by Candyce H. Stapen
The Westin sustained damage during the 2017 Hurricane season and is closed for repairs and renovations through January 2019.
Picture a 47-acre property sprawled out on a Caribbean hillside that slopes down directly to its own beach. You do not need to imagine such a place: it exists at the Westin St. John. St. John, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is unique. Two-thirds of the island is protected as part of the Virgin Islands National Park. That means there’s much more greenery on this island than vacation home development. You just have to venture out of funky Cruz Bay, the main town, to explore. On this island with no traffic lights, you will discover nearly deserted white-sand beaches and abundant snorkeling and dive sites.
When you have had your fill of Robinson Crusoe adventuring, come back to the civilized comforts of the Westin St. John, the most family-friendly of the island’s two major resorts. The property features 175 hotel rooms as well as 146 villas offering studios to up to three bedrooms in units similar to condominiums that come with home-like conveniences of kitchens, washer/dryers, separate bedrooms and sitting areas. In addition, the resort features a daily children’s program and lots of water sports.
Learn more about Westin Hotels and Resorts, read Westin Hotels and Resorts.
Our Editor Loves
- Villas with full kitchens and living areas
- Children's program for ages 3 to 12
- Complimentary ferry to St. Thomas for shopping with a resort transfer
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Game Room
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The Westin spreads out on 47 acres that slope down a hill to the beach. To reach most rooms, you must climb stairs. Even though complimentary resort shuttles circle the grounds providing transportation, decide what location works best for your family. The beach front rooms are 370-square feet as are the poolside rooms. While convenient, these are likely to be noisy at mid-day. The garden rooms (buildings 21, 22 and 23) do not feature much of a view but offer 440 square feet of space.
Also, consider whether you would like a "villa," a studio to three-bedroom, condominium-like property that comes with the conveniences of a kitchen, washer/dryer and sitting area with a pullout sofa. We found our three-bedroom unit extremely comfortable. We saved money on breakfasts and snacks plus we used the sitting area for card games and working on jigsaw puzzles -- a family tradition -- and for hanging out. The three bedrooms provided privacy and the three bathrooms ensured no waits for showers.
Consider the location carefully for a villa as well. Many of the villas are located hillside in three-story buildings. The higher you go, the better your view may be -- but not always. Although our unit in building 26 was near the crest of the hill, our first-floor unit looked out onto bushes. Also, the third bedroom, a nice size for what is typically a tiny room in most resort condos, lacked a window, a situation that bothered my daughter a bit.
Unlike in the hotel rooms, the decor can vary significantly in the villas, as these have different owners. Westin constructed the first villas nearly 20 years ago. Other buildings went up more recently. Many owners, but not all, have renovated and some more recently than others. Some units possess a two-level floor plan. This can be great when you have teens you don't want to hear late at night, but less convenient when you have little children.
Our three-bedroom unit came with trendy, contemporary furnishings, including a blue glass-tiled kitchen bar, granite counters, dark wood furnishings, four flat-screen televisions, CD players and the biggest soaking tub we had ever seen out of a showroom in the master suite.
Despite some good views, we don't recommend buildings 31 to 34. Located across the road from the main property, these units are far from the main facilities and situated at the top of a very steep hill. After walking over to visit our friends in one of these buildings, we felt as if we had worked out on a Stairmaster.
Kids love a beach and the Westin's, at 1,200 feet, is long with soft sands, shade umbrellas and palapas and complimentary kayaks, pedal boats and other non-motorized water sports. An on-site watersports company offers sailing, snorkeling, diving and other excursions for additional fees.
The ferries from St. Thomas arrive in the resort's marina, just in front of the beach. While convenient, we noticed the marina caused the water to be slightly filmy unlike the crystal clear aquamarine ocean we experienced at other beaches on the island. Despite this, we found the water quality safe and enjoyed swimming.
The quarter-acre, irregularly shaped pool also draws kids. One area of the pool, shallower than the other sections, serves younger children since the resort lacks a separate, dedicated kiddie pool. On certain evenings, families gather in and around the pool to watch complimentary Dive-In movies.
Because the resort sprawls on 47 acres, the property never felt crowded, even though more than 90 percent of the rooms had guests when we visited. Edged with hibiscus and other flowering bushes, the lawns offer lots of "breathing room" and spaces for romping.
The local iguanas also love the landscaping. Every day at 3 p.m., 20 plus critters scramble out of their green hiding places to grab lettuce and other vegetables offered to them by the staff. The iguana feeding, a memorable "event" for little kids, takes place on the lawn near the wedding gazebo and the tennis courts. Monday to Friday, typically at 11 a.m., the resort has a Crayola Craft session. For a nominal fee, you and your kids can make picture frames or other items.
