My St. Thomas, USVI

January 26, 2011

The Dive Shop at Secret Harbour, St. Thomas

The Dive Shop at Secret Harbour

Perhaps you know St. Thomas, USVI, for cruise ship layovers or for duty-free emporia, but this Eastern Caribbean island is my favorite vacation destination. St. Thomas is a tropical world of contrasts: Beach bars and refined dining. Dinghies and yachts. Tchotchkes and precious gems. Lurid history (slave traders and pirates) and luxury timeshares. One day is not enough to linger. Nor is a month. I must return. Soon.

Let me show you my St. Thomas:

* Gallery St. Thomas. Fine art is one way that Arnie and I bring home our shared experiences. Not only have we bought several pieces from Gallery St. Thomas, but we’ve planned our itineraries around the monthly artist receptions. The gallery recently moved to Palm Passage, one of the downtown covered alleyways.

* Vendor’s Plaza. You won’t miss the mass of blue tented souvenir stalls on the Charlotte Amalie waterfront. I’ve bought beach cover-ups, t-shirts and shell jewelry. “These are knockoffs,” admitted a vendor when I asked about his handbags. “But they are very good knockoffs.”

* St. Thomas Synagogue. Built in 1833, the synagogue has Baccarat chandeliers and a white sand floor.

* Old Stone Farmhouse. A former stable for a sugar plantation, Old Stone Farmhouse today is a rustic but elegant AAA Four Diamond restaurant. On our most recent visit, we were presented with personalized menus with our names in calligraphy and a wax seal. Then we were led to the immaculate kitchen to choose our entree and meet the new Executive Chef Greg Engelhardt. The offerings that night included rack of lamb, duck breast, branzino and wahoo–or any combo we could dream of.

* Duffy’s Love Shack. Here’s the party bar, an open-air shed in the middle of a parking lot. Fruity libations are accessorized with toys and trinkets–and sometimes applause, depending on how dangerous the concoction. Arnie likes the Berry Berry, preferably in a parrot glass. We have a collection. (No applause for Berry Berrys.) Pub grub is tasty fare, and includes lobster and ribs, the Caribbean way. There are always specials and wacky promos going on. As the hour gets later, the music gets louder.

* Beaches. All St. Thomas beaches beckon with powdery sand and crystal blue water, but their personalities are distinct. Magens Bay is a mile-long, postcard-perfect horseshoe. Alas, few fish for snorkelers. At the smaller Coki Beach, fish are so plentiful you don’t need a mask. Hold out a dog biscuit and the sergeant majors swarm you for nibbles.

* Night Snorkeling. If you really want to see what’s happening in the water, do it in the dark. Homer’s Night Snorkel provides both guidance and gear. We’ve seen squirrel fish, crabs, lobsters, turtles, a big ugly puffer fish and lots more.