Family trip - Westin St John

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Apr 5th, 2003, 05:23 PM
  #1
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Family trip - Westin St John

Just returned from 8 days in St John. A few quick reflections: we arrived on a Saturday night - the hotel has three restaurants and a deli. One is open only for breakfast and dinner, one is open only for lunch and one is open only for dinner - fine dining. Saturday is a caribbean night festival with required reservations so we were not able to eat at the hotel unless we wanted a deli sandwich that was hours old or $200 plus dinner. Went into Cruz Bay where we were told the wait at the Lime Inn would be 10-15 minutes by the hotel concierge. It turned out to be 50 minutes. Not a huge problem but we'd been travelling since 5am. Concierges had no opinions on anything - "every beach was great, every restaurant was wonderful and every activity was excellent" so, why do we need their services?? Pool was good - plenty of chairs and towels; all of the people we met at the hotel with the exception of the concierges were great. The concierges were clearly incented to sell the villas and the complementary breakfast tours for them. Took the sunset cruise - not a great deal for the money; went to Baths which was great. Weather was iffy at best; some rain every day. Surprised at the cost of food - dinner for four was averaging $100 without any drinks or desert. Found a great value at Duffy's Love Shack. We were highly encouraged to go to Caneel Bay, hang at the beach and have their lunch buffet. That was really a great lunch and should have been at $125!! Snorkeled Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay on our own; rented a car for several days to just tool around. Cabs are available at every turn but the cost is "per person" so you'll add $12 each way to the cost of dinner in Cruz Bay or $44 each way to go to Coral Bay. Can get old after a while. The Westin Ferry was convenient for arrival and departure but going to St Thomas for shopping was difficult. Their last ferry leaves St Thomas at 4:15 - no way you can stay for dinner over there. If you don't make the 4:15, you can take a 5:30pm public ferry for $7 per person and then cab back to the hotel or take a $44 cab ride later (for 4 people) to Red Hook and take a late ferry there. It appears that a lot of the guests are using hotel points to book the rooms so the activities, food and drinks are really expensive to make up the difference. Room was very nice - a bit mildew-y smelling and the water tended to cut out at least twice during every shower. We won't go back - lots of rain, dirty and crowded "town" and really high prices for activities and food.
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Apr 5th, 2003, 08:05 PM
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Doesn't sound like you had a good time at all. I've never heard Cruz Bay described as "dirty", busy yes. This is high season after all. Taxi's are very expensive, which is why we always rent a car for the length of our stay. It's more cost effective and infinitely more convenient.
I tend to agree with you about the Westin. It's not my cup of tea either mainly because I'm just not a resort type. But I think that the service can be lacking and their restaurants are very overpriced.I prefer small inns or the privacy of villas.
I was surprized that you couldn't find entree's under $25 per person. Did you eat at the Fish Trap, or Cafe Roma,or Morgan's Mango or get some take out from Uncle Joes? I've found there are more budge conscious alternatives but in general I think the prices on St John are not unusual for the Caribbean. As for the weather, well rain can happen anywhere, it's hardly unique to St John.
Perhaps another island would better meet your needs and expectations. It's a shame to spend alot of money and be disappointed in your vacation.
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Apr 6th, 2003, 05:43 AM
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Disappointing indeed to read such a basically all-around unusually negative review. Obviously there's not much that can be done about the weather although I think that negative was rather exaggerated. We've had a real drought here for a couple of months and yesterday was the first day of real rain we've had in all that time. The days prior, there were some intermittent showers.
I too am surprised to hear Cruz Bay described as "crowded and dirty".
As far as dining experiences and the cost thereof there are, as Mermaid pointed out, plenty of choices. An excellent research forum is www.usvi-on-line.com where you can find an abundance of pre-trip information and user reviews/comments on just about any subject.
I'm truly sorry you didn't enjoy your vacation but I think more of a pre-trip search for information would have been of tremendous benefit.
Better luck on your next trip to wherever!
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Apr 6th, 2003, 07:55 AM
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I'm afraid this trip report will be highly misleading for people who have never been to St. John. I've never read a negative review about St. John on these message boards until now. I've been to St. John twice and absolutely love it. I've also been to several islands in the Caribbean that could be classified as "dirty" or extremely expensive, but St. John is neither of those things. I agree with Resident in that a pre-trip search for information is key. By reading this message board and others, I knew where to go for a good, inexpensive breakfast every morning (Chilly Billy's - bacon, eggs, toast, etc. - $10 for two people). I knew that if I was staying at the Westin, renting a car for the week was imperative. I knew not to eat my meals at the Westin, and I knew where to go to find both informal and formal restaurants in a range of prices. Finally, I must say that the Westin concierges were so helpful to us - if nothing else but to make restaurant recommendations and take pictures of us. I'm sorry that you didn't enjoy your vacation in St. John, but I think if you had researched your trip a little better, you either would have discovered that St. John is obviously not for you, or you could have avoid some of the problems that you had during your stay there. Sorry if this comes out a bit harsh, but I have to stick up for my favorite island.
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Apr 6th, 2003, 08:42 AM
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I agree with becca. I also stayed at the westin for a week but rented a car the whole time and traveled to the beautiful beaches of st john, also my favorite island. I thought the room was very nice and the resort was very pretty but i didnt go to st. john for the westin. Cruz bay is great, the are plenty of dining choices from inexpensive to very expensive but as becca said, preparation is the key.
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Apr 7th, 2003, 08:33 AM
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Will have to say I did not see anything to even resemble crowded and dirty in Cruz Bay, and if cmeyer wants a comparison go to St. Martin (now don't start bashing me for observations- things I saw daily), meal prices are comparable to just about anywhere we have been in the Caribbean, if they had done their research ahead of time they could of found out the cheaper places to eat, and then had the option to splurge or go a little more economical, or even rented a villa/condo and cooked in some meals and splurged on eating out from time to time.

