Travel: Tour the most mysterious places across America

Shore excursions: What new cruisers need to know

  Shore excursions: What new cruisers need to know The fun of a cruise is equal parts what you do on board and what you do on shore. Cruise lines offer a full schedule of shore excursions to help you make the most of your time in port. However, the process of choosing and booking tours can be overwhelming for new cruisers. I’ve taken …I’ve taken shore excursions around the world, both ship-run and independent, and spent many days in port wandering on my own. Allow me to take you through the basics of cruise shore excursions, so you can learn to have the most fun no matter what your budget is.

MSN has partnered with The Points Guy for our coverage of credit card products. MSN and The Points Guy may receive a commission from card issuers.

Later this year, the U.S. Virgin Islands will mark five years since back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes caused devastating damage throughout the territory. As the anniversary of Irma and Maria approaches, though, U.S. Virgin Islands tourism officials are celebrating what they view as a major (and perhaps unlikely) accomplishment: an unprecedented surge in visitors to its three islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Never Do This With Your Phone Before a Flight, Experts Warn

  Never Do This With Your Phone Before a Flight, Experts Warn Experts warn you should never take a picture of your boarding pass and post it on social media with your phone before a flight.

Far more visitors are flying to the islands than even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, new data shows that in recent months, no U.S. state or territory has seen its air traffic rise at a higher rate when compared with some pre-pandemic periods. According to Transportation Security Administration numbers shared in a report this week by Airlines for America, an organization advocating on behalf of major U.S. airlines, U.S. Virgin Islands airport checkpoints received 14% more passengers in February 2022 compared to February 2019 – more than a year before COVID-19 caused mass shutdowns. That topped all other U.S. states and territories.

Joseph Boschulte, commissioner for the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, told TPG in an interview this week that February was no fluke, either.

Kate Middleton paid tribute to Jamaica in a glittery green ball gown with a ruffled neckline

  Kate Middleton paid tribute to Jamaica in a glittery green ball gown with a ruffled neckline The Duchess of Cambridge wore a floor-length Jenny Packham ball gown to a dinner during her royal tour of Jamaica.They received a tour of the cacao farm and helped grind cacao seeds on a stone tool known as a ka'ah, Reuters reported.

“2021 was the best year the U.S.V.I. has ever had in terms of [air travel] to the territory,” he said.

At a time when travel – especially overseas travel – is still rebounding from more than two years of disruption, leaders in the U.S. Virgin Islands believe they are on a path to success like they’ve never seen. It’s a trend from which they believe visitors will benefit.

Rebound from hurricanes and a pandemic

It’s safe to say the last five years have not been easy for those living in the U.S. Virgin Islands, particularly anyone who makes a living from tourism.

In a territory where tourism accounts for 60% of the gross domestic product, it’s been incredibly painful to go through two major disruptions.

Damage in September 2017 at the Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in St. Thomas, more than a week after Hurricane Irma made landfall. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) © The Points Guy Damage in September 2017 at the Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in St. Thomas, more than a week after Hurricane Irma made landfall. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

First came the two hurricanes in 2017, from which Boschulte said the islands were “finally turning a corner” in early 2020, with the last of the islands’ major hotels damaged by the twin storms reopening. Then, COVID-19 forced the U.S. Virgin Islands to shut down for a couple of months and reopen in the summer of 2020, only to have a surge force another temporary shutdown later in the summer.

What's the most popular fast-food chain in your state?

  What's the most popular fast-food chain in your state? Which fast food chain is the most popular in your state? A well-known drive-in venue ranked surprisingly well, often muscling out big names like McDonald's, Burger King, and Taco Bell.

Since September 2020, though, the islands have remained open to tourists, and things have only improved during that time.

“We are rocking and rolling,” Boschulte told TPG. “Our numbers every day coming into the territory are very, very strong.”

‘No passport necessary’ has helped during the pandemic

The current tourism surge in the U.S. Virgin Islands is eclipsing not just pre-pandemic times, Boschulte said, but pre-hurricane, too.

How is this possible?

“I think we definitely benefited from the reality that we are a U.S. territory,” Boschulte said, noting that U.S. visitors do not need a passport to enter – presenting, if nothing else, one fewer psychological barrier to overseas travel during an unpredictable pandemic.

It’s not to say there aren’t COVID-19 protocols. Even domestic visitors have to go through certain steps when they visit the islands. Like a lot of international destinations, the territory has a portal even U.S. visitors have to go through, and currently only vaccinated U.S. residents can enter without submitting a COVID-19 test.

Boschulte told TPG that data from that same portal has made it easy for tourism officials to see that visitors to the islands have been returning – and in short order.

Kate's £35,000 Caribbean tour wardrobe including bespoke outfits

  Kate's £35,000 Caribbean tour wardrobe including bespoke outfits Kate Middleton, 40, ticked off some of her go-to designer labels throughout the tour, including Jenny Packham and Alexander McQueen, as well as some of her favourite high-street brands, like Anthropologie. The Duchess also donned trendy modern designers, including The Vampire's Wife, which is loved by royals and A-listers including Princess Beatrice.The royal also opted to wear vintage pieces from a small English boutique , Willow Hilson, as well as Yves Saint Laurent and Stella McCartney.

“That’s always a test,” he said. “If people come visit a first time and then decide within a short [window] to return.”

