights for the best tasting wings in St. Thomas. Contestants set up their grills and cooking stations right on the beach from noon to 5 p.m. Join hundreds of attendees who sample the wide range of freshly cooked, mouthwatering chicken wings. This event raises money for local non-profit organizations.
St. John Carnival
St. John also has a carnival, but it’s celebrated later in the year than the one in St. Thomas. Although the St. John Carnival also runs about a month, the larger events fall during the final week which coincides with Emancipation Day (July 3) and US Independence Day (July 4). There’s a food fair, a parade, beauty pageants, fireworks and more. Join thousands of St. Thomas residents as they flock to St. John for the festivities.
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