Point Udall St. Croix Eastern Tip of the United States

St. Croix USVI – Fun Family Vacation

On our most recent Fun Family Vacation we wanted to experience something new and decided on visiting the United States Virgin Islands (USVI).    After researching online we chose St. Croix because it is less “touristy” than St. Thomas yet offers a lot of similar experiences available in the Virgin Islands. (Snorkeling, diving, hiking, excursions). This was our first trip to St. Croix, we had a fabulous time, and we will return.

A few things to keep in mind when pre-planning a trip to St. Croix USVI:

  • Verizon and several other cell services do not work (minutes are charged roaming at $1.99+ per minute) in USVI.  AT&T is one of the only mainland service we found that provide coverage on the Island.  We were able to purchase a one month unlimited calls/text GO Phone from our local AT&T store and utilize it for texting and phone calls while on St. Croix.
  • Depending on your location, there are not many direct flights offered to St. Croix.  You will most likely have more than one layover.  We switched planes in Atlanta, and switched airlines in San Juan.  The easiest way to get to St. Croix is to fly to San Juan PR and then catch a flight on one of the local “Island hopping” airlines such as Seaborne Airlines.
  • Renting a car is necessary for most vacation rentals on St. Croix.  St. Croix has several local and national car rental companies.  Renting a car is easy, however when renting a car at the airport there is an additional tax added to your rental.  Many people utilize rental companies from an alternate location on the Island.  Your rental company should be able to assist you with the best way to book your car rental.  *Renting a car/jeep that can handle rugged roads is advisable for some areas of St. Croix.
Seaborne Airlines in San Juan

Seaborne Airlines in San Juan

Things to do:

There are so many great activities on St. Croix.  We found something new to experience almost every day of our 10 day trip.  A few of our favorites:

The Beaches:

We visited several beaches during our stay.  One of the best beaches with soft white sand and clear blue water was Rainbow Beach in Fredricksted.  We visited on a Monday and we had almost the entire beach to ourselves.  There is a nice restaurant/bar located at Rainbow beach with plenty of rum drinks and a tropical pub menu. Tip:  This beach is near the cruise ship port and can be very busy on a “cruise ship day.”  Check the cruise schedule (available at most merchants and dives shops) and try to plan a non-cruise ship day to visit Rainbow Beach.

Cane Bay Beach – This is a smaller beach located in the North side of St. Croix Island.  There is a dive shop offering both shore and boat dives along with an open air restaurant (EAT at Cane Bay) located at this beach.  This is a popular beach for locals and is busy with local families over the weekend (especially on Sundays).  Tip:  The shoreline is somewhat rocky when you enter the water.  Swim/water shoes are handy at this beach.

The Buccanneer – Like many Caribbean Islands, all of the beaches in St. Croix are free, meaning even non-guests can enjoy the beaches directly in front of any hotel or resort.  However, in St. Croix the resorts do charge a minimal fee for parking ($5-10).  We visited the beach at The Buccanneer the day before leaving and this was a perfect, relaxing, last adventure before our departure. There are kid-friendly activities including beach side chess, beach volleyball, basket ball, and frisbee golf.  There were plenty of beach chairs available, lots of shade, a beach bar, and beach side servers.  Our kids had a lot of fun at The Buccanneer, should we ever return in search of a hotel/resort experience we would stay at this location.

Chess at The Buccaneer USVI

Beach at The Buccaneer

 

Snorkeling:

Snorkeling is accessible from any beach and there are also snorkeling excursions to Buck Island offered each day.  We chose Big Beards Snorkeling Trips on the Christiansted Pier for our visit to Buck Island.  This was approximately a 4 hour excursion round trip from Christiansted to Buck Island.  First they take you to the beach at Buck Island where you can enjoy the soft white sand, explore the beach, or receive a snorkeling lesson from their tour guide.  Then they will take you to the Buck Island snorkel trail. This is an underwater trail with signs explaining the various types of coral and marine life.  On our excursion, after the guide “showed us the ropes” we had about an hour to explore the reef.  We saw a lot of tropical fish, however a few other people in our group saw a Nurse Shark.  (I’m kind of glad we didn’t see him!)  Tip: On Sundays Caribbean Adventures offers a $25 special to Buck Island.  This is very popular and advance reservations are suggested.  The Buck Island Reef was hit hard a few years ago by a hurricane, however the reef is recovering and visiting Buck Island is worth the trip.

