STX long trip report Jun 30-July 14
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Here's a report from our recent trip to St. Croix that I promised a special person on this board. I don't get to this board very often, so forgive me if I'm not quick to answer questions. Please note that the caps in the report are not meant to be taken as shouting, merely a tool to scan through a long report.
June 30-July 14, 2006
We (Hubby & I) opted for STX (St. Croix) primarily for cost-of-trip reasons instead of STJ (St. John) this year to be able to get our “island fix”. This was our fifth trip to USVI. Our previous four trips were to STJ in May.
STX VILLA RENTAL:
We found a nice little cottage, one of STX “hidden gems” (as described by an island resident who has had friends rent the house) called Longford Hideaway for approximately $700/week on one of the large plantation estates. The house had almost everything we needed, including a pool. What it didn’t have (oven, dish washer & clothes dryer), we lived without for a couple of weeks. It’s somewhat remote and the country charm appealed to us. The hosts, island residents for 30+ years, were gracious and willing to share great tips with us to help plan outings during our stay.
Being adventurous travelers and not wanting to stay in a resort, the cottage at Longford was perfect for us. When you rent the cottage, you are responsible for all of the basics for your stay (tp, trash bags, paper towels etc.). The house is comfortably furnished and includes towels, sheets, beach towels, coolers, and beach chairs. We were comfortable without using AC with constant trade winds and cool evenings. AC is available for an additional charge. There were several very friendly dogs that followed us around the property during our stay.
HERTZ RENTAL VEHICLE:
We rented a 4X4 Ford Explorer from Hertz for our two-week STX stay—we got a good rate through a corporate discount program so we went where we wanted, when we wanted. We made several trips to both Fredriksted & Christiansted. Three times circling were the most times around the blocks on any of the trips to find parking in C’std. Parking wasn’t bad at all during the slow season.
Flew to STX out of Atlanta on Delta partner ASA. We should have brought something to read, as they run shuttle planes with no movies. The planes aren’t as spacious as the bigger jets heading into STT. We’d gotten used to the big planes showing a movie that fly to STT and it made for a long flight.
We packed a snack and sandwich for our return flights, and were quite glad that we did and planned to purchase a book at the airport. STX, unlike STT does not have a cafeteria or gift shop/newsstand to buy items after you have cleared through customs, only a snack bar with beverages (juice, pop, liquor, hotdogs, chips & candy bars). Next time, we’ll make sure that we pick up our last minute gifts and reading materials before we clear through customs for flights home.
COMPARISION of STJ/STX:
From our perspective, STJ has fantastic snorkeling from shore and STX has mediocre snorkeling from shore. STJ is very expensive, and most STX prices and availability of goods was similar to home (Midwestern USA). Both drive on the left. STX roads (most of them) are okay for a 2-wheel drive. For STJ, you need a 4X4 vehicle. Parking in town on STX was much easier that in Cruz Bay. STJ and STX both have some great local artists making their products on island, along with tourist-type things to purchase including jewelry and clothing. There are very limited places on STJ has to purchase items, and STX has two K-Marts to pick up items that you either forgot or decided you need during your stay. In general, both have great beaches for lazing the day away parked under a sea grape tree doing nothing. Both have horseback riding. STX also has a casino, several golf courses and horse racing track. The colors of the water are incredible both places. Scuba diving is great both places. STJ is getting to be a playground for the mega rich. STX is still affordable. I’d rather get to the USVI once a year and enjoyed STX. Hubby would rather save up and said he’d rather go to STJ once instead of going to STX three times. I hope we get back to both islands. On both STX and STJ we did not encounter children begging to sell you items or braid your hair, etc. Both are relaxing islands. The local drivers on STX were very polite.
STX THINGS WE DID:
Visit with locals. We asked for advice on what to see and where they go to the beach on their days off. Christina at Longford Hideaway took our map and marked all her favorite beaches and how to get to them. All were fantastic and not listed on standard tourist maps. Those specials spots will remain special.
We like to be with one another listening to the sounds of the surf and spent many hours relaxing. Each morning, after a couple of pots of coffee and breakfast, we pack a cooler with a few beers/sliced limes/water/cheese/meat/crackers/sodas/water and head out to different beaches. Some days we’d eat at local restaurants and some days, we’d just snack on our goodies out of the cooler.
One day we spent doing what I called “tourist trap day” to help support local sites. That day included the Botanical Gardens, The Whim Plantation, and the Cruzan Rum Factory tours. The gardens were pretty and well maintained. The cactus and succulents are really spectacular. The Whim Plantation was okay, with fees going to help support the local history. The rum factory was interesting, and we later read that our guide, Karen, her family actually owns the factory. . .no wonder she was so knowledgeable! Oh, I forgot the beer drinking pigs at Domino’s on the Mahogany road in the rainforest (not a true rainforest). It is a beautiful drive with trees overhanging the road.
