U.S. Virgin Islands, Caribbean
Head back against the headrest, eyes closed, you see slate gray clouds scudding low on the horizon, the dirty snow on the sidewalk where the snowplow threw it, you can feel the furnace-dry air as it sucks the moisture from your very soul, leaving you with a dry throat and itchy skin. Winter. Will it ever be over? You open your eyes and glance quickly at your watch. Yes, as a matter of fact, winter will be over…in about fifteen minutes or so, when your plane is due to land on St. Thomas. You peer out the window and can see your destination, deep green treasures surrounded by azure blue water. It seems like years since you have seen green leaves and grass. The plane lands and as you step into the warmth, you raise your face to the sun and draw in great breaths of the moist Caribbean air.
Ahhh, thank goodness for the US Virgin Islands Yacht Charter that you planned months ago. You just didn’t know then how good it was going to feel now.
A quick ten minute ride from the airport, you arrive at Crown Bay Marina and your charter yacht. Distinguished by an architectural style that compliments its tropical setting, Crown Bay Marina’s traditional West Indian-style red roofs are fast becoming a local landmark. Dropping your luggage off at the yacht, you decide to stretch your legs a bit and wander around the marina for a while. You start to feel more relaxed by now, especially dressed in shorts and short-sleeves, rather than being bundled up against the elements. The idea of stopping for a short time at Tickles Dockside Pub with its nautical artifacts and al fresco ambiance is starting to sound better and better. Winding your way back to your yacht, you pass by the Gourmet Gallery and can’t resist the temptation to pop in and see if maybe there is a special wine that you will want to purchase for the voyage, even though you know your yacht has been specially provisioned with all your favorite foods and beverages!
Back on board, the dock lines are thrown off, and you are on your way. There is plenty to see and do in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and you are going to make the most of your time while here!
Made up of over 50 islands and cays, the U.S. Virgin Islands are known primarily for the 3 largest islands: St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. The largest of the three, St. Croix, is about 84 sq. miles and is home to approximately 50,000 people. Less than half of St. Croix’s size, St. Thomas is about 32 sq. miles in size with 48,000 inhabitants. The smallest of the three, St. John, is about 19 sq. miles in size, with a population of only about 3,500 people, but then again, two thirds of this fabulous island are under the auspices of the National Park Service, which accounts for its pristine appearance.
Discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493, he named what is now known as St. Croix, Santa Cruz. Seeing the numerous islands that make up the area, he named them “the Virgins” in honor of St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgins who, threatened by the marauding Huns in 4th-century Cologne, sacrificed their lives rather than submit to a fate worse than death.
Denmark purchased the islands in 1733, bringing St. John and St. Thomas under Danish rule. In the meantime, the French had settled in St. Croix, but later sold it to the Danish West India Company. Finally bought by the United States in 1917 for $25,000,000 in gold, St. John, St. Croix, St. Thomas, and the rest of the smaller islands came under the administration of the U.S. Navy. The U.S. Department of the Interior eventually took over the administration of the islands, and still does today.
Since most people on charter want to leave civilization behind immediately we will leave St. Thomas behind and visit some of the small islands that surround it. We will then move on to explore St. John and St. Croix, finally returning to St. Thomas again. You won’t want to miss St. Thomas entirely, since there are some wonderful anchorages and of course the superb shopping in Charlotte Amalie, but we will save that for last.
Buck Island, just off St. Thomas is a tiny island with a lovely bay, perfect for that first off-the-boat-and-into-the-water leap! Great for snorkeling or watching other people snorkel while you linger on your shaded aft deck with a cold drink. Or, maybe you will go on to Christmas Cove at St. James Island, on the way to St. John. There is good snorkeling here too, and if the weather is calm, you can take a quick ride on the ender to explore the waters and reefs around the south end of the island.
Close by is Cruz Bay on St. John, which is mainly a national park. The Park Service has taken their job very seriously and maintains not just the land, but also provides mooring in most of the anchorages in order to help preserve the underwater reefs and seabeds from damage from anchors. St. John was once a thriving agricultural society established in the early 1700s by Danish settlers attracted to the island’s natural resources and fertile soil. More than 100 cotton and sugar plantation flourished throughout the three U.S. Virgin Islands during the 18th and 19th centuries, but the emancipation of slaves in 1848 led to the decline and eventual ruin of the plantations. What now remain are the remnants of St. John’s Annaberg Sugar Mill and some of the other smaller plantations.