Snorkeling Buck Island

Buck Island Snorkel Tour. Kids are given a life ring to hold while on the tour.

 

Hiking:

The different types of terrains on St. Croix, from lush tropical forests to dry hilly coastlines, make way for plenty of nature exploration and hiking opportunities.  Because of our childrens ages we chose an easier self guided hike down to Jack’s and Isaac’s Bay on the Eastern Tip of the Island.  For us the hike took about 20 minutes to reach the beach.  The only way to reach Jack’s and Isaac’s Bay beach is to hike in, so you won’t find much of a crowd here.  You will find some of the best snorkeling with tons of sea life near the shore.  We saw a family of squid, many different kinds of fish, and a spotted eagle ray at this location.  Love, Love, Love the snorkeling here.  Tips: Wear comfortable hiking shoes. Take plenty of water and snacks. There is no shade on the hike or on the beach.  Wear sunscreen and take an umbrella or something to use for shade.  Another group we met on the beach at Isaac’s Bay had small pop up tent they were using for shade.

Hiking to Jack's & Isaac's Bay

Hike to Isaac’s Bay

 

FISHING

When we decided to take the kids on their first ever fishing trip we contacted all the local charters and many of them were not equipped to take out young children or they had a minimum of 4 hours for $600-$800.  Since our children are not quite old enough for a big fishing day we were looking for a short two hour trip, close to shore, where they could possibly catch a fish.  We found a great captain, Navy John, who was agreeable to take us out for a shorter time (2 hours) in the early evening for $200 (included snacks and water/sodas).  The kids each caught a barracuda, not bad for a first ever catch!

DIVING

While our kids are too young to dive, Daddy enjoys sneaking off for a dive or two when on a beach vacation.  A few “must” St. Croix Dives – Cane Bay shore dive, Fredericksted Pier night dive, and Salt River Bay.

DINING

Because we stayed in a vacation rental with a full kitchen we cooked most of our own meals.  It’s important to consider that being an island, almost everything is imported.  Prices are typically much higher than on the mainland. However, we found good prices on many grocery store items compared to other Islands we have visited.  We found a good selection of grocery store produce at Food Town, just outside of Christiansted.  We also enjoyed shopping at the Seaside Market in Christiansted.  This store had an incredible wine selection.  The best and freshest produce is available from one of the roadside farm stands.  There are several farms on the island and each one has a list of times/dates/locations they offer produce each week.  We found The Art Farm on the South East end of St. Croix.  They are open on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturday mornings and offer a great selection of local organically grown produce and herbs for cooking.  We have food allergy considerations and contacted The Art Farm via Facebook with questions and they responded with helpful information on where to purchase items along with allergy friendly restaurant suggestions.

One would also expect a fabulous seafood selection at the grocery stores, but we found this was not the case on St. Croix.  After a few days of research and inquiring we learned that the fisherman typically sell their fresh fish direct to the consumers and restaurants as they arrive on the dock in Christiansted.  My husband hung around the dock one afternoon and obtained a local captain’s cell phone number and he texted us daily with his catch of the day.  The fisherman we met was named Ryan; he was awesome and made sure we had fish when it was available.  The boats come back around 3-4 pm and they will filet the fish right there for you.  After making this discovery we experienced some of the best Mahi and Wahoo we have ever eaten. Tip: Take your own cooler or bag of ice with you when purchasing fish on the dock.

Restaurants we visited:

Rhythms at Rainbow Beach – We enjoyed lunch here on our visit to Fredricksted.  They have a great beach side location, a tropical “bar/pub” style menu, and plenty of fun rum drinks.

Eat at Cane Bay – This is a must visit for Sunday Brunch.  From 11-4 each Sunday they feature a unique brunch menu as part of their “Reggae Brunch” complete with live reggae music.

Rum Runners – This restaurant is located directly next to the fisherman’s dock in Christiansted.  We witnessed the chef purchasing fish as it arrived at the pier. Can’t get a fresher catch of the day than that!  They have a very busy dinner crowd.  We “lucked” in to a table here as they were booked with reservations.  Tip: Call ahead for seating.

Pickled Greek – Every Saturday they offer a $5 Gyro from 4-9pm (eat in only) and it is a hit with the locals.  We arrived early (thankfully) and were able to secure an outdoor table.   Tip: Skip the appetizers and enjoy a gyro with a salad as the gyros are fabulous and very filling.