We did our share of looking for decent snorkeling from shore. Sunset Grill has okay snorkeling (for STX—good snorkeling) and the area westward where the dive buoys are looked most promising. Cane Bay Beach was also okay, but fighting the surf for us is annoying and water was cloudy throughout our stay. Divi has some reef to see, but again the water was rough and visibility dismal. The west side of the island made for the most calm snorkeling experience.
We did an intro to scuba class with N2theBlue’s Derrick. The diving on STX looked to be really good, but to do the wall at Cane Bay, you really need to be certified. The good stuff was below the 40’ you are limited to as an intro diver. They advertise no more than six guests and we ended up having a full group that was six intro divers. Only one hadn’t been diving previously. The other four divers were in their 20’s and were too intent on seeing how many photographs they could take of one another to make for a pleasant dive for us. We weren’t impressed enough to try diving with them again. (I think Colette with SixPaq on STJ just spoiled us.) Derrick wasn’t bad, he just wasn’t as good as what we’d gotten used to, and the water was murky our entire STX stay.
One morning we got up very early to watch the sun rise at Point Udall, eastern most point in United States. (Learned western most point in US is also “Point Udall” in Guam. A brother or cousin (?) Udall. The drive to Point Udall reminded us most of STJ east end--beautiful land with rolling hills and minimal development. One evening we watched the sun set from the Sunset Grill on the west side of the island.
Explored both F’std & C’std. Both cities are small, compact and have an assortment of shops and restaurants with great histories and beautiful waterfronts. We felt safe in both C’std & F’std during the day. C’std has more shopping. F’std had my favorite restaurant: Le St. Tropez.
The gift shops at Botanical Gardens and Whim were filled with cheesy touristy stuff, primarily made in China or elsewhere (not USVI). They had a few good books and I scored a West Indian cookbook to try to recreate stuff at home if I can find the ingredients.
We brought home a bottle of the Single Barrel Estate Rum from Cruzan in our “island made” pile of goodies. Karen stated, “Single malt scotch drinkers seem to enjoy the aged estate rum.” We do drink our fair share of single malt scotch.
We spent several days looking for STX locally made items. My favorite was the glass studio of Jan Mitchell in C’std. She’ll fire whatever you want if she doesn’t already have an item. Jan genuinely likes to show off the processes she uses to make her special pieces. We like taking home a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork for gifts and her pieces start a $5, a real bargain for a unique gift. Many of her pieces went home with us, and we wish we’d bought more. This island also has its share of great painters and galleries with beautiful works of art. Among the painters is Luca Gasperi who also owns/runs an organic garden where you can buy fresh island produce (located across from Cheeseburgers In Paradise). It so nice to spend time talking to those uniquely talented individuals that are living their dream and share their island with others.
Another place to find one-of-a-kind items is LEAP, off of Mahogany Road (on south side, right at fork on the gravel). Wood from downed trees is turned into furniture and useful items. They only use wood from dead trees and do not log living trees on STX. A solid mahogany cutting board that we’ll use to serve cheese/fruit was $50.
I also bought a pair of Tanzanite stud earrings to match a ring I’d gotten on STJ several years ago. “The one and only trip” to STJ years ago that started our “must have island-time!” (Many of you know exactly what I mean.)
We ate only two DINNERS out. . .
at Sunset Grill. Good food. Great views. Had ribeye steak & stuffed Caribbean lobster. Hubby loved ribeye. Lobster was great, but crab stuffing was overpowered by garlic.
We ate LUNCH out most days. . .
Had a lunch at Sunset Grill that was really good. Think hubby had buffalo burger & I had a jerk fish sandwich. Both yummy. Sunset also makes a great bushwacker and blended fru-fru rum drinks. . .they mixed me up a mango/passion fruit that really hit the spot.
Southshore Café was good. Expensive for what was served for dinner. Good views. Wear deet, it was buggy! Service was disorganized. Prime rib & lamb were both excellent.
Had Sunday brunch at Duggan’s Reef. Good food. Great views. Cheap Bloody Mary’s ($2) that made for a very lazy day.
Ate two lunches at Le Saint Tropez in F’std. Fabulous French restaurant. Hubby again had buffalo burgers. One day I had sautéed scallops & mushrooms with tarragon cream sauce served over puff pastry served with a salad that was wonderful (best meal I had on STX) and another day I had the steamed mussels. (mussels were too garlicky for me. . . to me, garlic quickly overpowers delicate seafood)
Ate at a couple of places in C’std, one in a courtyard that was recommended by locals. I believe the previous name was Turtles. Hubby sat and watched the chickens clean the tables and peck at the condiment bottles at a Mexican Restaurant in C’std (wouldn’t want to dine there!).
Found good pates and rotis at a gas station east of C’std out towards Buccaneer. It had a blue awning. The truck drivers were lined up there for lunch so we were pretty sure it would have good local food, and it didn’t let us down.
