After seven years in the Big Apple, I have learned that the key to loving New York is leaving New York every so often. I declared recently that I would get out of here at least once a month; whether it’s a week out of the country (it will rarely be that!) or a day in Philly, I got to get gone every few weeks in the interest of my sanity---and to keep the awesomeness of my adopted home in perspective.
So when I had the opportunity to spend a weekend at St. Thomas’ gorgeous Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort---in the dead of winter, sans the responsibility to do anything but chill---I hopped all the way up on it. I know that some people are against the idea of staying at a resort and would rather experience life ‘like a local’ when they travel. That’s really cute, and not an unreasonable idea at all if one is taking a longer trip or a cultural excursion. But as I was only getting away for just a few days…having access to pools, freshly changed bed sheets freshly changed by someone else and constant access to rum cocktails was perfect. Just perfect.
I arrived on a sunny Friday afternoon, took my requisite Cruzan rum shots at the airport, and made my way to the property. There were people everywhere cheerfully gearing up for their weekend (or week, if they were super lucky) in paradise and my big city ‘grumble, grumble, get out of my way, grumble, grumble’ attitude was gone almost immediately. A cup of rum punch while I wait to check in? Sure, why not? After a tour of the gorgeous property---which features four pools, wedding facilities, beachfront rooms and plenty of space for conventions and professional gatherings---my hostess took me for a sunset dinner sail on The Cat, where we were able to have tasty salmon and moooorrre rum while checking out the sites on Hassel Island, along the Western edge of the St. Thomas harbor. This would be a very charming experience for a couple or a relaxing option for a group of friends looking to unwind before either turning in early or turning up later.
The next morning, we started the day with breakfast at Coco Joe’s, an open air bar/restaurant right on the beach. Do you know how much better eggs are with rum? Much. We then set out for a jaunt around St. Thomas, courtesy of Caribbean Tour Services. We stopped at Magens Bay Overlook, with its’ stunning white sand beaches, and Drake’s Seat; each view of the island seemed more gorgeous than the last. I literally quit my job and planned the logistics for a relocation to the USVI no less than five times. Why do we like the city? Why do we like the trains? Everything is dirty and cold. Everything in St. Thomas is surrounded by water and actual trees and bees and things and flowers. It is literally the Roy Ayers song. Compare “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” and “We Live in Brooklyn, Baby” and tell me which one sounds like a better place to be? Thought so.
We also checked out Mountain Top, one of St. Thomas’ oldest and most popular tourist destinations. At the top of St. Peter’s Mountain, it is also the one of the highest looking points on the island and home to the famous Banana Daiquiri. I don’t even like bananas that much. How and ever, the fresh bananas in that drink came together so well with the Cruzan rum that I will be figuring out how to recreate that flavor for myself ASAPtually. Ugh, just thinking about it makes me hate not living on the island. Any island. It was so good
We then headed to the downtown Charlotte Amalie area for shopping, where I was able to cop a lovely wrap dress that I won’t be able to wear at home for at least three more months (tears), and lunch at the awesome Gladys’ Café in the historic Royal Dane Mall. I avoided bread, pasta and dessert for most of the trip in order to justify the mass amounts of rum I consumed, but I had to have the conch fritters---which were crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and absolutely worth the early mornings at the hotel gym. The mahi mahi salad was essentially a perfect pile of the uber fresh fish over romaine that managed to avoid wilting long enough for me to tear up that plate, complete with a little of the restaurant’s homemade hot sauce. Judging from the plates I saw (massive rotis and slugs of key lime pie), it’s no surprise that Gladys’ is a favorite of New York Times reviewers
Saturday evening started with tapas and drinks at the Sand Bar, located on the Morning Star Beach side of the property. The ceviche of the day was tangy and fantastic, and shrimp and lobster rolls were just perfect on lettuce instead of buns. The Pain Killa cocktail ended up being my favorite drink of the trip, and my go-to for the remainder of my time there; it is a ridiculously good blend of Cruzan light rum and coconut, orange and pineapple juices, topped with nutmeg. If you try that at home, don’t you dare forget that nutmeg! Insanely good.
We then headed to the Reichhold Center for the Arts on the campus of the University of the Virgin Islands, where Common performed the sprawling outdoor venue’s first hip hop show. He was amazing as ever (I’m from Chicago, so I may be a little biased) and despite a little rain, the theatre was just such a perfect place to take in a show. If you’re fortunate enough to be around the island in May, you can catch the legendary Maxi Priest there.
Sunday found my host and I having a lovely tour of the Coral World Ocean Park, checking out awesome aquatic life more gorgeous views of the island. Now, we were supposed to do the “Sea Trek” helmet dive and take a guided tour of the ocean floor, communicate with nature up close and whatnot. But…well…we both chickened out. Like, climbing into the water and with the helmets on. We chickened out then. What can I say? Water is scary. Now, I think this might be an excellent activity for someone with a little more ocean experience----and it appears to be extremely safe (there were small children who made it just fine, plus plenty of guides everywhere to help out). But if you’re anything like me…lounging on the beach may be a better way to get your water jollies. Nonetheless, I would still recommend that anyone who enjoys the local aquarium make their way to Coral World for a more intimate look at our fine, fin-ed friends.
After recovering from the shame of totally failing, in public, to do something that children did gladly, I made my way to the resort’s Lazule Sea Spa and Salon for an afternoon of lounging by the pool and sugar scrub with Vichy shower. Man, oh man. It was amazing, and the technician used one of my favorite body product lines, Lalicious. My skin was like butter, baby. Not no margarine, not no Parkay, strictly butter---perfect after a few days of laying out in the sun and tanning. The day ended with a final dinner at Coco Joe’s and actual tears about returning to these cold Brooklyn streets---and a vow to make it back much sooner than later.
I’m deeply grateful to Jessica Edwards, and the entire staff at Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Beach Marriott Beach Resort for a fantastic, fantastic trip and I encourage anyone who’s looking for a fantastic weekend away from it all to consider them for your mini-vacay needs! Check their official website for steals and deals and find your paradise, no passport needed. Also, follow them on social media for the latest: Twitter.com/frenchmansreef, Facebook.com/frenchmansreefmarriott and Facebook.com/lazulespa
Ready to book something now? Frenchman’s Reef has partnered with COOLA Organic Suncare and you can take advantage of their “Sea, Sun & Spray” package from April 1st-August 31st! The deal includes room rates starting at $310, which includes a $100 activity credit from the Adventure Center for a “sea/water” or “sun/land” activity AND a COOLA Suncare amenity welcome basket, featuring organic and all natural sunscreens in TSA-friendly sizes (value: $112). For more info, call 1(800) 228-9290 or visit: www.frenchmansreefmarriott.com and use the promotion code: P50.