As a guest at the storied Caneel Bay resort on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I was expecting a spa like no other. Instead, to get to the treatment room for my massage, I had to walk through the tennis center, right past the pro shop and a crowd of sweaty players. Once on the massage table, even the gentle hum of spa music couldn't quite drown out the thwack of tennis rackets.
It was all rather odd, especially considering Caneel Bay is on the verge of completing a $3.6 million renovation. As part of the Virgin Islands National Park, the 170-acre property, which is managed by Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, is framed by seven white-sand beaches overlooking the turquoise blue Caribbean. Surely, there could be a better location on the property for a spa. (A Caneel Bay spokeswoman later told me the resort has preliminary plans to build a stand-alone spa.)
But perhaps a luxurious spa experience isn't why you would come to Caneel Bay. It certainly wasn't top of mind when Laurance Rockefeller bought up 5,000 acres of St. John in the 1950s to preserve the lush landscape from development and the intrusions of the outside world.
If your goal is to relax and commune with nature, you've come to the right place. Your stress starts to subside once you set foot on the resort's private ferry from St. Thomas and take the 35-minute trip to Caneel Bay. Three 800-foot-high green ridges provide a picturesque backdrop to the resort, where the air is infused with the scent of frangipani and gardenia. On a walk through the grounds, you might even encounter wild donkeys. In the water, you are almost certain to see tropical fish and perhaps a hawksbill turtle. (Snorkeling and kayaking equipment are complimentary.)
All 166 guest rooms have been refurbished in 1950s-style beach house decor. My room overlooking Hawksnest Beach had a king-size bed with seafoam-green textiles, along with a resident orange salamander. What it didn't have: a TV, telephone, or alarm clock. From January through March, the room rents for $975 a night.
The resort is big enough that you can keep others from intruding on your privacy. Children are allowed in only three of the seven restaurants, and the kids' club is situated on the far northern edge of the property. In fact, I barely caught a glimpse of anyone under drinking age.
While the spa was a disappointment, I had better luck relaxing at the Self Centre, a secluded New Age facility where I booked a private "tuning" session. Director Jan Kinder, a former nurse who studied with spiritual guru Deepak Chopra, banged thin metal rods on blocks and sent the vibrations through my body. I don't know whether it harmonized my nervous system, organs, and body energy as advertised, but I did enjoy the soothing sensations.
Caneel Bay's greatest charm is its remoteness. Indeed, my cell phone barely got reception. But the resort's off-the-grid character may change following the recent introduction of Wi-Fi service. With luck, people will use laptops and iPhones only in their rooms.
By Lauren Young