Most of St. Croix's coastline is undeveloped.
View from Sandcastle
Casual dining at Breezes seen above
Bacchus Restaurant, Christiansted
The "Blue Moon" Restaurant in Frederksted
Winged friends join our outdoor table for breakfast on the beach.
Text by John Sherman Mills
Photography by Thomas I. Petersen
Jack’s Beach, St. Croix
U.S. Virgin Islands
As the coconut butter melts aromatically over my tingling skin, the tranquil beauty of this timeless place hypnotizes me. Bubbling white waves wash onto miles of a pristine palm-lined beach. Only a shallow coral reef separates the turquoise sea from the limitless, azure-blue sky. I nestle down onto my comfy terrycloth towel and surrender to the soothing embrace of the silky, cream-colored sand. The penetrating warmth of the tropical sun is subdued by the welcomed trade wind that whispers over me.
The entirety of St. Croix’s breathtaking coastline and inland mountains plays host to a myriad of exciting vacation pleasures. A 90-minute flight whisks you away from Miami to this tiny Caribbean paradise. With about 50,000 residents, St. Croix is a territory of the United States with so many mainland conveniences that visitors immediately feel very much at home.
There are a dozen resorts on either end of St. Croix. The luxurious “Cormorant Beach Club and Hotel” is situated just outside the picturesque town of Christiansted on St. Croix’s affluent northeast coast. Designed on six acres at the edge of Pelican Bay, the Cormorant is an upscale all-inclusive resort. Here for your enjoyment are an Olympic size swimming pool, tennis court, full service bar, Nautilus equipped workout room, open-air restaurant and an extremely attentive staff. Each of the 34 rooms and 4 suites has a totally private lanai perfect for sunning au naturel. The Cormorant has at least a quarter mile of oceanfront property with truly excellent snorkeling just offshore. Sailing, windsurfing, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, horseback riding and golf are readily available nearby.
On the southern coast the “Sandcastle on the Beach” is just footsteps away from the quaint seaport of Fredricksted. The Sandcastle is an intimate 28-room motel with a small pool and sunning area right on the beach. There’s also a clothing-optional pool in a secluded part of the complex. The beachside deck of the Sandcastle is a perfect place to cuddle as you experience St. Croix’s fiery sunsets. Many of the rooms have kitchenettes and seating areas perfect for hosting intimate private parties. Both the Cormorant and Sandcastle are top-notch getaways.
(View from ocean side restaurant of the Cormorant Beach Resort)
Here on St. Croix the blazing colors of spectacular sunsets herald the festivities of the night. One of the toughest decisions you’ll make is selecting one of more than 100 great places for dinner every night. St. Croix has as countless world class restaurants as well casual beachside cafes. As the outside temperature drops, the island’s pace heats up. Overcrowded watering holes in Christiansted include the Cormorant Club and the ever-popular Breezes. In Fredricksted you’ll want to check out the disco Reflections and the romantic verandah upstairs at The Saloon. You’ll find both the island’s guests and locals to be more than friendly. Connecting with people is easy here in this laid back, upbeat atmosphere.
As you might expect, St. Croix offers every possible water sport imaginable, from amateur snorkeling to serious scuba diving. For the underwater adventurer St. Croix’s crystal clear waters are teaming with colorful and exotic sea creatures (all harmless, I might add). Charter boats and any rental equipment you might need can be easily arranged all over the island. Buck Island on St. Croix’s north side is an American wildlife refuge, renown for its Elkhorn barrier reef, which supports abundant schools of brilliant parrotfish, blue tang, angelfish and yellowtail damselfish. Along the deceptively peaceful coast of southern St. Croix more than 20 spooky shipwrecks attract avid scuba drivers from all over the world. On the island’s southwestern most tip called “Sandy Point” are the protected breeding grounds for giant sea turtles. Of course, with the ocean’s temperature being 82 degrees all day, all year-round, who could resist a romantic midnight swim beneath the shimmering canopy of a star-filled sky?
(Divi Carina Bay Resort)
Aquatic activities are hardly the only recreation here on St. Croix. Allow yourself plenty of time for sightseeing. The best way go get around is to acquire an inexpensive car rental. (Jeeps are great for the open-air thrill, but totally unnecessary. The roads on St. Croix ironically are in better condition than most in the States.)
