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When I booked a hot CheapCaribbean Newsflash to St. Thomas for late August -- five nights at the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef and roundtrip airfare from O’Hare for less than $800 per person -- I knew that late summer is prime hurricane season in the Virgin Islands. I just didn’t think there’d actually be one. But upon arrival, we were greeted with a hurricane watch and tropical storm warning, and all we could do was wait it out.
Lucky for us, Isaac veered south, and St. Thomas was hit only with a few intermittent downpours and strong wind gusts -- but gusts so strong the seagulls could only fly backwards. The ferry into town wasn’t running, so we made the most of our day at the resort with room service for breakfast, a workout at the gym, and views of the crashing waves from the infinity pool.
By morning, the storm was gone, and we took a taxi into the main town of Charlotte Amalie for sightseeing, jewelry shopping, and a seaside lunch of conch chowder and salmon burgers. Despite the wind and overcast skies, it turned out that August was a great time to visit. The town is usually flooded with cruise ship passengers, but on this day we had most of the shops to ourselves.
Next up was a trip to the even more relaxed St. John, a short 20-minute ferry ride from Red Hook on St. Thomas’ east end. A full three-fourths of the island is a national park, so we grabbed some sandwiches and hiked through the woods – unlike the woods I’m used to, these were filled with cacti and hermit crabs – to a couple white-sand beaches accessible only by foot and boat. The main town of Cruz Bay came alive after dark, and we dined on seafood jambalaya and more conch (this time in fritter form) at the Frommer’s highly recommended Fish Trap.
On our last and nicest-weather day, we checked out Coral World, an outdoor ocean park, and got to feed sting rays, touch starfish and sea cucumbers, and get up close and personal with a South American sea lion named Romulo. We then headed back to the Marriott and took a catamaran cruise to Turtle Cove, where we snorkeled with green sea turtles and dozens of tropical fish.
Luck was on our side again when the storm hit and left Florida the day before our flight home through MIA, so both of our flights took off (almost) on time. We may not have come back with great tans, but I’ll take freedom from crowds and off-season savings over that any day.