Spanish Gold and A Lost Opportunity

A Short Story

Opportunity Missed

In 1622 Havana Cuba was the capital of the Spanish Empire in the New World. Treasures of gems, gold and silver poured into Havana from South America, Mexico and the other islands. From there large fleets sailed back to Spain heavily loaded with this treasure. Late that summer a fleet was assembled to sail out of Havana. One of the largest and most heavily armed was the Nuestra Señora de Atocha (Our lady of Atocha) designated to be a rear guard for the fleet. Intending to sail up south of the Keys and head east into the Gulf Stream, shortly after leaving Cuba the fleet was split up and pushed off course by the leading edge of a major hurricane. It pushed the rear of the fleet north toward the Gulf of Mexico and there the Atocha and its sister the Santa Margarita were broken on a reef somewhere west of Key West Florida.

In mid June of 1985 we were spending a weekend with friends in Key West and on Mallory Square a man named Mel Fisher had set up a card table and was selling shares in Treasure Salvors to support his search for the Atocha. I think he may have changed the selling price based on how much people were interested and that afternoon it was $80 a share. One couple on walking away the woman commented she wasn’t giving money to a middle aged man so he could go scuba diving. My friend and I, both being divers were interested but in the end couldn’t see betting that much money on a gamble. After all Mel had been looking for a number of years without finding the wreck.

Less than a month later Mel and his crew found part of the sunken remains of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha just 35 miles southwest of Key West in only 55 feet of water. Immediately stories began circulating that each share was now worth $10,000 or more (I believe that estimate ended up being way low). Talk about missing the boat…

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Paradise with a Twist – Key West

Key West Florida

Key West is the exclamation mark at the end of the sentence that is the Keys. This town has been a magnet for adventurers, the famous and fortune seekers for well over a hundred years. Over the years it has attracted a number of the rich and famous including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Kelly McGillis, Jimmy Buffet, Calvin Klein, Shel Silverstein, Truman Capote, Winslow Homer, Ralph Lauren, Robert Frost, Kenny Chesney and Harry Truman (his winter White House). Not too shabby for a city of 20,000.

Its residents have been navy men, shrimpers, fishermen, cigar makers, treasure hunters and more than a few people seeking a place to get lost. Today Key West is known for history, bars, its Cuban heritage, bars, great seafood, bars, water sports, bars and more than a few traditions.

Crowds & performers gather for sunset at Mallory Square

How many places do you know where they celebrate sunset with a festival every day? The sunset celebration is downtown at Mallory Square where musicians, jugglers, tightrope walkers, crafters, food vendors, locals and tourists gather to celebrate the end of another day as the Sun sets behind Sunset Key. It is such an institution that cruise ships that frequently dock next to Mallory Square are required to leave before sunset so they don’t block the view for the celebrants.

The town has also become famous for a number of annual events like Fantasy Fest in late October an annual 10-day party in paradise for grown-ups. Started in 1979 by a group of Key West locals, the party was created to bring visitors to the island and has completely grown out of control. Pay attention to the word “adult” in the description, cause this town that gets pretty crazy on a normal day for Fantasy Fest is over the top. There are also Hemingway Days where Ernest look-a-likes come from all over for a chance to claim the title of Papa for a year. Check out the calendar and you will probably find very few weeks with nothing going on in this town.

Key west also has a number of worthy attractions and a few less so. John J. Audubon lived here and his home is maintained as a museum along with Hemingway’s house and Harry Truman’s Winter White House all open to the public. There is also a really nice aquarium, Mel Fishers Maritime Museum, the Shipwreck Treasure Museum and believe it or not a Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Keno Sandel shop

In addition to the festivities there are a number of other things you will find Key West famous for. First is key lime pie, a delicacy invented in the keys. Be sure to take a bottle of key lime juice and a recipe with you when you leave. The city is home to a large Cuban population that brought their cigar making skills with them. There are a number of hand-rolled Cuban cigar makers in Key West. It is also famous for leather sandals (flip flops) and the oldest manufacturer is Kino located right downtown. Their leather sandals sell for $10 to $20. I’ve rarely gone to Key West without taking home a pair or two.

This town is also is famous for its seafood (fish, Florida lobster and shrimp), snorkeling and diving and its bars. Perhaps its most famous is Sloppy Joe’s on Duval Street where Ernest Hemingway hung out,  southwest of . Tony’s where Jimmy Buffet was a regular (it was actually the original location of Sloppy Joe’s) and Hogs Breath Saloon. Hogs Breath probably sells as many Tee Shirts as beers and who doesn’t want a T that says “Hogs Breath is Better than no Breath at All”.

