Cruising Over Caneel Bay

Happy Saturday everyone!

We have another amazing video for all of you this weekend. It’s another cool one from IrixGuy – this time’s he’s flying high above Caneel Bay and Honeymoon Beach. Check it out:


Islands Magazine Highlights Caneel Bay

Image credit: Islands Magazine
Image credit: Islands Magazine

So I have to admit, I’ve always wanted to spend a few nights over at Caneel Bay but the accompanying price tag has always scared me off a bit. So instead, I’ve opted for day visits here and there where I’ve schlepped my cooler down to Honeymoon and Soloman before heading back up to the beach bar for a bite to eat and a delicious Bushwacker before making my way back home.

Well after reading the following article by Islands Magazine, I just may have to start saving a bit more. Here are their top 15 reasons to visit Caneel Bay.

15 Reasons to Vacation at Caneel Bay in the USVI

Caneel Bay is one-part luxury, one-part nature, one-part culinary heaven and all parts immersive. Here, life is simple, accented by to-die-for meals and the occasional roaming donkey. (Yes, donkeys.) Here are 15 more reasons to start packing your bags.

15. Nature Rules
As the yacht approached Caneel Bay Resort, I wasn’t sure we’d arrived at the right place. I squinted: No flashy entrance sign? Where are the rooms? Oh, there they are. Here, the natural beauty of the island takes precedence over pomp.

14. My Backyard
It’s no wonder nature takes top billing here … this is my “backyard” for the next few days.

Image credit: Islands Magazine
Image credit: Islands Magazine

13. Underwater Havens
Snorkeling gear is complimentary — and you’re going to need it. All seven (!!!) beaches of Caneel Bay boast their own underwater world, from sea-turtle meccas to fish-filled reefs. I even hovered over a spotted eagle ray. My advice? Book for a week to spend a day at each one.

12. Surprising Dinners
Here, sugar-mill ruins are as prolific as palm trees, so I wasn’t surprised to find one on site at Caneel Bay. What surprised me was what lurked inside: ZoZo’s at the Sugar Mill, the flagship fine-dining go-to on St. John. And I can fully attest to its reputation — ruins or not, there was nothing ruined about the pistachio-crusted mahimahi with grilled polenta and sweet bell-pepper chutney that had me almost licking my plate.

11. The Freshest Ingredients
I had to ask: Why does everything taste so fresh? Turns out the secret to Caneel’s distinctive dinners at all the restaurants — ZoZo’s, Caneel Beach Bar & Grill and Turtle Bay Estate House (chef Anthony has perfected the art of simple yet creative pairings) — gets delivered every morning. Locally owned Josphine’s Greens has been the prime source for farm-fresh, organic greens for nearly 20 years.

10. Days Spent Like This
Those hearty meals every night meant I had to paddle board every day (rough life, I know).

Image credit: Islands Magazine
Image credit: Islands Magazine

9. Discovering History
A hike on the Reef Bay Trail burns calories too — once I made it to the Reef Bay Sugar Mill Ruins, my mind had already drifted back to lunch at the resort. (The food really is that good, OK?)

8. Fuel for Foodies
Finally! Lunch time. Chef Kim’s killer sushi at the Beach Bar & Grill made me pause and question whether I was at a swanky sushi restaurant in Manhattan. The beach view in front of me quickly squashed that theory.

7. Empty Beaches
Stuffed with sushi, I was glad to have this private bay (my backyard) all to myself. Which I did — until I spotted a baby deer gingerly manuevering across the shifting sand. I suppose I can share this piece of paradise today.

Image credit: Islands Magazine
Image credit: Islands Magazine

6. The Cutest Neighbors Ever
I mean, how could I say no to this Disney-worthy face?

deer caneel
Image credit: Islands Magazine

5. Darling Donkeys
Or this face, for that matter. After some time in the sun, I thought I was hallucinating when I saw a long-eared shadow pass by my beach chair. But turns out, the famous donkeys of Caneel Bay are a common sight, along with the deer. They roam freely througout the resort and often pose alongside wedding ceremonies — or for selfies. (Might be guilty of that one.)

caneelbay_donkey 1_high-res
Image credit: Islands Magazine

4. Impeccable Service … And Rum
Deer, donkeys and now pina coladas? Caneel Bay Resort specializes in beach days that I’ll never forget — albeit they may be hard to remember after a few of these.

3. Killer Views
Most of the time, rain has me reaching for an umbrella. Here, I was just reaching for my camera.

Image credit: Islands Magazine
Image credit: Islands Magazine

2. Unique Touches
One of my favorite details was the hand-delivered breakfast … in a picnic basket. Being here is “glamping” at its finest.

