St. Croix: The Good, The Bad, The Fugly

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Bubblesong

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We went to St. Croix May 13 to May 20, 2018. The good, bad and fugly were all mixed in, I wouldn't change the experience though. Cheap Airfare at $400 each adult RT Boston-Christianstead, American Airlines, and cheap hotel at $800 for Inn on the Strand room that sleeps 3, balcony view of ocean across the Street, plus is down the street 3 short blocks from Pier, banks, all the dive shops. Hertz Jeep Rental sounds pricey at $550 with daily insurance, but so worth it for the freedom it allowed us to really see the whole island, without restraint, (but with white-knuckle driving on the wrong side of the road) Most of our food came from supermarket, we had fridge, coffee pot, toaster, microwave, sink and dishes, so this saved a lot for three people, especially as we made our own rum drinks for balcony views of ocean across the street, and for strolling, down to pier after dinner with Strawberry Daiquiris in hand, or stopping at the Tap Deck restaurant for refill. Pier lights on all night, and surprisingly safe, probably because there are not enough tourists to support even a single criminal. The InnontheStrand was directly across small, quiet street from ocean, but hotel only about half open for occupancy, mostly for Electrician Linemen with their massive trucks parked all around, and the buildings on all sides are boarded up wrecks from hurricane six months ago. The hotel knew our A/C was out, and even when we complained, they guy told me I had it in wrong “mode of programming”, this with sweat rolling down his face. I gently insisted, and the hotel went and bought us a new A/C unit that vented hot air onto balcony, which was the awesomest scuba gear drying set up ever. The parade with the cute little Majorettes went right under our balcony, so we would go back to this hotel, it really is a great location.

SCUBA: We dove the Frederickstead Pier morning, night dive with Cane Bay Dive Shop, (Great People, whose other shops got blown to smithereens in the last hurricane), and we also snorkeled to pier. The day dive we saw many types of fish, Turtle, lionfish, Stingray, Barracuda. The night dive we saw shrimp cleaning stations, Lobster, Octopi, huge moray eel. The snorkeling we saw Squid, and loads of gorgeous colorful fish. The pier columns are full of life, but the unexpected thing is that there is a lot of junk under the pier such as tires, broken metal supports from previous pier, skeleton of car, all kinds of junkyard stuff that the sea life now makes its home, which is not anything you would put on a postcard, but does support a lot of sea life. There was only the second hand report of one single solitary Yellow Seahorse, since the Hurricane last fall blasted the living hell out of everything. We also dove with ST. Croix Ultimate Bluewater Adventures, (Also Great People!) for 2 boat dives, Wreck and reef, with lots of young colorful fish, which says they are doing a fine job of killing off the lionfish to protect the juvenile fish from extinction. My daughter went with Adventures in Diving owner Mitch, who drove her across island for an individual Shore to Wall Dive, and returned her to Shop, which was a great specialty dive that she had not done before. Another great dive shop. I also liked the people at, was N2theBlue, but did not get a chance to dive with them, due to other activities we packed in. All four of these excellent dive shops serve the divers at the pier dives and the boats that leave from the pier, and can set up dives on the other side of island as needed. There are so few divers there during off season, and the cruise boats don’t come Spring and Summer, that for these cheap prices, you can OWN this place. Seriously, you can dive your brains out, no lines, small boats, placid waters, no stress, loads of life under the water.

