A Tale of Two Islands: Part 1 – St. CroixJan 01, 2022 01:32PM ● By Crash Gregg
A good story should contain elements of romance, adventure, and history. This travel feature is just that: a tale of love lost and love found; discovery of an idyllic vacation site, and learning about the historical significance of two Caribbean islands.
|The Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino|
The Love Story
I originally met two new friends, Rich and Sally, in Denver, Colorado in 1991. As many young couples do, they divorced. Even though I had only seen Sally a few times over the course of ten years, we continued to stay in touch with her and she was a dear friend.
About eight years ago, Sally and Rich reconnected. They discovered that their affection for one another still remained. Sally sold everything and moved to St. Croix, to be with Rich where he was employed as a police officer in Frederiksted. Shortly thereafter, they remarried.
For years, I had promised to make a trip to St. Croix to see Rich and Sally, and finally, some years later, I booked a Caribbean vacation with a friend. (Note: This is a plug for our travel agent – Bob Gani at Travel Experts of Cary. He found our vacation “package”, and booked our flights, hotel, and side excursions. A very knowledgeable man, he and his wife Sylvia have been in the travel industry for years.) We had less than a week and decided to limit our trip to St. Croix and St. Thomas.
One advantage of staying within American territories is the ease of travel: they use U.S. currency, the U.S. postal system, U.S. and Canadian banks, and U.S. customs. The only anomaly is they drive their automobiles on the left-hand side of the road, so pay attention!
We flew into Henry E. Rohlsen Airport at St. Croix via a connecting flight from Miami. Just flying in over the aquamarine waters, we knew we were in for a treat. The airport is unfortunately not close to anything. However, shuttles and taxis are numerous, and all the drivers are incredibly friendly and helpful. In fact, the de rigueur greetings are “Good Morning, Good Afternoon, or Good Evening” and it is considered rude if you don’t reply in kind. Thanks to our travel agent, we had a driver waiting to take us to our hotel, the Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino. The resort is located on the southeast corner of the island, which meant that we had to drive past the Hovensa Oil Refinery. The refinery is one of the largest refineries in the western hemisphere – and, trust me, it’s big and a bit of an eyesore. But, once you get around it, the scenery is lovely.
One of the Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino pools
The island has two distinct environments: the west end has tropical rainforests and dense vegetation, while the east end is more arid – one can see a variety of cacti. The trip to the Divi reminded us of the southwest more than a tropical island. The resort itself has been landscaped with tropical palms, exotic orchids, and flamboyant flowers.
The lobby of the Divi is open to the sea breeze with our balcony overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Beautiful glass dolphin sculptures and vivid marine colors decorate the interior. The traditional Caribbean steel drum music plays in the background, and the staff dresses in tropical attire.
The first thing I had to do was slow down and relax. In the States, I work more hours than most folks I know, so I'm always on the go, always "on". Here in St. Croix, things happen when they happen, so get used to it. After we checked into our room, we headed straight to the beach. The coral reef shelf is close enough to snorkel and there's a nice dive shop right at the resort. There are also paddle-boats and kayaks available. For people who like to just sun and swim, the water is comfortably warm and incredibly clear.
That night we ate at the restaurant on site – the food was great but the service was, well, leisurely is a good word. The casino is small but lively. We met many locals who liked to gamble there.
The architecture and buildings of Christiansted are certainly Instagram-worthy
Our travel package included a snorkel trip to Buck Island Reef National Monument. The boat leaves from the capital city Christiansted, a wonderful historical site, but more about that to follow. The actual snorkeling experience was one of the best we have ever experienced. The barrier reef surrounds much of Buck Island, rising over thirty feet from the sea floor, giving the snorkeler an experience of a lifetime. A lagoon is enclosed between the island and the barrier reef. The light aquamarine color is produced by the sunlight reflecting off the shallow sandy floor. The underwater trail is at the eastern tip of the island. Underwater signs along the trail explain the reef ecology. The variety of fish, as well as the intricate coral walls, create what has been expressed as “one of the most complex types of environments known.”
Aerial view of the capital city of Christiansted
After snorkeling, we spent the afternoon in Christiansted. Founded in 1735 by the Danes, the historical fort was built to protect the settlement from pirates as it was a major port for rum and sugarcane. In fact, St. Croix was at one time, covered with sugar cane plantations. The plantations ceased to be productive after slavery was abolished in 1801 (although the slaves were not set free until 1848), and sugar beets were found to be easier to produce. Christiansted is also the hub of activity on the island. This is the place for shopping and nightlife.
The fort at Christiansted, built in 1736
We spent the next day with our friends. Rich and Sally live just outside of Frederiksted, on the property of a former plantation house, now a museum. The Lawaetz Museum (Estate Little La Grange), built in the 19th century, was the residence of the Lawaetz family, prominent Danish Americans. The site, originally a sugar plantation and later a cattle farm, still operates today growing fruits, herbs, and vegetables. Do not miss the famous Saman tree on the property. Simon Bolivar camped his revolutionary army under this tree.
The beautiful town of Frederiksted is even more breathtaking from our boat
While you are on the northwest end of the island, there are a few activities in which you should partake. The Whim Plantation does an excellent job of educating its visitors about life on a sugar cane plantation. The production of sugar cane was intensive and required many laborers. The great house is beautifully preserved and the site shows three different means used throughout the years to extract the sugar.
The fort in Frederiksted
The botanists among us will be in heaven and must go see the rainforest and the area surrounding Frederiksted. The variety of trees is amazing and some of the largest and oldest can be found on St. Croix. Spectacular Saman, Beobab, Kapok, and Tamarind trees, to name just a few, are present. We recommend the book "Remarkable Big Trees in the Virgin Islands" by Robert W. Nicholls as an excellent guidebook. When you look down from the trees, you will find an amazing array of tropical flowers and plants growing right alongside cacti. And living in this paradise are more varieties of birds than you can imagine. Be sure to bring your camera with a fast lens.
The next stop is the Cruzan Rum distillery which is just off of Highway 64 near the airport. After having seen the Whim sugar cane plantation, you can then view the process required to produce rum. Cruzan rums are famous for their mellow, smooth taste. The Cruzan single barrel estate rum was voted the world’s best rum. Our favorite, however, is the black strap naval rum – the darkest, thickest, and most flavorful rum we have encountered. We encouraged Rich and Sally that they should be sending us regular shipments!
The Lawaetz Family Museum
Next month we will continue with Part II of our Caribbean adventure with the trip to St. Thomas, the shopper’s paradise!
Travel Experts of Cary – 919.380.1555, 866.380.1555
Divi Carina Bay Casino – 340.773.PLAY, www.carinabay.com
Lawaetz Museum – 340.772.1539, www.stcroixlandmarks.com
Whim Museum - 340.772-0598, www.stcroixlandmarks.com
Buck Island – Caribbean Sea Adventures, 340.773.2628
Cruzan Rum Distillery – 340.692.2280