St Thomas

Excursion Focus: Magens Bay

In:
25Jun2013

St. Thomas is well known for its beautiful beaches and Magens Bay is at the top of the list when it comes to beautiful beaches, not only on the island but in the world.  When it comes to beautiful Caribbean beaches, it's hard to go wrong with Magens Bay.

Description

Magens Bay is a protected cove on the north side of St. Thomas. Magens Bay is known around the world for its white sand beach that is almost three quarters of a mile in length.

Beach goers and swimmers alike will enjoy the view and the beach's notoriety is well earned given how scenic the entire area is.  Calm waters are typical for the beach, thanks to the protection from larger waves further out in the bay.

Entrance to Magens Bay does have an admission fee ($4 for tourists) and it's quite far from where Royal Caribbean cruise ships dock.  There's plenty of taxi service to Magens Bay from the cruise ship area as well as Charlotte Amalie.  There are lifeguards on duty at the beach and there's a small snack shack on one end of the beach to buy meals, snacks and drinks from.  Visitors can also rent beach chairs, floats, windsurfers and small sailboats for an additional fee.

Because Magens Bay is so well known, it will get crowded and stay crowded most of the day.

Comments

Magens Bay is known for being a beautiful beach and it does not disappoint in that regard.  Truly, the biggest problem with Magens Bay isn't the beach but the fact the beach can get very crowded.  While the beach is very long, it is not very wide (distance from beginning of the beach to the water's edge) so finding a good spot will go quickly.

We have found the best times to go to Magens Bay are very early in the morning before the bulk of the cruise visitors arrive or in the afternoon when many cruise goers will start to leave to get back to their cruise ships. On our last trip to St. Thomas on Freedom of the Seas, our ship arrived later than the other ships and as a result the last two hours at Magens Bay ended up being quite empty.

The snack counter serves typical fried food that you would find at most beaches such as pizza, fries and burgers.  The food isn't anything special and it is expensive.  You're better off bringing food from Charlotte Amalie to the beach with you, or at least buying drinks.  

Those that have been to St. Thomas often will tell you the smaller crowds at other beaches outweigh the beauty of Magens Bay, but if you can deal with the crowds (or you're going on a not-so-busy day), I think the experience of Magens Bay is worth going to.  Especially if you've never been, Magens Bay is a must-see.  Like any island, on subsequent visits it may make sense to try other options but it's hard to go wrong with Magens Bay.  The sand is great and the water has the perfect color along with calm waves for everyone in the family to enjoy. 

AddressMagens Bay, Rte. 35 at end of the road on North side of St. Thomas

Cost: $4 per adult. Kids 12 and under are free.

Port Focus: St. Thomas

In:
11Jun2013

The US Virgin Islands is popular among Eastern Caribbean cruise stops and the island of St. Thomas is an American owned island with Caribbean flair.  Great beaches and shopping highlight what there is to see and do here.

St. Thomas Benefits

  • Beaches: St. Thomas features some very beautiful beaches, including Magens Bay, which is among the most beautiful beaches in the world.  There's also other beaches here that offer beautiful water color and very fine sand.  When you think of a Caribbean beach, St. Thomas is the sort of beach experience you will have in mind.
    • Best public beach: Magens Bay or Coki Beach
  • Shopping: St. Thomas offers a lot of shopping options around and near the cruise terminal.  Being an American island, the prices here are fairly close to what you'd expect to find back on the mainland.  The island boasts good prices on jewelry, liquor, linens, china and crystal.  By far jewelry is what is in demand here and there are lots of places to check out.  There is no sales tax in the United States Virgin Islands so you can take advantage of the $1,600 duty-free allowance per family member (remember to save your receipts).
  • Proximity to St John: It's common for St. Thomas to have many cruise ships in port but St. John is very close and there are water taxi options that take just 20 minutes to get over to the island.  For those that have visited St. Thomas before, St. John is close enough to allow for two ports in one.

