I’m Never Getting Off the Ship in St. Thomas Again

I want to preface this blog post with a statement: This is just my opinion, and it’s perfectly okay if you don’t share it. We all have our favorite islands and destinations, and I have mine. Well, from this point forward, St. Thomas isn’t one of them.

A few years ago, my husband and I took our kids, my parents, and my brother to St. Thomas for a week over fall break. We rented condos at a place called Sapphire Beach Resort, and we had a great time for the most part.

But, over the course of a week, I started to become really bothered by what I thought were some pretty outrageous prices on everything from food to excursions. The condos we booked were fairly affordable, but everything else we did set us back a ton of cash.

It all started with our rental car. Sure, I had to rent a minivan because there were seven of us, but it still cost us almost $700 for the week – a lot more than I have paid for rentals on other Caribbean islands. Then, there was the price of food. I distinctly remember paying over $450 for a week’s worth of staples at the local grocery store. A box of cereal was $5-$6, a twelve-pack of Diet Coke was $5.99, and fresh produce was insane.

We also took a ferry ride with our rental car to St. John. The ferry ride was expensive on its own ($50), but getting into Trunk Bay was absurd. If I remember correctly, we paid $30 for entry into the beach, another $30 for three rental chairs, and another $30 – $40 for basic snacks (muffins, bags of chips, soft drinks). To top it all off, the seven of us went out to lunch in St. John on our way back to the ferry and the total for our meal (mostly sandwiches) was $140. It was outrageous, I thought. I mean, heck, kids meals alone were $14.

Recently, on our amazing Caribbean cruise on the MSC Divina, we stopped at St. Thomas. Well, this could be the very last time I visit this island. Here’s why.

Our Day in St. Thomas

Cruising the Caribbean with MSC Cruises was amazing, but my least favorite day of the trip was the day we stopped in St. Thomas – a day that happened to be my 38th birthday. I awoke to an amazing sunset of the balcony of our cruise cabin, but the fun quickly came to a halt when we got off the ship.

My husband said I could do whatever I wanted for my birthday, and I wanted to go to the beach. Since Magens Bay is fairly close to the cruise port (15 minutes), I thought this would be the most affordable option for us.

Boy, was I wrong. The taxi racket in St. Thomas is expensive no matter where you go – especially for a family of four. After we got off the ship, we found a taxi stand that wanted $8 per person ($32 for the four of us) one-way to Magens Bay. And this was one of the cheapest beaches to get to.

We walked further looking for more taxi options, but only found more taxi stands with the same pricing. So, we boarded a giant open-air taxi with 16 other people and paid $32 one way.

It was another $5 per adult to get into Magens Bay. So, by the time we got to the beach, we were already out $42. Unfortunately, the beach was crowded to the max that day. We walked 15 minutes to get as far away from the parking lot as we could and still couldn’t find a good place to sit down our towels.

I figured we would just rent chairs, but those would be another $14 each. And, at this point, we had already paid $42 to get there and still needed to pay another $32 to get home.

We didn’t rent chairs because the beach was so crowded and it didn’t think it would be worth shelling out another $28 just to not have to sit on the sand. So I just sat there for a while, then stood.

We figured we would eat lunch at the beach, but quickly changed our tune when we found out how much lunch would cost at the makeshift hut selling sandwiches and fish on the beach. After some quick math, we figured out that lunch with drinks (no alcohol) would cost us another $60.

It was my birthday and I was just annoyed at this point, so we decided to leave and go back to the ship after about an hour at Magens Beach. So, we prepared ourselves for another $32 taxi ride crammed in with 16 other people. The worst part is, they wouldn’t let our taxi leave until every seat was filled. We sat in the open air taxi in the hot sun for 15 minutes while we waited for two more people to board. And when they finally did, a party of three actually boarded. That meant our row needed to sit five people instead of four, resulting in a very uncomfortable ride home.

As we approached the ship, I was so relieved. We had spent $64 on taxis and another $10 to sit on the beach for an hour. If we had rented chairs for another $28 and paid for lunch (another $60), the day would have easily cost us $162. That seems pretty outrageous to me for a day on the beach, a 15-minute taxi ride, and lunch with no alcohol.

Final Thoughts

I am pretty cheap, but I’m not that cheap. I don’t mind paying for taxis and food as long as the prices are fair. But, St. Thomas really pushes the limits of what people should pay for, well, everything.

For comparison sake, our taxi from the cruise terminal to the Holiday Inn Aruba (about 15 minutes) was $14 each way total for the four of us. In Antigua, we paid $12 one-way total. In Barbados, we paid $20 total one-way for a 30-minute ride. And in all of those cases, we had a private taxi.

I have been to almost every main Caribbean island, including the most expensive destinations. I have spent weeks in pricey Grand Cayman, Aruba, Nevis, and many others where people complain about how expensive everything is.

After visiting St. Thomas twice now, I’ll say that I will probably never go back. It’s beautiful for sure, but there are many Caribbean islands that offer beautiful settings and even better beaches for half the price.

Which islands do you think are too expensive? Do you agree about St. Thomas? Why or why not?

Holly Johnson is a financial expert and award-winning writer whose obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel plays a central role in her work. In addition to serving as Contributing Editor for The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for inspiring…
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