A do-it-yourself holiday: A review of the Westin St. John Resort Villas
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To The Point
The Westin St. John provides a sun-soaked vacation without even leaving the territorial United States. Pros: large rooms with kitchens and laundry machines, extensive gym and solid pool. Cons: limited on-property dining options, slow service, hard to get to the hotel.
The Westin St. John Resort Villas has officially reopened after suffering significant damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. The resort is Marriott’s only property on St. John, an island in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and it’s an easy vacation destination for American citizens looking to leave their passports at home in exchange for some UV rays.
Unlike most other Westin hotels and resorts, the St. John property was designed as a timeshare property. Throughout my stay, I was impressed with the property itself, but don’t expect everything to be done for you here.
The Westin St. John is open to both standard guests and timeshare owners. If you don’t own a timeshare, you can book rooms and villas directly through Marriott’s site. The hotel is a Category 7 property in the Marriott Bonvoy program, so a free night costs 50,000, 60,000 or 70,000 points, depending on whether you’re staying during off-peak, standard or peak dates, respectively.
During the off-season, it definitely doesn’t make sense to redeem points, as I’ve seen rates drop to $300 or so per night. Note that Marriott award stays include the fifth night free, so this could tip the balance to redeeming points, even during an off-peak date.
As its name implies, the resort is located on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Most travellers should fly into Cyril E. King Airport (STT) on St. Thomas, which is the main airport of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Once you’ve landed at STT, you’ll need to catch a ferry to the island of St. John (there’s no commercial airport on St. John). You’ll have two choices for the ferry: the “do-it-yourself” public one or the (much more expensive) private ferry.
The main marina for ferries to St. John is called Red Hook, which is about 40 minutes by car from the airport in St. Thomas. A taxi from STT to Red Hook should cost around $20 (about £15), and the 20-minute ferry from Red Hook to St. John costs about $8 (about £6) for the ride and $4 (about £3) per bag. Ferries run on the hour, every hour, so you may have some time to kill at the Red Hook Marina before your ferry.
The other departure point for ferries to St. John is the Crown Bay Marina, which is five minutes by car from STT. Given the proximity to STT, I decided to catch the ferry from Crown Bay. The taxi only cost me $10 (about 8), but the ferry was $20 (about £15) for the ride and $5 (about £4) for my bag. The 30-minute ride is a bit longer than the Red Hook ferry, but it was more convenient than the 40-minute drive to Red Hook.
The only issue with the Crown Bay ferries is the limited frequency. There are daily departures to St. John at 9:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
All public ferries dock at Cruz Bay in St. John, which is about a 10-minute ride from the Westin St. John. There were plenty of taxis — which were actually open-air converted trucks equipped with bench seating under a roof — waiting at the ferry dock. The ride cost $7 (about £5) from Cruz Bay to the Westin. None of the taxis or ferries took credit cards, so make sure you remember to bring cash.
The hotel also offers a private ferry service directly from Red Hook to the hotel’s dock. You’ll be taken from the airport to the Red Hook Marina in a hotel car where you’ll meet the private resort ferry which will take you directly to the hotel. If you’re looking for the most convenient option, this is it. The private ferry service costs $120 (about £92) round-trip for adults; $90 (about £69) round-trip for children ages 4 to 17.
There’s also an O’Connor Rental Car office on the hotel’s property, so you may want to wait until you’re in St. John to rent a car.
There are two lobbies at the resort. One is next to the resort’s dock (for all those arriving via private ferry), and one is inland near the main resort amenity complex.
Because I’d taken the public ferry, I was dropped off at the main lobby, and there wasn’t much of a wait to be checked in. The check-in agent thanked me for my Bonvoy Gold membership (thanks to The Platinum Card from American Express U.K.) and explained the resort layout.
Even though I was checking in at 4:40 p.m. (40 minutes past the stated check-in time), my room wasn’t ready yet. I politely pushed back and a front-office manager came over and apologized for the delay. She gave me my room but told me that the pillows on the bed were missing pillowcases, which would be provided shortly.
Unfortunately, my 2 p.m. late-checkout request was denied, because, as the hotel stated, they were sold out the next day. In my experience, Marriott’s implementation of the late checkout benefit pales in comparison to Hyatt’s consistent delivery of the guaranteed late checkout.
Although most rooms are within walking distance of the lobby, I wasn’t familiar with the layout, so opted for a golf-cart ride to my room. Throughout my stay, I noticed most guests walked to their rooms, though some exclusively used golf carts to get around.
Given that the property was designed for timeshare owners, there aren’t any “standard” hotel rooms here. Instead, the base room category is a studio room. My 481-square-foot studio was located in the first floor of Building 22.
The main feature of the studio was the king-size Westin Heavenly Bed — a favourite of mine.
There was a lounge chair in the corner, a dresser, and a TV mounted on the wall across from the sofa.
There was a small closet along the hallway, which led to the kitchenette.
The kitchen was well-equipped with a sink, full-size fridge, microwave and dishwasher. There was also a blender, toaster and Hamilton Beach BrewStation for your caffeine needs.
I was impressed that the kitchen had plenty of dishes and utensils. The only missing appliance was an oven, and the only missing feature was a minibar.
