by Candyce H. Stapen
The resort sustained damage during the 2017 Hurricane season and is expected to be closed for repairs and renovations through 2018.
Caneel Bay is a unique property. Its 170 acres make the resort the largest on St. John as well as one of the largest in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Big, however, doesn’t mean bustling. The 166-room resort is located within and surrounded by the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park. That creates a sense of space and tranquility. Signs remind you not to feed the donkeys roaming the land, descendents of those brought to work the sugar mills.
Caneel Bay actually predates the national park. Laurance Rockefeller first came to the island in 1952 on a sailing trip. Enamored with St. John, Rockefeller worked to develop the roads, power and other infrastructure necessary for a hotel. Caneel Bay opened in 1956 as a simple getaway, albeit one that attracted yachters and other wealthy friends of the Rockefellers.
Guests came to savor the island’s natural beauty, staying in the comfortable but basic cottages. To preserve St. John’s natural landscape, Rockefeller purchased an additional 5,000 acres and donated the property to the federal government, which eventually established the U.S.V.I. National Park.
Caneel Bay has stayed true to Rockefeller’s vision. To maintain Rockefeller’s sense of retreat, rooms at Caneel Bay do not come with telephone or televisions.
Our Editor Loves
- Children's program for ages 3 and up
- Seven onsite beaches
- Easy access to Virgin Islands National Park
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Family Room 5+
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The rooms are far from what you would expect at a luxury property. Adhering to Rockefeller's concept of the property as a retreat, the rooms do not have telephones or televisions. But in a concession to 21st-century demands, Caneel Bay provides complimentary Wi-Fi access in rooms. What's hard for us to understand is why Rosewood keeps the decor of Caneel Bay's rooms stuck in a 1970s mode of lime green cushioned couches, louvered glass windows, brown or beige floral or patterned drapes and wood paneling on some walls. To us, the rooms, although clean and comfortable, look dated and dowdy. We're told that Caneel Bay's frequent visitors do not want anything to change (except the Wi-Fi) and that includes the decor.
All of the resort's 166 rooms are air-conditioned and come with stocked mini-fridges, safes, bathrobes, slippers, hairdryers and ironing boards.
We just returned from USVI and BVI's and landed on the public Caneel beaches (which are public and accessible via water) and walked the area from our boat in the water and realized that serious investors would make the deal happen to resolve the land rights and rebuild. The vision of L. Rockefeller can not be lost since ROSEWOOD Little Dix in BVI (to be operating early 2020) and new investors of Caneel are the ultimate destinations to relax and enjoy nature alongside the caribbean. We started to visit both in 2005 - 10th anniversary (same year of Hurricane Rita/Katrina (we were actually that weekend it hit Nola), etc. - bad year for U.S) and continued to return annually. We were there 1 month before Hurricane Maria in 2017 when it was first destroyed as we rented about 10 rooms for my Wife's birthday party with her friends and family members and it was worth it for 6 days as part of a 14 day vacation and continued through other islands. I was wondering if new investors should now also support this beautiful historical prior operating resort and push to bring back what the amazing vision, Laurance Spelman Rockefeller. wanted and the world expects -- living as close to the NATURE of land and water un-commercialized - and simple. A Princeton philosophy graduate and a Law student at Harvard, Laurance could easily have become a lawyer and simply increased his own fortune. Instead of taking the easier path, he chose to commit his life to make the world we live in a better place. Laurance cared deeply about nature and science, and we hope his legacy continues as others see how much HE DID and we can not let that vision be destroyed ---but restored ASAP. I am shocked that his family is not stepping in to support this cause from the 1950's that currently is in shambles. This is so sad...it reminds me of the current global coral reefs which have all become bleached and have died in the last 20 years...
The beaches at Caneel Bay are public, so you can use them, as in the past. But, the resort has not announced its plans for (or if) reopening.
This spot is historic for St John. It shouldn’t be developed for private homes.
Beaches and Watersports
One of the special things about being first is that you get to choose the best location. Caneel Bay's spread features seven beaches. The longest, Scott's Beach, stretches about a quarter-mile; however, Scott's Beach as well as Paradise Beach restrict users to adults. For sand and surf families should head to Honeymoon, Little Caneel and Caneel beaches. Turtle Bay and Hawksbill, both good snorkeling beaches, attract nesting turtles in season.
