En route to the U.S. Virgin Islands, you'll probably come across numerous ads in your in-flight magazine touting state-of-the-art resorts and a pirate's bounty of duty-free shopping. On closer inspection, however, the fine print indicates that these hot spots are either located on St. Thomas or St. John. But isn't the point of an island getaway to get away from the familiar?
If you're picking St. Croix, then you're headed to the right place. Less really is more, as St. Croix boasts smaller crowds and fewer touristy distractions.
The occasional KFC spotting aside, what makes St. Croix special is its intimate community feel, as opposed to the built-up, corporate vibe of other tropical destinations. Even the Buccaneer Hotel — one of the island's highest-end and most established resorts — feels as warm, welcoming and unpretentious as your best friend's condo, but with million-dollar beachfront views and plush designer bedding.
Christiansted and Frederiksted encompass the best of many worlds: small-town American life, the Caribbean's natural beauty and several cultural reminders of the many European flags that once flew over it, particularly Denmark. While life here, like in other Caribbean islands, revolves around snorkeling, hiking and the great outdoors (and a visit to Buck Island Reef National Monument is a must for those with sea legs), the cultural offerings provide a rich immersion into island life beyond the beach.
The Christiansted National Historic Site, with Fort Christiansvaern, the Steeple Building and nearby Apothecary Hall, is a great place to start, providing a historical point of reference. The roads between the towns are not paved with gold, but with reminders of the era when sugar was the island's cash crop.
These include such "great houses" (restored homes turned historic landmarks) as the Whim Plantation Museum, the Lawaetz Family Museum and the Estate Little Princess.
Because mixology culture is still going strong in most parts of the world, a trek to the still family-owned Cruzan Rum Factory must be on the agenda, with elements that will satisfy both serious history buffs and rum connoisseurs.
Although the range of products is in keeping with contemporary cocktail trends, the machines, practices and work ethic used in the making of the Cruzan rum line is focused on maintaining a standard of quality that has been in place for eight generations.
What makes dining out in St. Croix memorable is that most of the restaurants don't fall into easy categories. There are casual spots, like the Paradise Café in Christiansted, where large portions, fresh ingredients and chats with a mostly local clientele provide a great deal of flavor.
While the U.S. Virgin Islands' hub of Jewish activity is found on St. Thomas, there has been a Jewish presence on St. Croix since the 17th century.
"Probably the most interesting site to visit on St. Croix is the Jewish cemetery, which we maintain," explains Alan J. Bronstein, president of the Jewish Community of St. Croix. "It has graves that are almost 200 years old, as well as some recent ones. Judah Benjamin, who was born in St. Croix, later became vice president of the Confederacy. Some of the Benjamin family are buried there.
"Also, Alexander Hamilton's mother, Rachel Levine, is buried in St. Croix," he says, "and while there is no claim that he was Jewish, the Jewish community in the 18th century in St. Croix where he was growing up had a large influence on him."
For more information, visit: www.stcroixtourism.com.