The island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands is a quick escape for those looking for beach, sun, and anonymity. At first glance, the former volcanic island may look like a quiet town with neglected neighborhoods and abandoned buildings (mainly due to frequent hurricanes and closing of the Hovensa oil refinery). But as you drive past the flatlands into the two main cities of Christiansted and Frederiksted, the scenery changes to colorful Danish-style buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, art galleries, and fine boutiques selling handmade jewelry and duty-free products.
Though much of the Caribbean has seen its fair share of devastation with hurricanes Irma and Maria, the U.S. island of St. Croix has bounced back a lot faster than its neighbors. One of the reasons for the quick recovery, as stated by native Sharon Rosario, is, “We don’t wait around for others to come help us. We get out and help each other out!” While insurance claims take months to settle, most of the highways on the island were cleaned out within days and reconstruction started almost immediately.
The kinfolk spirit of the island is rather infectious. In a matter of days, I was running into familiar faces at cafes and restaurants and introduced as “a cousin” from the mainland.
St. Croix’s local and expat community comes together each year to host the annual St. Croix Food and Wine Experience, a series of culinary events to benefit the 27-year-old St. Croix Foundation for Community Development. However, this year was exceptional as the needs of the community were pressing. Executive director Deanna James told attendees, “Natural disasters can exacerbate existing challenges and socio-economic disparities economies are facing. This hurricane highlighted how incredibly resilient this community is.”
Sommelier Patrick Kralik runs Balter restaurant in downtown Christiansted that was the scene of the opening party that welcomed sponsors and organizers. Kralik highlighted local ingredients in modern creative passed dishes including shrimp po’boy and vegetarian dolma paired with Sonoma wine; speaking to global resiliency in action from California’s coasts to St Croix’s shores.
An intimate dinner called the Giving Table Dinner at Catherine’s Hope was held at a private mansion boasting 360-degree views of the island. About three dozen guests enjoyed a five-course dinner prepared by celebrity chefs Julius Jackson, Michael Ferraro, Negust Kaza, and Robyn Almodovar with fine wines and the tunes of live jazz music. All funds raised through the charity dinner and auction went on to benefit the foundation’s recovery efforts on the island for community revitalization, public education and fiscal grantmaking.
The event ended at a warehouse by the airport’s hangar where local chefs and wine wholesalers from all over the world offered nibbles against the backdrop of private and rescue airplanes. Even small businesses such as Da Cake Man, Fusions, Blue Water Terrace and Bayside Kitchen took great pride in doing their share to support the cause, offering tastes of lobster Rangoon, fried chicken and red velvet cupcakes.
The closing of the third largest oil refinery in the western hemisphere in 2012 led to a steep downturn in St. Croix’s economy and many locals turned to opening their own businesses. Some include Uptown Eatery in Christiansted, a 15-seater healthy international- inspired café run by Jane and Dave Kendrick. Across the street is BES Craft Cocktail Lounge, a popular watering hole where mixologist Frank Robinson handcrafts each cocktail from scratch, grating ginger and squeezing limes before turning them into works of art. Tucked away in the middle of the forest is food truck-style Nidulari Bakery and Mahogany Road Chocolate, selling artisanal breads, homemade cookies and fresh samosas. Savant is one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the Caribbean serving Asian-Caribbean-inspired dishes in a romantic Italian grotto setting.
Located on expansive land with rolling hills and a private beach, the family-run The Buccaneer Hotel is the largest hotel on the island and has hosted celebrity guests as well as filming of the reality show, “The Bachelor.” They also provided space to the Army, FEMA and relief workers after the hurricanes and helped with the clean-up. As things begin to look up for the island, The Fred is the newest hotel to open in 31 years. This boutique property in the cruise town of Frederiksted offers a trendy setting overlooking some of the best white sand beaches.
While the people of St. Croix will surely capture your heart with their friendly smiles and welcoming attitude, there are a few other reasons to visit this U.S. Virgin Island. Picturesque volcanic hills, pristine beaches and colorful historical towns set against lots of sunny days and cool nights make St. Croix the perfect place to vacation any time of the year. Frederiksted or “Freedom City” is also a good place to learn the history of St. Croix, which holds roots in Dutch ownership, sugarcane mills, Alexander Hamilton, American annexation and the emancipation of slaves. Here you can see Mocko Jumbie dancers welcome cruisers wearing colorful garbs and carnival masks and Afro-Cruzan pottery. Snorkel or kayak at the Buck Island Reef National Monument’s warm turquoise waters and get up close to the well-conserved coral and marine life. Shop for handmade silver jewelry at one of the many galleries and don’t forget to bring back locally distilled Cruzan® Rum.