On the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, the cruise ships are as predictable as the tides.
By mid-morning, passengers disembarked floating cities festooned with monikers like Disney Fantasy, Norwegian Escape, Carnival Celebration and Harmony of the Seas spilling out of deepwater docks and into the streets of Charlotte-Amalie. They wear floral button up shirts, jean shorts and Crocs. Juxtaposed with the weathered, rustic buildings of this 17th-century trading port, the flood of cruise ship passengers sticks out like a parrot feather on a raven’s wing; but for much of the last century, travelers like this have been the lifeblood of tourism revenue in the US Virgin Islands.
In 2022, more than 1.6 million cruise passengers passed through St. Thomas. This year, an additional 200,000 more are expected to join their number. Most will amble in for the day, visit the shops of Charlotte-Amalie or take a safari tour around the island and be back out to sea by nightfall. They’ll leave with only a glimpse of a slice of the United States that feels so far removed from the mainland that it might as well be Neverland. But a growing number of visitors are choosing to stay.
Primed by direct flights from East Coast hubs like New York, Charlotte and Atlanta, an increasing number of visitors to St. Thomas now find themselves rambling about the island after the cruise ships depart. While only about 25% of the island’s tourism traffic arrives via air, that figure is expected to continue growing. Visitors with longer itineraries are enjoying laid-back sunsets at Brewer’s Bay and nightcaps at Virgilio’s. They’re learning about a revitalized local art scene at galleries like 81C and The Creative Native.
Buoyed by a smattering of boutique hotels located on or adjacent to St. Thomas, these travelers are slowing down to savor the island’s distinct culture, one where the flavors of Latin America, Europe and Africa all collide. And they’re doing so from the handcrafted, unique bedrooms at these hotels.
Decades after his victory over Texan forces at The Alamo, Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna found himself in exile at St. Thomas. Following several up-and-down terms as the president of Mexico, Santa Anna made his way to Charlotte-Amalie where he quickly began construction of a villa. Perched high above the harbor—directly beneath the governor’s mansion—Santa Anna constructed a grand estate with housing for his family, stables and a commanding view of the area.
Today, that estate has been refurbished into Villa Santana, a six-room hotel where visitors can slumber in the very room where the exiled Mexican legend wrote his memoirs. Owner Jeff Euwema was raised on the property, and has eight decades of family history on the property to share with guests.
The grounds feature a hilltop swimming pool where visitors can soak in the St. Thomas sunset over a Bushwacker (vodka, Bailey’s, Cruzan rum, Amaretto and Kahlua) as well as a rare green space where the majority of Santa Anna’s main house once stood.
Lovango Resort & Beach Club
A 15-minute water taxi from St. Thomas puts visitors on the shores of Lovango Cay. Local legends say that Lovango garners its name as a former island brothel, the last before sailors headed out to voyages across the Atlantic (get it, love and go). today; however, the 118-acre island is home to a dabbling of permanent homes as well as the plush confines of Lovango Resort & Beach Club.
In the wake of iconic Caneel Bay Resort’s hurricane-fueled destruction by back-to-back hurricanes on neighboring St. John in 2017, Lovango has become one of the signature luxury experiences in the US Virgin Islands. Here, visitors can stroll along a private beach, traverse jungle paths towards the panoramic views of the British Virgin Islands and spend the night dancing to live music on the sand. Cliffside treehouses take “off-the-grid” to the next level with tranquil sea breezes, outdoor showers and the ever-present sounds of the forest. Meanwhile, private, three-bedroom homes are also on offer with sweeping, tropical views of the ocean.
Lovango even offers excursions to St. John’s Honeymoon Beach via a resort-exclusive landing craft.
At Home in the Tropics Bed & Breakfast
Four carefully manicured rooms flush with modern amenities rest just beneath St. Thomas’s infamous Blackbeard’s Castle in a historic Danish military barracks. Today, those rooms form At Home in the Tropics Bed & Breakfast, the passion project and life force for mainland transplants Jessica Geller and Mark Wiechnik.
After enduring hurricanes Irma and Maria followed by a global pandemic, At Home in the Tropics is fast garnering a following of regulars seeking out the ultra-quiet confines just a short ride from Cyril E. King Airport. A stay at At Home in the Tropics might be as comfortable as a guest’s backyard. The pool here is rarely crowded and the hilltop barbecue grill is always ready to fire up.
The Pink Palm Hotel
The rose-colored paint on Charlotte-Amalie’s Pink Palm Hotel has barely dried after the doors of this funky, fashion-forward wonderland opened earlier this year. Perched on a Queen’s Quarter hilltop not far from Villa Santana, the Pink Palm Hotel hosts 27 rooms amidst hanging terrace gardens within a stone’s throw of downtown restaurants, cafes and bars. Here, guests can watch the flicker of Charlotte-Amalie’s harbor lights melt into the Milky Way from a hot tub, or enjoy slow-sipping a bottle of wine on a private terrace overlooking the city.
The Pink Palm brings a pedigree of success to St. Thomas, with a senior staff plucked straight from Long Island’s American Beech that promises a comfortable, care-free experience with some of the best on-site table faire on the island, curated by Executive Chef Bruce Miller.