Virgin Islands Travel Articles
Caribbean Cruise Getaway
Work and a busy schedule can leave you craving some fun and relaxation. A rejuvenating quick Caribbean cruise break not only gets you away from it all but returns you to your life inspired, refreshed and feeling ready to be more productive than ever.
East of Central America is the Caribbean Sea and the vast array of islands that make up the Caribbean region. Some of these are island nations such as Jamaica or a nation comprised of several islands such as the Bahamas.
The Caribbean is a great choice for a quick getaway as it not only offers an exotic holiday close to mainland USA but the number of islands in a relatively small area means a fun and varied Caribbean vacation is possible within a short time frame and without a lot of travel time between destinations. Ports of call are not far from each other so traveling between them will take a few hours at most. This means that you spend most of your Caribbean vacation at the destinations rather than at sea.
Another advantage to choosing a Caribbean cruise is the variety among the islands. From night life, authentic Caribbean cuisine, sports, places of historical interest and friendly, vibrant local communities the full range of relaxing and exciting holiday activities can be found in the shortest Caribbean tour. Cruises can range from six to fifteen days and the peak season for weather is June, July and the first half of August. This period has little strong wind. Winds are at their strongest from mid August until October.
Most inhabitants of the Caribbean islands speak English (with differing dialects) which is an additional advantage to US travelers. Different currencies are used throughout the Caribbean but many of these are linked to the US Dollar and often have a fixed exchange rate. This offers the advantage of avoiding exchange rates which leave you paying out more than you bargained for.
A Caribbean cruise presents the opportunity for many unique activities such as scuba diving and snorkeling for both beginners and experts. Impressive coral reefs and ghostly ship wrecks give the Caribbean its reputation as one of the best places to dive in the world. Various locations offer the chance to swim with stingray, dolphins and even sharks. If the idea of an underwater adventure appeals to you then you might consider a ride in a Scenic Underwater Bubble submarine which works a bit like an underwater moped and does not require familiarity with diving equipment and procedures.
Hiking in the Caribbean takes you through some of the most beautiful landscapes imaginable. Wildlife fanatics can head to nature reserves to try and glimpse creatures such as the green tail monkey or Caribbean fruit bat. It is possible to go on Jeep tours of plantations and tropical areas.
Golfers will be spoiled for choice with a range of challenging and unusual courses. Sailing enthusiasts can hire boats and either enjoy the waters or visit nearby islands. With the white sandy beaches and crystal clear water there may never have been a better place to indulge in some surf.
The Caribbean is a paradise for the active traveler as well as those who like to sit and appreciate the sunset as they enjoy a beach barbecue buffet and a rum cocktail. With so many options within easy reach on a Caribbean cruise there’s no reason not to have and do it all.
Caribbean Island Adventures
A hop, skip and jump away from the United States, the Caribbean is just the place you want to go for a getaway in the midst of calm seas and some fantastic adventure in a cultural hotspot.
A Caribbean cruise is much more than sun, sand and surf. And the proximity of islands allow you to sample the regional flavor and local adventures, that have earned many an island a sobriquet.
Carnivals, pageants, Calypso music, casinos, shopping and cricket, the Caribbean vacation experience has plenty for all. Walk around its many historic sites, and explore pirate and plantation legacies. Visit volcano sites and take treks through densely forested mountain areas amidst mangrove swamps. Sail by privately owned islands, and see firsthand the hideaways of the rich and famous. Sample tropical concoctions at plantations and a myriad of flavors in Caribbean cuisine.
For sporty adventures, sailing, paragliding and kayaking are activities for you. The steep walls of coral reefs, underground caves and calm waters, offer you some of the most exciting sites for diving and snorkeling.
Re-trace the course of Christopher Columbus, as he discovered them in late 15th century.
Leeward Lesser Antilles
The Lesser Antilles, a chain of 15 volcanic islands, sports active volcanoes and geo-thermal activity. Bordered by the Puerto Rican Trench to the north-west with depths of 9200 ft, these islands offers some of the most excellent diving sites, like those at Montserrat and Barbuda.
At Barbuda, go rock climbing and take trails, sail or go paragliding. Explore its 17 miles of pink-shell beaches and the Codrington Lagoon, nesting site of the endangered Frigate birds. And you cannot miss Nelson's Dockyard National Park at Antigua, a restored naval dockyard set amidst a mangrove park and home to the African cattle egrets.
U.S. Virgin Islands
The highlights of St Thomas are shore excursions to the Magens Bay, Fort Christian and the famous Blackbeard's Castle. The Buck Island Reef National Monument is a less known but a sheer haven for even amateur snorkeling and scuba diving. The spectacular coral reefs and endangered turtles are unforgettable marine encounters that you can experience as a family.
St. Croix Salt River Bay National Historic Park has endangered animal species you will not see elsewhere. Part of the park, the underwater canyon, is a huge draw for divers.
British Virgin Islands
You will know the moment you enter British territory of the 600 British Virgin Islands. The reason? It is as though nature has hit overdrive. Most islands, even those that are mere specks on the map, are magnificent. All this is much at odds with their quaint names, like Dead Chest, Necker and Moskito! These islands are also associated with colorful pirate stories of the British Pirate Blackbeard and other famous legends, just asking to be explored.
