U.S. VIR­GIN IS­LANDS

From the col­or­ful em­brace of St. John to the bustling port of St. Thomas and the Dan­ish-in­flu­enced en­clave of St. Croix, this is­land trio is open for busi­ness

Coastal Living - - NAVIGATOR -

TERI GIB­NEY OWNS what may be St. John’s most beau­ti­ful re­treat—a pair of bright white cot­tages tucked among emer­ald fo­liage on their own in­ti­mate cove, with noth­ing but the turquoise Caribbean in one di­rec­tion and steep hill­sides of na­tional park­land at their back.

A third cot­tage on the prop­erty—Gib­ney’s home— was flat­tened by Hur­ri­cane Irma, so she lives in a one­room out­build­ing, with­out a stove or re­frig­er­a­tor, her cloth­ing stacked around a small bed. With no time yet to re­build her own home, Gib­ney has spent the months since the hur­ri­cane’s Septem­ber 6 as­sault on the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands cease­lessly clear­ing the felled trees along her cove, re­pair­ing the dam­age to her rental cot­tages, tend­ing to guests, and shoo­ing off the is­land’s fa­mous feral don­keys, who push through her gate to eat the ex­otic flow­ers in her gar­den and to roll in the sand on her beach.

Such is the up­side-down, post-Irma world of St. John, the most exclusive of the three ma­jor U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands. (The cruise ship– and re­sort-driven St. Thomas and funky, Dan­ish-in­flu­enced St. Croix make up the trin­ity.) Both a pris­tine play­ground for the rich and a get­away for the eco-minded, more than half of St. John is a na­tional park of rugged, forested ter­rain guard­ing white-sand coves. Be­fore the storm, lux­u­ri­ous vil­las were nes­tled along the fringes, while a few up­scale re­sorts hugged the coves. One of the world’s first eco-re­sorts perched on a hill­side. The lit­tle ferry port town of Cruz Bay was home to high-end bou­tiques and restau­rants, while Coral Bay up the coast lured sailors with beach bars.

Now, with many of those vil­las and re­sorts slowly mak­ing their way back to re­open­ing (oth­ers have closed for­ever), the hum on St. John is qui­eter. To visit now is to feel part of the re­cov­ery fam­ily of res­i­dents, who hug each other in park­ing lots and swap in­tel on build­ing sup­plies. To wan­der the nar­row streets of Cruz Bay is to wit­ness the time­line of the comeback: On one block, The Long­board restau­rant is hop­ping with newly re­paired and ren­o­vated digs, and is pour­ing craft cock­tails and plat­ing fresh seafood. On an­other, the rub­ble and ru­ins of build­ings re­main va­cant. In Mon­goose Junc­tion—Cruz Bay’s ro­man­tic clus­ter of stone-and-ma­hogany shops and restau­rants—sun-kissed tourists are buy­ing jew­elry, drink­ing craft beer, and shop­ping for sarongs. But when trav­el­ing the roads, it’s sadly easy to see ship­wrecked sail­boats and other de­bris.

In the in­ti­mate con­fines of St. John, these scars re­main part of the land­scape. On St. Thomas, ma­jor re­sorts are still not re­opened, but a con­cen­trated flurry of re­build­ing in the zone that ser­vices cruise ships con­fers a cheery, open-for-busi­ness feel. On St. Croix, which sus­tained the least amount of dam­age in the USVIs, beloved prop­er­ties are back, and new ho­tels have opened. Still, “the dev­as­ta­tion is clear when you fly in, par­tic­u­larly to the hous­ing,” says Ben­jamin Keyes. Keyes is a trauma spe­cial­ist who lived on St. Thomas as a kid and re­turned ear­lier this year with a team of vol­un­teers to St. Croix, St. Thomas, and Puerto Rico to help coun­sel health­care pro­fes­sion­als and re­lief work­ers on post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der. “These are peo­ple who are still liv­ing it, day in and day out,” he says, adding that no mat­ter how quickly re­build­ing oc­curs, it takes at least three years for res­i­dents’ emotional re­cov­ery—and that’s if the an­nual march of hur­ri­canes through the Caribbean steers clear and doesn’t re­trig­ger a trau­ma­tized re­gion. “I hope things blow by,” he says.

