TRAVEL GUIDE: The British Virgin Islands By Boat (In One Day)
A step-by-step guide
If the idea of a slow sail and endless horizon with kids in tow makes you want to throw yourself overboard, rest easy. There’s an easier way to get the Caribbean experience. Your family can experience the highlights of the British Virgin Islands (BVIs) in one day—and make memories that last a lifetime.
American Airlines offers a three-and-a-half-hour, nonstop flight from Charlotte to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Other carriers offer flights with a one-stop layover.
Where to Stay
St. Thomas has a mix of Airbnbs, VRBOs, bed and breakfasts, and smaller resorts, as well as cabins on the Virgin Islands Campground. For major resorts, The Ritz-Carlton is newly remodeled and open. The Marriott Frenchman’s Cove offers two and three bedroom villas. Check out USVIupdate.com for post-hurricane hotel updates.
Finding a Boat
A quick Google search will lead you down a rabbit hole of charter options in St. Thomas, but your best bets are Sonic Charters or Good Day Charters. You’ll want to book this in advance. If you’re staying in St. Thomas, take a taxi to your respective boat dock. With your passports in hand, fill out the necessary customs and immigration paperwork, and be on your way.
A full day charter ranges from $550 to $675 for up to six passengers. Some charters charge a separate captain’s fee, while others incorporate it into the day rate. Fuel costs depend on the distance you travel, but on average it’s around $250. Clearing customs and immigration into the BVIs is $45 per person, and BVI park fees are $6 per person. It’s also customary to tip your boat captain 20 percent. For six people, this trip will cost around $250 per person with tip. All chartered boats provide life jackets and snorkel gear.
What to Bring
Bring your passport, swimsuit, towel, a long sleeve cover-up, and sunscreen. Pack snacks and alcoholic beverages if you want something more than water and soda on the boat, and water shoes and a waterproof case for your phone or camera. Don’t forget Ziploc bags for your passports and important items you don’t want to get soaked. If you wear a hat or sunglasses, make sure they have straps to keep from losing them.
Boating With Kids
Every location on the charter tour is kid-friendly, but eight hours on the water can be a lot for the little ones, so take that into account. All children under the age of 13 must wear a personal flotation device.
From St. Thomas, it’s about 40 minutes to West End, Tortola. This is where your captain handles all customs and immigration paperwork for you, and this required stop could take up to 40 minutes. After that, the adventure begins.
THE BATHS, VIRGIN GORDA
60 minutes from West End Tortola
The island’s most famous beach has massive granite boulders that look like marbles tossed into the blue bay. From the boat, it’s a short swim to the shore. Wear water shoes with good grip, and explore rocks through the maze of tunnels. Some parts have steep stairs and fixed ropes to assist hikers.
CAVES & INDIANS, NORMAN ISLAND
20 minutes from Rhone Marine Park
If you’re hungry, stop at Pirates Bight and feast on baby back ribs, fish tacos, nachos, and conch fritters. Then explore this uninhabited island, known for buried treasure and caves for snorkeling. Though the water is typically calm, the rocky entrances to the caves can be dangerous if you scrape up against the edge, so use caution. Inside the caves, you’ll find pools of clean, cool water, ferns growing along the cave walls, and a soft, sandy bottom. Bring an underwater flashlight to guide you, and shine it on the ceiling to see bats hanging upside down. Try to plan this visit early in the day though, because this spot gets busy in the afternoons.
RHONE MARINE PARK, SALT ISLAND
30 minutes from Virgin Gorda
The Rhone, which sunk in an 1867 hurricane, is possibly the most impressive shipwreck in the Caribbean. Today it’s a marine park, and part of the BVI National Parks Trust. Although the wreck is a popular diving site, snorkelers enjoy this spot since her decking, rigging, steam engine, and propellers are still visible in the section closest to the shore.
CHRISTMAS COVE, GREAT ST. JAMES ISLAND
(U.S.Virgin Islands) 25 minutes from Jost Van Dyke
As your day winds down, have your captain radio in your pizza order and get your snorkel gear ready. Christmas Cove is not in the BVIs, but it’s on nearby St. John and worth a stop. See immaculately clear waters, sea life, and an undeveloped shoreline. Or go snorkeling along a rock ledge covered in coral and see fish, eels, and squid sparkle in the transparent water. Walk the beach and collect shells, sand dollars, and sea anemones, then stop by the “food boat” on the water and grab your pizza on the way back to St. Thomas.
THE SOGGY DOLLAR, JOST VAN DYK
25 minutes from Norman Island
This beach bar has no dock, so you have to swim to the shore to indulge in their signature drink, “The Painkiller,” made with dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple and orange juice, and topped with grated nutmeg. Soggy Dollar Bar also serves burgers, fish sandwiches, and wraps. Next door, Hendo’s Hideout has more traditional Caribbean fare like fish tacos, shrimp cocktail, lobster egg rolls, and conch fritters.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR ST. THOMAS
1. Cruise ships began visiting St. Thomas in November 2017, a month and a half after Hurricane Irma. Delta, JetBlue, and Spirit airlines expanded their services from the U.S. to St. Thomas beginning in May 2018.
2. USVI is the only place under U.S. jurisdiction where the rule of the road is to drive on the left. But nearly all passenger vehicles are left-handed because they’re U.S. imports. All taxis are 15-passenger vans, and costs are per person, per destination. Rental cars begin at $35 per day and can be rented from the airport.
3. The ferry to St. John is a great way to see more of USVI. Once you arrive, take a taxi to Maho Bay to snorkel and see turtles.
4. Visit the white sand beaches at Magen’s Bay, and take in views from above at Mountain Top & Drake’s Seat. For dinner, look for restaurants in the East End.
TONYA MILLER is a Charlotte-based freelance writer, mother, and adventure seeker. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.