By Gerry Barker
In one corner of the sprawling exhibit space at Seatrade Cruise Global, held in late March at Fort Lauderdale, a giant island panorama proclaimed, “Venture Deeper.”
That’s the new marketing slogan for the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, where the chief executive officer of the St. Kitts Tourism Authority, Ellison “Tommy” Thompson, met with me for an update on how the destination is faring post-pandemic.
The short answer to that question is, “very well, indeed.”
“Last August, all protocols were dropped,” said Thompson, “so there’s no need for testing quaratines” for visitors who want to travel there. All they ask is you fill out an immigration form — available online HERE. Thompson said it isn’t mandatory but it “makes things a lot easier.”
“I’m happy to say tourism is rebounding,” said Thompson, including the cruise business. “The number of ships (calling at St. Kitts) has doubled this season compared to last season, and the number of pasengers as well.”
So far this year there have been 300 cruise ship calls, representing 600,000 passengers. Compare that to 2018-19, their biggest year, when they hosted over a million guests from cruise ships.
“The cruise business has been a lifeline, post pandemic,” said Thomp;son. “We value their business and work closely with the cruise lines to make sure the experience is good.”
Part of the goal of the “Venture Deeper” campaign is to increase hotel stays and showcase everything the island has to offer, he said, pointing to an iconic photo of the place in St. Kitts where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea.
So what are the “must do, must see” things on St. Kitts? Thompson named these for starters:
— The St. Kitts Scenic Railway. Called the “last railway in the West Indies,” Thompson said it’s a great way to take a tour and get an overview of the island. Built between 1912-1926 to transport sugar, today it takes guests on a 30-mile circle in three hours.
— For sea lovers, he recommends taking one of the catamaran cruises from St. Kitts to Nevis. And while on Nevis, he said don’t miss trying The Killer Bee cocktail at the Sunshine Beach Bar on Pinney’s Beach. It may be the most famous libation in the Caribbean. “it’s one of those drinks that kind of creep up on you, so you might want to take it easy,” he said.
— For hiking, climbing and ziplining, Thompson points to Mount Liamuiga on the western part of the island. A dormant volcano, at almost 3,800 feet it’s the highest point on the island. Lush rainforests surround the upper part, and hikers are rewarded with outstanding views of the neighboring islands.
— The Kittitian RumMaster Program. A first-of-its-kind, immersive experience, it takes place in two parts. During the first part, participants start at Wingfield Estate — said to be the Caribbean’s “oldest surviving rum distillery” — to learn about the history of rum production. Part two takes place at the Spice Mill Restaurant to learn rum-blending and mixing cocktails. “You can create your own blend and get certified,” said Thompson. “It’s very popular.”
— Liamuiga Natural Farm. Here foodies can combine sightseeing in the rainforest with a farm-to-table experience, 1,500 feet above sea level. It’s also the island’s only operational coffee farm.
And speaking of food, Thompson said visitors will want to sample the island’s national dish, stewed saltfish, along with coconut dumplings and fried plantains. He said St. Kitts features a wide range of restaurants offering international cuisine, along with cool beach bars where you can get conch chowder.
What about festivals and events? Thompson said you have come to the right place for fun.
The St. Kitts and Nevis National Carnival is a mashup of culture, music and fun that Thompson says “lasts two years.” Technically, he’s right. It starts in late November and last into January. There’s also the St. Kitts Music Festival, which kicks off the “Summer of Fun” and has established the island as a Caribbean music mecca.
Over on neighboring Nevis (St. Kitts and Nevis are under one federation), the Nevis Mango Festival features a mango cook-off, a mango eating contest and tours of local farms. The two islands also share restaurant week, where Thompson said one product is featured. Last year it was sweet potato, he said, fondly recalling the sweet potato hummus he enjoyed.
Whether you come by cruise ship, plane or boat, there are a lot of options for getting to St. Kitts, Thompson said. Along with daily flights from Miami, there are also flights from Charlotte, New York, Toronto, Newark and London, as well as ferry service from nearby islands. During the peak winter season and the music festival, he said extra flights are added.
In conclusion, Thompson summed up what could easily be next year’s marketing slogan:
“Two islands — one paradise.”