CHRISTIANSTED, St. Croix -- At night, the lights from St. Croix's newest hotel stand out like beacons on the island's deserted east end. I could see the lights' reflections well before I saw the hotel.

The new Divi Carina Bay (carina means "pretty" in Italian) was several years in planning and construction before its opening last October.

Each of the five villa buildings at Divi Carina Bay on St. Croix range in capacity from one to three bedrooms. The site itself had resembled a ghost town since 1989, when Hurricane Hugo effectively shut down what once was Divi Grapetree Beach Hotel, a successful, 80-plus-room beachfront resort that had been there since the 1960s.

In place of the old Divi is a thoroughly modern, airy property that has the potential for making the east end a destination in its own right.

I visited in mid-December, as staff and employees readied for their first winter season by repairing the damage from hurricanes Jose and Lenny just weeks earlier.

As Alan Mallory, general manager, put it, "The storms challenged our property and operation with winds, rain, debris and island infrastructure delays. We opened, closed and reopened two or three times."

Although not all 126 guest rooms were open at that time, they were expected to be by mid-February, as were the four hillside villas, each of which contains several one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

Divi's color scheme of blues and whites carries from the open-air lobby to the guest rooms and public areas.

The block-style, two-story architecture seems surprisingly dated, but the interior design and colors have just the opposite effect. Guest rooms are comfortably furnished in wicker and rattan.

Divi's blue-dolphin logo pops up in hand soap, on the labels of moisturizers and gels and on towels and bathrobes.

As for the cuisine, I wined in the intimate Starlite Bar, tucked in a corner of the lobby, and dined in the Starlite Grille, the resort's dramatic signature restaurant, with its soaring ceiling. I highly recommend the grilled wahoo with papaya and teriyaki.

Divi's Dockside Deli, serving all three meals, overlooks the beach. The minimarket at the rear of the deli is stocked with snacks, munchies and neon-hued plasticware and sunglasses.

Kayaks and sailboats are available for rent. Big Al's Beach Bar (named after the owner's 5-year-old son) and Caroline's Playhouse (for the kiddies) are now open.

Although the resort seems geared to the general leisure market in terms of facilities, amenities and design, Mallory is banking heavily on the casino market once that facility opens.

The 10,000-square-foot casino, located across the road from the hotel, took a blow from the autumn storms, which delayed the December opening date. The target date for the casino's debut is now mid-March.

"The original promotional focus and emphasis was the leisure tour and travel market, but I see the casino market eventually driving this hotel," Mallory said.

He ought to know. He was with Treasure Bay Casino Resort in Mississippi for the past two years.

Prior to that, Mallory held a variety of posts at resorts in the U.S. and the Caribbean.

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