The largest of the trio of U.S. Virgin Islands (the other two being St. Thomas and St. John), St. Croix is also the easternmost point of the U.S. Christopher Columbus discovered the island in 1493 and named it Santa Cruz, which means Holy Cross, before the native Caribs chased him away. The French claimed the island in the 17th century (hence its current name of St. Croix, (the French translation of Santa Cruz). Denmark purchased St. Croix from the French in the 18th century, and the Danish influence prevailed until the latter part of the 19th century (the U.S. acquired it and St. Thomas and St. John in the early 20th century from the Danes), so Danish architecture is in evidence to this day.
St. Croix is only 84 square miles and much of the terrain is rocky and arid, though there are rolling hills, pastures, beautiful beaches and a tropical forest area with ferns, mango trees and mahogany trees in the west end. The island has a more relaxed ambiance than St. Thomas with its shops galore and mass tourism.
The two main towns are Christiansted, in the north-central part of the island and Frederiksted in the southwest, the latter being where most cruise ships stop.
Tiny Frederiksted can easily be toured on foot from the cruise ship pier. The town's two major streets are King Street and Strand Street and both run parallel to the ocean. A Frederiksted "must" is Fort Frederiksted, dating from the 18th century and the site of the emancipation of slaves in the Danish Caribbean in response to an uprising by slaves led by Moses "Buddhoe" Gottlieb. A bust to Gottlieb was unveiled at the fort in the 20th century and a local history museum is housed in the former Garrison Room.
Popular tours sold onboard ships include a visit to Christiansted, about 17 miles from Frederiksted. These excursions include a guided walk in the historic district highlighted by the historic Fort Christiansvaern, a four-sided, diamond-shaped fort, reportedly the best-preserved colonial fort in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and maintained by the National Park Service. Other highlights include the colonial Old Customs House with a graceful staircase added in the 19th century; and the Steeple Building and Danish West India and Guinea Warehouse, both dating from the 18th century.
Snorkelers may wish to sign up for tours to offshore Buck Island, part of the U.S. National Park network, where the coral gardens are stunning. Excursions to Buck Island are often offered on board ships. Among several great beaches on St. Croix proper are Cane Bay and Davis Bay -- Davis Bay is the site of the 12,000-foot-deep Puerto Rico Trench, and hence of special interest to divers. Ships typically offer a beach day excursion to these or other beaches as part of their adventures ashore options.
Island flavors to enjoy include the fish, goat or chicken stews -- a great local lunch -- accompanied by fresh-baked breads at Maggie's Snackett, 65 King Street, in Frederiksted. The menu changes daily and prices are inexpensive. Rum cakes, rum balls and hot sauces are great to sample, as well as Crucian rum (Crucian means from St. Croix) which is another popular local flavor.
Souvenirs of St. Croix include local arts and crafts including pottery, hand-made jewelry such as bracelets in island themes, hand-painted shirts and fashions and locally-crafted bath products.
Cruise lines that visit St. Croix include Azamara, Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean and SeaDream.
For additional information on St. Croix, visit www.usvitourism.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun