The Ultimate Fishing Trip in the Virgin Islands!

It’s time for the ultimate fishing trip!   Sport fishermen from all over the world are coming to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the 39th annual USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament.

From August 10th to August 14th, fishermen will hit the waters of the North Drop three days before the August full moon and one day after.

It’s often just called the Boy Scout Tournament (since the Boy Scouts are the main sponsor) or even the Super Bowl of Sports Fishing.  Last year 41 boats took part, and Florida angler Sandra MacMillan took home the top prize of $10,000 cash.

Of course, every fishing tournament comes with a great party or two, and there will be no shortage this year.  A celebration was held at the American Yacht Harbour in Red Hook, St. Thomas,  on August 8th.  There will also be a Cheeseburger in Paradise barbecue hosted by the Virgin Islands Council of the Boy Scouts of America, many dock parties, a Caribbean Night Show featuring stilt-walkers, and evening entertainment all week long.  The tournament winners will be announced at a banquet on August 14.

The waters around USVI are world famous for fishing.  There have been 24 sport fishing world records set here, including for enormous blue marlin.   The North Drop is rich in blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish, and it can easily be accessed from St. Thomas or St. John.

Even if you can’t make it down here for the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament, you can experience the thrill of sport fishing here all year round.  There are many sport fishing charters available for half day and full day trips, with experienced crew.   So why not book yourself into a great Virgin Islands villa, and unleash your own inner Ernest Hemingway on the fishing trip of your dreams.

Montserrat, West Indies Vacation: Enjoy the Cudjoe Head Celebrations

If you are looking for a true Caribbean celebration, with everything from steel bands to masquerades, there is no reason to wait for Carnival.  You should plan a beach vacation rental and head to Montserrat, West Indies at the end of July for the raucous Cudjoe Head Celebrations, which are July 29-30, 2011.

The story behind the celebration is pretty grim, like any tale that comes out of the history of slavery.  In the north of Montserrat, the village of Cudjoe Head got its name from an 18th century slave named Cudjoe, who ran away from his master on the pretty Caribbean island of Montserrat.  He was caught, and lynched, and his head was hung on a tree to remind other slaves of the penalties of trying to escape.

Today, Montserrat’s Cudjoe Head Celebrations are a time for the best aspects of Caribbean’s African traditions to triumph.  From the music to the food and the crafts, there are lots of things to do and see all over this lovely Caribbean island.

This year, there will be bands of all varieties performing, from steel bands to iron bands to string bands.  There will be a masquerade, an early morning race, and stalls set up all around the village selling handmade crafts, clothes and jewellery, distinct to this island and its culture.

The party starts on the Friday night, which is known locally as Cudjoe Head Eve.  It kicks off with a wonderful street party, with lots of live music, dancing and food.

Cudjoe Head Celebrations are a wonderful excuse to come check out Montserrat, and its wonderful local flavor.    So, why not plan your Montserrat BWI vacation to coincide with one of the most authentic African parties in all of the Caribbean?

Portraits of the Virgin Islands

If you’re coming to the U.S. Virgin Islands, make sure to stop by a fantastic new photography exhibit showcasing the warm and wonderful people who make these islands their home.

The Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts in Fredericksted on St. Croix is now showing portaits of the Virgin Islands in the work of renowned photographer Michael Nissman, in an exhibit of his photographs of “Who is a Virgin Islander?”  There are 40 beautiful black and white portraits of local residents; each one with a description of what this resident feels makes someone a real Islander.

It’s a fascinating question, with many rich and engaging answers.  There are just over 100,000 people living in the U.S. Virgin Islands, mostly on the three main islands of St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas. They come from just about everywhere.   U.S. Virgin Islanders are the descendants of African slaves, European settlers, Indian sugar plantation laborers, and immigrants from every corner of the world.  What they share is a love for these beautiful islands, and a sense that home means crystal clear waters, soft sand beaches, and lush tropical islands.  Their answers to photographer Michael Nissman’s question of what makes a Virgin Islander are as fascinating and unique as the Islanders themselves.