Key West is also a U.S. Navy base with a Naval Air Station and research facilities. When I was in the Navy we stopped in Key West a few times. There were submarine pens right near downtown and evenings at Sloppy Joe’s was a study in white with wall to wall sailors in bright dress uniforms.

When visiting there are a number of opportunities to do some snorkeling or diving along with a trip to the Marquesas Keys with the Key West National Wildlife Refuge and the Dry Tortugas National Park between fifteen and thirty miles out to sea. Key West was also home base for Treasure Salvors the operation headed by Mel Fisher that found the wreck of the richest Spanish treasure galleon, the Atocha, just to the southwest  in fifty-five feet of water. Be sure and visit their museum.

Eating the Florida Keys (Part 3)

Part Three – Restaurants in the Keys

The Florida Keys
The Florida Keys

Coming to the Keys most people are looking for Sun, sand and water with fresh seafood being a good expectation. Our suggestion is to approach Keys seafood with a simple rule – “the simpler, the better”. Florida’s waters are famous for Florida lobsters (also called spiny lobster or Caribbean lobster) crab, shrimp, grouper and dolphin, and on and on. No it is not the Flipper kind of dolphin but a name for a popular fish. Because of the name issue you will probably find it more often referred to by the Hawaiian name mahi-mahi but whatever you call it it is a beautiful mild-flavored white meat fish.  Most locals have favorite hangouts often with picnic tables on docks or decks, cold beer and fresh-caught fish on the grill. Maybe throw a lobster on the grill too or a bucket of peel-n-eat shrimp.

One problem is you will find a lot of good places to eat but unfortunately there are probably more mediocre to bad restaurants around. In the past we had come to believe that one of the problems is the tourist character of this chain of islands. With an estimated number of visitors to just Key West exceeding 2.5 million and a local population of under twenty-five thousand it isn’t hard to see where the foundation of the economy is. Generally, in the past, restaurants in the Keys were high priced with little dependence on return customers which is a terrible combination. Over the years we had developed our list of favorites with the majority being local places and a few with long histories and reputations.

On returning after over a decade we were hopeful that the internet had helped to fix this restaurant problem. In this modern age it is very difficult for even small restaurants to escape the comments of thousands of online reviewers. After a week of reading reviews and eating around the Keys we decided that, unfortunately, not much has changed. While you can find great seafood still you really need to know where to look, read reviews and ask locals for advice.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Lorilei’sa bar in Key West in Islamorada is another institution in the Keys and a favorite for watching sunsets.

Sid & Roxy’s Green Turtle Inn located in Islamorada has been a Keys institution forever. Sid and Roxy bought the place in 1947 and the current owners work hard at keeping up the reputation. The originator of Key Lime pie.

Herbie’s in Marathon has been in business forever and is a favorite with locals. There have been new owners for a few years but everyone says they’re doing a good job of keeping up the reputation. And don’t get put off by the outside appearance.

Hurricane HoleHurricane Hole bar & grill Key west is just north across the bridge going out of Key West on Stock Island. This is a typical Keys place on a marina with lots of outdoor tables. The food is fresh and good and the prices very friendly.

Ship Wreck Bar & Grill in Key Largo is a little off the beaten path but worth the look. Again this place is a solid favorite with locals and while a little unrefined serves good, fresh Keys seafood and cold beer. Enough said.

In Marathon is Sweet Savannah’s a bakery and ice cream shop. If you are looking for a great slice of Key Lime pie – this is the place. An award winner for five years. 8919 Overseas Hwy, Marathon, FL 33050

Island Fish CompanyIsland Fish Company in Marathon was just an open-air Tiki Hut on the water a decade or so ago. Even then they grilled up some good, fresh seafood at reasonable prices and featured live music in the evenings. We were amazed how they had grown since our last visit. You can’t do that unless you’re doing something right.

Islamorada Fish Company

Islamorada Fish Company, like the Island Fish Company started out by just open-air grilling fresh seafood out on the docks. A while ago the got a new neighbor, Outdoor World, that started bringing in traffic and their business exploded. Now they are all grown-up, were taken over by Outdoor World and have over a dozen locations around the country. They still serve solid seafood.

Sloppy JoesKey West is ground zero for good restaurants in the Keys and you could spend a couple of weeks eating out and still have more to try. Like the Keys in general, some of the best food in Key West is served thru a window and enjoyed at a picnic table so keep that in mind as you decide where to eat.

