Review: Caneel Bay Luxury Beach Resort for Families

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Caneel Bay Resort Review

Wait. Can you hear that sound? The perfect vacation sound: a combination of the rhythmic breathing of an exhausted child combined with gently lapping waves and echo of tree frogs. I like to call it my happy place.

We’ve taken the kids all around the world to explore mountains, cities and countrysides, but nothing beats the vibe of an excellent beach vacation. When it comes to family harmony, you can’t do better than Caneel Bay Resort in the US Virgin Islands. Founded in 1956, Caneel Bay sits in a national park on 170 acres of pristine land.

Spoiler alert. So we don’t waste each other’s time, I’m going to go ahead and give you my top three reasons you’ll love Caneel. If these don’t appeal, feel free to stop reading and go check out some fabulous fashion stories!

1.) You’re almost 100% guaranteed to see sea turtles swimming in the wild.
2.) Seven stunning PRIVATE crowd-free beaches—two of them adult-only. You know the resorts where you have to get up early to “save” a great beach chair? Yeah, that doesn’t happen here.
3.) Turtle Town kids club is not only clean, fun and organized. It’s also FREE.

Still with me? Good. Let’s move on to the details of planning your perfect beach vacation.

caneel bay transportation

Getting there.Lucky for us, there are several domestic carriers that fly directly to St. Thomas from New York City. We flew Delta, but American also flies the route. After a speedy 3-hour flight (thank you trade winds), we landed in St. Thomas. Upon arrival collect your things and head to the Caneel Office just outside the baggage claim, and check in—a cold drink and cookies await your arrival.

Once checked in, hop on the open-air shuttle to the port. We had 45-minutes to shop the port before boarding the Caneel Resort’s ferry. Hello rum punch (if that’s your thing, there’s also ice water)! The ferry chops along for about 30-minutes before docking at Caneel. It’s a swell way to get to your destination. There were MANY wedding goers on our boat. On busy weeks, Caneel can execute three weddings in a DAY. There are a lot of newlyweds on the island, as well as retirees celebrating momentous anniversaries. But fear not, families are more than welcome. Our press trip was dedicated to highlighting the kid-friendly side of paradise.

caneel bay resort room decor

The Facilities.Built by the Rockefellers the resort’s designers carefully respected the landscape of the island. Everything is tucked away so your eye focuses on the natural splendor, NOT the buildings. There are about 160 units at the resort and each has a charming view—but c’mon, if you’re flying all the way to the US Virgin Islands, go ahead and spend the money on the ocean view. We stayed in room 16 (note to families, rooms 15/16/17 can be connected so your entire family can be together!) right on the main beach and steps away from the main restaurants.

The rooms are clean and minimal. No splashy island art or over-the-top wallpaper. Like the architecture, the interiors are meant to blend into the surroundings. It’s like Caneel wants to have guests constantly looking outwards towards the sea.

Expect crisp linens, plush towels and attentive service. Each night the housekeeping staff left us seashells and little note. The rooms also included a stocked mini bar (pay as you go) and a complementary bottle of rum with cokes (use at your own risk!). I’m a bit of a toiletry snob, inferior shampoos bother me. The coconut-scented soaps were worth tucking into your toiletry kit to bring home.

What you won’t find: televisions or phones. In a nod towards restfulness, Caneel opted out of screens. There are some large TVs at the bar, but I was delighted that my daughter didn’t even have an option to veg out in front of the screen.

If you do need to reach civilization, Wi-Fi is available on most of the property. It can be hit or miss, but I was able to get emails sent off with consistency at night and of course loads of instagram shots that made my friends back in chilly NYC jealous.

Caneel Bay beaches

Beaches.Caneel has seven private beaches. Two are adult-only. The shuttles run all over the property bringing guests around, though walking is also an option. I’m told the best turtle spotting is at Hawksnest and Scott’s Bay, but you don't have to try hard to see them we spotted little ones off the main beach too.

The beaches have the softest sand—we barely wore shoes while at the resort—and the water was about 80 degrees, I’m told the ocean temps can get up to 87 degrees at peak. There is plenty of beach seating (ahem, Caneel—time to update the plastic strap beach chairs) and heaps of shade thanks to the trees. The water is clear and the currents gentle. It’s a perfect place to let the kids run free.

