The St. John Festival offers visitors a range of activities. // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): St. Croix has several centennial events planned. // © 2016 iStock
With the countdown to its centennial celebration underway, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) are preparing for a new era. This year, the 99th annual Transfer Day — the day that the Virgin Islands became a U.S. territory, which is celebrated on March 31 — signaled the official start of the one-year countdown to the 2017 centennial.
From its two-day Emancipation Day/Independence Day party to Crucian Christmas, this American Caribbean paradise plans to showcase its unique heritage. There’s an upsurge of local interest in island history, coupled with excitement about the international attention the USVI expects to receive in 2017. The government has appointed a Centennial Commission to plan special celebrations and cultural offerings.
St. John is in the unique position of celebrating two centennials back-to-back: in 2016, as part of the U.S. National Park Service, and in 2017 for the USVI’s 100th Transfer Day anniversary.
Explore: Two-thirds of St. John is Virgin Islands National Park, with an additional 5,650 submerged acres. Additionally, Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument extends for 3 miles offshore. The protected area encompasses everything from forest and shoreline to undersea ecosystems and affords endless opportunity for ecoadventure.
Celebrate: The St. John Festival is celebrated annually (June 3 to July 4 this year) with a month of music performances, pageants, culinary events and children’s activities. Independence Day culminates with the St. John Festival Parade and fireworks. Guests who visit during this celebration will get an early dose of countdown spirit — and they can book other USVI getaways in the upcoming year to enjoy more of it.
Stay: The Westin St. John Villas, located close to the national park, finished renovations to its lobby, pool, restaurant and dock last year. This summer, half the poolside rooms will be fully transformed into villas — a great option for families.
St. Croix has several attractions to promote in conjunction with the centennial commemoration. It also features a lively year-round event calendar that’s heavily island-flavored.
Explore: Estate Whim “Living Museum” is an interactive experience in a former plantation that has been transformed into a traditional village. It engages visitors in learning about Crucian traditions through demonstrations, costume character interactions and historic interpretations. Also, downtown Christiansted welcomed Caravelle Casino in April, and island politicians see it as a major development that could revitalize the island’s economy.
Celebrate: By far the largest St. Croix cultural celebration is Crucian Christmas, which spans three weeks of Carnival-style pageants, parties and parades. However, Jump Up is a Carnival-like party that happens four times a year. The next one takes place July 8, right after the back-to-back Emancipation Day/Independence Day holidays.
Stay: The new casino is adjacent to Hotel Caravelle, a familiar waterfront hotel that’s entering a new chapter with more than $2.5 million in renovations. The 42-room European-style hotel will add an additional 33 rooms in the next two years to comply with casino-permitting laws.
The centennial countdown adds energy to St. Thomas’ already busy event schedule — starting with this year’s Emancipation Day/Independence Day celebrations July 3-4.
Explore: Tell clients to check out the monument in Emancipation Garden that honors slaves who were freed July 3, 1848. It’s located within the Charlotte Amalie Historic District.
Celebrate: Tradition isn’t always serious — sometimes it’s fun and tipsy. Just ask Cruzan Rum, which has produced island spirits continuously since Prohibition was repealed. Guests sample the booze daily at the distillery and enjoy it further at longstanding island parties such as the Snorkel Booze Hunt in Bolongo Bay.
Stay: Bolongo Bay Beach Resort has its own legacy in St. Thomas. Family-owned and operated for 42 years, this friendly all-inclusive resort famously gave away 40,000 bottles of rum in its first 40 years. Not surprisingly, it has enough loyal return guests to inspire its “40 Years, 40 Stories” blog series. Managing director Richard Doumeng will complete a stint as the chairman of the Caribbean Hospitality and Tourism Association this June, giving him more time in the local community as preparations ramp up for the USVI’s 100th anniversary.