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Island of Romance
Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher
Lying east of Puerto Rico, among the Antilles Islands, are the United States Virgin Islands. Made up of three major islands and about 50 islets, the US purchased the island group from Denmark in 1917 for $25 million. The Danish West Indies became the USVI. Saint Thomas, Saint John, and Saint Croix are the major islands. Saint John is the smallest with most of its land being part of the Virgin Islands National Park. Saint Thomas is next in size, with Charlotte Amalie, the capital. Saint Thomas draws more tourists than any of the other islands, primarily from cruise ships. Then there is Saint Croix, the largest of the group, at only 84 square miles.
At more than twice the size of Saint Thomas, Saint Croix draws a fraction of the tourists of the smaller island. That suits us just fine. Of course, since there are fewer people visiting, it means less in the way of tourist attractions. The night life is practically non-existent. Which, also suits us finely. Saint Croix is a quiet, sun-drenched, sea-kissed, beach-blessed island where a couple may escape to the sensuous surroundings and the company of one another.
The warm sea breezes, the crystal clear turquoise waters, the beach--all conspire to stir the emotions of love. Our first evening we sat on our deck at the Tamarind Reef Hotel, as the thick sultry sea breeze rolled in--all was well with life. The average annual temperature of 80 degrees and the prevailing trade winds make for nearly perfect vacation weather year-round. Many choose Saint Croix as their honeymoon destination while others plan their wedding on the island.
Discovered by Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1493, he dubbed the island, "Santa Cruz." Both Santa Cruz and today's French name of Saint Croix mean "holy cross." The island has had the flags of seven nations fly over her at one time or another. Today the island represents the easternmost land under control of the US. There are no problems of mistranslation or currency conversion to confuse or concern. The language is English and the currency is the US Dollar. Although part of the US, visitors must pass through US Customs upon departure. A picture ID and proof of US residency will get you through, but it is much easier if you have your passport.
Settled primarily for agricultural reasons, the island's top product was sugar. Windmill ruins around the island stand as mute evidence to this once thriving industry. The windmills harnessed the energy of the trade winds to squeeze the juice from the cane. A stop by Whim Plantation offers insight on sugar production and life on a sugar plantation.
Saint Croix was the capital of the Danish West Indies, and Christiansted was the capital city. There are many historic buildings in downtown Christiansted today. Several are under management by the US National Park Service. Christiansted National Historic Site preserves the wharf area and several related buildings, including Fort Christiansvaern. The brightly painted yellow fort, overlooking the harbor, was completed in 1749. A stop by the visitor center provides a quick Saint Croix history lesson.
Only 28 miles long and seven miles wide, the island is easy to get around. Taxis are available to carry passengers anywhere on the island, but a rental car is more convenient. Rental agencies are at the airport and some hotels provide rentals as part of their packages offered. One major adjustment is driving on the left. The fact that the steering wheel is on the left (US style) makes it a little disconcerting at first, but it doesn't take long to adjust. There are only two major towns, Christiansted and Frederiksted, so it is pretty hard to get lost, at least for very long. The island's vegetation is amazingly diverse, from a dry, cactus-dotted landscape on one end to a rainforest on the other.
Leaving behind the gray winter/early spring days of our Mid-Atlantic existence, we were unprepared for the brilliance of the Saint Croix sun. We found ourselves squinting like moles the first few days. At times it felt as if we were placed under a sun lamp and couldn't get away. During the first few days, 20-30 minutes of direct sun is plenty, and don't forget to slather on the sunscreen. You'll still have a great tan to show the folks back home.
Not to be missed is a snorkeling trip out to Buck Island Reef National Monument. Buck Island lies one and half miles off the northeast coast of Saint Croix, five miles outside Christiansted. There are several companies in Christiansted that offer half-day and day trips out to Buck Island. Such trips are included in many of packages offered by area hotels. The national monument includes 176 land acres and 704 acres of underwater area. There is a diverse array of aquatic life on the reef. The area provides habitat for several threatened and endangered species including brown pelicans, hawksbill and green turtles. There is a well-marked underwater trail for snorkelers to follow, taking in the beautiful underwater gardens of coral and colorful fish. Boat trips stop by West Beach to offer instruction and allow guests to be become comfortable using the snorkel equipment. Afterwards, the boat ventures out to the underwater trail at the eastern end of the island.
Food prices on the island run about $15-$20 for breakfast, $30-$40 for lunch, and $60-$80 for dinner, per couple. A wise consideration is one of the all-inclusive packages offered by area hotels, such as the Hibiscus Beach Hotel. The package will get you into the area's top restaurants.
Speaking of top restaurants, we recommend Stixx on the Waterfront, located in the Pan Am Pavilion overlooking Christiansted Harbor. Chef Valentine Smith prepares a seafood pasta, which includes local lobster, in a lemon caper cream sauce that is out of this world. Originally from Grenada (known for its spices), the man has secrets. Secret spices, secret things he does with food, things he won't share--but things that will always keep us coming back for more. Dinner at Stixx will long remain in our memory.
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