US VIRGIN ISLANDS FAMILY VACATIONS: St. John and St. Thomas with Kids – Take a kid to a beach where sand flows through fingers like fine sugar and the sea is as warm and translucent as a bath, and he won’t ever want to leave. Add in a bit of pirate history and a chance to swim with kaleidoscope-hued fish, and the entire family will vote this the best vacation ever.
The United States Virgin Islands consists of three main islands — St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix — the first two located close enough to explore from one home base.
Island hopping to St. Croix is easy, but the greater distance and varied attractions merits more than a day trip. (Click here to read US Virgin Islands Family Vacation Part Two: St. Croix with Kids.)
My advice? Enjoy the best of ‘both worlds’ and book a stay in each! Here’s a guide to the best things to do, with where to eat and stay, on your vacation in St. John and St. Thomas with kids.
Note: An earlier version of this post was first published January 2016. It has since been revised and updated. This post may contain affiliate links.
1: Swim with the Fish at Coral World Ocean Park in St. Thomas
Learn about the Virgin Islands’ ocean life and get up close and personal with the marine animals at Coral World Ocean Park at Smith Bay. In addition to looking under the sea in the geodesic underwater observatory, you can get within kissing distance on the sea trek, snuba diving, sea lion swim, Nautilus submarine, of several see and touch tanks.
Coki Beach, one of the best beaches to learn how to snorkel in St. Thomas with kids, is next door. Rentals are available, and if you bring a dog bone or bread you can literally have yellow-and-black-striped sergeant major fish eating right out of your hands.
2: Dive into the Blue in Magens Bay in St. Thomas
Without a doubt, Magens Bay is one of the most beautiful and family-friendly beaches in the world. The mile long crescent beach hugs a gentle stretch of sea that’s perfect for young and old alike. Magens does charge an entrance fee ($4 for non-residents, kids 12-under free,) but in exchange you get lifeguards, bathrooms, and showers.
There’s also a snack counter, souvenir shop, and a shop renting kayaks, paddle boards, and lounge chairs. On the far end there’s an arboretum, mangrove, coconut grove, and nature trail. The Nature Conservancy also opened a hiking trail to Magens Bay from the hill road above, but it can be tricky to spot the entrance.
If you do drive in, be sure to stop at Famous Delight (long-time residents know it as Udder Delight) for a liqueur-laced milkshakes—perfection after a day on St. Thomas with kids in the sun.
3: Kayak through a Mangrove on a Virgin Islands Eco Tour (St. Thomas/St. John)
Virgin Islands Eco Tours runs a number of hike, kayak, and snorkel tours on St. Thomas and St. John including a thrilling nighttime kayaking trip to “Pirates Point” (talk about a memory from your family vacation to St. Thomas and St. John!).
Probably the best adventure with kids is the one to Mangrove Lagoon where in between learning about nature’s coastal filter they may also see a variety of marine life—on a typical day guides may point out lobsters and barracudas—and an army of hermit crabs.
4: Hike a Nature Trail in the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John
One of the smallest of the US Virgin Islands, St. John remains mostly as nature intended because more than half the island has been protected as the Virgin Islands National Park since 1956. Your best bet for making the most of a day on St. John is to get around by jeep (either on St. John or bring it on the car ferry from St. Thomas, but check that it’s allowed by your rental policy.)
Otherwise, you can take a safari taxi either as a tour, or point to point, from Cruz Bay where the ferry docks. Be sure to check the calendar for park ranger programs. They’re all excellent but there are a couple of standouts.
With these ranger-led programs, you might discover medicinal and other uses for tropical plants along the Reef Bay Trail on your way to seeing the ancient Taino Petroglyphs. Or perhaps learn about the sugar plantation at Annaberg Historic Site. And also learn how sea grass inhabitants defend themselves on the Waters Edge Walk at the Leinster Bay Trailhead next to Annaberg.
Best Place to Stay with kids on St. Thomas: Marriott’s Frenchman’s Cove
Frenchman’s Cove is blessed with a great location (and private beach). At this Morningstar Beach resort, the main building is only a short path from one of the best beaches on the island. Known for its gentle waves, Morningstar Beach is a favorite with skimboarders–while satellite rooms and a couple of restaurants and bars are right on it.
BONUS TIP: Frenchman’s Cove Marriott Vacation Club that’s part of it (and pictured here) has suite-style accommodations that are particularly good for families.
The resort itself is huge with everything you might want for a family vacation on St. Thomas. There are 4 restaurants, 4 bars, plus a café, deli, and well stocked convenience shop. Better still, consider the four pools (including 2 infinity pools and a swim-up bar,) full-service spa, fitness center, and variety of watersport rentals.
Available excursions include sunset sails and night kayaking tour. Click here to see available family activities at Morningstar Beach.
1 Great Family-Friendly Restaurant in St. Thomas: Iggies Beach Bar & Grill
Iggies Beach Bar & Grill at Bolongo Bay Beach Resort has reasonably priced meals, cheap drinks, and kids can play in the sand. Go on Wednesday nights for the all-you-can-eat buffet and stay for a West Indian Carnival with steel pans, conga lines, mocko jumbies, and fire-breathing limbo dancers. Also, Iggies Oasis located poolside at the edge of Bolongo Beach.
Ready to start planning part one of your visit St. John and St. Thomas with kids?
Don’t miss the Google map with my recommendations below. And if you’re curious how St. Thomas and St. John with kids compare with St. Croix for a family vacation, don’t miss part two of this feature: St. Croix with Kids.