The annual Carnival celebrations in St. Thomas and the St. Croix Triathalon have strengthened the .U.S. Virgin Islands fame as the number one destination for travelers worldwide at a time when the 2003 edition of USA Today ranked the Carnival among the top 10 in the world. (Photo above: Arryl Donovan with the Inferno Troup in his dragon costume )
The revellers took to the streets in a display of gaiety and splendor, matched only by the brightly colored attire of the participants who jumped up and gyrated to the melodious tunes and rhythms of several leading bands.
Onlookers dressed in multi-colored holiday attire and a rainbow of colors could not resist getting into the act by jumping up, screeming, shouting and singing along to the pulsating rhythms and tunes being belted out by the various bands in the Adult Parade.
Members of the Jus' Action troupe poured bottled water over themselves and squirted water over each other with water guns to keep cool under a blazing sun.
Other performers included the traditional Indians, dressed in mutli-colored feathered headdresses, beating drums and intermittently echoing Native American war cries.
The crowd was thrilled with the participants of a Capoeira exhibition given by a group of half a dozen men and women, who somersaulted and performed karate like stunts in front of Market Square and Emancipation Garden accompanied by Brazilian music.
Another troupe, The Party Lovers dressed up in traditional African outfits included five sections of men and women, dressed in brilliant costumes with tiger stripes, leopard spots and shades of yellow and purple and drew rounds of applause from the onlookers.
The Gathering Troupe was adorned in traditional costumes from tribes in North Africa and New Guinea. The large troupe danced in four different sections in Post Office Square before gathering together to march towards the Stadium as the crowd eagerly anticipated their arrival.
In the Float Parade, Gypsy...the Bounty came in first while University of the Virgin Islands came in second and Angels Wings placed third.
As the curtains drew to a close on St. Thomas, thousands were gearing up for the 14th Annual St. Croix Half Ironman International Triathlon. Some 750 athletes took part in what has become an event that features courage, determination, endurance, and physical strength.
The athletes have to complete a rigorous three part course that traverses the picturesque terrain and tranquil blue waters of St. Croix. The competition starts with a 1.24 mile swim from Protestant Cay to the wharf area of Christensted. Fresh out of the water, the racers then begin a 56-mile bike ride on a challenging course that travels through lush tropical forests and alongside the Caribbean Sea. During the course the riders.confront the notorious uphill stretch of twisting road known as "The Beast" that averages a grade of 14 percent as it climbs 600 vertical feet in seven-tenths of a mile. Competitors then conclude the face with a 13.1 mile run that circles the grounds of the Bucaneer Hotel and finishes in the historic town of Christensted.
The official Half Ironman Program was created in part by volunteers of Project St. Croix, a non profit organization founded in the 1970s to help educate and promote tourism in St. Croix.
Over the years, St. Croix and St. John and St Thomas have developed a reputation as an unsurpassed paradise with its beautiful white-pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, luxurous world-renowned resorts and a unique Caribbean culture that represents a "melting pot" of ethnicity.
The Caribbean islands first became known to Europeans in 1493, during Christopber Columbus's second voyage to the New World. The U.S. Virgin Islands have been controlled at various times by Spain, France, England, The Netherlands, Denmark, Knights of Malta, and finally the United States purchased them from the Danish in 1917 for a mere $25 million in gold. The move came after the U.S. became concerned that they would become a German submarine base if Denmark fell to the Germans in World War 1. Since then, the Islands have been a U.S. territory.
The population of the three islands is just over 105,000, over 50,000 on St. Croix, 3,500 on St.John and about 50,000 on St. Thomas and currently the hotel rooms being offered number approximately 4,600.
Located in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean, between the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, there are approximately 50 Islands and Cays, St Croix being 84 square miles, St. John 29 square miles and St. Thomas 32 square miles.
The majority of present day indigenous people are West Indians of African descent. The Taino and Carib Indians inhabited the islands for nearly 3,000 years but most were killed off during European occupation.
St. Croix is often described as an island of contrasts, an island where Danish forts still dominate the waterfront in picturesque harbor towns, and where colonial-era sugar plantations are transformed into ocean-side golf courses.
The Island's diverse heritage is well preserved, not only in landmarks but in the rituals of daily life, and its culture reflects African and European traditions, spiced with Latin, American and even Arabic influences. The legacy of Africa is particularly evident in the cuisine, gestures, traditional healing practices, styling, music, dance and oral traditions.
The European legacy derives primarily from the large number of Scots-Irish who ran the plantations. Since there were few resident Danes, Danish language and culture was never taught in the schools, but the Danish element can be found in urban architecture.
Basket weaving, construction of metal or clay coal posts, mahogany furniture making, chair caning and needlework are among the craft traditions carried on to this day on St. Croix. The calabash gourd, or "gobi" is made into bowls, utensils, purses and musical instruments. The calabash and coconut are both made into bird feeders. Several other local crafts have evolved from the emergence of the tourism trade such as mocko jumbie dolls, palm frond hats and birds, shell crafts and adornments and articles of clothing made from madras.
