a beach with a hat and a bag on a blanket on a beach

This past week my 11-year old daughter and I embarked on a much needed mental health trip to St Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands.

Along with the rest of the World, we’ve been through some tremendous emotional stress being house-bound for months on end and managing the world of online learning – not to mention the collision of other stresses an 11 year old girl goes through with social media, friends, and school pressures.

I definitely felt some guilt going, not being “part of the solution”, but we planned to take every necessary precaution, and be as responsible as possible to make travel sustainable during these times.

Physically healthy, but mentally struggling. We pulled the emergency rip-cord and headed off for what was a last ditch effort to get in an adventure before Fall hits and potentially more extended house-bound hours through the cold dark Winter months loom.

We live in New York, however I carry a Canadian Passport/Green Card so we focused on US destinations given our limited options and to curb plausible re-entry issues.

Due to the pandemic, there were no direct flights so we had to change planes in Atlanta. I wasn’t thrilled but with a quick layover, it was doable. Touch as few surfaces as possible, re-fuel on Southern Fried Chicken, sanitize as needed and carry on. Super easy, and in retrospect, this really felt safe, much more so than expected.

Flying Delta To St Thomas

We arrived at JFK after checking in online to reduce contact. It was seamless and relatively quiet through security to the gate. The gate however was busy and once we were onboard I understood why. Delta blocked off every other seat, which was great as we had a row to ourselves, however the flight was otherwise completely full.

a row of seats in an airplane

Fewer flights, flying through Delta’s Hub in Atlanta, it made sense.

We wiped everything down before sitting and according to Delta, they also wiped everything down. This experience actually felt fairly safe. Everyone complied and wore their masks the entire time. Top marks to Delta here.

As to masks, take the time to research or invest in a good one. Particularly with any flight connections involved, you may be wearing them for up to 10 hours a day. The better the fit, comfort, etc the less you’ll touch it.

Safety And Arrival Into The US Virgin Islands

When we finally arrived in St Thomas after another surprisingly full, but middle seat blocked flight, we were carefully let off onto the tarmac and told to stay with our party. Separated 6’ apart, they took our temperatures and asked a few questions about any fevers and potential exposure.

From there we were lead to the baggage claim, filled out another quick health form – by the way, bring a pen – and then we met my pre-paid taxi driver easily outside. The hotel communicated in advance about transportation options.

a building with a garden and plants

The driver spritzed our hands with sanitizer, then sprayed the door handle and noted that he wiped down his cab between passengers. I was impressed, took his name and number and we used him throughout our week on the Island.

In covid-19 travel times, the fewer variables the better, and the Virgin Islands provided a fantastic welcome experience, with safety at the heart of everything. Bravo.

We booked 5-nights at The Ritz Carlton Hotel in St Thomas, with a mix of points and cash. It’s an expensive property, with rooms close to $1000 a night, even during these times when hardly anyone is traveling.

We selected a “Resort View” room, which turns out does have Ocean views, not mentioned on their site, so this was a pleasant surprise. It also had a huge balcony overlooking lush gardens, was situated on the first floor, (no elevator buttons to press), easy access to the pools and beach without any noise. I would choose this option every time.

two women sitting on a couch wearing face masks

On the way to our hotel I got the sense from our driver how dismal tourism had been on the Island. It’s all a bit sad and I know this echoes around the globe, for the many millions who rely on tourism in one way or another.

For the US Virgin Islands, tourism has been very slow to bounce back since it opened in June. No cruise ships, which of course I knew, but until we saw the empty harbour, it hadn’t really hit me just how dependent the islands are on these visitors.

No flea markets in the town square, sidewalks and restaurants were empty. This was my first time to this Island, but I could sense the lack of life and vibrancy this harbour town would yield during normal times.

Check-in at the hotel was lovely, but slow. Lovely because they gave us awesome drinks, complete perfection, and the décor is stunning. New and beautiful. I recognized all the brands they used, being an Interior Designer, and I can assure you not a dollar was spared in the decorating of The Ritz’s Carlton’s public spaces – or rooms. All stunning. Ten on ten throughout the entire property.

a bar with chairs and a counter

As for the actual check in process, The Ritz has strict cleaning protocols between guests and we waited longer than I would have liked for it to be “approved” by a supervisor.

a room with a chandelier and chairs

I appreciated the extra work in sanitizing our rooms, just wished they managed to get it done by check-in time so we didn’t have to wait after such a long travel day, particularly with such low occupancy. Surely there was another room?

