Escaping to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) couldn't be easier or more fun. You won't need a passport, airfare remains affordable, and the hotel options are pretty sweet in multiple ways. Think: secluded beach, wind-powered cabins, and access to a floating "pizza boat" for $75 per night. Plus, an island-wide promotion for mainstream resorts will keep the $500 budget within striking distance.
Finding airfare to St. Thomas
A handful of major U.S. airlines fly into St. Thomas' Cyril E. King International Airport (STT), so finding a flight shouldn't be too difficult. When I looked up fares for travel dates in May, the cheapest prices applied to the following departure cities:
- Miami: $222 (American)
- New York: $266 (US Airways)
- Boston: $269 (American)
Many other cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., had fares costing just a hair over the amount needed to fit the budget based on the hotel options I've picked. However, you could make it work by staying fewer nights, finding a cheaper hotel, or lucking out on a future airfare sale. And even if you do go over budget a bit, you're still going to get a complete vacation at a good value.
Finding accommodations on and around St. Thomas
Located on laid-back Water Island, a short ferry ride from St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands Campground just might be the most unique steal in the USVI. Not only will your costs be low, but so will your environmental impact, since each wood-frame, canvas-covered cabin blends with its natural surroundings and draws its electricity from wind power.
Rooms cost $75 per night if you stay for five or more nights, or $100 per night for three or four nights. You'll get the best value by staying five, which actually works out to be cheaper than four, coming to just $405 (including an eight percent tax of $30), or $202.50 total per person if you share a room.
I haven't stayed at the campground, so I can't speak from personal experience. However, it comes highly rated on TripAdvisor, especially by people who aren't into the glitz and glam of mega resorts. And although it's out of the fray, those who come will still have easy access to sandy beaches, snorkeling, and unusual local food vendors like the floating stand, Da Pizza Boat. Sounds intriguing, doesn't it?
However, let's not get ahead of ourselves, as I need to go over a few logistics first. To get to the island you'll need to take the Water Island Ferry, which departs from Crown Bay Marina, just a short taxi ride from the airport. Campground owner Deborah Quade told me the ferry costs $9 round-trip per person and that you can get a taxi for about $25 (or $12.50 per person). By that estimation, the total for airport transfers comes to just $21.50.
$202.50 (accommodations) + $21.50 (airport transfer) + $269 (airfare from Boston) = $493
If the campground is too rustic for your tastes, consider one of the resorts participating in the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism's Sizzling Summer Sampler hotel promotion. You'll get five nights for the price of four, a $50 or $100 resort credit, a $50 gift card, and up to $200 in savings on activities. Due to taxes and fees, it won't fit perfectly within the budget, but it'll get you close with all the value-added extras.
Reservations open up on April 15 for travel between May 1 and October 31, and you can book through a variety of websites like Bookit, CheapCaribbean.com, Vacation Outlet, Travelocity, and TNT Vacations.
Unfortunately, my analysis is more hypothetical since bookings aren't open yet; however, at press time, Bookit had rates for $145 (plus $23.20 in taxes and fees) per night at the Sapphire Village Resort. If these prices hold true at the time of the promotion, five nights (including one free night) come to $713.40. Subtract the $100 resort credit to get $613.40 total, or $306.70 per person. With $222 airfare from Miami, you'd go over by $28.70. It's not perfect but is still a good value. Plus, the gift card and activities savings are a boon, if available.
Have more to add? Email me your favorite money-saving tips for St. Thomas, and I might publish them in a future article. Or, feel free to comment or suggest a new Escapes Under $500 destination.
Editor's Note: SmarterTravel.com is published by Smarter Travel Media LLC, a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network.
All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.