Huge Cruise Port Expansion Set for US Virgin Islands

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Cruisers will soon have more options to visit both St. Croix and St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands (USVI), as the Board of Governors has approved port expansion at both destinations.

In partnership with Royal Caribbean Group, the project will permit larger vessels to dock and revitalize and modernize the terminals for better guest experiences.

US Virgin Islands Port Expansion Approved

During a meeting on Wednesday, October 18, 2023, the Board of Governors for the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) approved expansion of cruise ports at both Frederiksted, St. Croix and Crown Bay, St. Thomas.

The intent of the projects is to expand cruise ship capacity for larger ships at both locations, while modernizing port facilities to improve overall port infrastructure. This will revitalize both the Crown Bay Center and the Austin “Babe” Monsanto Marine Terminal, providing updated and improved guest experiences for all visitors.

The project is a partnership with Royal Caribbean Group, and will be financed in part by new Capital Cost Recovery Charge fees to be levied on visitors to both destinations aboard Royal Caribbean ships from January 1, 2024. The fee will be just $5 per guest. Executives are enthusiastic about the project and what it will mean not only for visitors, but for USVI residents as well.

Event to Announce new Cruise Development in US Virgin Islands
Event to Announce New Cruise Development in US Virgin Islands

“Our partnership with Cruise Terminals International and Royal Caribbean Group will be a beneficial union for all involved – and particularly for the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said Carlton Dowe, VIPA Executive Director. “We are excited to advance to the next phase of this project which will include new developments at our cruise ports and land-side attractions on St. Croix and St. Thomas.”

The sentiment was echoed by Albert Bryan Jr., USVI Governor, who hails the project and overall partnership as a “momentous stride in our administration’s mission to rejuvenate our towns and establish the U.S. Virgin Islands as the ultimate tourism haven in the Caribbean.”

Likewise, Royal Caribbean Group is fully supportive of the project and eager to enhance options for guests visiting the popular tropical destination.

“[This] approval … reaffirms and elevates our commitment to the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said Josh Carroll, vice president of destination development and deployment of Royal Caribbean Group. “The enhancements at Crown Bay will create a premier cruise destination that provides an elevated guest experience while also creating responsible tourism opportunities in the territory.”

What the Project Will Include

While full details of the project remain under development, key enhancements include dredging work in both Crown Bay and St. Croix to make navigability easier, as well as a third cruise pier in St. Thomas and structural improvements throughout.

The dredging work, in particular, would permit larger Freedom-class vessels to visit St. Croix, which is impossible at the moment. Larger ships would bring more tourism and economic opportunities to the largest island in the US Virgin Islands.

Royal Caribbean Ship Docked in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
Royal Caribbean Ship Docked in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands (Photo Credit: Darryl Brooks)

Additional port developments that may be included could be upgraded technology for processing guests, enhanced security features, additional retail space, cosmetic enhancements, and more.

No timeline has been announced for the project, but it is likely to take a year or more to complete each phase of the work, depending on how quickly plans can be approved and contractors selected, as well as whether or not tropical storms or hurricanes impact progress.

Just this past week, for example, all USVI ports were temporarily closed as Hurricane Tammy passed the region, though the ports have now reopened with no significant damage noted. Two Norwegian Cruise Line ships had itinerary adjustments due to the storm and the port closures.

The US Virgin Islands is a top destination for Eastern Caribbean itineraries, and is prized as a luxurious and tranquil destination in comparison to some ports of call that have a naturally more energetic vibe.

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