When cruise ships deposit throngs of tourists into the streets of Charlotte Amalie, those seeking to be away from the maddening crowds might want to consider stopping off at one of the Virgin Islands’ hidden secrets.
Water Island is a 490-acre landmass – acquired by the U.S. from Denmark in 1917 – that sits not far from St. Thomas and can only be reached by ferry or vessel. A ferry from Crown Bay Marina carries passengers on a 10-minute ride to Phillips Landing where they can rent golf carts to explore the island. The island sits to the south of St. Thomas’ Charlotte Amalie harbor. Almost 200 residents live on the island.
At present, there are no hotels but a visitor choosing to stay overnight or spend some time can rent one of the several homes that are available.
A stark contrast to the sometimes frenzied activities in St. Thomas and St. Croix, Water Island is the quieter and more tranquil version of the US Virgin Islands, an ideal space to chill and unwind. There, you can shrug off the cares of the day, the assorted stresses and slow time down to an untroubled tropical pace.
Beaches are walking distance from the ferry dock. Visitors can picnic, hike, immerse themselves in an energizing guided bike tour of the island, hang out at Honeymoon Beach, swim, snorkel, jump on a fishing charter, go line fishing off the dock in Flamingo Bay or spend time at Fort Segarra and Carolina Point Plantation ruins.
For the hardier rougher and tumble among us, the Virgin Islands Campground also offers shelter and accommodations. Wicked Watersports is a family owned and operated jet ski rental service based at Honeymoon Beach Water Island.
One of the principal attractions of Water Island is Honeymoon Beach, in Druif Bay on the island’s west end. It is a popular landing spot for sailors and tourists seeking to relax on the beach for some sea and sun.
Sprat Bay has been singled out by guests. Among the comments:
“Sprat Bay has a very tropical, uninhabited feel. That’s in part because of its natural beauty; coconut palms and other trees close to the water for example; and in part because there is usually no one on the beach. The beach is within a gated community. If you are staying within Sprat Bay Estate then you have access to the beach, or you can visit by boat. The water is calm with an occasional surf. The beach has soft white sand with some rocky areas toward the end of the bay. No amenities are available on the beach so it is necessary to bring drinks and snacks with you.”
Another attraction is Fort Segarra which is a defensive complex of sea batteries, gun turrets, tunnels, ammunition bunkers and underground rooms that were built, partially built and then abandoned by the Americans during the Second World War.
All this was created to protect the submarine base on St. Thomas. At the end of the war, the project was discarded and the post was handed over to the US Army’s Chemical Warfare Division where scientists tested chemical agents and poison gas goats and pigeons. The site is now open to visitors as are the underground chambers and tunnels. An observation deck on the fort’s rooftop presents a sprawling and panoramic view of Water Island, the sparkling turquoise ocean and the assortment of neighboring islands.
The remnants of several plantations dot the island, reminders of the past where free colored men and families owned and managed them. During the 18th century and early 19th century, a number of free blacks and mulattos established and operated cotton plantations and raised livestock. The vestiges of these plantation structures are of immense archaeological importance because of their historical significance and what they can tell us about the territory’s past.
A National Park Service archaeological team excavated the Carolina Point Plantation in 1998. Historians are struck by the extent to which the plantation has been preserved. Visitors can examine the remains of the great house, structures that appeared to house some of the people living on the plantation, masonry foundations, cabins of the enslaved, ovens, cisterns and bake ovens.
On the east end of the island is Sprat Bay Estates, a gated community. The area includes Sprat Point, a 30-acre nature preserve, and peninsula, owned by the US Department of the Interior and Sprat Bay Beach, located between Sprat Point and Carol Point, which is private. However, all beaches in the US Virgin Islands are public when approached from the water.
Need a recommendation from someone who’s been there?
“We took the water taxi from Crown Bay Marina (in front on Tickles). We didn’t reserve a golf cart and they were all gone, so we hiked the small hill to Honeymoon Beach. It was beautiful! We had fish tacos from Heidi’s that were excellent and the sausage sandwich was enough for two! We visited Dingy’s for some cold beers and relaxed on the beautiful beach.”
“The snorkeling was good, saw three sea turtles and lots of fish. The water was crystal clear. It got very busy when the Tiki Bar excursion, pirate excursion, and catamaran excursions arrived from the Disney cruise ship, but once they left, it was a small group of friendly people, enjoying the quiet. When the time came to return, Jeff taxied us back to the ferry dock for just tips… He was great and at the end of the day, very appreciated! I would highly recommend a visit – and look forward to going back. We will call ahead for a golf cart though!”