Cruising for a Cause


In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the non-profit Hope Floats offers cruise ship passengers a chance to give back.

By Emma Trelles

When Christopher Columbus gazed at these islands, on his second voyage of 1493, he could only have thought to christen them “Virgins” for their untouched beauty, a dazzle of rich, green hillsides and immaculate shorelines.

Six centuries later, the U.S. Virgin Islands boast some of the prettiest parts of the Caribbean, but there’s zero question as to whether they remain unknown. They draw more than 2.2 million visitors a year, more than half of which are cruise ship passengers.

Tourism is the pulse of this archipelago’s economy, perhaps seen best in the 32 vibrant square miles of St. Thomas. Known as the center of commerce and cruising in the USVI, the capital island combines jewel-blue bays with the Caribbean’s busiest shopping districts. Here, travelers delight in luxe-brand boutiques selling fine watches, emeralds, and Parisian perfumes; outdoor markets hawking handcrafted pottery and candles; and seascapes brushed in delicate watercolors.

Just a handful of blocks from this prosperous shopping hub lies another part of St. Thomas, little seen by visitors but equally powerful — at least to Cathy Huckaby, of Lodi, California. She arrived with her family at the brisk city of Charlotte Amalie on a cruise ship in 2008 and discovered the most impoverished neighborhoods on the island were just steps away from the richest.

“I was always Adventure Barbie,” explains Huckaby. “I started walking through St. Thomas and wandered into one of the saddest streets I’ve ever seen. There were homeless people all around, others buying old clothes in a little thrift store. I thought, ‘What a dichotomy of wealth and incredible poverty. What if those two worlds could somehow meet? I bet if people knew about it, they might want to help out for a couple of hours.’”

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