Brad Stevens : Austin, TX

WESTIN ST. JOHN, USVI
... A review of a Starwood Resort in the US Virgin Islands (stay: 12/18/02-12/29/02)

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Chloe & Bernard’s is the ‘formal’ restaurant on the property … as formal as you're going to get on the Islands that is. Certainly no coat and tie required here! It’s a wonderful environment with excellent cuisine. The night we dined, a local who was singing and playing the guitar entertained the small, well-appointed restaurant with soothing tunes. He was very enjoyable to listen to.
We made use of several of the property’s amenities during our stay. I obtained my scuba diver certification through Cruz Bay Water Sports and enjoyed my experience with them immensely. I got to dive a number of interesting reefs while earning the certification. They also rent small dingys, wave runners, and other various, water equipment as well. Great, safe operation.

We also rented a 29-foot boat from Nauti-Nymph Boat Rentals for a day (8:30AM to 5:00PM). It’s an excellent way to explore the island chain. We cruised up to the British Virgin Islands, found a remote beach on one of the islands to “get rid of some of our tan lines”, and snorkeled at the Caves at Norman Island (the absolute best snorkeling on the V.I.’s and highly recommended by the way!). Although, the staff at Nauti-Nymph will tell you to get back to the U.S.V.I. at 3:30 to be able to check in with US Customs, gas up, and return to the Westin by 5:00PM; that’s bullcrap. The Westin is a 15-minute cruise from U.S. Customs and it literally took us 15 minutes to clear customs and gas up the boat. We were back at the Westin by 4:00. I think they told us 3:30 so we would be back in time for them to spiff up the boat for the next day’s rental and go home at 5:00. But, all in all, it was well worth the $390 we spent on rental cost (plus gas and customs costs, of course). But, be careful. If you can’t read nautical charts, DO NOT rent a boat. There are numerous reefs hiding just under the waterline that have taken their fair share of victims.

Both Cruz Bay Water Sports and Nauti-Nymph are located right on the Westin Property and very accessible with staffed desks by the Westin dock.

In addition to the amenities mentioned above, the harbor where the resort is located is a good location to watch sunsets. They have some large round, trampoline floatys in the water that are fun to romp on. The pool is wonderful. A little crowded, but very enjoyable. Everything in the Mango Deli is way over-priced, but they serve up a great pizza.

Unless you plan on absolutely vegging at the resort, we highly recommend renting a 4-wheel drive jeep and exploring the island. The harbor where the resort is located is not good for snorkeling. So, if you want to do some good snorkeling, rent a jeep and go elsewhere (we recommend Cinnamon Bay, Leinster Bay, and Hawkness Bay). Stay away from the touristy Trunk Bay. It’s crowded and very over-rated.

You can also see plenty of the island if you rent the jeep. We particularly recommend “Bordeaux Mountain Road” (US108) … but, only if you have a 4-wheel drive. If not, don’t bother … you won’t make it! The road, which is really a two-wheel dirt path, will put you atop a 1300 foot mountain from which you can view the entire chain of Virgin Islands … U.S. and British. It’s a stunning view for sure and where we obtained the best pictures of our vacation.

Oh-oh, I’m digressing again … back to the resort!

Apart from the restaurant staff that is wonderful and engaging, the friendliness of the staff is hit and miss. The concierge staff is useless. They didn’t seem to know jack-shit about the island. I ended up educating them on a couple subjects.  And, the front desk staff, in particular, needs big attitude adjustments. We got the feeling that we disturbed them. We wanted to ship a box that contained our snorkeling equipment back home and it became a huge issue with the resort. I ship boxes from most of the hotels and resorts that I stay at on a yearly basis and never had encountered a similar situation. Certainly, we were not the only guests who wished to take advantage of the resort’s shipping and receiving department! It just made us scratch our heads (again) and wonder what the big deal really was! They were also unable to give us any tracking numbers for the shipment which didn’t provide us a secure feeling.

When it came time to check out of the resort, they again did not recognize our Platinum status.  Platinum members are supposed to receive a late, 4:00PM checkout, if accommodations allow. Even though our return transfer wasn’t scheduled until 3 o’clock in the afternoon, they demanded that we vacate our room at the standard checkout time of 11:00AM, all without offering any explanation. We weren’t particularly thrilled about sweating around the pool for 4-hours waiting for our transfer back to St. Thomas and the subsequent flight to our next destination, Puerto Rico. And, I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the front desk agent’s attitude, so, another call to management was made to get the issue cleared up.

They also had a couple of questionable charges on our bill. After some discussion, the $96.05 (per day) “SPG Award” fees were removed.  We never did find out what those fees were supposed to represent. It seemed like they were attempting to charge us for using our Starwood points. Hmmm …

The resort also charged a $12.00 “Resort Fee” (per day). It was explained to me that the fee covers the resorts amenities, such as the fitness club. However, Platinum members are supposed to have access to Starwood fitness facilities for free. But, I guess the resort was just being consistent in not recognizing our Platinum status! I briefly objected to the fee, but the rude representative at the front desk didn’t budge. And, I didn’t press the matter as I already felt tired from being browbeaten by the front desk staff. In all fairness, I did check the Starwood website upon arrival back home and did find that a “$15.00 Resort Fee” was listed in the fine print. However, this fee seems to conflict with some benefits of the Platinum Starwood Program. And, I didn’t reserve the room on the website … I booked our stay via telephone through Starwood’s Preferred Guest Program and was told nothing about these extra fees. Even the confirmation e-mail that we received from Starwood made no mention of these extra fees. Fees like this bug the heck out of me … it’s just a way of sucking more cash out of guests while calling it something that sounds palatable. It would be more palatable to me if they would just call it for what it really is … an “up-sale”!

All in all, the resort is decent. Although, I must say that it is the worst managed Westin property that I’ve stayed at. One thing is for sure ... I will never engage this property to execute a business event ... hell, it'd be a disaster! I never did see the General Manager … which is kind of strange, considering we were there for eight days. All the other resorts I’ve stayed at, the general manager had personally engaged the guests at some point during their stay … at least the preferred guests. But, not here. Hmmm … to busy handling complaints, I guess.

By the way, let me get a plug in here for the Westin Grand Bohemian in Orlando, Florida. If you want to stay at a unique hotel in downtown Orlando that is run by excellent management, look no further! But, that’s another article!

Bottom Line: The Westin Resort on St. John is going to be a wonderful vacation like no other for those people who seldom travel and/or are used to staying at Holiday Inns.  But, for the well-seasoned, frequent traveler, this particular property will be a disappointment. That being said, there are no other properties on St. John that are better … perhaps Caneel Bay … but, that is up for debate as well.

If you’re going to St. John and want a lot of amenities, head for the Westin. But, be prepared for the lack of service that seems to be indicative of the Islands. It’s no wonder why the Virgin Islands are no longer the destination of choice for the jet setters. And, it seems the residents of the Islands are unequivocally bitter over that fact!


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LAST UPDATED: DECEMBER 12, 2003

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Austin, Texas