One year ago, two back-to-back hurricanes ravaged the Caribbean. The Virgin Islands were hit; first, the British, then the U.S. St. John took the brunt of the damage, while St. Thomas experienced damage that shut down the hospital and the airport. A year later, resorts are beginning to reopen, with some so badly beaten they are still working on repairs. St. Croix, the largest and the most remote of the U.S. Virgin Islands sustained minor damage and became the home to rescue workers helping the residents and trapped visitors of the hurricanes. Now that the other islands are getting back on their feet, St. Croix is redirecting its attention to hosting visitors to the island.
St. Croix’s draw has always been its remoteness. You won’t find sprawling resorts on the island. The few resorts operating are proud to offer an experience generations experienced decades before. Families who love St. Croix return year after year, with the majority visiting the pink Buccaneer Resort. The longest-running family-owned resort in the Caribbean, locals and visitors alike know the Armstrong, greeting Elizabeth by name when she breezes into the dining room or welcome reception.
For more than 70 years, the Armstrongs have welcomed visitors to its Grotto Beach and, today, the full resort is nestled along this long stretch of beach and a more remote Mermaid Beach. Oceanfront rooms are the most popular for guests, with the true fans of the resort staying within the original Great House. Villas overlooking tennis courts, large family cottages, and a private beach house are also available, with all accommodations including a full breakfast daily, non-motorized water sport gear, drinks and snacks at a weekly cocktail reception, live music and daily activities.
While the rooms are comfortable, you won’t want to spend time in them when visiting. Instead, the turquoise waters practically demand you enter them. At the resort, you can snorkel, kayak, swim… but my favorite part of my visiting the island was climbing aboard a catamaran and heading out to Buck Island Reef National Monument.
The only national park that is underwater, the you can be picked up right at the resort’s dock for a half- or full-day excursion to the park that John F. Kennedy himself wanted designated as a park to preserve the beautiful reef. While the water is one of the clearest and cleanest waters I have ever seen, and the schools of fish are plentiful and colorful, the reef is mostly dead today.
You’ll snorkel along the skeleton of the former reef and still be impressed with encounters with sting rays, sea turtles, barracuda, angel fish, parrot fish and more, but support is needed to assist in the reef’s regrowth, so time is limited when visiting the reef and you’ll spend more time near the island’s beaches.
When exploring St. Croix by land, most visitors head to Christiansted, where cruise ships dock, for shopping and dining. I was thankful to visit the charming town while it was uncrowded, enjoying waterfront dining and popping into boutiques, but the town was lacking in attractions. Instead, we headed to Fredericksted and visiting St. George Village Botanical Garden. A hurricane can wreck havoc on a botanical garden, but the surprise after the storm was the find of dormant flowers, water lilies and growth thought to be long gone on the island.
The island features a Heritage Trail with landmarks showcasing historical places and buildings. Before heading off to discover these landmarks, allow Elizabeth to give you a historical tour of the Buccaneer, which delves into the island’s history and its flora and fauna. Then, when exploring the island, you can discover the places she highlighted, including the 1848 slave rebellion and its key players who fought for emancipation for the slaves on the island.
Of course, when back at the resort, you’ll find all the pieces that make a vacation a vacation. A spa for relaxing, golf and tennis, and dining that is a step up from most Caribbean eateries. From the warm “good mornings” from the dining room staff in the morning to the fine service during dinner at night, you won’t be disappointed. However, if you want to be wowed, then book a private dinner in the Sugar Mill. This leftover from the island’s sugar days provides a romantic setting where you will be treated to a multi-course meal with ocean breezes blowing through the stone mill building. Save this for your last night for a final treat before heading back home, which, doesn’t require a passport or customs visit – a Caribbean getaway on American soil.
Soon, the remaining Virgin Islands will be back on their feet and it may be easier to fly into St. Thomas, but take the extra travel time and don’t miss St. Croix and the Buccaneer, where you’ll feel like family by time you leave.