You’ll probably want to start your island adventure in Christiansted on Gallows Bay. The main historic district of this Danish built hamlet is only eight blocks long and five blocks wide. The two and three story brightly painted buildings with their distinctive shuttered windows have stood defiantly since the late 1700’s. The city’s centerpiece is the regal Caravelle Hotel along a boardwalk that gently skirts the harbor’s edge. Boutiques and sophisticated shops abound, where you can marvel over golden, jewel-encrusted masterpieces as well as unique handicrafts created by local artisans. The West Indies has always been known for the 18K gold “Bangle” bracelet, worn here as much by men as by women. Most venders give hefty tax-free discounts.
Along the waterfront guys and gals hang out at Stixx, where icy afternoon libations are laced with the infamous, over proof Cruzan Gold Rum. The faces in this lively establishment reflect the island’s tremendous ethnic diversity of the people who settled here from East India, Africa, Latin America, Puerto Rico, France, Denmark and the United States. As an energizing mix of rock, Caribbean soul and Latin salsa plays on, friends, new and old, mingle freely at this funky seaside Mecca.
The Visitor Center on the King’s Alley has easy-to-read walking maps that guide you through rustic back streets, through hidden courtyards and along shaded pathways to majestic structures like the Government House with its handsome staircase and portico. Not to be missed is the colorful outdoor market, where island farmers offer their mangos, papayas and other tasty tropical fruits fresh every day. Overlooking all this activity, the formidable Fort Christiansvaern with its impressive iron cannons seems to still stand guard, denying it’s present status as St. Croix’s most comprehensive maritime museum.
Whether by bike or car, you’ll want to follow Route 82, which meanders eastward along a breathtakingly rugged coast. It’s fun to poke around the grounds of the exclusive resorts, such as the Buccaneer, the Tamarind Reef and Chenay Bay Hotel that lie perched above this immaculate shoreline.
(Sunterra Resort offers timeshares and condominiums of the lei side of the island)
As if hiding like the pirate ships of long ago, luxury sailboats lay anchored in secluded bays. The point at which Route 82 becomes East End Road is marked by meticulously manicured park and eighteenth-century windmill, one of more than one hundred scattered throughout the island. It’s along this narrow, winding road that you’ll make the bewildering discovery of a surreal giant dish antenna- some 82 feet in diameter. Snuggled at its base is an extraterrestrial listening station of the National Science Foundation. Knowledgeable docents happily provide tours of this mysterious place, one of ten such installations in the United States which interconnect to search for signals from life in outer space.
Nearby is one of St. Croix’s architectural treasures, the prestigious Villa Madeleine. On a hillside with unsurpassed panoramic view of the island’s north and south sides the Villa Madeleine was a plantation estate great house. From the windows and precarious balconies of this hilltop palace are sweeping, unobstructed vistas of the turquoise Caribbean Sea.
Today the Villa’s sumptuously appointed rooms are the cozy dining areas of this gourmet restaurant that has received countless international awards. Featured here are fresh Wahoo, yellow tail snapper, takati tuna, mahi-mahi and lobster. The side dishes like the chilled mango-papaya soup and broiled mushroom caps stuffed with conch are simply unforgettable.
At the eastern tip of St. Croix are Sugar Loaf Hill and Point Udahl. Yet another surprise awaits here: the intriguing Millennium Monument. This open stone structure, which purposely echoes the enigmatic feeling of Stonehenge, was constructed as a commemorative. It remembers the first sighting of the rising sun in a United States territory in the Western Hemisphere on the morning of January 1, 2000. If you take some time, you can actually figure out how the quirky columns somehow function as a giant sundial.
As I turn around and head back westward, I soon to approach the colossal Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino. Newly opened, this resort complex caters unabashedly to the genuinely rich and famous. Room rates at the hotel start at four hundred dollars a night! High rollers from around the world gravitate to this extravagantly opulent center for gaming.
