Once forgotten, the U.S. virgin islands offer American paradise close to home

Looking at a map, the trio of small islands to the South East of Puerto Rico look like a trail of island breadcrumbs leading downward toward Venezuela and cozying up to the British Isles. The U.S. Virgin Islands were once sleepy islands passed over by Columbus on his voyages of “discovery. ” They later became chess pieces——sold to the U.S. in a rushed deal from Denmark to keep the rolling hills and white sand coasts out of the hands of Nazi Germany during WW1. The Danish West Indies became a U.S. territory in March 1917. This year celebrates their centennial birthday.

One hundred years later, the islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix are bursting with a unique history, culture, food and activities—-with caribbean, Danish and mainland American influences. I flew to St. Thomas during spring break along with members of my immediate family to attend the wedding of a family friend. It was the perfect excuse to get reacquainted with the island after a 20-year-hiatus. In my absence, I noticed a great deal had changed on the island, including an influx of Americans living and working there.

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View of Havensight in Downtown Charlotte Amalie.

I spent many spring breaks on the island as a child. Therefore, the week I spent in St. Thomas was a bit like coming home for me. Back then, my parents had a timeshare in Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in Bolongo Bay. This time around we chose higher ground renting out a villa in Blackbeard’s Hill, west of the capital, Charlotte Amalie. McLaughin Anderson Luxury Villas offers a sweeping view from the center of the island and is located close to Magen’s Bay and Mahogany Run Golf Course. The four-bedroom property we chose includes rooms with en suite, a private pool and full kitchen with washer and dryer.

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Entrance to the villa with a view of an uninhabited island.

The flight to the island was a quick three-and-a-half hour ride from Washington, DC. The airport is located in St. Thomas, but services all three of the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as the British Virgin Islands. American citizens do not require a passport to board a flight but are required to go through customs when exiting the island.

We began our trip by shaking off the winter storm we left and settling into our temporary home. After a quick trip to the neighborhood supermarket for some local fare, we relaxed poolside on our deck soaking up the sun. The next two days were filled with pre-wedding events at the Marriott at Frenchman’s Reef. When we had a day to ourselves we decided to get reacquainted with the streets of downtown Charlotte Amalie, also the capital of the Virgin islands, exploring the alleyways past luxury jewelry stores, high end clothing shops and restaurants. We were lucky to be able to explore on a day when there were no cruise ships docked, so streets weren’t crowded with tourists. The area is very walkable and includes an open air market perfect for practicing your bartering skills.

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Magen’s Bay

Our first trip to the beach was at Magen’s Bay, one of the most popular beaches on the island. Its white sand, calming water and relaxed atmosphere and bar brings people from all over the island for swimming and snorkeling. The entrance fee is affordable at five dollars for non residents and includes parking. Other public beaches on the island are free and many are included in the resort fee.

On land the island offers a number of unique activities including tours of blackbeard’s castle, a world-class golf course, skydiving and zip lining.

Getting around on the  island is easy without a car. Taxi vans are located everywhere and will take you most places for less than $12 a person. If you decide to rent a car, be aware of the streets winding through hills. People are required to drive on the left side of the road and steering wheels are on the left, which can cause a bit of confusion to visitors.

Traveling to one of the other two islands is a breeze. If you want to visit St. John, it’s a quick ferry ride from either Red Hook Bay or downtown Charlotte Amalie for six or twelve dollars, respectively. The ferry also goes to Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Traveling to St. Croix involves a slightly longer trip on a seaplane.

There is no shortage of things to do and discover on the islands. Visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands  is a great option for those especially coming from the East Coast, where its a short flight. The beaches, historic places and sports options are amazing and plentiful. And you never have to leave the country.

For more information on the events and festivities celebrating Transfer Day, check out the site. Click on this link for the best places to visit and things to do in the USVI.

17 fabulous ways water makes us happy

A glass of cold water with lime. A steep waterfall. A luxuriously scented bubble bath. Water is all around us. It can help to calm and to clear our minds, relieving stress and anxiety. Ancient peoples have looked at water as a powerful source of birth and renewal. It’s no wonder it’s the one vital thing we need to survive. As we begin a new year, one full of new energy and possibility, we can invoke the ancient healing power of water to be happier.

Marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols wrote about the transcendental effects of water in his book, Blue Mind: The surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On or Under Water Can Make you Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What you Do (Little, Brown and Company, 2014). In it, he combines scientific explanations with personal stories of people who have experienced life-altering changes from being near or in water.

