The Journal Gazette
Sunday, July 18, 2021 1:00 am

Take vacation in paradise

Preparation key to enjoying Virgin Islands

David Placher For The Journal Gazette

A vacationer’s paradise is found in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Made up of St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island, this Caribbean group of islands offers lush tropical foliage, white sand beaches and crystal-clear blue waters. But knowing about each island’s differences and how to travel around is key to a successful vacation.

St. Thomas is great to stay on and travel from to see the other islands. You must rent a car to see St. Thomas. It has a full day’s worth of attractions. The St. Thomas Skyride takes you 700 feet above Charlotte Amalie. But if the skyride doesn’t satisfy your thirst for the perfect view, the world-famous Mountain Top certainly will. It sits on the highest point of St. Thomas and offers stunning views of the area from its observation deck.

The Mountain Top Bar is where the banana daiquiri was first concocted over 50 years ago. Many people sip on this tasty drink while enjoying the views, but drink with caution because you drive on the opposite side of the road and Mountain Top is surrounded by winding roads.

The Charlotte Amalie, a historic area that is easy to explore on foot, is where you’ll find the bright red, 17th-century Fort Christian and the famous 99 (actually 103) steps stairway that is built from the ballast bricks of European ships.

To go to the other islands there are passenger ferries in Crown Bay to Water Island and in Red Hook to St. John.

Water Island is great to explore and camp. Fort Segarra, an unfinished fort that was abandoned at the end of World War II, is located on the island’s southern tip. It’s not sealed off, so you can explore its underground bunkers and watch towers. But it isn’t wise to enter alone or without proper equipment. This fort really is abandoned and any calls for help may go unanswered.

Water Island is also home to the popular Virgin Islands Campgrounds where campers go to sleep under the heavens. Water Island does not have hotels, taxis, public transportation or stores, but it does have roads designed for golf carts. So it’s a good idea that upon arrival, rent a golf cart.

St. John is perfect for hiking. Two-thirds of the island is a national park. There is no major airport, so you have to take the passenger ferry. About a quarter of an hour’s walk from the passenger ferry dock is the Virgin Island National Park Visitor Center. Behind it starts the Lind Point Trail and ends at the breathtaking Honeymoon Bay. The island has more than 20 hiking trails, some take you to historic ruins, viewing decks, or beautiful beaches. But be careful, wearing flip-flops is foolish and not having enough water is dangerous. You don’t want to ruin your vacation because you hurt feet or are sick from dehydration.

St. Croix is full of hidden gems. It’s wise to start exploring the island from Point Udall, the easternmost point of the United States, and drive west. Get a taste of history and nature by visiting Christiansted where you’ll find Fort Christiansvaern, the Old Danish Customs House, and the Steeple Building.

Getting to St. Croix is tricky. From St Thomas, there is a passenger ferry that runs three times a week, but the better option is to take the daily 20-minute flight on Cap Air and then rent a car from the St. Croix airport.

A few things to keep in mind as there are problems in paradise. It’s expensive; food and other supplies have to be shipped in. Wi-Fi is spotty. The residents can mostly be divided into two social-economic classes: upper and lower. The poverty rate is high and visible. Businesses on the islands are still recovering from devastating back-to-back hurricanes from 2017 and the COVID-19 recession.

So, although visiting is great, living there may be a different story.


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