Trip Report – St Croix – January 2009
This is a long one people, but there was a lot to love and report on in St Croix! :-) Hopefully there’s some good information for people planning to visit and fond memories for those who’ve been here!
Saturday (January 17th, 2009)
DW and I arranged a last minute trip to St Croix through RCI. Bus from Portland, ME to Boston’s Logan airport was easy. AA flight from Boston to STX (via San Juan) was also trouble free. Our checked bag was even the first off!
The rep from Centerline car rental was right there at baggage claim. She took us to their lot just outside the airport with two others where we filled out paperwork and took possession of our car. I cannot recommend Centerline highly enough. They were friendly and professional. Don’t be put off by the seemingly vacant lot. This is just a satellite location they use so they can have your car close to the airport (but not on airport property thus saving the 10% tax).
Stopped at Plaza Extra (Sion Farm location) for groceries. Being a Saturday they were out of some things, plus it was late so the Deli was closed, but we got enough stuff to last us most of the week. Our plan was to avoid eating out as much as possible to save costs. Continued on to Chenay Bay Beach Resort. This is listed as a B&B in TripAdvisor’s hotel section, but it’s really a resort. See my upcoming review there for more information. In a nutshell, however, this is a great place to stay. Just make sure you get one of the newly renovated units and don’t sweat the small stuff (a good motto for any place in the islands!). The one negative is the EXTREMELY hard beds. They say pillow top mattresses are on the way, but for now – ugh. Due to the late hour (now 9pm) we did opt to eat in the restaurant. They stayed open a little late to accommodate us. The staff at the restaurant is great, the food average, and the prices high.
Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge is only open 10am-4pm on Saturday and Sunday (and then only September through March) so we made it a point of going there today. This is an amazingly beautiful place and a must see for anyone visiting STX. There were a few people there, but by no means did it feel crowded. We walked down the beach and felt totally alone. The sand is sugar soft and white. The water is clean and calm (some wave action, but not fierce by any means). There isn’t good snorkeling here (but that’s not our big thing anyway) but it’s a great relaxing and swimming beach. Stayed here most of the day and soaked alternatively in the sun and the water.
We were very good about sunscreen (as we were all week). Make sure you follow this rule if you go! The tropical sun will burn you before you realize (even on a hazy day). Also be aware there is no real shade here and since it is a turtle nesting beach you are not allowing to stick any umbrellas, stakes, etc into the sand. Some people had pop-up lean-tos and covered beach chairs which seemed nice. We just jumped in the ocean whenever we got too hot.
We stayed until closing time and discovered that our watertight lanyard purse thingy from Soggy Dollar (BVI) wasn’t totally watertight! Oh well, cards, keys, and money all dried out. (We stuck the money through the A/C vents and they dried out as we drove. :-) )
After that we went to F’sted for a look around. Well, Cruzans apparently like taking Sundays off as much as anyone because just about everything was closed! There was a very nice store that featured only locally made items – art, clothing, books, music, etc. The owner was a great lady who immediately offered us Mimosas! Yummy. We talked with her and drank and, of course, bought a few things. :-) Everything else seemed to be closed so we walked down to the pier. This was lovely. It’s a huge pier that seems capable of docking 6 cruise ships at once. Ships have begun to return to STX (but nowhere near the numbers of STT). I think this can only help the economy so I hope this continues. There were families of locals and tourists alike enjoying the pier, picnicking, jumping off into the water, and just generally having a great time. It was great. We left when it started to get dark (we’d heard F’sted is not a place to be after dark unless you are with a crowd). Drove back “home” reflecting on what a wonderful first day we’d had!
Another beautiful day in Paradise. We first drove to the east end of the island to Point Udall – the most eastern point in all the US territories. This is an amazing observation spot and well worth a visit. I’ve been told to be careful if you are there alone, but there was another couple there and we felt fine. They were transplants from the mainland and we spoke to them at length (with barely concealed jealously :-) ). In addition to a lot of good info, they gave us a recommendation for a Buck Island tour operator. Keep reading to see how that worked out!
We then went to Jack’s and Isaac’s Bays. This was AMAZING and must-do. These are two remote beaches on the southeast side of the island and could be the most beautiful stretches on the island. It’s a bit of a hike to get to them (0.6 miles to Jack’s then 0.6 more to Isaac’s) but so worth it.
To get there: Coming from the North Shore, continue past the turnoff to Point Udall onto Route 60. Turn left onto South Grapetree road. This road leads you into the remains of the Grapetree Bay resort. Keep going past the sign that says Private Property (it’s OK, really). The road will eventually dead end at the gate to a private home. Park on the left side of the road (opposite the water). Do NOT leave any valuables in your car and leave your doors unlocked and windows down. Car break-ins can be common here, but if they can see there is nothing to take they’ll pass you by.