With its lush mountains sloping down to white beaches tiny St. John is also renowned for its secluded bays and fabulous white sand beaches, two thirds of which is encompassed by the Virgin Islands National Park, and includes the remains of the treasured Annaberg Sugar Plantation. Within the park, a system of trails led adventurous hikers to the ruins of a Danish Greathouse and to hidden aquamarine coves. St. John's underwater experience is as inviting and relaxing as the island itself with the reef at Trunk Bay being a favorite with snorkelers from different parts of the world.
Shallow sites such as Cow & Calf Rocks and the Tunnels at Thatch provide a maze of caverns, canyons and swim-throughs filled with lobster, eels, nurse sharks and schools of colorful tropicals. The wreck of the Cartansar, with depths from 10 to 40 feet, is ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving, while more adventurous divers can explore the Major General Rogers, a 12-foot ex-Coast Guard buoy tender sunk in 65 feet of water. Benign conditions, diverse coral growth and abundant fish life are hallmarks of St. John's diving. About 9,500 acres of green hilly land and the underwater reserve are protected as well as its world renowned beaches like Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay and Maho Bay.
With its protected deep-water harbor and surrounding mountains, St. Thomas has served as a major seaport since the 1600s. playing host to a colorful collection of pirates, warships, island traders and most recently, a number of cruise ships. More than one million visitors a year are drawn to the duty-free shops of Charlotte Amalie, the archipelago's historic port of call.
St. Thomas is "water sports central" with activities ranging from sailing, windsurfing and parasailing to kayaking, jet-skiing, water-skiing, deep sea fishing and as well as diving. Arrngements can be made for dives such as the wreck of the 327-foot freighter WIT Shoaler. One of the premier dives in the USVI, this coral and sponge encrusted ship sits upright in 85 feet, with the wheelhouse rising to within 30 feet of the surface. Fish swarm around the ship in large numbers including blue-streaked schools of rainbow runners, metallic-silver barracuda and brilliant yellow French grunts.
In Charlotte Amalie visitors are fascinated with the architecture, equisitely adorned houses of worship and intriguing museums. Fort Christian, a Danish-built edifice is an imposing site with its brick-red color. It is still in use housing the Virgin Islands Museum and dates back to the 17th century.
A breathtaking trip 700 feet above sea level to overlook Charlotte Amalie and its harbor is provided by the Paradise Point Tramway, a favorite for visitors to St. Thomas.
Accommodations vary in all the three Islands, from Five Diamond Resorts to small inns.
Bolongo Beach Club is Club Everything. For more than 28 years, Bolongo has been 'the most popular resort in Paradise, enjoying one of the Caribbean's highest year-round occupancy. (Click photos.)
Bolongo is owned and operated by the Doumeng family. Dick & Joyce Doumeng are the lodging parents and St. Thomas' hotel pioneers and members of the Caribbean Hotel Association's Hall of Fame. They are the only couple ever elected Caribbean Hotelier of the Year. Visitors can choose from either the "All-Inclusive Plan", which includes nearly everything - all meals, drinks, tips and taxes; the "Semi-Inclusive Continental Plan" includes many extras in the rate.
As General Manager of Bolongo, Richard J. Doumeng has helped developed the property into one of the most popular Caribbean resorts over the past 28 years. Richard, along with his wife Katarina, brother Paul and sister-in-law Colleen, continue Bolongo's tradition of creating a personal and friendly environment for its guests, celebrating all the wonders of old-time Caribbean vacations.
The 75-room resort is family operated and has evolved into one of the region's most popular vacation options, attracting many repeat visitors and growing its extended "family" over the years with its hands-on service provided by all members of the Doumeng family and the resort's staff.
Sapphire Beach Resort And Marina on St. Thoms has 171 beachfront and yacht harbor view suites and villas.The Resort has been noted for providing the ideal Caribbean resprt experience for families.
Since joining Sapphire in February 2001, General Manager John Moorhead has been utilizing his more than 20 years of tourism experience to shape the long-term vision and growth of the property as well as its immediate functionality.
Located on the half-mile stretch of shoreline known as Sapphire Beach, the 30 acre resort has built up a reputation over the years as the favorite place to relax and soak up the warm Caribbean sunshine.
Situated on the edge of the sea surrounded by palms and cool breezes, Tamarind Reef Hotel in St. Croix offers a breathtaking and ralaxing beauty to fit the needs of even the most meticulous traveler whether it has to do with the ambiance of the hotel or the luxurious and elegant rooms.
The beachfront property is located three miles east of Christiansted and approximaely 30 minutes from Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.
All the rooms are ocean front with either a balcony or terrace and include air conditioning, ceiling fan, color television, clock radio, in-room safe, coffee maker, refrigerator, bathrobes, vanity mirror, hair dryer, iron and ironing boards.
The hotel has two beaches as well as a large freshwater pool.The full service Beach Shack offers all watersports equipment and instructions while the Marina has charter boats for deep sea fishing, sailing and scuba as well as kayaking. There is also a complete Dive Shop on the premises and scuba resort courses are available.
The rooms are decorated in restful pastel shades and accented with custom-made bedspreads and draperies that reflect the sparkling colors of the Caribbean, while tropical prints hand-signed by the artist enhance the ambiance of the guest quarters.
Feature and Carnival and Triathlon photos by Edwin Ali, Caribbean Correspondent.