Popular St. Croix Shore Excursions
In Frederiksted, visit Fort Frederik (just to the left as you exit the pier). Built in 1760, it's a National Historic Landmark. The one-time Danish coastal fortress houses historic artifacts pertaining to Virgin Islands' history. The fort has some intriguing claims to fame. On Oct. 26, 1776, a Danish soldier at the fort was the first foreigner to salute a ship belonging to the U.S. It was a big moment for the patriots. The fort also was the site of a major emancipation rally to free slaves in 1848. (Open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday. $3; younger than 16, free)
The Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts, which showcases revolving shows that primarily focus on regional artists, is a small institution in the center of town. It boasts two floors of gallery space, with a gift shop that offers souvenirs ranging from affordable note cards to gorgeous, handmade mahogany rocking chairs. The chairs are made to order, can be shipped and cost about $1,000 apiece. (10 Strand Street; open during cruise ship days with sunset jazz until 6:30 p.m.; otherwise, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday to Saturday; other days by appointment)
Historic Christiansted is a 17-mile cab ride from Frederiksted. History buffs should take the walking tour, which showcases structures such as Fort Christiansvaern, the Virgin Islands' best-preserved colonial fort and part of the National Park Service. Start at the visitor center, which itself has some history; it was known as Old Scalehouse when it was built in the mid-19th century. (Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. $3; younger than 16, free). The renovated Government House is also worth a peek for its Danish Creole architecture and courtyard gardens. (Open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday)
The Estate Whim Plantation Museum, two miles east of Frederiksted, is a three-room historically restored plantation house that dates to the era of the Danes. Tour the house, restored windmill and sugar factory ruins. There's a fantastic gift shop onsite. (Open cruise ship days, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday; $10 adults and teenagers, $8 seniors, $5 children younger than 12)
Nearby, the Cruzan Rum Factory offers guided tours for $5 that include two cocktails and four tastings on a colorful patio built for groups; don't miss the single barrel. Note: The facility only accepts credit cards, no cash. (Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $5 or $4 if bought in online.) You can also check out the Captain Morgan Experience at the Diageo-owned Captain Morgan rum distillery, which opened a $5 million visitor's center in 2012. Tours of the plant are offered, complete with tastings, at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. and noon on cruise ship weekend days. $10 adults, $5 children.
If beaches and snorkeling are your thing, don't miss a half-day or day trip to Buck Island National Park, an 800-acre uninhabited island that is America's only underwater national monument. Located at Christiansted's harbor, Big Beard's Adventure Tours offers full-day (9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) and half-day (noon to 4:30 p.m.) trips on its catamarans. Price includes snorkeling gear, instruction and two stops, one at gorgeous Turtle Beach and another at the reef. The full-day trip also includes a barbecue lunch on a nearby beach. Reservations -- at least 24 hours in advance -- are required (866-773-4482; half-day sails: $70 adults, $55 children 6-12, $22 children 5 and younger; full-day sails: $99 adults, $80 children 6-12, $26 children 5 and younger). If you want to bring your own lunch, Buck Island Charters (340-718-3161) offers a similar experience but on trimarans and a bit cheaper. They also run the trips offered through the cruise ships.
The famous beer drinking pigs of Mount Pellier Hut Domino Club, a bar deep in the rainforest, have garnered YouTube views for decades. While the hogs have switched to the nonalcoholic stuff, it's still a hoot to watch them take a can from your hand and guzzle it like a pro. The bar itself attracts a fair share of rowdies; if you're in the mood, join them for lunch and a shot of owner Norma's local brew, mamajuana, a concoction of herbs, honey and rum that she pours from an unlabeled jug. Potent but tasty, the liquor can be bought as a souvenir ($25 for a fifth). (Open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily)
Paul and Jill's Stable and Farm on the west end of St. Croix, offers horseback riding just five minutes from Frederiksted. A 90-minute ride is $99 per person, cash only, and includes scenic areas such as the rain forest, pasture and hill view of the cruise ship harbor. Reservations, made at least two weeks before you cruise, are recommended. Rides take place in the late morning; afternoon rides are sometimes added if there's demand. (340-772-2880)
Scuba divers won't want to miss The Wall, a 13,000-foot underwater vertical drop that runs along the island's north shore. Most outfitters access it from Cane Bay, which is also a nice beach for snorkeling. Almost all dive operators in Frederiksted and Christiansted will set up your trip. You can also scuba the Canyon, a 350-foot submarine canyon where an ancient river once flowed, at Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve. Incidentally, this is also the site where a Christopher Columbus expedition set foot in what is now U.S. territory on his second voyage to the New World in 1493.
Try kayaking with one of the many operators on the island. Tours go to various sites, including the mangrove forests in Altoona Lagoon, Christiansted Harbor or Salt River Bay, which is bioluminescent at night. Expect to pay about $45 for a half-day tour. Sea-Thru Kayaks VI rents clear kayaks, good for all ages (340-244-8696).
Christiansted's also got an arty side; it's adopted the SOHO moniker for its cluster of art galleries and studios. Among them are the Mitchell Larsen Studio (2000 Company Street, south of Hospital Street) for glass and photography; Maufe Gallery and Crucian Gold (1112 Strand Street) for photography and jewelry; and Folk Art Traders (2 Strand Street) for unique paintings and sculpture. Many stores in Christiansted and Fredericksted are closed Sundays.
If you're into historic walking tours or eco-tours hosted by locals who can give you the inside scoop, you can book an excursion through Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism (340-719-5455), which offers both types of tours for reasonable prices. You'll visit historic schools and churches on these 90-minute walks and learn about everything from slave rebellions to tsunamis.
Best for a Half-Day Visit: Dorsch Beach is a white-sand expanse running south of Frederiksted. You'll find some snorkeling around the area. All beaches in St. Croix are public, and this area can get busy with locals on the weekends. The hotel Sand Castle on the Beach sells day passes for cruise passengers who are looking for chairs and umbrellas.
Note: Sandy Point, which has traditionally been a popular site for cruise ship visitors, is closed during the week in the cruise season to protect the leatherback and green sea turtles that nest here April through June. During the summer, it's closed full time.
Best for Scuba Divers: Cane Bay, on the north shore, is a major destination for divers and snorkelers (an undersea wall is deep enough for naval submarines to launch practice missions; it drops some 13,200 feet just 25 to 40 feet offshore). While the beach itself isn't great, there are some terrific bars that also serve food at Cane Bay, including the legendary Off The Wall and eat@CaneBay.
Best for Active Types: Hotel on the Cay in Christiansted offers access to all manner of beach equipment and activities, from water scooters to parasailing. Just north of the Frederiksted pier, you can rent water sports equipment as well as beach chairs and umbrellas at Rainbow Beach.