I’ve kayaked a lot in the Caribbean. During the day. Then I found out about night kayaking, offered by the Adventure Center at Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort on St. Thomas, so I figured I’d check it out.For $45, you get a guided hour-and-a-half tour in kayaks with clear plastic bottoms, ringed by LED lights, said to be the only ones like it in the world. Could be true, could be classic island hyperbole, but all very unique to say the least.
Our guide was the irrepressible Evan, a good-natured, affable young man from Spokane who kicked the corporate life aside after college to bum around the ocean on St. Thomas. 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 occasionally we’d get shouts from shore-bound partiers asking if we’d seen anything yet.
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, just grab the squiggly, slimy fish 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.
A more relaxing way to get out on the water at night at Frenchman’s is aboard The Cat on a sunset cruise, 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.
Frenchman’s Reef is one of the island’s iconic resorts, sitting on a bluff with outstanding views, including massive cruise ships puttering in and out regularly, and stunning sunsets. About three years ago, it underwent a $48-million redesign, jazzing up the spacious rooms (they start around $220 a night), and adding a fitness center, two pools, restaurant and lounge.
Also new is the Lazule Sea Spa and Salon, where one day I got the most 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.
The best meals with a view are at 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. Check out the Caribbean Gourmet hot sauces that accompany meals, made from Scotch bonnet peppers, a little of which went a long scorching way in pumping up the flavor of my ham-and-cheese omelet. 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. At dinner, try the Voodoo Juice for $13, which comes in a bucket, filled with coconut, citrus, banana and pineapple rum, and juices. Refills cost $9, if you get through your first one.
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. Whatever you do, it’s all good to glow.
Photos by Paul E. Kandarian, top to bottom, pool at Frenchman's Reef; sunset cruise; and voodoo juice drink at Coco Joe's