Pleasingly uncommercial and ripe for independent exploration – an expert guide to St Croix

Fred Mawer
Cruise passengers can enjoy easily accessible, decent beaches in St Croix - Christian Wheatley

Why go? 

The largest of the main US Virgin Islands, St Croix (it rhymes with Troy) has interesting sights relating to its Danish colonial history, as well as some good beaches and excellent diving/snorkelling. The island is a gentle-paced place that is far less commercialised than some other Caribbean ports of call, and compared with its little US Virgin Islands sister St Thomas, it gets a tiny fraction of the number of cruise ship visits. 

Cruise port location 

Cruise ships dock by a single pier off Frederiksted, St Croix's second-largest town, near the western end of the island. The pier can accommodate two cruise ships, but on any given day it's rare for more than one ship to be docked.

Can I walk to any places of interest?

It's less than 10 minutes' walk along the pier to the centre of the sleepy little town of Frederiksted, and you can reach the nearest beaches on foot. Free shuttles are also laid on to run passengers from their ship to the landside end of the pier. 

Getting around

St Croix is 23 miles long and up to eight miles wide. To venture beyond Frederiksted, sign up up for a cruise-ship tour or use a taxi or a shuttle minibus to explore. Taxis and shuttles buses will be waiting for custom at the end of the cruise-ship pier. From Frederiksted to the island's capital Christiansted takes about 30 minutes and costs US$16 (£13) return per person in a shared shuttle, while a taxi for two passengers costs US$24 (£20) one way. A three-hour private taxi tour of the island should cost around US$100 (£82) for up to four passengers.


Walk the length of the cruise pier and you end up in sleepy Frederiksted Credit: iStock

What to see and do

St Croix has two small and pretty towns – Frederiksted and Christiansted – to wander around, several other historic sights, plus easily accessible beaches for cruise-ship visitors and good diving and snorkelling. Sightseeing and beach visits can easily be done independently, using shuttle buses and taxis for transport. For activities you may want to book a tour with a cruise line. Celebrity Cruises, which has the most Caribbean itineraries featuring St Croix, offers kayaking, cycling, diving and snorkelling adventures, as well as island tours and guided walks around Frederiksted and Christiansted.  

What can I do in four hours or less?

You could spend a pleasant hour having a nose around Frederiksted, strolling along its attractive waterfront street, which is lined with brightly-coloured, brick and clapboarded buildings with gingerbread fretwork, and exploring quaint, russet-coloured Fort Frederik, which dates from 1752. There's a decent town beach just north of the fort, about five minutes' walk from the cruise ship pier. A quieter, long and sandy foreshore extends south of the town past The Fred, an attractive boutique hotel 10 minutes' walk from the pier, which offers affordable day passes. Soft-sand Rainbow Beach, 1.25 miles north of Frederiksted, is very lively on cruise-ship days, with sun-loungers and watersports galore, and food, drink and sometimes live music at the casual beachside bar/restaurant Rhythms at Rainbow Beach

Three rewarding sights are 10-15 minutes' drive from Frederiksted, close enough to each other to do as a mini tour in a morning. You can get a feel for St Croix's sugar plantation heritage at the Estate Whim Museum, an atmospheric, 12-acre site, which includes a coral-stone great house surrounded by a dry moat to keep it cool. The lovingly-maintained St George Village Botanical Garden is scenically set around the ruins of an old sugar plantation, while the Cruzan Rum Distillery, established in 1760, lays on informative tours explaining the fermentation, ageing and barrelling processes, and tastings. 

Explore St Croix's sugar plantation history at Estate Whim Museum Credit: iStock

Another option for a half-day outing is to whizz through the flat, mostly agricultural countryside, past the island's large oil refinery, to St Croix's historic capital Christiansted. Its clutch of yellow buildings dating from St Croix's Danish colonial rule in the 1700s and 1800s are looked after by the US National Park Service as the Christiansted National Historic Site, and include a quaint waterfront fort, Lutheran church and customs house. Hurricane Maria damaged some of the buildings in 2017, but they are still a striking ensemble. 

What can I do in eight hours or less?

Book a taxi for the day and you could take in Frederiksted and its nearby sights in the morning, have lunch and then a wander in Christiansted, drive back towards Frederiksted via St Croix's small and hilly rainforested area, and squeeze in a beach stop near Frederiksted before returning to your ship. 

Or you could book a cruise-ship excursion with the likes of Celebrity Cruises to Buck Island, a national monument off St Croix's north-east coast with a pristine coral reef. You'll take a coach transfer across to Christiansted, then a fast boat ride across to Buck Island's beach, from where you'll sail out over the reef for superb snorkelling.  

If you're a keen and competent diver, you could spend the day up at Cane Bay. A half-hour drive from Frederiksted, it's known for a spectacular drop-off wall not far out from the beach. Contact Cane Bay's Sweet Bottom Dive Center for advice and equipment rental. 

Take an excursion to Buck Island for pristine reef snorkelling Credit: iStock

Eat and drink

Frederiksted has a handful of appealing, independent cafés and bars along waterfront Strand Street, just down from the cruise ship pier. In Christiansted a string of casual restaurants and bars lines the boardwalk overlooking the pretty, boat-dotted bay, with American/Caribbean food on offer (burgers, chicken wings, fish tacos, lobster), and island-brewed beer and rum. 

Don’t leave the island without…

Jewellery shops sell distinctive Crucian hook bracelets, with horseshoe-shaped clasps. Wear one with the hook pointing outwards and it means you're available, pointing inwards (towards your heart) you're taken. A bottle of Cruzan rum, perhaps banana or guava flavoured, is a cheaper souvenir. 

Need to know

Flight time

There are no direct flights from the UK to St Croix (or any of the US Virgin islands). The most straightforward option – doable in a day, flight schedules permitting – is to fly to Miami, and take a connecting flight on to St Croix from there. 

Safety

While there is crime on St Croix, it is a relatively safe Caribbean island. If sensible – don't flaunt wealth, avoid isolated beaches – chances are you'll be fine exploring independently. 

Best time to go

Most cruise ship visits to St Croix take place in the winter months (November-March), when the weather is at its best. The summer and early autumn are hotter, more humid and wetter, with August-October the peak Caribbean hurricane season. 

Closures

On Sundays some restaurants, bars and shops are closed, but most will be open if a cruise ship is visiting.