Did have a lunch at Cheeseburgers In Paradise. For our tastes, it was just too costly for what was served and food just okay. We think it would be better in the evenings when they have live bands. They did have a nice play area for kids, so if you were looking for child friendly spots, it would be worth checking them out.
THINGS WE DID NOT DO BUT WOULD HAVE LIKED TO DO:
We never made it out to Buck Island during our two weeks on STX. After talking with people that did go out, the pounding boat ride for a short snorkel and cost just didn’t seem worth it to us since visibility wasn’t the best. There were storms and ruff surf throughout our stay. Bone jarring boat rides aren’t our cup of tea. Maybe another time.
We wanted t-shirts. When we purchase t-shirts, we want “island colors” (light, bright colors) and we couldn’t find any on STX (or STJ last year for that matter). It would be nice to be able to purchase cheerful t-shirts from the islands in the colors of the islands. Most of the t-shirts we saw were gray, black, or navy with no pockets. Boring colors and hot, so we’ll have to search another time.
We wanted to check out Isaac’s, Jack’s and Maroon bays for snorkeling. All are supposed to be good but we just didn’t feel like hiking.
Going out on a Jeep ride/nature hike with Ras Lumumba (sp?). We wanted to, but he was booked up, even in July. (Note: Tan Tan tours looked fun and I did call them. He was very polite and told me that for what we wanted--nature hike with explanations of plants & snorkeling at Maroon Bay-- that Ras would be the best guide. We saw TanTan go by us while at Cane Bay a couple of times and participants seemed to be having a grand time.)
The west side of STX is supposed to have some great diving at about 20’ that we want to try out on another trip. There’s a place called Scuba Shack just north of F’std that we’ll check out if we make another trip to STX.
In a nutshell, there seemed to be a good police presence on STX and we’d go back again. We used “common sense” and stayed out of dark alleyways in at night in both towns and encountered no problems, including on the west side of the island.
Some say crime is bad on STX. Well, we watched STX local news on television and saw no reports on murder, car-jacking, armed robberies during our stay. It seemed quite safe compared to “bad areas” of any major US city. Major crime against persons on STX seems minimal. According to locals I asked, the few murders are either gang/drug related or love triangles run amuck, and not random acts of violence against tourists.
There does seem to be petty property crimes. In almost anyplace in the USA, you’ll see cars with smashed windows when tempting items are left in the vehicles. The quantity of bars, gates, and grating over most homes does lead one to believe that there are significant quantities of property crimes.
When we were going to beaches where we would be by ourselves, leaving our vehicle in remote areas, we always left the windows to the vehicle down, glove box & console open as a precautionary measure to show there was nothing of value and had no problems anywhere. We were advised to use this method by someone familiar with the petty crimes on the island and it worked great.
On one occasion at Cane Bay Beach, a group of juveniles approached our stuff (chairs, cooler, snorkel bags). Our stuff was towards the east end of beach under a shade tree close to the road. A local dog (Asa) that we’d befriended began barking and growling. My husband got out of the water and headed towards our stuff and the kids left. It was the only time during our stay that we felt that we’d be ripped off.
THANKS TO OTHERS:
The few posters that know about STX were a great help to us in planning this trip. Thanks especially to JoAnne and STX Realtor.
I know this isn’t as detailed as some trip reports, but I figure it will be of some use to others in planning a visit to STX. I start out taking detailed notes, then we slip into island time, and the two weeks is up before we know it. It’s tough deciding what beaches to see everyday, and on STX, most that we went to were not labeled.
Great report! I appreciate the comparisons between STJ and STX. We have been to STT and STJ numerous times and have been toying with the idea of STX. The "Midwestern" prices certainly appeal to this Midwestern gal...
GREAT trip report!!!!!! Very informative, even for this long-time STX visitor. And you met Asa, what a dog!!! I believe that Karen Nelthropp told me the rum factory had been in her family for 300 years - incredible.
I'm sorry the water was murky for you, I guess that happens from time to time. Anyway, I'm so glad you enjoyed your stay - I'm hoping to be back in October!
Thanks for the report. I wanted you to know that you have forced me to put Le Saint Tropez on my Must Do list for next November.
Very good report, Lizabeth. I think you gave a very realistic portrayal of St. Croix. I wish we had made plans to connect while you were here. I could likely have made room for you on my boat on one of the trips I made to Buck Island with my sons, friends, real estate clients and my husband's biz clients.
If we make another journey to STX, we'll try to look you up. A private boat ride to Buck would be an outstanding highlight to a visit to STX. Thanks for thinking of us.
Very nice report and I liked your comparisons of STX to STJ. You hit the money on all of them. I think we decided that as much as we love the STJ of old (we havent been in 2 years) we would probably go back to STX before STJ because of the population explosion. thanks again.