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History, Horticulture and Hospitality in St. Croix

By Fyllis Hockman-

Tvhe manor house, still in use today, was built in 1653 by the Knights of Malta.

Mocko Jumbies at the sugar mill The Buccaneer Resort St. Croix Virgin Islands

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. However, history permeates the grounds of The Buccaneer resort on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which was originally opened by Douglas Armstrong in 1947. As the longest-running property in the Caribbean, it is also the only one run by the same family. The Buccaneer was the exclusive home to the Federal Emergency Management Agency — as opposed to tourists — during the early days of recovery from the hurricanes that hit the islands in 2017 — a huge boon to the entire island.

Set on 340 sprawling acres with dramatic views of the sea or the mountains around every turn, the resort 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 pingpong, kayaking and snorkeling to kids’ camp and 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-skiing will have to go elsewhere; most guests are delighted there’s nothing motorized to break the serenity.

Although it’s the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix is small enough to be manageable in a single day’s drive. The island provides a comfortable, laid-back middle ground between the frenzy of shopping, commercialism and noisy nightlife on St. Thomas and the tomb-quiet setting of St. John, with much to see and appreciate within a short-driving distance. The Buccaneer reflects that St. Croix quality.

The current Armstrong, Elizabeth, is Douglas’ grandchild and 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’s first job at the hotel at age 8 was 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 staff she knew as a child still work at the resort:

“Fifty percent of the staff has been here 20-plus years — they feel like it’s their Buccaneer,” she said.

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 5 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 on my treadmill at home.

But for exercise I preferred an evening jog along the nature trail. I increased my heart rate while decreasing my stress level running between, around and among lily ponds (one with resident egret often in attendance), mangroves, flowered pathways, ageless mahogany trees, all often within sight of the sea.

One of the highlights of a Buccaneer stay is the weekly History and Nature Tour Armstrong conducts. In addition to delving more deeply into the resort’s 300-year past, she tells stories about the trees, bushes and flowers — most of which bloom year-round — that grace the expansive grounds. The trees almost sound like a list of ingredients: cashew, jasmine, calabash, almond, mahogany and a tamarind more than 300 years old.

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. Especially one that has such a long connection to preserving both family ties and the island they’ve called home for generations.

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