I had to be dragged out of St. Croix kicking and screaming. Figuratively so, but it came uncomfortably close to being literal. I wasn’t ready to leave. Once wrapped in St. Croix’s sticky sweet and humid embrace, it seemed unfathomable to return to the frigid, get-ready-to-freeze-your-butt-off weather conditions that awaited me back home in Washington, DC. January on the East Coast is kinda miserable. The only thing worse is February. This California girl has spent enough winters back East for cold, wet, and icy to have lost all novelty. I’d prefer to stick around the tropical paradise of St. Croix instead. Spend the days marinating in the sun with a good book and the evenings sipping a rum “Painkiller” cocktail with my boyfriend under a blanket of twinkling stars. It doesn’t get much better than that.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. Just ask the thousands of folks who’ve permanently ditched their digs in the U.S. and Europe for beach bungalows and hillside hideaways in St. Croix. What makes St. Croix so unique is that it is an exotic Caribbean retreat but, at the same time, still U.S. territory. Foreign yet familiar. Americans can leave our passports at home because we don’t need them to get into St. Croix. And why would you ever to want to leave this paradise?
History: While Columbus landed on St. Croix in 1493 in the name of Spain, the Dutch and English, along with a small group of French Protestants, were the first Europeans to settle on the island. In 1733 the Danish West Indies Company purchased St. Croix from France who had taken over the island in 1665. The U.S. bought the Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917 for $25 million. St. Croix, along with the other U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas and St. John are U.S. territories, and the islands´ residents are U.S. citizens. The main industries are tourism, agriculture, and oil refinery.
Must Stay: My days of going the resort route when it comes to Caribbean beach vacations are over after seeing some of the beautiful vacation homes for rent on the island. If you’ve got a group, renting a house is often a more cost-effective way to go. Lucky for us, my boyfriend’s friend James generously invited us to stay at his home just ten minutes outside of Christiansted, the main town and former capital of the Virgin Islands. And what a home it was! The word stunning doesn’t do it justice. Picture a private, tropical oasis perched on the side of a cliff with a huge deck and pool overlooking a 180 degree view of peaceful, lapping, turquoise, Caribbean Sea. Oh, and a friendly neighborhood iguana or two strolling around the grounds to welcome you home. Heaven. (I spent a significant amount of my vacation poolside on a chaise lounge pondering a really important question: how long could I hide out in one of the spare bedrooms before James discovered me and realized he had a squatter living in his home? A week? A month?) For people interested in renting a house or condo like James’s, check out one of the plethora of vacation home sites. You won’t be disappointed.
If you’d prefer to stay at a hotel, you’ll want to book a room at the Buccaneer, the Caribbean and Virgin Island’s oldest, most historic resort. Splurge like “the Bachelor” on one of the new beach-front villas for knock-your-socks-off views of Christiansted Harbor and the Caribbean Sea OR opt for an ocean-view suite in the sprawling, pink-washed resort nestled on top of a lush, green hill.
Whether or not you choose to stay at the Buccaneer, don’t miss the opportunity to stop at the resort ‘s Mermaid restaurant located right on the beach. Dig your toes into the sand and kick back with one of the island’s signature rum cocktails. Relax. You have nothing to do today. The Buccaneer is set on one of the nicest beaches on the island and, whether or not you’re staying there, you can cozy up on one of their lounge chairs on the shore and make yourself at home.
Must Eat: Christmas Dinner at the South Shore Inn was one of the most fun and unique meals of my life. Diane, a feisty New York transplant, is the sole server, bartender, owner, and chef at this incredible restaurant. Her cuisine is a mix of gourmet and home cooking, and she is famous for her homemade pasta and fresh ingredients. Even my boyfriend’s cranky little brother who hates everything RAVED about her lasagna and said it was the best he’s ever had. I’ve travelled all over Italy and have yet to taste a better marinara sauce than Diane’s. Did I mention that her desserts are out of this world? Do not leave St. Croix without dining at the South Shore Inn. Better have a reservation though because there are only five tables and they book up fast.
Duggan’s Reef is another restaurant that isn’t to be missed – and not just because you might run into a vacationing Vice President of the United States or other celebrity while you’re there. The seaside, open air restaurant is so good that it was the first and last place where the late Ted Kennedy and his family dined every time they visited St. Croix. On our second trip to the restaurant we sat right next to my former boss Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill. Celeb sightings aside, it’s the delicious food that makes Duggan’s Reef stand out from the pack. Order up a huge lobster (try their famous whiskey lobster) or one of their fresh fish dishes, and don’t even think about leaving without tasting their lobster mashed potatoes. To die for. Our first meal was so fantastic that we went back a second time before we left the island.
Opa! The Picked Greek is one of the best lunch spots on the island. Peter, the owner, treated us like family when he served up an authentic lunch of succulent gyros, Greek salad, and his special chic pea fries. He even treated us to a round of anise. Yum!
Stop into the Luncheria for a delicious Mexican lunch next time you’re in Christiansted. The food is so authentic (and the free salsa bar so fresh!) at this little hole in the wall that you’ll think you’re in Mexico, especially when you notice the occasional chicken cruising by your table. Since I can’t go more than 5 days without Mexican food, I was relieved to find traditional Mexican fare exists in the middle of the Caribbean. Order one of the restaurant’s signature Margaritas or a bottle of El Presidente and relax at your table in the charming, no frills courtyard. Don’t be alarmed by the soft tickling at your feet – that’s just a friendly neighborhood chicken saying hola.
Must Do: St. Croix is famous for its delicious rum, and the Cruzan Rum Distillery does not disappoint. At the least the rum sampling part doesn’t. The tour itself is a little meh. Don’t leave the island without taking a quick tour of the facility and spending an hour (or two!) enjoying your fill of complimentary rum drinks in the lounge. For just $5 you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about rum AND sample as many types of rum as you can drink. It’s an unbeatable deal and a fun way to spend an afternoon.
Buck Island is located just a couple miles northeast of Saint Croix and it is a must see. Snorkelers and scuba divers will rejoice over several miles of reef and crystal clear water. Make sure you check out Turtle Beach while you’re there. It’s one of National Geographic’s most beautiful beaches in the world. Try Big Beard’s Adventure Tours for half day or full day snorkeling, scuba, and snuba trips. Never heard of snuba? It’s a hybrid of snorkeling and scuba diving that lets you have the “scuba experience” without the certification. You get to dive 15 to 25 feet below without carrying the air tank on your back. Instead, it’s attached to a raft floating just above the surface. Since we didn’t have time to get scuba certified before this trip, Nick and I decided to try snuba. It was cool to dive so far down under water, however, the tour company we used didn’t execute it very well. The ten or so “divers” ended up getting all tangled together – it was a total cluster -leading to flippers in the face which took away from the experience. But it did inspire me to get scuba certified. Still have to check that one off the bucket list.