Panoramic view of St. Thomas. (Photo by sorincolac/iStock/Getty Images) © The Points Guy Panoramic view of St. Thomas. (Photo by sorincolac/iStock/Getty Images)

Success story

Considering the COVID-19 protocols the U.S. Virgin Islands still requires during the pandemic, the fact that visitors don’t need a passport can’t be the only reason the islands have seen surging tourism numbers, right?

Boschulte said it’s no accident.

During the pandemic, he said tourism officials on the islands have ramped up marketing efforts, making a targeted pitch to residents in the eastern U.S., who represent the vast majority of visitors to the territory.

With cruise traffic nonexistent in the U.S. Virgin Islands for about a year and a half during the pandemic, Boschulte said tourism officials in the territory spent much of the last couple of years appealing to potential U.S. travelers about the islands being open and safe – and then working with tourism sector companies on the islands to ensure promises of a safe visit are fulfilled.

In turn, he said local tourism industries have been pleased with the business they’ve gotten as they’ve pivoted from decades of serving a largely cruise-oriented clientele to focusing more on “overnight” guests.

Why the Queen and other royals honored Prince Philip with green clothing instead of black at his memorial service

  Why the Queen and other royals honored Prince Philip with green clothing instead of black at his memorial service The Queen, Princess Anne, and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, all wore a certain shade of green at Prince Philip's memorial service on Tuesday.The memorial was the first major official engagement Queen Elizabeth II attended since October of 2021, as Sky News reported, and came just over a month since she tested positive for COVID-19. She was escorted from her residence in Windsor Castle to the abbey by Prince Andrew during the BBC's live broadcast of the service, where viewers got a first glimpse of her emerald coatdress.

“What people realized is that an overnight guest is in town for five to seven nights, and they eat breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Boschulte said. “Whereas a cruise guest is in town five to seven hours.”

Related: 9 amazing places to use points for a trip to the Caribbean

Boschulte said tourism officials in the U.S. Virgin Islands have also gone to great lengths to “stay in front of the airlines,” keeping them abreast of COVID-19 data and protocol, in hopes of forging partnerships that will lead to more tourists making their way to the islands.


Even as the islands see record numbers of overnight guests, tourism leaders already have hope for what the future will bring. Boschulte said his staff is tracking a spike in business licenses being issued across the territory, which they interpret as a sign more investment is coming to the islands. It’s investment he believes will ultimately lead to an improved experience for visitors.

The Westin St. John. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy The Westin St. John. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

That investment is also taking shape in the form of construction at large-scale resorts. Just this year, Marriott is expected to unveil a brand-new property and cut the ribbon on another following a multimillion-dollar rebuild.

The Noni Beach Resort – a new Marriott Autograph Collection property and the first such brand in the U.S. Virgin Islands – is slated to open this summer. The property includes 94 guest rooms, a beachfront infinity pool and swim-up bar.

Related: The best points hotels in the Caribbean

Ellen DeGeneres' jaw-dropping real estate empire is worth $450m

  Ellen DeGeneres' jaw-dropping real estate empire is worth $450m It's no secret that Ellen DeGeneres is a prolific house flipper, transforming lacklustre properties into envy-inducing luxury homes and usually selling them on for big profits. Let's take a look back through her illustrious property journey All the amazing houses Ellen DeGeneres has ever owned

Later this summer, Marriott’s Frenchman’s Reef Beach Resort & Spa is also set to reopen following a $250 million rebuild.

A word of caution regarding booking, though: What’s good for the local tourism industry in the U.S. Virgin Islands does not necessarily translate to cheap rates for visitors. Boschulte said properties on the islands have seen high occupancy rates even at more expensive points during the year.

“People are paying the highest rates to come, and they’re returning,” he said.

Related: Review: The Westin St. John

Looking ahead

With no sign of occupancy rates dropping and only more hotel rooms coming to the U.S. Virgin Islands, there’s also another change happening: The cruise lull is ending. The territory is starting to see the number of daily visitors from cruises pick up, which will only mean more activity on the islands. Boschulte said those visitors will always be a part of the islands’ economy – with the U.S. Virgin Islands having served as an “anchor destination” for cruise ships for decades.

However, after close to five years that saw two devastating hurricanes and two-plus years of a global pandemic adding an unprecedented layer of unpredictability, Boschulte is clear on what he envisions as the future of travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“We’re very hopeful that travelers – particularly U.S. travelers – recognize that the U.S.V.I. is a viable vacation destination,” he said.

Featured photo by cdwheatley/Getty Images.

SPONSORED: With states reopening, enjoying a meal from a restaurant no longer just means curbside pickup.

And when you do spend on dining, you should use a credit card that will maximize your rewards and potentially even score special discounts. Thanks to temporary card bonuses and changes due to coronavirus, you may even be able to score a meal at your favorite restaurant for free.

These are the best credit cards for dining out, taking out, and ordering in to maximize every meal purchase.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

10 Must-Visit Historical Places Around the World .
Photo by Mustafah Abdulaziz The 450-foot-tall Great Pyramid at Giza is made of an estimated 2.3 million blocks of stone cut by hand. Certain sites capture the world’s imagination not only because of their beauty and the human ingenuity that they exemplify but also because of the unique window into the past that each enduring location provides. These 10 UNESCO-protected spots, including many of the Seven New Wonders of the World, are among the most sought-after tourist attractions around the globe. You don’t have to be a history buff to appreciate these choice historical places. 1.

See also