Why I Chose the US Virgin Islands As My First Destination After Coronavirus Restrictions Started to Lift
A traveler reveals what her first trip in months — to St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands — was really like, from start to finish.
Editor’s Note: As travel begins to reopen, it's important to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 before you go — and to consider your own health conditions and comfort levels.
By now, we’re all acquainted with cabin fever, though the severity of our cases may vary.
My husband and I have been on the stay-at-home train since February, minus a work trip to the Cayman Islands during the first week of March, when we got a lot of strange looks for being the only people in the airport wearing masks. Recently, two events synchronized to create the perfect excuse to finally break out of our quarantine bubble and hop on a plane again: the official reopening of the U.S. Virgin Islands (June 1) and our anniversary (June 7).
Instrumental in our decision to travel was our health and our willingness to take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves and others. In addition, the USVIs were not a COVID-19 hot spot: According to the Virgin Islands Department of Health, they’ve had 72 confirmed cases with 64 recoveries, six deaths, and two active.
A trip to St. Croix was exactly what we needed after three months of our “new normal,” but getting there wasn’t without its challenges. Flight schedules were limited, and booking last-minute meant the few flights to the U.S. Virgin Islands were at capacity (and expensive).
Booking a flight felt like day trading: Because it was only jetting once per day, and oversold, our ideal direct flight from MIA to STX kept disappearing and reappearing from Skyscanner and Google Flights on a minute-by-minute basis. For days, I regularly hit refresh, hoping to see the flight become available again. Finally, on June 2, just before we threw in the towel, two seats opened up and I booked before even looking at the date to realize they were for June 4, a day earlier than we planned to leave. Undeterred, we started packing.
Oddly enough, the airport experience at MIA was unchanged — aside from deserted terminals, closed stores, and most everyone in masks. TSA PreCheck was more of a breeze than usual since we were the only ones in the security line.
Upon boarding, I was dismayed to see that every seat on our flight was occupied — no roomy, socially distant open-middle-seat policy for American Airlines. However, every passenger is required to wear a proper facial covering, and cart service is replaced by delivery of a paper bag containing a bottle of water, granola bar, and individual serving of Purell.
Upon landing, we were greeted by PPE-clad members of the National Guard, who aimed contactless infrared thermometers at our foreheads. After confirming that our temperatures proved us fever-free, we moved on to the next stage: sending our bags through a U.S. Customs and Border Protection van equipped with some sort of sanitization equipment. Once our bags emerged on the other side, we were free to explore.
Check-in procedures at SandCastle on the Beach were strict, which was reassuring. We received another temperature check and our luggage was sprayed with sanitizer. Our welcome drink — a Caribbean check-in standard — was provided in the form of individual ingredients to stir together ourselves.
Island-wide, the policy is “no mask = no service.” Our hotel took safety a step further by limiting check-ins to one party at the front desk at a time, plus requiring masks everywhere on property, save for the pool, ocean, and upon sitting down to dine at their beachfront restaurant, Beach Side Café.
In our room, high-touch items such as the coffee pot had been removed (but could be replaced upon request), and our room had been disinfected with an ozone air purifier. The usual continental breakfast provided with our stay was instead a selection of grab-and-go items and Keurig coffee pods.
Just like on the mainland, some businesses are closed or operating on reduced hours, but there’s still ample opportunity for fun. We were clad in masks throughout our trip, sure, but we made the most of it: we rented scuba gear from Adventures in Diving STX and dove the Frederiksted Pier; took a kite surfing lesson from Leading Edge Kite School; drove the perimeter of the 28-mile island; snapped a photo at Point Udall, the easternmost point of the United States; sipped our fill of poolside Cruzan Confusions; and relaxed on the beach with a hearty dose of Vitamin D.
While COVID-19 protocols do alter the travel experience, they can’t detract from the rapturous pleasure of exploring someplace new — the joy of leaving behind the familiar, if only for a time.