St. Thomas Cruise Port: Tips, Beaches, and Shore Excursions
The St. Thomas cruise port in the U.S. Virgin Islands has become even more of a shopper’s mecca than ever before.
The U.S. Virgin Islands attract more than 2 million cruise visitors and another 700,000 overnight vacationers each year, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. St. Thomas, the most prominent island, is a convenient stop on eastern Caribbean cruises because it lies only about 77 miles from San Juan, Puerto Rico. San Juan is a major destination and embarkation point for many cruises.
Three trips to St. Thomas have given us tips on what to see and do for anyone who visits the island during a Caribbean cruise.
Five quick tips:
- Massive shopping fills Havensight Mall and Charlotte Amalie.
- The duty-free shopping limit for U.S. visitors is double other Caribbean islands.
- Magens Bay Beach is the most popular beach on the island.
- Weather is warm to hot year-round. Rain hits hard in the fall.
- Spring through late summer is the best time to go.
Attractions and Shore Excursions
Our last visit nearly 10 years ago started with a small shopping area by the Havensight Cruise Pier known as Havensight Mall. Most of the people disembarking the ship spent a brief time walking around the shops. Then we all went two miles away to the famous duty-free shopping at Charlotte Amalie, the capital city of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
This time we discovered a sprawling Havensight Mall by the cruise docks plus many more shops, restaurants and things to do nearby. The docks even had a Senor Frogs restaurant right by the ships.
The Skyride to Paradise Point is the most prominent attraction around the docks. Visitors ride trams 700 feet to the top for views of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas Harbor and most of the island. The cost is $21 for adults and $10.50 for children at the time of this writing. Shore excursion prices including very brief transporation are about the same.
If the Havensight Mall area isn’t enough, visitors who want to go to Charlotte Amalie can walk to the front parking lot of mall and take $5-a-person shuttles to the city.
Energetic visitors can walk and shop their way to Charlotte Amalie via Edward Wilmot / Long Bay Road. But it’s a long two-mile walk if the day is hot.
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Shuttles drop off passengers at Emancipation Gardens, a small park at the start of the main shopping district. A flea market next to the park is filled with local booths of arts, crafts and souvenirs.
On the day of our visit, the shops in the tourism district were largely empty. More passengers toured the Havensight Mall area than the Charlotte Amalie shopping district, even though Charlotte Amalie has several hundred shops.
The district is mainly known for bargains with jewelry and electronics. The bulk of the shops line Dronningens Gade, also known as Main Street. Other shops lie along Back Street and Waterfront, which run parallel to Main, as well as alleys that connect the streets.
Other Things to Do
Fort Christian is the oldest structure in the Virgin Islands. The original Dutch colony built it in 1762. Today, the fort is a museum with exhibits on the human and natural history of the Virgin Islands. Visitors will find it in Charlotte Amalie between Emancipation Garden and Veterans Drive.
Blackbeard’s Castle in Charlotte Amalie is a 17th century Danish military tower amid five acres that the park calls "The Williamsburg of the Caribbean”. It has several historical manor houses and National Landmark properties that date back as far as the late 1600s.
Coral World Marine Park and Observatory is on the northeast coast at Coki Point. The park has an underwater observatory, coral reef tank, tropical nature trail and marine gardens aquarium. Activities include snuba dives, helmut dives and swimming with sea lions. Shore excursion prices vary according to the activity, but usually range between $80 and about $140 per person.
Beaches Near the Cruise Port
Visitors to the St. Thomas cruise port often want to know where to find the closest beach to the port as well as the best nearby beach.
Morning Star Beach at the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Hotel is the closest beach to the cruise docks. It is about 1.4 miles or 2.2 kilometers from the docks, which makes it accessible for energetic visitors and a taxi ride for everyone else.
Yes, the beach is nearby and convenient. But it isn’t much of a beach compared to others in the Caribbean.
Magens Bay Beach is the most popular on the island and ranked among the best in the Caribbean. It is a 15-minute drive from the pier. Plenty of taxis are available at Havensight and Charlotte Amalie to reach Magens Bay. The beach is a public park and is the only one on St. Thomas with an entrance fee. The calm waters are attractive for families. Shore excursion prices including the entrance fee and transporation start at about $35 per person.
Other options include a 20-minute drive to either Coki Point Beach, Lindquist Beach or Sapphire Beach for the sake of snorkeling and fewer crowds. Some say that Lindquist is better than Magens Bay. Some of these options are available as cruise line shore excursions for about $40 to $70 per person including transportation and amenities.
Morning Star Beach at the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Hotel is the closest beach to the cruise docks.
Transportation / Getting Around
St. Thomas is not nearly as big as some other islands in the Caribbean. It is 13 miles long and four miles wide.
Taxi rates are cheap in part because most cruise port visitors don’t have far to go -- usually to Charlotte Amalie or one of the nearest beaches by taxi.
The U.S. Virgin Islands have a taxi commission that sets rates between two points on each island. They usually run between $4 and $15 per person plus discounts for extra fares depending on the destination. The rates are subject to change.
The cruise dock area has car rentals from Budget Car Rental for anyone who wants to visit multiple locations on the island.
Otherwise, most visitors get to where they want to go by excursion bus. Anyone who wants to visit Magens Bay or one of the other beaches may save money by using a taxi instead of an excursion bus.
Weather / Best Time to Visit
The best time to go to St. Thomas is April through July for a combination of warm temperatures, low risk of rain and most comfortable seawater.
The average high temperature for St. Thomas ranges from 85 degrees Fahrenheit or 29 Celsius between December and March to 90 Fahrenheit or 32 Celsius between July and September, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.
Seawater is usually comfortable enough for swimming during most months except for some mornings in the winter.
Hot summer weather appeals to beach lovers, but St. Thomas has heavier rains starting in the late summer and continuing through the fall months. It rains on average between five and six inches each month from September through November but only about two inches from January through March and slightly more in April and May.
The best time to go to St. Thomas is April through July for a combination of warm temperatures, low risk of rain and most comfortable seawater. December through March are popular months for northerners who want to escape cold winters.