A few final tips:
  • Passports are not necessary for US Citizens.  However if you want to “island hop” to a non-US territory, you will need a passport.
  • On most Islands car break-ins are an issue.  The locals suggest not leaving anything in your car and leave your windows down and doors unlocked. We used common sense and did not have any safety concerns.
  • The winter weather is almost perfect on St. Croix.  We enjoyed 80-85 degree weather each day with a few evening showers.  If you are renting a house with a pool, make sure the pool is located on the “sunny side” of the house.  Our first rental had a north facing pool that received very little sun and was un-swimmable.  We switched rentals mid-week and the pool at our second rental received sun all day making our experience more enjoyable.
  • Driving is on the left.  Be prepared to constantly question whether or not you are on the correct side of the road.
  • Everyone on St. Croix seems to communicate via texting.  Having a phone that works locally is handy for making reservations, contacting excursions, and purchasing fresh fish on the dock.
  • When booking a dive or excursion, try to schedule on a non-cruise ship day for a more relaxing adventure.  Cruise ships are great for the Island economy – but you will most likely enjoy a less crowded adventure on an off cruise day.

Other things to do on St. Croix: Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge,  St. George Botanical Gardens, Carambola Tide Pools (may be best for older kids due to the hike), Visit one of the many historic landmarks and Forts, Cruzan Rum and/or Captain Morgan distillery tours, shopping in historic Christiansted.

Overall this was another great Fun Family Vacation for the books!  Please share your comments, questions, and tips below.  We’d love to hear about your fun family vacation to USVI!

Helpful Links:

Navy John’s St. Croix Sports Fishing

The Art Farm

N2TheBlue Scuba Diving

Go To St. Croix

Visit St. Croix

 

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Kids in Capes

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s kids in capes!

Kids in Capes

 

2014-04-11-2B004One of our pre-flight rituals is to pack a fun travel kit for the kids; complete with travel friendly activities, snacks, and “flying capes.”  Why do we allow such travel silliness in the airport?

1.  It decreases the stress of travel. Getting up for an early morning flight is more fun when you get to wear a cape.

2. Capes make standing in long lines better (for everyone).  Lets face it, you can’t be in a bad mood when superman and batman are around. Even the most stressed travelers crack a smile when they are in line with a superhero.

4. It helps in the TSA line.  Our kids feel great when they are walking through the airport in their favorite super hero cape and the workers usually respond positively.  They get high fives from the both the airline employees and TSA agents.  The capes provide a distraction for the kids while we send our shoes, liquids, and carry on luggage through the x-ray machines.  Once, a TSA agent opened a new line just for “Batman” – a nice surprise indeed!

5. I can spot them easily in a busy airport.  We can’t always hold a hand through the concourse while juggling luggage – but it’s very easy to spot Superman’s Cape!

6.  Capes double as a travel blanket on a chilly plane.  This is probably the best part of letting the kids wear a cape.  Capes are light weight and easy to fold up into your carry on bag.

Kids in Capes
If you think our Kids in Capes routine is crazy, you should read about Crocs with Socks!


250 x 250: Family - Your Laughter

*Planning a trip?  Visit our affiliate Allianz Travel for piece of mind on your next vacation.  Kids covered Free!

Seven Mile Beach Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman with Kids – Tips for a great Family Vacation

Grand Cayman is a beautiful place, mostly known for scuba diving, however this island can be a fantastic family vacation destination.   We have visited Grand Cayman several times and stayed in a different area of the island during each visit.  There are many reasons to vacation in Grand Cayman including a relatively low crime rate making it safe for a family (or even a lone traveler) to explore the island at will.  This and the beautiful sandy beaches have made Grand Cayman one of our favorite family holiday destinations.

How to get to Grand Cayman: Delta has flights with connections through Atlanta and American Airlines has flights connecting through Miami.  We have flown both airlines to Grand Cayman.   

Tip: when coming back into the USA getting through customs in Atlanta is much faster and easier especially when traveling with young children.

Where to stay:  Generally, the most economical option is to stay in a condo with a full kitchen and laundry facilities.  We choose to stay in condos because we can cook most of our own meals and pack less clothing.  Homeaway.com and VRBO.com (vacation rental by owner) have been excellent resources for booking privately owned residences.  There are also property management companies who offer short term vacation rentals.  We have rented Condos in  the East End, West Bay, and South Sound areas of Grand Cayman Island.

East End

On our first visit to Grand Cayman we stayed in a Condo on the East end of the island about 45 minutes from the airport.  (*Note – although the Island is not very big, the speed limits are only about 25mph in most areas.)  You can sometimes find better rental rates on privately owned Condos located on the East End of the island.