The path begins just to the left of the gate. You’ll have to scramble up some rocks and then the path becomes level. For the first bit (until you come to the wooden steps) you are on private property, but they allow this. Just be respectful. Go down the wooden steps and follow the well marked trail. You’ll first come to a marked turnoff to Jack’s. My advice is to keep going to Isaac’s and save Jack’s for the way back. The path will go over a small hill and then you are looking at the most amazing sight on St Croix – Isaac’s Bay.
There is no shade here and, of course, no facilities. (There’s one lean-to structure that gets taken by the first arriver.) Bring plenty of water and otherwise try to keep your load light. Also, be aware you are in a remote location. I think it is too remote for “bad guys” to steal your stuff, but still – don’t bring anything too valuable with you. And take your money/keys in a waterproof purse thingy into the water with you. If there are other people there, sit near them (not obtrusively) and strike up a conversation. You can have a “well watch for you and you watch for us” kind of thing. This is done often and is recommended.
The beach is sandy and soft with just some rocks at one end. The water is clear, calm (some waves but nothing big), and perfect for swimming. I think there might be good snorkeling, but we didn’t want to lug our gear so didn’t find out for ourselves. We stayed on the beach for hours feeling like Mr. and Mrs. Crusoe. There was only a small party of 4 down the beach but we felt alone in the world. Ahhhh…
Sadly as the afternoon waned we started back. There will be two turnoffs to Jack’s Bay as you walk back. Take the first one. I think this one was actually marked Horseshoe Bay. We kept going, but looking back we could see the sand was softer and water clearer than on the “far end” (closer to the road). We took the second turn off and there is a dilapidated structure there (original purpose unknown), but there’s a picnic table there if you like. The beach here was still nice and made for a perfect cooling down dip. Of course we made sure to be well in our car before it even began to get dark. We suggest you do the same!
We noted the trail was called “Martha’s Fancy Trail”. Anyone know who Martha is and what’s her fancy?
Tonight was a Meet & Greet for guests of Chenay Bay with free drinks (yummy Cruzan Confusions) and appetizers (chips & salsa, veggies & dip, and greasy tasty onion rings). It was a nice time to meet the other guests. We also met the folks who run the place include Burke who seems to be responsible for just about everything. He invited us to breakfast the next morning to complete a guest survey. We knew it would be a timeshare sales pitch, but what the heck – free food is free food.
Breakfast with Burke – made sure to get the steak and eggs, DW had French toast. Both were pretty good. We talked with Burke and listened to his sales pitch. Totally not interested. I felt the prices were too high and the trading possibilities too limited, but that’s just me. Burke’s a nice guy and we enjoyed listened to his tales of how overworked he is. :-)
Continuing our quest to see every square inch of sand on the island we went over the Tamarind Reef resort which is supposed to have a nice beach. It wasn’t for us though. The rocks that protect the swimming area also extend up to the beach in most places. The beach was also small and just didn’t seem that inviting to us so off we went. At this point it was beginning to look like rain so we decided to take the Cruzan Rum tour! (Travel Tip: Be flexible with your plans! The thing you change to might be better than what you had planned!)
Arrived for the 1pm tour but found out that all the regular tour guides were off somewhere watching the inauguration! So a very nice woman who normally stayed in the office gave our tour. It was brief, but a very interesting! Unbelievable how much rum they can produce and what’s actually involved – especially how much is lost in the process of distilling and aging. I even know why Cruzan rum will never give you a hangover. I appreciate my Cruzan more than ever now! After the tour they set you up at the bar for as much rum as you like. There is a daily drink special, but will let you try every variety in whatever combinations you like. It’s open bar time and a lot of fun. Of course we bought a six bottle carton of flavored rums to take home with us. Tip: Try equal parts coconut and banana flavored rum with no mixer. It’s delicious, but sip it!
Still didn’t look like beach weather so we took a drive on Mahogany Road and through the rain forest. This was lovely and well worth it. Beautiful lush growth and such a different feel from the beaches. We saw the sign for the St Croix LEAP. This is a shop featuring products made from Mahogany and Tibet wood. Everything was beautiful and reasonably priced. Vincent showed us around and we bought a few things. DO visit this place, but do NOT be put off by the appearance. When you drive up you’ll think you are pulling into someone’s back yard, but it is the place! You’ll see the sign on the road and just follow the dirt driveway in. Well worth it. Say hi to Vincent and his very friendly cat and dog. (Either one of them would probably sell state secrets for a skritch behind the ear.)
