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)

After a year of planning and executing events for a multi-billion dollar corporation and staying in multiple Starwood properties, my partner and I decided to cash-in a hard-earned 78,750 Starwood Points and experience someplace relaxing. Over the Christmas holidays, we spent eight days at the Westin Resort on St. John.

Prior to arrival, we chose to spend the $65 each to have the Westin handle our transfer from St. Thomas to St. John. The Westin handles your luggage from the time you check in at the Westin desk in the St. Thomas airport and delivers your bags directly to your room at the resort on St. John.  And, of course, you arrive on St. John directly at the dock at the Westin Resort. In addition, you get unlimited transfers back and forth to St. Thomas during your stay … that is, if you really want to spend time on St. Thomas. St. John is so beautiful, that you may not want to leave at all.

When we checked in at the Westin desk in the airport on St. Thomas, we found that the resort did not recognize our Platinum status with Starwood. After a few awkward moments of trying to get the situation resolved, the person checking us in made us feel like it was a hassle to see if there were any room upgrades that are supposed to be made automatically available to Platinum members, based on availability of course.

We boarded the resorts open-air mini-bus and was transported to a local marina where we boarded the Westin boat. The boat, although new, is utilitarian … so, don’t expect a sleek, 110’ yacht such as used by Hayman Island Resort on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.
The voyage from St. Thomas to St. John was very enjoyable. It was a perfect day for the trip ... bright and sunny with just a light chop. We debarked the boat to find a number of resort representatives offering refreshing, cold, wet towels to remove the grime from our day’s travel and glasses of Rum Punch.

After a few pleasantries, we were shown to a golf cart and a resort employee gave us a tour of the grounds and then took us to our room. We arrived to find a standard-sized room that smelled of mold and mildew, a bathroom that was so filthy that our feet stuck to the floor when we walked on the tile, a safe that did not work, a toilet that constantly ran, no work desk, and a phone that did not have a working data port.

Since this is a vacation resort, I guess I can forgive the fact the room had no desk. But, for those of us who never really get a true vacation, it was a disappointment. Compared to other Westin properties, the room was on the lower end of the luxury scale.

Even though we had cashed in enough points to gain us a two-room upgrade, they put us in a “pool view” room. The building that housed our room certainly was not in the back of the property, however, there were buildings that had the same sized rooms as ours that were between the beach and us. I have no idea how one would gain access to the beach rooms. If we cashed in any more points, we would have been upgraded to one of the suites or villas. But, the suites and villas were in the back of the property and up on the hillside. It was a head scratcher for sure.
Problem resolution is not a strong suit with the property management. I contacted the property’s general manager, Mr. Graeme Davis. He referred me to Matt Balcik, “Rooms Executive”. Although Matt really did try to solve the issues, the only things that got taken care of was the repair of the safe and the phone’s data port. He sent housekeeping to clean the bathroom floor. But, nonetheless, the sticky mess remained and slowly went away as a result of the daily housekeeping duties during the week’s stay.

Matt did take the time to show me another room with a “better view”, but as I explained to him … once again … the problem was not the view, it was the stench of mold and mildew that, it seemed, was the bouquet of choice that all rooms offered up to its guests. The room he showed me certainly had a better view, but yet offered the same smell, although a tad less pungent. Since we were already unpacked, we stayed put in our original room and Matt ended up sending someone to attend to the smell. While we were out to dinner, someone masked the smell of mold and mildew by dousing the room with a pungent fragrance of lemon. We arrived back wondering, which was worse! For the duration of our stay, we turned the air conditioning down to 65. It was rather cold, but it reduced the stench of the mold and mildew that ended up overcoming the smell of lemon post haste.

We think the problem with the stench comes from the carpet that seemed to absorb the constant humidity. Why any hotel or resort in the Caribbean would choose to have carpet in their rooms is beyond me. A logical choice, to us at least, would be a tile and/or marble floor with throw rugs. But, now I digress!

Now that I got some unpleasantness out of the way, let me say a few positive things about the resort. The grounds are beautiful. The grounds crew has done a fabulous job at making the exterior environment very pleasant indeed. Walking through the Westin property is like walking through a botanical garden. There are beautiful flowering plants in every direction. Several tropical birds have been made pets by the property and we saw several Iguanas lumbering through the grounds. It made every stroll through the resort quite intriguing and fun.

I’ve seen several reviews on this resort that spoke of the expansive grounds and the need to take a healthy walk wherever you decide to go. We actually found our short walks to be enjoyable. Unless you got one of the rooms on the back of the property, we thought all rooms were relatively close to the most popular amenities of the resort. As well, having the building spread out a bit made the environment feel more open, providing a feeling of freedom.

There are a few restaurants on the property. The Snorkels Bar and Grill has a small, but perfect menu that compliments its very casual surroundings. As long as your private parts are covered, you’ll be welcomed at Snorkels. You can eat alfresco at several tables that are between the pool and the beach or you can order directly from the comfort of your lounge chair besides the pool or from the beach. Just flip up the red flag on the back of your lounge chair to notify staff you wish to place an order. What could be easier? The staff is engaging and friendly.

The Beach Café is a little more formal, but yet very casual. As long as you wear a shirt and sandals, you’re fine. It’s an open-air café that serves breakfast and dinner. We had the breakfast buffet several mornings and enjoyed every one of them. It’s very enjoyable eating alfresco while watching the boats in the awakening harbor. I remember seeing reviews from other authors complaining about the price of the buffet. But, we expected food to be a little more expensive on the islands and even more so at the resort. The cost of the breakfast buffet is $20 per person, which is a bit expensive for the offerings, but not out of line with what we expected. Here again, the staff here is wonderful, engaging, and friendly. [NEXT - TO PAGE 2]

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