Business travelers are more likely than vacationers to stay “in town” on most Caribbean islands. But if you’re looking for a different travel experience than the usual resort stay, there are few better destinations than downtown Christiansted, St Croix.
With its rich history, excellent dining scene, and lively boardwalk, the Crucian capital never gets boring, and there’s a sandy beach just a two-minute ferry ride away.
Christiansted has a pretty good choice of in-town lodging options, including the landmark Hotel Caravelle on the boardwalk. But for a more intimate and local experience, consider the 12-room Sugar Apple Bed & Breakfast, a charming small inn that welcomes you like a returning Crucian even if you’ve never been to St. Croix before.
“With just 12 guest rooms, it feels like home,” says Corina Marks, who owns the hotel along with her partner, Ryan Flegal.
“We’re slightly off the main drag of the boardwalk [about five minutes on foot] so away from the chaos, but still close enough to walk,” says Shannon Curley, manager of the Sugar Apple. “People are surprised by how quiet it is here, given how close it is to the bustling streets of Christiansted and the surrounding neighborhoods.”
In fact, the loudest noise you may hear during your stay is the crowing of a rooster from the neighbors’ yard to greet the new day.
The occasional hum of a prop plane is a reminder that the Christiansted Harbor Seaplane Base is also within easy walking distance of the inn. (You can take a conventional aircraft to St. Croix, but if you’re the kind of person who treasures the journey as well as the destination, make a point of taking the seaplane flight between St. Thomas to St. Croix at least once.)
When it’s time to explore, one of St. Croix’s top car-rental companies, Centerline Car Rentals is just a three-minute walk away, too.
“That is really convenient for guests who just want to rent a car for the day to go see the other side of the island,” says Curley.
History and some unique quirks also are part of what’s sweet about the Sugar Apple. The cloistered property on Prince Street was previously the Pink Fancy Hotel, opened in 1948 and built around a Danish townhouse dating to 1780. The rooms and grounds were extensive renovated when Marks and Flegal reopened the hotel as the Sugar Apple in 2019, but the colonial charm remains in the form of brightly colored cottages, tiled walkways, whitewashed balusters, and wrought-iron gates and fences.
“We have maintained the structural design and color palette, and in that way we’re preserving the history as opposed to knocking something down and building something modern,” says Marks. “The property was completely rundown and needed so much attention,” she recalls, but, “we could see the potential was enormous.”
Part of the inn’s claim to fame is that the courtyard centers on the first swimming pool built on St. Croix. “I think people enjoy coming here, especially people who haven’t been back to the island in a long time, and connecting the location to its history,” Curley says.
Breakfast is served on a shaded patio each morning; one of the Sugar Apple’s unique features is that the menu is entirely vegan. In pre-COVID times, the inn was famous for its weekly vegan brunch. During the pandemic, breakfast service has turned self-service with coffee, tea, local fruit, and a daily assortment of morning pastries and bread, including vegan muffins.
Starting room rates at the Sugar Apple are some of the best bargains you’ll find on St. Croix, with low season rates ranging from about $129 to $149 per night plus taxes; in high season, it’s $149 to $179.
All rooms are decorated with aerial photos of St. Croix shot by Blake Gardner Photography and Simon Stevenson “to inspire people that St. Croix is the island to explore, says Marks. “We also hired Isabelle Picard to paint local fruit images for each guest room so visitors can learn and enjoy the beauty of our local bounty.”
Guests will find plenty of desirable 21st century amenities like high-speed wifi, smart TVs, and USB chargers in rooms. Most rooms also have kitchen areas with sinks, refrigerators, and microwaves.
With their hardwood floors, king beds and poolside location, rooms 6 and 8 are among the most popular accommodations. The standalone room 9 also is poolside, has a queen bed, and is up a short flight of steps, affording a touch more privacy for guests. “I recommend that one for stays of a week or more,” Curley says.
All rooms have keyless, gated entry for security purposes, but the cheaper rooms face the street while the slightly pricier ones are arrayed around the pool or in a lush garden. “If you’re traveling here on vacation, I recommend paying the extra money to be on our upper level,” Curley says. “That’s where the pool and tortoises are, and it just feels a bit more secluded.”
Tortoises, you say? Yes, one of the quirky charms of the Sugar Apple is its tortoise garden, home to at least a dozen red-footed tortoises, from silver dollar sized babies to manhole-dimensioned adults (new ones are always being born, and there are many places to hide in the garden, so an exact census is difficult).
“None of the other hotels have tortoises,” Curley points out; other inhabitants at the bed & breakfast includes green iguanas that split time between the branches of the ancient mango, coconut, and flamboyant trees and sunning themselves on the pool deck, and of course colorful island birds making an occasional stopover in the hotel shady canopy.
The combination of low room count and spacious grounds means that that the Sugar Apple never feels crowded. Guests occasionally congregate on loungers or at the tables arrayed around the pool, but there’s also tables and chairs in the tortoise garden and a breezy rooftop deck with glimpses of harbor views.
Having successfully revived one of the most historic hotels in Christiansted, the owners have shifted focus to restoring a grand former plantation house in Frederiksted as the Featherleaf Inn, envisioned as both a hotel and premier event space, particularly for weddings under magnificent old-growth trees with the Caribbean Sea as a backdrop.
“We love the Sugar Apple,” says Marks. “Every time I go there I feel a sense of pride and endearment. But Feather Leaf is going to be even more incredible. Ryan and I are passionate about experiential travel, but we are even more passionate about well being and ecology. With 10 acres we are able to grow lots of food at the inn. Our vision is to host retreats, cooking classes, celebrations, fundraisers, local schools interested in farming, conservation, nutrition, and even coral reef ecology.”
For more, visit the Sugar Apple.
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