Complimentary activities at the resort include the use of Sunfish sailboats, kayaks, windsurfers and snorkeling gear. Once a week or so, the resort shows family oriented movies for free. There are also scuba clinics, tennis clinics and lessons, plus a small fitness center for adults and a pool. Caneel Bay's four sailboats are available for half-day, full-day and sunset cruises or fishing trips.
Virgin Islands National Park
A favorite family trip, of course, is to explore the Virgin Islands National Park. Highlights include the underwater snorkeling trail at Trunk Bay, still nice even though the coral is not what it used to be as a result of so many visitors as well as storms, and the Reef Bay trail. Sign-up in advance for a ranger led hike downhill through the forest to the beach. Be sure to visit the ruins of the former sugar mill.
The concierge at the resort can help you book additional trips, including day sails to lesser-known, vibrant reefs for snorkeling and to out-of-the-way beaches for picnics.
Turtle Town, the children's center, operates programs for potty-trained children ages 3 to 11, Monday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Evening dinner and movie sessions are available Monday through Saturday from 6:30 p.m. through 9:30 p.m. With prior registration, the resort will operate a Sunday program. Lunch and dinner can be provided for a fee.
Located in the quieter Turtle Bay section of the resort, the children's facility is a good-sized, air-conditioned room with a wall of windows overlooking the greenery. Kids do not go swimming. They do go on nature walks and treasure hunts, listen to stories and create crafts. The children are not generally divided into different age groups unless there are many participants. Because of the lack of swimming and the types of activities, we think the children's program works best for ages three to eight. Older children, of course, are welcome and may very well be interested in a particular activity.
Caneel Bay also sponsors an artist-in-residence program. On select days, adults and well-behaved teens can sign-on for watercolor, pastel or other hands-on creative sessions. Typically, one day a week, the artist offers a special class geared to children. Additional fees apply.
Caneel Bay has six dining options for families and also offers meal plans, which are great for families, as they include breakfast, lunch and/or dinner (or any combination of the three meals) for one set price during your stay. Children between 5 and 11 years are also half the price of adults for the meal plans. Children 4 and under are free with parents who purchase the meal plan.
Cannella Beach Hut
Cannella Beach Hut, located on Honeymoon Beach, is a great spot to grab a snack without having to leave the beach.
Caneel Beach Bar & Grill
The Caneel Beach Grill serves kid favorites such as burgers, sandwiches and salads.
Turtle Bay Estate House
Adults and children over eight years of age are welcome at the breakfast and lunch buffets served at the Turtle Bay Estate House, a restored 18th-century plantation house. With seating for up to 10 for private diners, the Wine Room offers a seven-course menu paired with wines from Caneel's collection.
ZoZo's at the Sugar Mill
Zozo's serves terrific Italian food. Try the pistachio encrusted mahi-mahi, as well as the osso buco. The restaurant, which doesn't offer a kids' menu, will create a kid-sized pasta.
Enjoy coffee in the morning and gelato on hot afternoons at this little cafe shop at the resort.
Scott Beach Hut
Located on Scott Beach, this hut offers a grill and sushi menu.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Rooms come with a welcome bottle of rum.
The children's program is complimentary. Caneel Companions (babysitters) are available during the day and the evening for children too young for Turtle Town (fees may apply).
The Art of Smart Timing
Like many Caribbean resorts, Caneel Bay's high season runs from mid-December to mid-April; low season, from mid-June to mid-November; and shoulder season from mid-April to mid-June and mid-November to mid-December. You are likely to find the most families with young children visiting during Christmas and New Year's.
Caneel Bay operates its own ferry service from St. Thomas. You check-in at the resort's lounge in the St. Thomas airport's baggage area. Once you identify your bags, staff take them on the ferry and to your room. From the airport you are driven to downtown Charlotte Amalie to board the resort's ferry for the 35-minute ride to the resort.
Note: Sometimes the water can be choppy so children and adults prone to seasickness should take doctor recommended precautions.
Car rentals and taxi services are easily available at the resort, if you wish to explore the island.
For Mom and Dad
Although the resort lacks a spa, for adults, the Self Centre, offers an interesting program of yoga, meditation, stretching and other "healing" exercises. Two beaches are reserved for adults only.