The U.S. Virgin Islands offers a variety of activities for families. From snorkeling to horseback riding, there are attractions and natural wonders everyone will enjoy. Vacationers may swim alongside sea turtles, hike scenic trails, and snorkel with colorful reef fish.
The smallest of the US Virgin Islands, two-thirds of St. John is a national park. St. John offers hiking, camping, and breathtaking views. St. John is popular for its wildlife, from butterflies to exotic birds. There are 20 hiking trails in Virgin Island National Park. This island is noted for beaches such as Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay and Salt Pond Bay. At Trunk Bay, the snorkeling is easy for youngsters. Along the 220 yard National Park Underwater Trail, signs placed five to 15 feet below the surface explain underwater features, and help focus kids’ attention. Trunk Bay is the only beach on St. John with a snack bar, showers, bathrooms, gear rental, lifeguards and an admission fee.
North shore beaches are busier, south shore beaches more popular with locals. Jumbie Bay Beach feels private, and families need not hike a long trail to arrive there. Do so early, as there is only space for seven parked cars. Francis Bay is a calm, beautiful escape ideal for snorkeling and bird watching.
The busiest part of St. John is Cruz Bay, where ferries arrive and depart. Families may divide their stay between Cruz Bay and Coral Bay, to save time otherwise spent driving between them. Fill up in Cruz Bay, there are no gas stations in Coral Bay.
In Coral Bay, a popular burger spot called Skinny Legs is a great place to interact with locals and tourists alike. Also in Coral Bay, Concordia Eco-Resort features eleven housing units perched like tree houses along a hillside.
Each has indoor plumbing, a solar heated shower, propane stove, a refrigerator, and a deck. Your youngsters will enjoy the rustic atmosphere of a family tree house. A sundries and souvenir shop on the Eco-Resort grounds sells snacks, toiletries and flashlights, and there is a guest laundry on the property. From Concordia Eco-Resort there is easy access to U.S. Virgin Islands National Park, where the family can explore vast natural terrain.
In Cruz Bay, activities such as tennis lessons, kayaking, parasailing, or salsa lessons are suited to your older kids. A sunset sail on a schooner is also a relaxing group activity. Cruz Bay’s Beach Bar is fun, with tasty cuisine and refreshing drinks. Margarita Phil’s offers great Mexican cuisine. In Mongoose Junction, a multilevel shopping complex, the Deli Grotto is an inexpensive breakfast choice – take their fresh bread for a beach with your family.
Hawksnest Beach is also secluded, and perfect for beginner and children’s snorkeling. Facing the water to the right, swim near the black rocky area. Look for small colorful schools of grunt, parrot fish and damsel fish, and swim among the bright orange elkhorn coral.
A walking guided tour of the 18th century Annaberg Sugar Mills is recommended. Your guide will cover the sugar manufacturing process. Also ask your hotel about whale watching excursions, which are scheduled by environmental groups from December through March, generally a few weeks before each outing.
The island of St. Thomas has one of the world’s most beautiful harbors, Charlotte Amalie. Small families may wish to rent a jeep upon landing. When you rent in advance from outlets outside of the airport, a driver will meet you at baggage claim with your names on an iPad and take you right to your jeep. At Coral World Ocean Park next to Coki Beach, families may spend the day with sea lions, sea turtles, or even pet a shark. The young ones will enjoy this attraction, which is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Kids also marvel at the colorful birds on display at Coral World. Virgin Islands Ecotours takes visitors on three hour nature excursions in scenic Cas Cay Wildlife Sanctuary. This excursion includes views of the volcanic cliffs of Red Point Blow Hole. There are prime opportunities to take memorable family photos with the majestic cliffs as a backdrop.
Take time to explore the area of Bluebeard’s Castle together. Bluebeard’s Castle overlooks the harbor, affording the best views on the island. A new tour of Bluebeard’s tower features historic artifacts from days when pirates ruled. Families should also experience the spectacular beaches at Magens Bay Beach and Smith Bay Park.
At Lindbergh Beach, only minutes from Charlotte Amalie and the airport, teenagers can test their body surfing skills in the gently rolling waves, or try flyboarding. Many consider Sapphire Beach the finest on St. Thomas, with its powdery white sand, and coral reefs ideal for viewing turtles, rays, tropical fish, or family snorkeling. It is also fun to go on a charted sailboat excursion. You’ll spot huge sea turtles around Buck Island off the south shore of St. Thomas, where the year-round 80 degrees water temperatures make for great family swimming.
Here families will find a verdant, rolling landscape, dotted with vibrant flamboyant trees. The coastline is vast, and most beaches are located behind mangroves. In the northwest, some of which is only accessible by 4 x 4's, the rainforest (technically a semi-tropical forest) dominates the terrain. Ask your hotelier about kayak or eco tours.
In Christiansted, the family will find Fort Christiansvaern, the best preserved of the vintage forts in the USVI. Built first in 1749, this majestic yellow brick edifice offers boundless possibilities for young imaginations, and houses a visitor’s center. You may tour independently, and park service guides are on hand to answer questions about the Danish army, troops’ rooms, or the kitchen.
For a tropical treat, gaze at the egrets in Salt River Bay National Historic Park. A prime tour attraction is the Whim Great House and Museum, a sugar plantation museum with a mill and factory, and original slave quarters.
Guides share the stories of what life was like on the estate. Horseback tours are also popular, as families may ride together to the beach. There are gentler horses for smaller riders, and during the trips, families may see “Tarzan” vines, Strangler Fig trees, papaya, mango, and even stop for a taste of local fruit or a fun photo.
Take a family sail to Buck Island Cove, two miles off St. Croix’s north shore.
Buck Island, which is different than Buck Island off St. Thomas, is a part of the National Park Service system boasting a national underwater monument with wonderful snorkeling and a pristine beach. It is also home to an overland nature trail.
For memorable family vacations, and hours of shared adventure, the convenient U.S. Virgin Islands cannot be beat.
For more information on the USVI go to visitUSVI.com.