Weather is a factor that can not be controlled and I too have been at the mercy of spending big bucks to vacation and had to make the best of the situation when the weather took a turn for the worse, but have found even on rainy days we found neat things to do.

We stayed at Caneel when on St. John, but the Westin get mixed reviews, so I guess you are confirming what many have said they found. Information on ferry is helpful for people staying at Westin and they need to be aware of the logistics of coming and going.

Sorry cmeyer had such a bad time, please keep traveling down that way, there are alot of little pieces of heaven to explore and experience.
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Apr 13th, 2003, 08:59 AM
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I have to agree with all the responders. It sounds like we went to a different St. john than cmeyer54 did. I hope this doesn't discourage others from going.

I can appreciate that St. John isn't for everyone. But if you don't do your research before you go to a location, then the odds of being disappointed are high, and it honestly sounds like cmeyer54 didn't do any research on St. John.

But Cruz Bay crowded and dirty? That tells me a lot about their expectations.
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Apr 13th, 2003, 11:39 AM
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Add me in for having had a more positive experience of St. John's for any future visitors reading this exchange. St. Johns is one the few Caribbean islands with beautiful natural land preserved by the state park conservatory which offers low-key relaxing atmosphere in many ways a more upscale environment than some other islands. If anyone is expecting to find on a Caribbean vacation anything resembling the sterile shopping mall environment with familiar franchise stores,ultra-manicured suburban settings and no-character chain restaurant atmosphere found all over the US then vacation in the domestic US. Even in the US, you'd probably not find cheaper meal and travel costs for a family of four on vacation in a resort area. Looks like this family should have researched more, planned better, and budgeted better and not blamed their failure to do so on St. John or the resort. I stayed at the Westin and knowing ahead of time that it is not a 5 star resort already set my expectations to take it easy and enjoy - which we did and thoroughly.
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Aug 1st, 2003, 07:04 AM
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Sorry to have left a negative impression- we've been to Aruba, Bermuda, Grand Cayman as well and liked them much more than St John; did a ton of research prior and had talked with a lot of previous visitors. Guess maybe our expectations were higher than what was delivered.
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Aug 1st, 2003, 07:55 AM
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Just to throw in my observation... I'd say that the type of traveler that loves Aruba, Grand Cayman and Bermuda is not usually the same type of traveler that loves someplace like St John.
Aruba, GC and Bermuda are much more highly developed. You will have many, many choices as far as resorts and restaurants (by the way CMeyer, you can't possibly mean that you found food and restaurant prices higher on St John than on Grand Cayman??? That's simply absurd)
St John and the few other places like it is loved by people who don't need or want the resort scene and want to more opportunities for hiking and exploring. A traveler who expects resorts with umbrellas and drink service on the beach,someone who wants a choice of hotels and resorts with beachfront accomdations is going to be disappointed with St John. You have exactly two choices for that, Caneel and the Westin. Other than that, you have a few Inn's B&B's, some condos and dozens of villas.
That's not to say there is no overlap but in general these places appeal to different types of travelers. Remember St John is 2/3's national park. Someone who loves Las Vegas is not necessarily going to be enamored of camping in Yellowstone.
I realize this is a huge generalization but I think we would all do well to remember that there is no single destination that will be right for everyone. There is no single island in the Caribbean or anywhere that everyone is going to love.
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Aug 1st, 2003, 08:34 AM
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that's really too bad you didn't enjoy it. i agree the westin is nothing to write home about, but i think the island itself is beautiful. st. john is the first and only caribbean island i'm considering going back to...multiple times!
 
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Aug 1st, 2003, 08:45 AM
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"I'd say that the type of traveler that loves Aruba, Grand Cayman and Bermuda is not usually the same type of traveler that loves someplace like St John."

SillyGirl, you took the words right out of my mouth...
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Aug 1st, 2003, 12:16 PM
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Like some of the others have posted - "St. John - It's not for everyone". it is less developed and more laid back. We own a time share at the Westin and only use it for our "base camp". It is/was agreat deal for us. As far as food goes you can eat cheaply, try Uncle Joe's, The Waterfront Pub, Cafe Roma, Chilly Billy's, & Duffy's just to name a few. With a kitchen in our timeshare we usually eat breakfast in the room. Where there is a will there is a way.
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Aug 1st, 2003, 12:57 PM
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We were recently in St. Thomas and took the ferry to St. John for one day. I do agree that the VI'S are more expensive than others I've seen but found Cruz Bay to be anything but as you described. Sorry you did not like it. We thought it was rather nice, esp. Mongoose junction. Better luck next time!
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Aug 4th, 2003, 05:21 AM
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Really the only reason to stay at the Westin is for the large pool, which my kids love. The other side of the island does have some great beaches w/ excellent snorkeling.
SillyGirl pretty much said it all...

