St. Thomas: Months After Shooting, Is It Safe to Go Back to Coki Beach?

October 18, 2010

(5:30 a.m. EDT) -- Last July, a 14-year-old cruise tourist was killed near Coki Beach in St. Thomas when she got caught in the crossfire of a gun fight. The tragedy prompted cruise lines to cancel tours to the Coki Beach area, and St. Thomas officials vowed to clean up the vicinity. Our own editor, Carolyn Spencer Brown, even asked in her blog, "Should cruise lines pull out of St. Thomas altogether?"

Now, months later, an article in the Virgin Island Daily News claims that the Coki Beach "cleanup has been effective, as shown by throngs of all-day visitors returning to the beach, by police patrols and by improved facilities." Cruise lines reinstated tours in mid-August, showing their renewed faith in the area.

Yet, Cruise Critic readers don't seem convinced. When asked on Facebook what recent visitors thought of the area, readers had mixed reviews. Alan E. Deese posted, "Was there last week when Liberty of the Seas had to change from St. Maarten because of Otto. Drove out to Coki and the roads seem to be in worse shape now than 2 years ago and the beach was fairly empty, but I didn't feel threatened. It's still a beautiful beach."

Mary Ann Phillips wrote, "Was there two days ago, dropped off other people sharing our cab. After they left, driver said he didn't like to leave that family there. Said security was good for a while, but now it's back to usual (his words, not mine)." Ken Hartman saw it the other way: "I was shocked to find out about the issues on Coki Beach. We had taken a cab out there on our own and found it to be an awesome beach...we had a great time snorkeling there and wandering over to the aquarium."

So, just what can you expect at Coki Beach? We reached out to Beverly Nicholson-Doty, Commissioner of the USVI Department of Tourism, to find out exactly what has -- and hasn't -- been done to clean up the area:

Cleanup Efforts: Nicholson-Doty reveals that many visitor concerns have been addressed with recent cleanup projects. "Several beautification projects were executed, including landscaping, roadside clean-up and addition of trash receptacles to the area," she told us via e-mail.

Safety Issues: Perhaps of greater concern to cruise travelers is how safe it is to visit the beach. Nicholson-Doty reports, "The Virgin Islands Police Department has increased the number of officers patrolling the area and has taken measures to alleviate traffic congestion and maintain orderly flow. A number of measures have also been implemented to ensure the proper licensing of vendors at Coki Point in order to minimize vendor operation on the public beaches and roadways."

Still to Come: Beyond the obvious safety concerns, the bathrooms are one of the most criticized aspects of Coki Beach, as outlined by Facebook fan Kim McCarty who says that "Coki Beach is one of my favorite beaches in the V.I., but they do need to clean up the area surrounding that beach, plus clean up their restrooms/changing rooms, which can be filthy." Nicholson-Doty reports that "renovation contracts for the bathhouse have just been assigned, so this will be a big focus for the next few months."

Locals quoted in the Virgin Island Daily News story expressed a desire for more enforcement of anti-barking laws, more attention to keeping the beach clean and an on-site ambulance for emergency purposes -- but Nicholson-Doty tells Cruise Critic quite firmly that no other Coki Beach cleanup projects are in the works.

So, would you go back to Coki Beach? Would you go instead to an alternative St. Thomas beach, such as Magen's Bay and Sapphire Beach? Or, will you abandon St. Thomas altogether and take the first ferry to St. John?
Weigh in here.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor