We visited St. Croix in April of 2016. It was my fourth trip to the island, and Jen’s first. We stayed three weeks, in a condominium with a full kitchen, to get a feel for living on the island.
The Surroundings and People
St Croix is a mix of old, new, wealthy, poor, maintained, eroded, finished, and incomplete.
Within the same square mile, you can find historic ruins, hurricane damaged and abandoned houses, never-finished construction projects, improvised housing for the less fortunate, well kept houses for the more fortunate, and multi-million dollar vacation villas for the excessively fortunate.
There are churches, churches, and more churches. The per-capita number of churches on St Croix rivals anything I have ever seen in the most God-fearing parts of the Southern Bible Belt.
The industrial area is generally on the south-central part of the island, near and around the airport. The strip of Highway 70 leading to Frederiksted is something of a strip-mall area, complete with a K-Mart. The southern part of the island’s eastern tip is thick with vacation homes for the stupid rich. Christiansted has touristy shops and restaurants. Frederiksted blends touristy with local, and reminds me of mid-size towns in the Hawaiian Islands. The north shore, near Cane Bay, is laid back; and reminds me of Oahu’s and Kauai’s north shores.
The people were very friendly. There was the security lady at our condominium, who came out and talked with us while we petted the horses that had wondered onto the property. There was the group of young men who were fishing off the Frederiksted pier, who I interrupted, and who dropped everything to tell us how best to dive the spot. There was the young man in the small shop where we often purchased beer, who switched from the local dialect to proper English when he spoke with me, and was as polite as he could possibly be. And there were the many people who said “good morning” or “good afternoon” as we walked past. Our encounters were always positive.
The first three days, and the last three days, were rainy; and the ocean was covered with whitecaps. The first three days were dreary enough that we wondered what we had done by coming to the island, and how we would get through another three weeks Rain made the island’s old things look older, and its unkempt things look less kempt.
But between these bookends, we had some perfect days: dead wind, flat seas, clear skies, warmth, sun. These were days that made you want to stay longer.
The condominium complex in which we stayed was the St. C, located in Estate S John, west of Christiansted. The complex is located between the three areas we frequented: Christiansted, Cane Bay, and Frederiksted. The unit we used had one bedroom and one bathroom. It had some minor maintenance issues, but it was quiet and reasonably comfortable.
Driving on St. Croix
St. Croix drives on the left. It takes a bit of conscious effort to overcome decades of right-side driving; and it doesn’t help that most cars on St Croix, including rental cars, are designed for right-side driving. More than once, I found myself driving in the left lane for a short spell.
Most of St. Croix’s roadways are narrow — barely wider than a single lane. Many have blind-turn after blind-turn. And there are potholes that can force you into the opposite lane.
Cruzan drivers like to tailgate. At first, we thought we were driving too slow for the locals, and we would pull over to let a following car pass. Then we would catch the car going at the same speed we had been going when they caught us. Our conclusion: Tailgating is just the way folks drive.
Oncoming traffic regularly drifted into our lane. This was a product of the narrow roadways, tight blind-turns, and potholes. It was also a product of cars manufactured for right-sided driving being used in a left-side system, as a driver wanting to pass the car to his front must veer well into the oncoming lane just to see if it is safe to pass.
St. Croix’s posted speeds are low. I doubt we ever exceeded 35mph anywhere on the island; save for the Melvin H. Evans Highway, which is a four-lane, divided roadway with a posted speed limit of 55mph.
Visitors must expect their cars to sustain damage. Within the first 48 hours, we collected scratches and small dents. At least two of the dents were from other car doors in parking lots; and we scratched the undercarriage repeatedly on uneven shoulders, speed bumps, drainage ditches, and ruts. We also had one flat tire during the trip. In three weeks, we suffered more damage than any three years on the Mainland.
Some roads are thick with speed bumps. Most bumps exceeded the clearance of our rental car, lacked any markings or paint to distinguish them from the roadway, and were hidden in the shade of trees or bushes. We discovered them by impact and the sound of metal grating on asphalt.
