What’s the best island for a destination wedding?
Why did you decide to have a destination wedding? Beautiful location? Easy and stress-free planning? Intimate experience? Fun adventure? Affordable wedding? These are all great reasons.
BUT WITH THE WORLD AS YOUR OPTION, HOW ON EARTH DO YOU PICK A LOCATION?
Well, as usually as is the case with all things wedding related, I’ve got the answer for you!
The US Virgin Islands – specifically the islands of St. Thomas & St. John.
IN THIS ARTICLE, I’M GOING TO SHARE WITH YOU WHY ST. THOMAS & ST. JOHN ARE THE BEST ISLANDS FOR A DESTINATION WEDDING IN THE CARIBBEAN AND POSSIBLY THE WORLD.
WARNING: This is going to be a long one, but I think you’ll be happy you stuck with me to the end.
- Essential things to know about the islands – A little history, geographic information, and fun facts about the islands.
- How to get here & where to stay – More information on flying and cruising to the islands; and tips on how to get around the island and choosing between staying at a hotel or vacation villa.
- About Wedding Planning in the Virgin Islands – why my islands are the best choice for your wedding, including when to travel.
- What to do in St. Thomas & St. John (other than getting married of course) – My top ten list of things to do during your built-in honeymoon.
Essential Things to Know About the Islands
St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island are geographically close to one another and traveling between islands takes 20 minutes by ferry. Blue Sky Ceremony offers wedding services on all three islands.
Before I get going, let me answer two important questions:
Is a wedding in St. Thomas/St. John Legal?
Do we need a passport to get to St. Thomas/St. John?
A Little History Of the Virgin Islands
Now I’m about to drop a little history…and while I admit this has almost nothing to do with weddings, I love the history of our little islands! And if you ever find yourself on Jeopardy, you’ll be glad to know all of this:
Originally a Danish outpost in the early days of exploration and piracy, the Virgin Islands for a big pile of gold ($25 million). I always imagine a bunch of guys around a table. And then someone throws a bunch of gold bars, and then they all smoke cigars.
Around the time of World War I, the Virgin Islands were considered a military asset and outpost for guarding against enemies trying to attack the US from the Caribbean Sea. (Or maybe they secretly knew that one day, the most beautiful weddings in the world would be hosted here!)
That momentous day when the Virgin Islands became US Territories is now celebrated by locals during their day of independence, known as “Transfer Day”. It’s also a great reason to give everyone a day off from school and work. (Except for me, if your wedding is on Transfer Day.)
Reflecting the islands’ Danish roots, when visiting historic districts, you’ll find the architecture is distinct and beautiful dating back hundreds of years. Most of the street names in downtown Charlotte Amalie (the capital of St. Thomas) are completely unpronounceable (Kronprindensens, Wimmelskafts or
The few street signs all have the word “Gade” after the name which is Danish for “street”. Everyone (even locals) in St. Thomas will tell you that it should be pronounced “Gada” (rhymes with Prada), but I have it on good authority that the true Danish pronunciation sounds like “Ge-
Regardless, the only thing you need to know is that it’s definitely not “Gade” (rhymes with shade).
Among the beautiful historical buildings in downtown Charlotte Amalie, you’ll find streets and alleys that lend themselves to strolling and exploring.
Most of the streets are filled with shop after shop. When I’m downtown, I try to ignore the shops and soak up the history a little…but eventually, I do get sucked into a jewelry store or two.
Heading downtown to the historic district is one of my favorite things to do with couples after the wedding. The buildings make the perfect backdrop for off-the-beach couple’s portraits.
“The Rock” and “Love City”
St. Thomas is known as “Rock City” or “The Rock”. And that’s because it’s a large chunk of rock, floating in the sea. Don’t worry, they tie the islands down at night so they won’t float away. The terrain is made up of hills and small mountains, so it’s not the most pedestrian-friendly locale.
St. Thomas is 31 square miles (about the size of Manhattan) with only 55,000 full-time residents. There can be up to 20,000 “temporary residents” on busy cruise ship days, as cruise ship passengers come ashore.
St. Thomas is located at Latitude 18. You’ll see a lot of souvenirs and gifts that reference Latitude 18…and now you know why.
Just a few miles to the east of St. Thomas, St. John is known as “Love City”. And that’s because…I have no idea.
St. John is largely undeveloped, covered mostly in
At 20 square miles, St. John is smaller than St. Thomas and has less than 10,000 full-time residents. And because of most the island is National Park, the island seems untamed, rugged, and secluded.