We did get in some fun people watching while we waited, which is something I forgot how much I’d missed during our four months being homebound.

I saw a newlywed with “BRIDE” written on her t-shirt. It reminded me we’re all in this together, we all have our story and reason for being here right now on this beautiful Island. I felt like I was doing my part in supporting the tourism in St Thomas. Tourism industry in general. I was starting to feel the relaxation of vacation kick-in.

The hotel was only at 60% capacity, by design, from my understanding. The best part hands down was not fighting for beach chairs! Lots of spacing between parties. Just a few people bobbing in the water at any given time. Heavenly. It truly felt like our own private stretch of beach.

The huge adult pool (kids are allowed with an adult, which was nice that I didn’t have to spend the entire week at the kids pool) often had just a handful of people in it.

a pool with palm trees and a beach in the background

The kids pool was also beautiful, two-tiered with an awesome slide and waterfall steps that I enjoyed sitting on to watch my daughter ride the slide. I got to soak up some much needed Vitamin D and not think about anything but which way she would be coming off the slide this time. Hands first, head first, feet first. It was perfect.

The Excursions

Our Snorkel trip on the Catamaran Lady Lynsey II, would normally host 80 passengers, but during Covid they can only fill it to half capacity. Score. The downside, you have to book it early, we were wait listed initially but luckily got a call the night before and got on. And I’m so glad we did, this excursion was the most memorable of our trip.

Swimming in the crystal clear blue-turquoise-emerald-green waters, snorkeling with my daughter, virtually alone in this beautiful sea was pure magic.

It made the experience so much more special and memorable. We saw Sting rays, colourful fish, purple coral and swam for hours in the most perfect jewel-tone waters. Pure joy, and probably worth the trip alone.

We also witnessed young love, two teens meeting on our boat trip, we saw them chatting most of the boat ride and then we saw them around the resort all week. Every time we turned around we saw them out on a Kayak, swimming in the pool, chatting on their lounge chairs, we were even there when they met up for a dinner date. Would we have noticed this heart-melting connection develop if the hotel was packed to capacity? The unexpected things that added up to make our trip so memorable.

a beach with a hat and a bag on a blanket on a beach

The following day we swam with a Dolphin at a Dolphin Rehabilitation Center called Coral World, twelve minutes from the Ritz on Coki Beach. Instead of a larger group, we were only 5 people and my daughter and I were alone with the Dolphin when it was our turn. There were so few of us, this experience proved yet another sad, but lucky side effect of travel during covid-19. It was very intimate.

Ritz Delights And A Few Fails Too

The Ritz St Thomas property is immaculate. Beautiful garden lined pathways, very safe, well appointed entrances to the restaurants, and we never saw any garbage anywhere. Everything was perfect in this regard.

There was an awesome looking new coffee shop called South Winds which was not open. The lights were on and it looked like a completed renovation, beckoning to me every time I walked by, however it never opened unfortunately. This would have been the perfect grab and go in the mornings while I waited for my daughter to get up for breakfast. When this does open, it will make the Ritz experience that much Ritzier.

a bed with white sheets and a lamp next to a nightstand

There was a second restaurant on property which was not open due to Covid. It would have been amazing if we had this additional option, but certainly one of the understandable negatives of travelling right now. Good to be aware before you go to help mitigate expectations. The Ritz Kids was also not open for obvious reasons.

a white chairs on a patio

There was a secondary restaurant, a 10 minute walk or short Golf Cart ride to the Ritz Residence’s called Coconut Cove. We enjoyed the walk and went there a handful of times. I enjoyed that menu a bit more for dinner, it was more casual and right next to the Beach. They lit torches at night and had a cool beach vibe to it, honing those swoon worthy feelings missed during months of lockdown.

a tennis court with a net and palm trees

The result of fewer restaurant options caused long wait times for food. We’re talking 12-18 minutes for Almond Milk Lattes in the morning – with no one ahead in line. At dinner it took 45 mins for our appetizers to arrive, then another 30 mins after that for our main course. By then we gave up on dessert. First world problems, sure, but at a Ritz Carlton not operating close to capacity, it’s hard to understand.

