Caneel Bay: Rockefeller’s Paradise

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My husband, Derek, and I traveled to St John Island to stay at Rockefeller’s paradise, Caneel Bay. St. John is small and remote…barely twenty square miles. We flew into St. Thomas and took a fairy to St. John. When Derek and I took the fairy from Charlotte Amelie to Caneel Bay, we soon realized that we were amongst returning visitors.

Caneel Bay is lush, manicured with efforts to preserve its natural beauty. It’s a luxury resort inside of a National Park. We took a million pictures but it’s difficult to capture a place that looks so much like a postcard.

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Caneel Bay is a jungle that has been tamed. In 1952, Laurance Spelman Rockefeller visited Caneel Bay on a sailing trip with his wife and he fell completely in love with the place. He bought Caneel Bay…which used to be a small West Indian Company hotel in the thirties. Rockefeller was intrigued that this unspoiled paradise was on the grounds of an old sugar plantation. Over the years, he bought 50,000 acres of unspoiled land to preserve it from development and donated most of it to the National Park Service as Virgin Islands National Park.

Caneel is a destination for anyone who appreciates unspoiled nature. Rockefeller opened Caneel Bay, the first of his RockResorts, in 1956. He wanted guests to snorkel, eat and sleep well, and be outside experiencing the benefits of being in a natural setting. Give guests a beautiful place in balance with nature.

The villas are strung out along a series of private beaches. The bright and airy rooms give visitors the sense of living outdoors. Caneel Bay is one of the world’s first eco resorts. The lighting is low, there are no radios or televisions so you can totally unplug.

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We stayed on Paradise Beach and found it to be secluded and an easy walk to everywhere we wanted to be. Rockefeller also had his permanent residence (Cottage Seven) on Paradise Beach…I think he appreciated the seclusion.

Caneel Bay is a snorkelers paradise…populated by sea turtles, stingrays, urchins, enormous snails and a rainbow of tropical plants and fish. My children kept asking us, “Did you see Dory?” Yes, Dory was everywhere!

There are seven beaches at Caneel Bay: Caneel, Little Caneel, Turtle Bay, Scott Beach, Hawksnest Bay, Paradise Beach, and Honeymoon Beach. Make sure you bring your GoPro! All are uncrowded and have white sand that feels like powdered sugar underneath your feet and perfect for building sandcastles.

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The island is full of donkeys and deer comfortably living in their natural habitat. Mongooses also explore the grounds…they were brought to St. John to combat the snakes.

 

In addition to the snorkeling, we took advantage of the tennis courts, sailboats, paddle boards and massage cabanas. Derek and I were on our way to the massage cabanas when it started to pour. We stood under giant trees for an umbrella until the sky fell. Showers never last very long and by the time our massage was over, we were walking back in the sunshine.

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Not much has changed sense Rockefeller ran Caneel Bay. This is a paradise protected…the Virgin Island that remains virgin!

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Caneel Bay is a tennis players dream! They have ten tennis courts and offer a drill clinic every single morning.

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The Sugar Mill was an eighteenth century old mill transformed into a small dining terrace. When Derek came here as a little boy, it was a burger place…now it’s ZoZo’s at the Sugar Mill, Northern Italian cuisine with a side of Caribbean sunset. It’s about fifty steps above beach level and ornamented with bougainvillea with a view that reaches the full expanse of the bays. The refreshing breeze further enhances the dining experience.

After dinner, the stars twinkled like the Sugar Plum Fairy’s tutu. Derek and I walked out to our little beach to stargaze with our feet in the sand and rum in our hands.

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I think I sampled most of the cocktail menu during our stay at Caneel Bay and my favorite was the Rockefeller Painkiller. It’s really pretty simple to make. Caneel gives it’s vistors a bottle of Cruzan Rum so we could almost make this in our room.

Rockefeller Painkiller

  • 2 oz of Rum
  • 4 oz of pineapple juice
  • 1 oz of cream of coconut
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • Top with fresh grated nutmeg to taste

Pour ingredients into a shaker filled with ice, shake and pour into a tall glass. Top with grated nutmeg.

We left Caneel Bay recharged and changed for the better. That’s the magic of Caneel…this well-run resort has natural curative powers. We can’t wait to take the children!

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