No question, St. John is stunningly beautiful, easy to get to, uncrowded, unspoiled and all around perfect. The first time Keith and I went was on our honeymoon in 2003. At the time, we were fancy free with no kids and a lot younger. We were amazingly lucky to have two sets of parents who were able to help us out with our honeymoon costs and fortunate enough to stay at Caneel Bay, a consistently high-rated luxury hotel. It is, simply put, amaze balls. 5 different restaurants (including a breakfast buffet like I have never seen–seriously there were whole lobster tails in this thing), a bar, 5 beaches (two where no kids are allowed), tons of activities, amazing service and pools and tennis courts. We have since taken the family to the Virgin Islands and I still say St. John number one for Virgin Islands with kids. Relaxing isn’t even optional, it’s required.
St. John is two-thirds national park, one third developed land. Even with the huge national park, there is plenty of other stuff to see and do if you are not inclined to go hiking (although I do recommend it). We spent some time off resort and visited Asolare Restaurant, which had insane views and even better food, Skinny Legs burger joint, Woody’s Seafood Saloon (which was owned by a recent college grad who came to visit St. John and just up and bought a bar and never left….I can’t even tell you how jealous we were of that guy), and Island Blues Seaside Bar. We enjoyed Cinnamon Bay beach and Maho Bay beach. We loved just walking around Mongoose Junction in Cruz Bay, an area full of dining, galleries, shopping and more. Obviously snorkeling and SCUBA diving are very popular in St. John and here are some local companies who can help you out. Arawak Adventures, Calypso Charters and Cruz Bay Watersports. All of these tour companies can help you with other various water sports, such as sunset sailing, paddle boarding, speedboating and visiting The Baths on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands (warning: bring your passport). Lastly, renting a jeep and driving around the island is great fun! We used Mr. Piper’s Jeeps.
Where to stay in the Virgin Islands with kids:
We stayed at Caneel Bay. Caneel is 170 acres, set on an entirely private peninsula. It’s accessible only by boat or ferry. Laurence Rockefeller discovered it while on a family cruise and set out to create a destination that would live in harmony with it’s natural environment. It has won awards for various things from such publications as Conde Nast, U.S News and World Report, Travel and Leisure and Wine Spectator. If you are considering the Virgin Islands with kids, this resort is fantastic.
The resort has rooms varying from basic courtyard rooms facing the tennis courts to beach front suites. The top end room is “Cottage 7”, located in what was Laurence Rockafeller’s private estate. All rooms are clean and comfortable and no TVs or phones, which I loved. Each contain both ceiling fans and air conditioning and a variety of anemities including shampoos/conditioners, bathrobes, minibars, in room coffee makers and beach towels. Another thing I loved about the rooms is the transportation to and from restaurants, pools, beaches, etc…..golf carts. Because the resort is so large, it’s almost impossible to walk everywhere so there are golf cart stations set around the the resort where you can catch a ride. One of my favorite memories of our time there was taking a golf cart over to dinner and seeing wild donkeys run past us–yes there are wild donkeys all over St. John, many of which live on the Caneel property.
Food food, wonderful food:
Restaurants are spectacular. The Beach Bar and Grill has some of the best cheeseburgers ever. We gorged ourselves on these things, bringing new meaning to the song “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. Also, try to BBC. It’s a drink and we couldn’t get enough….Keith even loved the teeny drink umbrellas! I mentioned the Caneel Beach Terrace and it’s spectacular buffet. Lobsters people. I think Keith had 4 tails for breakfast one morning. Get ready for a hefty bill though. Our newly married selves almost fainted when we got that check. The Turtle Bay Estate House is spectacular dining and very chic-chic. I definitely wouldn’t bring children, but there are plenty of other places in the resort to eat with kids. But for a couple, it’s a great, romantic restaurant. Zozos at the Sugar Mill is another romantic restaurant and children under 5 are not permitted. It overlooks the sugar mill ruins and has beautiful views and wonderful ocean breezes. Caneel also offers private dining on the beach or in the sugar mill ruins and room service and picnic lunches. They have everything covered.
Activities abound at Caneel Bay Resort and St. John in general. They have everything from sunset cocktail cruises to snorkeling and sailing, to SCUBA diving and day trips to the British Virgin Islands. They also have movies nights, art classes, yoga, pilates, massage services, tennis and, most important, a free bottle of rum…haha. Our kids, who aren’t really kid’s club types, really enjoyed their time at the club when we went to ZoZos Restaurant one evening. One of our favorite activities on the island was a jeep tour. St. John isn’t a huge island and you can easily drive around the entire thing in a jeep.
As a family, we have also visited St. Croix and St. Thomas and we hope to spend more time in the future in the British Virgin Islands. But when it comes to the Virgin Islands with kids, there something about St. John that can’t be beat when compared to St. Croix and St. Thomas. St. Croix is a bit boring, for lack of a better word, and definitely not as pretty. St. Thomas is rather large and I wasn’t a fan of the resorts. In addition, the amount of cruise ships that dock in St. Thomas is rather distracting. St. John remains one of our favorite places in the world.
edited in 2017: St. John experienced extensive damage during the hurricanes in 2017 and much of the island is extremely bad shape. There is no word on when the island will be recovered.