Red Hook Car Ferry on St. Thomas to Cruz Bay Ferry Terminal on St. John
When you get to the US Virgin Islands you quickly learn that there are different attractions on each island.
You most likely landed in St. Thomas at the main airport, but at some point you are pretty sure to want to go to St. John to access the world famous beaches (like Trunk Bay and Maho Bay Beach).
The ferry process can be new and confusing! Basically, there is one main ferry terminal on St. Thomas and on on St John that has passenger ferries as well as car barges. They are relatively cheap and offer consistent service back and forth. Read on to see how simple and do-able the process is!
- Red Hook Car Ferry on St. Thomas to Cruz Bay Ferry Terminal on St. John
- Why Take a Ferry?
- Where are the ferry terminals?
- Passenger Vs. Car Ferry
- General Details on the Passenger Ferries
- Nervous About Taking a Car Ferry?
- Cost of the Car Ferry
- Extra $3 Port Tax
- Facilities On The Ship
- Do you need to make a Reservation in Advance
- Why you Might not want the Round Trip Discount
Why Take a Ferry?
The quick answer is that you basically have to. There is no commercial airport on the island of St. John and private boat charters can be fun, but are much more expensive.
By far the easiest and most affordable way to get between the island of St. Thomas and the island of St. John is by ferry.
If you land in St. Thomas via cruise ship or airplane you want to go to St. John because that is where the best beaches are!
Where are the ferry terminals?
The ferry terminal on St. Thomas is named the Red Hook ferry terminal. It is on the far east side of the island. It is about a 25 minute from the cruise port or about 30 minutes from the airport.
The ferry terminal on St. John is named the Cruz Bay ferry terminal. It is on the far east side of the island. It is about 10 minutes from the top beaches.
Passenger Vs. Car Ferry
On the island this gets called the car ferry, or car barge, it is super close to, but not the exact same spot as the passenger ferries. You can drive your car onto a boat and float to the other island, or you can park your car (or get dropped off via taxi and hop on one of the passenger ferries.
Most people opt for the passenger ferry because they are scared of the car/boat transfer process.
General Details on the Passenger Ferries
The passenger ferries generally leave earlier and run later than the car ferries. You can see the schedule here, but make sure you check with the boat the day of.
The passenger ferry is $8.15 each way, with another $4.00 for each piece of luggage.
Generally the ferries run from 6 am to 11 pm with a different boat leaving every 30 minutes. When you get to the port simply ask which provider has the next ship arriving and get your tickets on that one.
SIDE NOTE: there is another ferry terminal that leaves from Charlotte Amalie St. Thomas to St. John, but the times are much more limited. You can also see those above.
Nervous About Taking a Car Ferry?
If you Google the ferry companies offering service between the two islands it is actually quite confusing. I’m sorry, but their actual websites not that helpful. Here are the quick details to help alleviate the stress.
There are 3 different ferry companies, BUT they all take off from and arrive at the same spot. You don’t need to worry about seeking out 3 different ferry terminals.
Just follow the address on your GPS and you will see plenty of signage directing you to the Car Ferry or the Passenger Ferries.
Cost of the Car Ferry
To get your car back and forth between the islands you will pay $50 one way or $65 for a round trip. Considering how expensive rental cars or taxis can be in the Virgin Islands, this isn’t that bad. You will actually pay on the boat, and they take cash only!
Extra $3 Port Tax
When you pull into the you will pay an additional $3 port tax when you pull into the St. Thomas terminal in Red Hook. We did not have to pay when coming back.
The boat ride across the water is about 30 minutes on the water, but expect AT LEAST another 30 minutes to load the cars onto the boat. The unloading only takes 2 minutes.
This is the trickiest part! When they start loading the car barge you will be asked to back your car up a ramp and onto the barge. It is a little bit awkward if you aren’t comfortable driving in reverse. We saw some poor tourists get barked at by the attendants for taking too long.
Facilities On The Ship
Most people just stay in their cars, but if you want you can get out and shimmy around the other cars and go to the upstairs balcony. There is also a bathroom on board, but warning it wasn’t the cleanest on either ship we crossed with. It was pretty disgusting.
Do the boats fill up?
Yes, some of the boats fill up, especially the first and last ships of the day. They recommend you be at the dock 30 minutes ahead of departure to get a spot on the last ship of the day, but our ship was pretty full with cars that got there 30 minutes ahead of time and we ended up leaving a couple of the late stragglers. They probably had to leave their car and take the passenger ferry back to St. Thomas or wait on St. John until the next morning.
Do you need to make a Reservation in Advance
I read that there was no advantage to making a reservation in advance because they won’t hold a spot on the boat for you if you have one. That being said, when we were boarding the last ferry for the day to get back to St. Thomas they lined up cars in two different lines. The one line was for cars with a reservation and the other was for cars without one. The reservation line was allowed to drive onto the ship first and the couple of cars that didn’t make it were from the non-reservations line.
Why you Might not want the Round Trip Discount
Even though you can save a ton of money you might not want to buy a round trip if the times don’t line up exactly as you would like. The 3 different companies don’t honor a round trip tickets on another carrier.
Passenger Ferry Advantage vs Car Ferry
The car ferries don’t operate as late as the passenger ferries. For example, the day we were there the last car ferry left at 6:15 pm and the last passenger ferry left at 10:30 pm. The times are usually similar, but check the websites and at the terminal day of.
Conclusion – It is way less stressful than it seems
While I was stressed about the process both types of ships turned out to be a lot easier and more enjoyable than I thought. You can book in advance to alleviate stress, or you can show up day of and get across. Just make sure you arrive early if you plan on taking the first or last ship of the day.
How to get to the US Virgin Islands
Most people get to the US Virgin via cruise ship. This limits them to one or two quick excursions on the islands (still amazing). For those looking to spend more time, flights are available, though they can be a little bit tricky.
The main airport is on the island of St. Thomas generally has flights from the biggest US airline hub cities (New York, Atlanta, Miami, etc) which means that if you don’t live in one of those cities you have to connect probably have spend a little bit more. Further, lots of these flights only operate on certain days of the week. This means that if you are looking to book a flight and you don’t see options, or it is obscenely expensive try changing the day of the week!
The US Virgin Islands are generally a little bit more expensive across the board than other places in the Caribbean.
The only real budget airline offering flights is Spirit Airlines from Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. I know people love to hate Spirit Airlines, but when we flew them on the quick flight down from Florida we saved a ton!
Remember that if you want to go to St. John you are still going to have to fly into St. Thomas.
There is no commercial airport on the island of St. John, but there is frequent and fairly cheap ferry service (car or passenger). You can read about the ferries here.
For those wanting to go to St. Croix, you will have to book one of the even less frequent and quite expensive flights in from the mainland, as it isn’t close enough for regular ferry service.
We have visited almost every beach on St. John and St. Thomas. Below are a list of our favorites.
- Trunk Bay – most beautiful beach I have ever seen!
- Cinnamon Bay – amazing full service beach
- Hawksnest Beach – amazing snorkeling beach
- Maho Bay Beach – almost guaranteed to see sea turtles here.
- Salomon Beach – Secluded Paradise!
- Honeymoon Beach – great hike and snorkeling
- Oppenheimer Beach – great to avoid the crowds
- Jumbie Beach – lesser known beach