disability cruising, Handicap, Traveling with disabilities

Disabled Cruisers Guide to Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas

Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas

The disabled cruiser visiting St Thomas will enjoy the fact that there is a wheelchair accessible exit to the St. Thomas cruise port. Charlotte Amalie, and most of the tourist areas of the town is flat, some areas away from the tourist areas are hilly.  There are numerous accessible shops in Charlotte Amalie, although most shops have steps to enter them.

Some of the best accessible beaches, snorkeling, and scuba options in the Caribbean are in St Thomas. Because of limited staff and accessible equipment to assist disabled visitors, make sure to book your accessible St. Thomas shore excursion far in advance.

St Thomas is one of the best Caribbean islands that offers numerous accessible activities for the Disabled Cruiser. It has accessible van transportation to get around the island and it has good accessibility features like sidewalk ramps, flat town centers, and accessible beach and water activities. However, St. Thomas has some of the worst taxis for disabled visitors. The vast majority of taxis are large trucks (mainly F-350 and F-450) with large boxes containing rows of open-air seats welded onto the back. The back seats are very high off the ground and extremely difficult for wheelchair users to transfer into. If you are fortunate enough to find a closed vehicle, odds are that it will be a full-size van that is also high off the ground.

Traveling from the cruise dock to the main town of Charlotte Amalie involves proceeding 1.5 miles, which for most Disabled Cruisers, this may be too far to go on foot, wheelchair, or mobility scooter. If you do decide to walk/roll, be sure to stay on the ocean-side of the street. Another downside of St Thomas is there are no beaches within walking/rolling distance of the cruise terminal and the island is not flat. As you travel away from the city center, you will encounter steep hills.

Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas

Charlotte Amalie is the capital of St Thomas, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, located in the eastern Caribbean.

Within walking distance from the Havensight Pier is the Yacht Haven Grande Marina, turn left from the ship and follow the dock around the harbor.

Fort Christian (on the waterfront, across from Vendor’s Plaza), is a national historic landmark that dates back to the 17th century. Haagensen House, an 1820s townhouse is a museum and garden with a great gift shop selling antiques.

Coral World (located a taxi ride away at Coki Beach) is a 4½ acre marine park with an underwater observatory with 360 degree views of fish and other sea creatures.

Magens Bay beach is a 20 minute taxi ride from the dock, it has a bar, cafe and shop. A small admission fee is charged.

Where You’re Docked

Depending on your cruise line and the time of year, your ship will dock at Havensight Pier, the primary dock for cruise ships, or Crown Bay. Each terminal is about a five- to 10-minute taxi ride to downtown Charlotte Amalie. If more than six ships call on St. Thomas in one day, your ship could be anchored in the harbor; the tenders will drop you in the heart of Charlotte Amalie.

The dock at Havensight, in essence, is a mini-downtown. You’ll find more than 50 shops, many of which are outposts of Charlotte Amalie’s better-known boutiques, such as A.H. Riise and H. Stern. Also within the expansive Havensight Mall, you’ll find a post office, ATMs for Bank of Nova Scotia and First Bank and Havensight Pharmacy. Depending on your plan, your American cellphone might work in St. Thomas without roaming charges.

Across the main drag running outside Havensight’s facility are convenience stores, coffee shops and museums. The Yacht Haven Grande Marina also is within walking distance of the Havensight Pier. When you exit your ship, turn left and follow the dock around the harbor. It’s the first genuinely upscale shopping and dining area, featuring restaurants and shops, such as Coach, bebe, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. (Note: These are not duty-free.)

Crown Bay, on the other side, features a recreated stone sugar mill in honor of the island’s plantation era. Crown Bay Center businesses include jewelry, clothing and liquor stores, Passengers whose ships are docked in Crown Bay have more limited options nearby than those docked at Havensight. The Crown Bay Marina has a branch of Gourmet Gallery (and the ferry to Water Island leaves from there). Tickles is a charming waterside pub at the marina with nautical decor (open 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily).

You’ll need to head downtown for serious shopping and dining.

Good to Know

Adventurous types should be hesitant when wandering off the beaten path in Charlotte Amalie; crime can be an issue. Also, though most ships will dock mid-week, with Wednesdays in high season accommodating up to six ships in port at the same time, if you find yourself in St. Thomas on a Sunday, you might discover that many of the shops are closed. Our advice? Head to the beach.

