St. Croix, December 2003:

I won a sweepstakes by Instinct magazine earlier this year for a trip to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, staying at the Cormorant Beach Club and Hotel. I invited my friend Derek to come with me. Here are some of the pictures I took. (Click on a picture to see a larger version of it.)

It takes a long time to get from Dayton to St. Croix. We flew from Dayton to Chicago O'Hare, from Chicago to San Juan and then finally from San Juan to St. Croix. We had a layover of a couple hours in Chicago so we had lunch. World-famous chef Wolfgang Puck has expanded his empire to include airport restaurants. As you can see by this picture of Derek, he wasn't impressed.

The trip from Chicago to San Juan took about four hours but was comfortable for the most part. I snapped a picture of the sunset during the flight. After the flight from San Juan, we arrived in St. Croix late, took a waiting taxi to the hotel, getting in as the bar closed, just in time for our complimentary drinks.

The next day we rented a car. We wanted a Jeep but none were available. It was probably just as well given that the weather was mostly rainy. I took pictures of the car during the pre-rental inspection, as a joke mostly although it didn't turn out that way, as you'll see.

We drove to the west end of the island, which my friend David has told me was the more run down end, to Frederiksted. There weren't very many people there, some of the posts along the sea walk were knocked over and some of the lights at the top of the poles were connected only by their wiring, as you can see. We walked along the pier and wondered if ships ever docked here any more. A few days later, driving through Frederiksted again to waste some time before our distillery tour, we did see a cruise ship docked here to our surprise. Even though the town wasn't in the best condition, being by the sea makes up for a lot.

Having done the westernmost end of the island, Point Udall on the extreme east end of the island was our destination the next day. There's a Millenium Monument at the top of the point and a scenic beach down below it. After doing the photo op up above we pulled the car over a little ways down and hiked the rocky trail down to the beach for another photo op.

During the beach photo op, Derek noticed another car up above near ours, thinking that perhaps the people in it were going to come explore the beach too. They never did, which didn't seem that unusual considering that it started to pour down rain. We ran back up the path, hopped in the car and headed to the casino. The door open light on the dash was on, confusing us since the doors were all shut, but getting out of the car at the casino, we noticed that the lock to the trunk was gone, replaced (considerately?) by some handy duct tape. The thieves gained nothing since we'd left nothing in the car, but that necessitated a change in our plans, sending us instead to the Christiansted police station to file a report and then to the car rental place to pick up a replacement car.

The next day was rainy. Our vacation was perfectly timed to coincide with the edge of Tropical Storm Odette. We went to Christiansted for lunch and to do some shopping. We ate at RumRunners, where we'd also eaten dinner the night before but this time we could actually see the view, given that it was daylight, so we could watch sea planes taking off.

I bought postcards and Christmas cards, and after we were done shopping, we went back to the hotel, and I sat on our patio by the sea, watching the rain, drinking rum and Coke's and tending to correspondence, not an unpleasant way to spend an afternoon.

We did finally make it to the casino, nothing special but a place to waste some time if it's rainy. We spent about an hour and $20 or $30 each.

We also went to the Cruzan rum distillery and took the tour. Photos were allowed but I guess I was photo'd out because I didn't take any. The most interesting part of the tour was the free (well, no additional charge beyond the $4 for the tour) samples at the end. We had vanilla rum and Coke's, a favorite of Derek's, and shots of rum cream. We both bought six packs of flavored rums, a steal at $38 for six bottles (compared to $16 plus tax and shipping for a single bottle of Cruzan vanilla rum ordered online). See below for a caveat about bringing back rum.

At some point, either on the way to the casino or the distillery, we passed the oil refinery, which also has tours that we passed on, although I did make Derek stop the car so I could take a picture.

Of course the weather was picture perfect on the day we left, at least in St. Croix. I took a lot of pictures on the beach but am posting only two because they're not really representative of our stay, not that I'm complaining too much. We did have a good time.

I took a lot of pictures of the rental car too (the one here's just a sample). We were allowed to leave it at the airport, but Olympic doesn't have a counter there. You just call them and they send someone out to pick it up. After the trunk break in on the previous one, I figured taking pictures of how we left it would be a good idea.

Our trip back to Dayton started with the hassle of going through customs. St. Croix is part of a U.S. territory but it might as well be a foreign country. You need a passport or birth certificate to go there (did I mention that Derek forgot his passport when we started the trip and had to take a taxi to his house and back to the airport to get it?). In San Juan our flight to Chicago was delayed in taking off. Still everything seemed to be okay when we got to Chicago -- our flight to Dayton was listed as on time although lots of other flights were delayed. That didn't last as the Dayton flight was soon announced as delayed an hour. We went to get something to eat and on the way back to the gate saw that our flight was no longer listed. Had it been un-delayed and we'd missed it? No, it'd been canceled, and we were stuck in Chicago for the night. We got a room at the distressed traveler rate at the airport Best Western, not a Carribean resort, but one good thing about the place was they had much better showers than the Cormorant -- lots of hot water shooting out of a massage head. I didn't think to take a picture of the feeble shower head in our bathroom on St. Croix but when it comes to showers, the Cormorant Beach House and Hotel is no Best Western.

We did make it home to Dayton the next day, and here's where the caveat about bringing home rum comes. We'd checked our boxes, after stopping at Big KMart for packing tape to reinforce them. I didn't want to hassle with carrying them on. Well mine came off the baggage claim belt in a plastic bag, after having been dropped and rained on, presumably in Chicago. Four of the six bottles survived. Derek's box, which came on the same trip, made it back fully dry and intact.

So there you have it. A good trip to St. Croix, but perhaps there's a reason this time of year was low season.

Update 12-02-2004: Those of you who feel this account is too negative may want to read this blog entry. Feel free to e-mail me comments if you want.