The United States Virgin Islands are justifiably called “America’s Paradise," but they're still a far cry from the mainland. You can find standard U.S. conveniences across the three main islands—St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John—but many come with a unique island twist. Cars drive on the left in this former Danish colony; wild donkeys roam freely on St. John; old pirates are celebrated like national heroes on St. Thomas; and the pigs on St. Croix drink beer! Each of these colorful, distinctive islands offers much more than just sun, sand, and sea—though it's hard to find more spectacular beaches anywhere else in the world.
Like many Caribbean destinations, the USVI is well-served by major U.S. airlines. Stateside visitors enjoy daily nonstop flights from at least twelve U.S. cities, and connecting flights are usually available through San Juan. Note that no passport is required for U.S. citizens to visit the USVI. This goes for cruise lovers, too: every major cruise line calls on St. Thomas, one of the busiest cruise ports in the Caribbean.
The USVI is also ideal for visitor exploration: well-marked roads and popular rental car brands make things easy. Note that cars drive on the left! Taxis can be expensive, and there is no Uber. Island hopping is easy, with hourly ferry service between St. Thomas and St. John. A new ferry connecting St. Thomas and St. Croix is planned for late 2016, though the Seaplane flights operated by Seaborne Airlines may leave you with more thrilling memories.
The local music, dancing, and storytelling traditions in the USVI are a mash-up of African and European influences, with roots tracing back to colonial times. Scratch bands play quelbe music with improvised instruments ranging from a squash to a car exhaust pipe—an experience worth seeking out, especially if you get to hear them accompanying a European-inspired quadrille dance performance. Look also for "moko jumbies": stilt dancers in festive garb that are present at various festivals and are said to chase away evil spirits. St. Thomas is also home to one of the oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere.
Each of the three main islands harbors a unique blend of heritage, and the USVI is always hopping with festivals. Attend one of the colorful Carnival celebrations for a unique Caribbean extravaganza: in St. Thomas in the spring, St. John around the 4th of July, and St. Croix in December. St. Croix also plays host to one of the Caribbean’s wildest St. Patrick’s Day parades, combining elements of traditional West Indian carnival with a healthy dose of Irish charm. In April, foodies can see firsthand why the annual St. Croix Food & Wine Festival ranks among the Caribbean's top gourmet events. To get a really authentic sense of these islands, however, check out the annual Agrifest events held in St. Croix in February and St. Thomas in November.
PR guy by trade, West Indian by birth, Steve has been helping journalists tell stories about the Caribbean for the past 20+ years. As co-founder, editorial director and principal voice of Uncommon Caribbean, Steve shares a personal and uniquely informed view of the authentic side of Caribbean travel and culture every day. Steve’s travels have taken him to 40+ Caribbean destinations (and counting), many of which he’s visited while leading media tours as the head of his travel-focused public relations agency, SBPR Corp. This depth of experience has taught him that the uncommon is not relegated to the region’s most far flung and little-known destinations. Steve resides in Fort Lauderdale, FL, though his heart remains in his beloved home island of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.