We have been in St. Thomas for 5 nights and with 2 left to go until our vacation is over, I figured I had seen and done enough here to write this review. I will make some comparisons here and there to Grand Cayman since that is an island we frequently visit. We are a family of four (parents ages 35 & 40 and kids 3 & 4). The purpose of our trip was to celebrate my 40th birthday. We take 2-3 family vacations a year, and they are usually on the high end side. We enjoy traveling and don't mind spending money while we are away. We live in NYC and are used to spending a lot on meals and entertainment, so there is sometimes very little difference in what we spend to go out at home and what we spend while we are away or at a hotel. We don't go out of our way to waste money, but we are not budget travelers either. So, please take all of these things into consideration when reading this review.
Hotel: We stayed at the Ritz Carlton and were impressed by the grounds, facilities, food and overall experience. I will not go into a huge amount of detail about the hotel as you can read my separate review on the property if you want. It is a huge property with a lot of hills and steps, and you absolutely need the golf carts they provide to get around unless you want to do a lot of walking. The golf cart service is free, but we would tip $5.00 each time they picked us up, so it adds up. We stayed on the residence side in a 2 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom unit with a full kitchen and washer/dryer in the Iris bldg. on the 6th floor with an incredible view of the bay and St. John. We would highly recommend this property.
Meals: We ate the majority of our meals at the Ritz. Their breakfast buffet was very nice, and the kids ate for free (huge bonus). We had dinner at Sails for their "Sea to Sails" seafood event twice and also will spend Fourth of July there for their beach BBQ. Coconut Cove at the Ritz is a little more on the casual side and had a nice buffet BBQ on Sunday night. Other places we ate were Molly Malones in Red Hook (would not recommend at all - terrible fish & chips - husband is from UK so a good judge!) and no cider which is odd for an Irish bar. But again, we are in STT and not Ireland, so who cares really! We had a nice lunch at Tickles at the Crown Bay Marina after our visit to Water Island. The appetizer pizza was great! Thin crunchy crust and perfectly cooked. We had lunch at Caneel Bay resort on St. John one day and that was satisfactory, but nothing extraordinary.
Beaches: Completely underwhelmed by the beaches on both STT and St. John, including the Ritz beach which was rife with sea grass/seaweed and very short - it extended the entire length of the property but was short vertically....not much space for the kids to play between the lounge chairs and the water. We went to Linquist Beach which was very nice, and much better than the Ritz. A mix of locals and tourists, but not crowded at all. Clear water, clean sand, but some broken glass by the picnic tables, which was interesting because I saw a sign that said "no glass bottles". We didn't bother with Coki Beach - way too congested, and this was not on a cruise ship day. Can't imagine what it's like when there is a ship or two in. As we were so disappointed with the beaches on STT, we decided to daytrip over to St. John, and not much better over there, and shocked that the famed Caneel Bay was as unspectacular as it was considering the price tag there. I will go into more detail on St. John below.
Attractions: We basically did it all - Coral World, Magic Ice and Mountain Top to name a few. Would recommend all of these as there really is not much else to do in St. Thomas. We did the Sea Lion Experience at Coral World and the kids LOVED it (very pricey but worth it). Magic Ice was fun, the kids loved the ice slide. Very small though, and really takes less than 10 minutes to do, so a little expensive at $20/adult (kids were free). Mountain Top is like a huge warehouse filled with every kind of touristy crap you can imagine - they sold everything from t-shirts and hats to nail clippers and costume jewelry. The "famous banana daiquiri" was nice, but lots of bugs flying around the entire bar area, so that was kind of gross. Beautiful view but we also felt that the view along the way was as good, if not better. The view reminded both of us of Italy and Monaco - very hilly and green and lush. The water looks amazingly turquoise and just beautiful.
Day Trips: I really wanted to take a day trip over to the BVIs but we decided not to do it because the kids do not enjoy being being dragged all over, on and off boats, in the heat, and would have been difficult to navigate and do things without a car as our "home base" for the kids. We took an 8AM ferry over to Water Island and rented a golf cart to tour the island and that was a lot of fun. Honeymoon Beach was much more to our liking, but a lot of sand fleas there that were all over 2 dogs on the beach and then started climbing all over my kids legs. So we only spent 2 hrs there. Day trip to St. John was a waste in our opinion but we can see why people like to do it and think it is so special compared to STT. St. John has a completely different look and feel from St. Thomas, very green, almost rainforest looking. We saw 2 deer there. Not a lot to do there other than go to the beach. All the beaches are protected by the National Parks Service, so they are well maintained. But many are just off the road, and that ruined the ambiance for us. As mentioned above, we had lunch at Caneel Bay, and their beach was not as nice as the others on St. John. We left scratching our heads about what is so special about that place. The Ritz is way nicer in our opinion, and feels "rich". Caneel, not so much.
Car Rental: We rented a van for the week through Avis. No issues there. Renting a car/van is definitely a good idea if you plan to do more than just stay at your condo/hotel.
We have traveled many times to Grand Cayman and it is above and beyond the USVIs as far as beach quality and dining. There are not many tourist attractions there, it is really geared more towards the beach, water sports and dining. We found ourselves trying to fill our time in STT because the beaches were just "eh" in our opinion. And there is not much to fill your time with other than the things I have mentioned. Of course if you are a diver or snorkeler, you might find yourself more entertained here, but since we travel with our 2 young kids, everything is geared towards them, and sometimes we end up doing things that we wouldn't necessarily do if we were traveling as a couple.
STT in general is not a "money" island. As is par for the course in many Caribbean destinations, there are broken down cars and boats, random horses tied up on the side of the road, people selling fruit, etc.. Lots of roosters running around. We are used to seeing jaw dropping multi million dollar homes along the coast, but there was not much of that on STT. The homes seemed to be nicer on St. John, but high up, not directly on the beach. Of the parts we visited, the closest we came to a town was Red Hook, and that is very, very small with a handful of restaurants, bars and businesses. Charlotte Amalie, the main town and where many of the cruise ships go, had your typical shopping for a cruise ship destination - jewelry stores, high end shopping (Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo, etc.) smaller specialty shops, and small local businesses.
I realize it is unfair to keep comparing it to Grand Cayman, but the truth of the matter is, there is a huge difference in these 2 places, and we were shocked by how different they were. Even staying at the Ritz did not make up for the differences because we tend to be the type of people who do not want to be confined to the resort for the whole vacation. In Cayman, you can venture out on your own and it is completely safe. In STT, safety is not really an issue either, but you can not just walk down the road to a store. You have to drive everywhere (or take taxis) as the stores are generally not just down the road from the resorts and condos, and it would be dangerous to just walk down the road because there is not a shoulder or sidewalk to stay on. We were also surprised by the number of hills on both STT and St. John.
I hope I have not offended any residents or frequent travelers to the USVIs. My point was to give an open and honest review of the islands we visited and compare it to places we have visited. I know when we were planning our trip, we relied heavily on the help and advice of other travelers on Tripadvisor, and I hope to do the same for other future travelers to STT.