Trip Report St. Croix trip report July 2021

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devingordon

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Trying to give back to the community with a (perhaps too long) trip report.

We just returned from a week in St. Croix. As we were planning a vacation, like apparently many people right now we discovered that we had let one of our passports expire accidently during the pandemic. So off to the USVI it was. We had previously visited St. Thomas and several islands in the BVI, but this was our first trip to St. Croix.

Overall

St. Croix was fine, and we had fun. But I don't think we would return as there are options that work better for us in the Caribbean. The people are friendly and we had no issues at all. The dining wasn't as good as other destinations, and we were very disappointed in the beaches. We enjoy doing morning dives and spending time on the beach in the afternoon (in those dive locations where that's an option), and the beaches in St. Croix aren't up to par compared to similar islands in the Caribbean. We went to many beaches, and the best were just OK compared to similar islands. The diving (details below) is OK, and in some ways better than expected (especially the number of sharks and turtles), but there are many other better options for us in the Caribbean.

Diving videos
Here are videos I shot during several of our dives - https://photos.app.goo.gl/9yadQTg2LsF8VRJq8

About us
Family of three AOW divers - adults with 20+ years experience and a teen-ager with five years. We've been to most of the common dive destinations in the Caribbean, so all our opinions are based on other similar alternatives.

Overall impression of diving on St. Croix
Our overall impression is that St. Croix is not a bad dive destination, but I don't think we would return to dive. We would probably rank it seventh or eighth of places we've been in the Caribbean. The reefs are in pretty good shape from a coral perspective, although there is very little color, and there's not a huge amount of life. It's not bad at all, but in our opinion it doesn't hold up to other Caribbean dive destinations. It was probably better 10-15 years ago before climate change, over fishing, etc., and a number of local divers confirmed that.

Car rental
Judi of St Croix - This was without question the easiest car rental we've ever had in the Caribbean. Super nice folks meet you near baggage claim, and we had our car before the luggage came out (which was pretty quick itself). And we had a pretty decent car for the Caribbean. They're not the cheapest, but I would highly recommend them.

Airport arrival and departure
Although the airport is under construction/renovation, it was a better experience than most in the Caribbean. The lack of customs inbound made things very quick on arrival, and baggage claim was a breeze. For departure we arrived about two hours prior to our flight and had no issues. The waiting area is small but air conditioned and accommodated two departing flights from two different airlines. Free Wi-Fi worked sometimes with the number of passengers and devices. There's one snack counter with a grill. The line gets long, but it's not bad. And the prices are great for an airport - one local beer, one soft drink and one bottled water was $8.

Lodging
Palms at Pelican Cove condos - Not a great choice, especially for the money. All the condos are individually owned, and the one we had was just OK but not great and in need of repairs and upgrades, and it had not been cleaned well. The grounds are also OK but not great. The pool was dirty and not being well kept. The pool furniture was faded and dated with some rust. The beach was really narrow, rocky and not very pleasant. There was also a good bit of sargassum. For what we paid, we expected nicer.

Dining
  • Maria's Cantina - pretty good food, super nice people, good service - definitely recommend for casual Mexican
  • The Mill pizza on the Christiansted boardwalk - not a good experience; took more than an hour for two pizzas that were not good. Nice folks and OK service, but we would not return.
  • Shupes - pretty good option for burgers, lots of locals. This was a repeat lunch destination for us after getting off the dive boat; recommended.
  • Louie's and Nachos - good food on the beach in Frederiksted, nice staff, recommended if you're in the area.
  • Armstrong's Homemade Ice Cream - definitely worth a stop in Frederiksted; pretty good ice cream, some with local fruit, good prices.
  • What's Da Scoop - ice cream in Christiansted; good ice cream, but really very expensive for what you get.
  • The New Deep End - not good; OK service, but poor food that's overpriced; many ingredients are essentially grocery store processed foods.
  • Polly's on the Pier - Went for brunch before afternoon dives; very nice people, good service, solid food; worth a stop.
  • Lost Dog Pub - A dive bar (not a bad thing for us) that's one of the seemingly few spots open for dinner late-ish in Frederiksted; good salads that are very large, pizza is pretty good; good service.
  • 40 Eats & Drinks - Very good. Nice folks, friendly service, nice space (with the exception of an occasional car driving down a tiny street) and very good food. Our only compliant was that the pastas are drowned in too much sauce, but the sauces are good.
  • Caroline's - Really very good brunch and friendly, good service; but it is not inexpensive.