Prepare For Disposable Everything

By the middle of the week we started ordering up and taking food back to our balcony most mornings and one evening. Everything was served on disposable plates anyways, so having take-out didn’t seem such a far stretch, or loss of vibe.

a group of boats in a body of water

The Ritz’s disposable plates are actually a wood square shaped product, a few cuts above paper plates for sure, but it definitely takes away from your $60 lobster dinner. There’s also just something amiss with drinking a crisp white wine out of a large plastic cup. For luxury brands, covid-19 brings challenges well beyond safety.

Don’t even go there.

I did absolutely look past this for the obvious reasons of health safety, but it is something to consider or prepare yourself for when you’re spending exorbitant amounts of money on a vacation, with expectations set out by the brand itself. Ritz is synonymous with glitz, and plastic cups and wine have rarely been either.

Confusing Cleaning

To this point, there is also no housekeeping during your stay unless you request it. We did not want anyone in our room so we were happy about this, however it would have been a nice touch to be offered fresh towels at your door with a top up of shampoos halfway through our stay, maybe a few bottles of water now and then. The usual things we would have received if we had daily housekeeping. None of this was offered.

There’s one last negative I’ll mention, and this is a big one.

The Ritz did not have any hand sanitizer stations set up anywhere. Additionally, they operated on the classic country club system, where you sign for everything.

I had to sign a bill the old fashioned way, touching the bill folder first, then the bill itself, and then use their pen. I did this three or four times a day. There was no hand sanitizer insight at any juncture. None offered. I couldn’t help but think “I’m sure I’ve contracted Covid by now”, which is not the ideal mood when paying for items.

a boat on the water

Same situation at the lunch restaurant Sails, same at Coconut Cove. No hand sanitizer stations on the way in/out of any of the restaurants. And none at the gift shop either I might mention. The shop was lovely though, all my favourite beach brands, we found plenty to buy and we shopped. But no hand sanitizer after I signed my credit card bill.

In 2020, I’m still not sure why I need to sign credit card bills at all.

Maybe they think it would look institutional, and they would be right, it would completely detract from the sophisticated design of the hotel. But in these times, they need to offer this basic amenity, or go to greater efforts to approve or confirm charges without multiple points of physical contact.

Traveling Right Now: Was It Worth It?

All in all our trip was outstanding. My daughter and I had the trip of our lives.

We came back feeling happy, lighter, energized and as ready as we’ll ever be for this Winter ahead. We discovered a love of snorkeling, reclaimed our sense of adventure and fell in love with St Thomas. We’re rooting for that young couple, although we’ll never know what comes of them.

We needed this trip at almost any cost, and it made me value points more than ever.

a sailboat in the water

Fear? Of course. At every turn the invisible virus could have been lurking. We had no idea. We did the best we could to wash our hands and not touch our faces, but there’s no way to sanitize every surface. If you travel, it’s a risk and you have to decide if it’s worth that risk. I was relieved to get our negative covid results this morning, making the trip that much more worth it for us.

We’ve already booked other US Islands for Thanksgiving and March Break for the whole family. We’re going to need it, we know it already. We’re bracing for many more months indoors, social distancing, and possibly online learning. But we’ll be dreaming of our time on St Thomas to carry us through.

If you have any questions about travel to the US Virgin islands, or the experience, reach out to the author, Jess Davidman Green on Instagram @deepdalehousellc

Jess Davidman Green

Jess Davidman Green is an award winning interior designer and frequent traveller. Mother of two, you can find insights into family travel, with a side dish of style and wellness, and maybe a tequila too.

Join the Conversation


  1. Just to clarify you don’t contract COVID through the skin…so touching their pens and paper don’t get you infected.
    But then if you like to touch your face all the time that’s another story…but that’s more your problem than Ritz Carlton’s.

    1. I don’t think that detracts from the point being made though – reduce spread by limiting touch points (folder, pen, check) and providing hand sanitizer where it’s not possible to wash your hands. Charging things to the room without requiring signatures or using contactless card payments would solve for the former, having hand sanitizer stations throughout the hotel would solve for the latter.

