Adventures in Rock City, St. Thomas, USVI

As I mentioned yesterday, I drove down to Florida with the kids and Lucy for Spring Break while Clay is globetrotting in the name of the Army. As much as I love spending time at the beach with the kids, there isn’t much I love more than being on an island with Clay. While wiping sand off their little feet this afternoon, I was reminded of the trip that Clay and I took to USVI a few years ago. I already wrote about St. John so today seems as good as any to write about St. Thomas because I’m missing my guy – it’s tough cleaning sand off little toes by yourself!

St. Thomas is named Rock City for good reason – the island is largely mountainous with roads hugging rugged drop-offs that provide spectacular views. Our rental car had more dents that current consumer confidence (hi-oh!) and had a max speed of 20mph while chugging up the many hills. And we were convinced at least twice that we lost a hubcap or two thanks to the enormous potholes. But it got the job done and provided us with the freedom to explore on our terms. Driving on the left side of the road took a little getting used to but it did make driving up and down the winding roads a lot easier.

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After our first night, we woke up itching to explore the island. Based on the recommendation of family and friends, we ventured out to the famed Coki Beach but the crowded beach didn’t mesh with us. So we decided to go to Sapphire Beach instead, which ended up being our favorite beach on St. Thomas. The Sapphire Beach Resort appeared to be closed and undergoing major renovations so we practically had the beach to ourselves. What made Sapphire Beach special was the view when in the water – small islands dot the horizon. If it weren’t for our rumbling stomachs, we could have stayed all day.

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We stayed at the Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort and couldn’t have been more pleased with the amenities and price-point. Having experienced all-inclusive resorts in the past, we knew we wanted by-pass that scene this time around. We pretty much only had two non-negotiables when planning this trip – a private balcony overlooking the ocean and a working toilet (I’m happy to report that the Marriott went above and beyond in these regards, and others).

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The hotel was gorgeous – complete with multiple pools, including an infinity pool, tennis courts, private beach, and multiple restaurants and bars. Iguanas also roam the property so if you have an intense fear of herbivorous lizards, perhaps this isn’t the hotel for you.

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The capital of the USVI is Charlotte Amalie, a port city with Danish architecture and home to almost half of St. Thomas residents. The majority of shops and restaurants located in the harbor area of Charlotte Amalie cater to cruise ship visitors (cruise ships in the harbor will triple the island population during peak season), so it’s hard to walk 100 yards without seeing jewelry stores, knock-off designer purse emporiums, or cheap t-shirt shops complete with painted seashells. We found ourselves steering clear from this part of town with the exception of buying a few trinkets for the kids. The ‘tourist’ portion of Charlotte Amalie is no different than any other major cruise ship port and was easily our least favorite area of the island.

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One evening, we drove down to Frenchtown and found ourselves at Oceana, an open- air restaurant on Cay Bay overlooking Hassel Island and Water Island that is a bit difficult to find. We were seated right on the water and enjoyed fresh fish and amazing rum cocktails. Our waiter informed as that Hassel Island once served as a leper colony and had us convinced that we could swim there while holding a waterproof backpack over our heads. Which we’re totally going to do next visit.

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Since Clay and I try to kayak whenever we can, we went night kayaking in the bay near our hotel. We were in a double kayak with a clear bottom fitted with LED lights. We saw sea turtles, fish, and even a stingray.  Our only complaint is that we wish we were able to kayak beyond the bay (not really safe) and the excursion was longer (only about 1.5 hours).

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We spent a lot of time on the beach at our hotel. A casual restaurant, The Sand Bar, right on the beach had great food and drinks so we often took often of their happy hour special. We didn’t think to bring our own snorkeling gear (probably because we don’t own any) but have already purchased some for the next time we find ourselves in crystal clear water.

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The weather couldn’t have been more perfect during our visit to St. Thomas, especially since we technically planned our visit during hurricane season (we’re at the mercy of the Army when it comes to scheduling blocks of leave). On the morning we flew out, it poured buckets and from our understanding, hasn’t stopped yet thanks to Tropical Storm Cristobol. Luck certainly was on our side this trip.

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We had our last evening meal at Havanah Blue, an exquisite restaurant that thankfully was located just off of the private hotel beach. The caipirinha was quite possibly the best drink I’ve ever had and food was mind-blowing delicious and prepared incredibly well. While we definitely favored St. John (recap tomorrow), we throughly enjoyed our stay on St. Thomas and wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again – we’re already planning on taking the kids back to USVI within the next couple of years.

Our trip was the perfect mix of relaxation and adventure. We have no regrets about not going the all-inclusive route at another Caribbean island and much prefer this type of vacation. And the best part? I had five whole uninterrupted days with my husband. That alone was well-worth the price of the trip.

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St. John – The Crown Jewel of the Caribbean

The infamous DC snow hole struck again yesterday – place south of us got snow and places north of us got snow, but we just experienced dark skies and the threat of snow. Many local meteorologists were declaring this storm to be the last for the area before the promised spring-like weather.

Because yesterday was cold, gray, and damp – despite nothing falling from the sky – it made me think of some of our favorite trips to tropical destinations. St. John is definitely on the highlight reel – Clay and I went there, sans kids, in August 2014. The highlight of our vacation to the USVI was easily our time spent on St. John. When planning the trip, we ultimately decided to stay on St. Thomas because we managed to score a great rate at the Marriott. And we really did have a fantastic time on Rock City. But St. John is in a different league all together – we knew we would love the island but we didn’t expect to fall as hard as we did. St. John is known as the crown jewel of the Caribbean and I can’t think of a more deserving title for what just may be the most beautiful place we’ve been to yet (for inquiring minds – Alaska, Scotland, and St. John are the frontrunners but we still have so many more places to go).

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