Collectively, St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix make up the U.S. Virgin Islands, which are celebrated for their beauty, culture, and serenity. I arrived at St. Thomas Airport late in the evening, just as a mild storm was passing on. With its rolling hills, spotted with homes, and backlit by occasional flashes of heat lightning, the island had an eerily magical feel to it. The night air was filled with insect noises, punctuated occasionally by the low rumble of distant thunder. Coming from the urban landscape of Chicago, I felt as if I had been transported into another world.
After a brief water taxi ride to St. John, I arrived at Kismet, the villa that would be my home for the next several days. Though I couldn’t see much in the darkness, I was completely stunned to see Kismet in the morning light. When I finally pulled myself out of the most comfortable bed in the world to step outside, I was in awe of the exquisite Moroccan-inspired architecture, highlighted by tropical foliage and a sparkling blue pool. The villa is so quiet and secluded that I felt like I was in my own private paradise. If St. John weren’t so beautiful and intriguing, I may have never left Kismet. Yet, after eating a decadent breakfast prepared by Passion Fruit Chefs (which included the most delicious mango I have ever eaten), I set out to see more of the island.
Though Kismet had already won my “Best First Impression” award, I discovered a handful of equally exquisite villas across St. John. Bel Horizon, located on Upper Peter Bay, won my heart with its “farmhouse meets French villa” architecture and décor. Its enchanting rooms were painted with calming colors—including my favorite, a muddy blue—and featured balconies with spectacular views of the ocean. Another standout that will take your breath away is Eco Serendib, a one-of-a-kind villa that exudes eco-friendly luxury. Eco Serendib features a full-service spa, an epicurean theater-style kitchen where guests can participate in culinary demonstrations by professional chefs, and—my favorite—a garden for picking your own herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
If you’re looking for a larger, all-inclusive St. John resort that still has a private, quiet setting, Caneel Bay is the perfect option. It may be a large resort, but the serenity and spaciousness of the area means that you can relax peacefully on one of its seven beaches without feeling crowded. In fact, I was so impressed by the privacy of the area that I was not surprised to learn that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie once stayed at Caneel Bay. However, the best part of my experience there was not seeing Brad and Angie’s room (which was fairly awesome), it was the seaside cabana massage. Although the resort offers an indoor, air-conditioned option for massage, I highly recommend braving a little warm air to experience the cabana massage. There is nothing quite like hearing the sound of ocean waves lapping the shore as you slip into complete relaxation.
And a vacation is not a vacation until you have overindulged in delicious food. St. John has very impressive restaurants, including Asolare (Asian fusion dishes) and Fatty Crab (Malaysian-inspired cuisine). It’s also worth your time to take the short water taxi ride to St. Thomas and dine at Old Stone Farmhouse. Hands down, this was the best dining experience I had on my trip. The farmhouse features elegant tables and antiquated stone walls. For a truly memorable experience, opt to dine al fresco, as I did. With the flickering candles and starlit evening scene, I felt as if I had drifted 200 years into history; the menus are even sealed with an oldfashioned wax seal. The friendly staff will even invite you to the kitchen, where you can observe the preparation of a variety of delicious dishes. Although the vegetarian menu is tempting, this restaurant offers a meat lover’s dream: the freedom to mix and match succulent lamb, bison, filet mignon, elk, kangaroo (trust me, it’s good!), and more.
With all the rich food I was eating, I knew I had to find some activity on the island. And what activity could possibly be more important than shopping? A quick trip over to St. Thomas is your best bet for shopping options; I was most impressed with Yacht Haven Grande (YHG), which includes stores such as Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Coach, Gucci, and BCBG Max Azria. At the end of your shopping spree, you can eat dinner at one of YHG’s restaurants, such as W!kked (a hit with the locals) or Grand Cru (known for its delicious cocktails), while you watch the yachts come in and out of the harbor.
Speaking of yachts, I must say that a yacht ride is absolutely essential to the entire “Caribbean experience.” I looked forward to my group’s yacht ride with Magic Moments Luxury Excursion more than anything else on the trip, and I was not disappointed. The captain drove us to various scenic areas around St. John and stopped at the most beautiful points, where we were free to swim and snorkel. We also enjoyed a delicious lunch of deli meat sandwiches, fresh shrimp, and melt-in-your-mouth brownies on the yacht before moving on to our next stop. The best part was taking a nap in the sun on the front deck as the yacht skimmed quickly through the water; when I opened my eyes and gazed at the sapphire blue water and rolling green mountains flying past, I knew I was in paradise.
So, it was only natural that I wanted to take a piece of paradise home with me. The taste of the delicious mango I ate on my first morning in St. John was still emblazoned on my mind, so I swiped another mango from Kismet’s kitchen before heading to the airport. Unfortunately, my deep love for the mango did not trump U.S. Customs security regulations, and the mango was confiscated. Yet, I secretly hoped that the kind officer who took it would enjoy it for lunch, rather than throw it out. Although I was happy to be going home, I was sad to be leaving St. John behind. But as I boarded my flight, I thought to myself, “I’m coming back for that mango someday.”
For more information, visit: kismetsj.com • passionfruitchefs.com • stjohnvillas.com • ecoserendib.com • rosewoodhotels.com/caneelbay • asolarestjohn.com • fattycrab.com • oldstonefarmhouse.com • yachthavengrande.com • yachtmagicmoments.com • island-showcase.com/w-kked-restaurant.html • grandcruvi.com
—Words by Jenna Schubert