Trip report – St. Croix Memorial Day week
Sorry it has taken so long to post this! I don’t usually write a review of our St Croix trips, but I felt bad that there are so few reviews of this island, so here goes.
We have been visiting Croix for almost 15 years, so we know the island well, but rarely make it off of the North Shore except for an occasional trip to Frederiksted or Christiansted. This was our first trip to Croix in the summer (we always go for Thanksgiving), and it is nice to see it in “quiet time.” The Delta flight from Atlanta (the one that they are going to discontinue in September!) landed at 1:30, so there is still plenty of time left in the day. I am going to miss this flight when they stop running it, because it gets in two hours before the daily American flight from Miami (which, in the winter at least, barely gives you enough time to get the rental car, hit the grocery store for basic supplies, and make it across the mountain to the North Shore before dusk).
I know that there are people who like to stay closer to C’sted, but we fell in love with the North Shore years ago, and now always stay at the Carambola, located at the very end of the North Shore Road where it dead ends into Davis Bay. The resort is surrounded by mountains and so it has no cell coverage (at least until the appropriate cell tower is finished next month), and you just feel like there is nothing else going on in the world when you are there.
It is a leisurely drive across island (remember to stay left!) and down the insanely steep mountain road known as the Beast to the hotel. We check in and pick up the luggage that we mailed down last week. Since USVI is domestic mail (at least coming into USVI), we have found that it is very easy to just mail a bag down early with clothes and our snorkel and dive gear. That way we don’t have to lug it through the airport or risk checking it and have it miss a connection (especially since the Delta flight into Croix only runs twice a week). We check it on the return flight, because it doesn’t matter if it gets lost then. I’m a big proponent of only doing carry on luggage, but if you are trying to carry clothes plus snorkel or scuba gear, sometimes it won’t all fit in carry on.
Enough preliminaries – time to relax! Checked in, quickly unpacked the bare necessities, and jumped in the car to head two miles down the road to one of our favorite bars – Off the Wall. It is just past Cane Bay beach, so doesn’t get the beach traffic as much, but its location right on the water at the Cane Bay Wall gives it the perfect vibe. Open air, picnic tables, a couple of hammocks, and a bar that can occasionally get splashed if the wind and the waves are just right. The new owners put in a pizza oven when they bought the place a couple of years ago, and it is now the only pizza place on the North Shore, so the crowd is a nice mix of tourists and (mainly) locals hanging out at the bar for sunset and really good pizza. The local feel of the place is evident – some nights they have a band, but some nights they play movies or Wii Bowling against a side wall of the storage building, just for fun. We hang out for a few hours touching base with people that we recognize from past years (we aren’t local yet, but we know a few!) and catching up on island gossip. A perfect Saturday night.
Sunday morning, 9 am, we head back to Cane Bay to visit the dive shop there for a shore dive with a divemaster (we’ve been diving these waters for years, but it always helps to do a check out dive to make sure that the equipment is working and the weights are right). We suit up and walk across the street to the beach, then into the water for a swim out to the buoy that marks the edge of the Wall. The Cane Bay Wall drops to more than 3000 feet less than 150 yards offshore, so this is one of the few places in the world that you can swim out to a wall dive. 45 minutes and a turtle, a stingray and a couple of barracuda later we are back, tired, and ready for breakfast. Right next door to the dive shop is “Eat,” a terrific beach restaurant that has been through several incarnations in the time we have been coming down here. Years ago it was the Full Moon bar, famous for its full moon parties, then for a couple of years it was in disarray, struggling a little bit to find its identity, waiting for the right owner. The location is so ideal (elevated, across the road from the beach, with a terrific view) that it really broke my heart to see this place struggling a couple of years ago, but now it has found its purpose. The new owners are real chefs and restaurant people, and they have turned this place into a gold mine. Cool beach bar by day (with what are arguably the best burgers on the island and a walk up window for people who want to carry drinks across to the beach), and OMG restaurant by night. For brunch I have lobster eggs benedict with a spicy hollandaise, and hubby has the biggest turkey club I’ve ever seen, with French fries that have been cooked in duck fat. Yum and double yum.
