Clients can visit the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John without a passport. // © 2017 U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism
Feature image (above): Perks of visiting Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands without a passport include the wide acceptance of the U.S. dollar and access to inexpensive flight options. // © 2017 U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism
According to the U.S. State Department, only 46 percent of U.S. citizens have a passport, which means a majority of Americans don’t have one. This isn’t really an issue for solo travelers — they can always choose to vacation in the U.S. if that’s their preference. But when travel agents are planning a destination wedding, family reunion or corporate group trip to the Caribbean, the lack of passports can become a logistical nightmare. But group clients can still have their Caribbean cake and eat it too by choosing from a handful of Caribbean destinations that do not require U.S. visitors to carry a passport: Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John.
There are additional perks to planning group travel to these Caribbean destinations. The dollar is accepted everywhere, English is widely spoken, and there are plenty of attractively priced direct and connecting flights from the U.S.
Puerto Rico is a transportation hub for the Caribbean, making air travel particularly stress-free. The island, 100 miles long and 35 miles wide, is both earthy and cosmopolitan.
Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan has some of the best nightlife in the Caribbean, and it boasts the uniqueness of Old San Juan, a compact district of cobblestone streets lined with shops, restaurants and historical attractions dating back to the 16th century. Groups could easily make San Juan their main base and would have a range of luxury hotels to choose from, including the beachfront San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino; The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan; and the historic Hotel El Convento.
Those looking for a beach experience could venture outside of the capital city and center their stay in top-flight beach resorts such as El Conquistador Resort, A Waldorf Astoria Resort; and Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa. The island has some 300 beaches, as well as bioluminescent lagoons, the easy-to-explore Rio Camuy Caves system and El Yunque National Forest — the only tropical rainforest in the U.S National Forest system.
For a further change of pace, Puerto Rico has two smaller islands, Vieques and Culebra, where visitors will find an even more relaxed vibe in beautiful natural settings.
U.S. Virgin Islands
While the USVI are a chain of about 50 Caribbean islands, there are only three that are widely visited by mainstream travelers: St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. Each has a distinct appeal of its own, but one thing they share are an array of first-rate beaches. Groups won’t necessarily have to limit themselves to one island, since local aircraft and an efficient ferry service link the three islands.
If you have a group that is looking for the widest range of attractions, shopping, activities, accommodations and nightlife, steer them toward St. Thomas, the most developed of the three islands. Much of the action is centered in the capital, Charlotte Amalie, a mecca for duty-free shopping. Some of the most popular resorts include Bolongo Bay Beach Resort and Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort.
If diving is numero uno on your group’s list, book them on St. Croix, the largest of the three islands. The capital, Christiansted, was built in the 18th century by the Dutch, and it’s still a charming town of cobblestone streets and Danish yellow-brick buildings. The Buccaneer hotel and Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Beach Resort & Spa are island favorites.
Nature-loving groups will want to head to St. John, where two-thirds of the island has been reserved and protected as a national park. Not to be missed is the Underwater Trail — a 675-foot guided underwater snorkeling trail — at Trunk Bay in Virgin Islands National Park. There are fewer resorts to choose from on St. John; a standout is Caneel Bay Resort.