Getting Around

By Foot: Where you’re docked is likely close to downtown, and only a few steps to explore the shops and eateries of Yacht Haven and other complexes around Charlotte Amalie. A new pedestrian center is in the works so walking around town and browsing is even more cruiser-friendly. However, if you want to head to the beach or get to other major attractions, you’ll need a ride.

By Taxi: Though they exist, individual “cabs” are unusual. In most cases, you’ll be shepherded to a van or safari truck that’s heading to the vicinity of your destination; and might make multiple stops on the way as locals ask the driver to let them off. You’ll pay a set price per person. Taxi drivers like to load up as many people as possible and travel to on-the-beaten-path tourist sites. If you want to veer off that path, you might have trouble finding a driver to take you. For the Disabled Cruiser, in addition to the poor accessibility of the taxis, the services themselves aren’t very good. Taxis charge on a per person basis, so the driver may make you wait while he tries to round up other passengers and you may waste some time while the driver detours to drop off the other passengers. 

By Car: At the cruise ship dock, the rental car agencies have outposts; reservations are recommended. Remember, drive on the left. It takes a little while to get the hang of it. Also, hand use of cellphones while driving is against the law.

Shopping

Duty-free shopping in Charlotte Amalie is an easily walkable mecca. Stores are primarily located on Veterans Drive and, running parallel behind it, Main Street. Barkers occasionally attempt to beckon you into shops (they’re paid each day based on the store’s sales), but are generally less intrusive than in other Caribbean ports. While St. Thomas enjoys a reputation as a duty-free paradise, it’s not quite the bargain it used to be. So, it pays to comparison shop. 

Highlights include A.H. Riise, a variety of boutiques selling high-end perfumes, jewelry, antique maps and liquor (they’ll deliver your bottles to your ship on request); all in an elegant setting. Down Island Traders specializes in Caribbean-made or produced foodstuffs, such as spices, out-of-this-world rum cakes, hot sauces and jams, in addition to regional crafts. Del Sol offers T-shirts, hair clips, sunglasses and cosmetics, such as 20 varieties of nail polish that transform into bursts of color when exposed to the sun.

The most interesting shops for quality art and crafts are located outside downtown. Must-visits for aficionados include Mango Tango, which has the island’s best selection of original art as well as gorgeous teakwood furnishings; and a humidor with a wide variety of cigars. 

Also, check out elegant boutiques for apparel; Nicole Miller and Tommy Hilfiger are among the well-known names with shops downtown. Other fashion finds include Local Color for great casual cotton dresses and the Bambini Art Gallery for all kinds of pop art.

Otherwise, price shop at so-called “bargain” shops like Perfume Palace, Royal Caribbean (electronics and jewelry), Diamonds International (jewelry) and Little Switzerland (imported china, crystal and jewelry). At Vendors’ Plaza, locals hawk straw hats, tropical-print sundresses and T-shirts.

Rum cakes and rum balls made with Cruzan rum (produced on neighboring St. Croix) are popular edible treats that can be found in many souvenir shops.

St. Thomas features a wide variety of restaurants and beach bars. Most cater to American tastes, but you can find one or two spots that have a more authentic Caribbean flavor, such as Crabbe’s and Gladys’. As in St. John, fine dining can be a little hard to come by at lunch during weekends. The same classic tipple — the bushwacker, a frozen concoction of creamy liquors — is also popular here. Get yours at the Drunken Clam.

