I like to relax on vacation as much as the next person, but I also like to have fun and make memories. I typically curate a list of things I want to accomplish before traveling somewhere new (I made similar lists for our trips to Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, and Nashville) and St. Croix was no exception. The main items I wanted to check off my list were:
- watch the sunrise on the eastern-most point of the U.S., Point Udall
- snorkel the underwater trail of the Buck Island National Monument (swim with a sea turtle)
- kayak at night in the bioluminescent bay
- take an ATV tour through the jungle followed by some jet skiing
- tour at least one of the island’s distilleries (Cruzan or Captain Morgan) and learn about the island’s history from a different perspective
- see the beer drinking pigs at the Mt. Pellier Domino Club
The first full day we were on the island we sat down together to plan out our week of adventures. I reached out to Sea Thru Kayaks for their bioluminescence kayaking tour and was informed that they were booked solid for three weeks! The guy asked if we’d like to be added to the waitlist and reluctantly agreed thinking it was a lost cause. After calling two other tour companies I started to see a pattern; three weeks was the standard.
After giving up on the thought of seeing bioluminescence on this trip I turned my focus to chartering a boat to take over to Buck Island. Unfortunately we were met with the same response from the different chartering services: it would be three weeks before they had any availability. I was determined to find a way to get to Buck Island and figured there had to be an option at the marina right next door and as luck would have it I found a tour that had to be arranged via phone call (thank you old school business practices!). I called up Captain Heinz and he offered us a charter aboard his trimaran complete with snorkeling and some beach time–exactly what we were looking for.
Luckily we were able to secure a reservation with Gecko Island Adventures for the AVT/jet ski excursion by booking through their website with no issue. And because night kayaking was (we thought at the time) a no-go, we decided to book a zip lining excursion with Carambola Zip Line, but as fate would have it, we received a last minute invitation for the bioluminescence kayaking excursion a few days into our trip and ended up doing both!
Our first excursion was the Buck Island charter. After about an hour sailing against the wind out to the island, we anchored just off the east coast and snorkeled part of the underwater trail which consisted of informative plaques dispersed on the sea floor that can been read from the surface educating snorkelers of the surrounding wildlife including the different varieties of coral and fish. Though the concept is pretty cool, the execution of the underwater trail was not the greatest. I stumbled on my first plaque that talked about barracuda (of which I came uncomfortably close to swimming alongside not long after spotting the placard) and then a random number 8 plaque tucked in some coral followed by the ‘Trailhead’ sign. There were no directional signs, so instead of a trail per se, I viewed it more of a scavenger hunt while focusing most of my gaze on the different species of fish and reef.
After our fill of snorkeling we sailed over to the western side of the island and were presented with three options: enjoy the beach, hike to the highest point of the island to get a good view, or venture to the north side of the island to search for baby sharks (doo doo doo doo doo doo). We opted for the baby shark (doo doo doo doo doo doo) option [I’ll stop now]. It took a little bit of off-the-beaten-path exploration, but we found a lagoon and spotted a handful of baby sharks! We then went back to the beach and spent the rest of our time diving off the boat and cooling off in the water.
We spent the following day relaxing (because who knew how exhausting snorkeling, shark hunting, and sailing were?!). We made our way out to Frederiksted (the other town on the island) to explore some more and enjoy some beach time at Country Club beach. While standing in line at a food truck I received a call asking if we were still interested in the bioluminescence kayaking tour. I may or may not have squealed before graciously accepting the offer. Unfortunately our beach day was cut short, but for the absolute best reason.
