$6-per-person cab ride from duty-free shopping in Charlotte Amalie
Expensive, average food on-site
Occasionally inattentive food service
A clean, modern resort with stunning views, this 478-room Marriott is a cut above every other hotel in St. Thomas, except, maybe, the pricier Ritz Carlton. It's sprawling, the food's overpriced, and it can, at times, become packed with conventioneers. But its excellent gym, great pools, top-notch beds, and soft-sand beach rival the island's best. Extensive renovations in 2011 only made things better.
Big modern resort packed with features and people of all sorts -- but with its size, comes value
In 2011, the resort underwent a $45 million renovation that included the Frenchman's Reef tower, the pool area, spa, and three on-site restaurants.
Made up of 478 guest rooms, this is one of the largest resorts in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It attracts a typical Marriott cocktail of families, staggering sunburned young couples, rowdy wedding parties, retiree gangs, tour groups, and a healthy slathering of conventioneers. But given its size, you get more here than at most other resorts on St. Thomas -- two gorgeous pools, a long stretch of beachfront, a quality spa and fitness center, ample bars and restaurants (including one of the most fashionable restaurants on the island), an in-house scuba tour operator, and enough space between it all to find some relative peace and quiet.
As the name implies, the Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort is actually two distinct hotels. They share a sharp triangle of Marriott-owned land, an inlet facing Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas' bustling cruise-ship-dominated capital). Morning Star holds a crescent of beach on the eastern end of the property, looking out on yachts and sailboats. The Frenchman's Reef was entirely renovated in 2011, revamping all guest rooms and bathrooms. It sits on the western side -- appropriately called the sunset wing and overlooks docked cruise ships and the lights of Charlotte Amalie, which glow like stars up the hillside at night.
To some, the Marriott might seem a little lifeless -- it's a big-chain resort without the small-scale family-run intimacy of a hotel like Bolongo Bay. But what it lacks in personality it makes up for in its modern rooms with superb beds and top-tier features that rival the Ritz-Carlton's.
Unlike at the Ritz-Carlton, you won't get a warm greeting on arrival, and it might take some sleuthing to find one of the many porters to help with your bags. Being such a large hotel, its staff isn't likely to remember you by name (or bother trying) and you might get stuck waiting for your breakfasts or waiting in line to check-in. But the hotel, in general, upholds the service standards of a hotel in its price range.
Near duty-free shopping in Charlotte Amalie, but a very long hike from anywhere
The resort is located just outside Charlotte Amalie, the biggest city in St. Thomas and the hub of all of its cruise ship activity. The resort itself is on some prime real estate -- it presides over the central port -- but getting to a shopping district or anywhere to eat means a painful, 30-minute walk along a winding road without sidewalks that I swear, on my grandfather's exaggerations, is actually uphill both ways.
Or, you can just take a taxi for about $6 per person to the cloest "town," which isn't Charlotte Amalie proper, but rather a less-attractive network of strip malls, bars (like the late-night local haunt, the Shipwreck Tavern), fast-food joints, and congested roadways that sprung from the cruise-ship port nearby. Most notably, the Havensight Mall includes a bookstore, a post office, and about two dozen jewelry and electronics stores like Bernard K. Passman, which features black coral jewelry, and Gems and Jewels, which has an on-site gemologist and a collection of rare stones.
20- to 40-minute, $12 taxi ride from the airport (depending on traffic)
Free on-site parking
When buying booze, snacks, or snorkel gear, everyone in town will point you to the Kmart just up the road (about an $8 cab ride or a grueling 35-minute walk from the hotel).
Charlotte Amalie, the historic shopping and boozing hub (for over 300 years), is about a $10 (per person) cab ride away. The Marriott also offers a boat shuttle to the shopping center.
Wide stretch of mostly soft sand in front of the Morning Star side of the resort (a long walk from the Frenchman's Reef side).
Outside the Morning Star resort, the Marriott has a wide, soft sand beach. The beach is scattered with weathered sandcastles and stocked shoulder to shoulder with lounge chairs (free to use).
But getting to the beach from Frenchman's Reef requires the following steps: 1) take the elevator to the 2nd floor; 2) walk past the Harbor Pool, the Sunset Bar and Grill, and the wedding gazebo; 3) take the "scenic elevator" down another two floors, past a waterfall and a helicopter pad; and 4) walk along the wood-planked and PVC-piped boardwalk past the tennis courts, the seaside pool, the beach shop, and Coco Joe's restaurant and Iguana Bar. Bring a map and a sturdy pair of flip-flops.
