I was at Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort on St. Thomas recently, a glorious iconic resort perched high on a bluff and overlooking the capital city of Charlotte Amalie, which a few years ago did a $48-million renovation, jazzing up the spacious rooms (which start around $220 a night), and adding a fitness center, two pools, restaurant, lounge and spa.
It was at Frenchman’s Reef I happened across several ways to get a glorious glow.
Number one: Night kayaking, arranged through the Adventure Center at the resort, which for $45 gets you an hour and a half on the night-time waters of the bay. The twist here is you do it in kayaks with clear bottoms, ringed by LED lights, said to be the only ones like them in the world. That could be classic Caribbean hyperbole, but I’ll go with it.
Evan was our guide, young, affable and conversant, a happy lad from Spokane who chucked the corporate life after college to bum around the ocean. The view of the sea bottom was pretty cool, the lights casting just enough of a glow to see the rocks below and an occasional fish swimming by. And that was about it. Though Evan tried his best to spot turtles, manta rays and other aquatic life, those creatures apparently don’t meander about at night just because we floating tourists are looking for them.
But just being out on the water was a blast, as always, and we did see tons of plentiful ballyhoo, a blue-hued, needle-nosed creature about six inches long and incredibly fast. They skipped over the water’s surface like a stone at blinding speed, often over our kayaks and sometimes landing inside, making the more skittish members of our group scream. But no big deal, you just grab the squiggly, slimy fish (or try to) and toss them back in, adding to the uniqueness of the adventure.
Evan kept up a nonstop patter of pirate lore, legend and fact (or fiction, but who cares?) about islanders would string a chain across the harbor to tear the bottom off marauding boats and how pirates would then just go to the other side of the island and walk to their pillaging. Bluebeard was the most famous pirate to come here, he said, telling us how he’d light fuses in his beard to frighten the crew on ships he’d take over, which would jump overboard to escape his wrath. True or false? Doesn’t really matter, it’s a rousing good story and this is the Caribbean, where time and truth as stretched as needed.Number two: Take a sunset cruise aboard The Cat, run by Boston native Jim Trilling, and his super friendly crew of Joe, Stephanie and Sydney, who never let your cup or belly go empty. Rum drinks abound and they put out a restaurant-worthy spread, easily the best of any sunset cruise I’ve ever been on, a buffet of steak, salmon, pasta, pulled pork, jerk chicken, in massive amounts. Get enough of a rum glow, and you’ll let one of the ladies slap a temporary “Cat” tattoo on you.
Number three: At the new Lazule Sea Spa and Salon, I got a glow of a different type altogether, the spa’s exhilarating signature sugar glow with Vichy treatment, a full-body exfoliation with sugar rub, and a pressure-point hot water massage from a rack of powerful shower heads they roll in above you. This was followed up with a rub of scented body butter, hot-towel wrap and scalp and foot massage. The $130 it costs is the best massage money you will ever spend. After you can wander out to the private spa pool and melt into a comfy lounger to snooze as long as you’d like.
Number four: The resort’s Coco Joe’s on Morning Star Beach, a low-slung, open-aired café with a largely American menu smack dab on the beach, has terrific food, which you can jazz up with Caribbean Gourmet hot made from Scotch bonnet peppers, a little of which went a long scorching way in pumping up the flavor of my breakfast ham-and-cheese omelet, making my bald head glow red as a result. And as a celiac sufferer, I was most happy to see all the restaurants at Frenchman’s Reef offering gluten-free options, including bread, rolls and pastas.
To glow at dinner, do try the Voodoo Juice for $13, which comes in a bucket, filled with coconut, citrus, banana and pineapple rum, and fruit juices. Refills cost $9. If you get through your first one. I barely did.
Number five: A must off-property visit has to be Gladys’ Café in downtown Charlotte Amalie, located in the Royal Dane Mall, a charming little warrant of ancient brick buildings and narrow, cobblestoned alleys. Gladys Isles run the café bearing her name with a motherly hand, serving incredible curry goat, fungi, conch and other island-centric fare. But to get a scorching glow on, you must try her homemade hot sauce (and buy some to take home), which she makes onsite from peppers she grows, including scotch bonnet and habanero and others that will set your face on fire.
Frenchman’s Reef is a pretty relaxing place to lounge around and do nothing. Or get out on the water either on the sunset cruise or night kayaking. Or slug down a Voodoo Juice or two. Or…well, you get the picture. Whatever you do, it’s all good to glow.