The recovery from Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria in the U.S. Virgin Islands is ongoing, but many area hotels and attractions are reopening. Beverly Nicholson-Doty, commissioner of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, shared the details with Travel Agent in a recent interview.
“It’s important to be honest that recovery is a journey,” Nicholson-Doty tells Travel Agent. “The dining, shopping and beaches are still great, but you may see a blue roof or two,” she says, referring to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program that provides damaged structures with temporary blue roofs that can last up to a year.
Hurricane Irma hit St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island the hardest, while Hurricane Maria’s effects were most felt in the southwestern portion of St. Croix, Nicholson-Doty says. Power has been restored to close to 50 percent of St. Thomas, close to 30 percent of St. Croix and close to 25 percent of St. John, with the USVI government aiming for a 90 percent overall restoration by Christmas. A 100 percent power restoration will take longer, Nicholson-Doty says, because many damaged buildings can’t get their power back until structural repairs are complete. At the same time, Nicholson-Doty emphasizes that most major hotels have sources of backup power and water.
“Our cruise segment is recovering much quicker,” Nicholson-Doty says.
The USVI has 50 percent of its pre-storm book of business set to arrive in November, and 90 percent of the pre-storm book of business for December, with cruise travel returning to pre-storm levels in January.
St. Thomas welcomed its first cruise call, by Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas, on November 10. Carnival Cruise Line will return to St. Thomas January 9, 2018, with a call by Carnival Glory, and fellow Carnival Corporation brands Seabourn returned on November 3; Holland America Line returned on November 8; and Princess Cruises returned on November 12.
In terms of hotels, conditions vary by island. On St. Thomas, Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort will remain closed for all of 2018, Nicolson-Doty said, although she did hint that a number of updates were in store for the Marriott-branded property.
“They’re going to make sure Marriott brand standards are present in every aspect of the property,” Nicholson-Doty said, adding that Morningstar could even be developed as a separate five-star property.
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, is tentatively set to reopen in fall 2018, Nicholson-Doty says, while the reopening date for Sugar Bay Resort & Spa is still awaiting confirmation. Emerald Beach Resort is set to reopen sometime in the first quarter of 2018, while the Bolongo Bay Beach Resort is scheduled to reopen in June.
On St. Croix, hotels were not nearly as heavily impacted, Nicholson-Doty says. The Buccaneer Hotel reopened November 1 with a number of property upgrades, including a new restaurant, and a number of smaller hotels are now operational. Many properties are still housing relief workers, although more should start accepting travelers again into the first quarter of 2018.
“We’re going to be returning to full operations in phases,” Nicholson-Doty says.
The destination’s villas and vacation ownership properties fared “extremely well,” says Nicholson-Doty, with many Marriott- and Ritz Carlton-branded properties able to take guests from their hotels. Travelers on villa vacations are already starting to return to the islands.
Beaches and Attractions
Many USVI beaches fared well during the storm, and the destination’s food scene is starting to recover. Royal Caribbean has invested heavily in the restoration of Magens Bay on St. Thomas, says Nicholson-Doty, including repairing the man-made infrastructure as well as replanting indigenous vegetation.
Other beaches “naturally took care of themselves,” says Nicholson-Doty. The beaches at The Buccaneer Hotel have reopened, as well as Trunk Bay on St. John and Honeymoon Beach on both St. John and Water Island.
“The food scene on St. Croix is still very much in tow,” says Nicholson-Doty, pointing to Christiansted as a particular hot spot – the town has even opened a couple of new upscale restaurants since the hurricanes.
In terms of attractions, the Virgin Islands Food Tour in Christiansted is running again, as well as Fort Christiansvaern.
On St. Thomas, major shopping areas have also reopened, including in Crown Bay and on Main Street. Mountain Top on St. Thomas is also open again.
“You can still get your banana daiquiri,” Nicholson-Doty says.