St. Thomas Detractions

  • Traffic: Like many small Caribbean islands, traffic can snarl up the roads often and quickly.  This is especially true in the late afternoon, which is typically when cruise ships leave port. If you are planning to use a third-party excursion or going to explore on your own, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get back.  
  • Crowds: During the busy season, it is not uncommon to have six or more cruise ships docked in port on any given day and that leads to a lot of people in one place.  St. Thomas has cemented itself as a cruise destination and many cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, send many of their ships here.  More than likely you will feel engulfed in a sea of other tourists.

What to do in St. Thomas

On your next Royal Caribbean cruise to St. Thomas consider these activities

  • Beach visit to one of their beautiful beaches, including Magens Bay, Coki Beach or Sapphire Beach
  • Take water taxi to St. John
  • Duty-free shopping in Charlotte Amalie
  • Go to Mountain Top (it's a bit of a tourist trap, but the view is worth it)

Royal Caribbean ships stopping in St. Thomas: Freedom of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas, Jewel of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Independence of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas, Quantum of the Seas & Legend of the Seas

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day Four

In:
27Feb2013

Today was our second port stop, St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. We had booked a tour after reading some favorable reviews across the Internet. The tour would take us around the island to see various well-known spots and then conclude with a beach stop.

Freedom was the last of seven ships to dock in St Thomas. We didn't get there until 11am ship time (noon local time). I had gotten up at 6am for some reason and couldn't sleep (7am local time) so I tried listening to music and sitting on the balcony but eventually decided to let my wife and daughter sleep while I tried something new.

I've always wanted to try spinning at the gym and Freedom of the Seas offers it almost everyday in their gym. The cost of the class is $12 per person and there was enough room for about 12 stationary bikes or so but I think our class had only 8 people in it. The class lasted about 40 minutes or so and consisted of the instructor directing us how fast we should go and what we should be doing while biking. We would do “push ups” off the bike, do standing bike runs (where you stand up like you are going up hill) and speed trials.

This was my first time doing spin at all and my mistake was trying to keep up with everyone else who clearly had done spin before. I certainly worked up a good sweat and burned a lot of calories but almost immediately after I felt nauseous and that lasted a good hour or so. I figured I had become dehydrated so I drank a lot of water at the Windjammer. Within an hour I was feeling better and ready to tackle St Thomas.

Our ship docked at around 11 but we didn't make it off the ship until about 11:30 because of delays in getting the ship cleared and the sheer amount of people that are also trying to get out of the ship. The good thing about an 11am arrival is you can sleep late but by the same token, the bad thing about an 11am arrival is EVERYONE tries to get off at the same time, whereas with early dockings things get spread out more.

We used Godfreys Tour and met Godfrey himself at the gate as we got off. There were 4 other people from our ship on the tour, which seemed like a great number but then we heard they had another van full of people from Carnival (there were actually 7 cruise ships docked in St Thomas today). We left the port area, picked up the other people from downtown and started on our tour.

The tour provided complimentary soft drinks and water although no food. The cost was $25 per person if you wanted just the tour and $30 per person if you wanted the tour and a beach stop. We opted for the beach stop as well. Off we went and stopped at various photo spots along the long and winding roads that go all over the very mountainous St Thomas. The spots were picturesque and beautiful but my issue was with such a large group, I felt like we spent too much time at each place. Personally, I'm the kind of guy that looks around for about 10 seconds, takes a photo or two and is ready to go. Minor stops lasted about 5 minutes while the longest stop at the mountain top (located at the top of St Thomas) was closer to 20. I could complain about the amount of people on the tour and the slow pace, but then again I also paid significantly less than say the ship sponsored excursion.

Eventually we had the option of beaches to go to and we selected Magen's Bay. It's well known and seemed good for us. The beach is beautiful, although very narrow (meaning not a lot of space from the start of the beach to the water's edge). We had no problem finding a spot and my daughter absolutely loved her time swimming here. There was a snack shack with rather expensive prices so we opted for just fries and onion rings (we had taken a few drinks from the tour bus).