Though I only spotted soft sand, warnings of sharp coral are posted along the beach (perhaps for liability purposes).
The bay does, however, bring a somewhat harsher battering of waves than you'd find on the beach at the Ritz-Carlton -- good for boogie boarders, bad for toe dippers and nervous parents.
Water sports like kayaks and Jet Skis are on the far end of the resort.
Modern, and clean -- very much up to the Marriott standards
The standard room, called a "Resort View Room" (its actually a parking-lot-view room), is on the Frenchman's Reef side of the Marriott Resort. Its large, clean, and very well equipped. Since upgrading the tiny balcony in the standard rooms, the rooms at the Marriott easily contend with the guest rooms at the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas and rooms at the Westin St. John as among the best, most comfortable standard rooms in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
All of the rooms in the Frenchman's Reef side were renovated in 2011. All rooms now have expanded balconies, Caribbean color schemes and decor, and new desks with ergomonic chairs (for lumbar support). Bathrooms have new tile and lighting, as well as sliding barn doors.
Rooms start at a comfortable 400 square feet (about average for St. Thomas); standard rooms have either one king-size bed or two double-size beds
Excellent "Marriott Revive" beds: pillow-top Serta Perfect Sleeper mattresses; high-quality sheets; thin feather duvet; cozy polyester-blend blanket; two oversize foam pillows for back support and two feather pillows.
19-inch LCD flat-screen TV with pay-per-view movies and networks from Puerto Rico
Hot, high-powered showerhead; dainty tub, ergonomically molded for bathing
The resort has an impressive pool area overlooking the water, with a healthy share ofiguanasflopping past. Note: Iguanas are vegetarians. They look sharp but are actually very soft and friendly -- one guest I spoke to likened them to "kitty cats."
The pool area was redone in the 2011 renovation, converting the main pool into an infinity pool, adding an adults-only infinity pool, and a kid's pool. The deck and waterfall were also expanded, and a granite staircase was added for direct access from lobby to pool.
Frenchman's Reef infinity pool wraps halfway around the property. On one side, the pool is walled in by a cascading waterfall and a volleyball net. It leads under a bridge to the swim-up bar, and is met on the opposite side by a larger swimming area with a fountain at the center.
On the Morning Star side of the resort, beside the tennis courts, is a slightly smaller pool with a hot tub in the center and some waterfall ornamentation on either side. The less popular of the two pools (maybe because it's farther from the bars), it was generally preferred by families.
Aldready voted "Best Fitness Center in the Virgin Islands" every year since 2005 by the V.I. Daily News, the fitness center was redone in 2011. The Life Equipment at gym includes five ellipticals, six treadmills, weight machines, free weights, and stationary bikes.
With a popular hair salon and a full menu of features, the spa is especially popular among brides-to-be. The spa has its own pool are with therapeutic bubble beds and massage tables.
Kayaks, Jet Skis, and a scuba diving organization are all on-site. For any off-site excursions, the Adventure Center outside the Frenchman's lobby will make all the arrangements.
For snacks and gifts, the Star Market and Presto Market are open until 2 a.m. (located outside the lobby on both sides of the resort). But they're grossly overpriced (around $8 for a bag of chips!); head to the nearby Kmart.
Overpriced but fairly tasty (and the only easy option)
The Marriott has a habit of price gouging for mundane meals. In general, the quality of the food at the Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort is good, not great, and the prices -- are fairly pricey-- they can double the cost of your vacation, quickly. Seeing as there's nothing else to eat within walking distance of the hotel, you'll have to either rent a car or take a $6- to $10-per-person taxi into Charlotte Amalie if you want anything else. And still, the options are somewhat limited and the food tends to be equally mediocre and overpriced. But this is the case just about anywhere in St. Thomas.
Room service available daily.
Aqua Terra is a casual grill and lounge with great views of the Charlotte Amalie Harbor, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Sunset Grill, open lunch-only, serves American and Caribbean on an open-air terrace overlooking the harbor and pool.
Rum Bar is a great place to enjoy a night cap, and boasts an all new terrace.
Havana Blue, on the Morning Star side, is a more upscale dinner restaurant serving Latin-fusion.
Coco Joe's is your basic resort-destination restaurant and bar, with limited American fare for lunch or dinner.
SandBar is the snackbar serviced by Havana Blue
Star Market is a good grab-and-go, with fresh fruit, box lunches, pastries, and salads. It's open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Presto Market is a carry out deli that even offers picnic baskets.
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