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Caneel Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands trip report

  • Submitted by: Joe Collins
  • Submission Date: 10th Feb 2005



Details:




We left from Newark Airport 12/9 (13 degrees F when we left) on a 9am flight and flew directly to St. Thomas airport. We walked over to Caneel Bays reception area at the airport and they took it from there. They took our luggage from us and placed it on a taxi. We then hopped on that taxi and it took us to the harbour at Charlotte Amalie. There we boarded their boat for the 30 minute ride to their Caneel Bay dock at St John. They offered us complimentary drinks on the boat (Fruit drinks and a tasty rum-based concoction).

We were in the water at 3:30pm Atlantic Standard Time. We left Caneel Bay on 12/15 at 10:30am (AST) and flew home later that day.

NOTE: AST is one hour later than EST.






OUR ROOM:




We asked for room 111 but it was occupied so they gave us 113, a better room, somewhat more private. These two rooms are ground floor at Hawksnest Bay, a secluded beach that faces north east.

The room is a large studio. The front wall is all screens (with shades for privacy). The back wall is mostly glass (with some screens), again with shades. About 20 steps out the back door through the sea grape trees puts you in the water. The view is great- St Mary's point and Tortola are in plain view. Its been said this location (HawksNest) is the prettiest of their 7 beaches.

The room has a refrigerator, some lights, chairs, a small table. The bathroom area is of 3 parts; Shower/Toilet, double sink area and a large closet (where the room safe is located).

The room does NOT have a TV, radio or phone - thus very peaceful and quiet. It is NOT air-conditioned but just has a fan but this was not a problem since we had the trade winds to give us a nice steady breeze.

Rooms do NOT have a kitchen or cooking area so you cannot prepare your own food per se. In effect, you must use their eating facilities.






GROUNDS:




Simply beautiful, manicured. Many exotic plants and trees. They have lighted walkways and also a shuttle bus (small and simple) that can be used to travel around the property (to restaurants, beaches, etc). It is about 170 acres in size and just 170 rooms so there is plenty of trees and open space. We didn't see very many mongooses - these are large rodents that are friendly and look for handouts of food. There were many small lizards around. We also saw a huge beehive in one tree and termite nests in some other trees. [We had been here 5 years ago and mongooses were everywhere and fairly friendly. We heard that a lot were lost in the hurricane].




BEACHES:




Beaches are the main attraction of this resort. We stayed and swam at Hawksnest - just too easy to get to. This is shallow for 10 ft or so (1-2ft) and then drops to 4 feet and gradually deepens to 50' and more. The waves were minimal, if at all the first few days but picked up to 1' high as a storm passed through the area. Snorkelling was quite good - I observed many sea turtles (2-3' across), some rays, 3-4 good size Great Barracudas (some 4' and more) and innumerable smaller fish, by the millions, of all shapes, sizes and colours. I also spotted a 6' nurse shark. [again we were here 5 years ago and snorkelling was somewhat better, octopus, lobster, moray eels back then.]

Caneel bay also offers rafts so you can lazily float away on the water. We did some of this - very relaxing indeed...

The snorkelling, rafts are all complimentary, as are sailboards, kayaks and sunfish sailboats.





DRESS:




Casually dressy....off the beaches you must have a top on, i.e. a shirt. Shoes also required away from the beaches (dock siders, etc). For dinner, its somewhat dressy, i.e. very few people in jeans. Long pants required at night - in winter season, a dress jacket also required. Ladies can wear sun dresses or the like. Its an upscale sort of place but in a pleasant way - so you need to dress nice but not in an elegant way. No flashy jewelry.






FOOD:




The resort offers a variety of meal plans. The FULL plan costs $80 per person per day. The day starts with Dinner and ends at lunch the next day. Ala Carte is what we chose and this saved us $200-$300 over the whole week.

Food was very good and with a good selection all around.

FOOD TIPS:

From 7am to 8am, they have a COMPLIMENTARY breakfast, with coffee, juice, coffee and danish. This is near the dock area.

From 4pm-5pm, they offer an afternoon tea, with iced tea, hot tea and biscuits, again COMPLIMENTARY. This is at the Turtle dining area.

On Monday from 6pm-7pm, they have the Managers reception where they have free drinks and various munchies, all COMPLIMENTARY. Dock area.

Sunday brunch is a good deal with wide variety of food. Cost was $27 per person. Monday night grand buffet is also very good with a tremendous variety of food of all types. Cost $50 per person.

The Turtle bay restaurant is somewhat more expensive than the others if you are paying ala carte - be forewarned. Other choices are the SugarMill and the Caneel Bay Restaurant. All three restaurants have nice views. I think they cost out the Food at $47 for dinner, $18 for breakfast and $25 for lunch (but mostly for bookkeeping purposes). If paying ala carte, you simple pay for what you order. Tips are extra and we tended to tip 15-17% for full service food and 10-15% for buffets. Alcoholic drinks are extra but soft drinks are free, by and large. All breakfasts include a complimentary summary of the NY Times with your breakfast (an 8 page fax from the NY Times).

If you plan to stay at the resort and not sightsee, the full plan is probably the better deal. Otherwise, go ala carte.