When children check-in to the Westin Kids Club, they receive a welcome beach bag with a hat, colored pencils, a make-your-own-postcard kit and a kid-friendly world map with stars indicating the sites of other Westin resorts. (How's that for clever marketing?)
The Westin Kids Club host activities for ages 3 (toilet trained) to 12, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., including lunch; 9 a.m. to noon or noon to 4 p.m.; as well as evening camp from 6 to 10 p.m. Kids enter the facility by walking through the teen room, something that probably doesn't delight the teens.
The program, with its colorful children's facility (a mix of blue, yellow and orange carpet) and stacks of games and crafts, appeals more to younger kids as most of the time children play together in one group. Kids do explore the property. Counselors take them to the pool for swimming, around the property for iguana hunts and to the beach for sandcastle building.
While it's nice that the resort has a teen room, we didn't see any teens hanging out there. Partly, it was the time of year -- after Christmas break when school is back in session -- but partly because the teen room seemed more like an arcade and less like a "program," even a loose program. However, when high numbers of teens are in house, the Westin offers teen-only kayak trips, para-sailing, shopping excursions and tennis clinics.
The open-air Beach Cafe, shaded by a roof, serves a breakfast buffet as well as dinner. Every time we ate at the Beach Cafe or passed by, we always paused to say "hi" to Max, an African grey parrot, Esmeralda, a scarlet Macaw, and Repo, a blue and gold Macaw. When we put two of our fingers to our mouth and "blew" a kiss, Esmeralda often lifted her leg to her mouth and seemed to return the kisses. Repo, we were told could whistle the theme song of the "Andy Griffith Show," but since we couldn't, we were never able to get her interested.
The only beachside restaurant open for lunch is Snorkels. The limited menu consists of a daily special -- a grilled fish or a sandwich -- plus a few salads. We liked the tuna and the Mahi Mahi sandwiches.
To please picky kids, walk to Mango's Deli, located near the gym. The eatery serves pizza, sandwiches and ice cream to go, and has a limited supply of cereals, bread and wine. You can eat on the cafe tables outside.
Cruz Bay Prime
Our friend's dined in the Westin's new steak restaurant and felt their meal was mediocre and overpriced. Since the restaurant had recently opened it may have been undergoing new-restaurant kinks and could have improved.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Babysitting is available for a fee. The gym, in a separate building, has glass walls and two air-conditioned rooms with good equipment. The property also has a small spa. Along with massages and treatments for adults, the spa offers 25-minute massages, 25-minute facials and manicures and pedicures geared toward children.
Just a few blocks from the resort's entrance is a grocery store. The resort will pre-stock requested items for your villa. You pay for the groceries plus a fee for the service. Before our arrival, we happily filled out the form for our selected groceries and faxed the list to the Westin. Hungry after a long day in transit, we looked forward to snacks of fruit, cheeses, crackers, chips and salsa. Alas, our cupboard was bare. The front desk told us our order would arrive the next day. It didn't. Somehow, it took three days of a four-day vacation for our groceries to arrive. By then we had purchased so many things at Mango's and in town that we didn't really need the groceries. We paid for them anyway.
Before your arrival, double-check that someone knows about your grocery order and will personally take responsibility for getting it delivered. However, you get the groceries -- from Mango's or from the local store, it's really convenient to have snacks and breakfast in your villa or even a quick dinner after a day of too much fun in the sun.
The Art of Smart Timing
Like many Caribbean islands, St. John's high season starts around mid-December and runs through mid-April. Low season runs from mid-April to mid-December.
Arriving at the resort is not as easy as we thought it would be. Many airlines fly into St. Thomas. From there, you can take either the resort's ferry service or the ferry service that leaves from Red Hook, across the island from the airport. The drive to Red Hook from the airport can be 20 minutes if the cruise ship crowds have departed, or an hour if they have not.
We had booked the resort ferry. By the time we received our luggage it was 3:00 p.m. The woman representing Westin at the small check-in center at the St. Thomas airport told us that we could not make the 3:30 p.m. ferry because of traffic. Therefore, we would have to wait two hours for the 5:45 ferry. Despite pleading with her to ask the ferry to wait a few more minutes for us, she refused, even though the drive to Yacht Haven, where the ferry awaited, was only a 20-minute drive. After a long day of flying, we were more than a little annoyed about this delay. Had we not pre-booked the ferry, we could have taken a cab to Red Hook and from there taken a ferry into Cruz Bay and then a cab to the Westin. Our friends, traveling with simple carry-on luggage, did just that.