Sage Mountain National Park at Tortola offers two trails that take you up the 1700 feet high mountain. While trekking the Devil's Bay at Virgin Gorda is a popular activity, Anegada has some fantastic trails to the saltwater ponds in mangrove forests, where you come across some exotic bird species. Norman Island, the inspiration for the R.L. Stevenson's "Treasure Island" will excite you with its many coves, reef and caves along The Bright. Tobago islands are protected areas with a 'no anchor policy'. But the cliffs plunging a 160 feet deep into the sea offer some great diving opportunities.
The Windward Islands, are so named as they are on the windier and wetter side of the Lesser Antilles.
St. Lucia has two famous sites. The two Pitons, natural volcanic formations, and the Pigeon Island National Park, home to the red-necked pigeon. St Vincent’s drive-in volcano to the Soufriere sulphur springs site, 4000 ft above sea level, is a one-of-its-kind stinky experience!
"The Island of Spices", Grenada, takes you on a memorable trail through a lake, mangrove swamps, and a bird sanctuary to sight tropical parrots at its Levera National Park. Grand Etang Park with the Grand Etang Lake, is however more popular amongst naturalists, for the rare orchids, giant gommiers and mahoganies with some exciting fauna.
Tobago Cays, Trinidad and Barbados, are popular stopovers offering plenty of activities. The long colonial history has earned Barbados the name "Little England”. Dominica’s dense forested mountains, rare flora and fauna, and a World Heritage Site, is a boiling lake of grayish-blue water, make it truly the "Nature Isle of the Caribbean”.
French West Indies
Explore the amazing gray-black beaches of Martinique, delight in its old-world charm and splendid Creole and French cuisine. Surf at Tartane and trek through forested mountains to view Mont Pelee. And do not miss sampling Guadeloupe's rich musical heritage.
The Cultural Side of a Virgin Islands Cruise
Visitors to the Virgin Islands will enjoy the mixture of Caribbean and American cultures demonstrated in everything from the islanders clothing to the music. Western style of dress is predominant including jeans, t-shirts, jerseys, and polo shirts. For music, salsa, blues, oldies, rock and roll, American pop, reggae and calypso can be heard in the radio waves across the islands. Basketball, football, and baseball are the local sports that are both played and watched.
The population’s ancestors were primarily Africans and Europeans. While the majority of the population is of Caribbean decent, today, people from all over the world have settled in the islands.
English is the main language on the island, but the local dialect can make it difficult to understand. As more people immigrated into the region, additional languages have been introduced into the islands. During a cruise to the Virgin Islands it is very common to hear Spanish, French-Patois and Creole in addition to English.
The majority of the population is Baptist (42%), Catholic (34%) or Episcopalian (17%). The islands also tend to have a strong superstitious culture, and stories based around these superstitions are common. Many of the stories are about jumbies, which are spirits that commonly interact with the living. Jumbie stories are used as teaching lessons to children.
Virgin Islands Environment
The environment of the Virgin Islands is laid back yet very diverse. There are the amazing coral reefs to explore, mountains to hike, and villages to discover. The islanders understand the importance of protecting the natural beauty of the islands and have implemented various programs to educate, restore and protect the natural beauty of the islands such as the coral reefs, coastal grasslands, and the wildlife. The islands offer something for everyone---hiking, snorkeling, and acquainting oneself with a diverse culture.
Almost 3/5 of St. John is part of the Virgin Islands National Park as well as almost all of Hassel Island off of St. Thomas. The park protects the natural beauty of the coral reefs, white sandy beaches, and the tropical forests---home to over 800 species of plants. The park is also home to the islands’ rich history including remnants from the Pre-Colombian Amerindian Civilization, reminders of the Danish Colonial Sugar Plantations, and remains of African Slavery.
Cuisine on the Virgin Islands
The restaurants in the islands are a combination of American and traditional Caribbean forms of serving food. For example, you might see a Subway or McDonalds next door to more local restaurants serving pates and boiled fish. Large grocery stores are westernized, selling items from Campbell’s Soup to Sara Lee pound cakes. Then, just down the street from such a grocery store, it is entirely possible to see a fisherman selling his fresh catch of fish from the back of his truck.
European settlers brought recipes that include items such as beef, onions, garlic, and wheat, but they also developed recipes for local produce such as limes, mango, and sugar cane. When the African slaves were imported, they brought with them okra and new ways to cook traditional foods. The Americans brought beans, corn, potatoes and various types of peppers. With the Indian migration to the islands, curry spice became a new favorite seasoning. Curry dishes are still popular in the islands.
Callaloo soup is a popular dish made of leaves from the daheen plant mixed with okra, various herbs and meats or seafood. Beef, goat, chicken and stewed oxtail are popular meats to be served with other dishes. Side dishes include rice, peas, yams, fried plantains, dasheen, sweet potatoes, cassava, beans and lentils. On some islands, fish soup is so popular that it is served for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Every island in the Caribbean has its variety of rum and the Virgin Islands are no different. Rum is made from sugar cane or molasses and traditionally was distilled right alongside the manufacturing of sugar on sugar plantations. In the Virgin Islands, Cruzan rum, which is manufactured on St. Croix, is the most popular.
