CHARLOTTE AMALIE, ST. THOMAS -- Cruise ship arrivals to the U.S. Virgin Islands decreased by 19% during the 11 months that ended Aug. 31, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the Virgin Islands Port Authority.

That drop translated into approximately 370,000 fewer cruise passengers visiting the territory.

Tourism officials attributed about half of the drop to the cessation of almost all cruise-ship calls to St. Croix, beginning in April 2002. Ships skipped St. Croix because of concerns about passenger safety and a lack of demand.

A sluggish economy, the reluctance of Americans to travel after 9/11, and the repositioning of several ships to ports north and west of Miami for western Caribbean itineraries also contributed to the territory-wide decline, VIPA said.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, St. Vincent and the Grenadines are about to be discovered, at least by cruise passengers.

Five inaugural visits and a 42% rise in cruise passengers are expected this year, according to the Ministry of Tourism & Culture.

Princess Cruises' Sun Princess got the ball rolling in October with its first of eight calls through April. Four European ships also will drop anchor in Kingstown, St. Vincent, for the first time this year.

In all, more than 120,000 cruise travelers on 226 port calls are scheduled to visit St. Vincent as well as the islands of Bequia, Tobago Cays, Mayreau and Canouan.

The Ministry of Tourism & Culture has actively courted cruise business since opening its new terminal in 2000. Last year, cruse passengers accounted for 28% of visitor arrivals, which totaled 247,458.

Rene Baptiste, minister, cited a report by the Cruise Lines International Association which stated that St. Vincent and the Grenadines "resonate well with cruise passengers because of the diversity of activities and historical sites offered."

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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