We took the North Shore road back and stopped at Cane Bay as the sun had finally come out. This is a lovely beach and excellent snorkeling. It’s the site of the famous Wall, but you don’t need to scuba to enjoy the area. It’s a nice sandy beach and easy swimming close to shore. We had some fries and drinks at Spratnet – a beach bar right next door. We had a fun time chatting with the folks there while we drank, ate, and watched the sun start to set.
Quick bite back the room then off to the Divi casino. This was a lot of fun even though we didn’t win anything. It’s certainly not large, but it’s well turned out and you’ll get the Vegas vibe. DW did very well on the video poker (was up a lot but then dribbled it away – oh well, it was fun).
Decided to enjoy Chenay Bay a little bit! Took a kayak (free) over to Green Cay. A nice trip, but discovered what looked like a beach was actually mounds of shells, rocks, dead coral, etc. We called it The Boneyard. We still swam a little bit. Don’t bother trying to explore the Cay if you do, just land on the left hand side and enjoy the water. We paddled around some more lovely the water, sun, and breeze. After we got back we were hungry and decided to try out Cheeseburgers in America’s Paradise. It’s just down the road from Chenay Bay. Great outdoor (but covered) tables, friendly staff, and great burgers. Prices weren’t too bad for the island.
Came back to the resort to use the pool, bed, etc. Even took a little nap on the beach beds! (That’s right, beds on the beach!) Come dinner time we realized that Wednesday night was $5 Burger Night at Chenay Bay! Ooops, poor timing. Well, how can you turn down an $5 8-ounce burger and fries?! The burger rivaled the one at Cheeseburgers! Tip: Avoid (or limit) your drinks at Chenay Bay. Every drink we had was $1 to $2 over any other place we drank and the blender drinks were not well blended (even after a repeated request). To combat this on this night we brought our own drink – a yummy combo of Cruzan Coconut, Coco Lopez coconut milk, and a juice mix of orange and pineapple. Deeeeeelicious!!! Made a big batch in an empty water bottle and took it with us. (Other batches came with us on various beach trips.)
Buck Island day! The locals we met at Point Udall recommended Capt Heinz and the Teroro II. He said the larger outfits (like Big Beard’s) were known for overloading their boats. Heinz’s trip is limited to 23 people on his huge trimaran. Plus they give you the most time out – the half day trip is from 9am to 2pm! On our day Capt Heinz the younger (Carl) was at the helm with his sister Melanie as first mate. I love a family operation. These guys were amazing. First of all, except for when we were in the marina we were under sail, not motor. This made for a wonderful sail – quiet and beautiful. First stop was at the snorkeling area on the east end of Buck Island. They were very helpful with everyone’s equipment. My mask never leaked or fogged (a rarity for me). They always had their eye on you as evidenced when Melanie “rescued” us from a shallow coral area where we had gotten trapped (or at least felt trapped :-) ).
After the snorkeling we sailed over to the swimming area on the west side of Buck. Wow. Sugar soft white sand, clear calm water – beautiful. There were also picnic tables among the shade trees. We had a nice long time here to eat our lunch, swim, and generally laze about. This is a NOT MISS trip and we highly recommend Capt Heinz (assuming you don’t have your own boat :-) ).
After we got back we headed into C’sted for some shopping and poking around. Found one or two things, but we aren’t shoppers so gave up on this quickly. Had a bite (and a drink) at Angry Nates on the boardwalk. I had the very tasty Telly Savalas brisket sandwich. Highly recommended. DW had a chicken sandwich that was delish. Had my first “Lime in de Coconut” – YUM! My new favorite drink!! (And only $6, hear that Chenay Bay?) Afterwards we stopped outside the (now functional) Rumrunnner’s Webcam and called my dad in San Diego. It was too funny talking to him on the phone while he could see us. It’s touristy, but you should do this to someone you want to make jealous. :-)
Time for a dip – after all it had been at least an 2 hours since we’d been in the water. (Plus we were hot from walking around town.) So we stopped at Shoy’s Beach. This beach is reachable by going into the entrance for the Buccaneer. Just before the guard house turn right onto Shoy’s Road. You’ll hit another guard house – just tell him you are going to Shoy’s Beach. Follow the road to the very end and park. Walk through a tunnel formed by Seagrape trees only a beautiful sandy beach with calm water. Is there no end to amazing beaches on this island? If you are a beach explorer like us, Shoy’s is another Do-Not-Miss.
