Ten-Plus Years of Feeling “At Home In The Tropics”
By Greg Cottrell
Flashback to the fall of 1991 when, as a young professional, I was informed during an interview the position I was soon to be hired for had the perk of an annual trip in January to St. Thomas in the USVI because the firm had a client located there. When I left the firm three years later, I hadn’t been once on those annual boondoggles. Somehow, the firm’s partners determined it more important to take their wives along than a young staff member. With this in mind, I lobbied hard for St. Thomas when Michele and I began planning our first Caribbean trip in mid-2011. Still a little bitter, I wondered what I had missed all those years ago. The lobbying, along with some TripAdvisor research, worked. Soon, we had a February 2012 reservation for a multi-night stay at At Home In The Tropics, a four room bed & breakfast (B&B), located on Blackbeard’s Hill.
Soon after the B&B’s founders, Pam and Matt Eckstein, checked us in for our first stay, we discovered the panoramic view of the Charlotte Amalie harbor from the B&B’s pool deck. That first afternoon and evening we soaked in the sights of the harbor – seaplanes departing and landing, catamarans slowly coming and going, cruise ships departing for their next port of call, and the sun lighting up a bank of clouds as it set to the west.
The Eckstein’s purchased the property that would become the B&B in 1993. Over the next thirteen years, they made improvements as Pam’s job with the Virgin Islands government and Matt’s job operating his contracting business would allow. In 2006, Pam resigned from her job and outfitted four upper-level rooms of the house for guests. A few months later, concluding what Pam described as “the project of a lifetime”, At Home In The Tropics opened. Matt retired from his contracting business in 2011 to assist Pam with the B&B, which by then was garnering nearly unanimous five-star ratings on TripAdvisor.
In mid-2016, and after four relaxing stays at the B&B, Pam emailed to say she and Matt were selling the B&B. Despite Pam’s assurances the B&B would only get better, I had my doubts. Pam insisted new co-owner Jessica Geller’s culinary skills alone would improve the experience at the B&B. We already had a reservation for January 2017, so we would soon see for ourselves.
It was clear the first morning of that 2017 stay Pam had not led us astray. Jessica had already added her personal touch to the breakfast menu that you enjoy on the pool deck (that now features banana pancakes made with homegrown fruit, coconut muffins, and Caribbean Benedict – a dish using plantains instead of an English muffin and featuring a spicy hollandaise sauce). Jessica’s husband and B&B co-owner, Mark Wiechnik, was already knowledgeable enough to give St. Thomas beach and restaurant tips to guests who requested them.
Over the past seven years, Jessica and Mark have continued to make a good thing better. All while overcoming two severe obstacles faced by every tourism-centric business on St. Thomas, the 2017 hurricanes and the Covid pandemic. The B&B now features a re-tiled pool, a new deck, new room furniture, new artwork, new in room AC units, and a Tesla battery-based backup power system for when the island’s power grid has a hiccup.
The building housing the B&B was built in 1803 as a barracks for the Danish governor’s personal guardsmen. Then governor, Peter von Scholten, built his personal residence on the parcel of land above the guardsmen barracks in 1822. Von Scholten, an architect, also designed Government House – the governor’s office – that is still located just down the steps from the B&B, and several other buildings on St. Thomas and St. Croix. He was forced to return to Denmark in 1848, after issuing an unauthorized proclamation of emancipation for “all those born unfree” in the Danish West Indies.
At Home In The Tropics’ central location allows for drives or cab rides out to several beaches. Two are Magan’s Bay and Lindquist Beach. Magan’s Bay, one the closet beaches to the B&B, is located within a park that has a nominal entrance fee. The park’s amenities include a snack bar, showers and restrooms. Lindquist Beach, twenty minutes or so east of the B&B. The beach features a beautiful view of St. John and the British Virgin Islands and has restrooms onsite. The park also has a nominal entrance fee.
Honeymoon Beach on Water Island offers a little more up-tempo action. A ride or drive to the Crown Bay marina, a ferry ride to Water Island, and a free safari cab ride over the hill will deliver you to Dinghy’s Beach Bar & Grill on Honeymoon Beach. Dinghy’s features good bar food and a variety of beers and beachy cocktails. Yes, getting there can be a bit of work, but is well worth the effort, especially for those looking to mix things up during longer stays on St. Thomas.
A drive or ride to Red Hook, on the east end of St. Thomas, will take you to the St. John ferry. The ferry runs regularly throughout the day and evening to Cruz Bay. From Cruz Bay, safari cabs can be taken to several beaches on St. John. (At the time of this writing, the ferry from downtown Charlotte Amalie to St. John was not operating.)
St. Thomas features a wide variety of restaurants across the island to fit all tastes and budgets. The Yacht Haven area hosts several eateries, in various price ranges, including the Smoking Rooster BBQ, the Tap and Still for burgers, and the 13 Restaurant that features a more rounded menu. Lanai Restaurant at Limetree Beach offers more upscale dining. Nearer the B&B, in Charlotte Amalie, are the Amalia Café for Spanish cuisine, Virgilio’s for Italian, and Gladys Café for a taste of the Caribbean.
Recently, we discovered the photography of Ama Dennis at her downtown gallery, The Creative Native. Her photos, taken throughout the Virgin Islands, capture the feel of the area. Especially impressive are her twilight, night, and grandscape photos. Our visit to The Creative Native was the perfect finish to our most recent stay at At Home In The Tropics.
About the Author: Greg Cottrell is a Northern Virginia native who has too many hobbies and not enough time to pursue them all. Among his favorites are travel, photography, and history. And wine, cooking, music……