Mean­while, Teri Gib­ney keeps her fo­cus on her guests, who she says bring a surge of both fi­nan­cial and emotional sup­port every week. And she works hard to spread that love (and those dol­lars) to as many mer­chants, artists, and wait­staffs as she can. On an im­promptu shop­ping ex­cur­sion to one of her fa­vorite jew­elry bou­tiques, she ad­mires a hand­made bracelet. The iconic St. John de­sign fea­tures a nau­ti­cal J-hook hold­ing the band to­gether. It’s a fa­vorite tourist take­away; coun­try star Kenny Ch­es­ney, a home­owner here who has pas­sion­ately sup­ported pri­vate re­cov­ery ef­forts, is known to wear one. “St. John is our home,” Gib­ney says, trac­ing the shape of the hook with her thumb. She looks up. “What else can we do?”

GET HERE

Air­lines serv­ing St. Thomas in­clude Amer­i­can, Delta,

Jet Blue, Spirit, and United. Car­ri­ers serv­ing St. Croix from San Juan and St. Thomas in­clude Amer­i­can, Cape Air, Delta, JetBlue, Se­aborne, Spirit (in­clud­ing a new route from Fort Laud­erdale), and United.

STAY HERE

As of late sum­mer, about 50 per­cent of ac­com­mo­da­tions across the USVI had re­opened. For a real-time, up­dated list of what’s open, visit usvi­up­date.com.

ST. CROIX

The long­est-run­ning fam­i­ly­owned ho­tel in the Caribbean, the clas­sic Buc­ca­neer ho­tel—on the is­land’s east coast with three white-sand beaches—re­opened quickly af­ter the storm to house re­lief work­ers, and is now fully re­turned to serv­ing vis­i­tors. Rates start at $299; the­buc­ca­neer.com. At the other end of the is­land in Fred­erik­sted, the brand-new Fred is a sassy, adults-only bou­tique ho­tel that oc­cu­pies a com­plex of pas­tel his­toric build­ings in the mid­dle of town and di­rectly on the beach. Rates start at $209; sleep­with­fred.com.

ST. JOHN

For a one-of-a-kind stay in a beach­front cot­tage (or one set be­hind it in a botan­i­cal gar­den) with Hawk­snest Bay at your feet and the na­tional park at your back, Gib­ney Beach Vil­las are a trop­i­cal dream come true—and fea­tured on our cover this month. Rates start at $5,000 per cot­tage per week; gib­ney beachvil­las.com. On a breezy bluff over­look­ing Cruz Bay, Es­tate Lind­holm is a ro­man­tic, trop­i­cal-style ho­tel with a gor­geous pool and easy ac­cess to nearby beaches, hik­ing trails, and the buzz of town. Rates start at $250; es­tate lind­holm.com. The Westin

St. John Re­sort & Vil­las on the is­land’s south­west shore plans to re­open in early 2019.

ST. THOMAS

On St. Thomas, the can­dy­col­ored Bo­longo Beach Re­sort near Char­lotte Amalie on the south shore re­opened in June. (Its beloved Ig­gies Beach Bar, de­stroyed by the storm, is sched­uled to re­turn next year). Rates start $158; bo­lon­gobay .com. Look for French­man’s Reef & Morn­ing Star Marriott Beach Re­sort and Su­gar Bay Re­sort & Spa, both ma­jor re­sorts on the is­land, to re­open in late 2018 or early 2019.

On St. John, the restau­rants, bars, and shops of Cruz Bay hum with lo­cals and vis­i­tors alike.

Teri Gib­ney and her son, Tommy

St. John’s Hawk­snest Bay, home to Gib­ney Beach Vil­las

Fish, fries, and more at Miss Lucy’s restau­rant in Friis Bay, St. John

The view from Gib­ney Beach Vil­las

Danc­ing in the streets of Cruz Bay, at Car­ni­val

The Buc­ca­neer Ho­tel on St. Croix

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