The Island of St. John Is Back in a Big Way
By Bob Curley
The combination of no passport requirements, easy-to-understand COVID-19 rules and strong tourism management led to a boom in visits to the U.S. Virgin Islands from the mainland in 2021, helping to fuel a dramatic turnaround in tourism on St. John, which had struggled in the aftermath of devastating blows from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
The storm wiped out one of St. John’s most iconic resorts, Caneel Bay, which still hasn’t reopened and possibly never will.
But meanwhile, St. John has gained a new private island resort and many other new and revived hotels, restaurants, and attractions are drawing visitors back to the island in record numbers.
Now in its second season, the Lovongo Resort & Beach Club is the hottest thing to happen to St. John in a long time. Set on a private cay offshore of Caneel Bay (the body of water, not the resort), Lovongo is a mix of guest accommodations and residential homes; stays can be as diverse as a luxury villa hideaway, a treehouse perch, or nights spend in a glamping tent.
Guests also have the option of adding three nights on a charter yacht to their stay — a must do in the Virgin Islands, where the easiest way to get around is by boat. The beach club and waterfront dining only sweeten stays for overnight guests, as well as drawing in boaters and other day visitors.
Virgin Islands National Park, which occupies 60 percent of St. John, is basically back to pre-Irma and pre-pandemic operation levels, with major attractions like the Reef Bay Trail, Trunk Bay beach with its famous snorkeling trail, the campground at Cinnamon Bay, and Annaberg Plantation all open to visitors. The Concordia Eco Resort, located within the park on the east side of St. John, reopened in early 2022, once again offering guests stays in eco-friendly studio rooms and tents with ocean views.
Bookings at St. John’s fine collection of private villas also have been red hot, and the Westin St. John Resort Villas has returned as a vacation ownership resort — fully condos, in other words — that can also accommodate stays by non-owners.
Cruz Bay’s Wharfside Village Hotel, is back with 15 redesigned rooms within steps of great dining, nightlife, and shopping. The landmark Gallows Point Resort was one of the first on St. John to reopen after the hurricanes; guests will benefit from freshly renovated rooms and the farm-to-table Ocean 362 restaurant.
And then the area the sought-after villas of the Blue Sky Luxury Travels portfolio.
Events are back on St. John, too: the island hosted its first Carnival in three years in April, and the St. John Celebration is slated to go forward again this month.
The Lime Out floating bar and restaurant weathered the COVID-19 storm and continues to serve tacos and rum drinks at its swim-up bar in Coral Harbor.
The 18° 64° The Restaurant is a newcomer on the Cruz Bay dining scene, serving up seafood and sushi in the Mongoose Junction courtyard; neighbors St. John Brewers opens the taps daily for beer lovers after handing out brews for free in the aftermath of the 2017 hurricane.
The Tamarind Inn, long a favorite for breakfast in Cruz Bay, closed after Irma and stayed that way even when the affiliated Inn at Tamarind Court reopened. The good news: the restaurant has returned to offering courtyard dining for breakfast and dinner. And for waterfront rum drinks, you can’t beat the recently reopened Rum Hut at Cruz Bay’s Wharfside bar and restaurant. Newcomers to the local dining scene include Dave & Jerry’s Island Steakhouse at the Cruz Bay Hotel, the Windmill Bar at Neptune’s Lookout with its spectacular views, the colorful Shambles VI serving all-day barbecue on Centerline Road, and the Roti King Food Truck at the Lumberyard in Cruz Bay.
And Caneel is still home to one of the Caribbean’s most sought-after destinations: the Bikinis on the Beach Bar, this year’s Number One Beach Bar in the Caribbean.
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