St. Croix for young(er) family?
Since I am an idiot and accidentially posted this on the classifieds board, I figure I'd repost where it was supposed to go. I can't figure out how to move it.
Hi there folks. My husband and I are in our mid-30s, from the Atlanta area. We have a young son. We've traveled the Caribbean fairly extensively, and have spent about a month on St. John total. In the interest of full disclosure, we've yet to visit St. Croix. We're going on a Southern Caribbean cruise for fun this winter and will have a day there, but we'll use it for fun and beach-time, not any serious island-shopping.
We've been considering an island move now for about five years. I've done the requisite research, read the relocation stories on the board, I've read the usual Caribbean lifestyle books (Wouk, Blanchard, etc). I know all about the hassles and expense of building, the appliances rusting, the crime, the wood warping, the clothes mildewing. However, I also know about people who still care for their neighbors, a slower pace of life, a less materialistic existence and that small-town feel.
With that long intro out of the way, I have some questions about St. Croix. In my research, we've ruled out St. Thomas. We hate it. While I love St. John, I realized after our last visit that I could never live there. Too hilly, not enough commerce, too expensive. If I come into $10 million, I might change my mind.
St. Croix seems like a compromise between St. Thomas and St. John. If we like what our 8 hours shows us in February, we will return for a longer stay with our son. I do have some questions though in the interest of furthering my research:
1. Are there many Continental families with young children on the island?
2. Do people find it easy to meet others or is the social scene rather closed off to new folks until they've been on island a while?
3. If you know people who've moved from the States to St. Croix with kids - are the kids happy?
4. My husband is into playing rec sports. Are there pick-up basketball games, men's sports leagues?
5. I am an attorney. I understand that to continue this career I will have to take the bar. Fine. Are there attorney jobs in St. Croix right now with the market in its sorry state?
6. Is it fairly easy for one to open up a tourist-based business if that is the direction we decide to go? I have operated a jewelry making business in the past and am now expanding into metalsmithing and believe that I may have a good future in this work.
It sounds as if St. Croix is starting to make a good comeback, tourism-wise. The island looks beautiful and we are anxious to visit. I feel slightly insane for wanting to cast off our cushy suburban life for something rather alternative to many, but where we live is just so darn mindless.
1. Yes, many.
2. It's been my experience that's it pretty easy but you have to go out to the beach (popular ones) or go out at night and just start talking to people. Most of us love showing newcomers the ropes and sharing our experiences. Don't be shy about telling people your new and asking questions.
3. Yes and No. I've seen it go both ways. One of the biggest problems are the schools. The public ones are dreadful, do a search on this board about schools and education. The private ones are mostly very expensive, 8k to 10k a year.
4. Not like stateside, but they do exist. Just not as many or as serious as stateside. I would suggest taking up scuba diving.
5. Not sure but I would think so from what I hear. I would definitely plan on taking the bar, you'll be more hireable and make more money. Also keep an eye on www.usajobs.gov, every once in a while there's an opening for federal attorneys.
6. I think your assumptions about stx economy may be a bit off. We our doing better then last year tourism wise but we don't have anywhere near the tourists stt does. Stt has tourism, stx has hovensa, and hovensa hasn't made a real economic recovery yet. Opening a tourist base business would not be hard, making money at it and running it are going to be extremely hard.
Best advice your going to get is don't open a business or buy a house till you lived on the island(s) for at least six months, but I would really suggest a year. It's a very different culture and lifestyle then you think. It takes a while to find your grove and find out if you really like it. More leave then stay, so take your time and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Thanks Hiya. Regarding #6, I don't think I'm laboring under too many false assumptions. I do know that STX has much less tourism than STT and STJ. I was just wondering how easy it would be to start a tourist biz if we wanted. We would absolutely wait a year or more before making a huge financial commitment to the island, like a home or business.
Regarding kids, our son is very young (under 1) so he wouldn't be missing friends, shopping malls, etc. We hope to have another by the time we make the move. I am concerned about kids having things to do: are there rec sports for little ones? Do mothers set up playgroups? Good pre-schools? I certainly understand that private schools are the way to go for an excellent education, and I've looked in to the costs. It would be factored into our living budget.
I think Hiya did a wonderful job of giving you an an honest overview. You seem to have a good attitude about learning what will and will not work for you.
