ST. THOMAS — When tourists travel through St. Thomas to get to the British Virgin Islands, it’s safe to say that they are tired and want to start their vacation as soon as possible, but they still have a long way to go when they disembark that plane.
Dolphin Water Taxi takes away the aggravation and wasted time of taking the public ferry with door-to-door service to any BVI destination. With a newly expanded presence at King Airport on St. Thomas, they are poised to make it easier than ever to visit the BVI when its borders are reopened in December.
Dolphin Water Taxi is jointly run by Dufferin “Pepper” Culpepper and Greg Aberle, with Cornelius Rogers as the manager on the ground. The company has been in business for 15 years and has a fleet of 12 vessels at their disposal. They move more than 6,000 people annually out of the St. Thomas airport. Because of their affiliation with BVI partners, they are the only USVI company allowed to deposit guests at any point in the BVI.
“Eighty percent of our business is meet and greet at the airport on St. Thomas and getting people to all the various destinations throughout the BVI,” said Aberle. “It allows people to avoid the public ferry system. They’ve already had a long day of travel and the last thing they want to do is wait in the hot sun for two hours and then jam onto a 150-passenger ferry, wait another hour in the BVI to clear Customs, and then take a cab to their destination. It can literally take longer after they land on St. Thomas to get to their destination than it took for them to fly down.”
Dolphin Water Taxi opened their small space in the baggage claim area of King Airport about a year ago, next to Tropical Tours. When Tropical Tours recently moved out, Dolphin acquired their double-size counter space for a larger presence in baggage claim to service their customers, which will act as their meet-and-greet center. Customs paperwork is all done in advance, and from the airport, their cab will take them to American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook, where most of Dolphin’s departures are based, to board the vessel with complimentary drinks and proceed to a Customs port of entry in the BVI. Once cleared, they head directly to one of approximately 20 different destinations, including The Moorings, Scrub Island, Little Dix Bay, Cooper Island and more.
On average, it will run between $70 to $90 extra per person each way to go privately versus the public ferry system, but many people feel the time saved makes it well worth the money. Guests have the option of a completely private service, or they can share rides with others arriving on the same flight or at the same time. They can also accommodate groups of 100 to 150 with all of their boats running.
Dolphin Water Taxi also offers a day trip to Jost Van Dyke.
“Instead of spending $700 or $900 on a charter boat to get there, we’re on par with or sometimes even a little cheaper than the public ferry,” said Aberle. “Instead of going to Cruz Bay to get more people and waiting there, and then going from Cruz Bay to Great Harbour to go through Customs, then jumping in a cab to get to Soggy Dollar, we go directly to Great Harbour to clear Customs and then bring the boat over to Soggy Dollar so you don’t have to pay for a cab. It’s typically $70 per person each way plus Customs fees, but for locals, we do it for $40.”
There’s only one catch. The British Virgin Islands has been closed to tourism for months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The territory plans to reopen its borders in December. Meanwhile, Dolphin Water Taxi has had to think of new ways to keep afloat until travel to the BVI resumes.
After the 2017 hurricanes, Dolphin Water Taxi picked up where Dohm’s Water Taxi left off, providing service to Cruz Bay and the Westin on St. John. They also plan on adding another day boat to the mix for trips around the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“With that counter space at the airport, we’ll get to talk to more people at baggage claim who may have an extra free day during their stay, so it’s a perfect opportunity for us to expand a little further,” Aberle said.
Dolphin Water Taxi has also offered commercial services, for TV series such “Below Decks,” “Married at First Sight” and a TV series by Jacques Cousteau’s grandson Fabien.
As a part of the Virgin Islands community, Dolphin Water Taxi also gives back. They joined the rescue efforts after hurricanes Irma and Maria and they do work with the Boy Scouts. After a well-liked crew member passed away suddenly, the company spread his ashes, and in his honor, offers that service free to anyone who wants to bury a loved one at sea.
“We’ve been really, really grateful for the community in general,” said Aberle. “There are a lot of companies and hotels that send us business and we appreciate that, so twice a year, we do a two-hour free happy hour at Secret Harbour. It’s kind of our locals’ appreciation night.”
For more information, visit www.dolphinshuttle.com or call or text 340-774-2628.