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Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of Sketchandtravel.com and Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest, Virgin Islands-expert Harry S. Pariser, travel writer, photographer, and author of  Explore The Virgin Islands.

Harry has been writing travel guides for more than two decades,  and he has authored  travel guidebooks to the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. He lives in San Francisco, California. You can read about his Virgin Islands guide here.

Thank you Harry for agreeing to participate in our interview.

Norm:

Could you tell us where the Virgin Islands are located and a brief description of them?

Harry:

The Virgin Islands are a short plane ride from Puerto Rico to the east. They are divided  into the United States Virgin Islands, a colony of the United States (USVI), and the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a colony of Great Britain.

The larger US Virgin Islands are the more accessible, populated, and popular with tourists. Mountainous St. Thomas, a frequent cruise ship stop, has the lovely town of Charlotte Amalie. St. Croix, to the south, has the towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted  as well as parks and reserves.  Most of tiny St. John, a short ferry ride to the east of St. Thomas, is a national park. It offers tremendous beaches, snorkeling, diving, and hiking.

The BVI's largest island is Tortola which hosts the small town of Road Town. Tortola has numerous beaches and some parks, and is the departure point for charter boats, a major industry.

Virgin Gorda  (Fat Virgin) is the second most popular island and has Little
Dix Bay, a famous resort. Anegada is a beautiful coral atoll which hosts flamingos and endangered  rock iguanas. There are a number of smaller islands. Most notable of these is Jost Van Dyke which has great beaches, a campground and small resorts and rentals, and hiking.

The islands have an arid climate. Hotel, restaurant, and tour prices are as high as those of tourist destinations in the lower 48. You'll also meet people from all over the Caribbean who have come to work in the service industry, and these islands have a distinctly West Indian feel. However, you are in the developed world: Services are reasonably good, and your US dollar is the legal tender  on both American and British Virgins.

Norm:

Can your give us some examples (in different price ranges) of recommended  great places to stay in the Virgin Islands for honeymooners and romantic couples?

Harry:

  • If I were someone who enjoys nature and simple living in tent cabins, I would stay at Mt. Victory Camp on St. Croix ($75 d) or the Cinnamon Bay campground  on St. John.

  • Medium-price inns include the gay-friendly) Sand Castle on the Beach in Frederiksted,  St. Croix, as well as the popular Caravelle in Christiansted, St. Croix.

  • As far as bed and breakfasts go, I would recommend  the Pink Fancy and Carringtons Inn in Christiansted, St. Croix and the Bella Vista Bed and Breakfast on St. Thomas.

  • Luxury hotels include Frenchmans Reef on St. Thomas, Caneel Bay on St. John, and the Bucaneer  on St. Croix.

The British Virgin Islands are somewhat more expensive to visit but offer a splendid natural environment.

  • Tortola has a number of small hotels and inns, including several on Beef Island.

  • Virgin Gorda offers the upscale Little Dix Bay and a number of other small hotels and inns.

  • Anegada has limited accommodation, and Neptune's Guest House is probably your best option.

  • The best campground is on Jost Van Dyke. You can find information about it, and all of the accomodation alternatives mentioned above, in my travel guide, Explore the Virgin Islands.

Also, I should not neglect to mention that all of the islands, both American and British, offer home and apartment rentals, and this is a great way to go on St. John in particular.

Chartering a yacht also offers tons of romance, and this is easily done in the BVI. I cover this as well.

Norm:

Please tell us something about your guidebook Explore the Virgin Islands; can you explain some of your research techniques, and how you found sources for your book?

Harry:

My guide offers complete coverage of the islands including their history and culture, as well as resorts, hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, ferries, plane travel, restaurants,  activities, and everything else you might imagine.

As much as possible, I try to connect with informed local residents and get their opinions and recommendations. I also use whatever reference material is available, including local newspapers and books. I also try to find unusual places and activities while I am there.

Norm:

What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing your book? How did you overcome these challenges?

Harry:

This book was first researched in 1983, so this was a new edition (the sixth). The hot sun and the number of islands to visit are challenges, as is keeping the information together and not overlooking anything important. Other challenges include editing, production, printing, distribution, and promotion. It takes a lot of patience and perseverance.

Norm:

What is the best time to visit the Virgin Islands and how safe is it to travel within the islands? How easy is it to travel to the Virgin Islands from the USA, Canada and Europe?

Harry:

Anytime is the best time. There's no rainy season. However, the islands are much hotter during the summer, and you might want to avoid hurricane season. It's very, very easy to travel around the islands.

