Whenever we travel, I’m always on the lookout for the best ways for my family to make the most of our trip and I always get some really great advice from friends, travel mavens and locals. Now that I just returned from a seven day trip in the Caribbean complete with snorkeling adventures, sunset sails, fabulous food and shopping here are my answers to make the most out of your St. Thomas getaway.
When it comes to traveling with two teenage kids and an athletic husband, we are always on the lookout for vacations that offer plenty of sunshine, surf, sand and adventure. This year, we set our sights on St. Thomas and embarked on a week-long vacation filled with great food, sunny skies, snorkeling, night kayaking and so much more.
1. Where should we stay in St. Thomas?
We stayed at Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Beach Marriott Resort which is located approximately 20 minutes from the St. Thomas airport. While our room wasn’t ready when we arrived, we decided to slip on our bathing suits and head straight to the Sunset Grill, one of the hotel’s restaurants overlooking the infinity pool and ocean. Next, we hit the pool and ordered a cocktail at the Azul Pool swim up bar. Our vacation had officially begun!
The resort also offers a spa with its own private pool, a new fitness room, a gazebo in case you’re looking for an ideal location for a destination wedding, incredible outdoor locations for entertaining, grass tennis courts and Morning Star Beach which offers water sport equipment that you can rent once you find a chaise lounge with an umbrella. There’s also a time share component called Frenchman’s Cove where you can rent an apartment in a complex that comes complete with a pool, kid and teen center and beach. To find out more about the time share option, you’d need to take a 90 minute tour of the facility but they do give you money towards a dinner for two so if you have time to do it, then go for it.
Before long, our hotel room was ready and the kids were instantly drawn to the massive TV which offered a wealth of programming options including some of their favorite movies. I gravitated toward the balcony which had a beautiful view of the infinity pool and ocean. As an ‘Elite’ traveler, the staff at the hotel were incredibly gracious and sent us a bottle of wine, a fruit and cheese platter and candy for the kids to enjoy while we got ready for dinner. While we had already eaten lunch and I had enjoyed a frozen strawberry margarita, it looked like I was officially off my diet for the week.
2. Can I Get a Room With a View in St. Thomas?
The running theme that I found at Frenchman’s Reef was that every restaurant, bar and hotel room has an incredible view of St. Thomas. Whether you are dining on the beach, enjoying a buffet brunch at Aqua Terra which has stunning island and harbor views, or spending the evening star gazing at the Rum Bar, the resort has incredible picture taking options wherever you turn — and even has selfie stations where you can snap the ultimate photo. In fact, we even had a seagull who greeted us each morning as we enjoyed coffee on our balcony. Just use the Twitter handle @FrenchmansReef and the hashtag #TravelBrilliantly if you’d like to share your photos while you’re vacationing.
3. Where Should We Eat in St. Thomas?
The Marriott provides a free shuttle service that takes you to all of their properties in St. Thomas, and that definitely comes in handy after you’ve taken a long stroll to the beach and are too tired to walk back to your room. While we were able to dine at all the restaurants located near the hotel including Sunset Grille, Aqua Terra, CoCo Joes and the Sand Bar, our favorite was Havana Blue, an upscale Latin inspired dining option with ocean views, a fabulous wine list, cocktails, and desserts that were out of this world. The service was phenomenal, and the food was spectacular. My daughter couldn’t get enough of the snapper special and I was partial to the s’mores cocktail. Just be prepared — the prices at Havana Blue are incredibly expensive — the snapper ranges in price from $56 on a weeknight to $64 on the weekend. But sometimes, even when the price is out of this stratosphere, Havana Blue is a splurge restaurant you should definitely try when you’re there. Right below Havana Blue is the Sand Bar, a less expensive dining option for couples and families that’s located right next to the beach and also offers a weekend brunch.
If you’re looking for options outside the hotel, there’s an incredibly romantic restaurant called Mafolie — which is set high atop a hill with breathtaking views of the island and harbor. Mafolie offers traditional Caribbean fare, a spectacular wine and cocktail list too. For water and yacht views, there’s Grande Cru – which is located in a shopping area that’s about a five minute taxi ride from Frenchman’s Reef.
4. What are the Best Things to Do in St. Thomas?
The best part of our visit to St. Thomas were all the incredible excursions we took each day. In the lobby of Frenchman’s Reef is the Adventure Center where you can book any type of tour, snorkeling trip and island hopping package to keep you on your toes and in the water throughout the week. While there are hundreds of activities to choose from, we opted for a snorkeling tour, a sunset sail, a visit to St. John, night kayaking, paddle board lessons and SUP yoga (think downward dog on a paddle board for yoga newbies like me).
The dock for all our activities was conveniently located right near our hotel so all we needed to do was walk down a few flights of stairs and then hop on a catamaran or ferry boat to take us to our destination. You can also purchase all your ferry tickets at the Adventure Center.
All Aboard The Cat for an Awesome Snorkeling Adventure…
The first day we boarded The Cat where we set sail on a three hour catamaran and snorkeling tour with sea turtles and tropical fish. The crew aboard The Cat was super friendly and we had a great time searching and eventually locating a few sea turtles who were dining on algae at the bottom of the ocean.
Paddle Boarding and Beach Reading…
The following morning, my family opted for a paddle board lesson while I sat on the beach and read one of three books that I pretty much devoured on my trip. In case you’d like to know my summer reads, I opted for The Art of Racing in the Rain (a tear jerker about a dog that my husband loved too), The Husbands Secret (a novel that drew me in while I was at the beach) and Who do You Love (which I finished on the plane ride home). I also snapped a few photos of my family paddling on the ocean and watched as my daughter learned to do a headstand on her board. That’s one trick I know I will never try.
