US Virgin Islands – Exploring Paradise Without a Passport

  Last Updated: June 27, 2017 at 1:16 pm
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Good Afternoon! As some of our readers may have noticed, we have a few stories written about the US Virgin Islands and that is for two simple reasons– the USVI is beautiful and needs to be seen by everyone! After spending four weeks on the Island of St. Croix and learning about the culture, food, relaxing, and discovering that I am allergic to fresh mangoes, I would like to share some recommendations for what to do when coming to the Island. There are so many fun adventures to be had in the US Virgin Islands; it isn’t hard to see why residents and visitors alike continue to flock to this underrated paradise.

Airfare was less than $300 with Delta, including checked luggage, drinks, and lunch at the airport. The fact this is a United States territory means you do not need a passport to travel here and can make the trip simply using a state issued ID card and/or driver’s license. Altogether, I paid around $800 which included a one-way ticket, a new wardrobe, and miscellaneous items for the trip itself. Leaving from most destinations, the airfare would be less than $1,000 round-trip, with hotels running you about $150-$300 a night.

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Touring the Culture of US Virgin Islands

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sunset at The Palms of Pelican Cove

Although the US Virgin Islands is a territory of the United States, you will find it to be rich with a history and culture all its own. Each place you visit, you will be expected to greet locals by saying, “Good Morning!, “Good Afternoon!”, or “Good Night!”. Here, “Good Night!” is considered a salutation instead of a goodbye, and you are considered rude if you do not use these greetings.

Try visiting Columbus Landing, the spot where Christopher Columbus mistakenly believed he had found India. In 1493, on his second visit to the New World, Christopher Columbus sent a party of men ashore to the area now known as Columbus Landing. You can visit the spot where this historical event took place and learn about the Columbus expedition landing, the native Carib and Taino tribes, and much more at the Salt River Bay Visitor’s Center.

The last of the native people to inhabit St. Croix were the Carib. Originally from the Guiana region of South America, the Carib people had gained a dominant presence of the islands from the Tainos (or Arawaks) in the early 1400’s. It was, however, the Carib that greeted Columbus on his second voyage through the islands. On that fateful day of November 14, 1493, Columbus sent a landing party of about two dozen men ashore to St. Croix, which he had named Santa Cruz (or ‘Holy Cross’). Upon entering a deserted Carib village, the Spanish found a small group of Taino captives who agreed to accompany them back to their ship. While returning to their ship, the Spanish encountered a Carib war party. In the ensuing fight, one of Columbus’ men was wounded by an arrow; he died several days later. This altercation was the first documented conflict between Europeans and Native Americans.

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The Boabab Tree planted by slaves to remember their homeland

Over 600 years later, Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve is a blend of history, sea, and land that holds some of the largest remaining mangrove forests in the Virgin Islands, as well as coral reefs and a submarine canyon. This area has been witness to thousands of years of human endeavor and every major period of human habitation in the US Virgin Islands is represented, from several South American Indian cultures to attempts at colonization by a succession of European nations, along with enslaved West Africans and their descendants.

Also on the Island, you will find the 300-year-old Baobab tree. This tree is believed to have been planted from seeds brought over from Africa by slaves. Common in Africa, Madagascar, and Australia, the baobab–also called the cream of tartar tree–briefly grows leaves in the wet season and produces large, white fragrant flowers that develop into oval gourds. The kernels are eaten raw or roasted and are highly nutritious. Leaves and roots are used for medicine, the bark is made into string, rope, and twine, and the gum can be used as glue. In African tribes, the tree has many meanings; its trunk was used to hold the bodies of deceased elders, it is a conduit for fertility, but on the US Virgin Islands it stands as a reminder of the landscape and the people of Africa.

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Hummingbird, our trusty tour Jeep

One of the best ways to enjoy the US Virgin Island of St. Croix is to sign up for a Tan Tan Tour. A local resident will take you and up to six others on a jeep tour of the Island to see sights that the average vacationer will never see on their own. A truly adventurous trip filled with history and culture that you will never forget taking you to old sugar mills and tidal pools far off the beaten path. The cost for a four hour excursion is $120 per person, while an eight hour tour is only $160, including lunch.

Touring the US Virgin Islands Food Scene

Once on the Island, you’ll find food and drinks to be very fairly priced, depending on your tastes. After one trip to the local grocery store, you may learn that eating out on a budget would be the wiser choice.