Points of Interest

  • Magens Bay – One of the world’s best beaches as selected by “National Geographic” magazine. For the Disabled Cruiser there is wheelchair access across the beach to the water. There are ramps to washrooms and restaurant and they even have a beach wheelchair available.
  • Outdoor Adventure – Nature lovers and thrill seekers will enjoy St. Thomas’s diverse landscapes, which offer a variety of outdoor adventures – from zipline, kayaking down a underwater scooter excursion.
  • Coral World – This 4.5-acre marine park offers an underwater observatory with 360-degree views of fish and other sea creatures, and the opportunity to pet sharks and hand feed stingrays. The Disabled Cruiser visiting the park will discover that the park is wheelchair accessible except for the Nature Trail and the bottom two levels of the Observation Tower.
  • Mountain Top – This totally rebuilt mecca on top of a mountain, features souvenir shopping and excellent views of St. Thomas and its neighboring islands. It is considered to be the birthplace of the banana daiquiri. For the Disabled Cruiser, they have a wheelchair lift down to the deck.
  • Skyride to Paradise Point – The St. Thomas Skyride to Paradise Point, a modern aerial cable car, offers the best sightseeing in the Virgin Islands. Skyride for an eight minute ride to the top, located 700 feet above sea level, where on your own, you’ll enjoy boutiques, a bar featuring the famous Bushwhacker drink, a grill for lunch and spectacular views of cruise ships. For the Disabled Cruiser it is difficult for someone with a wheelchair. You need to get out of the wheelchair to get into the gondola. According to the owner of the Skyride, wheelchair users should board the ride at the top of the lift. They have a pulse system (as a ski lift has) it slows down but does not stop. They have their guys stop the ski lift manually to allow a 360 degree ride . There is a full ramp (with no steps) at the top . They allow the person in a wheel chair to ride free from the top on the 360 ride.
  • St. John – The smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands is only a 30-minute ferry ride away. Two thirds of the island is a national park. Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins and Trunk Bay are two favorite sights.
  • Snorkeling & Diving – The island’s underwater world is beautifully unveiled to both snorkelers and divers, exhibiting sunken boat wrecks, breathtaking coral reefs and a colorful spectrum of marine life. There are accessible beaches for the Disabled Cruiser in St Thomas. Due to the limited availability of accessible guides and equipment, it is best to book an accessible excursion ahead of time.  
  • Downtown Charlotte Amalie – Downtown Charlotte Amalie offers an impressive array of shops catering to cruise ship passengers. For the Disabled Cruiser, the downtown area has good accessibility features like sidewalk ramps, flat town centers, however there are some areas that have sidewalk steps and areas where St. Thomas wheelchair access is poor in Charlotte Amalie.

St Thomas Accessible Excursions

St. Thomas is one of the most popular Caribbean destinations for disabled and senior vacationers. The island has a broad range of things to see and do; lounge on the beach, splash in the sea, go scuba diving, sightseeing, shopping or enjoy some delicious island food. 

St Thomas Accessible Island Driving Tour

This 4 hour accessible Island Driving Tour begins when you are greeted by your private driver/guide at the cruise dock in a comfortable, air-conditioned accessible van that can accommodate a manual wheelchair, an electric wheelchair, or a mobility scooter. 

The Tour includes:

  • Private guide/driver
  • Guide/Driver familiar with the needs of disabled travelers
  • Accessible van transportation
  • Accessible step free routes
  • A one of a kind opportunity
  • Great photo opportunities

St. Thomas Wheelchair Accessible Beach Excursion

The 8 hour St. Thomas Wheelchair Accessible Beach Excursion is the perfect excursion for people with limited mobility that wish to spend a day in the warm Caribbean sun. You’ll have access to a beach wheelchair and snorkeling equipment. The coral reef and sea life are located within easy swimming distance of the uncrowded beach and the clear and calm Caribbean water.

The Tour includes:

  • Full-day visit to a wheelchair accessible beach. Beach wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Snorkeling equipment can be reserved for you (mask, snorkel, fins)
  • Coral reef and sea life located within each swimming distance of the beach
  • Optional lunch at a restaurant overlooking the beach 
  • Round-trip transportation in wheelchair accessible van.
  • A one of a kind experience
  • Great photo opportunities

Best of St. Thomas Accessible Shore Excursion

This 8 hour Best of St. Thomas Accessible Shore Excursion begins when you are greeted by your private driver/guide at the cruise dock in a comfortable, air-conditioned accessible van that can accommodate a manual wheelchair, an electric wheelchair, or a mobility scooter. 

The Tour includes:

  • Private guide/driver
  • Guide/Driver familiar with the needs of disabled travelers
  • Accessible van transportation
  • Accessible step free routes
  • Great photo opportunities
  • Visit to accessible beach
  • Beach wheelchair and snorkeling equipment included
  • Optional lunch overlooking the water
  • Local shopping
  • Guided tour of Charlotte Amailie, the capital of St. Thomas.

For St Thomas Accessible Excursions please click here.

Disability-Cruising.com

cjlphotos.com

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