Since the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) is a U.S. territory it’s been a popular vacation destination during the pandemic, as travel regulations were less restricted than international travel. Some locations still required mainland visitors to stay at an authorized quarantine hotel or villa, or required regular testing. But with vaccinations and ever-changing CDC recommendations, it’s pretty complicated to plan a getaway, so here are a few tips to plan for a USVI vacation from the mainland.
Start planning your island vacation two months in advance
Restaurants and excursions are booked up days (sometimes weeks) in advance, so making last-minute adventures often isn’t possible. The popular Oceana Restaurant & Bistro might get rave reviews, for example, but visitors and staff urge you to make reservations far in advance. On my own recent trip, the well-known restaurant was booked for the weekend beginning that Thursday.
The islands also have sunset cocktail cruises and underwater sea treks, but they all fill up fast. There’s no need to over-plan your days, but try to book hot-ticket activities a couple of weeks before heading to the island.
Things like car rentals get booked quickly too, and while rental availability might still be open, the prices go up. I bought my plane tickets in advance but dragged my feet on the car rental, leaving me with rates of $100 a day. Instead, plan booking your flight and car rental at the same time, if you plan to rent.
For flights, you can expect a round trip to cost between $245 to $489 nonstop, with cheaper tickets at just under $200 if you’re okay with a layover. Qtrip’s 2021 airfare study found the best time to buy is about 64 days before your travel date to get the best deals, so plan to buy your tickets about two months in advance.
Plan your COVID-19 test, because it’s still required
USVI requires every traveler, fully vaccinated or not, to have a negative COVID-19 PCR test result from no more than five days prior to arrival. Testing has gone down significantly in the U.S. and turnaround times are typically faster, but it still might take 24 to 48 hours to get your results back, so plan accordingly—you’ll need to upload your results to the USVI travel portal. And although it wasn’t required, I brought a photocopy of my vaccination card.
How to use the USVI travel portal
You’ll want to have your test results approved before you leave on your trip. Once you’ve received your negative PCR COVID-19 test results, go to the USVI travel portal and click through the instructions. You will be prompted to include your travel dates, flight, and seat numbers, as well as information about your stay. They will ask the regular COVID-19 safety questions, then direct you to upload your negative COVID-19 results. Most results are sent digitally, but if you receive a hard copy, take a picture or scan it.
You’ll receive a confirmation email once the form is submitted. Within one to two days you’ll receive notice that you’re cleared for arrival. (If you don’t get cleared by the travel portal, you are asked to show proof of a negative result on arrival and may be subject to additional testing for a fee of $150. ) The portal sends you a green QR code to have handy when you get off the plane.