Here are 17 ways you can surround yourself with water. So, go ahead and take a plunge, a toe-dip, a boat ride or a chic beach vacation and feel happier.  detox-684107_1920

  1. Drink cold water from a carafe
  2. Sing in the rain
  3. Swim in an infinity pool
  4. Catch a wave
  5. Water a plant
  6. Bathe in scented oil (try Floating Island Luxury Bath Oil by Lush Cosmetics)
  7. Bathe in sea salt (try Calm Dead Sea Bath Salts by Margaret Elizabeth)
  8. Watch fish swim in an aquatic tank
  9. Stand in a waterfall
  10. Wash your hands (try Shea butter Liquid Soap-Verbena by L’Occitane) aquariums-1867308_1920
  11. Take a hot shower
  12. Get a pedicure (for added benefit, try a variation with milk and honey or chocolate)
  13. Shampoo your hair (anything with lavender, mint or honey)
  14. Plug in a tabletop fountain
  15. Relax near a public fountain
  16. Take a cruise
  17. Have a hot or cold cup of tea

 

 

4 essential items to keep you healthy while traveling

When it comes to luxury travel, nothing is more synonymous than the color green. Both the color of money and nature, it symbolizes growth, harmony, freshness and energy. Until recently, “green” or “eco-travel” meant roughing it in a rainforest with a camouflage backpack, plastic water bottle and a map of local hostels. The more recent “discovery” that eco-travel could be more than glamping (glamorous camping) has opened a new world of travel and with it, new must-haves from low-cost to expensive.  Here are a few of my favorite finds.

Bamboo Travel Pillow

If you’re like me, you struggle with finding a comfortable seating position on a plane. This ultra comfy neck pillow contains memory foam to conform to your ideal resting position. It’s made from bamboo, a renewable plant, so it’s also good for the environment and the perfect size for a carry on. (www.hotelcomfort.com)

Compression Socks 

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Long-distance flights over the Atlantic or across a continent can wreak havoc on your sleep, sense of time and most importantly, your circulation. Compression socks help to improve your circulation by providing pressure to your ankles and lower legs helping to circulate blood flow to your heart. There are many colors and varieties to choose from.  A Google search will reveal many options. Check out Amazon to compare styles and prices.  (www.amazon.com)

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Source: honeydewnaturals.com

Essential Oils

From calming lavender to energy-boosting peppermint, every essential oil comes with healing properties.  They can help you to rest, reduce anxiety while traveling, or even improve your memory. All very helpful when you’re away from home.(www.amazon.com)

Coconut Oil

This multi-use oil, also considered an essential oil, works as a skin and hair moisturizer and anti-bacterial agent. It’s great on your skin in the winter alone or added to your favorite moisturizer. You can find it at most drug stores, beauty stores and Amazon.

Nadler Hotels, London: understated luxury

The entranceway to Nadler Kensington Hotel, in the historic area of Kensington.
The entranceway to Nadler Kensington Hotel in the historic area of Kensington.

When traveling to a new city, where you lay your head can make or break your experience. A clean, comfy hotel can offer a much needed respite after a long flight or be the source of a bad review on TripAdvisor. So, after spending seven hours flying across the Atlantic, I was hoping my hotel choice in London would be a good beginning to my first view of the city.

I chose the Nadler group of hotels after searching online for boutique hotels in London with a central location and good ratings. The Kensington location is situated in a historic townhome ideally located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Kensington High Street is less than two miles away, leading to Kensington Palace, home to Prince William and Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. The area is the smallest borough in London and the home to embassies and within a short walk to Museum Row and luxury department stores. Long rows of historic white town homes line the streets, a mixture of private residences and businesses.

After arriving at Heathrow, I hopped the Tube to Earl’s Court Tube Station, where I had a five minute walk to the hotel. I arrived at the doorstep the hotel on a deceptively sunny Autumn morning. A light wind kissed my neck as I heaved my heavy suitcase up the stairs.

The Nadler Kensington is a multi-level property, with a long entryway that opens to a cozy lobby area and front desk designed as a parlor room with a towering shelf of books to browse, a fireplace and modern furniture. The multilingual staff is very helpful and accommodating. After arriving a bit early and waiting for my room to become available, I was subsequently upgraded to a Deluxe room, so it was quite spacious for one person.

A neighborhood block in Kensington in London.
A neighborhood block in Kensington in London.

