TRAVEL AGENTS WITH CLIENTS WHO WANT TO VACATION IN THE CARIBBEAN and stay at a small to medium-sized resort should keep in mind three properties in the U.S. Virgin Islands: Divi Carina Bay on St. Croix, Bolongo Bay on St. Thomas and Caneel Bay on St. John. It's nearly impossible to book a bad room at any of these places. And the convenience of choosing these islands for a Caribbean holiday lies in their being part of the United States, so no passport is required.
Although only Caneel could be considered "luxury," all three resorts are large enough to have a variety of activities yet small enough to guarantee the attention that guests desire. Each of the properties captures to some degree the best of the island on which it is located.
Divi Carina Bay Beach Resort, a regular on "best of" lists, offers five-star dining and access to the only casino in the U.S.V.I. From tennis to golf, sailing to snorkeling, the Divi strongly appeals to couples on a romantic getaway as well as small business groups looking for a Caribbean retreat. The property also caters to families with child care services available. (Contact the resort at least five days ahead of arrival to make arrangements.) Children 15 and under stay free with a paying adult.
All of the resort's 180 rooms face the ocean. While first-floor rooms provide access right to the beach, the rooms on the upper floors have terraces from which to watch the sunrise or sunset over the water. The rooms all come with such amenities as a wet bar, coffeemaker and satellite TV, and some are wired for Internet hookup.
Accommodations categories include standard beachfront, with one king-size bed or two queens; superior, which has a king bed and a queen-size sleeper; and deluxe, the largest type of room. There are also a limited number of premium guest rooms, with bamboo floors and marble countertops; two spacious one-bedroom suites; and 20 villas set a little farther back than the main rooms on a hillside but still almost right at the ocean. The villas have fully equipped kitchens and separate living areas.
The property boasts a watersports center, for guests who wish to sail or snorkel; a new 18-hole miniature golf course; two swimming pools; two outdoor whirlpools; a fitness center, which is currently being expanded; and lighted tennis courts.
Among its dining venues, the Dockside Café serves casual fare and the Starlite Bar and Grille caters to a more formal crowd for dinner. These onsite dining options are a bit limited and pricey, though meal plans are available.
Capitalizing on its stunning location, the Divi also does tremendous business hosting weddings and events, offering special packages including everything from banquet services to room discounts to a minister. For all guests, hotel staff can arrange tours, on land or on the sea, as well as watersports instruction, restaurant reservations and shopping assistance.
For more information, call 877-773-9700. Both the general manager, Patrick Henry, and the assistant general manager, Kevin Jackson, are eager to assist in making guests as comfortable as possible.
Over on St. Thomas, Bolongo Bay is one of the last family-owned resorts left in the Caribbean. While most decidedly not a luxury resort (rooms have shower stalls with fabric curtains), Bolongo Bay is truly renowned for its over-the-top hospitality. People return year after year to this beautifully situated property, which is staffed by many who have been there well over a decade.
One of the highlights is the resort's nightly cruise aboard a 53-foot catamaran across the crystal waters of the Caribbean. The boat, Heavenly Days, takes a sunset cruise each evening as well as regular day sails, both of which are offered complimentary to those booking seven-night vacations.
And a night at Bolongo Bay is not complete without a stop at Iggie's, a restaurant onsite that not only caters to hotel guests but has become a prime watering hole for locals and visitors from other resorts looking for a good time. In addition to Iggie's, Bolongo Bay is home to the Lobster Grille, with some of the best seafood to be found anywhere.
As at the Divi, there are no bad rooms at Bolongo Bay, though there are 10 units with garden views that are considered "value rooms." The resort has 65 beachfront rooms, 25 of them on the first floor so guests can walk right out of their room onto the beach. Every room has a balcony (on upper floors), cable TV, refrigerator, coffeemaker, ironing board, hair dryer and a queen bed or two doubles. Bolongo Bay also manages some nearby studio and one-bedroom apartments for larger parties or clients who just want a little more space.
Bolongo doesn't go out of its way to cater to family travel, but it does provide a kids' menu (complete with nonalcoholic versions of favorite island drinks) and referrals to outside babysitting services. The hotel's activities director and staff will set up tours and activities for guests, whether it's a trip to Coral World—home of the "sea lion encounter" and one of the most popular family destinations in the U.S.V.I.—or a chartered excursion to nearby islands (several packages are available, all of which include meals of one sort or another). Arrangements can be made prior to guests' arrival by calling 800-524-4746, ext. 2500.
There's no spa at Bolongo, but there is an onsite masseuse, Heidi Windel. Sessions can be booked ahead of time. The resort does have a small workout room, with a step machine, cross-trainer and stationery bicycle.
Bolongo Bay is owned by the Doumeng family. Richard Doumeng is the managing director, and his brother Paul is the general manager. Contact them at 800-524-4746, mailto:[email protected] or mailto:[email protected].
On the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. John, luxury is to be found amid Caneel Bay's seven pristine white beaches with water so clear you'd think you were looking through glass. Caneel prides itself on staying true to the island's heritage and providing a real disconnect for people who want to get away from it all. The rooms, all within feet of a beach, have no TVs and no telephones (guests who wish to rise at a certain time receive a wake-up knock on the door).
From free use of sailboats and kayaks to complimentary scuba lessons to rum tastings and child care, Caneel caters to guests at a level pretty much unmatched. And while clients can expect to pay for this level of service, once they set foot on the beach and are soon waited on by a man driving a bar from beach to beach, it's hard to argue.
Caneel offers 166 guest rooms in nine categories ranging from Courtside ($395/offseason, $550/high season) by the tennis courts to the renowned Cottage 7, which goes for $1,025 a night during the summer and $1,600 during the high season.
All accommodations feature a sitting area, stocked refrigerator, minibar, safe, iron and ironing board, hair dryer and umbrella. Each room has either a balcony or terrace looking out to the beach.
The resort welcomes families. It operates Turtle Town, a center for children 3 to 12 years old, with a professional staff and activities ranging from play groups to arts and crafts. Parents can leave their kids at Turtle Town and know they will have a good time.
For adults, Caneel Bay has the Self Center, a wellness program offering everything from yoga to holistic treatments to astrological consultations. The resort's concierge staff can make dinner reservations and arrange such activities as boat charters and watersports lessons (all of which can be done in advance of arrival).
For more information, call 340-776-6111 or e-mail [email protected] The hotel has a New York City-based sales office at 212-758-1735.