Our last full day? Nooooo! We headed out to Ha’Penny beach having read many good things about it. However, Fate seemed to intervene. We stopped at a small grocery store called Milgies Grocery on Route 624 for water. In our conversation with the owner we let known where we were going. He immediately warned us off! We knew that our car would be a target, but didn’t think we ourselves would be in danger. He said that on a weekend Ha’Penny is fine because there will be other people there, but during the week it’s pretty desolate. His exact words were “I wouldn’t go there, especially with your wife.” That scared us as much as anything!
He told us about a couple of other beaches that would match what we were looking for and we decided upon Coakley Bay on the North Shore. It took a bit for us to find it. As you drive east from Chenay Bay, past Chicken Charlie’s, you’ll come upon a fence on the left made up of pale pink pillars and wrought iron railings. Turn left onto a dirt road just before this fence. When we were there there was a sign saying “Due` Truck Entrance” – if you see that sign, turn there. Follow the road to the very end.
Yet again, another beautiful soft sand beach! There were some rocks at one end, but in the middle was easy access for swimming. There’s some grass as you go further out, but close to shore it’s nice sand bottom. Not great snorkeling, but wonderful swimming and beaching. Just one other couple (who owned a condo at Coakley) sat a little ways from us. Bliss!
However, in paradise one must still be vigilant. At one point when we were swimming we saw the woman standing on the beach waving at us and shouting for us to come in. Our first thought? SHARK! So we hightailed it to the beach. But, no! It turns out they spotted someone crawling on their hands and knees out of the growth towards out blanket!! The guy shouted at him and he ran away, but it was close! We had out keys/money on us, but our waterproof thing wasn’t big enough for our camera so that was at risk. Thankfully he didn’t get anything. We immediately moved our blanket closer to the other couple (again – sit near other people when on a sparsely populated beach). This incident did not spoil our time, though. We talked with the other couple (something we did a lot on our trip – talking to folks) and had a wonderful day. We stayed on the beach for hours and had a wonderful time.
We decided we wanted one nice meal for our last night on the island – having been so good about spending so far. We decided on the Pirate Buffet at the Carambola Resort. We chose this because of the Mocko Jumbie dancers that were part of it. The buffet was around $75 for two people. I’m not sure it was worth it. The food was OK, not great. My biggest disappointment was the lack of local dishes. They did have Calaloo soup and seasoned rice, but that was it. Here’s a tip: You do not have to have the buffet to see the show! The bar is across from the restaurant. You can have a drink then take a seat on the patio for the show. The show is well worth it! The dancers were amazing. Do see this if you’ve never seen Mocko Jumbies. The dancers begin at 8:30pm.
WAH!!!! Last bagels on the porch overlooking Chenay Bay. Packed the suitcases. Decided we would take a drive around the island rather than sit there and pout. Check out was simple and easy with no mistakes on the bill.
We stopped at Sunny Isle shopping center to do some souvenir shopping. One thing we wanted was Cruzan hook bracelets, but we didn’t want to spent $250-$600 for real gold ones though! Two stores had gold plated ones. One store’s were cheap looking and we passed. The other store, however, had very nice ones and they were having a sale! His and hers hook bracelets for $55! Score! I’m wearing mine as we speak. Yeah, it’s not “real” jewelry, but we like the look and every time I see it on my wrist I think of St Croix.
There was a bake sale going on to send K-1 kids on a trip to Puerto Rico. We bought some cake slices to go. We drove towards the airport wondering where to stop and eat. We passed the airport on Route 66 and kept going. Suddenly, I felt to turn left. I did. We come to the end of the road at the Good Hope School. Wow. The school is right on the water at one end of Long Point Bay (on Good Hope Road, as it turns out). The view here was breath taking. Waves crashing on the rocks by the school. Water gently lapping on the sand beach of Long Point Bay. We sat on the rocks, soaked in the sun, stared at the water, and ate our slices of delicious Vienna Cake. Does it get any better than this? I would make this a place to return to when we could actually swim and enjoy the beach.
Sadly, sadly we got in the car and went to the airport. Returning a Centerline car is extremely easy – you just park it in the airport parking lot and lock the keys and parking lot ticket in the car. Check in was easy. In fact, I’d say the Customs and Security at St Croix airport were among the easiest I’ve ever gone through! It was well organized, everyone knew their job and did it efficiently.
Plane ride home uneventful except for a long boring layover in SJU. Arrived in Maine to a snow buried car and me with a light jacket and no gloves. Battling frostbite I got the car unburied and off we went home.
Well, there you have it. If you made it all the way through this report you have my admiration. Ask any questions you like and we’ll be happy to answer. This was our first time to STX, but certainly won’t be our last!
Travelin’ & Mrs Dragon
PS: Time to go back yet?!?!?!!