Difference between revisions of "Saint Croix"
Revision as of 01:35, 14 September 2012
Saint Croix is the largest (82 square miles) island of the U.S. Virgin Islands, a territory of the United States of America. This formerly volcanic island of spectular beaches and mountains, rainforest, palm trees, and historic towns is the home of approximately 50,600 people.
There are two towns on the island:
Mainlanders may be a bit shocked to find that even in a territory where the GDP per capita is 60% lower than the mainland, prices are about 20% higher than in a mid-size city like Boston. Don't worry - you're not being taken advantage of just because you're a tourist. The island generates all its electricity from oil, which also powers water treatment plants. Utility costs are thus very high, and many goods must be transported from the mainland. Even though there is a lot of beautiful open space, supply of practical real estate is limited and thus rents are also high.
Christiansted and Frederiksted have narrow roads and closely spaced historic buildings showcasing historic colonial Dutch architecture. How often do you see a sidewalk that goes underneath the second floor? Many buildings have no windows, but only the traditional wooden shutters which completely cover the opening when closed. Window shopping on St. Croix is thus generally not possible; it is necessary to visit shops when they are open. Given its small population, most shops in Frederiksted have short hours and many only seem to open when a cruise ship is docked. However, there are stretches of gorgeous public beach very close to the town center. Christiansted is slightly more lively; it has no beachfront but does have an active boardwalk and marina area.
There is a mural in the Cruzan Rum Factory showing two types of people - those who live in the big city who are always busy running around, talking on cell phones; and those who live on the island, taking it slow and relaxing. If you are the kind of person who will get bored just sitting on the beach all day, St. Croix is probably not for you. Plenty of men can be seen lounging in the sun around town. Maybe it's the unemployment rate, or maybe it's just the pace life in the Carribbean.
Many businesses operate on "island time" - slowly. For example, at about half of the fine dining restaurants on the island, service takes what feels to most outsiders like an inordinately long time; the other half are comparable to the mainland. There are definitely culinary gems in Cane Bay and Christiansted; if you are staying elsewhere on the island, you'll probably want a car to get to a well-rated establishment or to the grocery store.
The urban areas of the island can be completely explored in a few hours - big city types used to roaming the urban jungle will instead have to make due with actual jungle. Anyone fascinated with ruins will have a lot to look at one the island. Even on the main commercial streets in town, there are buildings experiencing severe neglect or abandonment. The remnants of several, probably destroyed by one of the many hurricanes that have blown through the island, are filled with trees. There are also a number of colonial Dutch stone sugar mills dotting the island, part of St. Croix's plantation legacy. The largest non-native population seems to be from the United States. Maybe it's the legacy of the Boston Fruit Company, or maybe it's the quick flights from the East Coast, but there are a number of New Englanders on the island - you'll even see some Red Sox fan gear in certain establishments.
The flatlands south of Route 70 are partly industrial, with the airport and the Hovensa oil facility. Also on 70 are the University of the Virgin Islands and the agricultural fairgrounds. Covered in exhaust towers and the size of a large central business district, Hovensa operated as a refinery until 2012, when operations were severely curtailed and it became a storage-only facility. The refinery provided 20% of the entire territory's GDP, so its closure has provoked a major economic crisis for St. Croix and the territorial government on top of the effects of the Great Recession. UVI and a stimulus-funded broadband initiative are attempting to stimulate the economy with high-tech training and infrastructure.
The prevailing winds are from east to west. This puts the southwest of the island, including Frederiksted and western beaches downwind of the Cruzan Rum Factory and occasionally unpleasant odors from the open-air fermentation tanks. Also watch out for prickly nettles on the beach between Frederiksted and the turtle sanctuary. On the other hand, the beach here is spectacular, with gorgeous blue-green waters, Caribbean sunsets, a view of the mountains and cruise ship dock, good snorkeling, and plenty of white sand. Often groups of locals will set up enormous speakers, pound the beach with popular and island music, have a barbeque, and maybe smoke some marijuana.
The spectacularly hilly rain forest is in the northwest, and is a full-on jungle complete with vines and some 4x4-only roads. North of the mountains from most of the island, the well-sheltered Cane Bay also has spectacular snorkeling, with abundant coral, fish, and even some sea turtles in the deeper water. The East End is somewhat remote, though it is dotted with luxury homes on frighteningly steep roads. This end of the island gets less rain; the general lack of trees highlights the spectacular topography and provides an unobstructed ocean view. And where else can you see a Very Long Baseline Array radio telescope across the street from a goregous beach?
St. Croix is a bit behind the mainland in terms of finding businesses online or in a phone book, but it's easy to find restaurants on Yelp.
English is the official language and widely spoken, although a local dialect "Crucian" is common (which sounds similar to Jamaican English). Spanish and French creoles are spoken as well, given St. Croix's history of migration. The entire island has a small-town feel; people say hello to strangers just walking down the street.
Also, an occasional cruise ship docks at the Ann Abramson Pier in Frederiksted.
The fastest way to get between Frederiksted and Christiansted is usually to use the Melvin H. Evans Highway (USVI Route 66), which is a limited-access divided highway. Signage is poor, and roads can have multiple names. For example, the main length of Route 70 is signed as both Centerline Road and Queen Mary Highway.
