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Quiet, luxurious retreat in a national park
A 166-room resort built on the grounds of an old sugar plantation -- with wild donkeys still roaming the grounds -- Caneel Bay covers 170 acres (all part of the Virgin Islands National Park) and has seven distinct beaches. Due to its uncommon serenity, it's one of the Caribbean's best resorts for honeymooners. But it also caters to families seeking a little quiet -- like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who used to bring their kids to Caneel's Cottage 7, the former home of Laurance Rockefeller.
Rockefeller sailed into Caneel Bay back in the 1950s, laid his eyes on the Caneel Bay property, and envisioned a resort -- or so says the resort's literature. He started buying up property on the island and eventually donated it to the U.S. government, giving birth to the national park.
This legacy of appreciating natural beauty is at the core of Caneel Bay. The scattered buildings and even the shuttle buses are painted muted grays and earthy colors to blend with the landscape. Though the simple lobby is by no means grand, it's easy to find a private nook on the beach to read or simply rest in the sun.
While the Westin St. John Resort & Villas and the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas provide similar comforts (and in both cases, a more elaborate spa), neither can top the spectacular natural setting of Caneel Bay. But the isolation of the resort also means guests are at least a 10-minute cab ride from other attractions on St. John, and getting to the resort means a long, airport-to-ferry journey that can cost upwards of an extra $100 per person, round trip.
Rosewood Hotels & Resorts were taken over in mid-2011 by Hong Kong-based New World Hospitality, but not much has changed in the resort.
Attentive, professional service from the front desk to the tennis courts
Whether it was during check-in or checkout, at the restaurants, or during my endless questions for the concierge, I always found the staff to be helpful, friendly, and professional.
- Airport greeting
- Welcome bottle of rum
- Knowledgeable concierge
- On-site tennis instructors offer lessons and clinics.
- Weekly managing director's cocktail reception
- Afternoon tea service
- Evening turndown service
Caneel Bay is on the west side of St. John, surrounded by the Virgin Islands National Park. But the slow-paced, undeveloped beauty of St. John does have one downside -- there is no airport, so guests must fly into the airport on St. Thomas and take a ferry over to the island. The Caneel Bay resort welcomes its guests at the St. Thomas airport and offers private round-trip ferry and transportation service directly to the resort for $100 per person. You can take a public ferries, which is significantly cheaper ($6 to $10), but once you take into account all of the additional taxi costs on St. Thomas and St. John, as well as all of the additional travel time (traffic on St. Thomas can be a nightmare), the $20 to $30 saved on the round-trip cost hardly seems worth the hassle.
- No off-site dining within walking distance
- Five- to 10-minute drive north of Cruz Bay, the center of St. John's shopping, dining, and drinking
Seven quiet beaches, each perfectly private (and, in two cases, childfree)
Unlike anywhere else in the Caribbean, Caneel Bay actually has seven distinct beaches on-site, all of which are sandy and well-suited to swimming. Caneel Beach, the largest beach, also attracts nonresort guests (all beaches in the U.S. Virgin Islands are technically open to the public), but the many other beaches on the property are much more secluded.
- Children under the age of 12 are not allowed on two of the beaches on Caneel Bay's property.
- Food and drinks can be found on the main beach, and you can also request prepacked picnic lunch (if you are venturing out to one of the more isolated beaches).
- Free use of snorkeling gear, Sunfish sailboats, and kayaks
- Free introductory scuba clinic
- Guided snorkeling and scuba tours, sailing trips, and fishing and boat charters also available (for an additional fee)
Small and simple -- with no TV or phone -- but very comfortable
View from the Beachfront Room
Designed like rustic bungalows with natural wood and stone, the guest rooms at Caneel Bay don't come with the elaborate, high-fashion pizzaz one might imagine from a room in this price range. The rooms are clean, and certainly comfortable, but most are also relatively small and basic, especially when you compare them to other small-scale boutique hotels in the Caribbean, like the guest rooms at the Caves, Round Hill, and Geejam hotels in Jamaica, or the Sivory and Tortuga Bay hotels in the Dominican Republic.
- No TVs or phones, though guests can request a cell phone to use for a fee
- Closets come stocked with extra towels, bug spray, and a mini-cooler for trips to the beach.
- Comfortable beds; ample pillows and a heavy comforter
- Standard rooms lack a tub, but blue-tiled walk-in shower has a window and Lady Primrose bath products.
- Free in-room Wi-Fi -- apparently, computers don't qualify as the irksome "digital distractions" Caneel Bay mentions on its website.
- Guests can also request such features as a humidifier, prayer mat, outlet converters, and foam or feather pillows when booking their room.
- Small, on-site pool -- the beaches are the main draw
- 24-hour fitness center with full cardio equipment (treadmills, stair climbers, bikes and an elliptical) as well as weight machines and free weights
- 11 tennis courts with instructors; collared shirts for men and tennis skirts or shorts for women are required.
