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St Croix Trip Report - Memorial Day Week

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Jun 21st, 2010, 09:29 AM
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St Croix Trip Report - Memorial Day Week

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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Jun 21st, 2010, 10:10 AM
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Wonderful trip report - thanks for posting.
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Jun 22nd, 2010, 05:52 AM
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Thanks! As you can tell, Croix is one of our favorite places in the world, and I'm always disappointed when I only see reviews of St Thomas and St John on this board. Croix is too far away from St Thomas for it to be on the island hopping route of the rest of the USVI and the BVI, so you really have to want to go there. A large percentage of their visitors come for the diving, of course, but I've seen more and more people in recent years coming just for the good beaches and to say that they visited a rain forest.
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Jul 9th, 2010, 07:12 PM
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Thanks for the trip report. We fell in love with St. Croix last year and hope for many trips in the future. You captured Cane Beach's vibe perfectly. Can't agree with you about the necessity of seeing the drinking pig, though. Sorry, we're veterinary people and think that it's just not right.
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Aug 6th, 2010, 01:53 PM
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Good report! Love St. Croix.
(the beer is non alcoholic)
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Aug 7th, 2010, 09:26 AM
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Really enjoyed reading your report. St. Croix is on my radar now - checked out pictures of the islands and Carambola and it looks quite nice.

We aren't divers but we like to snorkel. How is the snorkeling? Anything in front of Carambola or any snorkeling from shore at all?
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Aug 7th, 2010, 12:46 PM
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The snorkeling on the North Shore - both at the Carambola and at Cane Bay - is great.
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Aug 15th, 2010, 07:53 AM
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Thanks for posting this! I am just reading it now. I have been looking for a spring break vacation for my family next year. Would teens be bored here? (17 and 18 year olds) They love to snorkel and one has scuba dived. It sounds like the scuba diving doesn't have to go too deep to see the fish? DH loved scuba diving, but has had a heart attack two years ago. He is in good health, but I would prefer a more shallow dive than a deep dive just in case.
We also have marriott points and want to know what you thought of the marriott makeovers so far. They are now advertising it as one of their hotels.
Thanks for any more info.
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Aug 15th, 2010, 09:28 AM
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You can see a zillion fish, as well as the occasional turtle, just snorkeling. And the water is clear enough and shallow enough (40-50 feet to the top of the wall in a lot of places) that you should be able to get good views of the coral snorkeling, as well. I have no idea what bores or excites teenagers, but 18 is legal drinking age in the USVI. The North Shore area is a little quiet, though, and even the restaurants/beach bars are closed down by 10 pm most nights.

We haven't talked to anyone at the Carambola since the Marriott changeover, but I know that Marriott is committed to renovating all of the rooms that did not get updated a couple of years ago (Buildings 1 - 6 are already renovated and are amazing). I noticed in May that the pool could use a resurfacing, but I have no idea when that is planned (it certainly doesn't stop you from wanting to use the pool though). The big thing that they were working on was completing a cell tower that would bring cell phone coverage to the resort, and I think that has been completed (good news, bad news, IMHO).
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Aug 15th, 2010, 06:40 PM
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Sounds like a nice resort and great info on the snorkeling/scuba. I will keep it in mind for our family trip. Thanks
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Sep 5th, 2010, 10:37 AM
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cd
 
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Thanks for the report!! We will be in St Croix one day Nov 23rd on a cruise. RE:"A sail to Buck Island (and snorkeling the underwater trail) is a must for a first time visitor." Is the water rough? We've snorkeled a few times but I'm not a strong swimmer at all so if the water is rough I get scared...
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Sep 6th, 2010, 07:50 PM
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cd - the snorkel trail at Buck Island can be little rough sometimes (it is in a very unprotected area, so it tends to get more surf than some other areas if the wind is up). I would check the day of to see what the winds are doing. If the wind is light it will be fine. And I don't think the boats would take you to the trail if it is too rough to snorkel safely. Thanksgiving week is usually not much of a problem in terms of wind, but there have been a couple of years where the Christmas Winds were a little early and everything on the North Shore was rough. If that happens, all of the beaches on the west end (the side where the cruise ships come in) are calm and protected and smooth as glass, and the beach bars will really be hopping on that end (there isn't too much on that side that would count as really good snorkeling, but it will do in a pinch).

If you don't want to go all the way to Buck Island, there is excellent snorkeling from the beach at many locations all around St Croix (Cane Bay in particular, because of the location of the Wall).
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Sep 7th, 2010, 06:21 AM
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cd
 
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Thanks tejana, I went ahead and purchased the tour to Buck Island with the thought that if it is rough, I'll just hang out on the boat while DH who is a strong swimmer has fun...I'm hoping that the tour will stay in Christiansted for a while in order to shop a little bit and catch a bite to eat. Again, thank you for the info.
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Nov 12th, 2010, 05:25 AM
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Thanks Tejana for posting. I am going for the first time over Xmas so this is much appreciated.
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Nov 16th, 2010, 07:35 PM
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I'm new to your post, tejana, but really enjoy your comments. We are cruising in January, first stop will be St Croix, first time there for us though we've hit -- and snorkeled at -- most other southern Caribbean islands. We're considering a cruise sponsored excursion to Buck Island, a location that historically has been very highly rated. I'm concerned about some of the posts I've read that indicate a high amount of coral bleaching (something we noticed when we were at St John last year after 7 years away). Is it worth a trip as first time visitors? Or would we do better to go somewhere else for our snorkeling? We have our own gear, so that is not an issue, and we are fairly experienced. Thanks for your insight!
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Nov 17th, 2010, 06:05 AM
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lawboss - take a look at the "Buck Island from a Cruise Ship" thread for a discussion of whether to spend your cruise ship day on a Buck excursion or just go to Cane Bay for the day. No wrong answers. As for bleaching, I think most of the bleaching problems have been up in the St John/Tortola area. I was at Buck last year for the first time in 10 years, and I had forgotten how really stunning the trail is in terms of variety of coral. With just a few hours on island, though, I would probably opt to spend the day snorkeling and hanging out at Cane Bay, just because it would give you a better "feel" for the island, but that's just me. No wrong answers!
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Jan 14th, 2015, 04:39 AM
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Thx for this report, Tejana. I will be visiting St. Croix for the first time in March for a week and want to know, is it easy to navigate the island to see and experience as much of it as I can? Do you suggest a rental car (easy to drive without getting lost) or would you recommend taxi usage? What about nightlife, if you know, for dancing and other entertainment options?

Thanks so much.
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Jan 27th, 2015, 09:06 AM
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Hamm - You definitely need to rent a car and explore the island. Most of the roads are really good and you can't get lost (not too lost, anyway, and not for very long), but it helps to have a companion riding with you to remind you to STAY LEFT, especially at busy intersections closer to the main towns. You will get the hang of driving on the left pretty quickly, though. I don't know where you are staying, but the only real nightlife is in C'sted itself - a lot of the island closes down pretty early.
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Jan 31st, 2015, 01:38 PM
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I loved your trip report. I went to St. Croix in 2001. It looks like I need to visit again .
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Mar 1st, 2015, 05:46 PM
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"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."

Yikes. How bad is it? I'm planning a possible trip in June with my teen daughter to Carambola. I was planning on renting a car, but not necessarily a Jeep since I've never driven a Jeep.
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