St. Croix signage is hit and miss. Most intersections have nothing to identify the cross street. You have to do some map reading, terrain association, and distance estimation to figure what turn to make. Of course, it is a small island, and mistakes can be quickly corrected.
Local customs include delaying turns at intersections to allow entry by cars on the cross street. On its face, this seems a polite thing to do; but if you are the driver to whom the courtesy is extended, it can create pressure to proceed when cross traffic is a little too close.
The ideal vehicle for St Croix would be a small, narrow, high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle — something like a Suzuki Samurai. The next best thing would be a Jeep; or a small, 1/4-ton pickup.
Eating on St Croix
We ate lunch at the following restaurants:
Angry Nate’s, on the boardwalk in Christiansted.
Fort Christian Brew Pub, on the boardwalk in Christiansted.
RumRunners, on the boardwalk in Christiansted.
Shupe’s, on the boardwalk in Christiansted.
Eat, at Cane Bay.
Rowdy Joe’s, in Estate LaValle, near Cane Bay.
The Mermaid Restaurant, at The Buccaneer Resort.
Polly’s at the Pier, in Frederiksted.
Turtle’s Deli, in Frederiksted.
The best place we ate was Rowdy Joe’s. Its only downside was being closed on Wednesdays. Rowdy Joe’s has phenomenal fish tacos.
Some basic information for restaurants:
The average lunch main costs $12 to $14. Most come with a side, like chips or fries. Some don’t.
US $4 is the almost-universal price for a Corona.
Most places do not open until 11:00am or noon.
We found that the vegan and vegetarian options offered in restaurants were not that good. Where found, they usually came down to the standard, unimaginative offerings: the veggie burger, the veggie wrap, and the portobello sandwich.
For groceries, we mainly used Food Town, just west of Christiansted. We also went to Pueblo, located closer to town, but its selection was less impressive. Groceries aren’t cheap on St. Croix — about 30% more, overall, than costs on the Mainland.
And if you are looking for good coffee in the grocery stores, you will be disappointed. Starbucks ground coffee is as good as it gets.
Snorkel And Dive Spots
We snorkeled at the following locations:
Palms Pelican Cove
Hands down, the best shore-entry snorkeling spot is Isaac’s Bay. Park at the trailhead near Point Udall and take the short hike to the bay. We snorkeled in the western half of the bay, where there were old elkhorn corals and a decent number of fish. The visibility was a bit poor on the day we went, but it was tolerable.
We took a commercial snorkeling trip to Buck island. We still question whether it was worth the time and money. We went on a day when a cruise ship was in port, which meant more tour boats at the island. The water was also a bit rough, and the visibility suffered. On a calm, non-cruise-ship day in the off-season, Buck Island might be worth the trip.
We dove all over Cane Bay and Frederiksted Pier. Cane Bay is superior near and along “The Wall”, with depths between 30 and 50 feet at its top, and a rapid descent to a reported depth of 13,000 feet at its bottom. The coral formations near and on “The Wall” are good, populated by a large number and variety of fish. For larger things, we saw rays and turtles. We are told that grey reef sharks are frequently spotted.
Frederiksted Pier is a a place to slow down and look for small things. The pilings have become mini coral reefs, known for sea horses and frog fish. We managed to spot a sea horse on our second dive, but the frog fish eluded us. During each of three dives, there was a massive ball of thousands of bait fish near the southern base of the pier. This attracted barracuda, tarpon, rays, and smaller predatory fish. We also spotted a large turtle under the pier.
On land, we ran into horses wandering free through otherwise suburban neighborhoods; dogs walking roadways like they owned them; the feral, multi-colored chickens that often populate tropical islands; and large iguanas on the lawns and mangroves of Green Cay Marina.
And then there was Mister Kitty. He wandered from condo to condo at St. C, and paid almost-daily visits to us. He purred, and rubbed, and rolled. He was a picky eater, who turned his nose at eggs and milk, refusing to eat anything but canned designer food. He was a homeless cat with many friends, many homes, and the luxury of refined tastes.