A Sunset Sail on The Cat…
We returned to The Cat the following night for a sunset dinner sail and met a couple from Kansas who shared how they turned their sister’s wedding celebration into their own family vacation. At the end of the trip, everyone received a personalized tattoo from The Cat (washable of course) and we then made our way back to the Rum Bar where we relaxed with a drink under the stars.
Another highlight of the trip was our ferry visit to St. John. While you can take a full tour of the island that includes a visit to a rum plantation and some time at the beach, we decided to hop aboard the ferry and spend the day on our own time. Luckily, we managed to find a very friendly taxi driver named Chris who directed us to a deli for breakfast and then took us to a more secluded beach, Cinnamon Bay, where the kids got to paddle board again and I continued reading my book. Chris then picked us up just in time for us to grab lunch in town and then catch the ferry back to our hotel. In spite of the fact that there was a torrential downpour in town when we were getting ready to head back to the boat we got back at 2:40. I do caution that when the ferry boat captain says he’s leaving no later than 2:45 pm, he means it, he literally left the shore by 2:43.
If you’d like to visit additional islands in the Caribbean while you’re in St. Thomas, another can’t miss is St.Croix.
St. Thomas Highlight….Night Kayaking…
One of the best moments of the trip took place when we went night kayaking. If you’ve never tried that before, it’s pretty amazing. After you get a brief kayaking lesson on shore you hop into a boat with a glass bottom that glows in the dark. Once you’re on the water, you can literally watch as sea turtles, stingrays and a host of other very large fish travel right under your kayak. I also loved that we paddled out to the home of the owner of the Bellagio Hotel which kicks off a light and cannon show every night for onlookers.
So Much More to Do in St Thomas….
There are plenty more day trips you can take in St. Thomas, including walking tours, a visit to Magen’s Bay (supposedly the best beach on the island), zip lining, marine life visits and much more, but with two teens and an athletic husband, we were all about adventure, 24/7. Or at least they were, I was able to squeeze in some leisure time at the beach and the pool and even polished off one of my books on our boat ride back to St. Thomas.
5. Where’s the Best Place to Shop in St. Thomas?
A trip to St. Thomas wouldn’t be complete without a visit downtown to Charlotte Amalie for some serious shopping. We were pretty strategic with our trip. Since it costs between $6-8 per person to take a taxi into town, my husband and son decided to stay back at the hotel while we took a cab to the shops. We first strolled through an open air market where we could bargain our way to the best price on a knock off bag, beads, jewelry and more. We decided to hold off and hit the jewelry stores first and then promised we’d come back.
There are dozens of jewelry stores in St. Thomas and you can get some really great deals on tanzanite. We managed to score a pair of tanzanite earrings, a necklace and a ring from a shopkeeper for $179. We also picked up a few pairs of Laramar earrings (from $30-$60) — another stone that’s indigenous to St. Thomas and even found some beautiful Caribbean inspired paintings ($30 per poster) that were created by a local artist.
Before we returned to our hotel my daughter insisted she get her hair braided and luckily we found someone in the open air market who was pretty reasonably priced ($2 per braid) and my daughter got seven braids for the price of six and seven bracelets for a $7 for her friends…what a bargain!
The good thing about our shopping trip was that we visited the downtown area on a day where no ships were there so while it was slow for the shopkeepers, we kind of enjoyed being in a place where there weren’t swarms of people nearby (hence the zig and zag component of our vacations).
6. Why are There Iguanas Everywhere in St. Thomas and are They Dangerous?
If you are squeamish about reptiles, I’m here to warn you right now that once you arrive in St. Thomas, the island is overrun with Iguanas. So much so that when we dined at the Sand Bar for lunch, a few iguanas kept coming over to our table while others were devouring the new flowers that had been planted nearby. Luckily, none of the iguanas attacked us but it was a bit disconcerting enjoying my quesadilla while a reptile stared longingly at my food.
7. Is St. Thomas Worth the Trip?
Overall, I loved our St. Thomas vacation. But, vacationer beware. You need to be prepared that it’s expensive to get from place to place (at least $48 round trip for a taxi family of four). If you’d like to rent a car for the day, that’ll cost you about $50 per day but you’ll have to drive on the left side of the road. Plus, if you want to take advantage of everything the island has to offer, you should set aside a budget of at least $1000-$1500 for snorkeling trips and island hopping. While it might be hard to experience St. Thomas on a budget, there are ways to make the best of your experience so that everyone in your family has fun. As my father in law always says, “You can’t put a price on a good time” so if you’re looking for a great family vacation getaway, definitely give St. Thomas a try.
To find out more, visit the Frenchman’s Reef Marriott Resort website to book your family vacation in paradise!
Beth Feldman is the founder of Role Mommy (www.rolemommy.com), an online community and events company dedicated to inspiring working parents to pursue their passion while raising a family. An avid traveler since age 10, Beth loves spending time away with her family and is always on the lookout for adventurous, luxurious and off the beaten path locations she can take her husband, kids and their dog Santana. With over two decades of experience in entertainment and lifestyle public relations, Beth is also co-founder of Beyond PR Group and previously served as vice president for the CBS Communications Group. When her kids were young, Beth co-authored Peeing in Peace…Tales & Tips for Type A Moms and See Mom Run: Side-splitting Essays from the World’s Most Harried Moms. She currently lives in New Rochelle, NY, spends her summer weekends in Southampton and one day plans to take her entire family on a Mediterranean Cruise – except she has to pay for braces, sleepaway camp, and college before she gets there.