Scouting the…US Virgin Islands?

Last December, I wrote about a subway train American Airlines had decked out in beautiful travel photography. The post was pretty popular (apparently finding its way onto some pilots private message board that drove in TONS of traffic – wish I had a log-in so I knew what they were saying!), and a short time later, I got a letter from American Airlines asking for my address. I sent it to them and forgot about it.

A few months later, I was going through a stack of junk mail and noticed a letter with an American Airlines return address. Assuming it was just an ad about frequent flier miles, I was on the verge of throwing it out when I remembered giving them my address. I opened it up…and there were two free plane ticket vouchers inside, along with a very nice letter thanking me for writing about their subway train! Awesome!

Virgin Islands - Virgin Gorda

The tickets are good for the US48, Mexico, and the US Virgin Islands, and  my girlfriend and I have decided to go to the Virgin Islands. I swear, every trip we’ve ever gone on has been the historical/cultural sort of thing, where you’re always on the go and you get home needing a vacation from your vacation. It’ll be great to just relax and take it easy for once…

So to any of you out there that have been, can you give us any recommendations? Which island is the best to stay on, any good hotels, favorite places to go, things to do, etc.? Any advice you could leave  in the comments would be much appreciated!

And a really big thank you to American Airlines. It really made my day getting a surprise like that in the mail for just doing what I do.


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  1. Hi Scout,

    I’ve been living in the US Virgin Islands for 15 years after moving here from Philadelphia. I know all the best places and can give you some really good recommendations. I also book crewed charter yacht vacations – which are the best way to see ALL of the islands in a week on your own private yacht (cost is about $5-6000 for that -all inclusive.

    My phone number is 340-774-560 or 340-277-6508 is you need more info

  2. I spent a lot of time in the Virgin Island growing up and I’d say St. John is by far my favorite. Hotels on the island can be pricey, but there are tons and tons of houses/small apartments to rent. If it’s your first time there I’d recommend staying close to Cruz Bay – that way you can walk into town (and happy hour at Woody’s!) easily. It’s also close to where you’d catch a day long boat cruise. Trunk Bay is not to be missed but it’s a tourist destination so find out what day cruise ships are docked on St. Thomas – they’ll bring 800 people at a time to the snorkel trail. My favorite beach is Honeymoon – in Caneel Bay. Very secluded and beautiful (like every beach on the island!) If you’re up for a doing a boat cruise I’d say go to the Baths in the BVI with a stop on the way home to the Soggy Dollar on Jose Van Dyke. I usually don’t eat out much there since we’ve always stayed with a fully equipped kitchen, but The Fish Trap is one of my favorites. There’s some good shopping and some good hiking – a little bit of everything. It’s definitely an easy place to relax! Oh and if you’re more outdoorsy, last month I stayed at the Maho Bay Campground. Definitely not luxurious, but a wonderful place to stay – a little bit of a hike but they have a wonderful restaurant at the camp. Enjoy!

  3. The Virgin Island are not so great so I think you should send the tickets to me for disposal.

  4. Congrats on the tix. You should consider returning them. Certainly, you never expected them or asked for them. But it’s the APPEARANCE of an ethical conflict that’s the issue. Next week XYZ Real Estate Corp. will call you and say they have some really interesting architecture you should profile and they’ll pick you up in their towncar and buy you lunch if you want to tour their building(s). Not a big deal, they just want to be nice. And maybe you say no thanks to the car and lunch but write up the tour anyway and then magically two tickets to the Bruce Springsteen concert show up in the mail.
    Not accusing you of any wrongdoing in the least. It’s obvious your Web site/journal is an offshoot of your scouting profession and your honest desire to share your knowledge with the public. It’s why we love it.
    But by accepting the plane tickets you’ve opened up the door to every company seeking some favorable mention on your site.
    It sucks, i know. You probably don’t make a Wall Street salary from your job or the blog, and you could probably use a nice vacation. But ask any underpaid journalist who’s had to turn down tickets to a ball game after writing a decent feature about the owner of a local trucking company. It’s the ethical line that keeps readers’ faith that you and your writing are not just a sly form of advertising.
    Or maybe not. It’s your web site. Certainly, plenty of better trained journalists have/would take the tickets and fly. But i’ll make a donation now to help you continue your good work.

