WHY WE LOVE IT
- The American Caribbean: Three totally different islands with major resorts, pristine landscapes, exceptional beaches, and plenty of entertainments—and so nearby!
- Beautiful St. John is two-thirds national park, an ecoparadise.
- St. Thomas is frenetic and touristy, but varied, too. Visit lively Port Charlotte Amalie and world-class beach at Magens Bay.
- St. Croix (say "croy"), with its Danish flavor, is less touristy than St. Thomas, more built up than St. John, with historic towns and former plantations.
- Good buys: Cruzan rum, bowls from St. Croix LEAP carpenters in local mahogany, watercolors from Charlotte Amalie galleries, loose emeralds, anything duty-free, Sonya Ltd. St. Croix "hook" bracelets
WHEN TO GO
High season is December to April; look for bargains in May and early December and, for lowest rates, but worse weather, during the June to November hurricane season.
Make sure you arrive in time for sunset—this electric-blue gingerbread cottage has spectacular views across Coral Bay and toward the neighboring British Virgins. Food is imaginative-French: lobster-asparagus terrine, roast duck with fig sauce. It's all très romantique.
5 Estate Bakkeroe
Such a sexy vibe here, with white sheets flapping in the sea breeze where the walls should be, and theatrical Caribbean-blue lights sparkling on the vaulted wood ceiling. Exciting Carib-Latin food is as directional; just don't swoon when sniffing the warm spices they send around between courses.
King Cross St.
In a tooth-achingly quaint 18th-century cottage downtown, you'll have trouble choosing between courtyard, veranda, or cozy dining room—not to mention between yellowfin with wasabi aioli and roasted pecan-crusted pork loin. Owner-chef David Kendrick has been perfecting his art here for 20 years.
THE OLD STONE FARMHOUSE
Mahogany Run Golf Course
With a precise description masquerading as a name, this atmospheric restaurant with madly inventive fusion menus and a stellar wine list is housed in an 18th-century plantation field house. Get a table in the courtyard with its stone arches.
ROOM WITH A VIEW
Bluebeard's Castle Hotel
They're not kidding—windows all around this lovely room make for a 360-degree panorama over le tout Charlotte Amalie. But it's not merely pretty—the modern European food is notable, and the wine list exceptional.
A wood deck over the water with plastic armchairs is the site for everyone's favorite café-bar-restaurant-Sunday brunch. The menu is scarily comprehensive—lobsters live from the tank, quesadillas, burgers, pad Thai—but they pull it all off, and the place is a constant party.
VIE'S SNACK SHACK
East End Rd.
Now you know where to get the best lunch on the island, with a side of local gossip, if you're lucky. This really is a shack, complete with picnic tables, famous for garlic chicken, johnnycakes, and conch fritters. It closes around 5 p.m., but call ahead to make sure.
If you're a fan of The Bachelor, you'll recognize this whimsically pink-and-pretty, plantation-style hotel set on 340 acres. Sean Lowe had "one-on-one" dates here: dinner in a centuries-old sugar mill and dinner on secluded Whistle Beach. And while we're on the topic of beaches, honeymooners rave about the fact that there are three to pick from—plus two pools and a lovely spa. (Go for the bamboo massage.) P.S. Couples like booking the Doubloon Suites, the newest digs at the resort, even though they cost more; they all have marble floors, giant whirlpool baths, and a prime seaside location.
Virgin Islands National Park
One of the classic resorts of the Caribbean, founded by Laurance Rockefeller in the mid-1950s, more than meets today's standards (not electronically—but you won't need a TV or phone), with 170 pristine acres and unpretentious colonial-Carib decor. Seven gorgeous beaches make up for no pool.
CARAMBOLA BEACH RESORT
Estate Davis Bay
Big rooms and suites on 28 oceanfront acres have wood-vaulted ceilings, terra-cotta-tile floors, king-size beds, and screened porches. On this golf-oriented island, the course here is the star; other than that, caveat emptor—do inquire how the renovations, continuing through 2007, are going. Paradise needs a decorator.
ESTATE CONCORDIA STUDIOS
P.O. Box 310
One for adventurous environmentalists: Maho Bay did ecotourism long before there was a word for it, and this is their newest, most deluxe—a relative term—and most secluded "camp" of nine suites overlooking Salt Pond Bay. Be sure to get a large studio or, for only $25 more, a loft duplex, all equipped with necessary kitchens.
RITZ-CARLTON ST. THOMAS
6900 Great Bay
Here's all the swank and service you expect from this high-end chain, plus an English Regency-meets-the Med-in-the Tropics decor, four restaurants, two pools, two beaches, and a new spa on 30 acres in the far southeastern tip of the island. Nice touches: All 152 rooms have big balconies, and there's a 53-foot catamaran on-site for excursions.
WESTIN RESORT & VILLAS, ST. JOHN
Great Cruz Bay
Come here for the facilities and to stay fully in touch with the world—you'll be quite surrounded by people, but never bored, with tennis, watersports, a spa, golf, and more. Warning: Here be children—but they do have their own club. The 67 hillside villas offer more privacy.
This giant, white, palm-lined horseshoe is generally agreed to be one of the top ten beaches on the planet. It's well-kept and has cafés and bars, lifeguards, and showers, but, being the least-secret beach in the Caribbean, it gets mobbed. One tip: Virtually nobody gets there until 10 a.m.
Water Island Ferry
Crown Bay Marina
Tel: 340-775-5778, 690-4159, or 690-4446
Weekdays: 6 a.m. to 6:10 p.m.; Weekends: 8 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.
St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix…and Water! This is the fourth-largest USVI, a peaceful 500-odd-acre spread of beaches, palms, and gentle hills populated by birds, iguanas, turtles, and the hardier breed of locals. Don't miss the divine stretch of sand called—what else?—Honeymoon Beach. You can tour by foot or rent a bike.
DUFFY'S LOVE SHACK
6500 Red Hook Plaza
This infamous beachy bar with a popular list of kitsch cocktails and a reggae-to-hip-hop sound track provides the loud night out you may conceivably be craving. Don't be misled by the gentle name: Some nights are tropical spring break.
ANNABERG SUGAR PLANTATION
Leinster Bay Rd.
Virgin Islands National Park
A supremely evocative, beautifully preserved sugar plantation dating from around 1870, it really takes you back in time with its living-history presentations. Double dip with a visit afterward to heavenly Leinster Bay below the plantation—great for snorkeling.
THE CRUZAN RUM DISTILLERY
3 & 3A Estate Diamond
Tours: 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 4:15 p.m., Monday through Friday
Tour this distillery, founded in 1760, and you learn more than how to make rum—from the story of the estate itself to what role rum played in the island's history. The 24-acre park with its ruined 1730s sugar plantation has gorgeous walking trails, too.
__BLUE MOON RESTAURANT & JAZZ CLUB
__17 Strand St.
In an early-19th-century stone house on the waterfront you will find boho decor, great bistro menus, and—if it's Wednesday or Friday night or Sunday brunch—red-hot jazz, played by visiting musicians sitting in with locals.
__DIVI CARINA BAY CASINO
__Divi Carina Bay Resort & Casino
35 Estate Turner Hole
Tel: 340-773-9700 or 877-773-9700
Not everyone on the island was delighted when the USVI's first and only casino opened in 2000, but you will be if you're in a reckless mood. It's teeming with 20 gaming tables, 300 slot machines, two bars, and live music nightly—all till 4 a.m. The only exception is Friday and Saturday, when they stay open all night.