If you’re into hiking and exploring, there are numerous trails and off-the-beaten-path beaches to discover.
A Word of Caution: Before you start dropping names like a boss – I’ve never heard “Small City” before in my life. Just call it Water Island.
And if you’re keeping track, even smaller than St. John is Water Island. Dr. Google just informed me that Water Island is sometimes referred to as “Small City.” It’s only 500 acres with a population of 182 souls as of the last census.
Water Island has one notable beach with a couple of beach bars if you want to spend the day there. Transportation is limited to golf carts which you can rent and explore the island if you wish.
HOW TO GET TO THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
BY AIR – Flying to St. Thomas/St. John
There’s no airport on St. John (or Water Island), so if you’re flying in, you’ll fly into the Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas (Airport Code STT). It’s a tiny airport but several major carriers come through including United, American and Jet Blue.
If you have the chance to connect through on regional carrier Cape Air, you’ll get a great view of the islands and clear waters of the Caribbean. They operate small prop planes and run flights between Puerto Rico and St. Thomas. They also service the Northeast and Cape Cod…hence the name.
As a reminder, there’s no passport required for US citizens for travel from the mainland to the US Virgin Islands.
If your destination is St. Thomas, then you’re just a short taxi ride away from your hotel or villa; and only 10 minutes from the courthouse if you’re doing your marriage license here. There are plenty of taxis and a dispatcher waiting as you walk out of the airport. You can also hire a private taxi or have a limousine waiting for you when you arrive.
If your wedding is on St. John or Water Island, you’ll have a quick drive to the ferry dock and then a short ferry ride to either island. Ferries to St. John leave St. Thomas every hour from Red Hook and more sporadically from downtown Charlotte Amalie. The Water Island ferry is more sporadic, but you can see the ferry schedules here.
BY SEA – Cruising to St. Thomas/St. John
St. Thomas is a bit of a cruise ship mecca. I don’t have official numbers, but I’m guessing it’s one of the most popular islands in the Caribbean for cruise ships. St. Thomas loves cruise ships so much, it has 2 separate docks to accommodate up to 6 ships on a given day. And sometimes even more anchored in the harbor.
The two docks, West Indian Co. and Crown Bay, are within 10 minutes of each other (and with downtown Charlotte Amalie and the courthouse right in between them). There are taxis lined up as you get off the ship but I recommend pre-booking your ride to your wedding ceremony so you don’t have to wait in the dispatch line or have to ride share.
Important note about coming via cruise ship:
The Virgin Islands are in the Atlantic Time Zone and we are too cool for daylight savings time.
Why does this matter? Almost every ship departing from the US mainland operates on Eastern Standard Time throughout the cruise – so you don’t have to change your clocks again after flying to the east coast.
In the summer months (once you have sprung forward), this won’t matter. Eastern Time and Atlantic time will be the same.
But in the fall and winter months (when you’ve fallen back), that’s another story. We’ll be 1 hour ahead of eastern time, so when arriving in port, you’ll need to ensure that you and your guests are operating on “St. Thomas Time” or Atlantic Standard Time.
WHERE TO STAY ON ST. THOMAS/ST. JOHN
For those of you flying into the islands, you’ll need somewhere to lay your head. Before we start to talk about where that might be, I want to first tell you that St. Thomas and St. John
Our islands are small. St. Thomas is only 13 miles long. So rarely are car rides more than 15 minutes to get anywhere.
There are many hotel and accommodation options. You can go for the mega-resort experience at hotels such as the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef on St. Thomas or the Westin on St. John. If you’re looking for a luxury resort, check out the Ritz-Carlton on St. Thomas or Caneel Bay on St. John. There are also several small boutique properties on both islands. The best way to check out resort options and pricing for hotel rooms is to do a little research on orbitz.com.
Now that we’ve covered hotels, I’ll let you in on a secret. As you know, the islands are small and easy to get around. If you want the most bang for your buck, check out vrbo.com. There are literally hundreds of condos and vacation villa rentals available.
To see everything that St. Thomas and St. John have to offer, check out VRBO.com.
You’ll find awesome, beachfront studio, one, two and three bedroom condos at properties that have amenities like pools and multiple restaurants. One of my favorite locations is Sapphire beach.
At Sapphire Beach, there are 4 distinct condo properties at varying price points, all just steps from the beach with amazing views.
