Destination: U.S. Virgin Islands
Rich History, Diverse Activities And Picturesque Beaches Close To Home
By Cheryl Alexander
Year-round warm temperatures (77°F /winter; 82°F /summer), sugar white sand beaches, ease of travel and a variety of accommodations, culinary experiences and land/sea adventures make the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) one of the most desirable places in the world to get away. Part of the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean, the three principal islands – St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas – are magnificent tropical environments, each distinguished by its own personality.
In addition to picturesque beaches, the U.S. Virgin Islands share a rich history. Seven flags have flown over the islands since their discovery in 1493 by Christopher Columbus: Spanish, English, French, Knights of Malta, French (for a second time), the Danish, and now the islands are part of the United States. This eclectic historical path has influenced the development of all three islands, particularly during the Danish reign. Street, town and area names, architecture and former plantations all reflect the Danish influence even 250+ years after Danish rule.
With six nations ruling the USVI throughout its history, it should come as no surprise that the cultural diversity is perhaps most authentically reflected in its cuisine. The islands’ multi-national population results in a striking compilation of culinary styles, from Italian, Irish, West Indian, Caribbean, Japanese, even German. Throughout the year, festivals and fairs showcase the islands’ traditional cuisine, with flavors and textures dating back to 19th century slave-trading days.
LAND AND WATER ACTIVITIES
Today, the U.S. Virgin Islands are leaders in the development of “sustainable tourism” which protects the beauty of the natural environment while allowing visitors to enjoy its pristine wonder. St. John leads in eco-tourism resorts that allow visitors to experience intimate encounters with the natural beauty of the Caribbean outdoors, along with comfort and convenience at an affordable cost. St. Thomas offers a guided kayak tour through its marine sanctuary and mangrove lagoon led by experienced naturalists and biologists. Off the shores of St. Croix, Buck Island provides memorable snorkeling experiences at one of the few underwater national monuments in the United States.
Fun and adventure are abundant because of the islands’ endless choice of activities, including tennis, golf, horseback riding, kayaking, biking, hiking and sportfishing. Numerous watersports are also available on each island, including scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing, windsurfing, parasailing and “SNUBA” – a unique sport that combines snorkeling and scuba diving.
The islands’ diverse topography, formed by volcanic eruptions nearly 100 million years ago, makes biking and hiking particularly enjoyable. Golfers partake in challenging play on picturesque championship courses and many resorts feature excellent tennis facilities. For those who find that the best time outdoors is often spent doing no activity at all, the USVI is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, affording visitors the perfect excuse to relax and unwind.
A vast choice of accommodations on all three islands is available to visitors, ranging from scenic, environmentally sensitive campsites to luxurious resorts, private houses, villas and condominiums available for lease.
One of the most well-known and luxurious destinations on St. Croix is The Buccaneer, a beach and golf resort, family-owned and operated since 1947. Its 340 tropical acres feature an 18-hole golf course, eight tennis courts, three beaches, pool, water sports center, full service spa, fitness center, three restaurants, banquet and meeting spaces, and shopping arcade with fine boutiques. One hundred and thirty-eight (138) spacious, elegant guest rooms are located throughout the property, from the hilltop main building Great House to the ocean’s edge, all offering expansive terraces or balconies with sea and island views. In addition, the six-bedroom Buccaneer Beach House at Whistle Point provides privacy for small groups or families. The Buccaneer is a proud member of Historic Hotels of America, a division of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
St. Thomas, too, affords a variety of destinations, and among the island’s most beautiful and top-rated is The Ritz-Carlton, a magnificent 30-acre tropical estate that blends the unique culture of the Caribbean with luxury and refinement from the moment you enter the Grand Palazzo, a majestic open-air structure overlooking the expanse of beaches, waters, lush hills and picturesque resorts. Teeming with exotic marine life and myriad opportunities to dine, relax and explore, The Ritz-Carlton features 180 well-appointed guest rooms, including 55 Club rooms, 19 suites, four Presidential suites, each with private balconies or terraces; four distinctive oceanfront dining experiences; Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment; easy access to Great Bay beach and Coconut Cove beach; a plethora of water activities and boating; and the famous Ritz-Carlton Spa.
On St. John, the renowned Caneel Bay Resort is a unique destination set on its own private peninsula amid 170 acres in Virgin Islands National Park, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Formerly a sugar cane plantation, the resort was “discovered” by Laurance S. Rockefeller in 1952 while sailing in the Caribbean. Envisioning the perfect vacation spot amid this unspoiled land, he purchased the plantation and oversaw every detail of the resort’s development. Pristine natural surroundings and low-key luxury are the signatures of this exclusive retreat, which offers an inviting array of Caribbean diversions, including seven white-sand beaches, a fitness center and pool, complimentary water sports and amenities and unspoiled natural surroundings.
EASE OF TRAVEL
When traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. citizens enjoy all the conveniences of domestic travel — including on-line check-in. Additionally, United Airlines has recently added a non-stop flight from Houston to St. Thomas — making travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands easier than ever. As a United States Territory, travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands does not require a passport from U.S. citizens arriving from the mainland.
For more information about the United States Virgin Islands, call 800-372-USVI (8784) or go to VisitUSVI.com.