Also FYI: If you come out of the Westin and turn left, there is an excellent deli/grocery store about a 10 min. walk. Does takeout with some really good choices.
Pete
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Aug 5th, 2003, 08:42 AM
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Personally, I don't see how anyone who has done any research would make the decision to stay at the Westin.

We went to St John for the first time in July and LOVED it. When I first planned the trip, we had been thinking of staying at the Westin. After minimal posts mentioning this, I was quickly turned on to the wonderful villa options (and turned off by the beach and crowds discussed at the Westing). Needless to say we rented a villa and loved it.

One more thing - anyone who has been to Grand Cayman and thinks St John is expensive is clearly dillusional. No offense.
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Aug 5th, 2003, 11:40 AM
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Cmeyer54, please allow me to come to your "rescue." My husband and I were on St. John (our first trip there) in the late April/early May timeframe (this year). We did not stay at the Westin (we're just not "into" large resorts) but instead chose a condo that was just a short distance south of Cruz Bay. I'm not going to provide the name of the place, because although we didn't like it, the owners (who live on-site) were very nice and did all they could to help with the problems we had with our unit. I'm not about to trash their reputation in a public forum, but the place was neither great nor what it was represented to be on their website.

Although we went an entirely different way on accommodations than you did, our feelings about St. John are similar to yours. As you've just seen from all the flak you're getting, this is a very unusual reaction--though I'll be blessed if I can understand the love that most people have for the place. We were there for two full weeks, and at the end of our trip, my husband and I agreed that we'd never go back. I'm not saying we didn't have good times or get the badly needed break we were after, but there are other islands that have, and will, suit our needs far better in the future. And we are NOT prissy, difficult-to-please travelers.

And please, other posters, don't tell me that we didn't research our trip in advance--nothing could be further from the truth. But real life often doesn't match the fairy tales you read on websites, and even your best research efforts don't always give you an accurate picture of what it's really like to be there. Websites are marketing tools and can be just as misleading as any other form of advertising.

Example: The website for the condo we stayed at said that it was just a short walk down a hill to one of the best snorkeling beaches on St. John. YEAH, RIGHT! It was a nasty, rocky little beach; and I ended up cutting and bruising my ankle on an underwater rock there our second full day on St. John, to the point where we thought it would require medical attention because it bled so much, swelled up, and was so painful. Fortunately, we didn't have to visit a doctor; but we had no desire to go to that beach again and ended up using taxis to get to the better beaches. It wasn't the money that bothered us; it was the hassle of having to carry all of our beach stuff to town and then get a taxi before we could enjoy a beach--we'd rather be able to get accommodations right on a good beach, and you can't do that on St. John without going to the Westin or Caneel Bay and spending many hundreds of dollars per night. (Yes, we can well afford to do that, but we happen to think it's ridiculous, especially for 14 nights.) While we knew in advance that that was the case, we were misled into believing that our condo was only a very short walk from a great beach, and it was a lie.

Regarding the weather: we had very good weather--HOWEVER, we were told that shortly before we arrived, they'd had nearly 8 inches of rain (from an unusually early storm, tropical storm "Ana") after a long dry spell. The effect that had was to send the mosquito population into overdrive, and it was quite a problem for us. As many here have said, the weather is the weather, and no one can be held responsible for "Mother Nature." We get it. Nevertheless, that's the kind of thing that will drive you insane, and no amount of research is going to help you avoid an unforeseen problem like that.

As for Cruz Bay, I don't know that I'd consider it dirty--for us it was more like a big "yawn." It just seemed like a collection of bars and jewelry and clothing stores, none of which are high-priority items for us. The bars were nothing more than loud, smoky hangouts for twentysomethings--which is fine if you're in that age group, but we're well past that stage and wanted nothing to do with it.

The beaches (like Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay, and Hawksnest) were fabulous and we enjoyed them, but in our experience the snorkeling was not what it was cracked up to be--frankly, we've had more interesting experiences snorkeling off Maui and even in the Florida Keys area.

We did rent a vehicle one day to tour the island and had a ball negotiating the winding, hilly roads on "the wrong side." The island is definitely rugged and beautiful--it just isn't for us, for the reasons I outlined above and for a lot of other things I haven't even mentioned.

What we've come to realize is that "to each his (or her!) own" when it comes to traveling, or anything else for that matter. I've received restaurant and movie recommendations from good, close friends that I disagreed completely with, and they have disagreed with my recommendations too. Everyone's tastes and priorities are different, and all the research and advice on Earth won't give you a full picture of how YOU will feel about a place once you get there.

I have not meant to sound overly negative here--I just wanted to let people know that not EVERYONE thinks St. John is the be-all, end-all that you might think from reading posts on this forum.
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