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Saturday, 01 March 2014 00:00

America’s Caribbean: Selling a Tropical Trio

Written by  Melanie Reffes

Caribbean-USVIOne is a shopper’s paradise, the other one is a myriad of sugar mills and heritage trails, and the third one is a national park with few of the distractions of the other two. Delightfully distinct, the trio that are the US Virgin Islands - St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John - are easy getaways with plenty of flights from the mainland and reliably warm weather all year round. “For repeat visitors, the trio each have their own personality with an abundance of new things to discover,“ said Beverly Nicholson-Doty, commissioner of tourism.“St. Thomas has new water-based adventure experiences, St. Croix Food and Wine Experience will debut a golf tournament allowing gourmands to blend another passion into their visit, and the Westin Resort on St. John will receive a face lift this year due for completion in the fall.”

With no shortage of ritzy resorts, splendid beaches, duty-free shopping, lively bars and Mother Nature Unplugged, Virgin Island Hotel Tourism Association is encouraging agent visits with a travel agent month in September that includes complimentary 3-night stays at participating hotels and resorts. Called the “immersion program,” it also offers discounted and gratis activities and excursions. The complete list is online beginning April 1.

The Big 4-0
Family-owned and charmingly popular, Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in St. Thomas is toasting their 40th anniversary this year with a steamer trunk of 40-themed incentives through October 31, from a $40 rate for one night aimed at couples also celebrating their 40th anniversary or singles celebrating their 40th birthday in 2014. Managed by the Doumeng family since 1974, the flip-flop casual resort is now in its second generation of ownership with three of the original staffers still at their posts. “From day one in 1974, Bolongo has welcomed our co-workers to become customers when they are off work, which leads to a rare mingling of guests and co-workers creating real friendships,“ said Richard Doumeng. ”We are now welcoming back guests who first stayed here as the children and grandchildren of guests.”

Since the resort opened its doors, 41,600 bottles of rum have been hidden for the weekly snorkel booze hunt, 2,200 weddings were celebrated and guests mingled at 2,080 cocktail parties. Steps from the sand, an endless bounty of fun stuff includes complimentary water sports, scuba diving, catamaran sails, theme nights at Iggies, one of the Caribbean’s best beach bars, and resort-wide Wi-Fi available this year. “With the increase in social media used by guests at the resort, and the need to stay connected while on vacation, we wanted to continue to meet our guests’ needs and are happy to enhance their stay with this free service,” said Katarina Doumeng, sales manager.

Bottoms Up
The hottest ticket of the year, St. Croix’s Food & Wine Experience runs from April 6 to 12 with a slew of delectable happenings, from meals prepared by celebrity chefs and dinner on the Carambola Golf Course, to a City Crawl through Christiansted, food fights on the beach, sunset barbecues, cooking classes for kids, and Cork & Fork Dinners that are hosted in private homes and historic sites. Hotels offering packages include The Buccaneer, Caravelle, Divi Carina Bay, Renaissance Carambola Beach Resort and Tamarind Reef Resort.

Hotel & Air
Caneel Bay in St. John has re-launched as an independent resort, and has added ZoZo’s Ristorante in the former Sugar Mill and a new Italian coffee shop.

Westin St. John is in the process of a major $12 million refurbishment set to be complete in October including the launch of the Coral Vista Villas; the conversion of seventy-nine rooms into fifty-four ownership villas. “The significant investment in this renovation will raise the standard of this premier resort with stylish and contemporary accommodations, unique amenities and a world-class guest experience,” said John P. de Jongh, the governor of the USVI. “These efforts will ensure that The Westin St. John continues to be one of the top destinations of choice for business and leisure travelers.”

Ritz Carlton St. Thomas is also undergoing a pricey facelift to the rooms, suites and wedding gazebo which will accommodate up to 150 guests.

Swimming with sharks is the big draw at the Adventure Center on-property at the  Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott. A hot seller, Shark Encounter at Coral World Marine Park is one of many adventure tours available with the  Family Island Adventure  package through August 31. “This a spine-tingling, pulse-pounding attraction that allows travelers to get up-close and personal with a dozen sharks without any cages or barriers,“ said Mark McKellar, director of operations. After donning a mask, snorkel, and weight belt, guests climb into the shark pool which is home to black-tip and nurse sharks. Accompanied by a guide, observe sharks, barracudas, and other marine life from as close as two feet. Nightly rates start at $224 per room and include a $200 activity credit with the Adventure Center. For those who prefer the action a little closer to a beach chair,  the Sea, Sun & Spray package from April 1 to August 31 includes a welcome basket of natural sunscreens. Rates start $310 per room, per night.

Zip Tripping
Using a motorcycle-style nozzle, adrenalin-seekers climb up, dive down and hover over the waves on Jet Riders in St. Thomas. Although once a toy for the rich and famous, the water-propelled jetpack is now a vacation must-do for Joe Anybody with a thirst for adventure. Flight instructors teach the basics and within fifteen minutes the daring are up, up and away.

”Our warm climate, versatile landscape and beauty have made the United States Virgin Islands a leader in adventure travel,” said Beverly Nicholson-Doty, commissioner of tourism. “Whether testing water-propelled jetpacks or zip-lining over the tropical rain forest, our many adventure offerings allow travelers to push themselves.”

Also in St. Thomas, Tree Limin’ Extreme is a zip line park high in the forest of St. Peter Mountain. With six lines, two sky bridges and eight aerial platforms, the vistas are eye-candy for photographers who on a clear day can see as far as Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. “Come experience our singing Rasta guides, our history and of course the adrenaline filled tour itself,“ said Julie Eaton-Bryan, owner, “after all, it is da island ting.”


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