You might not know it, but paradise is only 2,103 miles from Houston. We found it on the beautiful island of St. Croix while staying at The Hotel Caravelle in the quaint town of Christiansted. Part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix is the perfect long weekend getaway for Houstonians that are scared of foreign travel and calculating exchange rates, since the local currency is the U.S. dollar – and you can be there in about four hours. In fact, St. Croix is the perfect getaway for just about anyone.
Out and about
Our first day on the island, we went on a safari organized by the hotel staff. The safari was a day-long tour of the island with stops at various watering holes and beautiful beaches and included terrific commentary about the island’s history. We headed first along the north shore with stellar views of the surf and sand. We took a brief stop at Christopher Columbus’ landing site, where he landed on the island in 1493 and met some resistance from the local Carib and Arawak Indians. Next, we headed into the rainforest, located in the center of the island, and stopped for a little “mama wanna,” the locally made moonshine we found at the Mt. Pellier Hut Domino Club. The exotic libations aren’t the only attraction at Mt. Pellier’s, where we also encountered several enormous hogs that enjoy drinking nonalcoholic beer straight from the can. Turns out, we weren’t the only thirsty travelers in the area.
We stopped for lunch in Frederiksted, the only other town of note on the island, before heading on to the 300-year-old Cruzan Rum Distillery. (Many of you may be familiar with Cruzan Rum from their sponsorship of Kenny Chesney’s current tour.) I got to know the distillery and appreciate its wide variety of flavored rums, such as raspberry, banana, pineapple, citrus and coconut, that we sampled at the end of the tour. Another advantage to St. Croix’s relationship with the United States is the added benefit of being able to bring home six bottles of liquor per person, instead of the usual single bottle restriction. (So you can help your friends taste a little of the tropics upon your arrival home.)
Our final stop was at the historic Whim Plantation and Greathouse, a 16th century Danish sugar plantation that hosts tours of the restored stable, kitchen and main house, along with a tour of the exhibits describing harvesting of sugar cane.
One of the greatest draws to St. Croix is the exceptional and plentiful SCUBA diving opportunities. We spent the day with S.C.U.B.A. (St. Croix Ultimate Bluewater Adventures) and its staff, Rodale’s Scuba Diving magazine’s No. 1-rated dive staff in the world for 2003. Along the coast of the island runs a 13,000 foot wall boasting the largest living reef of any Caribbean island and more than 30 fantastic dive spots.
On our two dives we saw stingrays, Caribbean spiny lobsters, barracuda, moray eels and a tremendous array of fish, coral and sea life. Equally impressive was the day we spent boating and snorkeling around Buck Island Reef National Monument, a 19,000-acre national park dedicated by President John F. Kennedy. The park is another island of 176 acres with a pristine beach, hiking and nature trails, and 4,554 acres of a surrounding reef system.
We spotted several baby black tip sharks while walking along the north side of the island and then were paid a visit by Sammy the Stingray, a park resident that loves to have his back scratched by swimmers. On the opposite side of the island, accessible only by boat, is the protected reef, set up by the park service with an underwater trail for snorkelers to follow with signs identifying various coral formations and sea life.
We visited at a particularly opportune time as the Taste of St. Croix food and wine event was being held to benefit the St. Croix Foundation, an organization designed to help restore St. Croix physically, economically and socially. One ticket for a worthy cause gained you access to a beachside feeding frenzy of more than 40 restaurants from St. Croix (and even a few from St. Thomas). With unlimited samples of the best fare the island has to offer, we savored the gigantic scallops sauteéd in butter and truffle oil from Rumrunner’s, the People Choice winner three of the last four years. We were also able to pair the food with tastings of more than 30 wines offered by several different sponsors. This was the fifth annual event and is certainly worth planning your trip around.
For those of you that want more than gorgeous beaches, unparalleled diving and snorkeling, exquisite cuisine, and historical significance, St. Croix is also host to countless local artisans. Jan Mitchell’s glass ornaments have hung on the White House Peace Tree for the last 10 years, and Whealan Masicott’s IB design studio features original handcrafted jewelry, like the Crucian Infinity bracelet we couldn’t snatch up fast enough.
The Hotel Caravelle is the perfect spot from which to launch all your island adventures. Located right on the water in historical downtown Christiansted, this small European-style hotel has a terrific staff that is thrilled to arrange any activity available on the island, including deep sea fishing and sea kayaking, along with all those we enjoyed while we were there. If you don’t want to take my word for it that they’ve found a little piece of paradise in St. Croix, just check out the live Christiansted web cam located at www.gotostcroix.com and see for yourself. But be careful, you may go straight from that site to booking your airfare. H
– The Hotel Caravelle, 44A Queen Cross St., (800) 524-0410, www.hotelcaravelle.com – Cruzan Rum Distillery, #3 and 3A Estate Diamond, www.cruzanrum.com – Whim Plantation and Greathouse, St. Croix Landmarks Society, (340) 772-0598, www.stcroixlandmarks.com – S.C.U.B.A., #14 Caravelle Arade, (877) 567-1367, www.stcroixscuba.com