Our driver gave us about 2 hours to swim at the beach, which was fine for our needs. When we arrived the beach was rather full but by the time we left, the beach was nearly empty since all those other cruise ships had left already. Magen's Bay is a beautiful location and you can't beat the surroundings. The water is a pretty shade of turquoise although we found it not that clear. Nitpicking, I'm sure but with the beach's reputation it was a slight disappointment.  Nonetheless, this was a great place for a swim and it certainly was quite beautiful.

Our driver returned promptly and we got on the van and picked up the other people at the other beach option and started making our way back with a few drive-by photo opportunities. There was considerable traffic getting back but he got everyone back with enough time to make their ships.

Overall I enjoyed the tour but I'm not sure if I'd recommend it or not. On the one hand, you can't beat the price for what you get. On the other hand, I'd much rather prefer a more personal tour that allows us to move at our pace. Also some of the stops along the way were definite “tourist traps”, which I don't care for. If you want an affordable tour of the island, it's a great choice but just be aware what you pay for.

After getting back to the ship, we showered and dropped my daughter at the nursery so my wife and I could eat at Chops, the specialty steakhouse on Freedom of the Seas. The last time we ate at Chops was aboard Mariner of the Seas for our honeymoon in 2008 so it's been a while but we loved it back then. The cost is $20 per person and you can order as much food as you want once there.

The restaurant was a little more than half full and one change that was first noted by friends of ours on another cruise was Chops has gone from 2 servers per table (main waiter and assistant waiter) to just one waiter and the by-product of this change has been a noticeable delay in service. It's not terrible or unbearable, you can simply tell things would go faster with more help and our server continuously apologized for delays (I think she thought we were bothered by it, but we really were not).

Food wise, Chops offers a good selection of choices. I wanted to order more but I wasn't that hungry for some reason so I limited myself. We opted for the Asian tuna and caesar salad for our starters and both were quite good. The tuna was very small, which worked for my limited appetite but most days I could have easily had a second appetizer.

I wanted to order the New York Strip steak but my waiter actually talked me out of it. She told me many guests had complained the steak was too chewy/tough and so I asked for her recommendation and she pointed me towards the porterhouse or the filet mignon. I opted for the porterhouse while my wife took the filet.

I freely admit I am not a steak expert. To me, a steak from Outback Steakhouse is the epitome of a good steak so did the steaks here taste good? Yes, I enjoyed it as did my wife. I just can't comment if it's the best steak ever. Both steaks were certainly better than the steaks we've had in the main dining room.

The real standout were the sides. We ordered mashed potatoes, cheesy potatoes with prosciutto and parmesan & fried onion rings. My wife says she loved the cheesy potatoes and all the sides were really quite good. Definitely branch out and try a lot since it's all included in the price. 

Of course, we had to order dessert so we each chose something to taste and of course, the desserts were really good.  Both cakes we ordered were moist and had a great taste to them.  Definite candidates for what to eat when the world comes to an end and we have a 30 minute warning.

I'll write up a more formal review of Chops for the site at a later date but I thought Chops was a good choice for steak lovers.

After dinner we lost more money in the casino (I sense a trend developing) and decided to call it an early night since we are going to have an early start tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow is St Maarten and our last island (insert sad face here). No firm plans, just going to explore and see what comes to us!

Thank you for the great comments and questions, be sure to post your thoughts below and I'll answer them for you! 

Freedom of the Seas Video Blog - Eastern Caribbean Itinerary

In:
30Jan2013

In our second video blog, we preview the Eastern Caribbean itinerary aboard Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas.   We preview each of the three islands: CocoCay, St. Thomas & St. Maarten, including what the islands are known for and what the good excursions are.  Joining me on today's episode is Kaleigh Lay from CruizeCast.

Let us know how you liked the video and any suggestions you have for our cruise!

For more videos, subscribe to our Royal Caribbean Blog channel on YouTube.

More details emerge from Virgin Islands excursion accident

In:
28Jan2012

More details were released today about the 13 Royal Caribbean passengers from Serenade of the Seas that were involved in an accident.

The safari taxi, part of Royal Caribbean's "Best of St. Thomas and Shopping" (a three-and-a-half hour shore excursion), darted from Skyline Drive on Friday morning, levelling mailboxes, striking a parked SUV, launching itself over the ridge and plunging 65 feet into thick bush.