The East End is the “quiet” side of the Island.  If you like to be away from the busy tourist areas, this side of Grand Cayman is probably more your speed.  You will need a rental car as you will most likely have to drive to swim-able beaches, restaurants, and grocery stores.  We stayed in The Paradise Villas Unit 1.  Many of these are privately owned and rented through Homeaway.com and VRBO.com.  Our favorite part of this villa was the cascading pools.  They are each a different depth with the smaller pool being perfect for our young toddler.  Many of these units have a beach view (across the street) but the beach is very rocky and not good for swimming.

Rum Point, one of the best family beaches on the Island, is only about 15-20 minutes from The Paradise Villas and we spent many days there.   You do not need to bring your own chairs or umbrellas to this beach.  Arrive early and you will find plenty of beach chairs, hammocks, and shaded areas.  There is a restaurant and small “beach bar” as well as a cute little store with souvenirs, bathing suits and other “forgotten” travel items.  You can rent kayaks and jet skis at Rum Point as well as book various excursions including glass bottom boat tours and snorkeling trips.  The water at Rum Point is generally calm and perfect for young children to try snorkeling for the first time.

 

Rum Point Best Kids Vacation

Hammocks at Rum Point

TIPS when staying on the East End:  Definitely rent a car.  Car rental is very easy at the Airport.  All of the major rental companies are just across the street from the Airport within walking distance.  You must be careful as they drive on the LEFT side of the roadStop at HURLEY’S grocery store just south of Georgetown at the roundabout near Grand Harbour on your way to your Condo.  Hurley’s has a better selection than any of the smaller stores on the East End and they get fresh fish delivered daily.

East End Pros: Quiet, close proximity to Rum Point, plenty of good restaurants.  Cons: you will have to drive to restaurants and beaches.

 

West Bay

We stayed in West Bay at the North West end of the busy Seven Mile Beach tourist area during our second trip to Grand Cayman.  This area of the island is currently our favorite place to stay.  West Bay is close to the restaurants and activities in Seven Mile Beach, but outside of the busy tourist areas.  Our condo was near Cemetery Beach, a great snorkeling site with shore access.  If you don’t mind staying just off the beach, you can save a little money renting a condo behind the direct beachfront properties and utilizing a beach access walkway.

During our entire stay the beaches near our condo in West Bay were fairly quiet.  You will need to carry your own beach chairs and umbrella with you.  Most condo owners provide these items along with beach towels, snorkeling equipment, and a few beach toys to renters.  Be sure to ask what beach items are available for guest use when booking.

What to do in West Bay Grand Cayman?  Hang out at the beach building sand castles and give snorkeling a try!  Our entire family enjoyed snorkeling at the beach almost every day.  Depending on your child’s swimming level, kids of all ages can learn to snorkel.  You do not need to swim out to a reef to enjoy snorkeling, there are plenty of fish, rocks, and shells for young kids to enjoy looking at just a few feet off the beach.

 

Seven Mile Beach View

View from the Beach near our condo

 

Kayak Grand Cayman

Kayak provided by condo

Grand Cayman Snorkeling

Ready to Snorkel!

 

Tips when staying in West Bay:   You don’t necessarily need to rent a car as there are plenty of Taxi’s available at the airport.  Both in Seven Mile Beach and West Bay you will find restaurants within walking distance of most hotels and condos.  Renting a car, however, is fairly reasonable and very convenient.  Kirk’s Grocery store, located on the North End of Seven Mile Beach near West Bay, has the better selection of goods and fresh fish on this side of the Island.

 

South Sound

On our most recent trip to Grand Cayman in August of 2014 we stayed in South Sound at the Caribbean Paradise Villas and rented through Caymanvillas.com.  This was an easy transaction. Their office is located right next to the Airport making check-in and check-out a breeze.  August is considered “off-season” and we were able to obtain a fabulous price on both the condo rental as well as airline tickets.  We found South Sound to be a convenient central location to visit our favorite places in Cayman.  Our condo was near Hurley’s grocery store which has an excellent fresh seafood department.   In fact during this visit the manager at Hurley’s gave us a Hurley’s Advantage card to take advantage of special offers and discounts for locals.

Where to Eat on Grand Cayman Island

Here are a few family friendly restaurants we enjoyed during our visits to Grand Cayman.  However, due to the high volume of tourists, almost all restaurants in Grand Cayman offer some type of meal options for kids.

