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NellieBelly Dec 21st, 2004 02:38 PM

Which would you choose: Caneel Bay, The Sands or Coral Gardens?
We're planning a trip to the Carribean in late April with our two boys, ages 7 and 10, and have narrowed down our choices to Caneel Bay (St. Johns), The Sands or Coral Gardens (T&C). Factors that are important to us are the beaches, pools, easy daytrips, room quality, good food selection, and friendly service. We don't like crowds and don't want to be dependent upon a car to access restaurants. Also, while kids clubs are nice to have as an option, we want to spend most of our time together as a family. Any suggestions or advice will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Diana Dec 21st, 2004 03:51 PM

"Caneel Bay (St. Johns), The Sands or Coral Gardens (T&C)" - Caneel Bay. (It's St John - no S -btw.)

"actors that are important to us are the beaches, pools, easy daytrips, room quality, good food selection, and friendly service." - Caneel Bay

We don't like crowds and don't want to be dependent upon a car to access restaurants. - Either one will require a car unless you choose Caneel and AI.

NellieBelly Dec 21st, 2004 07:41 PM

Thanks. It sounds as though Caneel Bay might be the best fit for us. Have you stayed there?

ccrosner Dec 22nd, 2004 02:42 AM

Sorry to confuse things...but did you consider the Buccaneer on St. Croix. Would say it fits your bill perfectly. We go every year in Feburary with our similarly-aged children and, like you, prefer to spend time as a family rather than in kids' clubs. Also, just use taxis to go to different restaurants each night.

Just a thought...

Diana Dec 22nd, 2004 04:20 AM

No I have not stayed at Caneel. When we went in 2003 there were quite a few uneven reviews of Caneel and I was able to get a really good rate at Gallows Point. (It is within walking distance of town.)

I respectfully disagree with ccrosner that St Croix would work for you only because you have indicated that beaches are a priority.

The beaches on St John and Grace Bay on Provo are some of the best to be found in the Caribbean. I believe either one of those islands would be great with a slight edge to STJ based on what you are looking for. The day trip possibilities are a big plus on STJ. There are lots of other islands only a ferry ride away. (Bunches of fun for kids and adults.)

If you comfortable with the water, consider renting a dinghy. That's lots of fun and you can all go exploring.

eileen Dec 22nd, 2004 06:23 AM

I have been to both islands and visited The Sands (ate at their restaurant several times -- its casual, right on the beach, very enjoyable). Have not stayed at Caneel. I also have two children 7 and 12 so perhaps my perspective will be helpful. The Sands is a wonderful condo resort on a spectacular beach. You can walk down this beach for miles and by walking on the beach you can reach a number of restaurants that are within walking distance for kids that age. You can also walk to the Ports of Call shopping center which has more restaurants. If your kids are happy with the beach, pool, water sports and perhaps a boat excursion, they will have a wonderful time on Provo. Other than that and dining out, there is just not much to do or see. St. John has access to many more activities especially because you can take a day trip to St. Thomas. The beaches are also beautiful, but rather than one long beach they are "cove" beaches. Most people stay at Caneel because of access to three wonderful beaches. That being said, we've been scared away from Caneel by the awful reviews. I actually know a travel agent who went on her honeymoon and hated it. Most people seem to feel it has a poor value to expense ratio. St. John is beautiful -- perhaps a condo resort there might be a better choice because at Caneel you will have to spend a lot and will basically just get a hotel room, which for me is a nightmare with two kids. I have never seen a negative review on The Sands. So I guess my advice would be if you choose St. John because of the sightseeing options, perhaps choose another resort. If your kids are happy just with lots of water activities, choose Provo and The Sands. You can definitely get away without a car on Provo; it would be more difficult on St. John. Coral Gardens is also nice, a bit more upscale than The Sands but I think The Sands is more centrally located and a better choice with kids. If I went back with my kids, that's where I would stay.

NellieBelly Dec 22nd, 2004 06:30 AM

Thank you both for your suggestions.

I looked up The Buccaneer and it does look like a great family vacation. So, if not this trip, perhaps the next one.

Diana, why are the St. Croix beaches not as good as St. John or T&C? Are they not as white, or is the water murkier? Also, do you believe that reviews of Caneel have improved in general?

Again, thanks.

NellieBelly Dec 22nd, 2004 06:38 AM

Eileen, thank you for your perspective.