The room came with a super comfy queen bed with a luxury faux fur throw and voluminous pillows. A desk area with complimentary electronic adapters and a very useful USB port (along with free wifi) was also present along with a flat screen television and a large bathroom with a tub and generous counter space for toiletries. The tub was a bit high (I’m short), and additional toiletries like a bath mat had to be requested, along with a complimentary rubber duckie! The room included a hidden kitchenette with a coffee/tea maker, English Breakfast tea bags, and a Britta tap filter. Porcelain teacups and glasses were also included along with stainless steel cutlery.

The hotel is conveniently close to two tube stations; Earl’s Court and High Street Kensington, providing quick access to other tourist areas in the city.

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Kensington Palace and Gardens, London.

25 Courtfield Gardens

London SW5

0PG, United Kingdom

 

Green city escape: Myrtle Beach

Brookgreen Gardens. Source: Myrtle Beach Convention &Visitors Bureau.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has long been a favorite of visitors because of its 60 miles of white sand beaches, waterparks, live entertainment and world-class golf.  Its location on the East Coast brings lots of regional crowds looking to escape the hustle and bustle and summer heat of Northern cities.  But its mild fall and winter temperatures are also attracting visitors seeking entertainment beyond the Boardwalk.  Here are just a few of the activities available to green enthusiasts.

Visit

Brookgreen Gardens

Brookgreen Gardens is home to more than 900 works (550 currently displayed) by 300 of the greatest names in American sculpture, past and present. In addition to the Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington Sculpture Garden, visitors can explore the Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve with its native plants and animals, and the E. Craig Wall Jr. Lowcountry Center, featuring exhibits and educational programs focusing on the area’s rich history. Guests can visit varied ecosystems and historic sites via boat or overland aboard Springfield tidal creek excursions and Trekker back-roads excursions.

Hobcaw Barony

Hobcaw Barony is a 17,500-acre wildlife refuge on the southern end of the Grand Strand on 14 former rice plantations.  It offers teaching and/or research in forestry, marine biology, and the care and propagation of wildlife, flora and fauna in connection with colleges and/or universities in the state of South Carolina.  Tours are offered throughout the year. A reconstruction era village is also an intact feature of the property.

Lowcountry Plantation Tours

Cap’n Rod Singleton brings a lifetime’s experience of tales and folklore to Lowcountry Plantation Tours as a native of the lowcountry. The year-round tours offer a unique opportunity to experience coastal South Carolina in ways never seen by the land-bound visitor. The Lowcountry Plantation Tour Boat is a safe, comfortable 56-foot pontoon boat, offering shaded deck seating and clean, modern restrooms. It is fully USCG certified, and handicap accessible. The tours offer visitors a relaxing glimpse into the history and stories of the past. Tours include: Plantation River Tour, Lighthouse Shell Tour and the Ghost Story & Harbor Tour.

Myrtle Beach State Park

Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal Program, Myrtle Beach State Park was the first state park to open to the public, and was declared a Heritage Trust Site. This 312-acre Park includes a nature center home to snakes, turtles and marine animals, as well as a backyard wildlife habitat featuring a captivating butterfly garden and birdhouses. It is known to be among the best bird-watching locations on the East Coast. Campsites, cabins, apartments and picnic areas are available.

Waccamaw Riverwalk

Situated in Conway, SC, the Waccamaw Riverwalk is a fresh boardwalk that winds along the beautiful banks of the Waccamaw River – once called “the boldest river in South Carolina.  Visitors to the Riverwalk can partake in a number of activities from canoeing to pontoon and fishing boat rentals.  Guided expeditions and walks are also available.  For those who want to simply stroll, there are riverfront dining options or visitors can even pack a picnic from one of the neighboring eateries on Main St.

Stay

The Inlet Sports Lodge

The Inlet Sports Lodge, a new 30-unit resort geared toward sport enthusiasts, just opened its doors in Murrells Inlet a year ago. The Inlet Sports Lodge contains studios and two-bedroom luxury suites and truly caters to sporting. The resort’s amenities include a fish cleaning station, a courtyard with grills and a fire pit, and ample storage space for golf and fishing gear. The development also features a pool, tiki bar, and Bliss restaurant along with an owner’s clubroom and concierge services to help plan fishing trips and sporting outings. The Inlet Sports Lodge also caters to eco-tourists, with its wealth of outdoor activities to enjoy.

Kingston Resorts Sports & Health Club

The newly-renovated Kingston Resorts has completed the first round of renovations to its 50,000 square-foot Sport & Health Club.  Along with new equipment and updates to the space, the renovation also includes upgrades to the fitness center as well as renovations of the retail space. The Sport & Health club is accessible to guests as well as the public, and offers numerous recreational activities.

Check www.myrtlebeach.com  for more ideas and holiday deals!