The Estate Whim Plantation
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St. Croix Overview
If you haven't been to St. Croix's Frederiksted lately, or ever, this sleepy village, the island's primary cruise port, has undergone a major transformation. Indeed, there've been so many different restoration efforts going on, particularly along the seafront, that you may not recognize what it once was although the bygone charm of a seaside town remains.
Though never the duty-free mecca of St. Thomas, St. Croix, the largest U.S. Virgin Island, has long been a popular port of call for cruise ships, and for good reason. The island offers scores of nature activities and water sports, from horseback-riding through the rain forest to some of the region's best scuba-diving and snorkeling. St. Croix is ripe with historic artifacts, such as Ft. Frederiksted, the Estate Whim Plantation and Christiansted's numerous monuments. There are many remnants of St. Croix's early days as a major producer of rum -- and its numerous sugar plantations.
For a little while, a rash of crime incidents -- muggings and hold-ups -- against both cruise ship passengers and crew began to discourage itinerary planners from featuring St. Croix as a port of call. But in a spirit of noble optimism, tourism officials embarked on an upgrade program for the port in Frederiksted, investing millions to attract cruise ships. And it worked. Lines and their vessels have returned, now making regular calls on St. Croix -- roughly 10 per month.
The improvement is among the most ambitious we've seen in the Caribbean. The area surrounding the pier has been landscaped with lush gardens, cozy benches, and a shopping area consisting of a range of gazebos. Lovely iron torchlights provide illumination and a period ambience. The waterfront, too, was landscaped all along Strand Street; it's a lovely place to walk beside the sea.
And Frederiksted, which several years ago was dirty, tacky and rundown, has bloomed, at least on the waterfront; venture into back streets and it's still pretty rundown. The restorations along Strand Street have resulted in a general refurbishment of the once-peeling 17th- and 18th-century Danish-style buildings. The arts have been reborn in the new Caribbean Museum Center there. The historic Ft. Frederiksted, part of a fascinating program called Virgin Island Danish Apprenticeship (VIDA), is a laboratory of sorts for students from St. Croix and from Denmark to learn technical skills.
Even with the new look, Frederiksted itself is still a place otherwise too sleepy to ensnare cruise visitors for long -- you'll find only a handle of shops and eateries. But it offers a lovely welcome to St. Croix itself, and Christensted and the island's rural endeavors aren't too far away.
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Other Eastern Caribbean Cruise Ports:
Freeport • Grand Turk • Jost Van Dyke • La Romana (Casa de Campo) • Labadee • Nassau • Princess Cays • San Juan • Santo Domingo • St. Croix • St. John (U.S.V.I.) • St. Maarten • St. Martin • St. Thomas • Tortola • Virgin Gorda
The Virgin Islands' Cruzan rum is still made there; try a snifter of Cruzan Single Barrel.
A Crucian hook bracelet, perhaps from Sonya Ltd., and of course, Cruzan Rum.
English is the official language, but often with a Caribbean twist of unique pronunciations and vocabulary thrown in. You may also hear some French Creole and Spanish spoken.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the U.S. dollar, and many places also accept credit cards. There is no sales tax in St. Croix. ATM's can be readily found in Christiansted and Frederiksted.
Where You're Docked
You'll dock at the pier in Frederiksted, the island's second largest town, unless your ship carries less than 200 passengers -- then it can dock in Christiansted.
The Ft. Frederik Museum, the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts and a handful of restaurants are all nearby.
On Foot: Visit the nearby Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts and the Ft. Frederik National Historic Monument or stroll along the revitalized waterfront.
By Taxi: Taxis congregate at the foot of the pier. The government sets prices and lists them here. A one-way trip to Christiansted is $24 for two people, for instance.
By Car: Most rental agencies are based either in Christiansted or the airport but Frederiksted does have two: Budget (888-264-8894) is right across from the cruise dock. Avis (800-230-4898) is just 100 feet from the cruise dock. New solar-powerd car rentals are also offered from Sunbug.
Watch Out For
As with any port you visit, it's wise to leave valuables and excess cash in your cabin safe and stay alert to your surroundings.
In Frederiksted, pay a call at Ft. Frederik (just to the left as you exit the pier). Built in 1760, it's a National Historic Landmark. The one-time Danish coastal fortress (open Monday through Friday, and Saturday when a cruise ship is in port, from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., $3, under 16 free) now houses historic artifacts pertaining to Virgin Islands' history. The Fort has some intriguing claims to fame, according to curator Bruce Tilden. It was the site of a major emancipation rally to free slaves in 1848. And even earlier, a Danish soldier at the fort in October 26, 1776, was the first foreigner to salute a ship belonging to the United States of America. It was a big moment for the patriots.
As well, the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts (10 Strand Street), which showcases revolving shows that primarily focus on regional artists, is a small but growing institution in the center of town. It boasts two floors of gallery space, with a gift shop that offers lovely souvenirs ranging from affordable note cards to gorgeous, handmade mahogany rocking chairs; at $995 apiece, they're made to order (and they'll ship!).
Historic Christiansted is a 17-mile cab ride from Frederiksted. History buffs should take the walking tour, which showcases structures such as Fort Christiansvaern, the Virgin Islands' best preserved colonial fort. Start at the Visitor Center, which itself has some history; it was known as Old Scalehouse when it was built in the mid-19th century.
Christiansted's also got an arty side; it's adopted the SOHO moniker for its cluster of art galleries and studios. Among them include the Mitchell-Larsen Studio (Company Street south of Hospital Street) for glass and photography, Maufe Gallery and Crucian Gold (1112 Strand Street) for photography and jewelry, and Folk Art Traders (2 Strand Street) for unique paintings and sculpture.
