Culture + Style

Water World: Where to Find Your Perfect Oasis in the US Virgin Islands

Snap a photo of St. John’s Cruz Bay and make your Instagram followers green with envy. (Photo: Alamy)

The United States Virgin Islands are steeped in history, with a natural beauty that seduces even the most jaded traveler. Islands like St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix are the perfect place to begin an unforgettable odyssey. Anything you want to see or do is no more than a short, scenic boat ride or drive away.

St. Thomas, Take Me Away

St. Thomas, home to the territory’s capital, Charlotte Amalie, is the busiest of the islands. That’s where Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort overlooks the entrance to Charlotte Amalie Harbor.

The knowledgable staff of the resort Adventure Center knows every corner of the island and how to get you there. This is where island maps are found, excursions on land and sea are booked, dinner reservations set and questions of all kinds answered.

With the crystal clear, turquoise water of the Caribbean Sea just steps away from wherever you are at the resort, an adventure on or under the water is a must, and the Adventure Center offers a long list of water excursions and boats to choose from.

Skyride
Get high in St. Thomas … on a Skyride to Paradise Point, of course! (Photo: Alamy)

Curious vacationers can hop on a clear-bottom kayak fitted with LED lights to see what the marine life does underwater after hours.

The Adventure Center’s night kayak tour and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) lessons are in great demand with resort guests. Watching huge cruise ships glide into port and seaplanes landing in the harbor from your kayak or SUP is an unforgettable kick.

There’s more than one way to see the denizens of the deep up close.

For those who prefer the comfort of dry shoes, Coral World Ocean Park offers a three-level undersea observatory where free-ranging creatures swim by, almost nose to nose with visitors, 15 feet under the surface of the water.

For the more adventurous, Coral World’s Sea Trek requires only a dive helmet and a bathing suit for a walk along the bottom of the sea.

The Skyride to Paradise Point gives a whole new meaning to breathtaking, with its tram that carries passengers 700 feet up Flag Hill, over Charlotte Amalie.

Reservations can be made at the Adventure Center, where you can also reserve tee times for the Tom Fazio-designed Mahogany Run Golf Course, with its famous 14th hole.

If this is your first time there, you’ll understand just why it’s so famous when you tee off.

St. John Side Trip

St. John
Find a dose of remarkable history on St. John. (Photo: Alamy)

You shouldn’t visit St. Thomas without seeing St. John. The Adventure Center offers a St. John Safari with narrated sightseeing, a stop at historic Annaberg Plantation and snorkeling at Trunk Bay in the pristine Virgin Islands National Park.

For shoppers, the St. John Shopping Ferry gives you all day to discover the small shops tucked away in Wharfside Village, and don’t miss the galleries and shops at Mongoose Junction.

Lunch in Cruz Bay could be a hamburger or a chicken leg and saltfish pate. Watch out for the West Indian pepper sauce.

For souvenir shopping, Morning Star offers a well-stocked gift and souvenir shop and there are galleries and boutiques at Frenchman’s Reef.

You’ll also want to head for the shops of Charlotte Amalie, many in buildings that were once Danish warehouses.

Yacht Haven Grande, a complex of boutiques, galleries and restaurants, is only a short walk down the waterfront. Getting to the action can be half the fun.

For the same fare as a land taxi, the shopping ferry from Frenchman’s Reef’s dock to the waterfront offers a unique water view of the island.

Culture on St. Croix

St. Croix, the largest of the three main Virgin Islands, has its own culture and atmosphere.

Guests at the Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Beach Resort & Spa stay in accommodations with well-equipped kitchenettes, where they can prepare meals to enjoy on their own private, screened-in porch, nestled in the resort’s lush landscaping.

Not in the mood for cooking? At Mahogany restaurant, you’ll be served innovative Caribbean and Continental dishes.

But at Saman, where Sunday brunch is served, and at the Flamboyant Beach Bar, guests in flip-flops and beachwear with coverups are welcome. Don’t miss the Friday night pirate buffet, with a lively cultural show and dance.

St. Croix
The culture of St. Croix stands alone among its island counterparts. (Photo: Alamy)

When you’re ready to begin exploring St. Croix, head for the concierge desk to talk to your Personal Navigator, a local guide who knows what’s happening and where to go.

Arrange a tasting tour of the island’s two rum distilleries, share a cold beer with a pig (yes, there’s a pig at the Mt. Pellier Hut Domino Club) on your rain forest tour, or book a snorkel or sailing charter.

Estate Whim Museum is the Virgin Islands’ only sugar plantation museum, with a completely restored sugar mill and great house, filled with reproductions of the furnishings that reflect its history.

Whim Great House was in ruins when restoration began in the 1950s, but the hard work of caring volunteer residents has brought it back to its former glory.

Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve is a not-to-be-missed gem for history buffs with an interest in archaeology. Columbus landed there in 1493 and the surrounding area is a microcosm of the evolution of the Virgin Islands. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Just off the northeast coast is Buck Island Reef National Monument (not to be confused with St. Thomas’ Buck Island), a top spot for snorkeling vacationers as well as sea turtles who come to the beaches every year to lay their eggs.