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Caribbean Casual: St. Johns

Relax on the brilliant beaches of St. Johns

by Mary Ann Anderson

Imagine yourself in land of lush rainforests, brilliant waters, and quiet serenity. Next, imagine yourself sighing in contentment in every waking moment. Finally, imagine that you've finally reached a perfect state of euphoria in a heavenly paradise where the temperature never dips below 60 degrees. Undoubtedly, then, you've found yourself on the tiny Caribbean island of St. John.

St. John-the smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands-is a pristine place, at times surrounded by a gentle mist punctuated by shards of light; while at others, it appears enveloped in the silvery sunshine found only in the Caribbean. Sailboats and yachts decorate its sheltered harbors, while shorelines of meringue-like sand edge the water like scalloped lace.

"I don't care where else you've been," touts James Penn, the unofficial mayor of the island, "We have the best beaches in the entire world."

St. John Landscape

As you approach St. John, its volcanic peaks rise gracefully like scepters toward the skies. At once, you are struck by the vibrancy of the trees speckling the greenness of the mountainsides, their bright tangerine and mandarin red canopied leaves reflecting upon the luminescent Caribbean. Then the sky and the water meld into an intense fusion of jewel-like hues: amethyst, seafoam, turquoise, cobalt, lapis, periwinkle, and even a light charcoal from the shadows cast by an occasional thunderhead.

A scant nine miles long and three miles wide, St. John's palettes of color have the power to pull you into its beauty forever. It is decidedly the most pure and unspoiled of all the United States Virgin Islands, because this gracious island appears much the same as it did when Indians first roamed its beaches and forests centuries ago. Development is discouraged to protect its individuality and charm, says Penn, before he emphatically declared, "This is what our island is going to look like forever!"

Getting There and Getting Around
Local resident Dave Johnson says, "St. John has become its own destination, outside of places like St. Thomas and St. Croix."
Because of that, getting there has become much easier than in the past. There is no air service directly into St. John, but St. Thomas's Cyril E. King Airport, the closest airport, is served by several major carriers.

Traveling the short hop between the two islands is quite easy and provides for astonishing panoramas of the water and uninhabited islands along the way. Among the transportation services from which to choose are public and private water taxis, ferries, hydrofoil, charter boats, and catamarans. However you elect to get to St. John, once you're there, you can rent vehicles, but taxis-with local guides-are plentiful and cheap.

Where to Stay
St. Johns Westin Resort
St. John has always been uncrowded and tranquil, and in keeping with tradition, there are few lodging options. As your home base, you might wish to consider a full service resort like the Westin. Overlooking Great Cruz Bay, the Westin contains acres and acres scattered with cascades of kaleidoscopic hibiscus, bougainvillea, and oleander. Its centerpiece is a quarter-of-an-acre swimming pool complete with Jacuzzis, waterfalls, man-made islands, and colorful lights.

If nothing else, your incentive for selecting the Westin might be its signature Heavenly Bed. Each bed is layered, cake-like, with ten levels of linens, starting with a custom-designed pillow top matt-ress set and crowned with a soft and feathery down comforter.

The Westin's fitness club-with state of the art equipment-is one of the best outfitted anywhere. The spa provides unparalleled luxury in everything from their signature LaStone Therapy to relaxing and restoring body treatments and nail and skin care. With the family travel market exploding with record growth, the Westin Kids Club provides indoor and outdoor programs, as well as a variety of group activities for kids from three to twelve.

No matter your status-honeymooners, couples, singles, or families-the Westin has much to offer for a relaxing vacation getaway.

What to Do
The Virgin Islands, named after crusading nuns by Columbus, has a simple history. The Tainos Indians first paddled their way to St. John from South America, and then in the 1600s, the Danes began exploring the islands, eagerly building sugar cane and cotton plantations, before selling the land to the United States. You can uniquely explore St. John by becoming an archeologist for a day and helping local scientists sift through more than 500 years of ceremonial activity of the Tainos, as well as the historic remains of the plantation ruins.

Perhaps the number one activity on St. John is watersports, including snorkeling and scuba diving. At carefully selected dive spots, the sun glints across and below the water-astonishing in its clarity-like scads of diamonds, revealing an undersea world so radiant with gemstone-colored fish and plant life that it's hard to imagine such grandeur exists.

It would be nearly impossible not to visit the Virgin Islands National Park on your sojourn to St. John, because it covers two-thirds of the island and much of its offshore waters. The Rockefeller family bought the land in the 1950s, and then donated it to the federal government. Highlighted by the 1,200-foot Bordeaux Mountain, the park contains sugar-white beaches, tropical forests, mangrove swamps, and scores of land and sea creatures.

Where to Eat
The Westin has several restaurants and lounges from which to choose. The Beach Café and Bar, with live entertainment and themed nights, features a bountiful breakfast buffet to its a la carte dinner menu, while Snorkel's Bar and BBQ offers barbecue and island drinks in a casual poolside atmosphere.


For more elegant fare, the Westin also hosts Chloé and Bernard's. The restaurant was named after a fictional couple who traveled the world in search of new and scrumptious dishes to add to their menu. And in Cruz Bay, Paradiso is island chic with some of the freshest and most delectable seafood found on the island.

You definitely shouldn't miss Duffy's Love Shack in Cruz Bay. Shaded by an original almond tree that grows through the thatched roof bar, you can try tropical-themed drinks like Lime in Dee Coconut, Wacky Pineapple, and the Shark Tank, a 64-ounce concoction of five rums and three liqueurs. The drinks, served in an assortment of coconut shells and tiki glasses, complement dishes and appetizers like Coco Loco Shrimp and Great White Bites-made from, you guessed it, great white shark.

St. John, as intricately laid as cloisonné, moves at a leisurely pace, so if you come, leave your watch at home. With its warm waters and billowy tradewinds, you'll forget there is such a thing as time.

If You Go:

Westin Resort St. John: (888) 627-7206 or www.westinresortstjohn.com
Westin Hotels & Resorts: (800) WESTIN-1
American Airlines: (800) 433-7300 or www.aa.com

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