The smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. John enjoys a reputation as an exclusive and peaceful hideaway compared to other islands in the chain. Extolled for its singular beauty and biodiversity, visitors will be enchanted by its colorful corals, historic ruins, and friendly inhabitants. Providing casual luxury amidst rare tropical beauty, the five-star Caneel Bay Resort offers its guests a chance to be pampered while enjoying all of its unique amenities.
Accommodation type: 5-star
No. of Rooms & Suites: 166
Pricing: starts at $449 for Courtside Room, at $649 for Ocean Front Junior Suite, at $1,423 for Cottage 7
High season: December to March
Nearest airport: Cyril E. King Airport (STT) on Saint Thomas
Suitable for: couples, honeymooners, families
• Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, “Top Caribbean Resort List,” 2016
• U.S. News & World Report, “Best Hotels in the Caribbean,” 2016
• Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards, “Top 20 Family Travel” in the category of “Caribbean Resorts,” 2015
Set in 170 acres of lush tropical jungle bordering the Virgin Islands National Park, Caneel Bay Resort is a former sugar plantation transformed into a luxury island getaway favored by stars like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Venture capitalist and conservationist Laurance Rockefeller recognized the singular beauty of St. John and purchased hundreds of acres of land, much of which he donated to create the Virgin Islands National Park. With seven private beaches to choose from, guests will quickly discover why St. John’s beaches are considered among the finest in the world.
The sprawling resort boasts a resident herd of both wild donkeys and deer. Guest rooms have no telephones or TVs, allowing visitors to unplug from the modern world and enjoy a more relaxed pace of life. Rooms are simply furnished with plush bedding, thick bathrobes, minibars, ceiling fans and organic beauty products. A swimming pool provides a place to bask in the sun or take a cool dip during the afternoon.
• ZoZo’s at the Sugar Mill — local shrimp, Caribbean lobster, exotic fruits, pork and organic vegetables all enjoy expert preparation with Italian flair under the famous chefs of this fine restaurant.
• Turtle Bay Estate House — American-inspired cuisine utilizing local ingredients like Coral Bay honey, island pumpkins and cassava root for fare that is light, fresh and imaginative, served in an elegant, open-air setting that has views of the islands.
• Yoga Pavilion and Tennis Courts — 10 tennis courts serve up a challenge to beginners and seasoned players alike. The yoga pavilion offers classes in traditional techniques, and pilates instruction is also available.
• Spa — unique treatments such as hot seashell massage and use of bamboo wands help to relax travel-weary muscles. Beauty treatments include manicures and pedicures, hairdressing and lash extensions.
Guests are given a set of snorkel gear upon arrival for use during their stay. Daily afternoon tea service is complimentary and includes hot chocolate, cookies and a variety of pastries. Hikes guided by resort staff follow the trails crisscrossing the entirety of Caneel Bay Resort’s property. Use of all non-motorized water equipment, such as kayaks and paddleboards, is also complimentary.
Turtle Town, the free kids’ club, offers youngsters daily activities that include cooking classes and steel drum music lessons. Meals and entertainment for children are also included at no extra charge.
Most visitors to St. John fly into the international airport on St. Thomas and take a ferry to the island. Caneel Bay Resort maintains its own ferry system, or guests can opt to take one of the public ferries that make regularly scheduled trips to St. John. For those taking the Caneel Bay ferry, a representative will meet with them in baggage claim. Transportation is provided to the dock, and upon arriving in St. John, visitors will meet the transfer vehicle for the ride to the resort.
For those wishing to rent a vehicle for their stay on St. John, taking a public ferry to Cruz Bay and renting a car once they arrive is the best option. When leaving Cruz Bay, take North Shore Road for approximately two and a half kilometers before taking a left onto Salomon Bay Road. After 200 meters, take a right onto the resort road and follow signs for the parking area.
Main Attractions Around Caneel Bay Resort
Coral Reef National Monument
There are 45 species of coral found in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and this national monument boasts 30 of them. Comprising an astonishing underwater landscape as well as a mangrove ecosystem, this three-mile-long stretch of coral provides shelter for fish, sponges and an array of other invertebrates including anemones. Visit Hurricane Hole for some snorkeling among the mangrove trees, and learn about the area’s history as a refuge for boats during storms. Visitors can drop by the Virgin Islands National Park’s visitors’ center for information about the variety of species in the habitat.
Annaberg Sugar Plantation
Dating from 1780, this evocative ruin provides an excellent example of the sugar-making industry on St. John during the colonial period. A looping trail spans the evocative ruins, providing visitors with lovely vistas out over Leinster Bay and close-up views of the impressive, though crumbling, remains of the factory, windmill, slaves’ quarters and other outbuildings. The cookhouse provides visitors with a taste of local tropical fruits and homemade bread. Informative guides can direct guests to areas of interest and provide historical anecdotes. Climbing to the top of the plantation allows for fabulous unobstructed views over the ocean and forests.
A one-stop must for those who want to take back a memento of their trip, this popular shopping center, based on historic plantation designs, houses boutiques, galleries, cafes, and restaurants. Peruse local artisans’ handiwork, enjoy lunch or an ice cream and have a cocktail or shop for a new outfit, all in one atmospheric place. Its location just off of North Shore Road in Cruz Bay makes it convenient to visit when exploring the city. The site also has a bubbling stream and a collection of tropical native plants to enjoy.
With all of the charm of St. Thomas but far more tranquil and relaxed, St. John is a haven from the frenetic pace of everyday life. Have you spent some time in the Virgin Islands? If you’ve had a chance to explore the tropical jungles and white beaches of St. John, or have stayed at Caneel Bay Resort, let us know about your adventures in the comments below. If you cannot get enough of the beauty of the Caribbean, you might want to consider Fairmont Mayakoba as your next destination.