Ferries run between all of the larger islands except the coral atoll of Anegada in the BVI. The British Virgins are very safe. You need to use common sense on the American Virgins, especially after twilight.

It's easy to travel to the Virgin Islands from the USA, Canada and Europe. However, you'll have to fly to the mainland US or San Juan, Puerto Rico and then change planes if you are coming from Canada or Europe. There are direct flights from some US cities to St. Thomas and St. Croix. St. Thomas is the easiest to get to.

Norm:

What kind of travelers are drawn to the Virgin Islands? Is it a place for romance? Snorkeling? Yachting? 

Harry:

Every type of person can have a great time here. However, the fit and adventurous will likely enjoy their stay the most. There are plenty of romantic places including many beautiful beaches and sugar plantation ruins. Snorkeling and scuba opportunities abound, and you can go kayaking, sailing, surfing, and golf. Charter ships are a big industry in the BVI, and this is a great (if expensive) way to see these islands. Giant cruise ships are a poor way to see the islands, as you have limited time onshore.

Norm:

What are some great things to do in the Virgin Islands?

Harry:

Hiking, sailing, diving, snorkeling, parasailing, kayaking, golf, gourmet dining, and exploring  plantation ruins are among the activities available. You might go snorkeling near  Buck Island on St. Croix, hike on the Reef Bay Trail on St. Thomas, climb Virgin Gorda Peak on Virgin Gorda, visit historic properties on the three American Virgins and on some of the British Virgins, and flamingo watch on Anegada.

Some of the best activities are just part of the travel experience. For example, the ferries are fun and afford great sightseeing. You can take a local bus on St. John which can be quite the experience.

Road Town has a lot of interesting shops, and Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas affords the sport of cruise ship passenger watching which can be rather  entertaining. There are also a number of secluded beaches,  and Explore the Virgin Islands tells you where and how to find them.

There are some small but enchanting museums (on St. Thomas, St. Croix, and Tortola), and St. Croix has a historical trail which is toured by car. When I am in Charlotte Amalie, I enjoy visiting Seven Arches, a small home which has been transformed into a museum.

There are many great restaurants on both the American and British Virgins. There are legions of dive sites, and driving around can be quite an adventure as well.

You can also get married or have a re-commitment ceremony on the beach. My friend Anne Marie Porter is one of a number of reverends who  perform such services.

Norm:

How do you come up with ideas for what you write? What methods do you use to flesh out your idea to determine if it's salable?

Harry:

I've noticed the more specialized the guidebook, the less salable it is. So a general guide may have better sales. I also look at the number of visitors a place has.

Only a small percentage of tourists and travelers buy guidebooks, so it is important to have a large number of visitors. There are too many guidebooks to many locations, so I've tried to write about places that were  less written about.  For example, I noted that there were  few guides (at the time) to Costa Rica, so I decided  to do one.

Unfortunately, the number of guidebooks has grown in recent years, while the number of independent bookstores (and travel bookstores in particular) has continued to decline. Although online retailers offer allow new opportunities to sell to those who might not find your book otherwise, they also sell used copies of your guides and link to your competitors titles. Many people make the mistake of thinking that they can go on the internet, print out some material from a website, and that will be sufficient for their trip. They are making a big mistake! 

 

Norm:

 What does travel mean to you?

Harry:

Travel is the opportunity to explore a different environment and learn from being there. It's an opportunity to see how people live elsewhere, taste new foods, and experience a different natural environment.

Norm:

As there does not seem to be any authoritative standards that exist for guidebook authors or publishers, how do you know that a guidebook is up to par? How do you check out the authorial competence? 

Harry:

Buyers have to realize that all guidebooks are fallible. Some series publish annually but make few changes. Others can be new but contain outdated information. I would read through a guidebook and sample the writing. Is it interesting to read?  Does the book contain information about the area or areas you will be visiting within the destination? Are the maps easy to use?  Does it provide historical, social, and other background information which will inform your trip? Does it list e-mails and websites? In the end, you need to be responsible for your own research.  A guide is only one tool.

Norm:
 
Is there anything else you would like to add that we have not covered?

Harry:

Explore the Virgin Islands is available from us HERE

You can also buy it from a number of websites. If your bookstore does not have it, ask them to order it. We have information and photos about the Virgin Islands (and other destinations) on our website. And you can sign up for our free mailing list of news and information about the Virgin Islands, as well as Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and Barbados.

 Thanks and good luck with all of your future endeavors.