Updated: Oct 9, 2018
Name an island in the Unites States.
Which came to mind?
Hawaii, perhaps? That's the first that pops into my head. I think it's ingrained from having to memorize all the states and capitals in 5th grade. Born and raised as a Californian, it was an easy trip. $400 and 5 hours will get you from mainland to island.
Now that I've turned Floridian, $400 and 5 hours will get me to different islands of the USA. Though they may not be the first to come to mind, post-Irma and post-Maria these islands are in need of tourism awareness. Tourism will breathe life back into their decimated economy. These are the islands of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix.
Here's my little contribution to plugging in the idea of spending your next family vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands. To read about Puerto Rico, check out this post https://www.mommyrunsit.com/post-maria-puerto-rico-vacation/.
Visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands:
Activities with little kids and grandparents
Getting there and getting around
Activities with older kids
1. Activities with kids
Going to the Caribbean is an easy sell for my kids because they enjoyed watching the Pirates of the Caribbean. Though they may not run into Captain Jack Sparrow, you'll feel like you've been carried onto the set. While enjoying the comforts of being in a U.S. Territory, your family will feel like you've been put into a pirate movie, minus the marauding.
Coral World Ocean Park, St. Thomas
I was lucky enough to visit this place with a friend and popular blogger, Sharon of https://www.mommyrunsit.com/.
You could walk around the entire place in an hour if you speed walk. But with a place like this, it's nice to read, talk, and soak. The observatory tower takes you 100 ft offshore and 15 feet below the ocean surface. This is great for younger kids that want to see colorful tropical fish in their natural environment. This is included in general admission. $15 for adults and $8 for kids.
The animal encounter with the sea turtles was what really made this place significantly unique. Sea turtles are protected in the United States, and it is illegal to play with them. But Sharon and I played with two giant sea turtles, and it was awesome! I gave them lots and lots of hugs, armpit rubs, and kisses!
Beaches with Caribbean clear ocean water, St. John
While there are beautiful beaches on St. Thomas, I recommend hopping over to the adjacent island St. John for family beach time. This is because St. John is a little quieter. St. Thomas has a lot of hustle and bustle (for an island), whereas St. John is more relaxed. It's like the difference between Jacksonville beach versus Amelia Island beach. St. Thomas is like a party place, whereas St. John is more quiet and where people that leave the mainland go to retire. Two thirds of the island is part of U.S. National Park. I recommend Trunk Bay. They have lifeguards, showers, and is secure. http://stjohn-beachguide.com/trunk-bay/
2. Getting there
Lots of options here... Lots to consider like cost vs. convenience
Overall cost-wise, this trip is comparable to spending 7 days of theme-park hopping in Orlando.
Large cruise ships:
I personally would not enjoy this as much because you have such a short window of time on the actual island. It feels rushed and crowded, which is the opposite of what the island life should feel like. Not enough time to explore and immerse yourself on the island. All things considered a 7 day cruise could cost about the same amount as flying in and and staying on St. Thomas & St. John for 7 days.
Unlike visiting the Florida Keys, you can't drive there. Unlike the Bahamas, you can't ferry over.
Flying is the only option. Start saving up your awards mileage!
There are $250 non-stop r/t flights from Orlando to St. Thomas with Spirit.
There are $200 non-stop r/t flights from Miami to St. Thomas with American Airlines.
Once you are there, you can rent a car from the airport in St. Thomas (code STT). Oh here's another part of the adventure, you have to drive on the left-side of the road. Driving on the island is slow and easy, not chaotic. No one is ever in a big rush.
From St. Thomas, you can drive your car on a car barge to St. John.
Here's a webpage with information on the car barge, https://www.whattodo-vi.com/virgin-islands-travel-information/getting-around-virgin-islands/getting-from-the-st-thomas-airport-to-st-john/car-barges-st-thomas-st-john/
Passports: You don't need a passport to go to the U.S. Virgin islands. But if you have one, bring it because there are two lines in customs. The one with passports seemed to move faster.
There are hotels there, but I recommend finding a nice condo or apartment using VRBO. Read the reviews before booking a place. The reviews are the key to meeting your expectations.
3. Activities with older kids and adults include: snorkeling further out, scuba diving, sailing a hobie catamaran, rent a boat, ride on a captained boat, charter fishing, SUP, and surfing. Older kids tend to travel better, so perhaps try island hopping to St. Croix or to the British Virgin Islands. You will need a passport to go to the British properties.
Keep up to date with the current progress of the island at VI Strong https://www.facebook.com/usvistrong/.