Caneel beach with kids

My little mermaid was happy on the main beach. She bravely swam the distance to the floating pier that was home base for the swimming. The blue "floaties" (rafts) also were favorites. Hours could pass just floating and soaking in the sun.

Be ready for the no-see-ems. The little buggers left their mark on us. And worth a mention, early morning beach goers might see some drinks glasses leftover from the day before. Beach cleanup could be stepped up. Shame, because families love early mornings on the beach before the pounding sun hits.

caneel bay activities

Activities.Most folks are going to spend 90% of their time at the beach (rightly so), but there’s plenty to keep you busy if you sign on for a 10-day vacation (the minimum night stay over Christmas break). Sure, you can definitely visit a different beach each day and make that your version of exploring. But why not step your explorations up a bit? We did the snorkel, hike, kayak adventure with Virgin Island Eco Tours (ask for Rob—he’s an amazingly mix of friendly and knowledgeable you don’t often find). The half-day excursion took us around the cove and to Scott’s Beach; from there we did a 45-minute hike where Rob pointed out all sorts of nature—lots of it poisonous! Hello tarantulas (yes, he was able to lure one out of hiding with a blade of grass) and a few plants like the Christmas Tree vine that I was glad I didn’t bump into.

The highlight of our tour was the snorkel. Caneel is renowned for turtle spotting. There’s the green and leatherback varieties swimming around. After our hike we put on our fins and masks and kicked out a few yards into the ocean. The calm seas are perfect turtle havens. After just a few minutes of scanning the ocean floor we spotted one! We swam around and of course keep exclaiming “TURTLE!” with glee after removing our snorkels. In all we spotted three turtles and dozens of fish in every color of the rainbow.

J-hook bracelet St. john

We also took a taxi to Cruz Bay to do a little shopping. The St. John “J-hook” bracelet is so iconic that the three bloggers on the trip couldn’t resist splurging at Studio Bamboo. Cruz Bay is also home to Woody’s a famous seafood dive.

I insist, you get out on the water. You can book a sailing excursion or venture out on the “booze cruise” –a sunset tour on a motor boat that gives you a fresh perspective of the beaches. Aboard the boat we were treated to light bites (excellent deviled eggs) and a steel drum concert. If you don’t want to venture far visit the water sports desk and get a free kayak or paddleboard and tool around the bay.

caneel bay donkeys

One unexpected activity is donkey watching. 12 wild donkeys (and when I say wild, I mean no one owns them, there’s really nothing wild about them) roam the property to the delight of the kids.

caneel bay tennis program

Tennis Anyone?These are world-class courts (ten in all). It was well worth coming out of semi-retirement (it’s been two years since I picked up a racquet). The three kids headed to the shady court with Donald Becker for games and drills while the “big girls” got instruction from Eric. He ran us through our paces. Giving excellent tips to both the experienced (Kim Marie Evans) to the novice.

The resort offers daily tennis clinics—a steal at $25. This is a great way to improve your game and get in some exercise. The pro shop is functional (both my daughter and I had to borrow racquets), but lacks flair.

The Spa. I like to think massages are an essential part of my mental health program. I think I bought myself another few months of sanity after my Oceanside massage. Book one and enjoy.

Though I didn’t see it, there is also a beauty salon on the property.

Shopping.There are plenty of shops in Cruz Bay, but we found the shop at Caneel to be one of the best assorted and best staffed in the resort shop category. I scored a new Trina Turk swimsuit and my girl got a Snapper Rock cover-up. There were all the requisite toiletries, but I was impressed with the tasteful home décor items and the classic beach fashions. Nothing felt dated or cheesy—it smacked of the perfect blend of island chic.

kids club caneel bay, caneel bay resort family time

Kid Minding.Also known as “get in some mommy time,” I think all good resorts have to build in a way to give parents a break. Caneel Bay offers everything from sourcing a nanny for the week to a daylong kids club. They call the kids club Turtle Time; I call it well done. Located near the Hawksnest Beach, Turtle Town has a large outdoor area with some playground equipment. I opted in to the half-day versions. The kids played hide-and-seek and took a trip with a counselor to the beach to learn all about sea turtles. “Why are you picking me up early?”—Music to a mom’s ears when heading to pick up (note—I wasn’t early, time flies when you are having fun!). Did I mention it’s free? Good stuff.

