If you want something more from your vacation to St. Thomas, USVI than white sandy beaches, rum drinks, and duty-free shopping (not that there's anything wrong with any of those!) here are three recommendations form an interesting, historic residence to stay in, the best local food on the island (and the best hot sauces in the Caribbean), and a fun gift shop to find unique local items.
To experience "island living" as a local would, plan to stay at The Crystal Palace, a bed and breakfast overlooking downtown Charlotte Amalie. After a leisurely breakfast on the veranda watching the cruise ships come in, you can stroll down the steps and alleys into town for a day of shopping. The Crystal Palace is the Lockhart family home, and was the first home built on St. Thomas to be fitted with glass sash windows, hence, the name. The house itself is a treasure trove of traditional West Indian architectural details: tray ceilings, wrought iron gates, hardwood floors, chandeliers and Moroccan tiles. Selected paintings from the Lockhart collection of period and contemporary St. Thomas island art complete the decor. To add life to the paintings, your host, Ronnie Lockhart, can provide the colorful stories behind the people, places, and events depicted throughout the house. Ronnie is also the president of the St. Thomas Historical Trust so is himself a treasure trove of suggestions for fabulous historical and cultural adventures around the island.
When you venture down the hill from the Crystal Palace to explore Charlotte Amalie's fascinating architecture around the twisting, hidden alleyways, be sure to have lunch at Gladys' Cafe in Royal Dane Mall. From conch in butter sauce to yellow tail and fungi to roti, Gladys' has the best local cuisine around. If you're lucky, you might be in town on a day she's serving curried goat or oxtail stew. Try them -- you'll be glad you did! For the less adventurous, the menu includes a mix of American dishes, including a mouth-watering burger and a variety of salads. Be sure to try a taste of all the varieties of Gladys' homemade hot sauces (but be careful, a little goes a long way!) Made from scotch bonnet peppers, Gladys' hot sauces pack a lot of heat but without sacrificing any of their great flavor. They make great gifts, too!
Gladys' is a family run business and it feels like family when you're there. Gladys will probably be behind the bar, in the kitchen, and at a table cutting up peppers--seemingly all at the same time. The blur that's zipping between tables at the speed of light is her sister, Pauline, the fastest-waitress-on-the-island. Be sure to say "good afternoon" and tell them Lynne sent you!
When you're ready to venture farther afield and are looking for some unique and authentic island souvenirs, head to The Pirate's Chest at Port of Sale Mall (the blue building on the east side of the cruise ship dock, adjacent to Havensight Mall). Owner Sean Loughman is an avid diver and island history buff who has filled his store with island treasures. The Pirate's Chest is filled with local items you won't find anywhere else, including books by local authors, local artwork, and one-of-a-kind jewelry items made from coins, plate shards, and coal tokens. Sean, Marty, and the rest of the staff will make you feel like you're visiting old friends.
Lynne Hinkey received her BS in marine biology from the University of the Virgin Islands and her PhD from the University of Puerto Rico and spent many years living, working, and playing in the Caribbean.. She now lives in Charleston, SC. Her debut novel, Marina Melee, is the story of middle-aged playboy George Marshall who decides to escape the rat race of corporate America for the "easy life" in the islands. When he buys a marina on São Jorge (which looks a lot like St. Thomas!) he finds out the easy life is hard work! Marina Melee is available through the publisher, Casperianbooks.com, and at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords, and at The Pirate's Chest in St. Thomas and Undercover Books on St. Croix.