As the most developed U.S. Virgin Island (USVI), St. Thomas remains a top choice for accessible Caribbean fun. That said, it’s also important to remember that access in the Caribbean is still in its infancy, and even St. Thomas has a good number of physical barriers. On the positive side, access is improving and the island now boasts accessible hotels, transportation, tours and tourist sights. In short, with a little advance planning, St. Thomas is a good place to enjoy an accessible slice of Caribbean life.
Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St. Thomas, is the only town on the island. One of the most popular attractions is Coral World Marine Park and Undersea Observatory. Located just 20 minutes from the Charlotte Amalie harbor, Coral World offers visitors an intimate look at local marine life, with hands-on touch pools and aquariums filled with indigenous sea creatures.
“As part of the reconstruction following Hurricane Marilyn, we redesigned the park to provide accessibility to as many exhibits as possible. We created wheelchair accessible walkways to the major exhibits and removed many physical barriers,” says Coral World General Manager Trudie Prior.
The park now features level pathways and barrier-free access to most buildings. A map of the accessible route is available at the park entrance. Plan to spend the day at Coral World, have some lunch, visit the shark tank and then feed the resident iguanas. They just love lettuce!
If you’d like an even closer look at the area’s marine life, visit Carl Moore at Aqua Action Dive Center. Located right on the beach at the accessible Secret Harbor Beach Resort, Aqua Action offers Handicapped Scuba Association-certified instruction, equipment rentals and shore and boat dives. Secret Harbor is a good place to get your feet wet if you’re new to snorkeling or scuba, and Moore is more than willing to help beginners.
For a more historical look at St. Thomas, stop by Fort Christian in downtown Charlotte Amalie. Built in 1672, the fort now houses the Virgin Islands Museum. There is ramp access to the fort, and many of the galleries and exhibits are accessible. Some exhibits have one step at the entry, but you can still view them from the courtyard.
Don’t miss the vendor’s plaza, located right next door to Fort Christian. This open-air market is filled with local vendors, and it’s as much fun to browse as it is to buy. There is curb-cut access to the plaza; however it gets a bit crowded when cruise ships are in port.
And for getting around the island, St. Thomas Dial-A-Ride provides accessible transportation in lift-equipped vans. Visitors pay a one-time registration fee of US$ 25, which includes a round trip transfer to any St. Thomas property. After that, St. Thomas Dial-A-Ride fares are equivalent to local taxi fares. St. Thomas Dial-A-Ride also offers accessible day tours of the island. Tours must be booked one month in advance, and transportation arrangements must be made at least 24 hours in advance.
Alternatively, Accessible Adventures offers a 2.5-hour island tour in a lift equipped open-air trolley. All Accessible Adventures trolleys have tie-downs, and each vehicle can accommodate three wheelchairs.
There are a number of accessible lodging choices on St. Thomas, but one of my favorites is the Secret Harbor Beach Resort. The all suites beachfront resort has four accessible rooms, including one with a roll-in shower. There is level access to the entire resort including the restaurant, bar and gift shop. Approximately 85 percent of Secret Harbor’s guests are repeat visitors.
All in all, St. Thomas gets pretty good marks for access. Again, it’s not the same access you’ll find at home, but it’s not bad for the Caribbean.
If You Go
US Virgin Islands Tourism
Coral World Marine Park
340-775-1555 or 888-695-2073
Aqua Action Dive Center
St. Thomas Dial-A-Ride
Secret Harbor Beach Resort