    • Haha, now if I were an underpaid journalist, I might agree with you. But to be clear, I’m not an underpaid journalist. I’m an unpaid guy who does a blog for the fun of it. Literally, I make no money off this website (ads just about cover server space), other than donations for my film which I’m endlessly grateful for.

      Since I started this blog, though, I have never, ever, ever written any post for pay (trust me, it’s been offered), and I never will. Nor will you EVER see a sudden appearance of, say, American Airlines mentions just because I get a pair of free tickets (ha, if American Airlines is expecting a week of posts about the Virgin Islands in which I profusely thank them and give them free plugs, they’re in trouble) simply because a) because I’m not a shill, and b) because every reader I have would lose faith in me for being dishonest and stop reading.

      I’m an honest person. I honestly told you how I’m going to the Virgin Islands instead of slyly writing what a fantastic flight I had on AA, and how amazing the peanuts were, and everyone should exclusively fly AA. And now I will honestly go and enjoy the heck out of this trip!

  5. I have not been there since 1999; but I always preferred St. Croix. The general rule of thumb was to go to the island with the highest crime rate. Local crime is your insurance against cruise ships filled with overweight passengers in matching t-shirts.

    Lighten up Tom. Not sure which rock you just crawled out from under but running a blog is all about the Swagg or the book deal.

  6. Do some (easy) research and pick your island. But definitely take a charter boat and go snorkeling and visit Soggy Dollar on Jost VanDyke. Make sure your camera has waterproof casing or have a couple of zipper bags with you, the only way from the boat to the beach is swimming about 20 yards or so – oh, so worth it! My most treasured visual memories are from that charter trip.
    My only gripe with USVI is that if you’re not willing to pay top $$$ for fancy resort food (on St. John) nor willing to travel for local Caribbean food places, the food kinda sucks.

  7. I always use google’s Cached links to peak inside private message boards. Is this the post you were talking about:

  8. What a pleasant and well-deserved surprise for you, Scout! Good for you–and good for American Airlines, for recognizing that you’d given them a truckload of great free publicity and throwing a nice tip in your jar.

    A work-free, stress-free vacation sounds like just what the doctor ordered: tell us a little about it when you get back so we can bask vicariously in that unknown sensation…

  9. Congrats Scout – I hope you and your girlfriend enjoy your trip. And don’t worry…I will never question your honesty!

  10. Years ago I went on a sailing cruise around the islands, and I loved Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, a ferry ride away from St Thomas. The island wasn’t packed with touristy junk like the US Virgins and there was a great bar/nightclub place at the top of the mountain (don’t remember the name, probably long gone.) Anyway, the vibe on the laid-back BVI may be just what the doctor ordered.

  11. Please consider Tortola and Virgin Gorda!

  12. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer Scout! There is no conflict here, this is pure good public relations. Well done American Airlines.

    Trip is a decent source of information. Have a wonderful, safe trip, wherever you decide on!

    Now I’m going to my blog to write really, really nice things about airlines, hotels and spas.

  13. See Nick, good things do happen to good people. Have a great time. I was only there in the navy so Uncle Sam took care of the accommodations. I would second what Britt said with one caveat. Charlotte Amalie isn’t so bad. THe Greenhouse is a great place for breakfast right on the water in the middle of everything. From there it is a short ferry ride to St John. And after the cruise ships leave you have the island to yourself and the longer stay folks.

  14. Congrats Nick!!!
    I suggest flying into St. Thomas and taking the ferry to St. John (there is not airport there). The island literally looks like the picture from a postcard! There are some interesting celebrity homes on St. John including one that was built by the guy who started White Castle (the house looks like a white castle)

  15. Scout, you deserve those tickets! Enjoy them! 😀

  16. man, no hotels, get on a charter boat and sail around

  17. I’ll add my vote to the others who have suggested BVI… Fly nonstop from JFK to St. Thomas, USVI, ferry over to Tortola. My only caution is that low season starts mid-August and runs thru the end of October. Many bars and restaurants are closed or just barely open during this time of year.

