That was the question.
We woke up at our normal time for a Thursday morning, but instead of heading our separate ways to work, we loaded up the car and made the 2.5 hour drive down to Charlotte International Airport. Upon arrival we followed signs for departure, but had to take a moment to figure out: Are the U.S. Virgin Islands domestic or international?
After acquiring bagels and with negative COVID tests in hand, it was finally happening; we were flying to the island of St. Croix for a one week getaway.
We landed on the island mid afternoon and made our way to the rental car desk. We rented a Jeep Wrangler through Centerline since my prior research yielded rough roadways and some pretty intense inclines while driving around the island; it was by far the cheapest option as far as 4×4 car rentals go on the island. Even though St. Croix is part of the U.S. the road rules are quite different, the main variance being that you drive on the left side of the road, but the cars are still oriented the same as the mainland. Their intersections can be a bit tricky to navigate, but the locals are very accommodating when it comes to right-of-ways.
Our first destination was our resort to drop off our bags before heading out to find a local meal. We stayed with Tamarind Reef Resort which was a couple miles outside of one of the two main towns on the island, Christianstead. Our room was very spacious and had a nice balcony overlooking the ocean with a view of Green Cay, a protected island inhabited by the endangered Ground Lizard and Buck Island which is a U.S. National Monument. The resort has two restaurants, a pool, limited beach access (due to sea urchins), beach cabanas, onsite spa, and free use of paddleboards, kayaks, and snorkel equipment. It was located within a gated community with million dollar houses and a marina, so we felt quite safe and a bit out of our social element.
Before delving deep into our experience, I want to share a kind of disclaimer: I am sharing my honest feedback about our experience in the hope of providing 100% transparency of what to expect while visiting the island. Some of the things I’m about to share are not common knowledge about the island and should be taken into account before visiting.
We learned a very valuable lesson our first night out on the town: do not dine at a restaurant that does not list prices. Our dinner spot of choice was in the middle of town with a handful of plastic tables and chairs arranged around a fully stocked bar. Their menu was written out on a sandwich board propped up on the sidewalk and had some pretty tasty sounding options. But after waiting nearly 2 hours for our food and our bill totaling $85 for two mediocre meals, lemonades and waters, St. Croix had already left a bad taste on our pallets.
Following some pretty intense tourist price gouging we decided it might be for the best to stop by the local market on the way back to the resort for some supplemental provisions for the week. Among some everyday staples like tea and fruit, we also grabbed a pack of Oreos that were $8!
While on the subject of food, we were not impressed overall. I understand that we were on an island, so things will be more expensive, but our cheapest meal was still over $30 (two teas, a bagel and a muffin) and we never felt we were able to experience St. Croix through it’s food. When I’m in vacation mode I want to eat all the things unabashedly. I tend to shy away from “all inclusive” because when I travel somewhere I want to experience the different culture and what better way to experience a different culture than through a meal, but in this case I think an all inclusive option would have been very beneficial.
Now let’s talk beaches. We went to an island assuming the majority of the surrounding coastlines would be great options for swimming/enjoyment. This was not the case. I’m not upset that my expectations were not reality; it’s more that I did quite a bit of research before our travels and nothing was stated on the contrary. A handful of beaches were closed due to nesting turtles (which I would have liked to have seen even for a small fee, at a distance, and possibly with a knowledgeable environmentalist available to answer any questions…)–fine, cool, go babies, go! Other beaches were covered in reef and/or sea urchins making them not so easily accessible like the beach at our resort–nature’s gonna nature and all that jazz. But our options really just went from the entire island to a handful of potential usable beaches.
There were four beaches we were able to have the typical lay-in-the-sand-and-walk-out-into-the-water kind of experiences at: Buck Island, Country Club Beach, Cane Bay Beach, and Rainbow Beach. Buck Island, though one of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever been to, required a chartered boat and became overrun with beachgoers very quickly.
When we went to Country Club Beach there was a group of locals playing volleyball and a smaller family further down. We laid out between the two and had an enjoyable hour or so before hunger set in. We grabbed a bite from a nearby food truck, but instead of heading back to ‘resume the position,’ we were called away for an excursion that we were on a waiting list for (more on that later).
We loved Cane Bay Beach on the north side of the island, but the entire time we were there it
rained poured buckets. We had lunch at the local restaurant to wait out the showers after spending the first hour and a half swimming in the rain storm (we were already going to get wet, so why not?) and rented some snorkel gear afterwards when there seemed to have been a break in the clouds… the break didn’t last long. It was a cool snorkeling experience, but the relentless rain forced us back to our resort (where there were clear, blue skies) for the afternoon.
Rainbow Beach on the west coast was another great beach, but because it is a great beach there were people (including children) everywhere. It wasn’t the relaxed atmosphere we look for when beaching and if we weren’t there for another opportunity (explained later) then I’m not sure we would have landed there.
Tune in next time for… adventure! and my final thoughts about our time on St. Croix.