Almost ready for its close up: A first look at the reopened Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas
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Five words you never want to hear on the other end of the line as you’re packing for vacation: “Your reservation has been cancelled.”
A preemptive call to The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, to inquire about airport transportation options had me breaking into a sweat, and not the kind induced from lounging on a beach under the Caribbean sun, as an agent tried to pull up my impending booking. Luckily, with a little digging, they were finally able to locate the still-intact reservation but I couldn’t help wondering if the mix-up was an omen for the trip.
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The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas was in its third month of operation when I visited, according to one staff member I spoke to, after being closed for a $100 million renovation to repair damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017. As I learned from my colleague Summer Hull, you just never know what you’re going to get when visiting a newly opened property.
What I found upon arrival was a hotel that may be open, but wasn’t quite offering guests the full resort experience yet — which could be a dealbreaker for some considering the cost of a stay at this property.
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas is a top-tier Category 8 Marriott Bonvoy property. This means award nights will cost you 70,000 points for an off-peak night, 85,000 for a standard night, and 100,000 for a peak night redemption.
Predictably, a stay — even mid-week — at this property wouldn’t come cheap in the middle of high season for the Caribbean. Had we paid cash, we would have paid about $1,000 (about £774) per night, but we wanted to keep our cash outlay to a minimum so instead chose to redeem 155,000 points (for one off-peak and one standard night) which TPG U.K. values at around £1,085.
The resort quotes a daily resort fee of $85 (about £66), but I was “only” charged $50 (about £39) upon checkout.
Getting to the island of St. Thomas from New York was a dream: a quick nonstop flight from Newark (EWR) to St. Thomas (STT) meant wheels down by 2:50 p.m. local time. The drive from the airport to the resort, however, was a different story.
The Ritz-Carlton is located on the east end of the island, 10 miles from the airport. The hotel does not have any type of shuttle service in place and the island does not currently have Uber so your only option is to grab one of the many taxi vans waiting in the airport lot. You have two taxi options: Pay $90 (about £70) cash for a “private shuttle,” meaning you have the van to yourself, or $18/person (about £14/person) to ride in the same vehicle but with additional passengers. And by additional passengers, I mean seven additional passengers — so get ready to get close if that’s the route you go.
You could also rent a car, but beware that the quality of rental cars in the U.S. Virgin Islands is often not great, and you drive on the left-hand side in the USVI, which could be difficult for those used to right-hand driving on the mainland.
Because St. Thomas is very hilly, be prepared for a long drive (in our case, about 45 minutes) up very steep and winding roads. If you’re prone to car or motion-sickness, maybe skip the free shots offered at the airport Margaritaville on your way out.
My husband and I arrived at the resort around 3:50 p.m. We were met by friendly hotel staff who directed us to the check-in desk where a cold towel and delicious iced beverage (with optional Cruzan rum topper!) appeared within minutes. Despite official check-in being a mere 10 minutes away (4 p.m.), the room was not ready. This was especially hard to comprehend after a staffer mentioned the hotel was only 40% full at the time of our visit.
The receptionist asked us to drop our bags with the bellman and wait at Sails, the resort’s closest beach-front restaurant, while the room was readied. As we hopped on a golf cart to head down to the water, my husband had to ask that our luggage be moved from the middle of the unattended valet driveway to a secure storage room.
An hour later, we finally received a call that the room was ready. We waited 15 minutes for the bellman to meet us at Sails as directed by the receptionist but eventually gave up when no one showed, and walked back up to the entrance to retrieve our luggage and room keys.
The room — especially the bathroom — at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, was the highlight of the stay.
The term “well-appointed” is defined as “having a high standard of equipment or furnishing” when it comes to a building or room and this certainly was true of our standard king room. All the furnishings looked brand-new, modern in design, and the room was spotless.
There was also a sleek set of drawers under the flat-screen TV that housed a mini-fridge and DIY Nespresso coffee station with all the fixins’.