Nissman himself moved to St. Croix as a child from his native Oregon.   His photography is award winning, and his work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been exhibited all over the Caribbean and the United States.   The exhibit in the U.S. Virgin Islands is called “All Ah We: A U.S. Virgin Islands Community Portrait Project” and was funded in part by the Virgin Islands’ Council on the Arts.  It will be running throughout the month of August, and admission is just a voluntary donation to the museum.

Making the List: The U.S. Virgin Islands is named a “Best Vacation Destination in the USA”!

Congratulations to the U.S. Virgin Islands, which was just chosen as one of the best vacation destinations in the United States! The people on this stunning island retreat couldn’t be more thrilled!

For the first time ever, the U.S. News & World Report has chosen its best vacation destinations from around the world, and the U.S. Virgin Islands ranked highly on many of the different “Best of…” lists.

The news organization looked at nearly 50 destinations around the United States, and highlighted those places that had a high number of published travel writers who recommend it, as well as how their own travel website users reviewed the destination.  The idea was that the combination of professional and consumer recommendations translate into a high level of visitor satisfaction.

Coming in at number seven on the list of “Best US Vacations”, the U.S. News & World Report described the U.S. Virgin Islands like this: “Nature, history, sunbathing, shopping … it all can be found here, if you pick the right spot. But it is the extraordinary natural beauty of the USVI that keeps bringing travelers back. To see it at its purest, make sure to visit the Virgin Islands National Park in St. John.”

The U.S. Virgin Islands also ranked second in the category of “Best Beaches”, and came in ninth on the list of “Best Family Beach Vacations”.   It also made the lists for “Best Relaxing Getaways in the USA”, “Best Spring Vacations”, and “Best Romantic Getaways in the USA”.

Let me see…. Best beach, best vacation, most relaxing, most romantic, and great for families?  Doesn’t that sound like all the ingredients for the perfect vacation?   Why not book your Caribbean vacation rental in the U.S. Virgin Islands now?

Brewer’s Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands

This is yet another 3-day weekend in the British Virgin Islands….Whit Monday. We decided to have a hike and picnic yesterday, and headed over to Brewer’s Bay…one of the least utilized and a most beautiful Caribbean beach on Tortola. It’s quite a drive down steep and winding roads to the bay, which is a rain forest environment on the beach. There is even a small campground, replete with rustic campsites and hammocks. There is a lovely beach bar with typical island beach food…fried shrimp, fried conch, green salad with peppers, and rum! Yesterday someone had the television tuned to the horse races in St. Croix, where some of Tortola’s best racehorses were competing.
Brewer’s is a perfect horseshoe bay, with rocks to the left that herald
amazing snorkeling. Huge coral formations provide homes for a variety of fish.
After a marathon snorkeling and swim session, it’s back under the shade at the top of the beach for our picnic of carrots and hummus, conch pates, and salad with cherry tomatos from our garden.
Just a few other folks are on the beach…and the beach is so long that our personal spot is private.
Ah, BVI Tortola….my turtledove! The perfect place for Caribbean family vacations….we are lucky because we are staying at Emerald Reef on Frenchman’s Cay in Tortola, a really wonderful luxury villa in the Caribbean.

Celebrate St. John Festival at a Virgin Islands Villa

There’s always a good reason to book a Virgin Islands villa and participate in seasonal activities on the island of St. John, and one of the most fun reasons is just around the corner.

You can’t say you’ve really partied until you’ve taken part in Carnival in the Caribbean, and one of the very best celebrations every year is the St. John Festival.   The party lasts for more than a month, starting at the beginning of June.  Quality St John villa rentals by owner go quickly this time of year, so reserve your Caribbean private villa today, and get ready to enjoy yourself.

Plan to be there from Friday July 1 to Monday, July 4th for the best of the best of the party, when the St. John Festival reaches its peak with concerts, parades and fireworks.

