Nature’s Theme Park: The Family-Friendly U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands enjoys a long-standing reputation as one of the Caribbean’s most family-friendly destinations, boasting a combination of easy and affordable access, extraordinary natural beauty and accommodations that range from eco-tent camps to beachfront luxury resorts. Few destinations offer a more diverse or engaging combination of recreational and educational activities for traveling families. Where else can children delight in petting sharks, exploring ancient petroglyphs or playing pirates in a 17th century fortress? From guided hikes and kayaking tours that inspire a deep appreciation for nature to adrenaline-pumping underwater discoveries, the islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John offer dozens of appealing attractions to captivate children.

“The U.S. Virgin Islands is a destination inspiring awe and wonder, especially for children,” says Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson Doty, noting the vast array of experiences that enrich and thrill children of all ages. “Naturally, a great many activities revolve around our crystal-blue waters and colorful sea life, but there are dozens of equally fascinating attractions, historical sites and recreational opportunities ashore.”

Catering to families is a top priority in the U.S. Virgin Islands and, as such, accommodations options are wide-ranging. Many island hotels and resorts are family-friendly and many offer half- or full-day supervised children’s activity programs allowing little ones to meet and play with their peers while fostering a greater understanding of the Caribbean culture and environment.

Campgrounds and eco-resorts offer opportunities to experience the islands’ natural beauty and villa and condominium rentals are an appealing alternative for larger families and longer stays.

Crucian Charms

On St. Croix, a visit to Buck Island Reef National Monument is required recreation for every family. One of only two underwater national monuments in America, Buck Island boasts more than 700 acres of reefs and crystal-blue water, making it a spectacular destination for snorkelers. On Salt River Bay’s eastern shore, children delight in walking in the footsteps of Admiral Christopher Columbus, who landed here in 1493 on his second visit to the New World.

Visitors can trace the island’s early history at the St. Croix Archeology Museum, which features a rare collection of artifacts dating back to 2000 B.C. Pottery, shell and stone tools, ceramics, beads and other objects tell the story of St. Croix’s indigenous people.

St. Thomas by Land and Sea

On St. Thomas, an underwater journey is an eye-opening experience for young travelers. Coral World Ocean Park is a five-acre wonderland where children over the age of eight can “Sea Trek” through an actual reef 15 feet below the surface. The park also features opportunities to pet sharks, see endangered sea turtles and feed stingrays. For memorable chills and spills, nothing beats the Screamin’ Eagle, a turbo-charged jet boat that makes sharp turns and spins on a 40-minute ride along the coastline. On the island’s southeast shore, the Marine Sanctuary and Mangrove Lagoon offers guided snorkel-kayak tours. On land, the St. Thomas Skyride to Paradise Point soars 700 feet above sea level for magnificent views of the harbor and Charlotte Amalie.

St. John’s Allure

Recently voted “Best Island in the Caribbean/Atlantic” by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler, hikers, snorkelers and nature lovers will find much to see and do on pristine St. John, home to the Virgin Islands National Park. A gift of Laurance Rockefeller in 1956, the 12,500-acre park encompasses two-thirds of the island and features beaches, hiking trails, guided tours, snorkeling trips – even donkey rides. Among the “must see” sights within the park are the ruins of the Annaberg Plantation, a Colonial-era sugar plantation, and Reef Bay Trail, a hiking trail dotted with sugar mill ruins and petroglyphs dating back to the island’s pre-Columbian period.

Family 411

As a territory of the United States, travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands is remarkably easy. The U.S. Virgin Islands offers a wide range of accommodation types, including campgrounds, eco-resorts, condominiums, private villas and luxury resorts. Most allow young children to stay in their parent’s room at no additional charge. The majority of the islands’ restaurants and cafes are family-friendly, many with special children’s menus, and an informal, relaxed atmosphere.

For more information about the United States Virgin Islands, call 800-372-USVI (8784) or go toVisitUSVI.com. When traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. citizens enjoy all the conveniences of domestic travel—including on-line check-in—making travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands easier than ever. As a United States Territory, travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands does not require a passport from U.S. citizens arriving from Puerto Rico or the U.S. mainland. Entry requirements for non-U.S. citizens are the same as for entering the United States from any foreign destination. Upon departure, a passport is required for all but U.S. citizens. Follow us on Twitter (@USVImockojumbie) and become a fan on Facebook (www.facebook.com/VisitUSVI).