A recent vacation with Windstar Cruises took my husband, Eddie, and me to the British Virgin Islands for three ports of call. The British Virgin Islands are exceptional in every way and a great way to see and experience those amazing photos you see floating around the internet that sum up the Caribbean. We found tropical drinks, picturesque beaches, steel drum music, crashing waves, and a lot more. These are my favorite excursions to choose from while visiting Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, and Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, or BVI.
There is a wide range of excursions to choose from with the cruise lines, or you can see the sites on your own. After 50+ cruises, something special about this trip I appreciated was being on back-to-back days in the same country to learn and see a little more about it. It gave us a more in-depth approach than just a single day, like so many other cruises we have taken.
Disclaimer: I was hosted by Windstar Cruises on a familiarization trip to write this and other articles. Opinions are 100 percent mine and unbiased.
Eddie and I went on a Windstar-sponsored excursion in Tortola. What I thought I signed up for (they canceled my first choice due to low interest) was an hour-long island tour, but what we got was around 4 hours. Not a problem, as we got to see a big chunk of this beautiful island. Scenic Drive & Beach, Soper’s Hole, and Cane Garden Bay Beach transfer were other Tortola options for day trips.
A bright pink open-air bus transported us. We were in the capable hands of a knowledgeable and fun local guide. We drove through several towns with pastel-colored buildings and houses, swaying palm trees, and boutiques. Some of the landscape had huge mountains with impressive houses strewn through them, while other areas were just beautiful blue water as far as the eye could see. Sailboats and yachts were plentiful, and a Disney cruise ship was also in port that day.
One stop allowed us 40 minutes to see a popular market with brightly colored kiosks selling souvenirs and beach clothing in Road Town. I chose to seek out a local coffee shop, which did not disappoint. Island Roots on Main Street is delightful if you need caffeine, a pastry, cold-pressed juice, or a sandwich/salad break. I was there at Christmas, so I chose a yummy eggnog latte.
The next part of the tour was my favorite, with higher-up spots that made for incredible pictures. We also drove past a mural depicting the island’s history through about 20+ wall segments. Our best stop was Cane Garden Bay, where we had about 50 minutes to peruse the area. Eddie and I went to a beachfront cafe, Paradise Bar Restaurant & Club, ordered a tasty chicken roti sandwich, and soaked up the scenery. They were both perfect. We had a quick run-through of Callwood Rum Distillery on the way back to the ship, where no pictures were allowed, and a spot for buying conch shells. I would totally recommend this tour.
Jost Van Dyke
I’m not sure I had even heard of Jost Van Dyke until it showed up on our Windstar cruise itinerary. Our schedule was changed a bit due to COVID, so it may or may not have been an original destination, but regardless, we loved it. There were two snorkeling excursions with the cruise line, which were pretty long. Since we had been in port day after day, we decided to chill and just get off the ship. Well, that wasn’t exactly how our day unfolded.
Jost Van Dyke is a tiny island named for an early Dutch settler and a former pirate, and also virtually crime-free, an excellent thing to note. There isn’t much going on other than water sports, sunbathing, anchored yachts, and enjoying the beach. We took the small tender boat from our ship in the harbor to a small pier where there was practically nothing but two or three taxi drivers. We hired one of them to take us to the big tourist attraction we had heard of, Soggy Dollar Bar, on the other side of the island at White Bay. For $5 each, we were on our way.
Funny how the things you didn’t plan on can end up being some of the best travel moments ever, which is what happened to us here. We were dressed for browsing boutiques and being in a town, not frolicking at a beach restaurant in the sand where the fun seemed endless. We rolled with the punches, took off our sneakers and socks, and did our best with what we had to work with. The sand was super soft, and Soggy Dollar Bar was a blast.
Fun Fact: Soggy Dollar Bar was voted #1 Caribbean Beach Bar by USA Today 10 Best Readers Choice 2020.
Palm trees allowed for several shaded spots, and there were seating groups for hanging out or eating in both sun and shade. Guests could rent umbrellas and lounge chairs that lined the magnificent beach. The water was unbelievably beautiful. The whole area of White Bay was like a pristine postcard. Soggy Dollar Bar had a nice mix of Bob Marley and country music blaring from the speakers, delicious tropical drinks, and the guests were having a fantastic time — a testament to this majorly fun and eco-conscious attraction.
Be sure to try the Original Painkiller drink, which is made with premium dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple juice, and orange juice, then finished with a touch of freshly grated nutmeg. It is so refreshing. We ended up having lunch at Soggy Dollar Bar and buying some souvenirs. Other restaurant offerings were pastries, ice cream, and a variety of coffee and espresso drinks.
Pro Tip: If you have access to the Google Play Store, you can get Soggy Dollar Radio, which has some awesome party tunes and tropical vibes. It is also available in the Apple App Store.
The BVI’s third-largest island, Virgin Gorda, was named that because Columbus thought the island resembled a lounging woman, or “fat virgin.” Probably the most famous part of the island is The Baths National Park, which is awe-inspiring and wonderfully photogenic. The Baths are a labyrinth of huge, rugged boulders that line the beachfront, causing swift seawater to come thrashing through the grottos. I’ve traveled the world, and The Baths is one of the most unique and stunning places of all.
My husband and I signed up for the excursion that included admission to the park and an open-air tram ride to and from The Baths, plus an island tour. Since I had been there years ago with our daughters, we skipped the strenuous Devil’s Bay path that winds down to the beach and through a cave system. There is still rocky terrain on the more leisurely Baths Trail, so if you are not in really good shape, I advise you to go the route I went on this day.
I will caution you, there are still several steep areas, and you are walking on and around big rocks and a very unnatural pathway. If you take your time and go at a slow pace, it should be fine for anyone without mobility issues.
Once you are through the maze of winding pathways, you come face-to-face with the giant rocks that perhaps you’ve seen in magazines or movies. By taking this path, Eddie and I shared the beach with only four other people for at least 30 minutes, which was spectacular for getting good photos and ones without interruptions. We attempted to get in the water and swim a bit, but the current was powerful, and there were deep drop-offs. I was knocked down and tumbled a few times before rolling ashore. It was comical!
FYI: There are no lifeguards on duty here.
The key to not getting knocked down is going into the water straight on. If you turn your back on these waves, you will most likely get knocked down with this current. We saw it several times as visitors started making their way to the beach and not realizing the strength of the high surf. It feels heavenly, though, so try to get in, but be very cautious starting at knee-depth. I braced myself against one of the enormous rocks for support. And don’t let my warnings scare you; you might have calmer waters or other weather conditions. A few people out pretty far snorkeling on our visit, so it is possible.
Back at the park entrance is a collection of shops and a restaurant and sushi bar (Top of the Baths) with a swimming pool. We enjoyed some excellent conch fritters and a delicious pina colada while waiting for our tour group to finish.
Pro Tip: Do not attempt to take a camera in the water, as I would be willing to bet you won’t come out with it. There are rip currents to deal with, too.