Image credit: Islands Magazine
Image credit: Islands Magazine

1. Snorkeling
Not wanting to miss any time underwater, I forgo an extra hour of sleep in my beach bungalow for a before-breakfast swim with the sea turtles (a sighting is pretty much guaranteed). Even better? They’re not shy at all — I even scored an accidental high-five. Breakfast — picnic basket or not — can wait.

Image credit: Islands Magazine
Image credit: Islands Magazine

Reason #3,429 Why St. John is So Special (according to Jenn)

Donkeys at Caneel. We're not sure of any of these guys or gals are Scotty, but I'll venture to guess they may be related. :)
Donkeys at Caneel: We’re not sure of any of these guys or gals are Scotty, but I’ll venture to guess they may be related. 🙂

People often ask me what makes St. John so special. Sometimes it’s hard to put into words just how special this place is. For me, it’s a combination of the people and the sheer beauty of the island. Yesterday, however, the inner beauty and actions of several island residents overtook the island’s charm in a big way. Here’s what happened:

I received an email around 1:30 p.m. yesterday from a woman named Shannon. Shannon has lived in the Virgin Islands for more than 20 years. After a brief time off island, Shannon recently returned to St. John. (That in itself makes us happy.)

Here’s what she wrote:

“We were out at Cinnamon on Saturday and noticed (along with some other concerned folk) that a donkey was limping really bad and then retreated to the trees behind the sailboats there by the beach rentals and just laid down for most of the afternoon. Apparently these tourists had noticed this some days prior and called the National Park Ranger who then came in that afternoon to look at the donkey. The tourists told us that he had planned to have ‘someone’ from St. Thomas come on Monday to sedate him and take a look, it appeared to him that the donkey simply had something stuck in his hoof.”

Shannon continued, “Well, we went to Cinnamon again yesterday and much to our dismay the poor donkey was still laying in the trees behind the sailboats. Another donkey has taken up residence to soothe him or her. It’s so sad.”

Shannon then mentioned how she notified the National Park Service and asked if we could help. Naturally we said we would.

We first reached out to Thomas Kelly, the Natural Resources Manager at the National Park Service. Within an hour, we heard back from Thomas who confirmed that the NPS was aware of the donkey’s injury. He stated that they had hoped the injury would have taken care of itself as these types of injuries typically do. Thomas thanked us for reaching out to him, and we knew that NPS would follow up.

In the meantime, we contacted Leslie McKibben. Leslie is the newest board member of the Animal Care Center. I explained the issue to Leslie and asked her to reach out to fellow board member Oriel Smith. Oriel works at Caneel Bay Resort and takes care of the property’s many animals, including a number of donkeys.

As luck would have it, the ACC was having a board meeting last night. About an hour later, Leslie informed me that the donkey “will be taken care of.” I was ecstatic.

Leslie spoke with Oriel who stated the donkey’s name was Scotty. Scotty the donkey used to live over at Caneel, according to Oriel, before moving over to Cinnamon. Fortunately Oriel knows this particular donkey well and is planning on checking in on him today, Thursday. Oriel also plans to contact a local vet to assist in treatment, Leslie said.

So in a matter of hours, several people worked together to help an injured donkey. Acts of kindness like this don’t happen everywhere. But they happen on St. John and they happen often. It doesn’t matter if it is a person in need or an animal in need, you can guarantee that the people of St. John will work together to help. And that, my friends, is what makes this place so special.

Update: Thursday at 1:15 p.m.

We just got off the phone with Thomas Kelly from NPS. He told us that a biologist from NPS checked in on the donkey after our conversation yesterday. The biologist reported that the donkey was up and walking around and that he appeared to be suffering from old age more so than anything else. He used binoculars to inspect all four hooves and did not see any external injuries. So perhaps Scotty the donkey was simply looking for some quiet time…

Update: Thursday evening

Oriel Smith paid a visit to Scotty today also. Oriel helped Scotty out a bit and expects him to be back to his old self again really soon. 🙂

A picture of Scotty taken on Thursday afternoon - Image courtesy of Oriel Smith
A picture of Scotty taken on Thursday afternoon – Image courtesy of Oriel Smith

St. John: The Wildest and Most Pristine of the USVI

caneel bay donkey st john usvi
caneel bay donkey st john usvi
Image credit: Amy Laughinghouse, For The Philadelphia Inquirer

This article just appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer. We liked it so much, we thought we would share it with all of you. We’re sure you’ll enjoy reading it just as much as we did.

