The Manor House, which is still in use today, was built in 1653 by the Knights of Malta. The sugar mill, constructed in 1733, now serves as a venue for weddings. Former slave quarters dating back 250 years provide lodging.
It’s not often a visit to a destination hotel includes a history tour spanning several centuries. But history permeates the grounds of The Buccaneer on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Just a ten minute drive from island capital Christiansted, it was opened by Douglas Armstrong in 1947, making it the Caribbean's longest running hotel, as well as the only one still operated by the same family.
As always, U.S. residents don’t need a passport to visit St. Croix, but in our current travel environment, they also don’t need to take a COVID test before returning to the mainland. Unlike most other Caribbean destinations, which fall under new COVID-19 travel requirements issued by the Centers for Disease Control, St. Croix is part of a U.S. territory and therefore considered domestic travel.
Even though the island has enjoyed a consistently low rate of COVID cases, the resort has modified its operations to account for new health and safety measures. Its restaurants are open-air, as are the golf and tennis clubs. The spa is now offering beachfront massages rather than indoor treatments, and the recreation department has developed entirely new ways to provide the free water-sport equipment. Fully sanitized snorkeling gear is delivered to guest rooms before check-in, eliminating the need for any personal contact.
Local captains, who take hotel guests out to Buck Island reef for snorkeling excursions, have reduced the number of people on their boats and use enhanced sanitizing measures on all equipment. And the safety of that fascinating world-class venue is further ensured, because it’s all underwater!
Back on land, the resort is set on 240 sprawling acres, with dramatic views of the sea or the mountains around every turn, and it could be full and you would not feel crowded. Separate groupings of rooms and buildings span the layout; yet, somehow, the entire complex seems easily accessible.
The activities are endless: tetherball to basketball, corn hole to ping pong, kayaking and snorkeling to protocol-friendly fitness center -- those are the free ones. For a fee, there are spa treatments, art lessons, yoga, golf, tennis and salsa lessons. Those into jet skis will have to go elsewhere; most guests are delighted there’s nothing motorized to break the serenity.
Although the largest of the USVI, St. Croix is still small enough to be manageable in a single day’s drive. The island - with a singular history in the Caribbean as it was ruled by the Knights of Malta for 13 years in the 17th century, and by Denmark from 1733 till 1917, when it was sold to the United States - provides a comfortable, laid-back middle ground between the frenzy of shopping, commercialism and noisy nightlife on St. Thomas and the extremely quiet, laid-back setting of St. John. There's much to see and appreciate within a short driving distance. That includes the island's two restored colonial towns, Christiansted and Frederiksted (including Danish forts); old sugarcane plantations such as the Whim and Mount Washington; the Captain Morgan and Cruzan Rum distilleries; beautiful Cane Bay; and the aforementioned Buck Island.
The Buccaneer reflects that St. Croix quality. The current Armstrong, Elizabeth, is Douglas’ grandchild and an eighth-generation Crucian, and it is her emphasis on service that really distinguishes the resort. I didn’t encounter a single employee who didn’t greet me with a warm smile and a sincere desire to help. That doesn’t happen by accident. Hiring is very stringent, and every member of the staff undergoes a training process that took two years to develop and is reinforced daily.
The only breakdown in service occasionally comes at mealtime. While the food is well prepared and presented, you could practically play a round of golf between courses. Just think island time -- it’s how the Caribbean runs.
Elizabeth started working at the hotel at age eight, picking up litter. Fascinated by all the lights and sounds, she graduated a year later to switchboard operator -– and continued on to learn every aspect of the hotel business.
Some of the employees she knew as a child are still working at the resort: “Fifty percent of the staff has been here 20-plus years –- they feel like it’s their Buccaneer.” Working here since 1991, head server Patricia Joseph is a fixture at The Terrace, one of three hotel restaurants. When I asked her why this one hotel for so long, she replied: “It’s my calling to make sure every guest feels welcome in a relaxing environment with memories that make them want to return to The Buccaneer year after year.”
And come back they do. “We have been coming for more than two decades with multiple family members,” says Greg Racz of New York. “Elizabeth Armstrong runs a wonderful family-oriented resort where you can be as active or as lazy as you want, which is why we make our reservations for next year the day we check out!”
Lying in the sun at Mermaid Beach at five in the evening, cocktail in hand and looking up at palm fronds gently swaying overhead, brought a very self-satisfied smile to my face. It was 20 degrees back home. At this point, I couldn’t be less interested in its history.
The Buccaneer is not the most opulent resort, and I mean that in a good way. It’s homey and welcoming and comfortable. Even the most luxurious suites are not lavish. What they are is spacious: I could get more exercise walking from the bedroom to the closet than I do from my treadmill at home.
But for exercise, I preferred an evening jog along the nature trail. I increased my heartbeat while decreasing my stress level, running between, around, and among water-lily ponds (one with a resident egret often in attendance), mangroves, flowered pathways, ageless mahogany trees, all often within sight of the sea. Hard to go back to the treadmill.
An emphasis on eco-friendly tourism is ever-present. Something I found of particular interest was that all of the water is recycled: bath and waste water is used for irrigation, rainwater for drinking and desalinated sea water for general washing. I like that in a resort. I basically like everything at the resort – and the fact that I could feel so safe doing so was a plus.
For more information, visit The Buccaneer's website or call 800/255-3881.