- The resort's "Self Centre" has a rotating schedule of yoga classes, guided meditation, and other "wellness sessions," including free hikes and stargazing.
- Modest massage center, but not a full-service spa, something that the Westin St. John Resort & Villas and the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas offer
- Private hiking trails that weave through Virgin Islands National Park
Guest rooms, as well as the rest of the resort, are spotless. Outside, the grounds are well maintained.
Families are very welcome; free supervised kids' activities all day.
With beaches, water sports, a pool, and a dedicated children's program, Caneel Bay is a great place for families.
- Turtle Town, the resort's activity center, runs all-day programs that include magic shows, nature walks, and treasure hunts for kids three through 12. All daytime programs are free, aside from the fee if a meal is included.
- Standard rooms come with either one king-size bed or two twin beds; rollaway beds and adjoining rooms also available
- While kids aren't normally allowed on two of the resort's beaches, the restriction is lifted in the days before and after Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Children younger than eight aren't allowed in Turtle Bay Estate House restaurant, except during the Christmas season, though kids of any age are always welcome at the resort's other restaurants.
- Babysitting services available
- When booking, guests can also request a stroller, high chair, or a baby-bottle warmer for their room.
High quality at a high cost -- and nothing else in walking distance -- but other great options are just a 10-minute drive away
Caneel Bay has four quality restaurants, but the most notable is the ZoZo's at the Sugar Mill, serving Italian fare and built on top of an 18th-century sugar mill; the sunset views are spectacular.
- Turtle Bay Estate House, the most elegant restaurant, offers American fare and steaks.
- Wine Room (at Turtle Bay) includes a temprature-controlled wine room with over 1,000 bottles (one of the best selections in the Caribbean).
- Caneel Beach Terrace offers a large breakfast buffet as well as open-air dining.
- Caneel Beach Bar and Grill -- the only spot you can watch TV on site -- serves burgers and salads.
- Breezeway Bar serves drinks and has event space.
- Dress codes require men to wear a collared shirt and closed-toe shoes during dinner; plus long pants at the Turtle Bay Estate House restaurant.
Caneel Bay keeps wedding options simple and elegant -- an ideal combination that comes at a high price.
The Equator Restaurant, a popular reception location
- Wedding Size: Up to 250 people
- Extra Fees: Location fees range from the low season to the high season, depending on the ceremony and reception locations.
- Wedding Packages: The most basic Casual Elegance wedding package includes a bridal bouquet and a boutonniere, a six-inch wedding cake, a bottle of champagne, and a decorated ceremony at Turtle Bay Point.
- Ceremony Locations: On the Sunset Terrace (max 75 people), in the Sugar Mill Ruins (max 60 people), at the Equator Restaurant (max 150 people), the Turtle Bay State House and Veranda (max 200 people), the Wine Room (max 10 people), or the Caneel Beach Terrace (max 250 people)
- Photographers and Videographers: Photo packages range from one hour of photography, 100 4-by-6 digital images, a CD, and a website to six hours of photography and unlimited images; a one-hour edited DVD of ceremony footage is also available for a cost
- Music: Options include a DJ, a soloist (for the ceremony), a steel-pan band, a reggae band, or a vocalist; must call for pricing and details.
- Food and Drinks: A one-hour reception with hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, a champagne toast, an open bar for three hours, and a four-course plated dinner ranges in price.
- Cake: A six-inch, one-tier cake is included in the standard wedding package; eight- to 10-inch, two-tier wedding cakes and 10- to 12-inch three-tier cakesrange in price.
- Spa Treatments: The spa does not offer a full set of hair and nail treatments. However, a special couples massage is available and includes instruction on how to massage your partner.
- Honeymoon Suite: There are a wide range of rooms and suites available, but newlyweds usually stay in the Premium Beachfront (you can walk right out onto the sand) or the Premium Ocean View Rooms.
- Airport Transportation: It's a long haul to St. John -- a potential problem for weekending guests -- but the resort has a staff ready to meet guests at the airport in St. Thomas and provides round-trip ferry transportation for about $100 per person.
Built from a historic sugar plantation, this profoundly serene 166-room resort sits on 170 acres of a protected national park dotted with seven remote beaches. Even with a quaint pool and rustic rooms that lack TVs and phones, Caneel's attentive service and unparalleled setting make it one of the Caribbean's best resorts.
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Things You Should Know About Caneel Bay Resort
Hotel Is Also Known As...
- Caneel Bay
- Caneel Bay Resort St John
- Caneel Bay St John
- Caneel Bay a Rosewood Hotel
- Caneel Bay a Rosewood Resort
- Beach Front Room
- Beach Front Suite
- Cottage 7
- Courtside Room
- Garden View Room
- Ocean View Room
- Premium Beach Front Room
- Premium Courtside Room
- Premium Ocean View Room