St. Thomas Deputy Police Chief Dwayne DeGraff said one woman broke her hip while another passenger required stitches for a cut on their forehead.  Only the woman with the broken hip did not return to Serenade of the Seas to complete the rest of their cruise.

Officials say The west-bound taxi veered left at an uphill right turn and struck a bank of mailboxes and the side of an Acura SUV parked in a driveway.The taxi then climbed the ridge and careened downhill into bush beside a concrete driveway on the southern slope.

The driver of the taxi, whose name was not disclosed, had no other charges against him/her.  The driver was cited with a commission violation but is authorized to operate a taxi.

The accident remains under investigation by the V.I. police.

Royal Caribbean passengers injured in bus accident

In:
27Jan2012

Officials from the U.S. Virgin Islands in St Thomas report that a tourist bus carrying at least 13 cruise ship passengers has collided with a parked vehicle.  The passengers, from Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas, collided with the parked car.

The accident occurred in an open-air "safari bus" on a steep road near the island's scenic Beacon Point.

St. Thomas Tourist Department spokeswoman Allegra Kean-Moorehead says one of the injured is a female passenger who had to be hospitalized with a hip fracture.  Twelve other passengers were released after being treated.

She also said that Serenade of the Seas is still expected to depart late Friday without the injured passenger.

Photo of the Day: St Thomas from back of Freedom of the Seas

In:
22Jul2011

Photo by Jason Trent

Photo of the Day: Allure of the Seas in St. Thomas

In:
14Jul2011

Photo by April Dash

Allure of the Seas makes first stop in St Thomas

In:
17Dec2010

Allure of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's newest ship and the largest cruise ship in the world, made its first stop ever at St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands earlier this week.

To commemorate the occasion, Allure of the Seas Captain Herman Zini told those in attendance "Thank you once again for the continuous focus you have on making the destination better and better.".  A plaque commemorated the event as well.

Royal Caribbean vice president of government relations was excited about the stop in St. Thomas, "The passengers want to take the greatest ship in the world to the greatest destination in the world".

The people of St. Thomas and every port Allure stops at have very good reason to be excited.  Both Allure and her sister ship, Oasis of the Seas, are expected to bring $1.5 million in revenues to the territory during each port call - $78 million a year.  In addition, the Florida Caribbean Cruise Associatian reports the average cruise passenger spends $193 while in the U.S. Virgin islands and crew members spend about $150.  Adding to the potential riches, the ship itself brings revenue through taxes and fees that Royal Caribbean is responsible for in accordance with docking and berthing the ship.

By 2012, Royal Caribbean estimates about 875,000 passengers will visit St. Thomas on an annual basis.

Dredging of St Thomas Harbor halts

In:
05Oct2010

West Indian Company Ltd. President and CEO Ed Thomas said it and Royal Caribbean were going to spend a combined $15-$20 million to dredge St. Thomas Harbor so that mega ships Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas could dock there but not anymore.

The cruise lines are not going to put up that money because they accomplished their goal,” he said. “Their ship is in St. Thomas. Certainly the West Indian Company is not going to put up money to do that kind of dredging because the ship is already in St. Thomas.

Problems started back on October 14, 2009 when Governor John deJongh Jr put the dredging project on hold after substantial public opposition.  Those opposed to the dredging plan were concerned about the part of the plan that called for dumping 162,000 cubic yards of material into an existing depression in Lindbergh Bay.  While searching for an alternative, Oasis of the Seas would have to dock in Crown Bay.

Despite the halt in the plan, deJongh was confident that the dredging project would be complete in time for Allure of the Seas' first stop in St Thomas on December 10, 2010 during the busy tourist season.  However, talks never progressed very far according to Thomas, talks collapsed in January.

The trend of cruise ships getting larger and larger means St. Thomas Harbor will eventually need to be dredged acrroding to Thomas and that the harbor is already due for maintenance dredging thanks to all of the debris kicked up by departing and arriving cruise thips over the last few years.

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