By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor
A Caribbean vacation is synonymous with a beach vacation. But what if you decided to do something different? On a recent trip to St. Croix I did, eschewing seaside resorts for Hotel Caravelle, a small independent hotel smack in the center of the island’s capital, Christiansted. Can a citified stay trump a sand-strewn vacay? I aimed to find out.
Hotel Caravelle has been a fixture in town for half a century, and just completed a multi-million-dollar revamp this spring, with 42 spiffed-up rooms; an upgraded pool deck and public spaces and a casino. Set on the waterfront, where Queen Cross Street meets the Caribbean, it’s a quick stroll along the boardwalk from the seaplane base, so visitors hopping over from neighboring St. Thomas can go from plane to poolside in less than five minutes.
Rooms here are light-filled and spacious, with new bathrooms, mini-fridges, satellite TV and complimentary Wi-Fi. They’re undoubtedly comfortable, and some have views of Christiansted’s harbor through sliding French balcony doors. But chances are you won’t be spending much time in them because the capital lies literally at your feet.
My first order of business was simply to stroll the city and see what had changed since my previous visit, two years earlier. Back then I’d spent most of my time at a beach resort with just quick jaunts into town for shopping and dining. But now I could seize the opportunity to explore at my leisure.
Fortified by a quick stop at RumRunners, the bar and restaurant that serves as the hotel’s dining room (there’s no room service but you can call down for takeout), I planned my attack.
An insatiable shopper, I headed first for Company Street, only three blocks away, where Sonya’s and IB Designs tempted with their latest riffs on the classic silver and gold Crucian hook bracelets. Crucian Gold and newcomer Joyia stretched the limits of my restraint further, and I quickly realized that you don’t have to go far to spend a lot in this town where “shopportunities” lie literally around every corner.
Still, having saved on cab fare by hoofing it, it was easier to justify my purchases as well as a dinner at Zion Modern Kitchen. The lobster ravioli gets raves at the year-old restaurant, but when I enquired about apple cobbler and the waiter told me “Cobbler is my crack,” ordering a slice was a no-brainer.
Head mixologist Frank Robinson’s cocktails, custom-created using a slew of tropical fruit-laced alcoholic infusions he keeps behind the bar, were an intoxicating addition to the meal. And since Caravelle was so close, there was no cab required; only a breezy (and sobering!) five-minute stroll past Christiansted’s historic façades.
Of course, no trip to the city is complete without a tour of its impressive Danish Colonial fort, and it’s less than 10 minutes’ walk along the boardwalk to the National Historic Site where slaves were once sold and Alexander Hamilton once worked.
But having history on my doorstep and shops and restaurants within a three-minute-walk radius weren’t the only perks of my city base.
It’d be rude to come to the Caribbean and leave without getting in the water. And even though Caravelle isn’t on the beach, it couldn’t get much closer to it.
The alluring sands of Protestant Cay, and islet just offshore the harbor, are a 53-second, $5-roundtrip boat ride from the hotel. From there, lazing on a lounger with a rummy cocktail in my hand, Caravelle’s distinctive sunny-yellow façade lay just beyond my toes, ready to welcome me back once I’d reached my sunscreen’s limits.
My remaining days in town were a case of “revel, rinse, and repeat.” I spent them enjoying the city’s assets (homemade ice cream at Savor St Croix; dress shopping at Asha); squeezing in some beach time (a trip to Buck Island, five miles away, can be arranged through the on-site Big Beards Adventure Tours or Caribbean Sea Adventures, just along the boardwalk); and then enjoying my own dine-around program, eating Thai at Galangal and previewing balter, both just blocks away.
If I’d wanted to rent a car and explore further afield, Caravelle’s car park – the only hotel car park in town – would have come in handy. But I found Crucians to be so friendly that when I expressed an interest in seeing the sunrise from Point Udall, the island’s easternmost point, about a 30-minute drive away, a new local friend – one of many I’d made in my four days of tooling around town – insisted she drive me there.
And as the sun peeped over the horizon that final day, the answer to my question was revealed.
No, a Caribbean vacation doesn’t have to revolve exclusively around sun, sea and sand to be enjoyable.
An urban island experience, such as the one I had at Hotel Caravelle, can deliver so much more.