St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands (and a direct flight from several U.S. hubs), is a cruise-ship destination like so many Caribbean islands. Don't let this scare you: Just flee the port and go to the island's north side to escape the typical tourist hangouts. "The island is provincial, somewhat underdeveloped," says Jill Updyke, co-owner of Virgin Kayak Tours, who visited 19 years ago after graduating from college and never left. "It's definitely for the chill crowd." For a safari-like experience, book a stay in Virgin Kayak's tent cabins, which, for $85 a night, deliver sparse-but-cozy accommodations including a queen-size futon and a camping kitchen under a tropical canopy; from there, it's a five-minute walk to the sugary sands and waters of Cane Bay. While the 84-square-mile island is quiet, there's plenty to do: Play 18 holes at the Buccaneer Hotel golf course; snorkel off Buck Island – a protected national park that features one of only three underwater marked trails in the U.S.; or head west to sip bargain hooch at the Cruzan Rum distillery (daily tours are $5). Nightlife amounts to an evening kayak expedition among glowing dinoflagellates, a type of single-cell plankton that lights up when it moves. "When you jump in the water with them," Updyke says, "it's like swimming in pixie dust."
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