Conch Republic SeafoodConch Republic Seafood Company in Key West is a good choice for seafood and at a good price. While it is a favorite with the tourists and the waterfront location offers good scenery it is still a solid choice.  Tip: The happy hour buy one get one beer tokens don’t have to be used on the same day.

Key West Port of Call

Many western Caribbean cruises include Key West, Florida as one of their port visits. This city has much to offer a one-day visitor from history to shopping to just soaking up the atmosphere of Americas most southern place.

Where You Dock – Cruise ships dock along the waterfront right at Mallory Square in the heart of town. While there is no cruise terminal there are plenty of facilities with a short walk.

A five block walk to the left down Front Street takes you past Duval Street, home to a number of shops, bars and restaurants to A&B Docks with its array of restaurants and shops next to Key West Bight. Walking down Front Street in the opposite direction takes you past the Truman Winter White House and Whitehead Street the address of the Audubon House and the Hemingway House.

Transportation – Key West is not a very large city with the center of town just steps away. Getting to the other side of the island is a few miles but without a specific interest in mind probably not worth the walk. Sightseeing is easy with the Conch Train and the Trolley one to three block from the ship. There are also a few less conventional modes of transportation available like street legal golf carts and miniature two-seaters you can rent.

Money – The US Dollar

Attractions – If you are interested in history there are a number of attractions for you. From the Ship Wreck Museums to the homes of famous Americans like President Truman, Hemingway and Audubon. There are also an assortment of water activities like snorkeling and diving trips along with sailing excursions available. Key West is also popular for shopping, seafood and bars. Be sure and visit Sloppy Joe’s Bar, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite. There is little in the way of attractive beaches nearby but there are excursions down to the Dry Tortugas and the National Park and historic fort.

Key West is also famous for its sunset celebration at Mallory Square but unfortunately because of local regulations cruise ships must depart before sunset so as not to block the views.

 

Key West, The Historic, Exotic Island You Can Drive To

Part Two – Key West in the Florida Keys

  1. An Introduction To The Florida Keys
  2. Key West, A Different Sort of Place
  3. Where to Dine In The Keys (coming soon)
  4. Is It Time To Visit The Keys Again? (coming soon)

Key West is the exclamation mark at the end of the sentence that is the Keys. This town has been a magnet for adventurers, the famous and fortune seekers for well over a hundred years. Over the years it has attracted a number of the rich and famous including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Kelly McGillis, Jimmy Buffet, Calvin Klein, Shel Silverstein, Truman Capote, Winslow Homer, Ralph Lauren, Robert Frost, Kenny Chesney and Harry Truman (his winter White House). Not too shabby for a city of 20,000.

Its residents have been navy men, shrimpers, fishermen, cigar makers, treasure hunters and more than a few people seeking a place to get lost. Today Key West is known for history, bars, its Cuban heritage, bars, great seafood, bars, water sports, bars and more than a few traditions.

The Sun sets behind Sunset Key off Mallory Square
The Sun sets behind Sunset Key off Mallory Square

How many places do you know where they celebrate sunset with a festival every day? The sunset celebration is downtown at Mallory Square where musicians, jugglers, tightrope walkers, crafters, food vendors, locals and tourists gather to celebrate the end of another day as the Sun sets behind Sunset Key. It is such an institution that cruise ships that frequently dock next to Mallory Square are required to leave before sunset so they don’t block the view for the celebrants.

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Crowds and entertainers gather at Mallory Square to celebrate sunset

Getting around Key West has a number of odd options
Tourists cruising around Key West

The town has also become famous for a number of annual events like Fantasy Fest in late October an annual 10-day party in paradise for grown-ups. Started in 1979 by a group of Key West locals, the party was created to bring visitors to the island and has completely grown out of control. Pay attention to the word “adult” in the description, cause this town that gets pretty crazy on a normal day for Fantasy Fest is over the top. There are also Hemingway Days where Ernest look-a-likes come from all over for a chance to claim the title of Papa for a year. Check out the calendar and you will probably find very few weeks with nothing going on in this town.

Garden at the Audubon House
Garden at the Audubon House

Key west also has a number of worthy attractions and a few less so. John J. Audubon lived here and his home is maintained as a museum along with Hemingway’s house and Harry Truman’s Winter White House with all open to the public. There is also a really nice aquarium, Mel Fishers Maritime Museum, the Shipwreck Treasure Museum and believe it or not a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum.