When a bag of Doritos is $5.99 while a burger and fries would be fresh made and under $10 with a seat on the boardwalk the choice is easy for some. Although, if planning to live here, you will soon grow accustomed to paying quite a bit at the checkout counter for that home cooked meal. Don’t worry, though. Liquor and cigarettes prices here are cheaper than nearly anywhere in the states for those who don’t travel for the food.

St. Croix is filled with so many great choices for eating out that you could plan to eat at three different places each day of the week and spend an entire vacation trying new places while living unforgettable memories.

Start your day off at Toast Diner for the best brunch in town. The Bloody Mary menu is to die for, (try it with everything) or just order up some mimosas and see what the day brings. No matter what you order at Toast, know you are in for some good food and friendly service.

If you can still walk that after that meal you know you ordered in your Bloody Mary, head down to Shupe’s on the Boardwalk for a handmade burger dressed how you like it, and some fresh cut fries. All served “to-go style” in a brown paper bag, for your convenience. While you wait, enjoy some tasty Cruzan rum and watch the boats in the marina. Don’t forget to tip your bartenders.

Once dinner time rolls around, make your way down to Savant for a fine dining experience USVI style. Whether you choose to eat inside with the quaint New York bistro style decor or outside on the romantic terrace, you will find the staff to be well trained and the food to be something you will likely never forget. Try the rack of lamb with horseradish mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus, you’ll be glad you did.

Touring the Beaches and Resorts

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view of Cane Bay from lookout

Cane Bay Beach was the first beach where local resident and University of the Virgin Islands student Jared Beagles brought me to show off the island. Jared was born and raised on St. Croix, and was a perfect guide for the island. Within moments of leaving my condo, we were riding on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Upon arriving, you’ll see the Cane Bay Dive Shop where you can be scuba certified and go out to The Wall. While you wait for the ones ahead of you, go ahead and grab a drink at Eat @ Cane Bay then go for a walk on the beach. From here, you can see both ends of the island, and on a clear day, St. Thomas and St. John can also be seen. Locals say that sometimes you can even see the headlights of the cars from other islands.

Buccaneer Beach is by far the most beautiful. The Beach at the Palms at Pelican Cove has an amazing view of Buck Island. Chey Bay is superb for night swimming.

You will find that almost any resort on the island will let you take advantage of their amenities, but not one beach in the US Virgin Islands is privately owned, and therefore all beaches are open to the public. Each resort offers different views and atmosphere, as well as eclectic menus, and courteous staff.

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Sandcastle on the Beach Hotel

LGBTQ travelers can take a ride to Fredriksted where they will find Sandcastle on the Beach Hotel, St. Croix’s premiere gay resort. Owned by Chris Richardson and his husband Ted Bedwell, Sandcastle on the Beach offers an amazing atmosphere where the staff makes you feel like you are at home. Enjoy a fantastic meal prepared by Chef Shawn Riley at Beach Side Cafe as you watch the sun set over the Caribbean or simply spend an afternoon getting to know your fellow guests. During my stay, I had the pleasure of meeting four different couples who have been coming to this resort for years. Many LGBTQ couples have used the Caribbean backdrop of the US Virgin Islands at Sandcastle as their wedding, honeymoon, and anniversary destination. Regardless of what you decide to do at Sandcastle, you will find Southern hospitality at its finest.

Taking Time to Enjoy the View

A natural part of waking up in the U.S. Virgin Islands is being able to see the sunrise. Often you can do this without even getting out of bed. At King Christian Hotel, located right in downtown Christiansted, you can do just that. Originally, I had planned on staying at Company House in downtown Christiansted for this piece, however, upon arriving I was told their wifi was out that night. The kind young lady behind the desk walked me over to their sister hotel by the bay.

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view from my Oceanside room at King Christian Hotel

I soon found that “taking the time to enjoy The View” was no longer about making sure I caught Whoopie’s opinion today, but that each and every day from now forward will always have the most picturesque view to ensure any troubles melt away. That is what St. Croix does for people who visit or live here.

It makes you forget your cares and learn to breathe during your life. As 12 year St. Croix resident Peter Skrivanos says, “It is 85 degrees ev’ryday and da ting is, how can you be mad at that?”

My answer: You can’t.

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Jeff B. White
Jeff White is the News Editor for The Pacific Tribune. Jeff is a gay man who was born and raised in Mississippi; he has lived all over the country and loves to travel the world in search of adventure, but will always consider the South to be his home. He attends Penn State University's World Campus where he is majoring in Human Development and Family Studies with a special concentration on Child Maltreatment and Advocacy Studies.
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