St.Thomas: American Tahiti?

Mecca is to pilgrims, what St. Thomas — particularly downtown Charlotte Amalie — is to consummate shoppers: the acres upon acres of stores, surrounded by palms trees gently swaying in cooling trade winds, put buyers' devoutness to the test, while adding a new dimension to the term "shop 'til you drop." Converted from old warehouses, the shops' unpretentious exteriors belie interior opulence and charm.

   It's a cornucopia of pristine crystal, china, jewelry, gems, pearls, cameras, electronic equipment, watches, linens, leather, perfume, designer fashion and liquor. According to local cognoscente, the best bargains are to be had on crystal, china, linens, perfume and liquor. And a family of four can haul a combined $4,800 worth of this booty stateside, duty free--double the duty-free allowance on goods from the other Caribbean islands. (Sans booze and tobacco.)

   Since public transportation on the island is sporadic, exploring the island can best be done through St. Thomas Island Tours or taxis. From Skyline Drive you are treated to a spectacular view of the harbor where the cruise ships dock. Drake's Seat overlooks one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean at Magens Bay. Mountain Top, another tour stop, allows a breathtaking, panoramic spectacle of the adjoining islands.

   In the "must do while in St. Thomas" category is a leisurely day cruise with Captain Glen on his trimaran Daydreamer. He will ply you with intriguing tales and tasty hors d'oeuvre, while taking you to a secluded cove for snorkeling. Then he will drop you off on an enchanting island to be entertained by a guitar impresario like Foxy, in his offbeat, tropical saloon papered with business cards from all over the world.

   But exploring the Caribbean from the under the sea is the supreme treat. Getting your scuba certification at Chris Sawyer Diving Center will literally open up a new, captivating undersea world. If you don't want to get wet and still take in the underwater mysteries, however, there is the Atlantis Submarine tour for exploring the colorful tropical fauna and flora. As intimidating looking sharks, sting rays and hungry moray whiz few inches from your nose, it feels a bit eerie, even though your are perfectly safe at the Coral World Marine Park & Underwater Observatory, at Coki Point. Marlin fishing, aerial tours, golf, Sunday brunch sail, rafting are just a few of the other activities available on this unforgettable island.

   Approached from the sea, Frenchmen's Reef — the largest hotel on St. Thomas — perched on top of a hill, at the edge of the ocean is reminiscent an imposing, castle out of Camelot. It is an almost a self-contained haven with a half-mile beach, two fresh water pools, snorkeling, scuba diving, tennis, variety of shops, boutiques, restaurants right on the hotel grounds. With eight-day notice they will even make complete wedding arrangements--as long as you don't forget to supply the bride and groom!

   But if you come to St. Thomas to get away from all the bustle and hassle and relish peaceful seclusion, then Secret Harbour may be your dream hideaway. The staff is genuinely friendly and helpful. And the homey but elegant suites nestled at the foot of the beach overgrowing with palms, may be just the setting to rejuvenate your spirits, while you're soaking out your tensions in the nearby jacuzzi.

   People move to St. Thomas to escape from something, according to a saying here. A friendly greeting, some small talk followed by "What do you like most about living here?" will often elicit riveting life stories from the local denizens. The island's culturally, racially and ethnically diverse inhabitants have migrated here from all over the world and add a sense of allure, mystery and unpredictability about this place.

   The best way to get to Barbados from the U. S. is by way of American Airlines Quality from the Ground Up, as they like to refer to themselves. And I certainly can attested to that from by experience with them.

Al Louis Ripskis, Editor
Impact Journal

Copyright © 2008 Al Louis Ripskis. All Rights Reserved.
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