Other
Horseback riding with Equus rides - Mixed; very nice people, great horses, interesting experience. If you've been horseback riding and are experienced at all, don't bother. If you're a beginner, it's something to consider. In our view, there was way too much talking and not enough riding. The trip leaders walk with you - yep, walk along side the horses. The trip is a walk, not even reaching a trot, and for the majority of the time, you're on the road. You ride the horses on the beach briefly, then into the water, which is very cool. But overall we don't recommend. We happened to drive by Cruzan Cowgirls starting a trip in Frederiksted, and they looked like a better option from a brief look.


Diving
SCUBA (St Croix Ultimate Bluewater Adventures) - Very nice outfit who we would recommend. But there were bumps - Because of personnel issues, the shop changed our schedule twice. On the first day, because of limited personnel, there were 12 divers on the north side boat (more than we would have liked) and only one dive master. Fortunately all 12 divers were solid, so it wasn't an issue. Communication was good, and apologies made for the changes. Pretty good boats and solid dive masters. We dove with Curtis, Dan and Chris and would dive with all of them again. We also ran into Molly and other office staff members around town several times, and they're all very nice and helpful people.

Dive Experience - Because of the schedule changes at SCUBA, we dove the last two days with Dive Experience. We would recommend. The only downside is that their boat is a bit smaller (narrower) than SCUBA's boat, but it's not uncomfortable - just a bit tight. Very nice folks, laid back, good dive masters. We dove with Michelle, Shane and Ed, and we would dive with all of them again. Michelle in particular is a wealth of diving knowledge.

Frederiksted Pier - We did this on our own as a shore dive - super easy and a nice dive; mostly macro critters. We saw an eagle ray, two stingrays, resident tarpon school, four spotted morays, a flying gurnard, the largest school of squid we've ever seen (about 70), and all the usual suspects. I think this is probably the most consistently good dive on the island, has the best most colorful reef life, and it's certainly the easiest.

North Star - Pretty good wall dive, two Hawksbill turtles; long-ish boat ride.

Cormorant - Pretty good reef dive; green moray, Hawksbill turtle, three reef sharks

Salt River East Wall - This would probably be an OK wall dive, but the visibility was pretty bad (30 feet, maybe 40 at times); slipper lobster and two reef sharks.

Love Shack - Nice dive, but too deep for a second dive, at least the way we dove it; all divers were challenged to avoid going into deco accidently. Several crabs, a burr fish, two reef sharks and a really nice green turtle.

Shallow Wrecks - Westside dive; we had very poor visibility, but I don't think this would be a great dive under most circumstances; the wrecks weren't terribly interesting for us, and the dive ends up being over a good bit of sand; one shark, two green turtles, several eels, etc.

Spratt Hall - Westside dive; one of the best dives we did; very shallow second reef dive with a good bit of life; four or five stingrays, two Hawksbill turtles, green moray, crabs, nudibranchs, etc.; not much color, but a good bit of life.

Little Cozumel - I think we would have really liked this dive more, but the visibility wasn't great. One of the dive masters was hunting lionfish, and the reef sharks knew that, so three or four followed us around the entire dive - very cool.

Turquoise Bay - Great dive, but again poor visibility. This site is known for turtles, and it delivered six or seven green turtles, one in a cleaning station and one sleeping. Also quite a few reef sharks looking for a free lionfish meal from the dive masters.

Stingray-sted - Probably the worst dive we did. Poor visibility on a wall dive with little life. At the end of the dive under the boat we saw five or six rays but little else.

Cabana - The best dive of the trip. This site is also known for turtles, and we lost count but probably saw 12-14, including five or six at one time. Mostly greens, including one teenager, along with two older Hawksbill. Also had a reef shark or two following us most of the dive.
 

drrich2

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Glad to see another St. Croix trip report, thanks for posting! It's been getting more attention in recent years on the forum. I'd like to follow up a few things, comparing your experience to mine of a few years back.

1.) I liked the diving but didn't think it was 'best in the Caribbean' class when I went, but was won over by the laid back but engaging topside (e.g.: the Christiansted boardwalk, Frederiksted Pier, limited shore diving, a Tan Tan Tours wild jeep ride with rainforest tour and seeing the non-alcoholic beer-drinking pigs). It was a good family trip with some non-divers.

St. Croix looks attractive as a 'mixed bag' destination, if you want boat diving but also some shore diving, and sandy beaches, plus varied topside topography with some lush rainforest (note: I would not class their 'rainforest' with St. Lucia's or Puerto Rico's El Yunque area, but it was nice). The main boat + shore with sandy beach alternatives that leap to mind are Grand Cayman and Curacao.