As far as raising kids on St Croix, you need to re-think your expectations. As a continental, private schools should be in your plans, but everything else will be a bit different from little league and ballet to babysitting and hanging out. There are lots of similarities, but it is different. Sometimes really different.
When I was about your age (many years ago) I moved my children from the California suburbs to live in a high Sierra ski resort. It was Smalltown, resort living (party all the time), away from the real world. etc. Snow and ice and long drives to high school. too many bad role models. They survived, grew up and are wonderful people. They went to college,became professionals and leaders, but they NEVER went back to the mountains. I ask myself if I would do it again, because I moved for me, not them. I still don't have an answer for that.
I have observed that most of the young kids from that place and era went away and grew up, some did not and still 30 years later are shoveling snow and drinking beer in the same place.
The softball leagues are very big here. Also, while youvate waiting to pass the bar here, consider a law clerkship in the Superior Court. They have their own website. The clerkships last for a year, usually, and pay around $50,000. I know one if the judges gas an opening right now, even if not posted yet. There are 3 judges and two magistrates.
I am sorry you "hate" St Thomas, having spent only a month in the territory on St John. I won't try to answer your other questions. 😀
Please give STX a chance regardless of what your 8 hours in February reveals. It's very, very difficult to get an accurate picture of a place in 8 hours as a cruise ship passenger.
There are lots of young continental families with children.
I've found it easier to meet people here than in Phoenix and New Orleans, the other two places I've lived aside from my hometown. I have more friends here after 4 months than I did in those places after 4 months. I hang out with people from work, neighbors, and just random people I've met here and there. There's a sense of having joined a club when you move down here and meet others who have done the same.
From what I can tell, kids seem to be happy here. I don't have any myself.
I second Hiya's advice about learning to dive. You're missing out on 2/3 of the world if you don't dive! And it's a great group activity. Snorkeling is good, too.
I don't know anything about attorney jobs or opening a business. Sorry.
You mentioned that where you live is "just so darn mindless." Unfortunately, you'll find that everywhere, even here.
You're smart to plan on waiting at least a year before making any big commitments. I've only been here 4 months, and before I moved here, I would have thought that would be enough time to really know what I'm doing, but I certainly don't feel ready to buy a house yet, for example. I feel like I've learned a lot, but I still have a long way to go.
stxer, what you said about the former children who are still living in the ski resort area seems to be true for many places. I grew up in a non-resort area, and when I go back, I still run into people I went to school with doing the same old stuff they used to do. It's true of my friends' friends in other parts of the country as well. I think some people just stick with what they know. I can't speak for them, but moving out of my hometown was one of the best things I ever did. It's a great place to settle and raise a family and retire, but I think it's healthy to get out and explore the world a bit, even if you do end up returning (and even if you don't go as far as the VI!)
Thanks so much everyone. East Ender, please don't get your feelings hurt about my STT comment. Hate is a strong word. I should have said "we ruled it out." My husband in particular had a very visceral reaction to St. Thomas from the first time we landed. He said as soon as he drives out of the airport, he can't wait to get off that island and go somewhere more relaxed. We've always had good experiences with people we've encountered on St. Thomas, I just doubt it's somewhere we'd want to live. Too densely populated for our liking. I love that part of the world though. The views from STT are to die for.
stxer, interesting commentary about moving your kids to a ski resort. I have often wondered, if we decide to move, if it's an overly selfish move on our part or not. We are not hard partiers (a few drinks a week), and we'd be unlikely to fall in to that lifestyle, though I know it's certainly around in de ilons if one is looking for that. Trust me, it's here in Atlanta too, though not as much in your face unless you seek it out.
Actually, my reasons for considering this move are many, including: 1. When you live in a place where resources are limited, it causes you to be more resourceful with your ideas and more creative in problem solving. It is very easy to be mindless in the US, when you can just replace a broken item for under $50 instead of figuring out how to fix it. I find a lot of people today (myself included) lack practical skills; 2. We are taking up sailing and would like to live somewhere where our family activity could be practiced regularly; 3. I am stressed to my max here. The traffic, the commute, the schedule. I have little energy left for just "being" with my family 5 days out of the week. Don't get me wrong - it's not terrible, it's just not sustainable.
Yes, we are considering moving somewhere more relaxed here in the US as well. All options are being considered.
And regarding diving, we've taken the lessons, done four dives apiece and were technically certified. We just don't love it. I had an issue with my mask removal skill and frankly it made me a less-than-reliable buddy. We're big snorkelers though. I'll spend 90 minutes in the water easy when snorkeling.
