June 23, 2004 – St. Croix will have something to sing about come Dec. 8, when the cruise ship Opera starts the first of seven visits. And its sister ship, the Lirica, is scheduled to make its second visit on May 18, 2005, after having called for the first time this past May.
And Michele Paige, president of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, said on Wednesday that Carnival Cruise Lines has indicated a strong interest in returning to St. Croix, "if you start doing the right things…"
Paige was alluding to the fact that Carnival and other major cruise lines took St. Croix off their itineraries in 2002 after passengers and crew were repeatedly the victims of crimes. Additionally, cruise line officials said at the time, St. Croix lacked visitor attractions.
Dave Gillis, who works at Cane Bay Dive Shop, thinks the crime issue is bogus. "It's no more of a problem here than on St. Thomas," he said.
Paige said that "the right things" St. Croix needs to start doing center on giving passengers the best possible experience. She said the good word gets back not only to officials of cruise lines that have sent ships to the island, but also to officials at other lines.
The Opera can accommodate 1,760 passengers and the Lirica, 1,600. Both ships are owned by MSC Cruises, an Italian company with five vessels in its fleet.
MSC and Carnival representatives did not return phone calls requesting comment.
Julia Renfro, president of the Christiansted Restaurant and Retail Association, is thrilled that the Opera is scheduled to make a series of visits. Without cruise ships, "the tourism season was dismal," she said.
She said her organization is working hard to make sure businesses have a way to advertise on the cruise ships. That did not happen when the Lirica paid its call in mid-May.
"We want to make sure people are prepared," she said.
While Renfro sees the cruise ships as a boon, not everyone agrees.
Margo Meacham, owner of the Gone Tropical gift shop in Christiansted, said cruise passengers do not spend as much as hotel guests. "There's not much value in bring in thousands and thousands of people who don't even buy lunch," she said. "They're cheap and make the place look cheesy."
She had particularly harsh words for one company's passengers: "Carnival is the Kmart of the cruise lines," she said.
Meacham said that in her 14 years in business, she's made only a couple of thousand dollars from cruise ship passengers. If St. Croix has to have cruise passengers, she said, she wishes they would arrive on the high-end ships.
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