Although the U.S Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands differ in population, attitude and activities, both island groups offer great places to stay. St. Thomas, the U.S.Virgin Islands, has a busy cruise ship port, which in high season can have six behemoths in at once. Charlotte Amalie, the main town, fills with thousands of passengers thronging the streets to shop and sightsee. The Ritz-Carlton St.Thomas, a luxury resort, offers an oasis on the bustling island.Tortola, the largest island in the British Virgin Islands, may see several cruise ships in a week. Even so, Tortola maintains its laid-back ambiance. Boutique Surfsong Villa Resort combines the convenience of villa rentals with resort services.
Where to Stay: Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Located on the island’s eastern tip, the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas offers good service, good food as well as large rooms that start at 450-square-feet. From your chaise lounge on the beach, you can see St. John in the distance. Well-positioned for island-hopping, the resort offers outings to St. John or to the British Virgin Islands’ Jost Van Dyke.
Neither particularly wide nor long, the beach fronts calm, clear and inviting water. But shade is somewhat scarce, provided mostly by the lounge chairs’ canopy tops. For full shade, you need to reserve a spot under the sea grape tree at the beach’s far end.
A special aspect of the hotel for families is the Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment program. It offers both complimentary and paid activities for children, adults and families. Ambassadors’ goal is to present the ecology and culture of the island in an engaging way. Outings include feeding iguanas, holding live sea critters, going on guided day or night snorkels, creating art from recycled materials, and learning about the night sky. The Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas has 180 rooms.
What to do in St. Thomas
For beautiful beaches visit Magens Bay or Sapphire Bay, but choose a day when the cruise ships are not in port. For snorkeling, visit nearby St. John, also when the ships are not in port or go in the afternoon when the majority of passengers may be back onboard. Browse for bargains in Charlotte Amalie.
Where to Stay: Surfsong, Beef Island, British Virgin Islands
Surfsong’s seven villas are strung along the five acre waterfront property. Located on the south shore of Beef Island, an area connected to Tortola by a small bridge, Surfsong, a prettily landscaped property, is a welcome hybrid: villa rentals that offer the dining and concierge services of a hotel.
The food is a very good reason to come here. Chef David Cioppa, from New York City, serves dinner Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday to guests and to a limited number of non-guests. He sources local ingredients to create tasty farm-to-table fare. Our curried chicken with pumpkin, eggplant and okra was delicious. Breakfasts and lunches are also available to guests.
All of the units have kitchens and a separate, air-conditioned bedroom, but only some villas are completely air-conditioned. While the bedrooms have romantic-looking four-poster beds with netting, the furniture in the living areas is less pleasing and sometimes dated.
The main area of the resort fronts a small swath of sand edged with coral that’s washed ashore over the years. The water views are engaging, but you can’t get wet here. The swimming beach, shaded by palm and sea grape trees, fronts a bay. Soft turtle grass covers the bottom and the calm water remains shallow for a long way out. That’s fun for waders but somewhat frustrating for swimmers. Take advantage of the calm sea to use the complimentary kayaks, paddleboards and Hobie Cats. Studio to 3-bedroom villas are available.
What to do in Tortola
Sail to the nearby islands, go snorkeling, diving and sample the nightlife in Cane Garden Bay.