If you have never experienced bioluminescence before you need to add it to the top of your bucket list pronto. In simplest terms: it is real life magic; we literally felt like we were in a Disney movie. The best part of touring with Sea Thru Kayaks is that they do in fact have 100% see-through kayaks which makes the experience all the more immersive. If you are unaware, bioluminescence are microorganisms that when touched/moved give off a temporary glow, so the kayak moving through the water and the paddles touching would cause the surrounding water to light up. There were also bioluminescent jelly fish that would sporadically light up like lightbulbs. My only wish is that I could have taken a video of our experience, but bioluminescence is essentially not photographable (unless you have professional equipment and even then you can’t quite capture the beauty), but my memory of the experience is one that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Next on our itinerary of adventure was an ATV tour of the jungle followed by some jet skiing. When we booked with Gecko Island Adventures we chose what they refer to as the “Land and Sea” package which included a 1 hour guided AVT tour, a 1 hour jet ski rental, followed by a reservation for 2 chairs and an umbrella for the rest of the day at Rainbow Beach. Neither of us had ridden 4-wheelers before, so we were both pretty intimidated, but before we headed into the jungle we had a trial period of driving on the roadway to get used to the controls. This experience is definitely not for the faint of heart nor is it for trepidatious drivers. Once we got to the interior of the island the trails became extremely treacherous with 2ft deep puddles you have to blindly navigate through as well as washouts that formed gullies that you had to straddle with the ATV and maneuver very precisely to prevent from rolling over. My husband rode passenger for the entire ride because he was nursing a wrist injury–plus I literally drive for a living and am slightly more comfortable with navigating motor vehicles in uncommon spaces. With all that said this was one of the best ways to explore the island and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Fella and I had gone jet skiing one other time before (during our honeymoon in Belize) and this time was just as fun. In fact this time we may have had a little too much fun because our need for speed resulted in us being thrown off. Ooops! We rounded out the day in our beach chairs huddled under the shade of the umbrella and people watched because boy, was there a shmorgishborg. Rainbow Beach is about 100 yards long and is tightly situated between the water and the roadway, and as I eluded to in my previous post, this was one of only a handful of beaches that wasn’t overrun with coral and/or sea urchins or closed due to nesting turtles which made it a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. The beach was densely populated and there were multiple types of music playing on speakers all within earshot, so if you prefer a calmer vibe, I would steer clear of Rainbow Beach.
Our final excursion was zipling. The company is only a few months old so they don’t have a physical location they are based out of. We met up with the tour group by spotting their humvee-styled truck on the side of the road close to the GPS destination provided. The zip course itself was only 3 lines long with the second line being over a half a mile long (the longest line we’ve ever done). We’ve ziplined a handful of times together and each time has been very different experiences–including this one, but in a less-than-exciting way. The harnesses they use make it so you’re essentially in a swing with a seat and a backrest. You can’t spin on the line and starting and stopping are done for you so you’re just there for the ride, which for
some most is ideal, but because we have more experience (and we may be a couple of adrenalin junkies) we felt this particular course was a bit tame. When I mentioned this to one of our guides, he promptly told me how to zip upside-down which made it a tad more thrilling.
In all honesty I could have done without the ziplining excursion, but I believe in fate and I feel I was meant to have this experience for the simple fact that at the meeting spot there was a horse that was tied up to a tree with a long rope (which is pretty common on the island). He had gotten himself so tangled that he couldn’t move. When we returned to our Jeep after the excursion I spent about 10 minutes untangling my new friend from all the overgrowth, sometimes even using my teeth to cut through some of the vines. Once freed from entrapment he went straight to his water trough and had a nice long drink. Good deed done.
The sunrise at Point Udall was nice (I’ve seen better in the mountains where I live), but feel like it’s something you just have to do when you’re on the island to say you’ve done it much like visiting the Mt. Pellier Domino Club’s beer drinking pigs. We tried to see the [non]alcoholic swine, but due to the excessive rainfall, the trail leading to the pigpens was too dangerous and we were unable to see them.
Unfortunately we were unable to tour any of the distilleries on the island since they were closed due to the pandemic, but we did get to spend a few hours hanging out at Leatherback Brewing before our departing flight back home where we had some pretty tasty brews and delicious BBQ chicken pizza.
Even after sharing my experiences from traipsing around the island here are some helpful tips for St. Croix:
- Bring reef safe sunscreen; yes, it’s a thing! Most sunscreen is not rated reef safe and we humans have eroded the planet enough, don’t you think? The least we can do is use sunscreen that’s not filled with harmful chemicals that could damage the coral. In all honesty the only reason we checked a piece of luggage is so I could bring my 6 bottles of sunscreen (#redheadproblems) and I’m so glad I chose to go that route instead of buying my lotion on the island because their tubes are triple the price!
- Bring water shoes. Ours came in handy nearly every day we were on the island whether it was required to have closed toe shoes for an excursion, wading out in some of the rocky beaches or just sauntering down the rough sidewalks in downtown Christianstead. Having water shoes for this trip made our lives so much easier.
- My number one wish when visiting St. Croix was to see and/or swim with a sea turtle and it almost didn’t happen even though we snorkeled nearly every day on our vacation. But we heard on good authority that there was a very high probability of seeing some at the pier in Frederiksted and sure enough on our last full day we went snorkeling at the pier and saw 3 sea turtles along with schools of fish well into the hundreds of thousands if not millions!
Visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands has been on my bucket list since I did a report on them for Geology while I was in college and discovered they have a large population of sea turtles. I’m so glad I was able to cross that off the ever growing list (as well as
swim with a sea turtle), but it’s one of those places that I don’t see myself ever returning to. We made the most of our time and have some great memories, but there are thousands of other islands we have yet to explore and explore we will!