A monument in Emancipation Gardens, in the heart of historic Charlotte Amalie, commemorates the 1607 landing of 144 Englishmen who stopped on the island of St. Thomas, before going on to found Jamestown, Va., America’s first permanent English colony. Since that first landing, the Virgin Islands have served as a historic midway point for trade and shipping. The trade winds blow everything toward its easy port-of-call, including a burgeoning number of tourists and meeting attendees.
“The Caribbean has always been and continues to be a popular destination for our travel incentive programs,” says Larry Howell, VP Sales & Marketing at Docherty Incentives & Meetings. “However, with air transportation costs taking an ever-increasing bite out of program budgets, those Caribbean islands with the best air lift tend to capture the majority of the group incentive business. St. Thomas in the USVI, offers excellent air lift with direct flights from several U.S. cities, and connecting flights through MIA or JFK for many European cities.”
Queens, Pirates and moko jumbies
On a hill high above Charlotte Amalie stands the monument of the Three Queens, former slaves who led a labor revolt in 1878, and since remembered as cultural heroines of the islands. Directly above it is Blackbeard’s Castle, which legend claims the infamous pirate Edward Teach used as a lookout post. From here, our group was led through the colonial streets as our guide pointed out buildings of interest, such as the Government House, and the childhood home of French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, a St. Thomas native.
Chef Patricia LaCorte’s fresh seafood, combined with an idyllic ocean sunset and the soothing sound of waves lapping rocks at the Oceana Restaurant and Wine Bar in Frenchtown, was the perfect close to our day. As a former Russian Embassy, the restaurant is also an interesting venue for corporate groups.
Beachfront events from 30 to 400 take place at Iggie’s Beach Bar, part of the family-owned Bolongo Bay Beach Resort. A bonfire with S’mores, tiki torches, steel pan musicians and fire dancers can be integrated into the mix.
Carnival dancers, moko jumbies on stilts, and the ubiquitous rum punch welcomed us at the stunning Villa Botanica event space, located 1,500 ft above the harbor—one of the highest points of elevation on the island. A former sugar mill estate, the centuries-old venue boasts nearly 3,000 sf and more than 2 acres of gardens and trails. Following a buffet of pig roast, jerk chicken and sweet plantains, we were entertained by a performance of traditional West African dance followed by the soca sounds of the islands.
The Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort, situated on a stunning tropical outcrop offering ocean views, is one of St. Thomas’s top hotels for meeting and incentive travel and one of two hotels that we stayed at during our jaunt on the island. The hotel easily accommodates smaller conferences and large-scale events. The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas hosted the final part of our visit to St. Thomas. Set on a 30-acre estate with beachfront access, the resort is built in an architectural style reflective of the islands with low terra cotta tiled roofs and colonial-style flourishes.
“A guest favorite at the The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas is the Carnival Beach BBQ,” says GM Bernd Kuhlen, “where groups can watch the fisherman deliver the day’s fresh catch straight to the chef before enjoying a Caribbean feast of grilled lobster, fresh fish and other local favorites, accompanied by the sounds of local musicians.”