St. Croix’s western side equally matches the excitement of its eastern end. Rustic Fredericksted with its Victorian gingerbread buildings is the area’s commercial hub and the island's only deep-water seaport for holiday cruise ships. The tourist area along the waterfront, some seven blocks long and four blocks wide, is generally quiet during the day with bargain hunters leisurely shopping amongst its nooks and crannies. At nighttime, however, this honky-tonk place springs alive. Musicians tumble into the streets and six or seven different combos break out into their intoxicating Caribbean rhythms. Street vendors with their outrageously colorful carts and brightly hanging lanterns emerge from seemingly everywhere. Bar B Q’s are fired up and the smoky aroma of garlic-roasted chicken drifts through the boisterous crowd. Every other Wednesday, the streets are off limits to vehicular traffic for Harbor Night. That’s when you’re most likely to see the capricious giant “Moko Jumbies” saunter about on stilts high above the revelers.
(The favorite eatery on the island is "Le St. Tropez," where its colorful owners pamper their guests.)
Daytime activities near Frederiksted include bike riding along the gentle coastal road that twists it way from one unspoiled beach after another. Route 63 eventually ends at the Estate Mount Washington. An expansive sugar plantation in the 1850’s, today the buildings and grounds are completely restored. The stately, two-story great house of the plantation is considered to be the most beautiful example of Danish architecture in the Virgin Islands. Being here, it’s easy to imagine how life was a 150 years ago when sugar was king.
Nearby, you’ll find Paul & Jill’s Equestrian Stables. Their horses are available for riding along the numerous paths that follow creeks and streams up into the peaks of the tropic rain forest that dominates this side of the island. There are similar opportunities for day trekking as well along separate trails. A good starting point is at the Lawaetz Family Museum. You’ll first want to a few moments and step inside the great house. It’s a grand 18th century home, crammed with heirlooms, furniture and pictures which provide yet another glimpse into the Danish West Indian lifestyle of the early nineteen century. From the surrounding gardens, pathways invite you into the mountainsides. The trails are easy and safe, with the exception of the heart stopping moments when giant iguanas scurry unexpectedly in front of you!
The Mahogany Road switchbacks through the low coastal hills and it’s here that you’ll discover the St. Croix Leap, a woodworking and crafts center. Skilled local artisans create furniture and art works that accentuate the rich grains and colors of indigenous woods.
The central part of St. Croix has its share of attractions. The deadly brew that they offer back at Stixx is actually manufactured here in the Cruzan Rum Distillery that’s open daily for tour. You start by walking through a sea of enormous fragrant kegs, then up onto creaky open-mesh ramps to observe the complicated distilling process below. After viewing the contorted system of bottling and labeling, you find yourself in a convenient tasting room with a cool fruit-flavored drink in your hand. Amazingly, in the absence of a liquor tax on the island, you’re likely to pay more for the mixer than you are for the rum!
Only a few miles from the brewery lies the St. George Botanical Garden. You enter via the impressive new Visitor/Education Center, where hi-tech displays present a scientific data on the agriculture and plant cultivation of St. Croix. Outside are expansive, landscaped gardens with lush green lawns and a proliferation of vibrant azaleas, camellias, bougainvillea and pyracanthas. The grounds cover over16 acres of the ruins of a 19th century sugarcane village and rum factory.
St. Croix’s heritage from the sugar industry in eighteenth century is encapsulated in the awesome Whim Plantation Museum. Visitors here are guided through the estate, which includes sugar cane fields, a working antique processing factory and a workers’ village.
The owner’s original mansion, which was constructed of coral, sand, molasses and lime in 1762, stands proudly today in an exquisitely refurbished condition. Elegantly appointed with Danish antique furniture and paintings, the interior of this magnificent home catapults you back in time.
Whether you’re basking on the beach, frolicking in the ocean or sightseeing around the island, you just can’t help but fall in love with St. Croix.
Bacchus 52 Queens Cross, Christiansted (seafood)
Breezes Pelican Beach, Christiansted (seafood, pasta)
Cormorant Club Pelican Beach, Christiansted (Caribbean, continental)
Indies 55 Company Street, Christiansted (Caribbean)
Blue Moon Strand Street Frederiksted (Caribbean, seafood)
Change in Lattitude Pierside Frederiksted (lite faire)
Frederiksted Hotel King’s Cross Street (poolside breakfasts)
Le St. Tropez Queen’s Street Frederiksted (French Caribbean)