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Review of our week in St. Thomas

Brooklyn, New York
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Review of our week in St. Thomas

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.

St Thomas
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1. Re: Review of our week in St. Thomas

Thanks for writing such a long report and it's a very interesting perspective overall. I don't recognize much of the St Thomas and St John that I know so well but that's what made it such an intriguing read! I do want to point out two little things. One, the issue of your surprise that cider wasn't available. Obviously our market base is very small and suppliers only bring in what sells. We've never had cider on tap here but, for a couple of years, one of the liquor distributors did bring in an excellent bottled cider which my customers (I owned and operated an English pub on STT for 16 years until 2011) chugged down with delight. However, there just wasn't sufficient demand for it overall and its import was discontinued.

I'm not sure why you were "surprised by the number of hills on both STT and St. John" as this is something that's noted at length on every travel site and forum. These are volcanic islands. St Croix is not and is much flatter.

This may not have been the best location choice with two very small children in tow but nonetheless I hope your remaining two days are enjoyable and that you have a safe and uneventful trip back home. Cheers!

Hurley, New York
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2. Re: Review of our week in St. Thomas

I wonder if the R-C was the best choice with two young children in tow. We have many guests with small children at our condo, and they all love it.

Vacationing on StT revolves around the beach and water, and if the kids are not happy there, they won't be happy. The beach at the R-C is not the best on island. Did the R-C provide, or make available items such as sand-toys, floatation devices, snorkel gear and beach chairs appropriate for your kids?

Steve

Brooklyn, New York
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3. Re: Review of our week in St. Thomas

Steve - Actually the RItz was probably the only part of the vacation that was not terrible. It was everything else that wasn't so great....or just fell short of expectations. The beach is just so so here, but the service here is exemplary and they make it easy to be away with kids. They really go out of their way without being asked - perfect example - one of the restaurant managers came up to our unit this evening with "parting gifts" for our family - toys for the kids, rum for us. At check in, they gave each of the kids a bag of sand toys, pails, shovels, etc. They have all sorts of floats - these long blue things, not really sure what to call them, but they are like lounge type things that the kids loved. Kickboards, water shooter things, they really had more stuff than I had expected, plus we came with our own toys as well. They also debuted a new float today, and brought a brand new one right over to us to try out. I don't know about snorkel gear, my kids are only 3 & 4, and they are just learning to swim, and they don't put their heads under the water yet. I didn't see any children's loungers, but they wouldn't sit for long anyway! We did drive thru the Sapphire condos to check out the property and noticed the beach was much nicer.

Even though we love all the amenities of a hotel, we find it is easier staying in a condo when we travel with our kids. That is why we chose the Ritz residences, best of both worlds. And when we arrive back home tomorrow night and I don't have 4 suitcases full of dirty laundry to tackle, I will be a very happy camper!

Hurley, New York
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4. Re: Review of our week in St. Thomas

Glad to read that the R-C did its duty (and more) to you.

In re-reading your review, I think that StT was not a good "fit" for you--at least not at this stage in your life.As I wrote vacationing on StT revolves around the beach and the water. You were not on the best beach, and because of your children's' stage of life were unable to enjoy the water. I think that if you return when your kids have more "water-ability", you will enjoy the island much more.

There is a lot of money on StT and there are multi-million dollar homes on island. Those homes are up in the mountains, where they have incredible views and relative seclusion.

If you could get the sea-bees who prepared Tinean for the B-29s, I am sure they could make St Thomas flat, but then there would be folks complaining that there were no hills, and too much like Florida.

Give StT another try in ten years, and I think that your family will enjoy it more.

Steve

Steve

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5. Re: Review of our week in St. Thomas

Thanks for sharing. I appreciate the honesty. My husband & I will arrive in STY next week. I am surprised that beaches are crowed during summer months. I thought by not going during high season, most beaches/attractions would not be crowed. Oh we'll. we r renting a car & we have a villa on a hill. Prop mgr had already warned us about hills. I hope we enjoy out stay as we will be there for a week;/)

Hurley, New York
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6. Re: Review of our week in St. Thomas

It's sort of strange, because the rates are lower in the Summer, and often people have better ability to be away from work/school during the Summer, the Summer is quite popular.

The "low season (understandably) is the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, which I consider to be from the end of August through the first few days of November.

Indianapolis...
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7. Re: Review of our week in St. Thomas

Thanks Steve

Philadelphia...
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8. Re: Review of our week in St. Thomas

We have been to both GC and to STT. I really don't think you compare them. GC does have beautiful beaches, but it is so flat and dry there. I'm surprised you didn't find STJ especially beautiful. Even though we are big fans of STT, STJ is is one of the true gems in the carribean.

There are also beautiful villas on STT. You may not see them driving, but believe me, we've stayed in a couple and had a great time. The Ritz can be ok, but STT is meant to explore and you probably missed what most people love about STT.

Omaha, Nebraska
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9. Re: Review of our week in St. Thomas

Thank You for taking the time to write your review. I too have traveled to GCayman on several week long trips. I also own a condo in STT for full disclosure. I don't' think you have been real fair on your comparison. GC does have walkable shops and dining establishments close to 7 mi beach, I believe it compares to a larger Red Hook in STT or Cruz Bay on STJ. But, if you get out on Rum Point or the North end there is nothing walkable about that. In regards to tourist activities and things to do. I think STT far outshines GC in regards to activities outside beach and water sports. You said this your self in your review. You can visit Hell in GC, but not much more than beaching, shopping or eating. STT has the west indies feel where GC has the British feel. It's all in your preference. I have visited over 24 different Caribbean islands. They all have a different flair, culture and appeal. You say you didn't see poverty in GC like STT. I presume then you have been on a cruise ship or confined to the Ritz on 7 mi beach as there is as much poverty there as any of the Caribbean islands I have visited. I do hope you will consider a return visit and explore the USVI and take time to visit the BVI as well.

New Jersey
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10. Re: Review of our week in St. Thomas

I appreciated your review as it was much different than the normal reviews around here.I have never been to Grand Caymen, but I can tell you of my own experience this past year. We go to STT every year except this past year when United decided to double the rates to most destinations in the caribbean. I just couldnt justify an 800 ticket, so for half the price we booked Aruba and a condo on Eagle beach. The weather was perfect, the beaches were miles and miles of sand and beautiful warm clear water. The food was OK, but could have been better. Sitting on the beach with my wife and kids near the end of the week I said, (as I say every year) "So where-to next?" Back to Aruba? Back to STT? or somewhere new. All of us agreed that it was back to STT.

The point is, I think when you frequent a place for a number of years like you have with Grand Cayman, the standards that you have set for anywhere else seems impossible to meet. Like I said, there was nothing wrong with Aruba, but to us, it wasnt STT. In my opinion the only way that changes is through bad experience, bad weather or something else. When my first son was born we made our second trip to Cozumel because we really enjoyed it the prior year. Well, my son got bronchitis, 105 fever and it rained for 6 out of the 7 days. Cozumel is officially off of our travel map, which might seem silly but there are too many bad memories. Moral of the story, book early and go where you are happiest.