Want to get paid to travel? A $300 credit awaits visitors staying in the U.S. Virgin Islands for three or more nights this year. The bonus for cultural and historical activities celebrates the centennial of the transfer of the territory from Denmark to the United States, and nowhere is this heritage more apparent than St. Croix, where you’re more likely to run into a Scandinavian tourist than a mainland visitor.
But there are plenty of reasons to discover the largest—yet most overlooked—of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It may not have the same number of beaches as St. Thomas or the sprawling national park and preserves of St. John, but St. Croix has a charm so laid-back that it’s where Joe Biden vacations to escape paparazzi and the bluster of winter on the Eastern Seaboard. Laid-back, that is, unless you’re visiting during a festival like February’s three-day AgriFest, abuzz with music and dance performances (including remarkable stilt-walking jumbies), food stalls filled with a mouth-watering assortment of jams and jellies handmade from island fruit, and vendors selling locally made organic bath and beauty products. It’s where you’ll meet islanders like Yoki Hanley, whose Itiba line uses papaya, coconut, corn, avocado and more, not in smoothies, but in soaps and lotions that are gentle enough for her allergy-prone daughters.
Such festivals—just one way to spend your credit—are held almost monthly on the islands, and April’s Food & Wine Experience is justly famed. But you can have a memorable food and wine experience during any vacation here, especially with a bevy of new restaurants that are farm-to-table and fish-to-dish. Even your straw will be made of locally sourced bamboo if you start the day at Alex Morris’ Baked Cafe, where the verdant superfood moringa makes its way into smoothies and breakfast bowls. Rather than ask what you want to eat, Morris will instead ask how you’re feeling and then advise on a meal to boost your immune system or attitude. Spend a leisurely morning on her outdoor patio with wind chimes and tables adorned with seasonal blooms before wandering the largest town on the island, Christiansted. Not too far around the block is chef Digby Stridiron’s Balter, a new contemporary West Indian hot spot where crudo comes artfully arranged on local pottery. Both Balter and Zion Modern Kitchen—a can’t-miss for delicious steaks and house infusions with local herbs, fruits and vegetables—feature outdoor spaces strung with lights and spacious seating, just right for enjoying evenings that clock in at around 75 degrees even in winter and early spring.
Imbibers should seek out BES Craft Cocktail Lounge, where cook-turned-bartender Frank Robinson pours tipples like The Darker the Berry, made with plantation rum and a caramelized spiced orange, or Crucian Queen, featuring Cruzan single-barrel rum tinged with tamarind-habanero syrup. You can also see how the base spirits are made with a fun tour of the Cruzan factory; the animated guides won’t keep you in the sun too long, and they’re more than happy to help you cool off with free samples of the smooth-drinking rum afterward.
You can take a more sobering but compelling tour courtesy of CHANT (Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism) with guides who offer insights on sites like the Estate Mount Washington Plantation in Frederiksted. While walking the lush gardens and detailing the architecture of the sugar mill, they’ll explore the history of slavery in St. Croix and the 1848 uprising that brought emancipation to the island years earlier than elsewhere in the Americas.
After a day of sightseeing, one of the best places to rest your head is at the recently renovated 42-room Caravelle Hotel & Casino in Christiansted. One of about a dozen St. Croix hotels participating in the travel credit promotion, it features spacious air-conditioned rooms with great views of the bar-studded boardwalk and waves lapping the pier. You’ll enjoy being in the heart of the action, with just a five-minute walk and fun $5 ferry ride keeping you from a day at the beach on nearby Protestant Cay. Looking to head farther out on the crystal-clear waters? Get your pirate on with Big Beard’s Adventure Tours, which will pick you up right outside the Caravelle dock. Sails to the postcard-worthy Buck Island Reef include snorkeling lessons and a chance to scope colorful coral, sea turtles and thousands of tropical fish, plus a hiking opportunity. You can opt for a full- or half-day tour depending on your penchant to leave room in your schedule for shopping in downtown Christiansted—although perhaps the best souvenir of all is the glow of a tan and a relaxed smile.
-Go to visitusvi.com and use code CP1 for the $300 per person travel credit for stays of three nights or longer on any U.S. Virgin Island.
-There are several direct flights to St. Croix via Miami, and JetBlue flies direct from Logan to St. Thomas; from there, you can take a ferry to St. Croix or opt for a pulse-raising puddle jumper via Seaborne seaplane or Cape Air.
Baked Cafe, facebook.com/bakedcafestx; Balter, balterstx.com; BES Craft Cocktail Lounge, facebook.com/BES.STX; Big Beard’s Adventure Tours, bigbeards.com; Caravelle Hotel & Casino, hotelcaravelle.com; CHANT, chantvi.org; Cruzan Rum Distillery, cruzanrum.com; Zion Modern Kitchen, zionmodernkitchen.com