USVI's St. Croix Returns to Cruise Radar

June 2, 2004
We'd have thought that tourism honchos in the U.S. Virgin Islands would be crowing a bit about the recent announcement that MSC Italian Cruises has added a series of calls there on some winter 2004/2005 sailings aboard MSC Opera. They're not -- and the eerily indifferent response we received to numerous requests for information and comment has been a bit confounding. That's because this is really big news for St. Croix, which, along with siblings St. Thomas and St. John, comprises the U.S. virgins' major isles.

St. Croix, genuinely one of the Caribbean's most intriguing places -- boasting fantastic history, beaches, scuba diving, snorkeling and scenery -- literally fell off cruise lines' radars in 2001, and has had absolutely no regular ship callers there since then. Sources said then that one of the major factors was rampant petty crime -- muggings and burglaries -- affecting both cruise passengers and crew members. Another factor: Big ship cruise lines were forced to dock at the relatively ramshackle Frederiksted, the island's number two city, instead of the charmingly restored town of Christiansted.

But the St. Croix experience is gradually evolving, according to sources on the island, and a major effort is underway to beautify Frederiksted and its surrounding areas. Harvey Sasso, president of the Coral Gables-based Coastal Systems International, tells us that St. Croix officials are "desperate to improve Frederiksted with the intention of luring cruise business back." His firm is involved in creating a prettier ambiance for just-arrived passengers there; efforts include building a gorgeous natural garden, complete with trellis and perfect-for-weddings gazebo, as well as sprucing up the city's entire waterfront. He says that efforts to revitalize the town itself, via new shops and restaurants, are also well underway.

Ultimately, he says, "this waterfront town will be completely transitioned," with the goal that Frederiksted will be as much a destination as Christiansted.  Beyond the physical improvements, which will be completed in 2005, a source in St. Croix told us that the crime issue "has been addressed" but declined to provide specifics.

So far, MSC is the only cruise line to sign up for St. Croix port calls in 2004/2005. Over at Carnival Cruise Line, which had made St. Croix a regular port of call on a variety of itineraries in past years, Terry Thornton, vice president of marketing planning, is pleasantly ambiguous, saying that "St. Croix is not currently on any of our itineraries; however it is certainly a possibility that it will be added at some point in the future."