As the grounds and property were still very much a work in progress, many of the footpaths were muddy from landscapers.
Food and beverage
Dining at Alloro for dinner, where “fine dining transports you to Sicily by way of St. Thomas,” was not as disappointing, but still not great. We were told the restaurant was booked up when we walked in, and that the only seats were at the bar, which was more than fine with us, but odd considering all the empty tables.
An eggplant caponata starter ($16; or about £12) was served atop an arugula salad with no dressing and undressed grilled bread. The pizza ($21; or about £16) and pasta dish ($19; or about £15) were not offensive but nothing memorable. The resort is lucky to have such incredible staff working, who at least made the experience pleasant overall — and also knew how to make a great Negroni.
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, also offers a Club Lounge (complete with a killer balcony area) where you’ll find a light breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks (!) and dessert served daily for $400 (or about £310) per day per reservation.
Given how expensive it is to dine on-property and how, well, not great, the food was during our stay, I would 100% opt to go this route if returning. On our walk-through one evening, the selection of bites looked incredible (much better than what was being offered at the actual restaurants) and the self-serve bar speaks for itself.
The other move would be to take advantage of the local restaurants and bars that are a short taxi ride away in Red Hook.
When all the construction is complete, guests will have access to two pools on the resort’s property. However, only one of the two was open while we were there, so we were given access to the pool at the adjacent Ritz-Carlton Club residence property.
The pool that was open at the resort was a smallish infinity pool just steps from the beach. The pool deck was adorned with about a dozen lounge chairs and a few cabanas.
Due to construction, a large metal fence limited the deck space as well as the sunlight at the open hotel pool, which is probably why we rarely saw many guests hanging here.
The pool was also noisy as one would expect from a working construction site. The pool currently under construction should be a nice family-friendly option once complete.
I called to check in with the resort about the progress of the construction on this pool, and the agent I spoke to told me that it should be open by the end of next week, as it’s just awaiting a final water inspection.
The best part of the beach was the sunscreen station. A nice touch for those on a quick vacation not wanting to check a bag full of liquids or not wanting to buy a new bottle of sunblock on the island.
The pool at the Ritz-Carlton Club next door, however, was massive and offered a much better selection of lounge chairs and access to sunlight for those seeking an extra dose of vitamin D.
The beach on the residence side was also in better shape (softer sand, better beach chairs and trees for the sun-averse). It was about a five-minute walk from the hotel pool area, and worth the trip.
The gym was brand-new, with plenty of cardio and weight machines to choose from, and offered a better view of the ocean than our room.
Complimentary earphones, water, towels and fruit were also supplied.
The tennis courts looked great but we were unable to use them due to frequent rain showers and high winds during our stay.
Nonmotorized aquatic activities were included with the stay. We took out and enjoyed kayaks and snorkelling gear. Standup paddleboards were also available, although we opted not to take them out due to the rocky nature of the beach.
The restaurant and grounds staff at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, were excellent from start to finish: friendly, speedy and knowledgeable. Reception was hit or miss, at times unable to answer basic questions about operations. We did receive prompt service to repair the toilet as mentioned above, which was appreciated.
The grounds at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, were beautiful — the flora and fauna were abundant and tropical — and that’s even with ongoing construction.
There was a good deal of mud on footpaths and in grassy areas where crews were working during our visit. The footpaths are also very poorly lit, so a walk to dinner or around the property at night was precarious.
The room was top-notch and the staff wonderful. Once construction on the hotel pool is finished, it should be a nice play to catch some rays, relax and take in the scenery in peace.
Once the final details are finished on this property and operations have had a chance to smooth out the kinks, this resort will be worth considering for your next visit to St. Thomas, especially if you can do it on points. The food could still be a gamble, but if you opt for the Club Level option and/or dine in Red Hook as a Plan B, you should be good to go.
Featured image by Jane Frye / The Points Guy.