When I mention St. Thomas to most people they say something like “Oh yeah, I was there for a couple hours on a cruise – but isn’t St. John beautiful?” I’ve also stopped in St. Thomas on a cruise and if that’s the only way you’ve seen it, I can understand why you would think it was one of the lesser Virgin Islands. I, however, have been able to get a more complete view of St. Thomas, on two trips about a dozen years apart. The first time it was just me and my husband staying with my sister Cara and her husband Kel (who have lived there for about fifteen years); the second time it was us and our two kids splitting our time between two of the island’s best hotels.
I was very nervous before this trip because I’d never driven on the left side of the road before (at least not on purpose) and that’s where they drive on St. Thomas. My husband wasn’t joining us until the second half of the trip so I was facing five days of fighting my natural instincts to drive on the “right” side. Other than that, though, I was looking forward to this trip like you wouldn’t believe. Aside from getting away from the routine, I was also going to be meeting my new niece Chloe! Plus, after a long winter, we were all ready for some uninterrupted sun and heat.
We were able to book non-stop four-hour flights from JFK to St. Thomas on American Airlines for about $370 per person, including all taxes and fees, making this a really convenient trip. (Delta also has daily non-stop flights out of JFK, and Continental flies daily non-stops out of Newark.) We were in St. Thomas in time for lunch our first day.
This was the kids’ first time getting off a plane this way, which they found very exciting.
The wrong side of the road
Our rental car situation was kind-of comical when we first arrived: booking a car that will fit four people was apparently not specific enough for the people at Budget Rent-a-Car. It did indeed seat four people, but had pretty much no trunk – it couldn’t fit even our smallest suitcase. Since we were short one person and could pile the bags next to Fiona in the back seat (and try to take corners slowly so that she didn’t get crushed) I decided to just keep the car until I had to go back to the airport and pick up The Ass – it was hot, we were hungry, and we’d already waited about 45 minutes at the rental counter. We just wanted to get to our hotel ASAP. (It’s worth noting that we had no trouble booking a larger car with Budget Rent-a-Car for just a little extra, and we traded this one in with no problem later – now I know to be more specific when booking.)
I pulled out the hotel directions I’d printed before leaving Brooklyn – I’d suspected that my phone’s GPS wouldn’t work, and I was right. Driving on the left side would be weird enough, but everyone uses American cars, so the driver’s seat is in the same place. I kept muttering to myself that I just had to keep my “shoulder to the curb” and I’d be fine. I warned the kids to be silent, that if they talked to me or bickered with each other I’d likely drive head-on into someone else. I took a deep breath, and off we went. I had scared them so badly that Fiona was quiet for the entire ride. If you know Fiona, you know what a feat that was.
Driving on the left isn’t bad until it’s time to turn. Lefts are easy, but right turns made me feel like I was back in driver’s ed. At least for the first drive. I’m happy to say that by the end of the first day I’d gotten completely used to it. Of course, I didn’t know what kind of crazy twisty hilly roads were still in my future, which were scary enough on their own (St. Thomas is all hills), but really I was worried about the whole driving-on-the-left thing for nothing.
We managed to get from the airport to our first hotel, the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef, in about twenty minutes, despite almost none of the roads we needed being marked – we mostly just followed the water. This route took us through the main tourist area, where the cruise ships dock.
There’s a great shopping area near the dock called Havensight Mall, where you can pick up pretty much anything you forgot to pack – flip-flops, sunscreen, goggles, etc. plus all kinds of souvenirs and clothes. (Check the hours before you go – many of the most tourist-dependent businesses are closed when there are no ships in.) There’s also a K-Mart a short drive away, which we hit up our second day for snacks and drinks.
Marriott Frenchman’s Reef
We had originally booked our hotel, on the south-west side of the island, because of its amenities and price. We ended up getting further discounts through a blogging connection (huge thank you to the USVI Department of Tourism!), but based on our original booking rate I would highly recommend this hotel for travelers not wanting to spend a ton. I found a deal on the Marriott website for an ocean-view room with a balcony that was buy-one-night-get-one-free, which would have averaged out to under $300 per night including all taxes and fees.
Our room was spacious – more than enough room for three or four people. In addition to all of the normal amenities you would expect in a good hotel room, it also had a little fridge, which makes things so much easier when traveling with kids (and moms who want easy access to cold pop). The views from our balcony – which had a table and chairs – confirmed that I had made the right hotel choice:
We headed for the restaurant where the kids let out some of the goofiness they’d been holding in during the drive, and Jake declared this the best hotel ever when they made him a triple-decker grilled cheese sandwich.
After that I finally got to meet my new niece, while the kids did their best to overwhelm and scare her. But of course she just laughed and laughed.
OK, one of those might be staged, I don’t remember.
Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 1 (for our room at the Marriott). Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.