The reason for the celebration is Cultural Day, which happens on Sunday, July 3rd.  It marks the emancipation of the US Virgin Islands in 1848, and celebrates everything about the islands, their culture and history.

On July 3rd, head to Franklin Powell Park at 2:00pm for a re-enactment of the emancipation.   All afternoon, local musicians will perform quelbe, the folk music of the US Virgin Islands, and there will be traditional dances as well.  You can shop at the stalls selling local arts and crafts, and the St. John museum sets up a display of some of the historic artifacts from the islands past.   That night, you can take part in the flambo torch parade through Cruz Bay.

On Monday, July 4th, get up early for J’Ouvert (from the French jour ouvert, which means day break).  This is always the biggest celebration of any Carnival, whether you’re in New York, London’s Notting Hill or in Trinidad.  The same is true here in St. John.
The party starts before sunrise, as thousands of people gather in Cruz Bay to follow the calypso and soca bands through the streets.   Meet at the Virgin Islands National Park Visitor Center.    Participants dress up in colorful costumes, some as tiny as bikinis, others large and elaborate and beautiful.   Watch out for the moko jumbies, who are dancers on stilts.

The day will end with a spectacular fireworks display over Cruz Bay Harbor.   Watch from the beach, the patio of one of Cruz Bay’s great restaurants, or recline on the private deck of your St. John vacation rental with a glass of wine, and watch the show light up the Caribbean skies above you.

st john vacation rentals

Montserrat’s Unique Sea Island Cotton

Montserrat’s Unique Sea Island Cotton

On the lush green island of Montserrat, soaking up the bright Caribbean sunshine and the warm tropical breeze, and thriving in the lush volcanic soil, a special plant was once grown here to create one of the softest fabrics in the world.

At one time, Sea Island cotton was the most expensive and highly valued variety of cotton, thanks to its long threads and soft, silky feeling.  It was often used in the highest quality items, and was often blended with silk to make the richest fabrics.  Over time, the Sea Island variety of cotton was pushed out in favor of other kinds of cotton plants. Today, nearly 100 per cent of the cotton grown in the world is either the native American variety known as upland cotton, or Egyptian cotton.

Hundreds of years ago, this exquisite Sea Island cotton plant was grown widely in the Carolinas and Georgia, until cheaper, hardier plants took over.  Now, there are only two places in the world where you can still find small examples of Sea Island cotton.  One of those places is the stunning Caribbean island of Montserrat.

Back in the late 1700s, Sea Island cotton was brought to Montserrat by an English plantation owner, who had fled his plantation in Georgia at the start of the American Civil War.  It thrived in the rich climate of the Caribbean, as so many plants did, and became a valuable commodity on the island.

Today, there is a small shop in the town of Salem, Montserrat called Luv Cotton Store where people from around the world buy items still lovingly made of Sea Island Cotton.  Salem is a charming town, right near Old Town and Woodlands on the west coast of the island, with a population of fewer than 700 people.   The owner of Luv Cotton Store, Doris Dorsett works exclusively with Sea Island Cotton.  She learned how to work magic with a weaving loom at a government training center.  Today, she makes lovely items from 100 per cent Sea Island Cotton, weaving dresses, scarves, table clothes, shawls and place mats from this silky and rare material.

Montserrat is one of the most charming Caribbean villa islands, and visits here are memorable for so many unique experiences.  Whether travelers come here to experience the biggest St. Patrick’s Day festivities in the Caribbean, to marvel at the rebuilding in the wake of a dramatic volcanic eruption, or to shop in some of the loveliest and one-of-a-kind shops in the region, there is no end to what Montserrat has to offer.

Snorkeling Island Retreats in St. John

Because I am staying at the beautiful Soft Winds villa on St. John, I have access to some of the best island retreats for snorkeling in the world. Every time I snorkel off this island, I see something new.
Yesterday, I hiked over to Leinster Bay from our beach spot on Francis Bay. Besides seeing a two-and-one-half foot barracuda, several different types of wrasse, redfin needlefish, a juvenile gray angelfish, and star fish, I saw two things I have never seen before.

