GETTING THERE: United flies nonstop from Dulles on Saturdays, and will add nonstop service on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays on Dec. 15; flights from $436. Most legacy carriers serve the island via connections in New York, Newark, Charlotte, N.C., and San Juan, Puerto Rico. I flew US Airways through Charlotte and paid about $450 round trip in summer. Recent quotes for December flights ranged from $428 to $906.

GETTING AROUND: Unless you want to be resort-bound, rent a car (and steer left/drive left). Taxis are widely available, but can be expensive for multiple passengers.

WHERE TO STAY: We stayed at Antilles Resorts at Sapphire Village Resort at Sapphire Beach (800-874-7897,, largely because it was moderately priced (we paid $140 per day in April, using an Internet discount site; rates rise to about $250 in high season) and on a snorkeling beach. It's also on the eastern end, near Red Hook, where you can catch the public ferry to St. John and the British Virgin Islands. The units are condos, and your experience will partly depend on the quality of unit you are assigned. Ours was fully renovated, with a marble-countertop kitchen, a luxe bathroom, etc.

There are a number of mid-priced resorts; most get mixed reviews. Antilles operates five other condo-resorts. Others in the $150- to $250-per-night range include Bolongo Bay Beach Resort (7150 Bolongo, 800-524-4746, and Secret Harbour Beach Resort (6280 Estate Nazareth, Charlotte Amalie, 340-775-6550, Among the higher-priced offerings are the Wyndham Sugar Bay (6500 Estate Smith Bay, 800-996-3426, and Marriott Frenchman's Reef (5 Estate Bakkeroe, 888-236-2427, At the highest end is the Ritz-Carlton ($400 to $600 per night), a huge property on its own spit of land. Info: 6900 Great Bay, 800-241- 3333,

For privacy and romance, check out Pavilions and Pools (6400 Estate Smith Bay, 800-524-2001, www.pavilionsand; $180 to $275 per night). Each unit has its own small but private pool.

WHERE TO EAT: St. Thomas is billed as one of the Caribbean's great dining destinations, but like most cruise ship ports it had a lot of overpriced mediocrities. We ate at Off the Hook (630 Estate Smith Bay, 340-775-6350) near Red Hook, and found it ambitious but middling. Mostly we ate casual: Duffy's Love Shack (6500 Red Hook Plaza, 340-779-2080) is a hoot of a bar in the parking lot of a strip shopping center. Go at night to see locals and tourists behaving badly; by day, it's a PG-rated place with interesting sandwiches and big funky drinks. Near the cruise ship dock in Charlotte Amalie is Delly Deck (Haven- sight Mall, 340-776-9943), a casual joint with fun food and enormous portions at a fair price.

WHAT TO DO: Key attractions include Magens Bay Beach, often cited on best Caribbean beaches lists (showers, shops, cruise-ship crowds, modest entry fee); the St. Thomas Skyride (340- 774-9809,; $16 round trip), a seven-minute, 700-foot ascent to a scenic overlook of Charlotte Amalie; Atlantis Adventures' submarine ride (866-546-7820,; $84); Coral World (340-775-1555,; $18), which offers the Sea Trek experience ($50) and is near Coki Beach, another popular (if crowded) snorkeling spot; Virgin Island Ecotours (340-779-2155,, which offers guided kayak and snorkeling jaunts; and the Red Hook public ferry to St. John and other nearby islands.

INFO: U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, 800-372-8784,

-- Craig Stoltz