When we got into town, we realized everything we had been told was actually true: it really was just a town full of duty-free shopping. Convinced that there had to be something worthwhile to see, we (luckily) stumbled upon someone from the USVI Tourism Bureau, who pointed us in the direction of several historic homes & Blackbeard’s Castle.
We walked up the hill into the Inn at Blackbeard’s Castle, paid our $14 admission, & had the morning to explore. First up in the self-guided walking tour was the Amber Museum , a really interesting collection of amber pieces, included a piece millions of years old with a fossilized dinosaur footprint in it. Did you know that, because of the way amber is formed, amber pieces with insects frozen inside them (a la Jurassic Park) are actually fake?
Following the museum, we toured four historic sites: the Britannia House (filled with beautiful West Indian furniture, including many pieces from Barbados), the Pedersen Estate (the only urban archaeological dig in the entire Caribbean), Villa Notman (with its double balcony railings imported from New Orleans), & the Haagensen House (which offers amazing views of the cruise port).
Finally, we made it up to the site of Blackbeard’s Castle. The “castle,” aka the St. Thomas Skytsborg Tower, was built in 1678 as a watchtower for the harbor. No one is really sure when Blackbeard the Pirate (aka Edward Teach – what a boring, non-intimidating name!) took it over, but they guess it was some time in the 1700s. He used the tower as a lookout for his evil-doings. The tower still stands, & affords amazing views of the entire town of Charlotte Amalie.
After exploring the castle for a bit, we popped our head into the Rum Factory, where a small amount of rum is made on site. There is a rum sampling area, where they let you sample as much as you want (score!). We contemplated buying a bottle of the pineapple rum we liked, but ultimately decided we couldn’t cheat on Mt. Gay rum from Barbados.
We pulled up a stool at Fat Turtle (not at all related to the popular U.S. beach chain Fat Tuesday) & enjoyed a Carib beer & some fish cakes. While there, we watched two wild iguanas frock on the rocks – staring each other down, scampering around & eventually engaging in some momentary adult activities. Sadly, this was one of the highlights of our visit to St. Thomas (the scampering, not the other activities) – you just don’t see huge iguanas running around the streets of DC!
St. Thomas was probably our least favorite port during the cruise, but that’s partially our fault. By not doing any research, we really didn’t know what to expect or do. On the other hand, it was kind of nice to just have a “wandering day” on an otherwise packed cruise itinerary.
If you go…
Had we planned better (or done any research what-so-ever), we would have known that in addition to the tower itself at Blackbeard’s Castle, there is also a swimming pool, snack bar, & lounge chairs. The price of admission includes access to all these amenities. The views from the pool are spectacular.
If you’re dying for a taste of home, there’s a Wendy’s restaurant at the end of the cruise ship pier. If you’re in need of some last minute items, there’s a Kmart & a Payless Shoes within walking distance of the pier.
Taxi tours are popular on all Caribbean islands, especially in St. Thomas. If you’re interested in doing a tour, make sure & set a price with the driver ahead of time.