Editors' Picks

Caneel Bay

Currently closed

Salomon Bay Road, Virgin Islands National Park, St. John 00830, USVI


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At a Glance

In a world of cookie-cutter luxury, Caneel Bay dares to say no to every cliché.

Indagare Loves

  • Seven stunning beaches on property
  • Calm waters and a kids’ club for families
  • Delicious Equator restaurant, set in the ruins of a sugar mill


There are no monster plasma-screen TVs in the bedrooms at Caneel Bay—no TV at all, in fact. No tricked out 800-square-foot marble bathroom with double sinks. Not even a telephone (and pretty spotty cell coverage). Just 166 simple rooms with tile floors, tatami mats, casual wood furniture and celadon fabrics. At Caneel, the wow factor is the spectacular setting: seven of the prettiest beaches you’ll find anywhere and a gorgeous 170-acre property to get lost on.

Like all great resorts, Caneel began with a very personal vision. Laurance Rockefeller first fell in love with St. John on a sailing trip in 1952, when the island had very few inhabitants. He bought the land where the hotel now sits (along with 5,000 acres that he would later donate to the U.S. National Park) and began to design the very first RockResort. By the 1960s, Caneel had a loyal cast of regulars who cherished the deliberately low-key ambiance, right down to the famous lack of air conditioning. After it became a Rosewood Resort in 1993, Caneel did finally get A/C, but I suspect many guests turn it off, as I did, opting instead to open the louvers and sleep to the purr of the ceiling fan and the sound of the waves outside.

The property is great for children, with gentle surf and a kids club with a small jungle gym and tunnel slide. Walking through the main lobby in the morning, you may find toddlers coloring, while their parents plan the day’s activities. But keep in mind that the property is 170 acres, and the rooms are spread quite generously among them, which contributes to the priceless sense of seclusion. I usually like to walk home from dinner and it really did not make sense to do so at Caneel, given that my room (on Turtle Bay Beach) was about a mile away from the bar and restaurants. There is a shuttle service that circulates every fifteen minutes, so you just need to wait on a bench at the shuttle stop. If traveling with children, booking a room closer to the main buildings is recommended.

Caneel has three restaurants, including the stunning Equator, a round restaurant set in the ruins of an old stone sugar mill. Other options include the Terrace Bar and the Caneel Grill. In the morning, you can grab a croissant and some coffee at the bar, or opt for the breakfast buffet.

When you go to St. John, everyone will tell you to visit its most famous beach, Trunk Bay. While it’s certainly a knockout, it’s no secret, and God forbid you hit it when the cruise ships are in town. I will tell you that Caneel’s Turtle Bay Beach, an intimate cove of powdery sand and teal water, with views of neighboring islands, is just as beguiling—and on a recent March afternoon, I shared it with exactly ten people. That’s the charm of Caneel: the landscape is so lovely and varied (and uncrowded) that there’s no real need to ever leave the property. One day, you might try Scott Beach, popular for its sea turtle sightings, and the next go snorkeling off of Hawksnest or kayaking on Caneel Bay. Or have a massage in a wooden seaside cabana, to the sound of the ocean and the trade winds and the rattle of seedpods in the tam tam trees.

Given the high price tag, one might easily expect far more glamorous surroundings. Nothing is fancy here—not the beach chairs, not the bedding, not the crowd. If you dream of dazzling architecture, infinity pools and hovering beach attendants with spritz bottles and cocktails, this is not the place (try Las Ventanas or Amanyara). What you are paying for at Caneel is excellent service, an extraordinary location and blissful solitude. While there are a few fun dinner spots in town, St. John is fairly quiet. If you are looking for nightlife, a scene or action, you will be better off on St. Thomas.

In the end, I believe it is the resort’s simplicity that helps transition you away from the material world. This is underscored by small details. Instead of a chocolate at turn-down, for instance, guests find a shell. I dare you to try to accomplish anything at Caneel; I couldn’t even bring myself to read my book. It is too relaxing and soothing and spiritual a place. To quote Anne Morrow Lindbergh, I think you will find your mind “flattened by the sea; bare, open, empty as the beach, erased by today’s tide of all yesterday’s scribblings.”

TIP: To reach Caneel Bay, fly direct to St. Thomas. A Caneel Bay representative meets you at the airport and drives you to the dock in Charlotte Amalie (fifteen minutes), where you take the half-hour ride to St. John on Caneel’s private boat straight to the resort’s dock. You are greeted with a cool towel and a rum punch or fruit juice.

Who Should Stay

People who prize natural beauty and like everything low-key. Those looking for space and peace.

Written by Eliza Harris

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