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The Picture-Perfect U.S. Virgin Islands

by D.J. Wilson-  “Sit in reverie and watch the changing color of the waves that break upon the idle seashore of the mind.”  ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Do you have a penchant for daydreaming?  It doesn’t take much to get me started.  Something as simple as a postcard of a sunset on the beach promptly stirs my imagination.  I envision warm white sand beneath my feet, a soft sea breeze in the air, and rich rays of sunlight casting orange and red hues upon the sea.  Then, the phone rings, the dogs bark and suddenly it’s back to reality.  If you’re looking for history, excitement, and picture-perfect beauty, put the postcard away.  Your dream can become a reality in the Virgin Islands of the United States.

The U.S. Virgin Islands, also called USVI, lie about 40 miles east of Puerto Rico and immediately west of the British Virgin Islands.  They are part of the Virgin Islands Archipelago or island chain. The USVI is made up of the three main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John and Saint Thomas, along with Water Island and several dozen smaller islands.  Formerly known as the Danish West Indies, they were sold to the U.S. by Denmark in the 1916 Treaty of the Danish West Indies.  Today they are currently an unincorporated United States territory and a vacationer’s paradise. Just a short flight from Miami, travelers can arrive in less than 3 hours to experience the clear blue waters of the warm Caribbean.  No passport is required for U.S. Citizens, though other forms of identification are necessary.  Boasting average winter temperatures of 77 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and 82 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, the islands make the perfect year round get-away.  The U.S. Virgin Islands are known for their beautiful white sand beaches and pretty harbors.  The Islands possess unique characteristics, from coral reefs and secluded coves to tropical forests.  Each is drenched in history and charm.  Take a look to see which Island best fulfills your vacation dreams.  Perhaps you’ll love all three.

If you like history and golf…. you’ll love…. Saint Croix Nicknamed “Twin City” – St. Croix is the largest of the three islands.  It lies to the south and offers a flatter terrain.  Enjoy Christiansted, the capital of the Danish West Indies from 1775 to 1871.  Christiansted’s historical area is about 27 acres in size and is maintained by the United States National Park Service. Visit Fort Christiansvaern, an original fort used by the Danish Army and later serving as a jail and place of worship.  Explore displays at the restored Steeple Museum, St. Croix’s first Lutheran Church later used as a military bakery, community hall, hospital and school.  Check out the beautiful yellow European-style Old Danish Customs House and the Government House which stands as a fine example of Danish colonial architecture.  In town, amidst historic buildings like colonial Old Scale House and the 19th century Danish Pharmacy Museum, the cobblestone walkways will lead you to modern places to dine and shop.  The charming town of Frederiksted, a picturesque water-front town established in 1751, is second in size to Christiansted.  The town features Fort Frederik, an historic landmark originally built in the 1750’s to ward off pirates.  Taking a place in history, in 1776, it fired the first salute from foreign soil to the “new nation of the USA”, in violation of Denmark’s neutrality.  Be sure to see St. Croix East End Marine Park, with beautiful reefs, mangroves and sea brass beds for nesting endangered sea turtles.  Don’t miss St. George Village Botanical Garden to explore 16 acres of sugar plantation ruins and lovely gardens featuring exotic plant species.  The island is a tropical gem and a great place to go scuba diving or learn to sail.  Enjoy golfing on some world-class golf courses, such as Carambola Golf Club, a par-72 course which winds through a rich valley and sweeps past spring-fed lakes as water features or Buccaneer Golf Club designed by Long Island PGA professional Bob Joyce featuring the shimmering Caribbean Sea as your backdrop on 13 holes.

