Top Family Attractions: U.S. Virgin Islands
The U.S. Virgin Islands comes with white-sand beaches and translucent turquoise waters, hillsides blooming with bougainvillea, and reefs alive with multi-colored fish. Bustling St. Thomas is a shopper’s haven, St. John an eco-paradise, and St. Croix a memorial to its Danish heritage. Water Island—the most recent USVI addition—offers a quiet getaway.
- Snorkeling the reefs of Trunk Bay and Buck Island
- Helmet diving at Coral World
- Magens Bay and Sapphire Bay beaches
- Kayaking the Salt River
- Ruins of an 18th-century plantation
The Atlantis submarine dives down as far as 90 feet below the surface of the water, offering its passengers a diver’s-eye view of eels, rays, snappers, and schools of rainbow-colored fish. You might even spot a sea turtle lazily swimming by. For this adventure, kids must be at least 36 inches tall.
Atlantis Submarines: 340.774.5650, www.atlantisadventures.com
Coral World and Sea Trekkin’
The aquariums of Coral World offer tanks of critters and two special experiences. The windows of the Undersea Observatory, sunk 20 feet into the sea, provide glimpses into the mystique of underwater life. While taking in the underwater world, you might find folks walking along the ocean floor wearing bubble-like helmets. Those adventurers are Sea Trekkin’, another Coral World option. The helmets supply air from tanks floating on the surface, freeing you to explore the land beneath the sea.
Coral World and Sea Trekkin’: 340.775.1555, www.coralworldvi.com
Magens Bay and Sapphire Bay Beaches
Magens Bay, rated as one of the island’s most beautiful beaches, stretches for a mile and is a true delight. Sapphire Beach, less popular with the cruise crowd, is a wide swath of sand that boasts a resort, and windsurfing and parasailing outfitters.
Additional Info: 800.372.USVI, www.usvitourism.vi
Water Island Adventure Bike Tour
Water Island, the most recent addition to the U.S. Virgin Islands, is a quaint little beach island half-a-mile off St. Thomas with a population of under 200 people. The tour with Water Island Adventure starts with a ferry ride from Charlotte Amalie Harbor and a bike ride around the island. While pedaling, you’re likely to spot tortoises, iguanas, and pelicans on your way to some well-deserved swimming. The tour is recommended for children age eight and older.
Water Island Adventure Bike Tour: 340.714.2186, www.waterislandadventures.com
Trunk Bay and Honeymoon Beach of Virgin Islands National Park (St. John)
Trunk Bay, part of the Virgin Islands National Park, features a 225-yard snorkel trail marked by underwater plaques. Although the trail has suffered from frequent use, enough schooling fish and colorful coral remain to excite novice snorkelers and reward even long-time fin-and-mask devotees. Less-visited Honeymoon Beach, accessible by boat or a short hiking trail, features clear waters and good snorkeling.
Additional Info: 340.776.6201, www.nps.gov/viis/
Hiking Trails of Virgin Islands National Park
The Virgin Islands National Park offers 20 miles of hiking paths that share the islands’ history and natural offerings. The mile-long Cinnamon Bay Trail leads downhill through the forest to the sea, while the Annaberg Historic Trail takes you to the partially restored ruins of an 18th-century sugar plantation, complete with its windmill, the slave quarters, and huge kettles for boiling cane juice and making refined sugar. Rangers lead treks on the Reef Bay Trail, a three-mile route that passes petroglyphs and ends at a white-sand beach.
Virgin Island National Park: 340.776.6201, www.nps.gov/viis/
You have to lunch somewhere and Mongoose Junction, a stone and wood shopping complex in Cruz Bay, sports interesting shops in addition to its two casual eateries. Kids and teens will find plenty of souvenirs to purchase, including hand-painted clothing and batiks, pottery, shell creations, and tropical prints.
Mongoose Junction: www.usvi.net/shopping/mongoose/
Salt River Kayak Tour (St. Croix)
While the fact that Columbus landed at Salt Bay on November 14, 1493 may impress the kids, it won’t as much as kayaking along the Salt River. The historical portion of the paddle takes you by Indian burial grounds, with rest breaks on deserted beaches. The ecological tour concentrates on the mangroves, home to egrets and iguanas. Offered by Caribbean Adventure Tours, both outings employ double kayaks, are two hours long, and are suitable for kids six and up.
Salt River Kayak Tour: 340.778.1522, www.stcroixkayak.com
Buck Island National Reef Monument
Turtles nest on the beaches of this 880-acre island known for an underwater snorkel trail rich with coral and brightly hued fish. Bring sneakers so you can go ashore to hike. En route to the 340-foot summit you pass prickly pear and barrel cactus. The hilltop’s prize is a panoramic view of reefs, azure waters, and speckles of islands. Be sure to wear a hat and bring sunscreen as there’s little shade.
Buck Island National Reef Monument: 800.372.USVI, www.usvitourism.vi
Estate Whim Plantation Museum
Dating to 1743, the great house of the Whim Plantation is restored and gives views into just three of its rooms, but those rooms convey the power and riches sugar brought to the landowners. Guides dressed in period clothing inform about plantation life. The 12-acre site also has a museum store and the remains of a furnace chimney.
Estate Whim Plantation Museum: 340.772.0598, www.usvitourism.vi