For most people, December marks the start of the Christmas holiday season, but on the caribbean island of St. Croix, December means only one thing – carnival! The largest island in the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix celebrates their carnival each year starting on December 26th and closes out with a bang on the first Saturday in January of the New Year. From costumes and where to stay, to parades, food festivals, and live musical performances, this is the ultimate A-Z guide on everything you need to know about experiencing St. Croix’s Crucian Christmas Carnival.
Getting to St. Croix from the mainland is fairly easy. There are several daily direct flights into Henry E. Rohlsen Airport (STX) from cities like Miami and Atlanta. Visitors can also take connecting flights from other cities like New York City, Charlotte, Dallas and Orlando, to name a few. The cost of the flight will put the biggest dent in your budget. Expect flights to range anywhere from $500 to $1000 based on when you purchase your ticket.
Where To Stay
Although some St. Croix resorts are still rebuilding after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in 2017, there are still a number of places to rest and recover from the flurry of carnival activities. Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO will be your best bet when it comes to accommodations and can range anywhere from $100 – $300 per night based on your preferences and location on island.
Renting a car is the best way to get around if you’re on island for more than 3 days. With the absence of ride sharing options like Uber or Lyft, the cost of taxi transportation will cost about $20-$30 per person round trip to each destination. You can easily spend $100 per person per day if you’re not careful, whereas the daily rate on a rental car starts around $40 per day. Keep in mind that motorists drive on the left side of the road in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Beads & Bacchanal
What’s carnival without costumes? If you want to get dolled up in colorful costumes adorned with feathers, beads and sequins, Simply Sophisticated Fun Troupe is where you want to go. Voted Band of the Year winner nine years in a row, this 400-plus-carnival troupe is coveted by many, so it’s no surprise costumes sell out months before they hit the road in January. You can also purchase costumes from other festival troupes such as Regal Dynasty, Lockhart & Associates Fun Troupe, The Gentlemen of Jones, Pure Mass Fun Troupe and Fantasy Fete Carnival Troupe. Costumes costs range from $275-$550. Don’t wait too long to decide which costume you want, as most troupes close their registration 2-4 weeks before the big day on the road.
Photo Credit: C. Bryan Media
Fun & Fete
There is no limit to the number of ways one can party like a boss during Crucian Christmas Carnival. First and foremost, the Crucian Christmas Festival Village in downtown Frederiksted is open every night starting on Wednesday December 26th and ends on Saturday January 5th. Here, visitors can enjoy live musical performances each night from local and international artists, while devouring mouth-watering local foods and drinks from the many booths selling an array of delicious goodies.
Each night embodies a different theme that highlights the various influences and cultures that are celebrated on St. Croix. Reggae Night (12/28) features artists like Charlie Black and Richie Spice from Jamaica, and highlights the significance of reggae music in the Crucian community. Cultural Night (12/30) – a fan favorite – is where St. Croix’s official music and dance, quelbe and quadrille, are performed by groups like Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Nights and We Deh Yah Cultural Dancers. The crowd is encouraged to join in on the dancing and fun by group members, allowing them to participate in this fascinating cultural activity rather than simply being an onlooker.
In addition to the Crucian Christmas Festival Village, there are a host of parties and events taking place all over the island. The must-hit parties of the season include The Silent Sunrise Party (12/28), Rise & Shine Breakfast Fete (12/29) and the biggest event of all, J’OUVERT!
Photo Credit: C. Bryan Media
You can’t say you’ve been to carnival on St. Croix if you haven’t done j’ouvert! J’ouvert morning is considered to be the official start of carnival bacchanal! The word comes from the French phrase “jour ouvert” meaning daybreak or morning. Revelers dance in the streets starting from 5am and continue on into the late morning hours. Dance your way down the streets of Fredericksted where it ends on the sandy shores of Frederiksted Beach. If you’d prefer a bit more guidance for this experience, join a band like J’ouvert Junction. As one of the largest j’ouvert bands on St. Croix, they provide revelers with a top-notch all-inclusive experience complete with music, premium drinks, catered breakfast, private restrooms, and more. Other j’ouvert bands like Splash J’ouvert and Island Vybez J’ouvert Troupe have similar all-inclusive experiences you can join. Regardless of which band you choose, you’re bound to have an unforgettable j’ouvert experience to kick off St. Croix Carnival.
Outside of the Crucian Christmas Festival Village, carnival-goers can check out Cast Iron Pot Restaurant and Bar (10A La Grande Princesse, Christiansted) for authentic Crucian cuisine like fish and fungi, and stew chicken. Local drinks like sorrel, passion fruit juice and tamarind juice are a great addition to complete your meal. Get some of the best cocktails and small bites at Bes Craft Cocktail Lounge in downtown Christiansted (53B Company Street, Christiansted). Owner and cocktail connoisseur Frank Robinson and his staff will whip up boozy libations made with locally infused rums, vodkas, tequilas and gins like plantain tequila and Surinam cherry vodka. Head to La Reine Chicken Shack (24 Slob A-B Estate La Reine, Kingshill) for the best Johnny cakes on island. This delicious deep-fried dough paired with a half rotisserie chicken is a must have meal when visiting St. Croix.
Photo Credit: Anquanette Gaspard
One cannot leave the island without getting a taste of the festive beverage, coquito. Often called Puerto Rican eggnog, this coconut based alcoholic drink can be found at almost any booth inside the Crucian Christmas Festival Village. Grab a glass or two and cheers to the New Year!
Another event of the St. Croix Carnival season that guarantees the best local food on island is the Food, Arts and Crafts Fair on January 2nd. The best of the best come together to sell foods like roast pork, kalalloo, seasoned rice, potato stuffing, conch in butter sauce, handmade cakes and sweets and much more.
Photo Credit: Anquanette Gaspard
All roads lead to Emancipation Drive in Frederiksted for Children and Adults Parade on Friday, January 4th and Saturday, January 5th. Children show off their hard work sporting their bright, colorful costumes as they dance, twirl, march, jump and masquerade through the streets on their special day. The Adults Parade – an all-day affair – is filled with lively music, vibrant costumes and endless energy. Stand on the sidelines to take in the revelry or join a masquerade band to be part of the fun. Attending the parades is an essential piece of the Crucian Christmas Carnival and is not to be missed.