Turtle Town is open to children 3 and up. Kids must be fully potty-trained. The club is open 9am-4pm and you can opt into morning, afternoon, full day, or the evening program which included dinner and a movie (6:30-9:30pm). The evening program has a $50 fee per child.

The resort will also offer, cribs and high chairs to families traveling with babies. Babysitting services are $15/hour for one child; $20 for two; $25 for three. No more than three kids per sitter. 4-hour minimum.

Speaking of limiting the schlepping, you don’t need to bring sand-toys. The resort had loaner toys (in good condition) that you can borrow from the activity desk.

And finally, there’s plenty of shaded spots. Our room had a shaded deck and plenty of trees lined the beach. Mom can get her tan on while baby naps. #CaneelfortheWin

Fitness.With all the delish food and cocktails (make that a mocktail if you’re expecting and on a babymoon), you might want to get in a workout. The fitness center is spacious has killer AC and tons of cardio equipment. No fee, just bring your room key. You can also join a yoga class on the platform overlooking the ocean. Of course, I highly recommend long swims in the ocean. Remember kayaking and paddle boarding can be great upper body workouts!

caneel bay restaurants

Dining.During our four-day stay I was blown away by the freshness and quality of the food. This isn’t dumbed-down island food. It’s fresh, sophisticated and oh-so-yummy. Start the day with the ocean-side buffet at the Caneel Beach Terrace. Fidgety kids can flit between noshing on fresh fruit and building a sand castle as the grown-ups linger over a second cup of tea and a made-to-order omelet.

If you are heading on a beach excursion, there is some service of food and drink on the main beach or you can have sandwiches made to pack in a cooler (all the rooms have coolers). The Caneel Beach Bar & Grill has a lovely lunch service too. I loved the Reef Shrimp Salad—light, crisp and refreshing if you want to go bolder, try the lobster tacos. Cruz Bay is just a ten-minute cab ride away. The hotel can make dining recommendation s there for you—most of it is casual.

For dinner you can grab a casual sushi dinner at the Grill. The skillful sushi chef had fresh materials to work with. Everyone applauded the meal.

ZoZo’s is THE spot for fine dining on the island. It’s a mix of island and Italian. All the pasta is hand made on the premises and much of the vegetables come from an organic garden on the island. Located in a fortress-like setting up on a hill, the restaurant is set in an old sugar mill. Note: There’s no kids menu and children must be well-mannered and over 6 to dine here. I have an adventurous eater. She loved the beet and goat cheese ravioli and the mandarin orange salad. The grow-ups adored all the fresh fish on the menu and the professional service.

Still a got room? Head to Cannella for a gelato. The kids gave it a big thumbs up.

Don’t miss High Tea at 4:00pm at Turtle Bay Estate House or the Breezeway. It’s included in the resort fee, and is the perfect thing to tide you over to dinner if you skipped lunch.

toes in the sand dinner caneel bay

Special dining is a big part of making a holiday memory. Toes-in–the-sand is an amazing private dinner the resort will arrange on the beach. They’ll set-up a gorgeous table and serve you in a secluded spot. We had a party of 7 with an island guest who gave us a bit of a history and art lesson and hosted a jam session with the kids. The hotel is more than happy to arranged these types of one-of-a-kind experiences. Make it part of your meal planning.

The Downside of Paradise
1. The beach has bugs. Bring bug spray. The rooms have spray, but if you’re picky about what you put on your child’s skin (I am) BYOR—bring your own repellant.
2. The resort’s interior is buzzing with shuttles and vans and carts. It seemed a little excessive and non-ecofriendly. I saw many carts with solo drivers and it seemed to ruin the zen of the atmosphere.
3. The tennis pro shop had no kid’s section and no kids programming. It would be great to add a kid’s clinic a few days a week.

For more information and to book your holiday head to www.caneelbay.com

Read more about the trip on LuxuryTravelMom here

Read more about the trip on SavvySassyMoms here

This is not a sponsored post. We were given travel accommodations to facilitate this review. Photos all rights reserved to Momtrends.com

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