If you have a bigger group, there are also several vacation rental homes available, some oceanfront, some with sweeping hilltop views, and most with a glorious infinity edge pool. I’ve found that staying at a villa with family is a great idea for a few reasons:
- You get to spend more time with your guests. In a hotel, you’ll most likely be on different floors or even in different buildings. So getting everyone together can be difficult.
- In most cases, a vacation villa is more affordable than a hotel.
- Having your own kitchen means you won’t have to eat out for every meal. (My husband can last an entire day on a gallon of milk and a couple of boxes of cereal.)
- Privacy. A private pool. A private estate. All to yourself. No sharing with 300 strangers.
- And the best reason – there are quite a few villas that allow weddings and events on property. There’s the convenience of not having to travel all over the island on your wedding day. Oh, and at a villa, you’re not subject to buy out fees and venue fees!
Not only are these three villas absolutely beautiful and an amazing option for your vacation stay, they are also great choices to host your destination wedding.
When you get here: A few pieces of advice, some wisdom, and a little inside information from a local:
- Virgin Islanders typically greet each other and strangers with “Good Morning,” “Good Afternoon,” and “Good Night”. Always do this, everywhere you go, and to anyone you meet.
- Our time zone is the Atlantic time zone. We’re an hour ahead in the winter but because we don’t adjust for Daylight Savings Time. During the summer months, we are the same time (just not the same time zone technically) as Eastern Time. This won’t be a problem unless you’re coming in via cruise ship.
- We drive on the left, but the steering while is on the left, like cars in the states. Don’t worry, it’s easy to drive, just follow the car in front of you.
- When driving, two quick honks mean “thank you”, “go ahead” and sometimes”hello.” So if you let someone pass at an intersection, don’t get bristled when they say “thank you”.
- We’re a duty-free port. US residents traveling back to the mainland are allowed at $1,600 personal duty-free exemption. That means you don’t pay any duty (tariff or tax) on $1,600 worth of goods on the way back home. You can also carry 5 bottles of liquor and a bonus 6th (if it is made in the VI – like our Cruzan Rum). And don’t forget, if it’s made in the USA, it is considered US/AGR (US/America Goods Returning) and it doesn’t count against your duty exemptions.
- You may see a chicken or two wandering the streets and guess that they’re tropical free-range chickens. They aren’t…they’re tough, not very meaty, and surprisingly difficult to catch. Where they come from is a story for a different time…
- Taxi fares are charged per person, and yes, it’s OK to ignore the taxi drivers if you aren’t headed back to the ship or your hotel/villa…you’ll see what I mean soon enough.
- Save your swimwear for the beach. It’s considered taboo to wear your bathing suit while shopping or dining (unless you’re at a beach bar). Now you might see others walking down Main Street barely clothed. But don’t you do it because us locals will talk about you.
- Use sunscreen. Even when it’s overcast. And don’t forget to reapply. The Caribbean sun is unforgiving.
Destination Wedding Planning in St. Thomas and St. John, Virgin Islands
So now, let’s talk about having a destination wedding.
A wedding in the Caribbean is a dream come true for many. And although you now know a bit about the islands, you might still be wondering whether or not a destination wedding is right for you.
For some couple’s, the answer is an automatic yes.
Some couples choose a destination wedding because of the location is significant to them – it’s where they fell in love or got engaged. For others, a destination wedding appeals to their love of travel and far away places.
And then there are some couples who are stressed out of their minds about planning a wedding at home, so they decide to run away and do something fun and easy.
Here are my top reasons why I recommend having a destination wedding:
01. A Unique Experience
I always tell my clients that there are no rules for destination weddings – other than that you must be sure to say “I Do” when the time comes.
When planning a destination wedding, you can get creative – exchange vows on a beach, a sailboat, in sugar mill ruins or at a million dollar villa. You can have a religious ceremony in a Caribbean church followed by a breakfast celebration or a beach party and BBQ.
Note: Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day; my food o choice is slightly-burnt waffles with real maple syrup.
Even if your wedding vision is traditional, a destination wedding in the islands will be unlike any other wedding you’ve ever seen.
02. It’s a Once-in-a-Lifetime Reunion
Spending a vacation with family and friends offers a lot of one-on-one time with all of your guests.
Imagine having close friends and family from each stage of your life in one magical place for the purpose of celebrating you and your love. Whether they are coming from around the country, or even the globe, your wedding will not only be a vacation but a once in a lifetime opportunity to reunite with those that matter most.
This is one of my favorite things about destination weddings!
For me personally, every time I attend a wedding for one of my friends, I am going to a destination wedding.