STT has more to offer in terms of things to do, business-wise and recreation-wise. But like what you already know, the island's congested and has heavier traffic. I shuttle between STX and STT and like both - each has something to offer, but I live on STX - just less stress.
I have two young kids (elem age) and they go to Country Day. Pricey, so I work harder. I also joined a moms' group and met several young mothers and our kids do things together. There are several activities for kids (I don't know how old your kids are) like duathlon, swim meets, etc.
I am not a diver so I am learning to play tennis and golf just to have something to do. I also go to a gym. People are nice and quick to embrace. STT tends to be more impersonal in this respect. People there are often too busy and stressed out.
I have friends (couple) who didn't last 6 months here for two reasons - they had a bigger house in PA and they couldn't accept that for what they pay for their house there, they get half the size here with no view (they expected a nice home by the ocean when they moved here), and both work and couldn't find a suitable daycare for their small kids.
The lawyers I know here are doing well, either have their own offices or working thru internet. It's like being a big fish in a small pond.
Somebody told you live in STX for 6 months. I say a year. Unless something really drastic happens in 6 months and you have to leave.
The first 6 months I was here, I was ready to pack and go, but some commitment made me stay, and now I am glad I did. And my kids are too.
I met and married my husband on that island!! It holds VERY fond memories for us. It will ALWAYS be our first home. We lived there for about a year before having to move back to Louisiana (Dad passed, had to get Mom on her feet) and now, would give ANYTHING, and I mean ANYTHING, to be there again. Saving the money now and hope to be there PERMANENTLY as soon as December 2011.
I too, work in the legal field and have been looking for employment there for a few months. So9me what difficult to secure interview when you reside in New Orleans though. I can give you names of the attorneys I worked with and for and those you ABSOLUTELY do NOT want to get involved with. There is one Plaintiff's Attorney on island - a female - who is a NIGHTMARE on wheels!!
My husband and I went charter fishing almost every weekend. THAT is a GREAT sport you may get your kids involved in!! Also, we are certified divers and LOVED exploring and discovering that beautiful, quiet and calm world beneath the seas. One may not get that type of experience simply snorkeling. There are PADI operators on island that will certify you, if you are interested. Also, there are tons of island excursions and tours. To name a few, there is Buck Island, the Cruzan Rum Distillery, the Captain Morgan's distillery. It is set to open on or about January 2011. There is a beautiful golf resort, a casino on the east end, a rain forest, tours given by local companies that take you hidden places you would never knew existed on that island, nor could you get to without a good 4-wheel drive and a map of a dirt road, which, of course, doesn't exist. Wait until to get your hands on the island "pocket map"..... THAT'S a complete waste of time. You will know your way around that 25-mile long, 5-mile wide island in less than two weeks. You just have to get lost a few times, keep driving and will eventually wind up back where you started.
They have jazz and island-inspired music all over the island. There always seemed to be live band playing somewhere every single night and usually, a good one. There is Sunday Brunch at the Blue Moon down in Frederiksted, there are a few over-priced, but perfectly situated eateries on the boardwalk in Christiansted.
Most of the professionals I worked with lived a bit to the east of Christiansted. You could likely find a 10,000 sq. foot home for around $6K per month (rent) initially, plus utilities, as we did. Just wait until you get your first bill from the WAPA though. You will soon learn to live without A/C and like it. Your showers will never go cold as you will conserve as much as you can. Seemed like our utilities could have easily exceeded our rent, had we not learned that lesson very quickly.
We also had our own fishing vessel shipped over. We LOVED being able to just "go" whenever we felt the desire. I strongly recommend bringing as many toys as you can, from wave runners, jet skis, surf kites, personal water craft, etc., as you will have more of a sense of normalcy and control. I hope you don't mind a lot of partying, laughing and alcohol. It's one of the staples of St. Croix.
Having never been on St. Thomas, but hearing stories about it from my husband, I agree it would likely been WAAAAYYYYY too busy and congested for a true "island life" experience.
We don't have kids but my husband has two teenagers from a previous marriage. We've never brought them St. Croix, but take our boat to Bimini, in the Bahamas every year. We have been taking them with us for the last two years. St. Croix is like NYC compared to Bimini - and they absolutely LOVE it!!!! They want to live on St. Croix with us as soon as we get there. We too, are going to be opening a tourist-based company and his eldest son is taking college classes now in order to be certified in that particular field by the time we are ready to move. I say go for it!! Or, open your own law firm and you and I can take over...lol!! There's just nothing in the world like living on an island.
