St. John’s lush and luxurious escape
There are remnants of hundreds of sugar plantations scattered across the U.S. Virgin Islands, but very few of them are surrounded by as much natural splendor as the well-preserved ruins found at Caneel Bay.
Situated just past the entrance to the property, the former mill situated among the palms does a great job of foreshadowing the beauty ahead. But even beyond sights like this, Caneel Bay, a 170-acre plot of paradise resting in the middle of the Virgin Islands National Park, distinguishes itself with a gadget-free mentality, an impressive culinary lineup and more amenities than you’ll likely have time to explore on your vacation.
Trunk Bay, a spectacular slither of a beach that critics and consumers have raved about for decades, is only a five-minute drive from Caneel Bay. But even if you don’t feel like making that short trek, the sands and cliff-side bluffs onsite are nearly as appealing.
One particular stretch at the resort, Turtle Bay Beach, is mere feet from a set of beachfront rooms. It earns its name because sea turtles have actually been known to hatch on its shores. Though you have to be extremely lucky to witness the ritual with your own eyes, the property has an abundance of other wildlife prancing about with regularity.
Some of the most frequent visitors are donkeys and white-tailed deer. The former were actually quite instrumental on sugar plantations at one time. But since the practice of refining sugar has long ceased on the island, the animals spend their time now simply clogging up Caneel Bay cartways, “posing” for pictures and grazing wherever they see fit.
The former estate of Laurance Rockefeller in the 1950s, Caneel Bay offers accommodations that are a mix of garden-view rooms, beachfront suites and oversized cottages. Wherever your unit sits on the property map, though, expect it to include handcrafted wood furniture, a soft green-and-tan color palette and Lady Primrose bath essentials.
As a part of a fairly extensive renovation in early 2015, many of the bathrooms in the Hawksnest Beach units were refreshed. But of all the luxuries you’ll find in the rooms, the two things you won’t see are televisions and phones. Caneel Bay is a place that stresses de-stressing.
So, to help you unplug, the property asks that you walk to a telephone pavilion just outside your room to make a call. Said spots are dotted throughout the property, so it’s never a real inconvenience.
But that’s not to say you shouldn’t use Caneel Bay’s forthcoming smartphone app for assistance during your stay, especially on those overcast days when you might need to place a room service order or request extra towels.
Ironically, one of the finest additions to Caneel Bay can’t even be seen with the naked eye. As part of the aforementioned makeover, fiber optic wiring upgrades were made to ensure you always have dependable Wi-Fi in the public spaces — remember, you’re relaxing in your room, right?
Other pluses around the property include M’Ocean Studio, a workout center for yoga and Pilates classes; basketball, soccer and tennis facilities; Turtle Town, a youth center offering everything from steel pan drumming and volleyball to a robust dinner-and-a-movie calendar.
During our late 2015 visit, the center was putting the finishing touches on a teen extension that would house video games, a karaoke machine, shuffleboard and more.
Adults certainly appreciate all of the youthful distractions, giving them plenty of time to schedule a spa treatment in one of the massage cabanas, sample the island-renowned sushi at Caneel Beach Bar & Grill or partake in a romantic dinner at Zozo’s at the Sugar Mill, the glorious address for northern Italian cuisine and views overlooking the 18th-century plantation ruins.