After a few hours napping and lounging in the hotel pool, we headed back to Cane Bay for the weekly pig roast at Spratnet, a large covered open air bar on the edge of the beach, where people can stand two deep at the three-sided bar or spill out onto the tables in the sand. Most people just call it Calvin’s place, as the owner (Calvin) is always there, working the bar or the barbecue pit. Calvin’s Sunday pig roast is a tradition that we try not to miss - Calvin even recognized us when we got there, even though it has been six months since our last trip. A reggae band is jamming loud, the beach is full of locals enjoying a Sunday, the beach bar is packed, and we are in heaven (and the roast pig is incredible!).
The next morning we wake up to Memorial Day, and we made the mistake of thinking that we could drive into town (C’sted) and do some shopping at our favorite little gift shops. Stupid idea. Memorial Day is for the beach, and most of the shops and even the restaurants are closed. They take their holidays seriously here! Later in the week we made a second visit to town to pick up our essential trinkets (I’m a huge fan of Jan Mitchell glass, so no trip is complete without spending lots of money at her shop), and obligatory fish tacos and frozen beverages at Rum Runners. Downtown C’sted is 275 years old (a street party commemorating the anniversary was held on Friday night when we were there), but except for some waterfront businesses that operate the day trips to Buck Island, some dive operators, and a few jewelry shops, the town is not really geared to the tourist trade. That is one of the things that I love most about Croix – only 10% of the island’s income is related to tourism. Don’t get me wrong, they love having tourists and visitors, but the world doesn’t completely end if they aren’t there.
Later in the week (was it Wednesday or Thursday?) we drove over to F’sted for a couple of hours to have lunch at Blue Moon (a terrific restaurant near the cruise ship dock) – it is so nice to see F’sted getting some development again, now that the cruise ships are coming back (the cruise ship dock is in F’sted, not in C’sted), but it is still not my favorite place to be after dark – lunch is better. Driving back through the rain forest we saw quite a bit of road repair work going on, which is always needed on that road (we noticed substantial improvement to quite a few roads on the island this trip).
I know it sounds like we didn’t do too much on this trip, and that is true. But we were scuba diving almost every morning (once or twice from Cane Bay, but the rest of the week was shore dives at Davis Bay, right at the hotel, which is the nearest spot that the wall is to shore on the entire island – our favorite spot for an amazingly easy wall dive). Each dive was terrific. It was warmer than usual on island because the winds were not coming from the normal direction for this time of year, but that made for clear, calm diving. Turtles, rays, barracuda and nurse sharks were the norm, but on our last dive we swam out about 75 yards from shore and had just dropped down to about 20 feet, getting ready to swim the rest of the way to the wall, when two dolphins swam right past us.
We had a delightfully lazy schedule for the week. One dive each morning (finished by 10 or 10:30), followed by lunch and refreshing beverages at one of the beach bars on Cane Bay. Then back to the hotel pool to cool off or take a nap for a few hours. About 5:30 or 6, get out of the pool, clean up and head back to Off the Wall for sunset drinks and then dinner somewhere on the North Shore, depending on what we felt like that night. In addition to the beach bars and restaurants I already mentioned, there are three other North Shore restaurants that are great (the Waves, Bogey’s, and Rowdy Joe’s), and they take turns having nightly specials so the locals in that area don’t get bored (the North Shore is 40 minutes from C’sted and 25 minutes from F’sted, so most of the people in that area don’t usually want drive that far for dinner). That’s one of the things that I love about that area of the island – it has just enough variety to keep the residents and visitors happy, and there is just enough traffic to keep all of the eateries in business without cannibalizing off of each other.
If you have never been to Croix and want to “do” the island, I would recommend several of the most classic stops (things that we don’t usually do any more, but that is just because we’ve already done them). A sail to Buck Island (and snorkeling the underwater trail) is a must for a first time visitor. Rent a jeep and drive all the way around the island, including a visit to Point Udall (the easternmost point in the US), as well as some parts of the scenic road on the top of the mountain ridge that are not exactly car-friendly (but never think that you can take a jeep on the beach - all of the beaches on the island are all turtle nesting grounds). Take an afternoon to visit the Whim Plantation and the Cruzan Rum factory. And definitely drive through the rainforest and stop for a visit at the Domino Club (famous for many things, including the beer drinking pig). And no matter where you stay on the island, spend a weekend afternoon at Cane Bay to experience a real local beach and local beach bars.
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St Croix Trip Report - Memorial Day Week
Trip report – St. Croix Memorial Day week