I don't believe there is a lot kids can do to get in trouble on island unless they get involved with the wrong crowd, as with anywhere else in the world. We intentionally befriended many of the kids that others wouldn't talk to, based on their past history, but, we found that having those kids as allies was much more suitable than being on their bad side. You will know who the "wrong" kids are in less than a week, trust me. We just always liked the underdog. Most of the kids we befriended had no father-figures in their lives and were just lost. So, we would pay them to clean the boat or wash the truck or car, etc. They do a great job and LOVE having responsibilities, not to mention someone who has expectations of them. Most of them have little or no direction. I suggest you get to know as many of them as you can. And, if you can help them in any way, I would do it.
On St. Croix. people smile at you and tell you, "Morning, morning!!!!" The locals are all really friendly (they were to us), and, if you are friendly in return, not judgmental of them, and are sincere when you look them in the eye, all will be well. Not saying to trust everyone the moment you get there as there are still those who target new-comers to the island, tourists or those who are temporarily visiting who may not really understand the "etiquette" there. I've personally witnessed many a tourist so drunk, they were passed out behind a bar, with his money gone, jewelry stripped, fancy shoes taken off his feet, even the leather belt missing; anything and everything, removed from his person. May I suggest you just don't drink yourself into oblivion right off the key. J/K.
You can travel by powerboat , fishing vessel or sailboat to STT or STJ in less than an hour, depending on which you choose. As well, there is a ferry that runs between the islands, I believe, twice a day. We have many friends there who own and/or operate charter vessels. I would be happy to provide you with their respective contact info in a personal e-mail.
We are both in our early 40's now, but were in our 30's when we lived there. I would do it again in a heartbeat. And, we would DEFINITELY have kids on island. It's such a laid-back, slow-paced, lovely little place that WILL slow you down, whether you want to or not. You have no choice. There is a certain rhythm or speed, if you will, to that island that one MUST adapt to, else you will lose it. When the people honk their horns at you, they aren't being rude, they're honking to wave hello or to let you cut in front of them. When I first got there and all those people kept honking at me, I got my fair share of finger exercises until I realized what it truly meant. Talk about feeling like a complete schmuck!!!
If you're addicted to Starbucks, Dillard's, Neiman Marcus, Joe's Crab Shack, Macy's, Olive Garden or anything "commercial" like that, you will suffer initially. There are no Target or Wal-Mart stores, only one Costco and one K-Mart. There are, however, McDonald's, Subway, KFC and a few other familiar little places. There are no "chain" grocery stores. We always shopped at Thea's Grocery Store a little east of Christiansted as she had all the specialty items we were accustomed to, like a fabulous wine selection, Lindt truffles (my addiction), a really nice, but somewhat pricey meat/fish market, a really wonderful selection of meats and cheeses in the deli, a self-serve salad bar, and fresh veggies.
The BEST thing we discovered on that island was the food!! You will absolutely LOVE the ability and availability of fresh seafood offered daily. Hopefully, you like seafood. As I mentioned earlier, THE best brunch, for us, was at the Blue Moon on Sundays with a live jazz band playing in the background. It's in Frederiksted, on the west end of the island, where the cruise ships arrive and depart.
The views on and around that island, no matter where you look, are breathe-taking.
The police don't really bother you much unless you don't register your vehicle(s), change out your plates or have expired tags or an expired inspection stickers. Matter of fact, the first week I was there, I saw a uniformed police officer, holding a beer in his hand, just shooting the breeze with the locals at another grocery store. Not NEARLY as uptight as we are accustomed to in the states, unless of course, you live where we do, in New Orleans, where they are basically, just as laid back. If you have a collision and hurt someone, it's an entirely different story. There is quite a bit of drinking and driving on the island. They really don't bother you much, unless or until you screw up. Getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road isn't all that difficult, really. It's only when you try to turn into a parking lot or into an intersection that you might lose your bearings for a minute. It will all make sense in no time.
Here is a website for legal resources that may answer some of your questions:
I know I've gone on and on, but I cannot say anything but good things about St. Croix. Should you want to speak on a more personal level, just shoot me an e-mail and I will respond as soon as practicable. Hope this helps!!! Wishing you all the best!!!