However, I was with a non-diver, thrill seeking son as well, so I shall mention all the other stuff, starting with we rented a 4 wheel drive jeep with daily insurance from Hertz, and drove every road and dirt track on this island. The truth is that the hurricanes left St. Croix looking like Hiroshima, and it has not recovered by a long shot. Trees are shattered, most houses are crashed. There are still collapsed buildings and missing roofs everywhere. Very few businesses are opened, and they have one or two customers each. Unexpectedly, my kids were happy to be here, to see the survival attitude of the people, and they helped me see the positives too. Some may note the solid trees growing in blasted houses and say they have not recovered from the last fifty years of hurricanes, possibly so. Some may find it hard to be a tourist here, but so much harder for people trying to get by, so I hope people will visit St. Croix with realistic expectations, and help the economy while enjoying the total run of the place. There are about five helpless, hopeless panhandlers in Frederickstead, circling around and around the tourist area, but I only saw one yelling at a shop owner for a handout, they did not mess with us. There is one homeless shelter to donate to, Bethlehem, because these walking wounded cannot survive panhandling, there are not enough people to mooch off of, and they are skinny and drugged up or mentally ill. There is much to do to rebuild and provide better housing and services. But they still havn't fixed half the traffic lights, signs, roads, electrical service to paying residents. They need tourism dollars, so what do tourists experience?
Some sites to visit are: Christianstead side of island in better repair. We went to Mother’s Day lunch at The Deep End Bar and Grill Tamarind Beach, which had excellent food/ salads, iguanas on beach sand, (huge!) and Friday night Hermit Crab races. Churches everywhere were singing Sunday morning. We drove up the hilly jungle near Frederickstead until we found a hippy-organic farm high atop the mountains then gave a girl a ride down the mountain, although they sell their wares more accessibly at the Laewitz Plantation Historic House, also a lovely tour. We stopped at the newer Chocolate Farm and bought their chocolate and macaroons. Then we drove across to Christianstead to shop “St. Croix Hook” jewelry. The Whim Plantation has roof blown off, furniture gone, yet still costs $30pp to tour grounds and listen to tour guide, so we left and went to St. George Botanical Gardens built into the ruins of the slave plantation, with Fruit Bats hanging from the rafters of the Overseers House, amazing flowers and butterflies everywhere, and lots to learn for garden-lovers. We toured the Cruzan Rum factory, not to be missed is you like Rum drinks, and are not driving! We found the LEAP Mahogany Carving place and bought an art carving, but wish I could bring home the glorious rich mahogany wood tables. We toured the Forts and historic sites at Frederickstead and Christianstead, and found the latter more informative about rags to riches Alexander Hamilton.

Action: ATV Office location is near pier, looked pretty deserted, and their lot looks blasted into Dystopia, but we caught the lady to sign up, online might be easier. The ride was 1500 feet up the jungly mountain, with amazing 180 views of Carribean, scary pothole dirt track, which my kids loved was worth it. Horsebackriding with Cruzan Cowgirls, (arranged by text message and paid as a donation through Paypal) for their horse rescue fund, then they bring a trailer of horses, even in the rain, to meet us and we rode with into jungle, and then down to beach into water, horses snorting and swimming. My son did not ride but hiked with us anyway, and he could also check out some of the ruins we rode past. Bush Tribe Ltd. advertises Hikes, Night Hikes and plexiglass night kayaking in the bioluminescent Bay. We were there during no moon time, so no night hikes allowed, but it was perfect for seeing Bioluminescence. Really cool, we paid extra for plexiglass kayaks, so as we moved we looked down at all the sparkle, and up at a sky full of stars. Daughter got her own kayak, Son rowed me and himself, which was a lot, but he did row crew in college, so it was easier for me to just hold my oar out, and not get in the way of his rowing. This Bay was pretty choppy to cross, so it was a good workout for him, and at 320lbs in that kayak, kayak edge was only six inches from waterline guide. Best to get individual kayaks, as this is a bit dicey. Guide was non-stop jokes, so free stand-up comedy thrown in! Son and I hiked two different 2.5 hour hikes. First was to the Carambola Tide Pools, which we should have brought bathing suits to, it was a shady, jungly hike, not easy at all, don’t bring small kids. This 55 year old lady had to rest and drink about three bottles of water. Second hike location was from the parking lot of Point Udall, no shade, but gets to many beaches, littered with Sea Turtle eggshells from recent hatching. There is more than we can do in a week, no time for jet skis, sailing of other water sports besides snorkel/Scuba, can’t visit half the historic sites, in one week, so I would like to come back.

