We Ran Into Some Chums, and They All Had Rum

Trip Start Jan 03, 2010
Trip End Jan 10, 2010

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Freedom of the Seas

Flag of Virgin Islands US  , St. Thomas,
Wednesday, January 6, 2010

They Said:

For the most part, St. Thomas turned out to be an alone day for Challi that was full of unexpected encounters. Though still somewhat cloudy and misty at times, the weather turned significantly warmer and was perfect for a long "directional" walk as we have come to call them during our travels.  The thing about cruises is that a directional walk is basically all you have time for.  After that quick burst of exploration it's time to get back on the ship, so when we docked we were ready to go.  The hard part about St. Thomas was actually getting off the ship.

Every person imaginable (plus an iguana) was crowded onto the dock and adjacent areas, including passengers from three different cruise ships.  It was a clusterfuck of the highest magnitude and was very similar to getting off the ferry in the Greek isles when every proprietor on the island tries to sell you a room.  In St. Thomas they were selling rides into town and across the island.  Just wanting to get away from the madness and not minding the walk, we bid farewell to the rest of the family and opted for a slow walk around the harbor.

When we got into town, our instincts took over and we veered away from the myriad of shops on the main drag and headed straight up any stairs we could find.  We walked up various flights until we saw a building with interesting architecture.  It was the Hotel 1829.  Outside were advertisements for museums and castles, and inside there was a bar.  Bingo.

As is often the case whenever visiting somewhere new (though we had both been to St. Thomas a long time ago, separately), the bartender is often the most reliable source of information.  Our friend in Hotel 1829 did not disappoint.  He gave us a fascinating history of the island told from the perspective of a born-and-raised native whose parents had moved to St. Thomas from South Carolina.  He told us about the hurricane that wiped out the island’s last brewery, he taught us about the local Cruzan rum, and then he sold us some – a special drink called the Blackbeard in Paradise with five different types of rum and colors that symbolized Blackbeard’s blood and gunpowder.  He sold us the entire spiel, but we were happy to buy since it came with tickets to tour the castle grounds, homes in the historical district atop the hillside, and two of those drinks that were real, real good to say the least.  Just follow my directions to the next location, he said, and there will be someone there to send you on to the next place.  It was a self-guided scavenger hunt, of sorts.  With rum!

Our next stop was the amber waterfall and museum – a tourist trap of sorts that sold amber jewelry but with some very interesting geology exhibits inside.  The waterfall was basically thousands of pieces of amber put onto a massive wall, but the real beauty was up close.  We learned that amber can actually be a myriad of colors including green when it comes in contact with volcanic ash, and we also learned that the green amber matches Alli’s eyes.  Chad bought her a necklace.  How sweet.  Onto the next few stops: a series of colonial houses preserved and open for visits, pirate statues that inspired movies, beautiful gardens with very interesting trees and plants, and finally, Blackbeard’s Castle.

The castle is basically an old Danish fortification that was probably never used by Blackbeard himself, but atop its tower were some great views of the harbor.  We walked the grounds, which included the largest collection of bronze pirate statues in the world.  Where else would it be?  Finally, we tried the four different rums that are made on the premises (yes, we had found the only place on the entire island that produced booze) using Cruzan rum from the neighboring island, St. Croix.  It was infused with different tropical flavors and aged in casks in a building at the base of the castle’s tower.  After enjoying our rum, we went around the corner to one of the property’s pools and had another glass of rum at the bar.  This time our bartender was an artist and former teacher who painted all the canvases on display in the rum distillery next door.  John’s website is: www.johnlchinneryart.com.

We had an interesting conversation with him until it was time for him to close down, and we asked John for a good, local’s-favorite restaurant where we could get some authentic cuisine.  His suggestion didn’t disappoint.  We walked back down toward town with the rest of our Black Strap rum and ginger ale (you can walk with your drinks here), and we wound up at Gladys’ Café.  It was pure Caribbean bliss with curried chicken, plantains, rice and beans, many hot sauce options, fresh fruit on the bar, mmmm.  We definitely needed the walk around the harbor back to the ship after that lunch, and when we got back, we headed up to the hot tubs where we found Hallie and Erik – drinking some kind of tropical cocktail, with rum, of course.
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