The reviews on Caneel do worry me. Where did you stay on St. John? Could you recommend any condo resorts? Also, how long was your stay at T&C with your children? Too long, too short or just right?


Len3 Dec 22nd, 2004 06:40 AM

We spent 7 nights at Caneel Bay in November and loved every minute of it. You still can't go wrong with this choice. Private, quite, great food, beaches - perfection.

matkat Dec 22nd, 2004 06:43 AM

We just got back from the Sands stayed at the Buccanneer a couple years ago. We've also stayed at villas as well as the Westin on St John. Haven't stayed at Caneel but did drive through there. It is beautiful but very expensive. The beaches on St John are amazing but you would need a car or a lot of taxis to get back & forth to town & other beaches. I think the Sands or the Buc would be great choices. The Buc has 3 beaches. They are not as white sand as those on St John, or T&C, however the main beach is very nice. However, its not a long beach that you can take walks on. There are a couple of restaurants right at the Buc and town is a short taxi ride away. I think the Sands would be great as you could get a suite. I don't think Caneel offers that option. We had a 2 bedroom with our 2 kids & it was great. Also having a kitchen is nice. The restaurant at the Sands is very kids friendly & there are some other restaurants you can walk to. I think its small enough to not seem crowded but big enough that your boys would probably find some other kids to play with. There is an excursion desk at the hotel & they pick you up right there. We didn't see Coral Gardens but I think it is smaller & the restaurant there is pretty gourmet, I'm not sure kids would like it.

NellieBelly Dec 22nd, 2004 06:59 AM

Thanks. It's good to hear something positive about Caneel.

Because one boy loves the ocean and the other loves the pool (although he hasn't tried the Carribean waters), it's important that both are steps away. Our older boy still complains about a vacation a couple of years ago when we actually had to drive to get to the beach or take a shuttle.

As I mentioned, good food is important, but our boys are definitely not gourmets. If restaurants at Caneel and The Sands are both kid-friendly and we can easily reach a few others, then that is all we could wish for.

Also, having more than just one room would be a big plus.

Diana Dec 22nd, 2004 07:14 AM

I have stayed at the Sands also and think it is a great choice for kids, and the beach there is one of the three nicest I've ever seen.

The pool is very kid-friendly and is steps from the water.

There were lots of kids there when we were there in October, so I imagine yours would have plenty of company, and it's very easy to keep an eye out on them with the wide open flat expanse.

The main reason that I suggested Caneel was that the day trip options are superb, whereas some people have reported that they got a little bored after a few days on Provo.

We were there for 2 weeks and we are divers, so had a lot more to do, but it did get a little quiet for our tastes.

We had to rent a car because we ate almost all meals out and taxis can get quite expensive.

Bottom line, I would either go to another property on St John or to the Sands on Provo. The food at Sands was very good and the service was friendly as well. I liked the lush grounds also.

cdt Dec 22nd, 2004 07:28 AM

Personally I would pick Caneel over the Provo resorts, primarily because the island is so much prettier and because of the aforementioned availability of daysails, ferries to other islands, etc.

We have stayed at Ocean Club West on Provo and a villa near the Buccaneer on STX, and have spent quite a bit of time on STJ while lodging on St. Thomas. We've driven past Caneel and have not seen the pool - that would be my one concern, as I seem to recall reading that it's on the small side.

We loved Grace Bay and the ability to take LONG beach walks, an impossibility in the USVI. However, the multitude of nice small beaches on St. John (at Caneel and elsewhere) means that if there are heavy winds from a certain direction, you can probably find a beach that is more sheltered. Grace Bay is usually pretty calm but if it's not, there's hardly anywhere else to go.

The Buc is a great family resort, but the beaches are rather unimpressive - fairly small, sand not as white, water clarity may be good depending on conditions.

If I could afford Caneel I would not stay anywhere else on St. John.

You mentioned friendly service - Provo gets my vote on that score.

NellieBelly Dec 22nd, 2004 07:59 AM

Thank you, everyone, for your responses.

For now, The Sands is at the top of the list followed by St. John, although if not at Caneel, then where? Also, a friend just mentioned St. Thomas, but from what I've read, it seems St. John is a better bet.

Thanks again.

Diana Dec 22nd, 2004 08:38 AM

St John is a better bet than St Thomas from most of your standpoints.

