This post was brought to you by the U.S. Virgin Islands through their partnership with POPSUGAR. While I was compensated to write a post about the U.S. Virgin Islands, all opinions are my own.
When we dream about family vacations, we always think about going back to St. Croix and exploring St. John and St. Thomas for a grand tour of the U.S. Virgin Islands. No passport required for U.S. citizens and no foreign currencies are needed to travel to the islands, but they feel like a world away. St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas are well known for sunny weather, beautiful beaches, and crystal clear blue water, but each island has its own personality. Here’s what you need to know about each of the islands in this tropical trio and how you can infuse some teachable moments into your U.S. Virgin Islands getaway.
With nonstop flights available on Delta and American Airlines from New York’s JFK, St. Thomas makes for a great first stop on your U.S. Virgin Islands adventure. This well-known destination for cruise lines is popular for its picture perfect sandy beaches, snorkeling, sailing, golf, and night life, but here are three quick lessons you can infuse into your vacation during your stop in St. Thomas:
French Impressionism — Since the island of St. Thomas was the childhood home of French Impressionist Camille Pissarro, it’s the perfect time for a brief lesson in art history since he is considered one of the most famous painters of the 19th Pissarro was born in St. Thomas but attended school in Paris between the ages of 12 and 17. Visitors can stop at the Camille Pissarro Gallery that once housed the family’s dry goods business on the ground level while the family lived above it.
History — According to island lore, Charlotte Amalie was a refuge for pirates in the 1600s. While there is no proof that Blackbeard spent time in any of the taverns in the area, you can visit Blackbeard’s Castle. A walking tour of the 34-foot-tall Danish watchtower provides spectacular 360-degree views of Charlotte Amalie and St. Croix and Puerto Rico off in the distance, a collection of life-size pirate sculptures that includes a 14-foot-tall bronze sculpture of Blackbeard, and the history of the property and legend of Blackbeard as told by a guide
Topograpy — Topography is the study of the shape and features on the surface of the earth, and there’s no better way to experience the topography of the U.S. Virgin Islands than through a helicopter ride with Caribbean Buzz Helicopters. A 30- or 60-minute tour takes your family beyond St. Thomas to the north shore of St. John and neighboring islands, and the cays in between for a perfect introduction to the U.S. Virgin Islands. A helicopter ride is a great way for kids over 10 to enjoy a learning adventure as they view the topography of the islands. Families with younger kids can take the Skyride for a bird’s-eye view of the city from 700 feet above for their lesson in topography.
Having visited St. Croix years ago with my family, I can attest to it being a place where you can enjoy beautiful beaches, underwater ecosystems, historical sites, and how-to lessons in sugar cane farming and how rum is made. We loved exploring Christiansted and Frederiksted, relaxing on the beach, enjoying delicious food at the island’s many restaurants, sailing, and snorkeling, as well as time spent learning about St. Croix in hands-on ways. Here are three things your family can learn during your visit to St. Croix:
Underwater ecosystems — St. Croix is the home of Buck Island Reef National Monument, one of only three underwater national monuments in the United States. This small, uninhabited, 176-acre island is about 1.5 miles north of the northeast coast of St. Croix, and exploration takes the form of a snorkeling trail rather than a hiking one! Numbered markers in certain areas will guide snorkelers through an underwater trail where there is always an abundance of tropical fish in the rich marine ecosystem.
Where sugar comes from — St. Croix’s history is rooted in sugar. Old sugar plantations like Estate Whim Museum makes history come alive as you visit the original 18th century plantation and the oldest sugar plantation museum in the Virgin Islands. Explore the great house, and restored windmill.
How rum is made — Just as there was value in taking my kids on a brewery tour, a trip to the Cruzan Rum Distillery or Captain Morgan Distillery is a great learning experience that demystifies what alcohol is and how it’s made. Kids can get up close to the see each step of the process before the tour concludes with samples for the adults. With abundant sampling opportunities for parents, it’s also a good time to model responsible alcohol consumption!
Often visible from certain parts of St. Croix, St. John is known for its natural beauty. This 20-square-mile island retreat is tranquil and unforgettable thanks to the fact that most of the island is a national park that features lush jungles and gorgeous beaches. Here are two very important lessons kids can learn during a family trip to St. John:
The importance of hard work — One of the best ways to see St. John is on foot. Guided hikes led by national park rangers teach kids about those who have called St. John home, their relationship to the natural world, and how the island has changed over time. There are a variety of ranger guided hiking options that allow your family to explore this natural paradise with an experienced naturalist or ones that you can do at your leisure. Hikes are also available for different skill levels and time commitments. Regardless of whether your family chooses the Lind Point Trail that is perfect for those with limited time or the longer and more strenuous 2.6-mile Reef Bay Trail, kids will learn that persistence does pay off thanks to the beauty that unfolds when they reach coastal cliffs, beautiful beaches, stunning forests, and so much more.
The importance of taking care of our planet — There’s a reason why St. John is only accessible via ferry from St. Thomas. Besides being small, the lack of an airport helps preserve the island’s tranquility and beauty. Many hotels on St. John are eco-friendly and feature biodegradable shampoos and soaps that are kind to the marine life, but there are ways you can be an eco-conscious traveler even when not staying at a planet-friendly resort. Help kids realize that while fresh towels each day may be a nice luxury, hotels use a lot of water, electricity, and detergent so it’s best to hang up towels to be used again rather than having them replaced immediately. Explain how you help the environment by bringing your favorite toiletries in refillable bottles when you travel. Show them how they can separate recyclable items from trash just like at home, and if your hotel doesn’t have a recycling bin, model responsible consumption by putting recyclables just next to your trash can or asking for a separate bin.
Whether you visit one, two, or all three of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. John, St. Croix, and St. Thomas provide a fabulous family getaway for relaxation, adventure, and learning in the most hands-on ways. For more information about the U.S. Virgin Islands, visit VisitUSVI.com and start planning your family’s next vacation.