If you like nature trails and the beach….you’ll love….Saint John Nicknamed “Love City” – St. John makes travel easy, with one road running across the center of the island and a second along the north shore. Cruz Bay is the main town featuring interesting shops, restaurants and bars.  There you’ll find the Visitors’ Center where you’ll find exhibits, maps and information on the area.  Watch ferries dock as you rest in Cruz Bay Park.  Check out the Elaine Ione Sprauve Museum, just outside of Cruz Bay to learn the history and culture of St. John.  Also visit the Ivan Jaden Museum, reflecting the story of the greatest Russian tenor of the 20th century.  Don’t forget to visit a plantation or two, such as the notable Annaberg.  The plantation ruins are protected by the Virgin Islands National Park and are open to the public.  Follow the trail through factory ruins and see the Windmill at Annaberg.  Along the trail, read the placards which describe how sugar was produced and share history of the plantation.  St. John is home to Virgin Islands National Park, which protects two-thirds of the island and provides refuge for wildlife.  There are 140 species of birds and 740 species of plants inhabiting the Island.  Protected land includes beautiful beaches, forest hiking trails, historical sugar plantation ruins, salt ponds, hills and valleys.  The park is often described as breathtaking, from deep green hills and lush forests to glistening blue waters along the coastline.  No trip to St. John is complete without a visit to the park’s trails which run to the shoreline.  St. John’s has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, making it easy to understand why the Island is so lovable.

If you like harbor towns….you’ll love….Saint Thomas Nicknamed “Rock City” – Home to the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Charlotte Amalie is in the heart of the Island’s history, harkening back to the Danish era when the port was center of trade and commerce.  Today, cruise ships enter the harbor and show the town’s modern emergence as a center of tourism.  The island of 32 square miles offers plenty of attractions.  Begin at Kongen’s Quarter, a 17th century Danish fortification harkening back to Colonial times.  See the reconstructed two-story Legislature Building, originally erected in 1828 as barracks for Danish police.  Visit the courtyard where important ceremonies took place in 1917, transferring ownership of the Danish West Indies to the U.S.A.  Then, explore Fort Christian, the oldest standing structure in the Virgin Islands.  The fort, with its imposing exterior walls, was built between 1672 and 1680 and was later expanded to serve as a government building and also the island’s prison.  Stalled renovation has led to closure since 2005.  Emancipation Park & the Grand Galleria feature a reproduction of the Liberty Bell, fitting as every U.S. state or territory has a copy of the bell.  You’ll find the bust of Denmark’s Christian IX in the park’s center and enjoy shops and restaurants in the 1840’s Commercial Hotel and Coffee House.  Enjoy the St. Thomas Historical Trust Mini Museum, with five rooms of antiques, artifacts and photos.  Outside of the museum stands Roosevelt Park, named to honor the late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  See the Lutheran Church founded by Kjeld Jensen who arrived on St. Thomas on an expedition to colonize the island.  The town of Charlotte Amalie is known for dozens of streets of steps which cut through the hills; the 99 Steps being the most famous, though technically 103.  The bricks used were brought from Denmark and functioned as ballasts in the hulls of ships.  Be sure to see Three Queens Fountain, commemorating the importance of Queen Mary, Queen Agnes and Queen Josiah.  Blackbeard’s Castle, the actual remains of the Skytsborg Tower, served as the original watch tower for the town and was used by Danish soldiers as a vantage point to spot enemy ships.  Though Edward Teach was noted to be in the Caribbean in the early 18th century, it became part of lore that he used the tower as a lookout for piracy.  Visit the memorable Magens Bay along St. Thomas’ rugged north coast and enjoy swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing in the calm waters with beautiful mountains as your backdrop.  Parking, equipment rental, showers, food and lifeguards are an added bonus.

While photos of the sun and sea are dream-worthy, there’s nothing better than spending actual quality time at America’s favorite vacation beach destinations.  The U.S. Virgin Islands offers history, nature and charm in post-card worthy settings.  If you can’t decide which Island is most appealing, consider Island hopping via water transport or by air. Let you heart be swept away on USVI’s pristine shores, where sunrise and sunsets leave lasting impressions of beauty and having fun is the name of the game.

 

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Howard Evirs

We plan to visit St. Thomas in September/October and will be among the first guests to stay at Wyndham’s Margaritaville.

Bernie And Dicks

Sure is extremely inviting. I will think about a vacation there!

Allen H

We went on our 20th to USVI. I would move there in a minute.

Norma

Very thorough and helpful–I’m going to check it out!