Family Vacations to Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Family Overview - Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Saint Thomas is one of the most popular islands with the tourists and offers ample activities including snorkeling, diving, shopping, water parks, and more. (Digital Vision)

Saint Thomas Highlights

  • Walk on the ocean floor with Sea Trek.
  • Encounter sharks, moray eels, and tropical fish at Coral World Ocean Park.
  • Swim and sun at beautiful Magens Bay.
  • Take the ferry to Saint John to snorkel the underwater trail at the Virgin Islands National Park.
  • Kayak through mangroves in search of blue herons and stingrays.

Out of the three major U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), Saint Thomas is the most populous, as opposed to Saint Croix or Saint John. It's also the island with the most hotels and a bustling city, Charlotte Amalie, a cruise port with ample shopping. Especially when ships dock, Charlotte Amalie can feel as crowded as Manhattan's Fifth Avenue the day before Christmas. While you won't find deserted beaches or streets, Saint Thomas does offer some beautiful sands and adventures for families.

Allow several hours to visit Coral World Ocean Park. From the windows in the undersea observatory, a sunken tower 15 feet below sea level, watch schools of fish swim by and sometimes even people wearing helmets. Part of a Sea Trek group, the helmeted participants (minimum age eight) hook-up to oxygen tanks that float on the surface, enabling people to sink ten to 18 feet underwater without scuba training. Rainbow-colored fish dart above and schools of silvery needle fish that hang-out under the dock are almost eyeball to eyeball with the group.

Also at Coral World Ocean Park, get within two feet of juvenile nurse, lemon, and blacktip sharks with Shark Encounter, as you and a guide wade in four feet of water (participants must be a minimum of four feet six inches tall). Go below without getting wet on the Nautilus, the park's recreational submarine. Other park features are a Caribbean reef tank with coral, sponges, and lobsters; a short nature trail with iguanas and bananaquits, herons, and other birds; and a lorikeet aviary, where you can purchase a cup of nectar and feed the colorful birds.

Snorkeling at Coki Beach, adjacent to the park, can be crowded, especially on cruise days. Several outfitters offer sailing and snorkeling trips around Saint Thomas and some go to Saint John. For a day trip from Saint Thomas, catch the ferry at Red Hook (it's a shorter, less bumpy ride than boarding the ferry from Charlotte Amalie) to Saint John and then go to the Virgin Islands National Park for snorkeling and hiking. Honeymoon Beach on Water Island, another of the USVIs, also reached by ferry, has snorkeling and, of course, sunning on its shores.

Saint Thomas has its share of beautiful beaches. Magens Bay rates high, but can be crowded with cruise passengers. Sapphire Beach and Bolongo Bay offer soft sands and fewer crowds.

With Virgin Islands Ecotours, paddle a kayak through the mangroves of the Inner Lagoon Marine Preserve. Naturalist guides point out pelicans, blue herons, and often southern stingrays and spotted rays gliding in the shallow water. For a panoramic view, ride the Paradise Point Tramway, which takes you up almost 700 feet above the harbor. And if you can brave the crowds (and know prices) shop at the duty-free stores in Charlotte Amalie or at the Havensight Mall near the cruise dock.'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 26 Nov 2007 | Last Updated: 6 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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