We stayed at Gallows Point, but it is not all that kid friendly. Small pool, doesn't encourage kids, etc. (Never saw one during our week there.)

Have you thought about renting a villa with a pool?

The Westin gets pretty uneven reviews too but has a big pool. (Plus, if the service is not as good, you won't be out an arm and a leg like at Caneel.)

If I had kids, I might stay at the Westin and eat elsewhere and have a rental car for beach trips as the beach at the Westin is so so.

Actually, if I had kids I would probably pick Provo because we did not really care all that much for St John outside of the beaches.

cdt Dec 22nd, 2004 09:07 AM

The Westin is kid-friendly but the ocean water is murky there. Most villas will require a drive to get to the beach.

St. Thomas has lots of activities for all ages; Sapphire Beach Resort is quite popular with families. Nice beach, average hotel. The Ritz is probably the best hotel on the island but I'm not sure it's family-oriented. Marriott Morningstar is nice too.

I like St. Thomas but not as much as the other places you're considering.

ccrosner Dec 22nd, 2004 09:58 AM

I was happy to have someone respectfully disagree with me about St. Croix and its beaches. The Buc's beaches are quite pretty, easy drop off, snorkeling from the beach...but they are not 'long walk' beaches. So if that's what Nellie Belly needs/wants, I wouldn't go there. I was particularly interested in MatKat's comparison of the Sands and the Buc--would love to hear more about how they compare. We stay in a 2 bedroom cottage at the Buc and, for the $$, haven't found another spot that gives us that kind of room and privacy. We've been to St. John and believe it is absolutely gorgeous and would love to go back. But Caneel is too pricey for two rooms and I don't like the idea (at this point in our kids lives) of 'schlepping' every day to a beach. And if you rent a villa, you have a pool but would have to drive to a beach. The Westin is pretty but the beach, IMHO and that of other Fodorites, isn't pristine (more like a marina).

We have stayed away from T&C due to our usual February timing...always feared you couldn't count on warm weather. But with your plans being for April, it may be the way to go.

One last thought, I would be wary of Sapphire Beach. We have good friends whom we've met and spent two different vacations with at the Buccaneer. They tried Sapphire Beach one year and were so disgusted with the unit they had that they went to the Ritz and pleaded with the manager to let them in!

NellieBelly Dec 22nd, 2004 10:15 AM

At the Caneel website, I could not find any pictures of a pool (maybe for a reason) and when I looked at a map of the resort, the pool seemed to be as far away from the beaches as it could possibly be. I think that definitely rules out Caneel for us. And although St. John sounds wonderful, we wouldn't want to stay at a villa and drive to a beach. Perhaps that's a trip for when the kids are a bit older.

Again, the Buccaneer sounds like it offers good, family fun, but we really want our boys to be wowed by the beach, and for that reason I think we'll now go with The Sands, unless we find something else on St. John.

Thanks for all of your help.

moore2harrell Dec 25th, 2004 09:27 PM

It sounds like you have already decided on The Sands BUT I have only read one post for the Sands--unless I have missed some as we are planning our next trip to T&C..There is a Beaches resort on T&C that is kid-friendly and it seems that you can't go wrong anywhere near Grace Bay....Beaches is all-inclusive so that solves a bit of the food problem. Have you thought about Atlantis in the Bahamas?...Seemed like a kid-friendly place when we were there and the pool is truly like no an aquarium and a nice, safe lagoon area for kids or weak swimmers....Negative is that it is a mega-resort=crowds....Just a thought:)

I have been to Caneel--it is, by far, my favorite of all the resorts that I have visited. As much as I personally love it, I don't think that this is the place for you.:) We did not see one child there the entire week and finally "found" the pool on the last day..very small and uninviting..BUT with seven beaches to choose from, they didn't waste any $ on a spectacular pool..

Other posters are right about the sub-par beaches at the Westin on St. John.

Have a great time either way--you can always splurge and go to Caneel for your anniversary--sans the kids:)

Diana Dec 26th, 2004 06:07 AM


Beaches TCI gets horrifically-bad reviews almost across the board.

I agree you would think you can't go wrong on Grace Bay, but Beaches manages to anyway.

I was soooo glad I didn't even consider staying there when I saw it - overcrowded, people waiting in lines, not enough chairs, kids running amok - not a pretty picture...

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