One was what I think is an egg sac, wrapped around a branch of coral. Shiny purple globes, in the shape of a fat worm. About two inches long.

The other was the jagged zigzag mouth of a clam, vertical in the sand so I could only see the opening. When I dove down to investigate, the mouth shut up tight. I could see one little antenna poking out. So maybe a shrimp was living in there?

There is always something fascinating to see in the Caribbean Sea off the shores of beautiful St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Thank you, Mr. Rockefeller, for preserving these pristine shores and waters for future generations…

Read more at our St.  John vacation rentals website

Virgin Gorda: Nature’s Little Secrets

On his many voyages across the Atlantic Ocean, Christopher Columbus gave most of the Caribbean islands their names, paying homage as he went to his home country and his faith. In the British Virgin Islands, however, Columbus got fanciful, naming Virgin Gorda after what he thought the island looked like from afar; a plump, happy woman, lying on her side.

Impressed with the sheer number of lovely islands that he saw, Columbus named the entire Virgin Islands chain after the 11,000 virgin followers of Saint Ursula, on his second visit to the New World in 1493. Today, a Virgin Gorda villa rental puts visitors right on the third largest of the British Virgin Islands, and right in the heart of what is widely described as the prettiest island.

While Virgin Gorda was named by the Spanish, it was pirates who first settled here. The Virgin Islands are strategically located on the main trading route between Europe and the Caribbean. Pirates soon figured out that the private shelters of the many hidden coves were useful, and that the nearby coral reefs made it easy to waylay passing ships and pillage gold and treasures. Blackbeard, Bluebeard and Sir Francis Drake were just some of the famous names who once made their home in the shallow waters of the British Virgin Islands. In fact, Sir Francis Drake once moored 27 ships in Gorda Sound, making it home to his crew and contingent of 2,500 men. That’s just shy of the entire population of the island today, which is about 3,400 people.

Eventually, the Dutch and the British developed a sugar industry in the Virgin Islands, settling into towns, and bringing in African slaves to work the fields. It wasn’t just sugar that made the island attractive to settlers. The oldest ruin on the island today is the old Copper Mine, a 400-year-old mine at Copper Point, which is a highlight of any Virgin Gorda vacation. Another way to explore the history of the region on Virgin Gorda vacations is to go scuba diving or snorkelling among the thousands of shipwrecks that litter the colorful coral reefs that surround the island.

After the collapse of the plantations, and the emancipation of the slaves, the British Virgin Islands settled into a quiet routine, until the 1960s when American financier Laurance Rockefeller developed Virgin Gorda tourism by building up the Little Dix Resort on the island. Rockefeller was one of the first to understand the appeal of eco-tourism and Virgin Gorda vacations, and he also developed resorts on nearby Saint John.

Despite the growth of a tourism industry, the main appeal of traveling to Virgin Gorda is that the island maintains its unspoiled and charming Caribbean appeal, a real change from some of the overcrowded and overdeveloped destinations nearby. There’s even a rule on Virgin Gorda that buildings are not allowed to rise above the level of the trees nearby, giving the entire island the appearance and feel of an untouched tropical paradise.

The best way to experience the island is with a luxury villa vacation, where you can have all the comforts of home, while still enjoying the stunning tropical setting. Both Hummingbird Haven and Oran na Mara, two of Tropical Island Retreat’s vacation villas, are located in Leverick Bay on the North Sound, the world famous ‘Sailor’s Playground’. Leverick Bay’s location on the North Sound provides easy access to Mosquito Island, Prickly Pear Island, the resort at Saba Rock, and both the Bitter End and Biras Creek Resorts.

Of course, the best thing to do on any trip to Virgin Gorda is to spend the day on a perfect powder-soft sand beach, playing in the surf or relaxing in the sun. There is simply nowhere better for a sun-drenched beach day, with many nearly deserted, pristine beaches just waiting to be explored. The most popular beaches can be found at Savannah Bay, Pond Bay and Devil’s Bay.