Once known for its sugar cane and farming industries, St. John is recognized today for its pristine beaches and lush foliage. Thanks to philanthropist Laurence Rockefeller, who deeded two-thirds of the island, plus 5,000 offshore acres, to the federal government more than 40 years ago, it has retained a tranquil, unspoiled beauty that can only be described as “serene.” For the charter guest who loves to be in the water, there is an underwater trail in Trunk Bay where submerged markers indicate the path to a fascinating journey among the island’s colorful sea life. For the person who merely wants to sit by the sea, there are over 40 beaches on which to spread their towels. However, if it is time to go hiking, there are 22 self-guided nature trails to choose from. In sharp contrast to its white sand beaches, St. John’s woodland trails wind through subtropical vegetation. The three-mile Reef Bay Hike leads nature enthusiasts past ancient Arawak Indian carvings called petroglyphs.
Natural beauty not withstanding, there is also great shopping in Cruz Bay and nearby Mongoose Junction. An eclectic mix of interesting boutiques, art galleries and stores offering everything from local crafts and fashions to elegant jewels and exotic imports. The shoppers of the charter party are sure to come away happy!
Rolling green hills dotted with centuries-old sugar mill ruins and the lingering evidence of its Danish settlers in its two towns, Christiansted and Frederiksted, clearly indicate that the word “historic” might be an excellent way to describe St. Croix.
Once the capital of the U.S.V.S., Christiansted is the perfect place to begin a journey into St. Croix’s past. Fort Christiansvaern is an imposing, yellow-bricked fortress built by the Danes to ward off pirates and imprison those who were caught plundering. The National Park Service has produced a very well written pamphlet to use for a self-guided tour of the rooms. Built in 1734, it was never engaged in battle, but the view from the battlement is terrific. Don’t miss the dungeons!
After wandering around Christiansted, and perhaps also visiting the Steeple Building, a museum harboring artifacts from St. Croix’s Carib and Arawak Indian settlements and colonial sugar plantations awaits you. Renting a car may be wise, as there are several places inland that are well worth the time to drive. First is the St. George Village Botanical Gardens, a restoration of an old sugar plantation. The gardens are beautiful with their many plants and flowers indigenous to St. Croix. Next, you might want to visit the Whim Greathouse, which is closer to Fredriksted. The Whim is a restored greathouse from the late 1700’s and also houses a museum, plus numerous outbuildings. Last but not least (you might want to appoint a sensible member of your party as the “designated driver” for this stop) visit the Cruzan Rum Distillery! You can take a tour and watch the workers making the rum. The savory part is the tasting bar, which is the reason you need the designated driver!
Back in Christinsted and back on your charter yacht, you will want to visit Buck Island, a short distance from the harbor. This National Park is surrounded by a coral reef with a snorkeling trail that is well marked with underwater signs. Your captain might also want to show you Salt River, the site where Columbus anchored off and sent a party ashore in search of water. Unfortunately, they received a very unfriendly reception by the local Indians and sailed off!
Time now to head back to Crown Bay Marina and the many delights of St. Thomas. Charlotte Amalie harbor is the perfect place to start, whether your passion is history or shopping! Stretched along the waterfront, the restored 17th and 18th century warehouses, once used to hold molasses, rum, spices and other trade goods, are now home to unique shops offering everything from fine perfumes to elegant watches to cameras and liquor. And don’t forget that U.S. citizens are allowed a $1,200 duty free exemption on imports purchased in the U.S.V.I., the highest duty free allowance there is!
Charlotte Amalie has many historical buildings reflecting numerous cultures. Starting with Fort Christian, built in 1672, it is the oldest standing structure in the Virgin Islands. A National Landmark, the brick fortress was built to protect the town’s harbor from raiding European armadas. It has served as St. Thomas’ first Government House, a church and a community center, and is now home to the Virgin Islands Museum, where early island memorabilia and old maps trace the island’s history. Adjacent to Fort Christian is Emancipation Park, named for the freed slaves. Umbrellas in a rainbow of colors shade the vendors in the marketplace on the seaside of the park. Noisy, colorful and fun, this is a great place to find local handicrafts and other momentos.
