The USVI – St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John – known as America’s Caribbean, is one of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations. This trio of islands is an easy flight from the U.S. mainland, prices are in American dollars. Oceanfront resorts, small inns, condos, campgrounds or luxury villas – the choice of accommodations will suit any style. Nearly 2.5 million vacationers flock here annually for the powdery beaches, plentiful watersports and fine dining. Like siblings, each of the three major islands has its own personality.

The largest of these islands at 84 square miles, St. Croix (pronounced CROY) features a varied terrain from dry cactus-studded hills out east to lush tropical forests in the west. Hiking, kayaking and kite boarding are popular pastimes, and the island boasts two 18-hole golf courses. Some scuba buffs claim this is the only place in the Caribbean where you can dive a wall, a reef, a wreck and a pier all in the same day. Chartered powerboats or catamarans will take you to the pristine beach and a marked snorkel trail at uninhabited Buck Island Reef National Monument.

St. Thomas, the best known of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is the most bustling due to passengers arriving almost daily on cruise ships and mega-yachts that steam into Charlotte Amalie harbor. Trade is a St. Thomas specialty dating back to 18th-century pirate days. Imported perfumes, cameras, watches, fine porcelain and crystal abound. U.S. Customs laws allow individuals to bring up to $1,600 worth of merchandise from the U.S. Virgin Islands back to the United States without having to pay duty, and there’s no sales tax. There are plenty of postcard-perfect beaches like popular Magens Bay. Snorkel, scuba dive, fish offshore, or take a boat excursion. St. Thomas’ only golf course, Mahogany Run, is known for its challenging trio of cliffside holes called the Devil’s Triangle.

St. John, the smallest of the trio at 20 square miles, is a favorite of nature-lovers. Two-thirds of St. John falls within the boundaries of the 9,485 acre Virgin Islands National Park. More than 800 plant species grow in hilly tropical forests that drop down to beaches bordered by coral reefs. The National Park Service added even more federally owned submerged acres in 2001 to create the underwater Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument. St. John is also known for lovely beaches along the north coast and quieter ones to the south.

AIRPORTS/GATEWAYS/FLYING TIMES: Airports: St. Croix: Henry E. Rohlsen International Airport. St. Thomas: Cyril E. King International Airport. Gateways/Flying Times: Atlanta: 3.5 hours. Boston: 4 hours. Charlotte: 4 hours. Chicago: 5 hours. Detroit: 5 hours. Miami/Ft. Lauderdale: 2 hours. New York: 4 hours. Philadelphia: 4 hours. Washington, DC: 4 hours. San Juan: 0.5 hour is the principal gateway in area.

CLIMATE: Average daytime temperature 78 degrees F in winter and 82 degrees F in summer, low humidity. Approximate sunrise 0530-0630. Approximate sunset 1830-1900.

DINING: Restaurants available: Continental. Chinese. French. Scandinavian. Steak houses. Mexican/Tex Mex. Mediterranean. Thai. Vegetarian. Italian. Gratuity is 15% in most restaurants.

LANGUAGE: English. Some Spanish.

NIGHTLIFE: St. Croix: Jazz, disco, calypso/reggae, Latin and rock ‘n roll nightclubs and karaoke. Cultural entertainment: Steel pan music, limbo dancing, and mini street carnivals “Jump Up”. St. John: Local bars offer live entertainment and satellite TV. St. Thomas: Jazz, disco, calypso/reggae, Latin, rock ‘n’roll nightclubs and karaoke. Cultural entertainment: Steel pan music, theatrical/musical arts.

SIGHTSEEING: St. Croix: Old Danish towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted. Tropical secondary forest; Heritage Trail, aerial sightseeing charter, safari tours, hiking tours, Whim Plantation Great House Museum. Carl & Marie Lawaetz Family Museum at Little La Grange. St. Croix Leap, Oceanique semi submersible underwater excursion, Cruzan Rum Factory tour. St John: Cruz Bay National Park Visitor Center, Elaine Ione Sprauve Library and Museum, Annaberg Plantation Ruins, Bordeaux Mountain. St. Thomas: Fort Christian, Emancipation Park, Legislature Building and Government House, Frederick Lutheran Church, Blackbeard’s Castle, Market Square, Tillet Gardens, Magens Bay & Drake’s Seat, “World Famous” Mountain Top, Estate St. Peter Great House & Botanical Gardens, Atlantis Submarine, Coral World, Paradise Point Tramway, V.I. Kayak ECO Tours.

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