Travel Guide: St. Thomas, USVI

Magen’s Bay, St. Thomas, USVI

There’s a huge difference between traveling and a vacation. Traveling is about adventure and exploration – hiking in ice-cold rain, navigating metro lines using a crumpled map from your pocket, trying to communicate with people who don’t speak your language, walking until your feet feel like they might need to be amputated. Traveling takes work. A vacation is about relaxation – spa treatments and taxi drivers and sipping daiquiris by the pool.

The thing I love about the Caribbean? It’s the absolute perfect mix of both, with just enough exotic beauty and culture to make you feel like you’re in a different country. (They even drive on the other side of the road there – USVI is the only place under jurisdiction of the US to.)

Last month, I went to St. Thomas. I did the relaxation stuff at The Ritz-Carlton, stopping at the spa for a Cocolicious Facial, sipping cocktails by the pool and boarding a sunset sail on the Ritz’s catamaran.  But I also took a day trip to explore St. John, did water sports and learned about the culture of the island through the locals. I visited two of the most beautiful beaches in the world – Trunk Bay (St. John) and Magens Bay (St. Thomas).

In fact, we almost didn’t have time to do Magens Bay, but I overheard an islander in Trunk Bay yelling at some tourists, “Magens Bay is the best bay in the area! You can’t come to this area and not go there!” I felt somehow I was meant to hear his message and so my friend Elizabeth and I made plans to wake up at 5 a.m. our last day to ensure we’d have time to go there before we left. We only had about 48 hours on the island, but here’s how we used every minute to make sure we got the most of our trip – and still somehow managed to find time to relax.

After we landed at the airport late Friday afternoon and took about an hour-long cab ride to The Ritz, we were greeted with cocktails, champagne, chocolates and a welcome letter.

From the exploring we did of the island, The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas seemed by-far-and-away the best hotel on the island. Pictured here is my room, a welcome tray full of amazing chocolates and the view from my balcony. One of the best things about the room was that it had two balconies – one in the living area and one in the bedroom – offering the amazing ocean view with mountains in the background.

One of the parts of The Ritz I was most excited to experience was the water sports. The resort fee includes use of the hotel’s paddle boats, glass-bottom kayaks, hobie cats, windsurfers and snorkeling equipment. We ended up trying everything but windsurfing, which is supposed to be extremely challenging.

We had meals at three of The Ritz’s restaurants, Great Bay Lounge, Bleuwater and Sails, each with its own distinct personality and ocean/pool view. Pictured are three of the best things I ate – Fried Brussels Sprouts (macadamia nuts, bacon, garlic, soy, crispy capers, lemon, forum vinegar) at GBL, American Nachos at Sails, and Lobster Truffle Mac-n-Cheese at Bleuwater. A really nice touch at the restaurants, which offer nighttime beach- and poolside dining, is LED-lit menus.

Over our first dinner, our new friends at The Ritz told us about the island’s staple fish hook bracelets. The bracelets are worn by women all over the island to indicate their relationship status. If the fish hook points toward your heart, it means you’re taken. If it points away, it means you’re single. This is such a serious custom that one woman told us a man confessed he was a afraid to approach her at the bar because her bracelet pointed toward her heart. Another girl told us she was waiting for her new guy to make it “official” before she changed the way she wore her bracelet. The bracelets are sold in almost every boutique on the island, in a variety of metals and prices, anywhere from $20 to $300. I love collecting jewelry from foreign places, so of course I had to buy one.

St. Thomas wasn’t just about relaxation, it was about fun! On the top left I’m pictured with my friend Elizabeth. At Trunk Bay we decided to have an impromptu cell phone photoshoot. Below on the left are shot glasses from Duffy’s, one of the staple bars in the Red Hook area. Your parents told you not to play with your food, but they never said it about your drinks! Duffy’s is all about attaching shot glasses to wind-up cars and playing drinking games with whistles. The glasses pictured here were shared among me, Elizabeth and several people on The Ritz’s staff, who were so much fun to hang out with! I’m pictured on the right with a fruity drink in a ceramic, homecrafted pineapple glass.

We woke up early Saturday morning to do some water sports. The Hobie Cats were my favorite, and though we decided we didn’t have time to do a sailing lesson (which takes about an hour), one of the instructors sailed for us, moving at about 10-12 mph and taking us around the ocean, through parts of the water where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean.

Island hopping is a huge part of the culture in the Virgin Islands, and we had just enough time in the afternoon to grab a $10 ferry to St. John, an island which is mostly covered with national parks. We took a safari-esque taxi through the woods to Trunk Bay, which is literally the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to in my entire life. The water is so clear it’s like being in a swimming pool. We were able to rent out snorkel equipment from The Ritz and bring it with us here. Trunk Bay has an underwater snorkeling trail with monuments marking the coral reefs.

When we got back from St. John, we took a sunset sail on the Ritz’s catamaran, Lady Lynsey, pictured top right. On the left one of the boat guests captures the sunset and on the bottom right I admire the serene seas.

They even fed us on the catamaran! Light bites were provided along with the open bar. I filled my plate with cheese, fruit, hummus, and tomatoes and mozzarella. Mmm! Here are some more views from the boat, as well.

On Sunday morning, we got up at 5 a.m. so we would have time to head over to Magens Bay, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I hear tourists usually pack the bay, but when we arrived by taxi the bay was so quiet, still and serene.

The water at Magens Bay must be the most perfect to paddle board on. It is so still that I actually waded into it up to my thighs with my camera so I could take pictures. This is not something I would ever, ever risk at a South Florida beach because the waves are too rough and it wouldn’t be safe for my camera.

I saw so many people who were alone at the bay. Instead of a tanning destination like our beaches, people really seem to come to Magens Bay to unwind and think.

I snapped this picture with my phone on the way to my taxi at 5 a.m. The Ritz’s pool blends in with the ocean in the background. You know a place is really beautiful when it can look this good in a crappy cell phone picture. And this is how St. Thomas will always be in my mind – perfect even at 5 a.m. on cell phone camera during a mad dash to a taxi.

6 comments

  1. Diana says:

    Do you remember what store you bought your bracelet from? I’ve never seen one with that kind of hook before. It’s so cute!

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