      Obviously you should wear a mask and avoid touching your face… but that doesn’t mean the hotel doesn’t have a responsibility to do their bit too, particularly when it’s a full service luxury property. The baseline expectation is much higher.

  2. You have been infected.. but with the amazing St. Thomas… been there before and after the hurricanes..no missed years and the people are resilient and the island is just gorgeous

  3. You are the one who chose to travel during these times. Did you not bring your own hand sanitizer? You complain about touching a pen after someone else, however you would have loved to have seen some water and shampoo bottles dropped off at your door. You do realize they too would have been touched by others?! While millions of Americans are unemployed and lack the ability to “escape”, it escapes me as to how you can find fault with anything you had the privilege to partake of. You got one thing right, you are part of the problem! I could have lived without the insight of your pretentious and self serving mind set. Thank you for placing your wants ahead of everyone else’s needs and showing your daughter how that is acceptable. You could have spent your time, money and energy on others in need and been a true role model for your daughter. Oh, that’s right, it was all about you. While millions are wondering where their next meal is coming from, please don’t share another “bliss” and “miss”. As you are clearly blissfully ignorant and missed the message we are in a pandemic. People are struggling right now and your complaints resonate in you shallowness.

    1. This is a travel site. About travel, not about issues of world inequality.

      If you wish to discuss world poverty, political incapability and many other entirely separate topics, there are many wonderful resources which this site and others contribute to, and do their part to support however possible.

      This is for people who are considering travel to the USVI, who want first hand accounts of the experience. That’s exactly what’s provided.

      And yes, the author brought wipes and other protocols, but the point is that a resort was not proactive in being as responsible.

    2. What a hater “Ellie May”. If Jess has the opportunity to travel and enjoy St. Thomas, it’s her choice! Let her enjoy and be happy. There’s no need to be so aggressive. I’m sure you are so jealous because she can afford the beautiful Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas. Now, thank to her feedback, I will be traveling to St. Thomas too! Thank you for all the info Jess! 🙂

      1. What squirrel said. I live in London, just back from a trip to Greece. Most people want to hear all about it and have a million questions. And then there are the haters like “Michelle’ who immediately screech about the fact that you actually dared move outside your paranoid bubble-I shut them down pretty quickly.
        My travel was amazing-start to finish. BA flights were excellent, the Greek government had shut things down quickly way back in March so Covid never took hold, and they opened up cautiously. I’m going back again this month.

        1. I am not a hater. I am a responsible individual. I am placing the needs of tens of thousands of people and this country ahead of my wants. ES you should try it some time!

  4. I’m surprised they didn’t have hand sanitizer. I just came from St. Croix and they had rum sanitizer everywhere. Every restaurant and all throughout the hotel had the exact same sanitizer made on the island. I highly recommend St. Croix. Our family loves it!

    1. Good day! I live on St. Croix and yes, we do have sanitizing stations in all shops, restaurants, hotels, etc. The sanitizer is manufactured by Sion Farm Distillery. The distillery produces Mutiny Island Vodka distilled from Breadfruit. The sanitizer isn’t made from rum. Just wanted to clarify. Thanks!

  5. I live around the corner in Puerto Rico and visit St. Thomas regularly by sailboat. It’s definitely different in both places during these times. Vendors are closed or limited street services. No cruise ships so no masses of people exploring or taking excursions to dive or just ride out to Water Island for fun on the beach and a bite to eat at Dinghy’s Beach Bar and Grill. Even though the island is open to tourists, there are still precautions and states on the hot spot list so you must bring results of a negative Covid test withing the last 72 hours or face 14 days of quarantine. I thought the article was way long-winded and that you and your family took a huge chance becoming infected or unknowingly infecting others everywhere you went. I would not even dare to board a plane at this point. A lot of airlines don’t offer the empty middle seat. Not that keeping it empty does any good with only two feet +/- between you and the other person. I hope you remain safe and well.

    1. Really? USVI is closed again!! You say I’m paranoid and Bla Bla Bla, but look at where they are now, back to square one. I have and still will one day, traveled to many different countries. However, at this time of uncertainty, with Covid19 cases rising in too many places, I want to be part of the solution not part of the problem.

  6. It’s interesting to read how paranoid some people have become. Not to mention the level of detachment from the way most people live our lives. Thanks for the insight.

