GUEST EDITORIAL: Timeless Beauty of The U.S. Virgin Islands Can’t Be Erased By Two Hurricanes, No Matter How Mighty
By ROBERT BREEDLOVE
SPECIAL TO THE VIRGIN ISLANDS FREE PRESS
Every year when Our Town winter temperatures begin to drop and consistently stay at or below the freezing point, our thoughts usually turn to warmer southern climates.
How far south, you ask?
For this discussion, let’s go WAY far south to the tropical U.S. Virgin Islands, aka, St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. Because all three are U.S. territories, you can fly there or take a cruise ship there, and never leave our country. They are all wonderful places to visit. My bride, Debbie, our children, and I have been on the first two many times, mostly one-day port stops on week long Caribbean cruises, but regarding St. Croix, we stayed there for a week, several years ago, at their quaint Hotel on the Cay, near the quaint town of Christiansted.
For several early months of 2018, visiting any of these three island jewels may present a tourist challenge, however. All were struck hard in September, 2017, by category 5 hurricane, Irma, and although the USVI usually bounce back fast, it might be late spring/early summer before recent hurricane damages are fully repaired.
St. Thomas, with less than half the entire 108,600 USVI permanent population, is the most frequently visited island, and is 32 square miles in size. It is located only 40 miles east of Puerto Rico. PR is also part of the USA, but is deemed a commonwealth. PR has actually had a vote for U.S. statehood on three separate occasions, but as of now, it has failed to pass. On St. Thomas, most large cruise ships dock near the territorial capital city of Charlotte Amalie. It is but a short walk or taxi ride from the cruise ship docking area to the city center, but many shops, small strip malls, and other tourist-type vendors are located right next to the cruise ships. Therefore, it is extra easy for cruisers to part with their spendable money during this island visit.
If you want to see any of the islands on your own, rental vehicles are readily available. There is one BIG item US drivers have to NEVER forget when driving in the US Virgin Islands – KEEP LEFT! That is correct, driving is on the opposite side of the road, and having driven there many times myself in the past, forgetting to KEEP LEFT is very easy to do! To help remind me, I always keep a printed, small cardboard sign just in front of the steering wheel on the front dashboard that says KEEP LEFT! This driving principle has been present on the USVI since the USA obtained them from the Dutch in 1917, and under the former Dutch rule, driving on the left was normal. USVI are the only USA land areas that legally requires driving on the LEFT!
Lots of beautiful sites to take in on lovely St. Thomas, but probably the most spectacular is Magens Bay. Magens Bay, truly one of planet Earth’s most beautiful places, is located on the island’s north side, and has the Atlantic Ocean as its water source. The incredible crescent-shaped beach is about 3/4th of a mile long, and has a full complement of water sports available on-site. To view this magnificent beach from one of the island’s high points at Drake’s Seat is simply breathtaking!
The second largest population area on St. Thomas is colorful Red Hook, located at the far eastern side of the island. With a resident number of 7,700, Red Hook is full of great restaurants, shops, and other store fronts with more favorable prices, since it is farther from twice as populated Charlotte Amalie, and most of the cruise ship pedestrian traffic.
Red Hook is also where one may board the always-busy passenger/vehicle ferry for the 4-mile ride to small St. John, USVI, and pretty Cruz Bay. Since 1956, 60 percent (thanks to the donation by owner Laurance Rockefeller) of St. John has been included in Virgin Islands National Park, and the entire island is only 19.65 square miles and has 4,170 people anyway. It is truly the natural paradise location, especially for a day trip which might include a beach picnic. Geographically, St. John is located only 4 miles southwest of Tortola, one of the several British Virgin Island group.
St. Croix, the largest of the USVI trio, is an 84-mile-square island, and is located almost 44 miles south of St. Thomas. A ferry frequently operates between the two islands. As previously stated, my bride and I experienced an outstanding week there in the past, exploring the island’s old sugar cane mills and large plantation houses, along with famous Buck Island Reef National Monument. Our youngest son, Robbie, and I took a private licensed vendor boat out for the 6-mile ride from the Christiansted Wharf to the waters off Buck Island for several hours of snorkeling in one of the finest marine gardens in the entire Caribbean sea.
We followed many of the underwater trails, carefully identifying the the incredible reef’s wildlife. It is one of the few underwater parks in our US National Park System, and the waters are truly crystal clear and warm! What an awesome experience we had that day.
Many famous Americans are from St. Croix, including former great NBA players Walt Frazier and Tim Duncan. Our Town’s own Marie Abraham-Robinson, M.S., LMFT, executive director of our special Wings of Hope Family Crisis Services facility on the north side of Our Town, also hails from this island jewel. Marie has family members that continue to live and thrive there, and certainly appreciate her visits!
In summary, several key reasons to visit our USVI; incredible scenery, wonderful local people, not too far from our U.S. mainland, and a part of our great US of A.
Don’t miss them, and they will be forever captured in your mind’s eye.
Robert Breedlove is an Oklahoma State University news-editorial journalism graduate, and a former newspaper (including Oklahoma News Press) reporter. He resides in Stillwater, and has for most of his life. Breedlove has been a contributing writer to various media over the United States for years. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.