White sand beaches and sparkling turquoise waters have long drawn travelers (and pirates, and Christopher Columbus) to these islands, but it's the friendly locals and unexpected adventures that have kept so many coming back
Author Grant Stoddard Photography Peter Frank Edwards
DAY THREE | You wake up at the Buccaneer and beeline it to downtown Christiansted for breakfast at Lalita (1), a health-food restaurant that promises to be the perfect antidote to rich food and free-flowing rum cocktails. Something titled “Morning-After Detox” — a blend of fresh ginger, beet, carrot, apple and lemon — calls your name.
Rejuvenated, you’re ready for a morning snorkel-and-sail excursion, so you pick up passes for the Buck Island half-day trip at Big Beard’s Adventure Tours (2). While there’s plenty of great snorkeling in the Caribbean, Buck Island has the added distinction of having been a U.S. national monument since 1961, when President John F. Kennedy bestowed the status by executive order. It’s easy to see why he did. After an hour of orientation for inexperienced snorkelers, the boat brings you to one of only three snorkel trails in the U.S., where Atlantic blue tang swarm in formidable clusters and parrot fish audibly munch on the algae that covers the anchor lines.
The appetite of a parrot fish is nothing compared with yours, however, so — once back on shore — you head toward St. Croix’s second city, Frederiksted, for lunch. Sleepy Christiansted seems like rush-hour Tokyo next to this supremely laid-back town (though that changes in an instant when a cruise ship docks at the nearby pier). Right on the waterfront is Polly’s at the Pier (3), a welcoming, casual café run by Midwestern transplants. You choose Havarti, Swiss, blue and cheddar along with avocado, tomato and red onion for a grilled cheese par excellence.
You board another puddle jumper and find yourself back in the heart of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas. The town’s busy shopping streets offer all manner of luxury brands at bargain prices, but the atmosphere is what makes this place special. It reminds you of New Orleans’ French Quarter, and little wonder — most of the elaborate ironwork was shipped in from the Big Easy.
Jumping into a cab, you chart a course for your last dinner on the islands. Nestled in St. Thomas’ verdant hills, Old Stone Farmhouse (4) was originally a stable that adjoined a Danish sugar plantation constructed in the 1750s. In addition to local seafood, it offers exotic meats and fish sourced from around the globe. The best part is that you don’t have to decide between the kangaroo steak and the Indian Ocean abalone in a phyllo crust; instead, you’re invited to walk down into the kitchen, where chef Greg Engelhardt’s staff lets you mix and match selections of meat and fish from the “Butcher’s Block.” It’s a fitting way to dine on your last evening in the U.S.V.I. — picking and choosing what appeals to you at any given moment is what a visit to this glorious troika of islands is all about.
After locking eyes with a barracuda, Hemispheres contributor GRANT STODDARD is feeling pretty lucky.