Visit our travel agent friends at MEI Travel

I visited three ports on my cruise, but this one was by far my favorite, and here’s why you should go there

04 Apr 2023

There's plenty of stunning beaches in the Caribbean, but only St. John stands out as the most beautiful I've ever visited.

St. John in US Virgin Islands

For a lot of people, taking a Caribbean cruise is about escaping to picturesque coasts with white sand, light blue ocean water, and maybe even a drink in hand.

On my recent 7-night Wonder of the Seas cruise, we visited three ports and by far the most beautiful of them all was Honeymoon Beach in St. John.

While we had a great time at the beach in St. Kitts and Perfect Day at CocoCay, I was blown away by the splendor of St. John.  In fact, every time our cruise visits St. Thomas, I look for a shore excursion that can take me to St. John.

Before you make plans for your upcoming St. Thomas visit, here's why I loved every minute of my visit to St. John.

Getting there

Trunk Bay

St. John is just 6 miles from St. Thomas, which makes it a very close option between the two islands.

There are a few ways to get to St. John: ferry, Royal Caribbean excursion, or private boat.

Ferry Boat in USVI

In the past, I've tried each of the options and there are pros and cons to each method.  For this visit, we went with a private boat charter because we were going with two other families and we wanted to maximize our time.

Wonder of the Seas was docked in St. Thomas from 7am to 2:30pm, so there was a limited amount of time in port. As a result, I wanted to try to squeeze in as much time as possible, and it seemed a private tour would be our best bet.

Wonder of the Seas in St. John

I looked at a few third-party different tours but ultimately decided to book with Sonic Charters because they had a great fleet of boats you could rent for the day.

Private tours are always going to be more expensive than group tours, but given our party size (12 in total) and our time needs, a private excursion seemed like the best choice.

The boat met us at the St. Thomas marina, which is a very short walk from where Royal Caribbean docks at Crown Bay.  You just walk through the port area, through the parking lot, and then right to the marina.

Yacht rental

The boat's captain met us at the marina bar, and we boarded the boat right at 9am to get underway. Our crew consisted of him and Louise.

We departed the marina and headed east to St. John for the short transit.

Our rental included snacks on the way to St. John and back, as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.


Snorkeling spot in St. John

Since it was our private tour, it was up to us what we wanted to do. I asked that we visit the beach and have snorkel time too.

Our rental included snorkel equipment for everyone, so nothing extra to pack.

We were taken to a small inlet near St. John that was a well-known for being a place where sea turtles could be found.

Because St. John's water is so clear, snorkeling is incredibly easy for viewing.

Blue water

We had about an hour of being in the water, and even if you weren't into snorkeling, you could hop into the ocean to enjoy the current.  

My kids had a great time looking for as many undersea creatures as they could spot.

Honeymoon Beach

Honeymoon Beach in St. John

While snorkeling is fun, what draws me to St. John in the first place are the amazing beaches.

The beaches in St. John are the epitome of what a Caribbean beach day is all about: white sand, crystal blue water, and warm temperatures.

There are a number of beaches you can visit at St. John, including Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay.  If you get the chance to visit St. John by land, I highly recommend spending the day here.

St. John beach

Since we were on a boat, Honeymoon Beach is the best choice because our boat can get close enough to shore that we can easily swim.

The soft white sand is perfect to plop down and enjoy the shallow blue surf that washes up.

Honeymoon beach

There's still snorkeling options here, as there is a patch of reef on the west side of the beach. Much of the reef is in fairly shallow water – making it an excellent choice to see fish, corals, turtles and rays up close.

Other destinations in St. John

Trunk Bay

Our day in St. John was a mere glimpse at what this incredible island has to offer.

If you happen to take a shore excursion that brings you on land, there are a few great spots to visit.

Cruz Bay

Cruz Bay is where your ferry will drop you off, and it's a small village that has restaurants and shops. You can easily walk around the wharf and streets nearby and take in the Caribbean architecture, along with excellent shopping.

Trunk Bay in St John

Trunk Bay is the most famous beach in St. John because of the picturesque quarter mile white sand beach. There's a snack bar, along with beach chair rental and restrooms.  Trunk Bay does, however, have an entrance fee (and it's the only St. John beach that has a fee).

Cinnamon Bay - St John

Cinnamon Bay is the longest beach you'll find in St. John and incredibly pristine. It's a great choice for families because of how shallow the shoreline is, and it tends to be less busy than Trunk Bay.

Why you should visit St. John on a shore excursion

Honeymoon Beach

If you take away nothing else from this blog post, it's that St. John has the most amazing beaches you need to visit.

To be fair, there are a lot of great beaches around the Caribbean, but the combination of water color and clarity, beach conditions, and complete lack of crowds make this the best beach day I've ever had.

Because it's so uncrowded and underdeveloped, it feels like you've arrived in a Bond villain paradise (before things take a turn for the worse in the movie). 

Francis Bay, St John

I'm usually more a pool guy than a beach guy, but I'll visit a beach in St. John every time.

The challenge is getting to St. John, as shore excursions are limited (especially if you go through Royal Caribbean).  

The good news is there are many ferry services to get you across, but it does require good planning to ensure you can get back and forth without hassles.

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast Episode - Visiting St. John

26 Jul 2017

Listen to the Show

Every port Royal Caribbean cruise ships visit offer so much to see and do, and in St. Thomas, guests have the option and opportunity to check out a true Caribbean paradise: St. John. St. John is located nearby and this week, I share with everyone my experience visiting St. John and talking about what you need to consider if you want to see it for yourself too.

