It was my wife’s special birthday. I won’t say how old, but it’s somewhere right between zero and 100. So … she got to choose the “birthday vacation” location. She loves the beach so we booked a flight to the island of St. Croix (USVI) for a week of the three “S”s: sun tanning (or burning), shopping and snorkeling.

Pelican Cove

Pelican Cove on the north side of St. Croix.

After landing on this 84-square-mile Caribbean island (the largest of the three inhabited U.S. Virgins Islands — St. Thomas and St. John are the other two) and gathering the luggage, we set out to get a cab to our hotel. It was easy. All you have to do is look like you need a cab. A gentleman brought us over to “cabbie central,” all huddled in a corner playing dominos where they waited for their turn to drive. The cab rates to the various locations around the island were all listed on a sign. It was nice to know what it would cost before we even got into the cab, which I believe was a 1984 Dodge Caravan. A bit dated but the AC worked just fine.

The rain forest on the western side of St. Croix.

The cab ride across the island from the airport on the south side to our hotel in the north … took 18 minutes … at an average speed of 33.4 mph. The drivers are very courteous, laid back and even signal their turns. I didn’t know how I would do driving here since we live in Atlanta where the average speed is Mach 1, turn signals are only used if you mistakenly bump the lever and my daily one-way commute to work is almost the entire length of the island.

We stayed on the northern shore and found that the beaches on this side are not really for frolicking in the water. There are coral reefs, sharp rocks and shells close to the shore making it better to float upon the crystal clear water and allowing for excellent snorkeling. I’m not sure if the south-side beaches are any different.

To tour the island we rented a car for a day. Reminding myself constantly to drive on the left side, we started out going toward the west end through the rain forest with lush green foliage, iguanas and some kind of weasel-looking critters. Just beyond the forest on the far end is the quiet town of Frederiksted. We found out it was quiet because there wasn’t a cruise ship in port. Almost all of the shops were closed so we proceeded to drive the 27 miles to the eastern end which has a desert feel with lots of sand, cactus and tumbleweeds. At the end of the road is a monument marking the eastern-most point of the United States. My bucket list just got shorter.

Point Udall

Point Udall — eastern-most point of the U.S.

We frequented the larger town of Christiansted a few times (a $12, 10-minute, 5-mile cab ride from our hotel — one way). There is pleasant shopping, a great boardwalk of restaurants and a nice view of various boating activity.

We also went on a snorkeling tour of Buck Island. Just about a mile and a half off the north coast is the Buck Island Reef National Monument, which is one of a few fully marine-protected areas in the National Park System. The coral reef surrounding the 176-acre island make for great snorkeling and diving.

We didn’t get to touring the historic sites of the island, but here is a very abbreviated history lesson: Christopher Columbus is credited as the first European to discover the island in 1493. In 1917, the soon-to-be U.S. Virgin Islands were sold by Denmark to the United States for $25 million in gold. Sorry about the 424-year-gap of history I left out.

Overall, St. Croix was a very nice vacation destination. The island is hospitable, easy to navigate and super friendly. It may seem a wee bit expensive but there is no sales tax on any goods purchased on St. Croix, so it all evens out. Right?

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