    If you decide to stay in the USVI, definitely go to St. John.

    And as ever, TripAdvisor will help you decide where to stay and what to do!

  18. Use them. The blog is a source of enjoyment to many. Why not have a little fun earned from doing something you love?

    In fact, whay are we having this (one sided) conversation? Get packing! NOW! Move it, move it!! The taxi is on it’s way! hurry hurry hurry…. 🙂

    Enjoy, man.


  19. Scout, you get what you deserve. So, enjoy the hell out of your stay!

  20. My boyfriend and I went to the Virgin Island’s a few years ago and fell in love with the islands. We stayed on St. Thomas at the Sugar Bay Resort and Spa. If there is anything I would recommend it’s to take a ferry to St. John’s and go to Cinnamon Bay. It’s a beautiful park/beach that’s sort of secluded. Also Megan’s Bay on St. Thomas is gorgeous. We also took a quick excursion to the British Virgin Islands. Virgin Gorda has a beautiful spot where you can do some great snorkeling just remember your passport.
    All in all if you like the sea and sand you made a great choice! Have fun!

  21. Tortola – check out the Bomba Shack, especially if you’re there for a full moon (unfortunately I missed the big night, but sounds like quite a scene!) Also Nature Boy’s shack, a walk down the beach from the Long Bay Beach Resort. Literally a shack of a bar with a very friendly and talkative bartender, Nature Boy himself.

    If you can stand waiting a few months, go to Jost Van Dyke for the new year’s eve party at Foxy’s. Sounds a little ridiculous but is actually quite chill and a lot of fun.

    Have fun!

  22. Jude Mermelstein

    Watch out…you may get a 1099 from AA…this “gift” is taxable as income, especially since it’s connected to your business!

  23. Long-time fan of St. John, here. You can’t go wrong on this island. Because so much of the land is preserved in a National Park, you can get a feel for what the islands were like before mass tourism invaded. I second the recommendation of Cinnamon Bay–one of the most spectacular beaches on the island. Since your airfare is covered, I would definitely splurge for a week’s car rental, so that you can see exactly what you want. Be sure to venture to Miss Vi’s on the East End for local cuisine. Sweet Plaintains is also a great restaurant near Coral Bay that blends local and world cuisine. And yes, definitely venture to the BVIs, especially Jost Van Dyke, for some island-hopping. Lots of great snorkeling there and fun beach bars. is a great site for ideas on operators and itineraries. We went snorkeling with Island Roots based in St. John and had a blast. Enjoy your vacation!

  24. St. John. And, if you’re looking for a cheap alternative to the typical hotel scene, check out:

    It’s a campground that has cottages right on the beach. I stayed there when I was 12(?) . . . it’s definitely not classy but it has a very authentic castaway feeling to it.

  25. My favorite place in the US Virgin Islands is Honeymoon Bay. From St. Thomas, it is a 2 1/2 hour catamaran ride (complete with an island lunch and all the rum punch you can handle!), but once you get there…it’s absolutely worth it. Best snorkeling and beach I have yet seen, and I’ve traveled all over the Caribbean.

    Angela 🙂

  26. Hey long time reader first time poster.

    I’m going here on my honeymoon in October, after tons of research we decided on springing on staying at Caneel Bay –

    “On St. Johns nestled within the Virgin Islands National Park. Seven secluded beaches border 170 lush Caribbean acres where rooms have been artfully built to blend into the landscape. The resort remains purposefully absent of modern glitz and digital distractions. A perfect getaway from the furious pace of the world at home.” taken from the website. There’s kayaks and hiking trails populated with wild mongooses and iguanas.

    I live in Brooklyn and I’m a urban large format photographer so this place sounds ideal. You should at least check it out (the beaches are open to anyone) if you stay somewhere else.