Other: Occasional showers cooled us off, so be ready for that at any time. Our phones worked, but used up our data for texting. The airport may look small and easy on arrival, jeep at curb, walk right out. Leaving is different, car drop off a block away, with a free transport over, ticket counters are slow, and two different thorough screenings, by TSA and by the airline, so even though we were there two hours before flight, we barely made it onto plane before doors shut. Photos coming.
 
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drrich2

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Sounds like a great trip! You packed a lot of action into your vacation. A few follow-up thoughts:

1.) I found eating out in St. Croix rather pricy. Not to an extreme, but it adds up. Preparing some of your own could save significantly. Nice to hear a review of the Inn on Strand, which is known for being a budget option. IIRC they're affiliated with Cottages by the Sea, so you could access the beach down there (although there's public beach access elsewhere, so not sure how much that matters).

2.) Christiansted and Frederiksted are very different places, and west coast vs. north coast diving different. Did you get some north coast boat dives?

3.) One boat trip I spoke to a Psychologist who worked with a group doing outpatient mental health services; she indicated to me they don't have a 'mental hospital' on the island. For those not familiar with such, when people get actively suicidal, or have severe psychotic breaks (e.g.: delusional, hallucinations, extreme disorganized thinking), they tend to get put in mental hospitals (or mental wards in more traditional hospitals) for treatment and stabilization before release. My wife noticed a couple of obviously 'odd' sorts in Christiansted, and suspected some locals help these folks get by.

4.) Sorry to hear the place is still pretty trashed.

5.) Your report illustrates a curious paradox; while the island is pretty big, fairly varied, and has a lot of different things to do, it doesn't seem that way because it doesn't have the 'touristy amusement park' atmosphere with zip lines, dolphinariums, aerial trams, water parks and such.

Richard.
 

scubadada

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...Your report illustrates a curious paradox; while the island is pretty big, fairly varied, and has a lot of different things to do, it doesn't seem that way because it doesn't have the 'touristy amusement park' atmosphere with zip lines, dolphinariums, aerial trams, water parks and such...

Big plus for me. St Croix has always been on my list, just didn't work its way far enough up. Perhaps after a bit more recovery, I'll give it a shot.
 

Saboteur

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Great first hand report. I've always wanted to go to USVI (and BVI) but sadly it sounds like any decent sort of recovery is a lomg way off. Maybe in a few more years...
 

JamesBon92007

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What, exactly, is "daily insurance?" I'm covered in most countries with my credit card and my regular car insurance but apparently you felt that might not be enough. Do they have a nasty government?

Very nice review--I'm checking flights now :wink:
 
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Bubblesong

Bubblesong

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@JamesBon92007 , If I had Amex, i might have felt covered but i use a visa, and I have never driven wrong side of road, so I wanted to be sure I had something there. As it happens, St Croix is relaxed and drivers are rather safe. No one learns to be a speed freak when the longest road is a few miles and there might be giant iguanas crossing.
@drrich2 it is a Paradox for me of how to post, I want to tell the truth, because I was surprised and honestly sad, yet what St.Croix needs to recover is tourist dollars, but St Croix needs the travelers that focus on great diving and no crowds, not the travelers looking for great nightlife and big crowds.
 
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Bubblesong

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585CE6C3-A8F5-49AC-9ED5-A8FBC2E40DC3.jpeg
View from balcony:
3FD4A312-5906-40D7-9C38-23EA72A3435F.jpeg
 

ReadyTo Dive

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Great report! I dove with N2theblue pre-hurricane and found the coral/life/diving MUCH better than I was initially expecting. Sounds like it’s time to go back!
 

JamesBon92007

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I was sure that SouthWest had USVI on their flight map but they don't now. Perhaps they are trading it for Hawai'i. We have some friends who were going to buy a house there but apparently it was damaged by the hurricane otherwise we might be there right now.
 
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