St. John versus St. Thomas: How to choose the right island for your trip

by Jane Reynolds on July 12, 2010

Rainbow over a bay in St. Thomas

Rainbow over a bay in St. Thomas

It’s summertime — time for a well-deserved Caribbean escape — and planning your island vacation is at the top of your list. The U.S. Virgin Islands sound nice, but which island to choose? You’ve talked to friends who’ve stayed on St. John and St. Thomas, and you’ve heard rave reviews about both. Hm. Decisions, decisions. Well, this is where Oyster steps in. Both islands are great so your choice should be based on what you plan to do. Want to see colorful, tropical fish? Party late into the night? Or just get away from the everyday hustle and bustle? We’ll help you pick the island made for just what you’re looking for, and we can tell you where to stay once you get there. So relax. Picture your toes in the sand with a drink in your hand (and an umbrella in that drink), and let us take it from here.

Trunk Bay Beach in St. John

Trunk Bay Beach in St. John

Looking for: Seclusion

Best Island for it: St. John

St. John is definitely the place to go if you’re looking for peace and quiet. More than two-thirds of the island is a preserved national park, so unlike the more built-up island of St. Thomas, St. John today is reminiscent of St. John fifty years ago — the island is covered with  lush tropical forests and the white sand beaches stretch for miles. Seclusion does come at a price; St. John doesn’t have an airport, so you must fly into St. Thomas and take a ferry to the island.

Where to stay: The Westin St. John Resort & Villas

The 175-room Westin has a huge pool, a fun beach with trampolines, and kitchen-equipped villas in addition to its standard rooms.The big, beautiful beach is the perfect place to get away from it all.

Fort Christian in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

Fort Christian in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

Looking for: Rich History

Best Island for it: St. Thomas

The Virgin Islands are rich with history, and St. Thomas seems particularly so. The seventeenth-century Fort Christian, built by the first Danish colonists on the island, is a must-see for history buffs. Now a museum, the fort has served as a jail, a townhouse, a court, and a church. Crown House, near Emancipation Park, is also a popular tourist attraction — the mansion was once inhabited by former governor-generals and the chandelier supposedly came from Versailles.

Where to stay: Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort

A clean, modern resort with stunning views, this 478-room Marriott has an excellent gym, great pools, top-notch beds, and a soft-sand beach. It also has an excellent tour planning center so you can squeeze in as much historic sightseeing as possible.

Snorkeling in St. John

Snorkeling in St. John

Looking for: Great Snorkeling

Best Island for it: St. John

Snorkeling is a must-do while in the US Virgin Islands. St. Thomas certainly has good beaches for it, like Coki Point Beach, but we think the best are in St. John (probably because it’s more secluded and less built-up). Lenister Bay is the perfect spot: It’s usually uncrowded, and its calm waters have colorful fish, sea cucumbers, starfish, and green turtles. A local favorite, Haluover Bay has rougher waters but equally spectacular sea life.

Where to stay: Caneel Bay, A Rosewood Resort

Built from a historic sugar plantation, this profoundly serene 166-room resort (with easy access to Lenister Bay and Haluover Bay) sits on 170 acres of a protected national park dotted with seven remote beaches. The on-site beaches are great for snorkeling and the resort offers free snorkeling gear as well as guided snorkeling tours for an extra fee.

The Shipwreck Tavern Bar & Grill in St. Thomas

The Shipwreck Tavern Bar & Grill in St. Thomas

Looking for: Nightlife

Best Island for it: St. Thomas

 

St. Thomas and St. Croix are the only Virgin Islands with lively nightlife, and St. Thomas’ is the best. Frenchtown is the new hot spot, with an assortment of great restaurants and bars. The Red Hook Marina area is always a favorite, with a vivacious scene even late at night — many partiers come off their yachts and boats docked at the marina to grab drinks.

Where to Stay: The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas

The Ritz-Carlton is St. Thomas’ classiest resort, located only five minutes from Red Hook’s fun dining and yacht scene. Its private sailboatfitness centerspa, and soft-sand beach — a marine-life sanctuary — are all among the best in St. Thomas.

 

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