Many addresses are still written using the names of Dutch colonial "estates", which are not shown on e.g. Google Maps. An estate map is essential for navigation; be sure to pick one up at the airport or print one ahead of time.
Both Christiansted and Frederiksted have merchants offering jewelry, liquor and souvenirs, but with atmospheres more genteel than in large cruise ports. For any items that benefit from duty-free importation, prices generally rival those in Saint Thomas. (See this same topic for Saint Thomas; most advice applies, though St Croix is seldom overrun by cruise passengers.)
You'll find supermarkets, KMart (which has everything from cheap rum to snorkel gear to sunglasses), and a strip mall at Sion Farm along Route 70 (which connects Federiksted and Christiansted). If you are looking for stamps to mail post cards after the post offices have closed, be aware that none have vending machines or package kiosks, but Office Max is open later and does sell stamps. Fresh produce can also be found roadside - try some super-fresh coconut or sugar cane water!
St. Croix is rich with artists. Christiansted is home to many galleries including WATCH YOUR STEP owned by artist Diane Given Hayes, D&D STUDIO featuring works by Ted Davis and other notable artists, ISLAND BOY DESIGNS owned by jewelry designer Whealan Massciott (Kenny Chesney is a fan), the MARIA HENLE GALLERY and many more. A stroll around town will reveal these and many more treasures.
Local Flavors - The Cruicians pride themselves on their culinary flare. Local fish, goat, and pork are amongst their most varied dishes. Try the salted fish, stew goat, and pig "soup." Fresh seasonal vegetables are always available at road side stands throughout the year. The mango reigns over St. Croix's summer season, and is described as "the Queen of Tropical Fruit." In fact, an entire festival is dedicated to it-- Mango Melee.
Although Crucians still cook many traditional foods, St. Croix is rich in culinary variations stemming from the island's history and the influence of the United States and neighboring Caribbean islands, especially Puerto Rico. There is food for all tastes and occasions while local specialties are still held long in tradition.
St. Croix is home to a celebrated week-long culinary festival held each April called the St. Croix Food & Wine Experience which includes wine seminars, dinners with celebrity chefs (Kevin Rathbun, Rocco DiSpirito, Robbin Haas, Gerry Klaskala, Richard Reddington are just a few who joined the fun) and the main event, A Taste of St. Croix, showcases foods from more than 50 of the islands restaurants.
For a listing of restaurants on the island see . Great local food can be found at Harvey's (stew goat), Singh's (roti), and Norma at the Domino Club in the rain forest always has something cooking.
For fine dining, try Tutto Bene, Case Place, Bacchus, Savant, and The Galleon. Rumrunners, located on the waterfront at Hotel Caravelle is perfect for casual, fun dining. They do a great blend of local and traditional American dishes and flavors.
If you want to catch what you eat, go fishing with Carl Holley. His boat, Mokojumbie, ties up on the docks near Rumrunners. he, in fact, supplies many restaurants with fresh fish daily.
Tutu Bene in in the Gallows Bay area of Christiansted is a local favorite for Italian cuisine. Also in the area is Case Place, with an ecclectic menu and nice atmosphere. Try Le St. Tropez in Frederiksted for authentic French fare, Villa Morales or Paquito's for Puerto Rican food and Brady's in Christiansted for native fare.
On St. Croix, Cruzan Rum is made at a distillery that you can tour. Be sure to do the tour and participate in the tasting after! Cruzan Rum is available just about everywhere, but there are certain flavors (i.e. Clipper) that are not sold on the mainland, so take a bottle back with you. In the seaside town of Christiansted is the Brew Pub which makes several good beers. And, when at local places or events, always ask if there is a local drink. Be wary of the home recipes (i.e. Mama Wanna) - they are strong!
As a vacation destination, St. Croix has a lodging industry that offers dozens of resorts and hotels, covering a range of service from economy through luxury 5-star. Resorts located along the shore and away from the metro areas almost always have private beaches. Hotels located in the two cities are likely to be limited to lodging and dining. Privately owned homes, ranging from condos to villas, are available for rent directly from owners on various websites, and may be a bargain especially if traveling with four or more people. One would want to exercise reasonable caution when renting in this way.
Almost all of St Croix major tourist resorts and hotels have packages which offer sailing, fishing, snorkeling, sightseeing, historical tours, and daytrips to Buck island National Park.
Two resorts offer golf packages on their own private courses:
Many of the major resorts offer wedding packages, honeymoon and family vacations, and various corporate meeting services.
St. Croix has similar risks to any large Western city. Most of the crime in the "city" is occasional break-ins to cars, businesses, and homes, but hotels are typically quite safe and hoteliers are safety conscious. Walking alone after dark is not recommended, especially with valueables or shopping bags that might be stolen. Many homes are secured with bars on the windows, and some compounds have barbed wire.
When leaving St. Croix, be sure to carefully pack your rum in your luggage because you can't carry it on the plane with you. (See "Buy" under Saint Thomas for details.)
Also know that the islands are protective of the sea and wildlife. If you are taking shells or other natural things from the island, always ensure that you are following local laws and guidelines (e.g., you can take conch shells, but they have to be a minimum size), as well as national regulations for taking them back home.
Even better, take only photos of the nature and wildlife and leave the shells for the crabs and sea critters to inhabit.