We were looking for something a bit out of the way that still offered plenty of comfort; a beachfront room in a place we’d never been as ingredients for an early 40th anniversary trip. St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands turned out to be a great choice. Except for some spots in the Pacific, it’s about as far as you can go and still be in a U.S. territory, meaning that money and language are not a problem.
Insider tip: While passports are not required, having one can make returning to the mainland easier.
St. Croix is larger than the other U.S. Virgin Islands, but lacks the sometimes frantic pace of St. Thomas and offers more variety than St. John. Indeed, the island offers something for most interests.
For romance, it’s tough to beat the Renaissance St. Croix Carambola which is somewhat isolated on the north shore where the rainforest runs down to the beach. Two-story buildings hold only four or six rooms, each with its own screened porch, kitchen appliances, large bath, sitting room, and bed chamber.
Originally built as a Rockefeller resort, the rooms’ natural woods and tile exude a feeling of luxury with environmental awareness. The open-air bar/restaurant and the larger Saman Restaurant offer exceptional cuisine, especially fish, steak, and a dynamite burger, and spectacular ocean views. A large pool next to the bar beckons those who don’t want to laze on the beach.
“We want people to discover something new,” said General Manager Rick McKeown. We have the dive shop so they can explore The Wall off our beach. But the island also has great history and culture.
“The culinary side is very important because we tend to have a longer length of stay,” he said. “About 80 percent of our guests are couples, but we get a lot of families around the holidays.”
A regular Friday night event features a mind-blowing fire dancing troupe and St. Croix’s traditional island stilt dancers.
The resort’s concierges offered specific advice on driving routes (a rental car is desirable), restaurants, and attractions and even kept Marvin connected to Recreation News business when necessary.
A very attractive wedding package drew Dan and Dina from Philadelphia to the Carambola and we joined the celebratory dancing with their guests.
There are plenty of other beaches on St. Croix and divers and snorkelers can also find amazing tropical discoveries offshore. Buck Island Reef National Monument is one of the few fully marine protected areas in the National Park System. Six licensed outfitters can take you to the island for half- or full-day experiences.
Kayakers can enjoy the Salt River, an ecologically diverse waterway which is also the only documented site under the U. S. flag where Columbus landed in his voyage of 1493.
Seven flags have flown over St. Croix, including those of the Knights of Malta and the Dutch, from whom the U.S. purchased the Virgin Islands for $25 million in 1917. The Dutch influence is especially strong with colorful buildings dating to the 1700s lining the streets of Christiansted and Frederiksted, the largest towns. The Colonial forts and customs houses are interesting and intertwined with the life of Alexander Hamilton who spent his boyhood and early manhood here.
At Estate Whim, a preserved sugar cane plantation, we learned that, once sugar cane was introduced to the island, it became a primary product, along with molasses and rum. The museum has the best preserved cane windmill on the island along with equipment tracing the increasing mechanization of the process.
Our tour guide at the Cruzan Rum distillery, Charlene Nelthropp, moved to St. Croix from Washington and eventually married into the family that has owned the distillery for seven generations. “There are 40,000 barrels of rum aging here at any one time,” she said. Free rum drinks are served in the hospitality pavilion at the end of the fascinating tour.
Island restaurants are often open-air and funky but we found the food outstanding. Our table at Rum Runners sat on the edge of Christiansted’s harbor and the lobster salad and fish were delicious. Just outside the restaurant is a live webcam where you can greet the folks back home.
Beachside Café at the Sandcastle on the Beach boutique Hotel near Frederiksted is right on the beach with views of the ocean, Frederiksted harbor, and snorklers enjoying the underwater scenery. Our waitress, a Maryland native, introduced us to an island favorite drink, the Lime in the Coconut.
A spectacular sunset and scrumptious scallops awaited us at Eat @ Cane Bay, which resembled an open-air tree house, perched above Cane Bay Beach
St. Croix has lots of accommodations, but two deserve mention. The Buccaneer, near Christiansted, is in the manicured British tradition contrasting with the laid-back vibe of the Renaissance Carambola. Honeymooners John and Kate Nakovich from Northern Virginia enjoyed their room near the beach. There are also rooms and a restaurant in the original hotel up the hill that provide panoramic views.
The boutique Sand Castle on the Beach near Frederiksted boasts several different types of rooms and views in addition to its Beachside Café. Both it and The Buccaneer are locally owned.
Renaissance Carambola: carambolabeach.com
U.S. Virgin Islands Tourism: visitusvi.com