What I saw during my recent three-day visit to St. Croix was an island greening up quickly from the September hurricanes.
Flowers were blooming, the palm trees were filling out, the beautiful brown cows that are a feature on this island had grass for grazing and crops were growing again.
I also saw a sea of blue roof tarps when I landed, enormous trees uprooted in the rain forest and dense piles of brush and debris piled along roadsides.
What struck me was the hustle and bustle in Christiansted, the capital, of people at work, doing errands, shopping and talking. People talk all the time there, and everyone greets everyone on the street, strangers or not. It's expected and assumed, and I quickly followed suit.
Hurricane Irma spared St. Croix (but not St. Thomas and St. John) but Hurricane Maria, 12 days later, did not. St. Croix was slammed. But due to lessons learned from Hurricane Hugo in 1989, St. Croix's infrastructure fared better this time around. After Hugo, new building codes took effect, which limited damage to many newer buildings and homes in the Christiansted area, although the winds ripped roofs, trees and power lines across the island. Older wooden homes, especially on the west end in Frederiksted, took a beating, but the town itself is open and operating for the cruise ships that are calling there.
St. Croix's two largest hotels, the 200-room Divi Carina Bay All-Inclusive Resort & Casino on the east end and the 150-room Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Beach resort & Spa on the north shore, are scheduled to be closed through most of 2018. The 138-room Buccaneer, where I stayed, had minimal damage and played host to relief workers for two months before reopening to guests.
The St. George Village Botanical Garden in St. Croix is rebounding with lush foliage and greenery. Photo Credit: Gay Nagle Myers
Guests are turning to smaller hotels, villas and Airbnb options, according to Sharon Rosario, assistant director of communication, for the USVI Department of Tourism.
"The recovery has been remarkable, but it was a long period without power and water," she said. "We all just leaned on one another, learned to compromise and make do."
The island has all its power back, although most residents are still without Internet and cable TV.
I saw plenty of tourists in Christiansted, boarding charter boats to Buck Island, dining in restaurants, shopping and walking the boardwalk. Fort Christianvaern reopened to visitors on Feb. 5; St. George Village Botanical Garden is seeing lots of new growth and buds, and Estate Whim Plantation is open, despite the tarps covering the roof of the Great House. Golfers were teeing off early at the Buccaneer's 18-hole golf course, and the new 12-room the Fred hotel, which opened in Frederiksted on Dec. 1, was fully booked.
I spoke with Wendy Solomon, the founder, editor and publisher of gotostcroix.com, the weekly online publication covering events, happenings, lodgings, attractions, shops and restaurants on the island. It proved a valuable resource after the hurricanes blew through: It listed hotspots where cell service was available; offered information on what was open, or closed, or damaged; and named the services offered at relief centers.
Her mailing list numbers well over 10,000, but her publication has a strong following on the island as well.
"Everyone knows everyone here and each has a story to tell," she said. "I try to highlight different aspects of St. Croix. It was hard in the weeks following the storm, but we are going to be fine. Even better than ever."
Correction: St. Croix's movie theater reopened shortly after the hurricane passed; the theater on St. Thomas had been closed since the storms. A quote in an earlier version of this article attributed to Sharon Rosario, assistant director of communication for the USVI Department of Tourism, stated that it was the St. Croix theater that was still closed. Also, since the interview, the theater on St. Thomas has also reopened (Feb. 8).