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HomeNewsLocal newsUSVI Cruises Nearly Double, Approach Pre-Pandemic Levels

USVI Cruises Nearly Double, Approach Pre-Pandemic Levels

More than 1,695,000 cruise passengers visited the U.S. Virgin Islands in fiscal year 2023, just shy of 2019, before the COVID doldrums. (Photo by Mat Probasco)

Cruise ship arrivals roared back this year to nearly pre-pandemic levels, officials at the Port Authority said during their governing board meeting Monday.

More than 1,695,000 cruise passengers visited the U.S. Virgin Islands from Oct. 1, 2022, to Sept. 30, 2023. During the same period in 2019, before the COVID doldrums, 1,710,477 cruise passengers arrived.

Figures released by the Port Authority showed the stark global tourism slowdown from March 2020 to early 2022. More than 901,600 passengers had already arrived before the docks fell silent in 2020. In 2021, fewer than half that number, 401,160 passengers, arrived. In 2022, nearly 852,949 cruise passengers visited the territory. 2023 saw nearly double that, with 842,052 more passengers arriving.

Although all the territory’s traditional cruise ports saw arrivals increase, the Ann E. Abramson Marine Facility was the most dramatic. The Frederiksted Pier saw a 196 percent increase in cruise passengers over 2022 — leaping 117,136 passengers ahead from under 60,000 to 177,000 in 2023. Cruz Bay’s 80 percent increase brought St. John up to 5,514 cruise passengers from 3,059 in 2022.

On St. Thomas, the West Indian Company dock regained its status as the top cruise facility in 2023 after falling behind Crown Bay in 2022. The WICO dock hosted 261 cruise ships in 2023, up from 181 in 2022, for a 133 percent, 471,614 passenger increase, totaling 825,248 passengers. Crown Bay hosted 687,239 passengers on 168 ships, representing an increase of 250,847 passengers for a total of 687,239 passengers in 2023.

The Port Authority Board also discussed dredging around the WICO dock that would bring the harbor entryway to a 40-foot depth, the turning basin to a 38-foot depth, and the quayside berths down to 36 feet, per requests from the cruise industry. Plans approved Monday included studies to mitigate environmental impact and feasibility of reusing material dredged up from the ocean floor. This included studying if sand could be used to reinforce beaches and what seagrass could be transferred to other locations.

The authority board also approved a plan to study problematic drainage at Cyril E. King, rehabilitate and piecemeal replace some concrete slabs near the runway, and waive landing fees for Cape Air flights between St. Thomas and Nevis for one year.

Another “action item” put money toward fixing up the St. John Fish Market.

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