Visit Virgin Gorda now, and experience what life was like in a time when Caribbean islands were untouched, sheltering ships from the Atlantic and offering refuge for weary travelers from every corner of the world.

Montserrat vacation : The Other Emerald Isle

Once famous as the island retreat of rock stars, then thrust into world headlines by an epic natural disaster, the Caribbean island of Montserrat has had a dramatic and sometimes tragic history. What doesn’t make headlines, however, is the stunning beauty of an island that is still thriving, and the wonderful warmth and joy of its charming residents.

When most people hear of trips to Montserrat, the first image that comes to mind is the 1995 eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano, which forced the evacuation of two-thirds of the island’s population, and devastated a corner of the island, including the capital city of Plymouth. Today, the volcano is still erupting on a much a smaller scale, and is constantly monitored. Part of the south of the island is still a volcano exclusion zone, and the former capital remains abandoned and buried under feet of ash.

However, the rebuilding has begun outside the exclusion zone, with a new capital city being built at Little Bay, and Montserrat vacations go on, surrounded by joy, rich scenery, and picturesque coasts and rainforests.

The island was given the name Santa Maria de Montserrat by Christopher Columbus on his second trip to the New World in 1493. Today, its nickname is the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, because of its strong resemblance to the rugged, lush and green coastline of Ireland, which was the homeland of many Montserrat residents. Today, a highlight of Montserrat tourism is that it is one of only two places in the world that sets St. Patrick’s Day as a public holiday.

In its long history, Montserrat was claimed or settled by Arawak and Carib tribes, Spain, Britain, the Irish, Africans, and the French. In the 1980s, the island rose to international fame when Beatles producer George Martin opened state-of-the-art recording studios on the island, attracting musicians from around the world who came and spent months in the beauty and peace of Montserrat luxury.

Duran Duran recorded their hit album Rio in Montserrat in 1982. Dire Straits recorded Brothers in Arms here. Elton John recorded three albums on the island. The Police, Paul McCartney, Rush, the Rolling Stones, and Black Sabbath were some of the dozens of artists who put this island on the international map, and made the word “Montserrat” synonymous with rock star wealth and creativity.

Today, Montserrat travel is rebounding, and quietly reclaiming its enchanting hold on visitors from around the world. More than half of the island was untouched by the volcano. A new airport was opened by Britain’s Princess Anne in 2005, and new docking facilities are open in the eventual new capital of Little Bay.

A Montserrat villa rental offers something unique and wonderful that is quickly disappearing in many of the bigger, more populated islands in the Caribbean; a true and unspoiled tropical escape. The island has a small population, still fewer than 10,000 people. Cruise ships and tour companies have not yet returned to the island, so on a Montserrat vacation, there are no crowds jamming the streets when a ship is port, and no hoards of camera-toting tourists at every island attraction.

The crowds and ships will return one day, but until then, visitors get a lovely, peaceful island to themselves. A trip to Montserrat offers rare tropical scenery, with unique plants and flowers seen nowhere else in the world. Its offshore coral reefs and coastal caves are well worth exploring for their stunning array of colorful wildlife, and beauty.

The population is mad for cricket and has a FIFA Affiliated Football Team which has twice competed in the World Cup. Of course, St. Patrick’s Day in March is a don’t miss event on the island, with a unique blend of Irish, Caribbean and African traditions celebrating this joyous holiday.

Montserrat vacations also offer something that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, which is the rare opportunity to witness the power of the volcano from a safe distance. Helicopters tours of the abandoned capital provide a safe, eerie and breathtaking view of the devastation, and a fascinating glimpse at the raw force of nature. There are also several places on the island where visitors can get a clear view of the mild eruptions still ongoing from the Soufriere Hills volcano.

Visit Montserrat now, and enjoy the tropical peace and beauty, before the crowds return to this unique island that will relax your soul, spark a lifetime of memories, and put a song in your heart.