2.) I liked what I saw of the beaches, but I'm not a beach person and that wasn't my focus (Davis Bay and Cane Bay were cool). What do you guys like to do at the beach? Walk back and forth along the water line, wade out waist deep, lay on loungers and sunbathe, play volleyball, etc...? I ask because how people use a beach impacts how they'll find a given one to be.

3.) I also found the food expensive on our trip, though that's not unusual on islands.

Sounds like you had a good time.

Richard.
 

deeper thoughts

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Thnx for posting
 

devingordon

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@drrich2 - In those dive locations that have beaches, how we spend our afternoons depends on the beach. On the east side of Cozumel, it's hard to beat an inexpensive beer in a hammock, but I wouldn't go swimming. On Seven Mile Beach, it might be sunbathing, floating in the shallows or paddle boarding. It just depends on the locale. On St. Croix, some of the east side beaches were fine, but we found all of the beaches to be really narrow and not as pleasant as other locales.

I agree about food prices; even for the islands, it seemed a bit expensive.
 

BoltSnap

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Is the Island OK for a non-diving spouse and young children (4 & 6 year olds)? Are there activities for them to do while father diving all day?

Also, is the pier a repeat dive site where one goes there several times and still find something new/interesting to photograph (day and night)?
 

devingordon

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Topside activities are roughly comparable to most other Caribbean islands. There's some hiking, a few water sports, etc. But I would consult the St. Croix forum on TravelAdvisor for more details and trip reports. It's a pretty active forum, and there are lots of trip reports.

One note for non-diving activities that I didn't mention in my trip report - St. Croix has the worst roads of any island we've been on (and we've been to quite a few). I would still recommend getting a rental car as the island is quite large. Just be aware that you're going to be dodging potholes on every drive. We had a Camry and decided to go to the lighthouse one afternoon. We got within a half mile or so of the parking lot to the trail head, then we turned around because I'm not sure the car would have made it undamaged the rest of the way because of the road conditions. Many people rent Jeeps while on the island, which isn't a bad idea.

As for the pier - There's definitely enough to see for more than one daytime dive. It's just a matter of how you would do it if you're shore diving. We did a 90-minute plus shore dive, and I doubt we went 1/4 of the way out; the depth there is no more than 25-30 feet. I don't think surface swimming is permitted, and even if it is it's not advisable because of commercial boat traffic and fishing. You could do each side separately if you wanted, and on the left as you're facing the water there are several pilings that attract life. I think some dive ops do it as a boat dive as well by going to the end of the pier, which is a good bit deeper. The pier is also where many dive ops do night dives as well.
 

BoltSnap

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We had a Camry

Camry's are very low and don't do well with potholes or even speed bumps :) I guess I'd rent an SUV or a truck there as I always do when on dive trips.
 

boboqa

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You mentioned there are other islands that you recommend over St Croix. What are they?
 

drrich2

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Is the Island OK for a non-diving spouse and young children (4 & 6 year olds)? Are there activities for them to do while father diving all day?

St. Croix Research Report Aug. 2017 - Trip Report - St. Croix Research Report Aug. 2017

My old trip report isn't as current (e.g.: I'm told N2TheBlue came under new ownership and a name change; there's a zip line now; a hurricane tore things up between then and now), but I included some photos and info. that might help. Our little girl is now 8, so back then she would've been 4.

Staying in Christiansted, we didn't have beach waterfront, but took a cheap ferry over to nearby Protestant Cay and had some sandy beach there. Nothing real impressive, but fine for what we needed. We enjoyed the Christiansted boardwalk and feeding French fries to tarpon off it.

The varied topside was really nice. I enjoyed our Tan Tan Tours Jeep tour, but no seat belts, pretty wild at times, and I grew up in the country so my views on child safety, car seats, etc..., may not be entirely mainstream. If you've lived your life in a more sanitized, politically correct environment, you might pick something else. The small size and young age of your youngest could limit your access to some tours (e.g.: check the criteria for ATV tours).

Although St. Croix got cruise ships, it didn't get a lot of them, so it didn't have the plethora of excursion offerings you find in St. Thomas or Cozumel. If your family can enjoy a laidback week on a variably lush island with varied topography, playing in the ocean, looking at old forts and a couple of towns/cities, trying different places to eat, shopping for souvenirs, touring the island (e.g.: the rainforest), etc..., then St. Croix can be a fine choice. But if you need paid dolphin encounters, aerial gondolas, big water park setups, etc..., it might not be your place.

But hey, somebody told me they have a zip line now...:thumb2:
 
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