Souvenir options by the bushel
Souvenir options by the bushel
Sloppy Joe's Bar
Sloppy Joe’s

In addition to the festivities there are a number of other things you will find Key West famous for. First is key lime pie, a delicacy invented in the keys. Be sure to take a bottle of key lime juice and a recipe with you when you leave. The city is home to a large Cuban population that brought their cigar making skills with them. There are a number of hand-rolled Cuban cigar makers in Key West. It is also famous for leather sandals (flip flops) and the oldest manufacturer is Kino located right downtown. Their leather sandals sell for $10 to $20. I’ve rarely gone to Key West without taking home a pair or two.

Key Lime Shop
Key Lime Shop

This town is also is famous for its seafood (fish, Florida lobster and shrimp), snorkeling and diving and its bars. Perhaps its most famous is Sloppy Joe’s on Duval Street where Ernest Hemingway hung out,  southwest of . Tony’s where Jimmy Buffet was a regular (it was actually the original location of Sloppy Joe’s) and Hogs Breath Saloon. Hogs Breath probably sells as many Tee Shirts as beers and who doesn’t want a T that says “Hogs Breath is Better than no Breath at All”.

Key West is also a U.S. Navy base with a Naval Air Station and research facilities. When I was in the Navy we stopped in Key West a few times. There were submarine pens right near downtown and evenings at Sloppy Joe’s was a study in white with wall to wall sailors in bright dress uniforms.

Market Square at Front and Wall
Ship Wreck Museum
Ship Wreck Museum

When visiting there are a number of opportunities to do some snorkeling or diving along with a trip to the Marquesas Keys with the Key West National Wildlife Refuge and the Dry Tortugas National Park between fifteen and thirty miles out to sea. Key West was also home base for Treasure Salvors the operation headed by Mel Fisher that found the wreck of the richest Spanish treasure galleon, the Atocha, just to the southwest  in fifty-five feet of water. Be sure and visit their museum.

Back To The Florida Keys? (In 4 Parts)

When I was a kid growing up in the Northeast more than a few years ago, I thought Florida was the promised land, paradise and the most exotic place I could imagine – all rolled up in one. I was in my twenties before I ever made it there but I had long dreamed of turquoise water, coral reefs, palm trees and warm tropical weather. Later I visited Florida a few times on business and on a vacation and my dreams remained intact. About forty years ago we relocated to Ft. Lauderdale with a job. While there are more than a few people who don’t care for Florida, we loved it.

At the time we moved to Florida, Ft. Lauderdale airport was a single, one-story cinderblock building with twelve parking meters out front. The movie “Where the Boys Are” was still inspiring spring-break college students to the degree that we wouldn’t even try to get to the beach during spring-break because of the traffic and mobs. By late June each year many neighborhoods were all but abandoned and restaurants, if they were open, had few customers. Jump ahead a couple of decades and things have really changed. More business meant more employees. More employees meant more families and that meant more children and all that meant a growing year-round economy. Things were changing and not all for the better.

When I was in the Navy I was a diver and fell in love with coral reefs. In all the forty-eight mainland states only Florida offers coral reefs. If you’ve never glided over or thru a coral reef you have missed one of life’s great experiences and you should try it as quickly as you can. Many people plan trips to tropical places for the beaches and warm water but for very little extra money and effort a coral reef is only a short swim away.

The main attractions in Florida are fishing, boating, beach-combing and diving. Everything is focused on the water. After we moved to Florida, for a number of years every Sunday morning would find us at the beach. It started with breakfast and the Sunday paper, progressed to beach combing and sunbathing and ended with an onshore dive at a nearby reef. It just didn’t get any better than that.

Soon we discovered the Florida Keys and now we had a get-away place for weekends. In those days summer was the best time to go to “the Keys”. Like the rest of Florida, summer was off-season and hotels were cheap. As Florida residents we could frequently find deals at four star hotels that included breakfast and dinner for two for less than a hundred dollars a day! The Keys were everything we loved about Florida and more.