You see, traveling from the islands to my friends’ weddings in the mainland US is like traveling somewhere exotic to me (even Milwaukee, Wisconsin). I’ve gotten to enjoy some fantastic and delicious locations. Locations with stores like Target and Whole Foods. And they have these places called “malls” where there are literally hundreds of stores that sell everything my heart desires.
But in reality, when I’ve attended weddings for friends, I travel, but these aren’t true destination weddings for the couple or the other guests. The bride, the groom and most of the guests are local to the area, and somehow I don’t get to see the couple, except
That is not the case with a true destination wedding. They tend to last a few days, giving you and your fiance plenty of time to just hang out and really celebrate with your loved ones.
03. They’re Cost-Effective
That isn’t to say that a destination wedding will cost pennies on the dollar compared to a traditional wedding at home, BUT as the guest list shrinks, so will your costs. And you get a lot more value for your $$$. (For example, if you had to pay $3,000 for your venue at your local party center vs. $3,000 for a venue that overlooks the Caribbean Sea.)
You also have the chance to have a non-traditional wedding without the pressure of doing things the ‘right’ way. I’ve never had a guest complain that a couple chose to have a snorkel sail instead of a traditional wedding rehearsal dinner. The usual response to any activity is “Wait? What? Whoo-hoo!” Seriously, who wouldn’t love celebrating with you on your wedding day on a gorgeous beach and then getting to actually swim in that crystal-clear, blue water?
04. You’ve Got a Built-in Honeymoon. Did you know that something like 90% of couples
05. Destination Weddings Are Easy!
We’ll work together to design the perfect day for you whether it’s a traditional wedding, elopement, cruise ship wedding or vow renewal. And to make it even easier, be sure to check out these insider tips for planning a destination wedding, to get you started.
06. We’ll Be Friends!
When you hire me to plan your wedding, I’ll be with you every step of the way – walking you through the planning process and make it all so easy for you.
And if you need more convincing:
these are My reasons why the Virgin Islands is the greatest location – ever – for a destination wedding:
// 01. – It’s Hassle-Free. St. Thomas and St. John are easy to get to. You have a ton of options for cruises, hotels, and accommodations. The marriage licensing process is incredibly simple. And your marriage will be recognized the same as if it were performed in any of the 50 states. There is NO PASSPORT REQUIRED for US citizens to travel here.
// 02. –It’s Gorgeous. Not all Caribbean beaches are the same. White powdery sand, crystal clear, calm blue water. Yes, it really does look like the pictures.
// 03. –Lots of Options at Many Price Points. Remember when I shared my favorite places to stay earlier? Most guests at my weddings don’t want to stay at an all-inclusive resort. They’re expensive and in a way, requiring guests to stay at a specific resort kind of hijacks their vacation. Because there are so many options, and because everything is so close, St. Thomas and St. John are the #1 Caribbean travel destination for Americans.
// 04. –There’s Something for Everyone. There are tons of things to do on vacation here.
Things to Do in St. Thomas and St. John
Curious about what you might do on your Virgin Islands Vacation? While you’re down here, make sure you take advantage of everything there is to do and explore in the Virgin Islands.
// 01. –Get Married of Course!!! But when you’re not at the wedding, you’re on vacation, on a tropical island. It’s paradise.
// 02. –The Beach and Water Activities. Most of the things to do when in St. Thomas and St. John center around being at the beach or the water. There are so many beautiful beaches to visit and enjoy. And while you won’t run out of beaches, even if you visit two per day, I recommend spending at least one day out on the water for a sailing tour, snorkel tour or powerboat adventure.
// 03. –Be on Vacation. There are tons of sites to see, but you didn’t come to a Caribbean island for a fast paced vacation. Take the time to relax. Get a massage. Find a shady spot by the pool, or even better, on the beach and grab a nap. Then have a fantastic dinner at an amazing restaurant.
// 04. –Go Adventuring. I know I just said to relax and nap, but come on, you’re on vacation and who knows when you’ll make it back. Let’s make the most of it. Go hiking in the National Park on St. John, take a zip line canopy tour on St. Thomas, go horseback riding, or try to survive the Devil’s Triangle at Mahogany Run Golf Course.
So there you go, the decision has been made, you’re getting married in the Virgin Islands…what next?
It’s time to send me a note to start the planning process! If you’re planning a traditional destination wedding, elopement, cruise ship wedding or vow renewal, the first thing you should do is call 340-642-0195 or contact me to get started.