Market Square, just west of the busy shopping district of Main Street was originally used as a slave market. Today it is a market for local farmers. The wrought iron rod was part of a European style railway station at the turn of the century.
Government Hill overlooks Charlotte Amalie and is home to several interesting sites. Seven Arches Museum is a fully restored and furnished 18th century Danish West Indian style private home, complete with Danish kitchen and slave quarters. Nearby is the medieval-style Skytsborg, also known as Blackbeard’s Castle. It is the only 17th century fortified tower in the Caribbean. Blackbeard’s Castle is on the National Register of Historic Places, but is perhaps better known as an extremely popular restaurant and hotel.
After shopping and sightseeing it is good to return to your charter yacht and luxuriate in the comfort of solitude for just a little while longer before you need to head back to the airport. As your plane lifts off, heading for home, you put your head back against the headrest, close your eyes and think about the past week: golden sunshine, sparkling blue waters, lush green gardens, exquisite meals under star-studded skies, stretching out in a lounge chair as warm breezes gently wash over you. Unhurried, spontaneous mornings sipping a cup of coffee, looking at the horizon. You smile. For this charter holiday was even better than you had expected and precisely what your soul desired!
Welcome to the U.S. Virgin Islands. In the next week you will experience all the flavors, scents and lore of the past and present-but without marauding pirates! As you peruse this sample itinerary, it is simply that, a sample. You are in charge, calling the shots and making or changing the plans as the mood strikes you!
Day 1: You will arrive in St. Thomas, greeted by our uniformed crew member as your limousine awaits to whisk you away to Crown Bay Marina and Gloria’s Sun. enjoy lunch alfresco as we cruise Charlotte Amalie Harbor. At your desire, we will drop the anchor, launch the tender for you to explore or shop all the island has to offer. We can anchor for the night or return to the marina, the choice is yours.
Day 2: How about a water sports day? After breakfast we can depart for Magen’s Bay, St. Thomas. Located on the north shore of the island, protected by land on three sides, it boasts one of the favorite beaches on the island! Snorkel, ski, windsurf, people watch or explore-Magen’s Bay is pretty as a postcard; warm, sexy and inviting!
Day 3: A short two hour cruise brings us to bustling Cruz Bay, St. John. Cruz Bay is the heart of this island covered with tropical rain forests and national parks. Lunch in any of the pretty sea-side cantinas promised to be delightful, followed by a wlak to Mongoose Junction’s exotic shopping haven. Afterwards, we return to the yacht for a quick cruise to the Rockefeller resort-Caneel Bay.
Day 4: Awake beside one of the islands prettiest beaches for a morning swim. After breakfast, discover St. John the best way, by jeep. Your crew will have your jeeps waiting for you, packed for a day of adventure. You may choose to go it on your own, or a crew member will be happy to guide you. After all, this is what we do on our days off! Return to the yacht for a sunset cruise to beautiful Francis Bay.
Day 5: A perfect day for a Blue Water cruise! Today we will cruise to the largest of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix. Four hours to the south lays the part of Christiansted. A walking tour of this town filled with Danish architecture is interesting and fun with your crewman along to indicate the best points of interest. Return to the yacht for a lovely sunset cruise to Green Cay Marina.
Day 6: We will take a quick 30 minute cruise to Buck Island with its shimmering blue water and spectacular coral reefs. The island boasts exceptional wildlife above and below the sea. For the evening we will take a short ride back to the St. Croix Yacht Club at Teague Bay. Dinner and cocktails on the aft deck are a must as the moon and stars watch you dance the night away! Day 7: Enjoy the morning on the beach, just thirty feet from your yacht. We have made no plans for this morning, as an opportunity for you to explore this beautiful island. Afternoon will find us departing for a leisurely cruise back to St. Thomas. We make landfall under cover of night, stars twinkling above and the beauty of Charlotte Amalie aglow in the moonlight. Cruising into this harbor of lights is a fitting end to your sparkling week on charter!
Itinerary presented by Captain John Cichanowicz of Gloria’s Sun