The most family-friendly feature in the room was the washer and dryer. I was there for only one night, but it could come in handy during an extended vacation, especially with kids. I particularly appreciated that the hotel left laundry detergent and dish soap for your use during your stay.
The bathroom was small. The single vanity was large enough for two people but would definitely get tight if you’re sharing the room with friends or children.
The toilet and shower were all in the same room. The shower definitely didn’t pass the TPG shower test, and the water pressure was noticeably weak.
The room overlooked Great Cruz Bay, and the balcony was the perfect place to sit and enjoy the sunset.
Wi-Fi was available in the room and throughout the resort. There was no login required and the speeds measured about 100 Mbps download and upload.
My room was the smallest at the hotel and would be great for a couple. The hotel also offers family-friendly one- and two-bedroom villas and townhouses. Some even have their own private plunge pools.
Food and beverage
An indication of how the Westin St. John is a do-it-yourself (DIY) vacation spot, the on-property food and beverage options were extremely limited. There was one restaurant, Snorkel’s Bar & Grill, which was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I had dinner there the evening I arrived, as well as breakfast the next morning. I liked (but didn’t love) the grilled salmon with rice and veggies that I had for dinner, which was quite reasonable (all things considered) at $25 (about £19).
The omelette, breakfast potatoes and fruit I had for breakfast were also just fine, though nothing particularly memorable.
Even though the food wasn’t amazing, you can’t beat the views from the restaurant.
If you don’t want to eat at the resort’s only restaurant, you’ll have to go off-property or cook in your kitchen. There were also grills located around the property if you want to go that route.
Other than Snorkel’s Bar & Grill, there was a small convenience store, called Mango Deli, located near the main lobby. Mango Deli was open daily from 6:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. and sold packaged and prepared foods, drinks and sundries.
Prices were exorbitant — $8 for a bag of pretzels, $7 for a box of Cheerios and $3 or more for a bottle of water. There were a few loaves of bread, some spreads, pastas and meats that you could purchase and cook in your private kitchen.
It’s clear that the hotel caters to those looking to either cook their own meals or go off-property. Snorkel’s was good, but would definitely get boring after a few nights with the same food.
The highlight of the resort’s amenities was the pool and beach. The resort has just one average-sized pool, which got crowded during the hottest hours of the day.
Many lounge chairs surrounded the pool, but they weren’t particularly comfortable for sitting for long stretches of time.
Cabanas could be rented for $90 for a full day or $45 for a half-day. Aside from guaranteed seating, cabanas included bottles of water, extra towels, a TV, refrigerator and personal safe.
There was a small whirlpool tucked away in the corner of the pool deck.
The beach was long and narrow and the swimming zone extended 50 yards into the Great Cruz Bay.
When checking in, each guest received a towel card that can be redeemed at the towel hut between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. In exchange for the card, you receive two towels. Once you use the towels, you must bring them back to the towel hut to get another towel card. Otherwise, you’ll be charged $20 for a missing towel card at checkout.
In addition to the beach and pool, there were a few other on-property activities.
There was an outdoor jungle gym for youngsters, as well a Westin Family Club open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
There were also four artificial grass tennis courts, four pickleball courts and one full-size basketball court.
Hammocks were placed randomly around the resort for a little extra relaxation and there was also a sundeck with lots of plush seating overlooking the central area of the resort.
The hotel’s gym and spa are near the main lobby. The 24/7 gym was split between a cardio and strength-training room. The cardio room featured a good assortment of brand-new Life Fitness equipment, including four ellipticals, six treadmills and two bikes, as well as a TRX resistance training zone.
The strength-training room had some weight machines and plenty of free weights.
The hotel’s spa is outsourced to the Sugar & Spice Spa and is located in the same complex as the gym. The spa isn’t open daily, so you should definitely make a reservation. The service menu was displayed on the wall in the reception area.
If you’re looking for marine sports or boat trips, there was a marine centre located near the resort’s dock. The marine centre was outsourced to Cruz Bay Watersports. The company offers a variety of daily activities (for a fee), such as a tour to Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands for $190 a person or a tour to The Baths of Virgin Gorda for $220 a person. If you intend to take any tours of the British Virgin Islands, bring your passport.
Throughout my stay, everyone I met was friendly and well-intentioned. However, the service was incredibly slow, even after adjusting my expectations for the relaxed “island time.” For instance, there were only three waiters at Snorkel’s during dinner service. The restaurant was packed, and it took them more than 20 minutes to bring me a menu and ask me what I wanted to drink.
Similarly, it took more than 25 minutes from when I called for extra towels to get them delivered. I understand that the resort is quite spread out, but that’s no excuse for taking 25 minutes to deliver towels.
With the spa and marine sports outsourced to third-party companies, the hotel isn’t directly responsible for those services. Nonetheless, I was impressed by how helpful the marine sports clerk was in explaining all of the different offerings. However, the spa was totally unresponsive to my request for an appointment.
The Westin St. John isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for a full-service hotel with tons of amenities, you should consider staying elsewhere.
However, if you’re travelling with family or friends, this could be the perfect hotel for your Caribbean vacation. The rooms are large, and there’s a lot to do: the pool, beach, tennis or gym area. Since the hotel only has one restaurant, you’ll probably need to do some cooking and grocery shopping. But if you’re comfortable doing some work on vacation, then the Westin St. John is the place for you.
Featured photo by the author.