Cruising throughout the Virgin Islands
October 7, 2011
Welcome aboard, Falcons! I hope you’re ready to explore some exciting ports of call. Each article will include a brief history, a few famous points of interest, fun facts as well as any additional tips to help you, should you decide to venture there someday. That being said, I would like to welcome you to my favorite port of call: St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.
Christopher Columbus first spotted the island on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. The Dutch eventually were the first to conquer the island, only to be taken over by the Danish in 1666. The island became a hub for slave labor and the slave trade. Apart from slaves, St. Thomas’ main export was sugarcane. While the island enjoyed economic prosperity, the sweetness turned sour in the 1800s. Hurricanes, drought and foreign competition (in particular, the United States) caused a period of economic decline. The United States, however, would take a big interest in the area in 1917, when they purchased St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John for $25 million in gold. Ten years later, residents were granted American citizenship. Since 1954, the Virgin Islands have been an American territory.
Tourism has become a staple on the island. There are as many as five cruise ships at one time on the island—and if each ship carries roughly 2,500 passengers, plus 1,000 crew, you’re talking about lots of money spent touring the island! Although St. Thomas is only 31 square miles, there is plenty to see! As you expect with any Caribbean island, there are plenty of beaches to soak up some sun! Check out Magens Bay, with its crystal clear water and white sand. If you’re up for some sightseeing, there is plenty of historic architecture. Among the sites include Fort Christian, built by the Danish in the 17th century. It is the oldest standing structure in the Virgin Islands, and contains many items from the Danish period. Another historic landmark is the St. Thomas Synagogue, founded in 1796 by Jews who emigrated from Europe to establish trade in the New World. There’s also Blackbeard’s Castle, a tower used by Danish soldiers to watch for enemy ships. Blackbeard himself sailed the Caribbean waters in the 1700s.
Above all, St. Thomas is well known for its shopping. There are hundreds of shops all over the island, with many of them confined to two big shopping malls (one at each pier). From a souvenir t-shirt to jewelry (the most popular), you can find almost anything at reasonably low prices! If you like no tax on clothing in Minnesota, this is even better: everything is duty-free! In addition, check your cruise line’s policy regarding warranties. If they sponsor certain stores, many times they’ll offer 100 percent satisfaction guaranteed, should something go wrong. How’s that for worry-free shopping?
If you want to go travel the world, make sure you have your passport. Since 2007, a passport is required for any type of land or sea travel (for more information regarding rules, or how to apply, check out the State Department website at http://www.state.gov/travel). However, St. Thomas is one destination where no passport is needed—after all, you are in the United States (as long as you fly from an American city). The truth is, the Caribbean is closer to home than you think.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s article. Next week, get ready for some climate change: way up north to Sitka, Alaska!
Michael Leonard is a Spanish major at UW-River Falls.