Photos by Gerry Barker
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By Gerry Barker
MIAMI BEACH_The message you hear coming from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts is loud and clear:
"We are open."
Here at Seatrade Cruise Global, Carlene Henry-Morton, from the Ministry of Tourism, and Melnecia Marshall, from the St. Kitts Tourism Authority, talked about how cruise travel is making a strong comeback following the pandemic.
They noted that before the pandemic started, St Kitts (officially known as St. Christopher Island -- St. Kitts and neighboring Nevis are one country), they were hosting over one million guests yearly in 2018 and 2019. In a normal cruise season, they noted ships make as many as 400 calls there.
"Through July we have seen a strong rebound with cruising," they said. In March, the island recorded 74 cruise ship visits, and they expect those numbers will continue to grow. Currently, visitors over 12 need to be vaccinated and have a negative test result 24-72 hours prior to arriving.
Actually, my wife Pam and I were on one of the first cruise ships to visit St. Kitts last year, when World Navigator, operated by Atlas Ocean Voyages, stopped for a day visit at the Carambola Beach Club on beautiful South Friar's Bay. At that time, guests arriving by ship were restricted to staying in a "bubble" while on shore excursions. That's no longer the case. Guests can get off the ship and explore on their own or on an excursion.
The majority of cruise ships dock at Port Zante in the capital city of Brasseterre, near Historical Basseterre. Since Atlas is a smaller ship, we were able to dock just offshore and arrive via Zodiacs.
As the summer "low season" approaches, they said the tourism focus shifts to festivals and events, also coming back after the lockdown. Among them:
-- The Annual St. Kitts Music Festival, where both visitors and locals celebrate with "concerts, beach parties and events across the island."
-- Restaurant Week, where restaurants on St. Kitts and Nevis "offer special menus based on a local theme ingredient, at fixed special prices" as well as food and wine classes.
-- Nevis Mango Food Festival, celebrating all things mango, including cooking demonstrations and classes, along with a party on the beach.
-- Nevis Culturama Festival, a 12-day celebration where the focus is on Nevis culture and arts.
The tagline for St. Kitts tourism is "follow your heart," and there are plenty of ways guests "can immerse themselves in our destination." Among them: Hiking, ziplining in the rain forest, snorkeling, diving (exploring off-shore shipwrecks), culture, nightlife and food.
They talked about how the island features a confluence of different cuisines. Along with traditional Caribbean, you can also find Chinese, Italian and others. Grilling is also gaining in popularity. "We have become a society that loves to grill. We enjoy street food -- grilled chicken, fish, pork -- and there is a lot of that St. Kitts." Close your eyes and you almost can smell the aroma.
Another trend they mentioned are food courts. "In St Kitts we have our own food court concept," they said. "It's not in a mall, it's actually an outdoor food court using refurbished shipping containers."
Speaking of food, I asked what are the local dishes for which St. Kitts is known. That's when I learned about
"Goat Water." It's a mix of goat meat and local veggies, like "pumpkin and green bananas," plus onions, herbs and lots of spices, they explained.
They also educated me about "black pudding." If you are thinking dessert, not so much. It's more like a sausage, and its main ingredient is pig's blood. They say it's very tasty, but I think I'll have to take their word on that one.
What goes along with food is of course drink, and like other Caribbean islands, St. Kitts is also known for its rum. At their Seatrade booth they were handing out samples of rum from Shipwreck. St. Kitts is also home to Old Road Rum, the "oldest rum distillery in our part of the world," established in 1681.
Beyond all the attractions and beaches, they said what St. Kitts is most known for are its "warm and friendly people." And when it comes to tourism, that may be the most important thing of all.
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