St. Thomas Welcomes Visitors Back With a Restored Main Street and Federally Funded Revitalization

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St. Thomas Welcomes Visitors Back With a Restored Main Street and Federally Funded Revitalization

Steel drum melodies and aromas of curry chicken, smoky barbecue and conch fritters build layer upon layer as the people of St. Thomas prepare for the expected return of visitors. Excitement is in the air. Now that travel to the Virgin Islands is accessible with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, a return to normality is on the minds and tongues of most island residents. 

At a recent Main Street Revitalization ribbon-cutting ceremony, Derek Gabriel, of St. Thomas Department of Public Works, said, “I stand before you today beaming from ear to ear. Soon we will have the sounds, sights and smells of carnival moving back through Charlotte Amalie … I can stand here before you today and say we are ready to accept our visitors with open arms in a safe and healthy environment.”

Getting to St. Thomas

With airfares as low as $193 round-trip from Boston, and with proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test required to board airlines, safety and comfort are assured when departing for the crystal blue waters of Magens Bay Beach. For the remainder of 2021, all Virgin Islands travel, from a long weekend to an extended working holiday, will be affordable and uncrowded. Now is the time to experience the Virgin Islands like no other time in history.

On May 25, the groundbreaking for the Cyril E. King Airport expansion was only slightly less lustrous because it was among eight similar ceremonies held over the last few months. I’ll say that again: Eight government groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings for business revitalization and major infrastructure improvements across the territories happened this year. This unprecedented growth is partly funded by U.S. federal government grants nearing $75 million, with more expected. 

Active projects include the aforementioned Main Street Revitalization and Enhancement along with the Gallows Bay Marine Facility, Standard Aviation’s new hangar and the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport’s Terminal Expansion and Modernization Project. Improvements to the Cyril E. King Airport will include a 600 car parking garage and an expanded baggage claim area. V.I.P.A. Executive Director Carlton Dowe, lovingly nicknamed “Dowe Now” by Virgin Islands residents, has a forward-thinking leadership style that leads us to believe a speedy completion of these undertakings is around the corner.

Day Trip to St. John Carnival

Although St. Thomas Carnival was canceled this year because of COVID-19, all signs point to a brilliant greenlight for St. John’s Festival, June 25 to July 4! From St. Thomas, St. John’s Carnival Village is a scenic 20-minute ferry ride away and costs $12 roundtrip. “The Village,” as it’s called, is truly the heart of the event. A central stage is surrounded by food and drink vendors selling paté, kalaloo, lobster and fresh fish, as well as tarts and cakes made from mangoes, genips, tamarind, gooseberries and guava. As a memento of Carnival, take home unique, handmade souvenirs and gifts from the crafts village. 

Historically, each night, there has been a music lineup that includes Caribbean artists from the Virgin Islands and some of the biggest names in Calypso and Soca. Due to the uncertain nature of this year’s festival, no acts have been announced yet. You can expect the same dress and revelry you would enjoy at St. Thomas Carnival but on a more intimate scale. Don’t worry, the same world-famous carnival costumes and enormous headdresses abound in the jubilant parade. It’s a do-not-miss event!

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Charlotte Amalie Main Street Businesses

Early adopters to reopened recreational travel will claim the reward of smiles and great value granted from businesses overjoyed with the return of the Virgin Islands’ primary livelihood—you!

Unavoidably and tragically, some of our favorite downtown St. Thomas businesses did not make it through the one-two punch of hurricanes Irma/Maria and COVID-19. However, many others held on with astonishing tenacity. Among these survivors are our choices for a real taste of St. Thomas.

Glady’s Cafe and Shama’s Specialties

Tucked in the narrow cobblestoned walks of the old-world Royal Dane Mall, you’ll find Glady’s Cafe. Family-operated since the 90s, Glady’s is situated inside a shutter-fronted 18th century pump house. For a Caribbean dish of authentic, homemade comfort food, try the curry chicken, stewed oxtails or conch fritters. Don’t forget to ship home some of Glady’s famous hot sauce to keep the memories alive. Similarly, Shama’s Specialties in Charlotte Amalie features the local creole cuisine of flavorful stews, spicy jerks and rich curries. What is unique about Shama’s Specialties are her special Shama-Bam Sauce and custom cakes and traditional baked goods.

E’s Tea Garden

To get a feel for St. Thomas’s day-to-day life among the aging hippies, Rotary club meetings, and general assortments of folks, take a charming respite in E’s Tea Garden—St. Thomas’s only teahouse. Owner Judith serves delightful fusions of local food and drink. Try a meal ensemble like saltfish quiche and soursop cake with bush tea. For a one-of-a-kind keepsake, shop the on-site gallery filled with sculptures and paintings by local artists.

Sugarcane Grille and Bunker Hill Hotel

Sugarcane Grille, the hotel restaurant at Bunker Hill, is located on the winding streets behind Charlotte Amalie’s Dronningens Gade (Main Street). Up a flight of red-tiled stairs, this gem of a soul food eatery is hidden from view, but the smells of jerk chicken and curry lobster waft down to greet you. Views from your table overlook Hassel Island and the patchwork of downtown rooftops. Too full to move after your meal? Rooms at Bunker Hill are clean and comfortable with rates as low as $99 for a double! They’ve got a pool with a view too.

Rum Island Pub

Ready to wrap up your Main Street tour? Toss back a sundowner or two at the Rum Island Pub before heading back to your hotel. If you want to try what is akin to the Hawaiian Mai-Tai, order a Painkiller or a Bushwacker (or three). If you really want to get high, order a rum flight! 

After fritters and rum, end your day at nearby Morningstar Beach to swim off the extra calories and foggy head. Whether you’re visiting for the first time or returning for the hundredth, perfect days and lazy nights are waiting for you. Visit St. Thomas and St. John from June to August for amazing, no-wait deals.

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