Just recently we spent a week in the Florida Keys. With the exception of Key West it has been over ten years since we’ve been in the Keys and that was way too long. Last September hurricane Irma rolled over the southern Keys as a category four storm. That explains the question mark in this title. Category four hurricanes are incredibly destructive and it always takes time to recover. Part of this trip was to see what progress has been made. This post is presented in four parts:

  1. An Introduction To The Florida Keys
  2. Key West, A Different Sort of Place 
  3. Where to Dine In The Keys (coming soon)
  4. Is It Time To Visit The Keys Again? (coming soon)

Cruising the Caribbean III

St. Thomas looking toward Frenchmans Reef

If you are looking for a little bigger taste of the Caribbean than three or four nights, the next step up is the week-long cruise. The major cruise lines typically divide their itineraries between east and west. The east usually includes St. Thomas and the Dutch side of Sint Maarten and often Nassau or Freeport and sometimes Haiti (a private beach area). The west usually includes Grand Cayman and Cozumel with one or two additional ports. These can be Negril, Jamaica, Roatan Island Honduras, Costa Maya and sometimes Key West.

With a few exceptions, most of these ports have things in common: beaches, water sports, diving and snorkeling. If these are your interests, we suggest packing a couple of beach and swim outfits, and, to save money bring sunscreen and a mask and snorkel. Often buying an inexpensive mask & snorkel at home is cheaper than renting at a Caribbean beach.

Stopping in Cozumel offers some duty free bargains. Good buys include silver, onyx and tequila (see customs rules below). Be sure and pick up vanilla as well but avoid ones that include Coumarin and/or high fructose corn syrup. The cruise ships will offer tours including beach trips and snorkeling but if you are looking for a day at the beach our recommendation is to take a taxi to Chankanaab Beach Park and pay the park

admission. You’ll save a lot of money over the tour cost and can go and return when you want. It’s not far and there are usually taxis waiting at the entrance to take you back to the ship. There is a bar, food, snorkeling rental and beach chairs and the water is great. But to get to the reefs it’s a bit of a swim out.

There are two cruise ship areas in Cozumel. One is downtown and only a short walk to shopping and Senior Frogs. The other is a bit north (actually two piers) with shopping areas dedicated to cruise passengers at each. There is also a smaller water front version of Senior Frogs which has a good snorkeling area right next to it. Be forewarned if your group includes teenagers. One of the local pastimes is pouring tequila into young Americans, so keep a watch. Cruise ships used to stay until late at night but most now leave much earlier in the day. We believe it was the teen passengers and out-of-control alcohol that caused this change.

Grand Cayman is the other usual stop on these itineraries and offers probably the better duty free shopping. It is a tender port so you have to take boats in from the ship which drop you off right in the center of Georgetown where there is great shopping. Grand Cayman is dotted with beautiful beaches (one called Seven Mile Beach), terrific snorkeling and diving and many American chain restaurants.

A piece of advice here regarding money. The Cayman dollar is permanently fixed to the US dollar with the exchange rate being one Cayman dollar equaling US$1.25. This makes everything 20% more expensive than it first appears. Be sure to inquire if a price is in US or Cayman dollars to avoid overpaying.

Our recommendation for a great day is a tour to “stingray city”. Pick one that visits the stingrays and also a coral reef for snorkeling. It is advisable to book through your ship as it is a long day and getting back can get dangerously close to missing the departure time for the next port.

Costa Maya is a Mexican port and a new resort area that the government has developed out of the jungle. When we first visited fifteen years ago it was a pier, a half dozen tourist shops, a bar and an undeveloped beach area. It has now grown into a town, a number of new resorts and a nicely developed beach area.

Roatan is another stop that is often included on seven night cruises and is also very popular with ex-pat Americans and retirees. It has changed a lot over the last decade or so. When we first visited, the ship docked at the Port of Roatan and we walked into the typical Honduran town to shop. Today the ships dock at the Cruise Ship Terminal with its attached shopping village which offers the same selection of jewelry stores and souvenir shops as dozens of other cruise ports.

Key West is our favorite stop with its’ shops and restaurants and an interesting small aquarium only a short walk from the pier. There is also Mel Fisher’s Atocha gold museum and don’t miss the art galleries. Unfortunately cruise ships must sail well before sunset so you will miss the sunset celebration at Mallory Square. (The large cruise ships would block the view of the setting sun) which is a daily celebration in Key West.

Nassau is a port where we would recommend going over to Paradise Island and visiting the Atlantis resort. There is a daily admission fee to enjoy the facilities and most cruise ships offer tours there as well. In addition you can walk through town and shop for souvenirs, duty free watches, jewelry, clothes and liquor (see customs rules below).

Bahamas private island stop. Many cruise lines operate exclusive private islands where they anchor and offer a day of beaches, barbeque, water sports and more.