OTHER:




We went to Tortola for a day - very hot which made it uncomfortable. But if you go, be sure to go in the Sunny Caribee shop in RoadTown. A cute shop with exotic teas, spices and so forth. The ferry from Cruz Bay cost us $56 roundtrip to Tortola and that took us to West End on Tortola. Then we grabbed a cab to Road Town. Cabs were somewhat cheaper on Tortola than the USVI but inexpensive either way. I think it was $5 to go from West End to Road Town for 2 people. For an extra $10 (ttl) or so, the cabbie may give you the GRAND tour - its worth it for taking pictures, i.e. he takes you to the mountain tops and beaches. Really stunning views - ask him.

For those who like to work out or exercise while staying at the resort, they do not have a gym or any such thing (no jacuzzi, no exercise room, etc). They do have hiking trails and plenty of walkways; they also have a pool (for laps) and tennis courts.

Caneel Bay provides free trips to St Thomas if you wish to shop or simply tour. be sure to find out where the free trip to ST Thomas lets you off....its either Red Hook or Charlotte Amalie. In general, you prefer to be picked up/dropped off at Charlotte Amalie - my point it to ask about this so you don't get lost, delayed or stranded. They also provide a bottle of rum and various other items, also complimentary (pocket flashlights, an umbrella, various shampoos, bug repellent, etc). Caneel also has nightly movies for those who wish to watch them. They also have nightly music that you can simply go and watch or listen to - always easygoing music that is regional in nature, i.e. steel drums, etc - again all complimentary. Caneel Bay pays for all transportation to and from the airport, i.e. the boats, the taxis etc, as needed. They will take your luggage to the airport when you go and just drop you off in town to go shopping. You meet up with your luggage later at the airport.

They have a gift shop on premises that some guidebooks say are expensive- we don't think so and did comparison shopping and found the gift shop to be actually cheaper than shopping elsewhere on the island.

We went to Cruz Bay (major town on St John) to see it. Its unique and folksy and somewhat rundown. The phrase third-world came to mind.

Caneel Bay offers complimentary Tennis clinics at their tennis courts and also has a good size freshwater pool - we didn't use these facilities. Use of the tennis courts is free.

The Caneel bay help is simply super, all friendly and very eager to be helpful. They employ about 200 people in various capacities...4 people met us when we arrived and 7 people waved good bye when we left.

We met a couple there - the wife told us she had been there 20 years earlier and she said the place hadn't changed in all those years. Its worth mentioning this since it gives you a sense of what they are trying to do for their customers at this resort. [We met other couples who have been coming every year for 15, 20 and 30 years - they say it has changed somewhat but its still great].

The resort itself is pricey but you get a lot for your money so we feel it nets out cheaper than staying at Disney World (at one of their better hotels). We paid $385/night plus food for our room and all the complimentary stuff. I would cost out the complimentary stuff (if you use it all everyday) at around $100 per day (movies, teas, boat trips, snorkelling, pocket lights, night-music, bug-repellent, kayaks, sailing, tennis, etc) assuming there are two of you at the resort. The beaches themselves were simply beautiful - perhaps the best I've ever seen (speaking of HawksNest).

Since this resort is pricey but also serene and bucolic, you get an unusual group of people there. As examples, we saw Jack Nicholson of film fame (but didn't bother him). We heard Meryl Streep was there but didn't see her. Alan Alda and Mel Gibson are to arrive Monday and usually stay for a few weeks. Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro have also frequented the place.






SHOPPING:




Little to none in the resort itself - just in the gift shop which has the usual and unusual - not a big place but has plenty of stuff. The major shopping is in Charlotte Amalie, the main city in the area. There are both good and bad values so shop carefully....liquor is CHEAP, jewelry is somewhat cheap while china seemed expensive. There is no tax and limited duty taxes. READ about the shopping before you so and know your prices before you buy. There is PLENTY of FREE info on shopping and touring - its available in the airport and most stores, just ask for the yellow weekly flyer and also the island specific maps - FREE.




TAXIS:




Agree on the price before you ride - all prices are fixed and published in the yellow flyer and posted in each cab. Tips are included in the price. I recall it $2.50 per person to go from Caneel Bay to Crux Bay.




DRIVING:




We didn't rent this time. If you do, keep valuables out of view, i.e. put them in the trunk. Drive on the LEFT.




WEATHER:




Mostly sunny but we did have a bit too much rain to suit me. Bring books for the rainy days or go sight-see. Temperatures were between 75 and 90 every day. Breezes were from the east and they say that is usually the case.




SCENERY:




Great Views:

St. John: We didn't do this but go to the top of the island and take pictures. Go also to Trunk bay, Cinnamon Bay and Maho bay -all on north side of the island and very pretty. Personally, I loved sitting in the lounge chair on the beach at HawksNest and just admiring the spectacular view in the late afternoon. I did this almost every day - a stunning view.

St. Thomas: Magens Bay (north side of the island) is said to be one of the prettiest in the world. View it up close or go to MountainTop and look down on it. The harbour at Charlotte Amalie is also VERY pretty, especially with 2-3 large cruise ships visiting.

Tortola: Again, go to the top of the mountains and take pictures facing both north and south. Stunning!






CURRENCY:




The American dollar and travellers checks work fine. Most places honour charge cards as well. This is also true for Tortola (a British island).





IDENTIFICATION:




Bring a current passport - you need it for Tortola and you will likely need it coming back to the mainland - you need to clear through customs before you board the plane. Passports can take 3 months to get so do it NOW.

Hope that helps....

Joe
painter@cybernex.net


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