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Royal Caribbean's first return to St Coix

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ST. CROIX - Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas may have arrived on the island just a touch later than expected Tuesday, but the tardiness did little to dampen the spirits of hundreds of St. Croix residents who came to greet the ship and its passengers.

Pressed up against chain-link fences and lining King Street, residents cheered as the first round of passengers pulled into Frederiksted aboard a canopied taxi. The passengers smiled and waved, then fanned out into the Crucian Cultural Bazaar.

More than a dozen vendors waited patiently on clean streets, local bands belted out calypso music and mocko jumbies strolled the streets. The V.I. Police Department was out in full force.

The music, police presence and warm greeting added to a cautious sense of optimism in the crowd, as residents hoped the Voyager's visit would signal the return of cruise traffic to St. Croix - and an early Christmas present to the island's struggling economy.

Tuesday marked the first time that Royal Caribbean's passengers departed the ship since the cruise line began a refueling arrangement on St. Croix in November. Royal Caribbean Vice President for Government and Community Relations Horace Hord said that Tuesday's visit would set the tone for future visits.

Two Guardians of Culture mocko jumbies perform for cruise passengers.

"Tonight will be a crucial night," Hord said at a press conference. "Tonight is the test as to whether this will work."

All seemed to be running smoothly at 10 p.m., when the first passengers left the ship. While Voyager of the Seas was due into the Frederiksted pier between 7 and 8 p.m., it did not arrive until 9 p.m. It took another 45 minutes for passengers to hit the streets.

Taxis moved back and forth between the ship and King Street, and all arrived with full loads of passengers.

Those streets were heavily patrolled by police, and Territorial Police Chief Novelle Francis Jr. said a complex plan was in place for passengers' safety.

"We've put together an operational plan with several strategies," Francis said. "We have aggressive foot patrols to cover the town and areas where passengers and the crew might visit."

Francis said his department was coordinating with the V.I. Port Authority and Coast Guard to secure safety both on the streets and in the water. He said the department was using an overtime policy to make sure that the remainder of the island had proper coverage while officers were patrolling Frederiksted. Francis said he personally had inspected the city's surveillance cameras and found them to be in working order.

The island's residents seemed as eager Tuesday as the Tourism and Police departments to put on a good show for the tourists.

"We need people to talk with them, to show them where to go," said Ann Abramson - the woman for whom the Frederiksted pier is named - at Tuesday morning's press conference. "We cannot afford to blow this opportunity."

Royal Caribbean's Hord agreed, saying the safety of tourists would be key to the return of cruise ships to the island.

"Royal Caribbean is taking a risk to come back to St. Croix," he said. "Safety is the key factor. After that you have a marvelous product."

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