A Geographical look at the Virgin Islands
Located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, the Virgin Islands are about 40 to 50 miles east of Puerto Rico. There are 4 larger islands and over 50 smaller ones covering over 133 square miles that make up the United States Virgin Islands. The British Virgin Islands consist of 4 main islands and about 32 smaller ones for a total of 59 square miles. The British Virgin Islands are to the north east of the US Virgin Islands and closest to St. John.
The islands are made up of rugged mountains, beautiful coral reefs, and thick rainforests. The islands were made almost 100 millions years ago as a result of volcanoes erupting. Each island is a mountain peak off the ocean’s floor creating amazing seaside cliffs, mountains with lush forests. The highest point is on Britain’s Tortola’s Mount Sage at 1,710 feet above sea level. There are also plenty of white sandy beaches.
The island is very careful to take care of the beauty of the island but still allowing travelers to fully take in the beauty. For example, the residents implemented Reef Ranger Project, a programmed aimed at educating the people, as well as restoring and protecting the islands’ coral reefs, coastal grasslands, and wildlife.
St. Thomas island, at 13 miles long and four miles wide, is just a little over 31 square miles. Crown Mountain is the island’s highest point at 1,556 feet although it should be noted that little of the St. Thomas island is flat. St. Thomas touts the best natural deepwater harbors in the Caribbean, making it home to many exotic creatures of the water. Coral reefs are world-renowned, especially Buck Island off of St. Croix where the water is crystal clear.
St. Croix is 22 miles long and 6 miles wide at the broadest point on the island. The east end is composed of cactus plants among the short grassy hillsides. On the west end, the lush mountains are dotted with ferns and large fruit trees. The center of St. Croix is mostly beaches and rolling pastures. At 1,088 feet, Mount Eagle is St. Croix’s highest peak.
A bit smaller is the island of St. John-- only 7 miles long and 3 miles wide for a total of 20 square miles. Bordeaux Mountain is 1,277 feet tall although the whole island is known for being hilly. Well over two thirds of St. John is protected by the National Park Service.
Virgin Islands Politics
As part of the United States, the US Virgin Islands are an organized, but unincorporated territory of the US. The islanders are considered US citizens, but they cannot vote in the US Presidential elections. The Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands, the Independent Citizens Movement (ICM) and the Republican Party of the Virgin Islands are the main political parties on the islands. All other candidates run as independents in the races.
The US Virgin Islands elect a delegate to Congress but this delegate cannot participate in floor votes but they are able to vote in committee.
For the islands, at a more territorial level, elect 15 senators for a two-year term to the unicameral Virgin Islands Legislature. The selection of the senators is by district; seven senators are elected from the St. Croix district, seven from St. Thomas and St. John and then one senator at-large who must be a resident of St. John.
The islands also elect a territorial governor every four years. Prior to 1970, the President of the US appointed the governor. The islands also have both a District Court as well as a Superior Court. The judges are appointed by the both the President and the governor.
The US Congress has offered a choice to the citizens of the islands to be independent, status quo, or statehood. None of these have attracted enough interest or voter turnouts so the islands will stay at their current status of territory to the US. It has been suggested that the possible future Puerto Rican statehood might set the ball in motion for other territories to increase their political interest in their status.
Wildside of the Virgin Islands
The island of St. John is a place to find beautiful and exotic animals, coral, and plants. Frogs, gecko, anole and iguana lizards are among some of the animals on the various islands. There are over 30 varieties of birds on the islands including the bananaquit, the ani (a black, parrot-like, smooth billed bird), and two species of Caribbean hummingbirds. Many birds seen in the continental US during the summer months are found in the forests in the winter.
Of the mammals on the Virgin Islands, the bat is the only native mammal. Bats are important to the island because of their ability to pollinate many of the island’s flowers and disperse seeds from fruit trees and shrubs. Insect control, including mosquitoes, is another important function bats serve on the islands.
Deer, sheep, donkeys, goats, cats, dogs, pigs and mongoose are not native to the islands. Their presence has altered the island including erosion, vegetation patterns, and has reduced the size of the natural species on the islands.
With over 800 plant types, there are plenty of diverse species of flora including the bay rum tree, the Teyer palm, and rare orchids. The bay rum trees’ fragrant leaves provided the oil for the manufacturing of bay rum cologne. The Teyer palm is the only native tree on the island of St. John.
Another important wildlife refuge for the islands are the coral reefs, which include fish such as parrot fish, tands, grunts, snappers, butterfly fish, angles, damsels, squirrel fish and wasses. Other animals such as sponges, starfish, urchins, worms, crabs, lobsters and anemones also inhibit the warm tropical waters around the islands.
While on the islands, a visitor might just run into dwarf herrings, great barracudas, mangrove crabs, snowy egrets, spotted eagle rays, and jellyfish. Only in certain areas is finless snorkeling allowed to protect the marine life. Off the island of St. Thomas, whales can be found breeding off the north end of the island from January to April.