The Estate Whim Plantation Museum, two miles east of Frederiksted, is a three-room historically restored plantation house that dates back to the era of the Danes. Tour the house, restored windmill and sugar factory ruins. There's a fantastic gift shop on site.
Nearby, the Cruzan Rum Factory offers free guided tours. You can also check out the Captain Morgan Experience at the Diageo-owned Captain Morgan rum distillery, which opened a $5 million visitor's center in 2012. Tours of the plant are offered, complete with tastings.
There are snorkeling trails at Buck Island National Park, an 800-acre uninhabited island that is America's only underwater national monument. Big Beard's Adventure Tours (340-773-4482), which uses catamarans, offers full (9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.) and half (noon until 4:30 p.m.) day trips. Price includes snorkeling gear and instruction; full day trip also includes a barbecue lunch on the beach. Advance reservations -- at least 24 hours in advance -- are absolutely required. If you want to bring your own lunch, Buck Island Charters (340-718-3161) offers a similar experience, but on trimarans and a bit cheaper.
Been There, Done That
Paul and Jill's Stable and Farm (340-772-2880) on the west end of St. Croix, offers horseback riding just five minutes from Frederiksted. A 1 1/2 hour ride is $90 per person and includes scenic areas such as the rain forest, pasture and hill view of the cruise ship harbor. Reservations -- a week prior to cruise is the minimum -- are recommended. Rides take place just before noon at after 3 p.m.
Go scuba diving at Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve. This is the site of the original Carib village and the bay where Christopher Columbus docked -- but did not set foot on land. (Closed until November 2012.) Another great spot is Cane Bay. In Frederiksted, Cane Bay Dive Shop (340-718-9913) has a dive shop on Strand.
Try kayaking in a totally clear kayak with Sea-Thru Kayaks VI (340-244-8696). Take a two-hour tour of the mangrove forests at Altoona Lagoon, or the "wall" on Cane Bay with visibility of some 70 feet down.
If you're into historic walking tours or eco-tours, hosted by locals who can give you the inside scoop, you can book an excursion through CHANT (340-719-5455), which offers both types of tours for reasonable prices. You'll visit historic schools and churches on these 90-minute-long walks and will learn about everything from slave rebellion to tsunamis.
Best Beach for a Half-Day Visit: Closest to the Frederiksted pier is Sandy Point, a huge stretch of sand (leatherback and green sea turtles nest here April through June).
Best Beach for the Dedicated Beach Bum and Scuba Divers: Cane Bay, on the north shore, is a major destination for snorkelers (an undersea wall is deep enough for naval submarines to launch practice missions; it drops some 13,200 feet just 25 to 40 ft. offshore). There are some terrific beach bars (both serve food as well) at Cane Bay, including the legendary Off The Wall.
Best Beach for Active Types: Hotel on the Cay in Christiansted offers access to all manner of beach equipment and activities, from WaveRunners to parasailing. Just north of the Frederiksted pier, you can rent watersports equipment at Rainbow Beach.
Casual, in-town joints in Frederiksted: Try Polly's at the Pier (3 Strand Street, 340-719-9434, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. until 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.); it's a uptown coffee shop that serves its own micro-brew, soups, salads, ice cream, desserts and cigars. It's also an urban-Caribbean art gallery -- with Wi-Fi.
For lovers of healthy fare (particularly vegetarians), UCA's Kitchen (Custom House at King Street, 340-772-5063,Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. until 7 p.m.; Saturday from 12:20 p.m. until 7 p.m.) is a locals' favorite.
The Blue Moon (17 Strand Street, 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.) faces the water; between the wild and wacky color scheme and genuinely good sandwiches and such, it rocks when cruise ships are in town.
For a coffee-house-meets-deli ambience in Frederiksted, check out Turtles Deli (37 Strand Street, Monday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m until 5 p.m.)
Casual, in-town joints in Christiansted: Fort Christian Brew Pub (Boardwalk, from 11 a.m. daily) has a great view of the harbor and great pours of Virgin Islands micro-brews brewed right on the premises. Serves burgers and fresh seafood.
On the north shore: eat@CaneBay (Northshore, 340-718-0360, from 11 a.m. daily).
A trip to Buck Island National Park, which is off the Christiansted coast, is a terrific snorkeling tour; the island is six miles off the coast and is maintained as part of the National Park Service.
St. Croix Island Highlights, a three- to four-hour excursion, takes you through the rain forest, to a variety of museums, past the ruins of a sugar plantation and into Christiansted.
Horseback through the rain forest.
Paddle a kayak through Salt river Bay.
Staying in Touch
Although Internet cafes seem to be few and far between on St. Croix, you can access the Web and enjoy a cup of coffee at the following places:
Polly's at the Pier Internet Cafe (3 Strand Street, Frederiksted) houses three computer terminals with Internet access (for-fee) and Wi-Fi (free with purchase), as well as food, beverages and cigars.
Namaste Cafe (Queen Cross Street, Christiansted; 340-772-2529) offers coffee, a bite to eat and free Wi-Fi access.
Strand Street Station (Pan Am Pavilion, Christiansted; 340-719-6245) offers eight computers with DSL access, as well as food and beverage options.
For More Information
On the Web: www.stcroixtourism.com
On the Web: www.visitstcroix.com
Cruise Critic Message Boards: St. Croix
The Independent Traveler: Caribbean Exchange
--Updated by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief, and Jodi Thompson, Cruise Critic contributor