The American Caribbean – Life and Culture in the US Virgin Islands
The US Virgin Islands are a group of 4 main islands and many surrounding islands. Originally a Danish colony, they were ceded to the US in 1916 and today are a thriving set of islands whose main economy is tourism. It is a hugely popular cruise ship destination, particularly US cruise ships out of Miami.
Part I – St. Croix
The largest of the US VI being 28 x 7 miles is a tourist paradise but not over developed and it is home to roughly 60,000 islanders who enjoy a laid back, simple lifestyle. Point Udall, is the easternmost point of the United States.
Geography and economy
The two main towns are Christiansted and Frederiksted and they date back to when it was a Danish colony. St. Croix is a pretty tropical island of stunning beaches and rolling hills and some rain forest. It’s sprinkled liberally with reminders of when sugar was the mainstay of the economy and there are sugar mill ruins and old plantation homes among the historic sites. Today, agriculture no longer rules. One of the world’s largest oil refineries, HOVENSA is located on St. Croix (and St. Thomas) and St. Croix is also home to the Cruzan Rum Distillery, the makers of Cruzan Rum and Southern Comfort, founded in 1760.Where once local sugar cane was used, it is now imported mainly from the Dominican Republic.
St Croix Resorts and Vacations
Because it is only 84 square miles in area, there are no specific major resorts so taking a vacation on St. Croix is about choosing your preferred style of place to stay. Whether you want the simplistic equivalent of a hammock strung between two palms or the most luxurious of 5 star indulgence there’s a spot on St. Croix exactly for you.
The island is perfect if you are an advocate of eco-tourism not only does the island fit the definition perfectly but there are also national parks and reserves to visit and explore. The Salt River Bay National Park is a protected ecological preserve and is the location of the first landfall of Christopher Columbus’s second voyage in 1493. Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge is the only remaining US nesting site for Leatherback Turtles.
There are also beaches for a traditional tropical get away. It would be hard to find a beach that compares with Jack’s & Isaac’s Bay, Sandy beach is the longest on the island and there are a multitude of coves and bays not only on St. Croix but on all the tiny islands you can reach by boat. St. Croix beaches are ultra family-friendly and there are resorts designed with children oriented facilities and activities.
Naturally, St. Croix is a playground for water sports and you can go from the extreme of whizzing around on a jet ski to diving uber calm crystal waters to view the exotic marine life. Golfers and sailors are also well catered for and off water you can explore the island by hiking, cycling, driving, and horse riding. One of the best ways to see St. Croix and learn the history is on an open topped safari bus. Commentated tours run regularly and visit all the major points of interest.
For the ultimate in vacation relaxation, the larger hotels and resorts have superb spas offering the full range of treatments and if you still like to keep fit whilst vacationing, there’s yoga and Pilates, or even personal trainers you can engage to join you for a beach workout.
Nightlife is plentiful whatever your taste with excellent quality restaurants or friendly cafes and all manner of bars. Whether you want to party the night away, sing your lungs out at karaoke or just enjoy an al fresco cocktail to the sound of lapping waves, St. Croix is the ideal vacation location.
The Christiansted National Historic Site commemorates the colonial development of the Virgin Islands and the 18th and 19th century buildings of the former Danish West Indies include 5 structures of cultural significance. As well as the Scale House where the slaves were traded, there’s Fort Christiansværn, the Danish Custom House and the Steeple Building. It is also home to the Danish West India & Guinea Company Warehouse where Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers, worked before emigrating to the colonies.
Fort Frederik played a major part in the emancipation struggle and is well worth a visit. To see the point of view from the other side of the fence you can view the lifestyle of a slave owner at Whim Plantation Museum or at Lawaetz Family Museum.
There are a number of festivals on St. Croix. The largest is the Crucian Christmas Festival that runs throughout late December and early January. There’s a large Agricultural and Food Fair in mid-February and a few times each year the Jump-Up, a night-time festival occurs in Christiansted. On a monthly basis, local jazz musicians play on Frederiksted Beach in an event known as Sunset Jazz and every Saturday before Mardi Gras there’s the Croix parade and a dog parade along the north shore.
Other points of Interest
Buck Island Reef: Buck Island Reef National Monument is just north of St. Croix and is a preserved 176 acre site that is popular with snorkelers. There’s a student monitored lemon shark breeding ground and notable sites are Green Cay and Tamarind Reef. There’s a resort and bar on Tamarind beach that hires out fins and snorkels.