Thomas has been a long time favorite escape for New
Yorkers and other East Coast residents, but it's a long
haul for a Californian. I was dreading the 11-hour flight
but when I emerged from the plane, directly onto the
tarmac and into a soupy August humidity, I was feeling
surprisingly eager and fresh.
an avid traveler, I'd never ventured into the Caribbean. My
pale Irish skin generally keeps me away from sun and sand destinations.
But blue waters beckoned and I liked the fact that I could soak
up an exotic destination with its own culture without leaving
U.S. territory. It's like leaving and staying home at the same
time: all the intrigue of foreign travel without any of the
arrived at the tiny international airport well after 10 p.m.
as the Caribbean sky reluctantly relinquished its last moments
of twilight. I could see a silhouette of the hills of Charlotte
Amalie, the main town, twinkling with the white lights of old
colonial Dutch homes. The scene tripped some kind of internal
relaxation switch and that, along with my fruit and rum welcome
cocktail at the hotel, banished any remaining stress of chaotic
Amalie is located on the south side of St. Thomas but I stayed
on the eastern tip, looking out toward St. John. These two islands,
along with St. Croix, are the three largest of the 70 islands
that make up the U.S. Virgin Islands, acquired from the Dutch
in 1917. St. Thomas, with a charming downtown brimming with
high-end duty free shops, has since garnered a reputation as
the shopping capital of the Caribbean.
there are numerous resort properties throughout the
island, including the Marriott and Wyndham resorts,
the Ritz-Carlton was my resort of choice. They had just
completed a $75 million renovation and I was looking
forward to enjoying the fruits of their labor.
main lobby is located in the grand Palazzo building,
one of the original buildings on this site when it was
developed as the Grand Palazzo Resort in the early 90s.
The Ritz-Carlton took over management of the property
in the late '90s but retained the Mediterranean-inspired
design. This is both good and bad: the Palazzo building
is a stunning open-air Italianate building with arched
windows that frame views of swaying palm trees and an
aqua blue sea; but the individual buildings housing
guestrooms are a bit bland from the outside: pink stucco
and repetitive. And some are a very long walk from the
center, where much of the activity takes place.
settled into a large room in the first of a line of buildings
(all named after indigenous flowers) that are splayed out in
a crescent shape along the shore. Nearly all 200 guestrooms
have ocean views and 24 of them are brand new club-level rooms
added during the renovation.
been lucky enough to stay in a few other Ritz properties in
the U.S. and the rooms in St. Thomas were similar in design:
spacious and sophisticated with top-notch accoutrements and
service. This room, however, didn't feel quite as decadent as
some of the others. The bathtubs were shallow and the beds lacked
the cushy comfort I'd fallen into at Lake Las Vegas and Half
Moon Bay. This was hardly cause for concern, though, as the
room décor is fun - tropical but sophisticated - and
each has a polished marble bathroom and private balcony with
spectacular panoramic views.
Ritz sits on 15 acres and includes two small but pristine
white sand beaches (Coconut Cove and Iguana Beach),
two pools, a new spa, fitness center and four restaurants.
Most appealing, though, is the Ritz's 53-foot catamaran,
The Lady Lynsey, which sails regularly to St. John.
you do only one thing at the Ritz," said Jamie Holmes,
general manager, "sail on the Lady Lynsey."
took his advice and sailed to St. John, only four miles in the
distance, where I explored the funky shops and galleries before
enjoying a catered lunch on the boat. We then sailed off to
the shores of Caneel Bay to snorkel in the Caribbean's warm
in the market for a private island can do some shopping
during the sail. Tiny islands are scattered both near
and far, some displaying large "FOR SALE"
signs on hillsides inviting passing visitors to join
the laid-back Caribbean lifestyle. A private island?
Very tempting. If only I had a spare $50 million or
a bit less than that (a mere $100,000-200,000), Ritz
loyalists can now buy into the Ritz Carlton Club, a
fractional ownership program. For this the buyer gets
an apartment in one of the brand new ocean front buildings
for up to four weeks per year at any Ritz Carlton Club,
with access to all hotel services. There are currently
clubs in St. Thomas, Bachelor Gulch, Colo., Jupiter,
Fla. and Colorado's Aspen Highlands and they are going
myself away from the Ritz property, I explored other areas of
St. Thomas from the shops of Charlotte Amalie (I passed on the
$17,000 necklace I coveted at H. Stern, despite the ten percent
discount offer) to the stone fortress called Blackbeard's Castle.
A historical landmark, the castle is actually a small watchtower
and the oldest building on the island. It is believed that Edward
Teach (a.k.a. Blackbeard) hid out here after terrorizing and
plundering merchant ships in the Caribbean Sea in the 1700s.
one of the highest peaks on the island I stopped to photograph
a Flamboyant tree, appropriately named for its brilliant red
flowers and its branches that reach out toward the horizon.
I imagined the sunset would be gorgeous from this vantage and
then thought that maybe it's the sunrise I'd see from here.
I was turned around but I knew I'd be able to see one if I stayed
there long enough. The island is only 32 square miles and if
I was patient enough and willing to reposition myself I could
plan to see the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean and set over
the Caribbean Sea. St. Thomas touches one to the north and the
other to the south.
settled into an easy pace of life on St. Thomas, reading
under the royal blue Ritz umbrellas spread across the
beach, dining on tropical fruit and rum cocktails at
outdoor cafes where iguanas (yes, real iguanas) sunbathe
at your feet, and swimming late at night in the infinity
pool that rolled out toward the sea. Steel drums could
be heard playing in the distance and honeymooners and
families alike moved about the place as if they had
no plans to return home. I'd occasionally venture "off
campus" for some spicy island life, grabbing a
drink at Duffy's Love Shack or soaking up the beauty
of Magens Bay.
Bay, noted by many well-known travel publications as
one of the world's most beautiful beaches, is where
paparazzi snagged the much-publicized photo of Bill
and Hillary dancing on the beach during their 'marital
problems.' In seeing the scene myself I started to believe
that maybe they were in love in that photo. But was
it with each other or with St. Thomas? (...BACK)