St. John, the Virgin Island’ Wild Child

By Amy Laughinghouse, For The Philadelphia Inquirer

ST. JOHN, U.S. Virgin Islands – I’m lying face down in a spa cabana at Caneel Bay resort, gazing absently into a bowl of fragrant blossoms. The door is open just enough to admit the serenade of the surf and the softly filtered sunlight of the sultry Caribbean morning.

Cheryl, a masseuse with startling blue eyes accentuated by a deep tan, is gently working out the knots I’ve accumulated through work and travel. In less than an hour, she transforms me from a bag of aching bones to a blissed-out beach bunny ready to relax and take on – well, as little as possible during my 10-day stay on St. John.

This is arguably the wildest and most pristine of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and that legacy of feral beauty began right here, at Caneel Bay, where philanthropist and conservationist Laurance Rockefeller originally built a house as a private retreat. He grew so fond of St. John’s tangled jungle of hills and white crescent beaches that he bought up huge swaths of land, which later formed the basis of the Virgin Islands National Park.

At the resort itself, which features just 166 rooms on 170 acres, you’re more likely to encounter herds of deer and donkeys than another human. Throw in a few mongooses and leaf-munching iguanas, and it’s practically a free-range zoo.

While it’s tempting to simply remain at Caneel Bay and play castaway, this is an island that’s made for exploration, as I’ve discovered over more than a half-dozen visits these last 12 years.

Cruz Bay, the main port, hardly qualifies as the big city, with free-range hens shepherding their chicks along a zigzag maze of roads. But it offers enough shops and bars and restaurants to put a dent in your wallet and add an inch to your waistline.

Pick a perch at the Beach Bar, where you can gaze out over the sailboats that fill the harbor while sipping a Painkiller – a potent combination of rum, fruit juice, and nutmeg that will certainly leave you feeling no pain, until the inevitable hangover the next morning. Woody’s is another well-known watering hole, with a couple of plastic tables on the sidewalk (to call it a “terrace” would be overstating it) that provide front-row seats for first-rate tourist-watching. For a splurge, head to the hilltop Asolare and try an aptly named Honey Badger martini, which packs a bite worthy of its name.

Of course, St. John’s best attraction is its 30-plus beaches. These range from the “Mermaid’s Chair,” a beach barely big enough for two that my friends and I visit on a catamaran trip one afternoon, to the sugary expanse of Cinnamon Bay. The quirkiest is Drunk Bay, a remote rocky beach where visitors – perhaps fueled by fruity umbrella drinks, lending the place its name – create whimsical sculptures of mermaids, pirates, and cowboys from coral and coconuts.

As stunning as St. John’s coastline is above water, more surreal scenery lurks beneath the waves. Trunk Bay – which CNN.com recently ranked No. 48 on its list of the world’s 100 best beaches – features an underwater snorkel trail, where I spot eels, reef squid, and a stingray hovering like a spacecraft above the sandy bottom.

At Waterlemon Cay, while swimming in a spectral cloud of shiny silversides, I notice a 4-foot-long, missile-shaped fish just yards away. From my panicked reaction, anyone would have assumed I was an ill-fated extra from Jaws.

Fortunately, my friends, both experienced divers, assure me it’s only a harmless tarpon. (Well, harmless to humans, at least. The silversides it swallowed would probably beg to differ.)

Undeterred by echoes of “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” we sign up for a kayak tour (very small boats indeed) with Hidden Reef Eco-Tours. Our guide, Jennifer Russ, not only knows some of the best snorkeling spots around the island, but she’s also a bit of an expert on St. John’s flora and fauna as well.

“Oooh, that’s a Pseudosphinx caterpillar,” she coos, eyeing a plump yellow, black, and red critter suctioned to a piece of coral at Haulover Bay, where we meet. “He’s poisonous,” she notes cheerfully, pushing sunglasses atop a mass of long black curls.

Of course, this creepy-crawly sounds positively cuddly compared to the manchineel tree, which Russ points out next to her stand of kayaks. Eating the fruit can be fatal, earning it the nickname “Death Apple,” and its sap triggers terrible blisters.

Leaving caustic caterpillars and flesh-melting manchineels behind, we paddle for perhaps half an hour, slicing through blue waters before Russ directs us to beach the kayaks. As we slip into the water in masks, fins, and snorkels, a pair of butterfly fish engage in a courtly dance just below, and rainbow-colored parrot fish crunch loudly on the reef.

But the climax of our afternoon is the sea turtle that emerges like a shadow from the deep-blue fathoms. Gliding through the sea, he’s the Dalai Lama of the depths, the very essence of serenity.

I reckon he’s just had a massage.

Amy Laughinghouse is a London-based freelance travel writer. You can read more of her work at www.AmyLaughinghouse.com