Known as a hot spot for cruise ships and cruisers’ attendant shopping sprees, St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, has honed the art of hospitality to a fine point; there’s something for any style of vacationer. The architecturally appealing capital, Charlotte Amalie, boasts an outstanding natural harbor embraced by muscular mountains, as well as a Danish history that comes alive on thoroughfares paved with cobblestones. Despite the considerable development, natural beauty is still a star here, especially as you head away from town to less-busy beaches like Lindquist or Brewers Bay, or on an easy day trip to idyllic St. John.
At first glance, St. Thomas is not a cheap island. But vacation value comes in via the back door: Plentiful air access from America keeps fares competitive, pesky surcharges (departure tax, service charges, etc.) are kept to a minimum, and discount coupons are common for dining, activities and shopping. Best of all, the USVI have the highest duty-free limit in the region – U.S. residents can bring home $1,200 in duty-free purchases per person – and there’s no sales tax. Room rates fall steeply in the off-season (mid-April through mid-December), and at the large beachfront resorts, package deals often bring prices down further.
Most of St. Thomas’ affordable options lie in the hills surrounding Charlotte Amalie. The advantage of bunking down here is the concentration of good restaurants, and the central location is convenient to the airport, as well as to ferries to neighboring Virgin Islands.
On Frenchman’s Hill, Miller Manor occupies a historic 150-year-old home that has served as a guesthouse for more than half a century. The 26 rooms range from a single basic room with a shared bathroom in the brick-walled original manor to recently added larger rooms, most of which have balconies facing the harbor. Furnishings are comfortable, if simple; all rooms have air conditioning. Some of the guests are long-term – local waiters, bartenders, gemologists – who will share island insights with visitors. During high season, the informal, Wi-Fi-equipped bar area serves breakfast with a view for $7 to $10. (Miller Manor, Frenchman’s Hill; 888-229-0762; millermanor.com; from $85 year-round)
On the slopes of Synagogue Hill, Crystal Palace is a bed-and-breakfast in a colonial mansion owned by Ronnie Lockhart, whose family has owned the home since 1917. There are five rooms, two of which have private bathrooms; all have air conditioning, and Wi-Fi is available throughout. Trimmed with parquet floors, the communal living area is beautifully appointed with original and reproduction antiques, and a terrace faces the town and harbor, with the Danish flag flying proudly in tribute to the island’s heritage. An honor bar is available, and more than a dozen restaurants are within a 10-minute walk. (Crystal Palace, Charlotte Amalie; 866-502-2277; crystalpalaceusvi.com; from $99 in low season($119 high), including continental breakfast)
On Denmark Hill, revealing a beautiful panorama of the St. Thomas Harbor, Bellavista Bed & Breakfast is an immaculate boutique inn with an attentive proprietor, Wendy Snodgrass, a 10-year St. Thomas resident who eagerly shares the best of the island with her visitors. The four colorful guest rooms are immaculate, freshly painted and stocked with fresh flowers; the least expensive doesn’t have much of a view, but the others face the harbor. The pool deck is a wonderful hangout at dawn and dusk, and you’re invited to BYOB – whimsical stemware and mixers are provided. Two-course hot breakfasts are included in the rates, with a different selection daily. Picnic baskets for the beach (along with loaner snorkel gear) and candlelight dinners can be prepared on request. (St. Thomas Hotels Bellavista Bed and Breakfast, Charlotte Amalie; 888-333-3063; bellavista-bnb.com; from $175 in low season ($195 high), including full breakfast)
Acquired by the Kikendall family in 2005 and subject to a steady stream of improvements, Island View Guesthouse has a friendly vibe and a variety of options between its 12 rooms. The least expensive have limited views and no air conditioning but are spotless and fresh. Other rooms have air conditioning, balconies and kitchenettes. A pool laps at the edge of the fine vista, and Wi-Fi is accessible throughout the property. Continental breakfast is included, hot breakfast is available for purchase, and modestly priced dinners are served at the cheerfully informal restaurant and honor bar. You’ll need a car – the location, 550 feet above the sea, is not conducive to shopping expeditions on foot. (Island View Guest House, Scott Free Road; 800-524-2023; islandviewstthomas.com; from $95 in low season ($105 high), including continental breakfast)
If elevation is the key to a room with a view, then nothing tops Mafolie Hotel, a Mediterranean-style complex that sits on a ridge 800 feet above sea level and faces the broad harbor. The 22 rooms vary in size and decor – the least expensive units have limited views, but a deluxe room offering a balcony and memorable panorama is just $20 a night extra. A small, cliff-clinging pool and restaurant is on the premises. It’s too far (and too steep) to walk into town, but if you have a car, Mafolie’s central location is ideal for island explorations; there’s also a free daily shuttle to famed Magens Bay and downtown. (Mafolie Hotel, Estate Mafolie; 800-225-7035; mafolie.com; from $108 in low season ($177 high), including continental breakfast)
Worth a Splurge
With all of St. Thomas’ gleaming beaches, it would be a shame not to have at least one affordable option close to the sand. Point Pleasant Resort isn’t beachfront, but its hilltop situation assures sweeping vistas of neighboring islets, and a short walk leads to Pineapple Beach or Sugar Beach, coves that flank the property. The 128 individually owned accommodations range from junior suites to two-bedroom villas. Each is equipped with a full kitchen and a terrace or balcony suitable for dining, and daily maid service is included. The hotel has two restaurants and three swimming pools, and a water-sports center is next door. (Point Pleasant Resort, Water Bay; 800-524-2300; pointpleasantresort.com; from $180 in low season ($300 high))
*per person in low season ($186 high), based on double occupancy, excluding airfare, car rental, airport transfers, tax and service charges
HOTEL | Average $112 in low season ($136 high)
BREAKFAST | Molly Molone’s; $10 for the St. Thomas omelet; Red Hook; 340-775-1270
LUNCH | Petite Pump Room; $12 for crab salad; Charlotte Amalie waterfront; 340-776-2976
DINNER | Bella Blu; $16 for eggplant parmesan with two sides; Frenchtown; 340-774-4349
ACTIVITY | Ferry to St. John; $6 each way out of Red Hook, $12 from Charlotte Amalie
GETTING THERE | American Airlines flies from Boston, Miami, New York-JFK and San Juan; Continental from Newark; Delta from Atlanta and JFK; United from Washington, D.C.; and US Airways from Charlotte and Philadelphia.
TAXI | From airport to Island View Guesthouse, $10 (for two passengers); Miller Manor, Bellavista Bed & Breakfast, $12; Crystal Palace, Mafolie Hotel, $16; Point Pleasant Resort, $22
RENTAL CAR | Discount Car Rental from $53 per day in low season ($66 high); 877-478-2833; discountcar.vi
TAXES | Room tax is 8 percent; some hotels levy a service or energy surcharge; departure tax is $10 (usually included in the cost of the airline ticket).
INFO | 800-372-USVI; visitusvi.com