St. Thomas is the centerpiece of most Caribbean cruises. It is a U.S. possession with world-class beaches, historic sights and true duty free shopping. The cruise ships dock at either the Sub Base east of Charlotte Amalie or The West Indian Company Dock next to Havensight, just to the west of town. Getting into town from the Sub Base will require a taxi (or a tourist bus unique to St. Thomas) but there is a nice walking trail along the water from Havensight which goes thru the shops of Yacht Haven and into town.

There are plenty of things to do on this popular island and here are a few: (1) From Havensight take a cable car up to Blackbeard’s Castle Resort for a drink and the view. (2) Go into Charlotte Amalie and sit in the Greenhouse Bar on the waterfront where John Updike wrote a short story for The New Yorker (In a Bar In Charlotte Amalie). (3) Walk down Creque’s Alley where the Mamas and Papas essentially got their start as a musical band (immortalized in their song Creque Alley). (4) Stroll the ten blocks of Kronprindsens Gade and do some shopping or visit the shops and galleries in the alleys like Drakes Passage. (5) Take a trip to the far side of the island to Megan’s Bay, which is consistently named as one of the world’s ten best beaches. (6)  Visit Coral World, especially if you have younger children with you.

Because of treaties from the time the United States purchased the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas and St. Croix feature some of the best “duty free” shopping in the islands. The best duty free buys are European goods like Lladro, Rosenthal, Rolex, Dior, L’Occitane as well as duty free liquor where each person can bring back 5 liters duty free to the U.S. (see customs information below).

Cruise ships visit Sint Maarten which is the Dutch side of an island that includes two countries. The north end of the island is the French part or St. Martin. Most cruise ships dock on the Dutch side at a pier area that includes a large shopping village. The island has a number of great beaches along with good diving and

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snorkeling locations but they do require a tour or taxi to reach most of them.

To get into the main town of Philipsburg you will need to take a tour bus or taxi. You can also take a taxi over to the French side of the island, which features the smaller and more relaxed town of Marigot with a number of restaurants and cafes featuring an authentic French flavor. There are waterfront restaurants known locally as lolos. These small, vibrant eateries offer a full range of local specialties in an authentic setting that maintains an island market feel. Be careful to allow plenty of time to get back to the ship. With four or more cruise ships in port on some days, afternoon rush hour taking people back to the pier can turn into slow bumper to bumper traffic. Again, this is the major reason to take advantage of ship tours as you are guaranteed not to miss the ship.

Photos from top to bottom: Ship docked in Key west,  beach at Costa Maya,  Stingray City Grand Cayman, Cruise Port Roatan, Nassua street and Atlantis resort, pier Sint Maarten.


DUTY FREE SPIRITS


There is a lot of confusion about bringing back duty free liquor and how much and from where. The following is from the web site of U.S. Customs (we would also suggest to print this and take it with you, especially if you plan on maxing out the allowance as we have had encounters with Custom Agents that aren’t sure of the rules):

How much alcohol can I bring back from a U.S. insular possession (U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam) duty-free?

The state you arrive in determines the amount of alcohol you can bring back for personal use.

As long as the amount does not exceed what that state considers a personal quantity*, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will allow you to enter the U.S. with up to five liters of alcohol duty-free as part of your $1,600 exemption – as long as at least four liters were purchased in the insular possession, and at least one of them is a product of that insular possession. Additional bottles will be subject to a flat duty rate of 1.5% and subject to Internal Revenue Service taxes.

Please note, only one liter of alcohol purchased in a cruise ship’s duty-free shop is eligible for a duty-free exemption, although if at least one bottle purchased on board is the product of an eligible Caribbean Basin country**, then you will be allowed two liters duty free. If you buy five liters of alcohol in – say – the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), and one of them is the product of the USVI, then you would have reached your duty-free limit. Any additional purchases made on board in a duty-free shop would be subject to CBP duty and IRS tax.

If you buy four bottles in the USVI, one of which is a product of the USVI, then you could purchase one additional bottle from the onboard duty-free, and it would be eligible for duty-free entry.

* Most States restrictions on the amount of alcohol that can be brought into that State apply only to residents of that State. Usually people transiting a state are not subject to those restrictions, but sometimes regulations change, and if this is a matter of utmost importance to you, you can check with the state Alcohol Beverage Control Board where you will be arriving to find out what their policies are.

** Most Caribbean Basin countries are considered beneficiary countries for purposes of this exemption. (Anguilla, Cayman Islands, Guadeloupe, Martininque and Turks and Caicos are not eligible)