It was hard to leave Caneel Bay, but I had spa treatments awaiting me at the Ritz Carlton, St. Thomas, so I boarded the ferry for the twenty-minute ride and moved on to a totally different experience.
The Ritz-Carlton brochure promised, “First we make the world revolve around you. Then we gently slow it down.” The four-star Ritz is nestled within a 15-acre private beachfront estate on the eastern tip of the island. However, after three days of solitude at Caneel Bay, I was in culture shock. Amid the luxuriously furnished rooms were three multi-lined phones, 24-hour room service, television, Nintendo, pay-per-view movies, and high-speed internet access. For me, not even the panoramic view of Great Bay and St. John made up for these real-world intrusions. But I did love the half-mile white sand beach and the two pools, especially the 125-foot free-form infinity edge pool. The Aquatic Center offers scuba lessons and certification, dive gear and dive trips as well as snokeling, Sun Fish and Hobie Cat sailing and parasailing from the beach. Two omni synthetic tennis courts and a new spa, salon and fitness center complete the package.
Honeymooners and couples feeling especially romantic can sail to the secluded Honeymoon Beach aboard the “Island Girl,” a private 38-foot schooner that comes stocked with a gourmet picnic basket. Other options include a 3-course candlelight dinner on the beach (no violins, but a steel pan musician is included in the package), the Rose Petal Turndown (fresh rose petals spread atop the bed, a romantic CD, champagne and chocolate covered strawberries), and synchronized in-room “Couples Only” massages.
Since my Significant Other was at home babysitting our three pets, I skipped the couples-only events and signed up for a sunset cocktail cruise on the Lady Lynsey, the Ritz-Carlton’s private catamaran. Fresh shrimp, hors d’oeuvres, wine and Cruzan rum added to the simple pleasure of watching the sun sink behind the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. At this point, life was good.
St. Thomas is famed for its sport fishing, sailing, diving, snorkeling and charter yacht fleet, but to me, it will always mean duty-free shopping. I spent the next day wandering through the blocks of shops in Charlotte Amalie, the capitol of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Jewelry, linens, cameras, electronics, perfume, premium liquor, designer clothes and just about anything else you covet is available for a fraction of the cost you’d pay in the States. My faves? Zora of St. Thomas for the custom-fitted sandals worn by the locals and Shipwrecker’s Ocean Salvage for treasure coin jewelry, nautical antiques dating from the 1500’s, cannons, daggers, old maps and flintlock pistols.The cheapest place to buy liquor? The local K-Mart, where the locals shop.
When I tired of the stores and aggressive salespeople, I headed to the city’s historic government sector to see the Virgin Islands Museum in Fort Chrisian, an imposing brick-red building that dates back to the 17th century, Hotel 1829, Frederick Lutheran Church (the antique chandeliers are amazing!), and (at the top of the famed 99 Steps that are actually 103) the stone remnants of Fort Skytsborg, a 17th-century fortress known today as Blackbeard’s Castle, named after notorious pirate Edward Teach who once frequented St. Thomas. Duty-free was a draw in those days, too! The well-preserved St. Thomas Synagogue at the corner of Raadets Gade and Crystal Gade, is the Western Hemisphere’s second-oldest synagogue. (Curacao boasts the oldest.)
Coral World Marine Park & Undersea Observatory is another great place to while away the hours. There’s also Sea Trekkin’, a guided underwater walk on the sea floor. Specially designed helmets keep your hair and face dry, and provide the necessary weight, air, and stability needed while wandering through the coral beds of Coki Bay. In addition, there’s a Tropical Nature Trail, SNUBA, storytelling, and parasailing. Don’t miss the chance to chat with Iguana Man and brush the spiny chin of his human-loving pet, Bumpy.
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