Share with me your thoughts, questions and comments via...

On this episode:
Running time:

Guide to visiting St. John on a Royal Caribbean cruise

17 Jul 2017

Many Royal Caribbean cruises make a stop in St. Thomas while on an Eastern Caribbean itinerary, but the nearby island of St. John is an enticing and exotic destination cruisers should consider in their shore excursion plans.

St. John is just a few miles away by ferry from St. Thomas, making it an easy commute between the two islands.  Regular ferry service means getting back and forth is a mere formality and that means the pristine beaches of St. John are easily accessible.

On a recent Royal Caribbean cruise, we decided to try a visit to St. John and the good news is it is a great option to consider, especially for those that may feel St. Thomas is a "been there, done that" situation.

St. John Overview

St. John is the smallest and least populated island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  It tends to be a refuge for cruise visitors and local residents alike, who seek a place to "get away from it all."

The Virgin Islands National Park takes up roughly two thirds of the island, which means visiting St. John is really about taking time to enjoy a beach, nature hike or combination of the two.  The beaches of St. John offer plenty of sun and surf, along with the typical beach activities like snorkeling, kayaking and paddle boarding.

There is a small town where visitors arrive via ferry, Cruz Bay.  This town has some basic offerings, such as restaurants, bars and some shopping.  However, unlike St. Thomas or St. Croix, the offerings in Cruz Bay are limited.  Essentially, people come to St. John for the natural beauty.

Getting to St. John

There are two primary means of getting from your Royal Caribbean cruise ship to St. John.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and which option you pick depends on your personal preference.

Royal Caribbean excursion

Royal Caribbean offers a few excursions to St. John that will depart from near the cruise ship and take you directly to St. John.  There are tours that will provide round-trip ferry transportation, as well as some sort of an organized tour while in St. John.  In addition, there is also a "on your own" St. John excursion that brings you just to the island and lets you go on your own.

The primary consideration with the Royal Caribbean excursions to St. John is the fact you will take a longer ferry ride.  The ferry from Crown Bay is roughly 40 minutes in length, which is about double that of the other ferry.  

Of course, booking with Royal Caribbean has an added bonus of the guarantee of return, where you know you will absolutely get back to the ship, no matter what.  For many, that peace of mind is important.

On your own

Many residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands regularly go back and forth between St. John and St. Thomas, which means there is regular ferry service offered for a small fee.

There are two primary points of taking a ferry to St. John: Crown Bay and Red Hook.

The Crown Bay ferry is the same ferry Royal Caribbean excursions take.  The benefit is this ferry departs and returns very close to the cruise ship, which means taking a taxi is either unnecessary or significantly cheaper.  Of course, the ferry ride is about double the length and there are less ferries offered throughout the day.

Red Hook is an area on the east end of St. Thomas, with a short 15-20 minute ferry ride to St. John.  While it requires a taxi ride to reach Red Hook, we felt the shorter and more frequently offered ferry rides were worth it.  Ferry service from Red Hook runs every hour, on the hour.  You can consult the ferry website for exact fare and schedules. 

The taxi ride to Red Hook is fairly short as well, although often you will get lumped into vans other other guests, where the driver makes a few stops along the way.  Your experience will vary, but the one way trip should take about 30 minutes (if not less).

Once at the ferry terminal, you can purchase round trip fare.  Be sure to bring plenty of cash, because taxis and the ferry regularly take cash only.

If you are wondering how long it takes to get from Crown Bay to Red Hook and then take the ferry to St. John, it depends largely on timing.  How long it takes you to get into a taxi, for the taxi to drop you off and what time you arrive before a ferry departs are all factors you may not have a lot of control over.  If you time things out perfectly, it should take just around an hour.  If you just miss the ferry, figure another an extra 30-60 minutes on top of that estimate.

Arriving in St. John

The ferry will drop you off in Cruz Bay, which is on the west end of the island. There are a few shops and restaurants, but the real attraction of going to St. John is to see the beaches.  You ought to be able to take a taxi to any of the beaches nearby.

There is a primary road, North Shore Road, that runs along the Northwest coast of St. John and has easy access to the beaches. Most day visitors opt for taxis, but you could also rent a car.  Keep in mind that vehicles drive on the left side of the road in St. John.

St. John is largely set up as a National Park, and that means lots of beaches to consider.  By far the most popular is Trunk Bay, which is about a 10 minute taxi ride away.  There are lots of other beaches, including Cinnamon Bay Beach. We chose Cinnamon Bay Beach for the lack of crowds.  

For the purposes of this blog post, we will be discussing Cinnamon Bay Beach, but the experience of visiting any of the beaches in St. John is likely very similar: a beautiful and scenic coastline with white sand and clear, turquoise waters.

At Cinnamon Bay Beach, there is no beach fee, so feel free to grab any spot you choose.  We were able to rent beach chairs from a company that offers surf rentals as well.  There is not a lot of natural shade, but if you retreat to the back edge of the back, there was some shade provided by trees and shrubs.

Most of the taxis in St. John make regular stops at each of the beaches, so getting a taxi back is fairly simple and just a matter of timing.

If you are a United States resident, your cell phone will likely work normally in St. John because the island is part of the United States.  We found cell phone coverage to be a "light" the further away from Cruz Bay and the main road you get, but placing phone calls (like to a taxi driver) usually works.

Your Thoughts

Have you visited St. John? What did you think of the experience? If you have visited other Caribbean islands, how do you think St. John compared to those? Any tips of your own to add about visiting St. John? Any questions? Hearing from readers is part of the fun (and is helpful to others), so please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Subscribe to St. John