Thursday, February 18, 2016

6 Tips for Going to St. Thomas with Toddlers

traveling to st thomas with toddlers
I have this feeling that whenever someone writes “with toddlers” at the end of a title or a sentence or a thought, it’s likely met with a mix of fear and apprehension. Toddlers should be taken on an airplane with extreme caution! Toddlers need so much stuff! Toddlers are loud and messy and prone to throwing their little bodies on the floor at totally inopportune moments!

All this, my friends, is true.

But here’s the other thing about toddlers: they are curious and engaged and they force you to slow down and notice all the small things you may have otherwise missed.

It’s with this latter scenario in mind that my friends and I—three couples with three kids aged 10 months, 15 months and 16 months—booked a 6-day vacation to the US Virgin Islands for the end of January. We kicked around a few other ideas: Aruba, Puerto Rico, Turks & Caicos, Mexico, which I’m sure would have been great. But ultimately the fact that we didn’t need passports, none of us had been there before and that it was a quick (at least from NY) 4-hour direct flight, made the USVI—namely St. Thomas—the winner.

Overall, the trip was fantastic and I would absolutely recommend going. As can be expected, we did learn a few things along the way. So if you’re thinking of going with your family, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Consider renting a house


When we first started researching our trip, we thought an all-inclusive hotel would be the way to go. But the more we thought about it, the more it became clear that renting a house was a better idea. And in St. Thomas, it was ideal. First off, we were all in the same place so there was none of that awkward “let’s meet downstairs at X time” scheduling. We were able to cook at home, let the kids run around and, once they were in bed, all hang out in the living room or by the pool. (Also smart: bring your baby monitor!)



We rented this house and it was gorgeous—a great size for three families with babies and a view that went on for miles. (Plus a pool and a hot tub.) The house was high up on a hill, so we did have to rent a car/take cabs to get to the beach and out to dinners and such. The other thing we noticed—and I don’t know if this was just us—but we couldn’t find an area where you could have dinner and then walk around to say, get ice cream or walk along the beach. For us, that made having the rental even better, since we were then just able to spend that time together at the house.

Magens Bay Beach is beautiful—and totally family-friendly


There’s a reason this beach is so popular. Not only was it absolutely gorgeous and all crystal-clear waters, but it was great for the little ones: the water was calm, there was lots of natural shade (we didn’t need to bring an umbrella), the restrooms were close by, there were picnic tables where you could set up and the food, which was typical beach-fare, was pretty good. Plus, you could rent SUP boards, kayaks and floats, and the adults could order drinks and have them brought towel-side.

Use a stroller as a backup high chair


While it was great to be able to cook at the house, let’s be real: it’s not really a vacation unless you go out to eat. Which we definitely made sure to do. But one thing we noticed at most of the restaurants was that there was 1, maybe 2, high chairs, max. Since we were with 3 kids who all needed high chairs—not to mention if there were, you know, other kids at the restaurant—it was smart to have the strollers on hand. Setting the non high-chaired kids in them was totally fine—and allowed the adults to (usually) eat without a baby in their lap.

There’s “kid-friendly” food that they’ll actually try  
So you now how kids’ menus are mostly just bland pasta and hot dogs and chicken tenders? The worst, honestly, even though sometimes they’re hard to escape. (And sometimes, let’s be real, it’s easier to give them something you know they’ll eat.) So while we did order off the kids’ menu at one restaurant, we found that it wasn’t super hard to find “kid-appealing” options that still gave them a taste of something other than pasta with butter. The pizza at Pie Whole was a great—and still had that “kid-friendly food” vibe. Definitely try the Spanish Town pie.) But the best by far was at De’ Coal Pot, which we went to on St. John. The food was awesome (like, I wish I could eat there right now kind of awesome) and they had Caribbean-style sides like plantains and sweet potato stuffing which the kids were happy to eat.

Have a car if you’re visiting St. John


We wound up doing a day trip to St. John—we took the ferry from Red Hook and it only took about 15 minutes. We didn’t do a ton of research beforehand and assumed we’d be able to walk to a nice beach from the ferry. Instead, we wound up hanging out at the beach right next to the dock, since all the better beaches were a car ride away. The idea of lugging all of our stuff, plus three kids was just too much in the moment. The water was still nice and all, but if you’re going to go, think about the car situation ahead of time—and bringing less stuff.  

Go slow


Ok, I know this is the most clichéd thing ever, but I’m going to say it anyway. The best part about being on vacation with toddlers is that you really can’t go a million miles an hour—they don’t want to see that exhibit and take that tour and go to that must-see sight. And sometimes, that can be a good thing. And usually, it means that you get to spend more time just being—which, in my usual frenetic state, is always a good thing. And St. Thomas, I can tell you, was a great place for that.




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