  7. Wow. Just wow. You and your target audience are the reason that I opted to not go back to my restaurant job back in March. How would this article have been framed if you and your daughter’s covid test come back positive. Would it have been a positive, “refreshing” experience then? We live here on this island that, mind you, has one hospital for all of it’s residents. How long did it take y’all to receive a test. My husband andnInhave been waiting for three days to schedule an appointment because he does construction at a resort that did not disclose a potential case. I would like to personally, on behalf of everyone apologize that your almond milk latte took to long. Usually we’d just say, “island time”, but in this case, itbwas probably due to the fact that everyone is scrambling to find ways of making things safe for you, the intrepid traveler who equated thenguilt of traveling during a pandemic to eating an entire pint of ice cream. Tone deaf doesn’t even cut it, sister. Stick to interior design and stay home.

    1. Governments open borders, not individuals. If you don’t want people coming to the US Virgin Islands, I’d highly suggest lobbying your local government to close things off to US visitors, or stay away from areas they may be. USVI recently initiated negative test mandate for some states. If that’s necessary, so be it

      Travel can be safe, travel can be good, and it’s up to countries, airlines, hotels and tourism boards to find the right balance, not individuals. More than 10% of the world works in jobs related to tourism, and not all tourism is done irresponsibly.

  8. Wow.
    Sounds like your manifold anxieties were overwhelming.
    In retrospect, you probably should have stayed at home.

  9. I was thrilled to read this article (I skip over sports& politics because I’m not interested) because I am considering traveling to the USVI during this pandemic. The USVI opened their borders and if I have the means and am willing to take the chance I will travel from the US to STT. That’s what tourism is all about. People who make their living off of tourists appreciate us. I would not appreciate being insulted by strangers because of my interests and how I choose to spend my hard earned money.

  10. To live life, you have to be able to accept risks. Life is full of them from the moment you step out of your house to the moment you return. You have to do your part to take sensible precautions like wearing a mask, gloves, sanitizer, looking both ways before you cross a street, wear a condom during sex, don’t throw stones at people’s homes if your house is made of glass. To the author of the article thank you for your insight so that those who are still working and need some stress relief can know what to expect and prepare accordingly. To those who are struggling, you have my prayers and I recommend you get in touch with your legislators, representatives and governors. Ask them to allow businesses to open with safety measures. Those who have health preconditions should isolate and protect themselves and allow others to live. The majority of people who contract COVID survive like that dork Chris Cuomo and his wife on CNN, lol….

  11. Good morning and blessings to all. All I have to say is this, I moved my family to this beautiful island in 2017, just before 2 cat5 hurricanes ripped apart. Yes it’s been a struggle to get it back to its former glory, but what i have seen is that this island and the people here are beautiful, caring, loving, and very very strong. We do no doubt appreciate the people who come here…just understand one thing. No place is perfectly safe right now…there is only one Garden of Eden, and there’s only one St. Thomas, USVI baby!!!! Thank you tourist for coming…See you again soon!

  12. I am from St. John, USVI, and I feel that this review was complimentary from the beginning to the end. I especially appreciated the positive feedback she provided about the taxi driver, the snorkeling excursion, the dolphin experience, and her stay at the Ritz Carlton.

    I think that her suggestions for the Ritz Carlton are noteworthy and should be considered. Improving wait times during hotel checkin and dinner service, not requiring guests to physically sign for spending approvals, using regular dinnerware for room service instead of paper and plastic, and providing hand sanitizer throughout the property are all reasonable changes that can be implemented to improve the experience.

    In no way did I feel she was being negative of overly critical of the Ritz Carlton. In fact, I think her feedback makes a lot of sense, especially during this pandemic. Hopefully, they will be able to implement at least one or two of these great ideas.

    Selfish plug: I encourage her to spend a week on St. John in a private villa where she can totally relax and forget about the rest of the world.

    1. Hey Gary,

      I echo your sentiment. This was a trip, which from the first few lines, was unforgettable and wonderful. The USVI made a lasting impact, and this trip paved the way for future trip inspiration in better times, for more people, author and family included.

      As you note, everyone is finding new footing during covid-19, and hotels are a prime example. It seems like the Ritz excelled in many areas, but even the best properties might not totally think things through from the guests perspective.

      I thank you for your balanced comment and hope for many returns during better times.

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