Tukka – Located on the East End with ocean views.  We sat on the deck overlooking the water and saw a shark “fishing” for it’s own dinner about 20 feet away on the shore.  Very exciting for the children!  Kids menu available.  Tip: Sit outside weather permitting.

Bombay Chopsticks – A fairly small Asian/Indian fusion restaurant located on the East End.  We arrived on New Years Day when almost all grocery stores and gas stations are closed.  Bombay Chopsticks was open on the holiday and we found the staff to be friendly and accommodating.  Tip: If you are staying on the East End Bombay Chopsticks offered local delivery.

Heritage Kitchen – A tiny restaurant located on Boggy Sands road in West Bay.  We noticed this was a place many Caymanians visit and order take-out dinner.   You’ll dine on picnic tables overlooking the ocean.  They offer a changing menu of mostly local seafood specialties.  We found the prices to be extremely reasonable and the food is good.   Tip: Try the conch fritters.

Heritage Kitchen West Bay

Heritage Kitchen

Sunshine Grill – Located inside Sunshine Suites Resorts on Seven Mile Beach.  They are known for their fish tacos and family friendly pricing.  Because many tourists find this restaurant both good and reasonable it gets very busy.  Tip: Arrive early to secure a table.

Alfresco’s  – This little restaurant has one of the best views of West Bay beach.  Family friendly with daily local seafood specials.  The service at Alfresco’s was excellent.  Our server doted on our children making them both feel very special.

Other Things To Do in Grand Cayman:  Grand Cayman offers many activities and excursions for people of all ages.  Your kids may enjoy The Turtle Farm, swimming with the dolphins, an underwater adventure on Atlantis Submarines, and much more.  Our children are young and perfectly happy at the beach so we generally opt out of spending the extra money on tourist activities.  Camana Bay shopping center frequently has free or low cost family friendly events.  While we were there Camana Bay had an area set aside for kids to build with large Styrofoam blocks, children’s story time, and visits with Santa.

Holidays in Grand Cayman

Visit with Santa!

 

A few important tips:  Almost all stores and many gas stations are closed on Sundays and all holidays.  You will need to shop for your grocery needs on Saturday.  If you arrive on a Sunday or a Holiday you will be able to find plenty of open restaurants for dining.

Driving is on the LEFT side of the road.  It will take a few days to get used to the steering wheel being on the “passenger” side of the car.  The island is filled with round-a-bouts so be careful of your directions.  We found ourselves taking the wrong “exit” off the round-a-bouts several times during the first few days of driving in Grand Cayman.

Don’t park your car directly under a tree.  They say there are more Iguanas than people on the Island and your car will be quite messy with both Iguana and bird droppings in a very short time.

Do purchase fresh fish at either Hurley’s or Kirk’s Markets.  According to one of the locals we spoke with these grocery stores get first pick of the best fish each day off the dock.  Try Wahoo or Red Snapper.  Tip: We enjoyed our leftover fish in seafood omelets the next morning for breakfast. 

Do purchase a cheap flash light for night time beach explorations.  You will see a lot of crabs, turtles (depending on the season), and snails out at night.

Grand Cayman has a low crime rate but you still need to practice common sense and lock your car and hide your valuables out of site.

Each adult can bring in 4 bottles of wine and one bottle of liquor.  Due to the high cost of importing almost all goods are 25-50% higher to purchase in Grand Cayman.  If you like to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner bringing a few bottles with you will save you money.  Tip:  Double bag and wrap your bottles individually with bubble wrap to prevent breaking in your checked luggage.  You can also purchase a bottle of wine or liquor in the Duty Free shop during your layover in Atlanta or Miami and carry it on the plane.

To save money on both airfare and accommodations consider traveling to Grand Cayman just after high season ends at the beginning of May or just before the season begins during the first two weeks of December.  High season is from December 15th – April 30th.  Hurricane Season is from June 1 – November 30th.  You can find many deals and specials during the summer months.  Be prepared for possible rain during that time.  Purchasing trip insurance will give you piece of mind in case of cancellation due to a hurricane threat.

Feel free to post your comments or questions in the area below.  Enjoy your family vacation to Grand Cayman!

Helpful Links:  Rum Point   Cayman Activity Guide – Snorkeling   Bombay Chopsticks  Tukka Heritage Kitchen Alfrescos   Atlantis Submarines  Camana Bay Events  Turtle Farm Cayman Villas