The Virgin Islands
Liz Drayton & Family
A late afternoon stop at Bluebeard's Castle just east of lively downtown Charlotte Amalie offered a glimpse into the island's glory days as a base for traders - those of the legitimate type and otherwise. Folklore tells of how the pirate Bluebeard built the stone tower at Bluebeard's Castle for his true love, then murdered her when she betrayed him, and sailed away. The tower was actually built in the 1700s as a military lookout from which to view enemy ships, a bit of history not quite as exciting to the kids as the bloodier pirate version. We climbed the massive stone tower, straddled the old iron cannons, tried to lift one of the iron cannonballs (not!), and marveled at the statue of Blackbeard (or was it really Captain Hook? The alligator milling about his bootstraps gave me reason to wonder who this bronze man really was!) Blackbeard was actually an Englishman named Edward Teach, who was immortalized in Robert Louis Stevenson's classic "Treasure Island."
Across the Channel
and a World Away
Infinitely more interesting than history to my teenager and her brother were the milk shakes at "Udder Delight," a favorite stop for anyone en route to Magen's Bay or as a destination in and of itself. St. Thomas Dairies delights the taste buds and souls of all who partake of these magical elixirs - whether you choose to add the Kahlua or Amaretto to your potion or not! Onward, milk shakes in hand, we crested the peak of St. Peter Mountain to the famed Mountain Top and were rewarded with another stunningly beautiful view of Magens Bay 1,500 feet below and the chain of Virgin Islands that rose above the water like bumps on a long sea serpent's back. We drove down from Mountain Top to the beach at Hull Bay along a quieter stretch of the north shore and enjoyed an early evening low-key snack at the New O'Bryans Bar. I was amazed by the beauty of this side of the island - and imagined that this is more of what most of St. Thomas must have been like years ago. I wanted more.
St. Thomas really has some great attractions for families, and we only got to a few of them on this trip. A cloudy day was just the ticket we needed to Coral World, a 4.5 acre marine park complete with a three-story observation tower and its underwater observatory with 360-degree view into the amazing array of fish, coral and marine life dancing in the currents of the surrounding reef But the real highlight for the Magz and Henry was the touch tanks, where they could feel, and smell and get a first hand, in-hand moment with starfish, conch, seas cucumbers and other touchable sea creatures. We ended up spending much more time at Coral World than I had expected, even though it is a small marine park, there is so much to see and experience.
We headed across Drake's Channel on Wednesday aboard the car ferry out of Red Hook to spend a couple days on St. John. Although it lies within sight of St. Thomas, St. John is truly a world away. Late in the 1950s Laurance Rockefeller donated much of St. John to the U.S. government and today more than two-thirds of the island is part of a protected national park. Cruz Bay, the island's main town, is bustling with people catching ferries, diners munching on conch fritters, shoppers strolling along the roads and alleyways into beautiful little shops, and amidst it all, the traffic stopped to let a mother duck and her 4 little ducklings cross the hot pavement to seek some beachside shade. The Harborside Village is a charming arcade of arched doors and passageways just off of the main street leading to some particularly nice, upscale boutiques and fine restaurants overlooking the bay. We strolled in and out of the shops and followed the twinkling lights up to the Banana Deck for a truly island style dinner amongst a friendly, relaxed deck full of happy people enjoying themselves in the balmy evening breezes.
After a morning walk along the powdery sands beach at Cinnamon Bay beach, we drove over to the east side of the island to Cruz Bay and the newly renovated Westin Resort. What a gorgeous place! The kids were in heaven and quickly disappeared into the pool of bobbing, bouncing and giggling bodies cavorting beneath the waterfalls. Anchored beyond in the cove was the ever-popular "jump-o-line" (the huge, water trampoline!) and a full assortment of water toys accompanied by joyful din of kids on vacation. The kids hardly noticed my departure as I slipped back into town to meet our local villa management partner for lunch at the Lime Inn. The waiter greeted Eileen and me with friendly smile, served us up an icy glass of lemony iced tea and two crisp, fresh green salads - mine laced with grilled shrimp and Eileen's with grilled chicken. This is my kind of business lunch! My jeep and I made our way along the coast back to the Westin where I searched for about an hour for Magz and Henry, and finally found them happily packed into the resort's Jacuzzi surrounded by a group of new found friends. It was hard to pull them away.