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  WINDY CITY TIMES

St. Croix: Cruzan in Paradise
by SUZANNE KRAUS
2006-07-12

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Pictured Images of St. Croix. Photos by Suzanne Kraus

Seeking an escape? One tropical destination many have not considered is St. Croix, the least known of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It all depends on what you are looking for when you vacation. Cruise ships have made St. Thomas and St. John famous. They lie 40 miles north of St. Croix, which is actually the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands; it has about the population as St. Thomas ( 50,000 ) but more than TWICE the acreage. St. Croix has not been the featured destination for the islands—which I think is a bonus when you consider the impact of 15 or more cruise ships docking in just one day in St. Thomas and doubling the population of Charlotte Amalie, the capital town of the Virgin Islands. Yes, shopping is an endeavor in St. Thomas—but you can always take the seaplane or ferry for a day trip from St. Croix and satisfy your urges to shop till you drop. For details visit www.IslandLynxFerry.com and www.seaborneairlines.com .

St. Croix's average year-round temperature is 81 degrees. Whatever season it is in Chicago is a good time for a visit to paradise. Of course, St. Croix offers the full spectrum of activities you would expect in any tropical paradise: snorkeling and diving ( including U.S. National Park Buck Island underwater tour ) ; sailing and deep-sea fishing; kayaking; hiking; golf on several beautiful courses; gambling at Divi Resort & Casino; horseback riding ( on the beach ) ; and much more. There are tropical gardens to explore, trails to hike and roads that require four-wheel drive.

History is everywhere. Explore! Plantation and great house ruins and restorations keep the history alive. Check if Whim Great House has scheduled one of its unique recitals by candlelight. You can also experience everything from native music to island rum. If you are there on a third Friday don't miss Sunset Jazz on the Waterfront in Frederickstead, a free concert attended by as many local residents as tourists—and the world-famous Cruzan Rum Factory is open to tour and taste. It is easy to get around; just remember to drive on the left ( a holdover from the British ) .

This is a diverse land—you will find cactus and deserts on the east end ( Point Udall being the easternmost point of the States ) , and verdant hills, fantastic shoreland vistas, and mahogany rainforests in the northwest. Turtles nest in several areas—and you can volunteer to protect the eggs and hatchlings with Earth Watch ( www.earthwatch.org ) . Accommodations run the gamut: hotels, guest houses, resorts and private home rentals offer something for every taste and budget.

If your taste is LGBT-related, you will be delighted to find Sand Castle on the Beach. Located on the west end of the island, it is directly on one of the best beaches in St. Croix. Known as an LGBT destination for three decades, it was the King Frederick back in the '70s and '80s, and On the Beach in the '90s. Now owned by partners Sheryl and Simone ( who recently celebrated their 28th anniversary ) , it continues to welcome folks of all persuasions. Even though it may sometimes seem more gay, or more straight or more lesbian, the LGBT community loves this place and it will never lose its rainbow colors. Compared to the last time I was there in the '80s, it has improved significantly. The room furnishings and décor, the public areas and the pool all have been beautifully redone. And most importantly, the charming Beach Side Café restaurant was added. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I am happy to report that the chef is excellent and the café is highly recommended across the island. Live music is often scheduled. Can you imagine sitting with your love, feeling toasty from the sun and hearing the ocean lapping on the beach as you dine on the freshest fish and watch the twinkling lights of Frederickstead in the distance? It is sublime—and it is so easy. Remember, it is part of the United States! It is a paradise that has no comparison.

Sand Castle's 21 units offer a variety of accommodations to suit every budget. There is even a clothing-optional pool by the units across the road, so mixed groups can travel and everyone will get what they want ( if they're lucky ) ! Sand Castle also offers a workout club; licensed traditional and Watsu water massage; spa services and more. In the morning, a simple continental is provided for guests. But if you like fresh, delicious morning pastries check out the local bakeries; you will become addicted. Of course, you can go to the local markets and get some fresh fruit and fish. Use the grills. Buy liquor if you like at REALLY low cost. Christiansted is the largest town on the island and offers many great shopping options—support the St. Croix Business Guild members.

There is one consideration—Sand Castle is a place for groups or couples. We observed that being single here is not the easiest thing to do unless you want space. Everyone, staff and travelers, was friendly, open and helpful. New acquaintances quickly become family. We didn't rent a car for a few days; other guests drove and helped us get our provisions. Every unit has some type of kitchen but it's up to you how much you use it. Some even bring in frozen meats packed with dry ice. Impressively, over half of the LGBT couples were repeat visitors! LGBT folks love it here. People were from all over the USA, including California, New York, Wisconsin, Missouri, Oregon and North Carolina. The basic elements of paradise exist in many places but I have never found people like this. The people make Sand Castle on the Beach in St. Croix my paradise of choice. Visit www.sandcastleonthebeach.com, and check out the live Beach Cam to see the sun, sea and sand. It is almost like being there.

Frederickstead is a very old, small town that offers only a few tourist amenities, but they're just enough. Strand Street has just had a complete renovation and is reported to be quite pleasant. There are several restaurants and bars nearby if you need a change from the Beach Side Café. In Frederickstead there is Le St. Tropez, a delightful French restaurant, with a host named Danielle who will make you feel very welcome. ( Say hello from Suzanne! ) Turtles Deli offers gourmet sandwiches and specialty coffees for breakfast and lunch. Just up the road is the friendly Villa Morales, where JT and Josie provide delicious Latin and local cuisine on Thurs.-Sat. nights. You will probably get to know them at Sand Castle because they, along with many other west-end Cruzans ( St. Croix residents ) , belong to the Sand Castle Beach Club. This innovation introduces many visitors to the residents and it gives the residents access to the pool and beach amenities. It is a great way to get the Cruzan perspective on the events and issues of the day.

Cruzans are friendly! Even when you are obviously gay or lesbian they accept you much more than on other Caribbean islands. Perhaps the American media and cable television have impacted and made a difference.

The St. Croix Business Guild has taken a proactive approach to increasing awareness of St. Croix as an LGBT-receptive destination. The guild has been organizing businesses that are gay and gay-friendly. In addition, the guild is one of the sponsors of the Gay Games VII triathlon and will be at the vendor fair Fri.-Mon, July 14-17. Stop by the booth to say welcome. Go to the guild's Web site, www.stcroixbusinessguild.com, and register for the special packages.

Put St. Croix at the top of your list when you want to go Cruzan ( in ) paradise. You will be glad that you did.

suzanne@windycitymediagroup.com


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