On day four of our Eastern Caribbean Holland America cruise, we sailed into the dazzling port in St. Thomas. (To start at Part 1 click here.)
Located in the Lesser Antilles of the Eastern Caribbean (between the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea), St. Thomas, formerly a trading port, along with St. John and St. Croix, the capital, plus approximately 50 islands and cays (pronounced “keys”) make-up the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).
The last time I was here, we spent most of our time on the east end of the island, but this time around I decided to follow the suggestions in one of my travel “Bibles,” Frommers, which offers some of the best travel destination guides—online and in print—anywhere.
Their suggested walking tour encapsulated a great deal which appeals to my historic sense of adventure, so a friend and I walked from the port into its energetic capital, Charlotte Amalie (pronounced a-mall-e-a and named for a Danish Queen).
Our first stop was to shop (of course!) at Vendors Plaza, an open-air market chocked full of vendors selling everything from jewelry to t-shirts, hats, knock-off designer handbags, trinkets, home goods, artwork and more.
Because there was so much we wanted to see, we opted to skip Market Square, the city’s bustling open-air fruit and vegetable market, but I did make a mental historic note that it once was the center of a large slave-trading market. Nevertheless, I did offer brief thanks to my African forefathers next to the historic marker in Emancipation Gardens Park, where in 1848 African slaves and indentured European servants were freed by proclamation.
Just across the street is Fort Christian, named after the Danish King Christian V, a national historic landmark and museum initially constructed in the late 1600s as a defense fortress against foreign invaders.
From there trod up to the Frederik Evangelical Lutheran Church, a striking structure built in the Georgian architectural style between 1780 and 1793, and rebuilt twice in the middle and late 1800s due to extensive damage caused by hurricanes. A church service was in progress so we did not venture inside, but from its stately steps I could appreciate the knowledge that it was originally financed by a free black parishioner. The church also has its own parsonage—Frederik Church Parsonage—which, built in 1725, still stands today as one of the oldest houses on St. Thomas.
In addition to all that walking we got a little more exercise by climbing the 99 Steps. Historical accounts differ as to the who, what and why the steps (don’t ask, but there are actually 103) came into being, but at the top they nonetheless offer picturesque views of the harbor, as well as entry into Blackbeard’s Castle, which is also home to the Caribbean World Amber Museum.
Next to the 99 Steps is another 1800s landmark island building, Hotel 1829 and adjoining the Inn at Blackbeard’s Castle. It’s well worth a stop here at the aptly named “The Bar” for a creative cocktail made by the hotels entertaining and appropriately pirate-attired bartenders to enjoy either inside, or out on the verandah which also offers spectacular panoramic views of the island and harbor.
After all of that shopping, walking, sightseeing and cocktail sippin’, it was time for lunch and in that regard Charlotte Amalie does not disappoint! From, of course, Caribbean, to steak and seafood, Asian, Latin, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, and more, you can find it here.
We took a suggestion from an island denizen and headed for Tavern on the Waterfront. Set above the fray of the main drag, the Tavern is an interesting mix of lively tourists, families, and couples looking for an intimate respite for two at one of the tables at the open-shuttered windows, again, overlooking the marvelous harbor.
The menu was an interesting amalgamation of creative dishes—conch chowder, Polish perogis, baby back ribs, European cabbage rolls and Thai peanut vegetable wraps—just to name a few that were quite unexpected for a Caribbean joint. We started with the escargot; the plump snails resting in a little six cup oven-plate in their own garlic bath (outrageously good!) and served with toast rounds. For the main course, we split a huge Caribbean Monte Cristo sandwich, made with the traditional ham, turkey and Swiss cheese on egg or sourdough bread, then dipped in an egg/milk mixture and fried to a golden brown; the Tavern’s version then topped with raspberry sauce and powder sugar. Clutch the pearls ‘cause there was a lot of gastronomic orgasmic activity going on from our barstools with this one!
Completely sated and too stuffed to walk back to the ship (about a 20 minute stroll on the way there before we ate!), we rolled back down to the street and caught one of the open-air jeep-taxis back to the port.
Just outside the port, we caught one more experience, fresh coconuts split open for our drinking and snacking pleasure for just a few bucks from a roadside vendor. Now our visit St. Thomas was complete!
To start at Part 1, click here.