St. John Stories and Tips

Caneel Bay for the Unwashed Masses: A Beach… And More

Colonial Ruins Photo, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

For the Dude and me, a trip to the beach at the ultra-deluxe Caneel Bay resort was a mere pretext. You see, a few days before, we’d been on a taxi-shuttle to Cruz Bay when it had happened to stop at the resort to let off a couple of passengers. To our surprise, we’d spotted some colonial ruins—very interesting-looking ones, too—nearby on the resort’s meticulously landscaped grounds.

This struck us as awfully unfair. Undemocratic. Hell, almost un-American. Where did this… this… exclusive resort, this playground of the rich and famous, get off keeping all the best ruins to itself? The Dude’s populist sensibilities revolted; and from that moment on, he was a man obsessed. We knew that the resort’s grounds—along with its main beach, one of no less than seven, if you’ll believe it—were open to the public. So we’d come back one day to hit the beach, do a little snorkeling—and get a closer look at the ruins.

And now here we were, approaching the first of the ruins—and to our astonishment, we saw that instead of the KEEP OFF and DO NOT TOUCH signs that had been posted all around Annaberg Plantation, we were being practically invited to walk all over it by a wooden banister that had been added to its crumbling stairway. This time, it was my own preservationist instincts that revolted—but with such an invitation, I couldn’t resist slowly climbing the stairs to the main level to look and admire.

This was the first of many embellishments we saw, as, for the next hour, we scrambled all over and through the ruins like kids on a playground. Another even more fetching complex of ruins had flowers planted all around it, and we also spotted lights, tables, and chairs (which made sense when we later found out that resort guests could arrange to have romantic private dinners in the ruins, the lucky bastards). One large, circular building even had a restaurant built into it. In any case, shameless disrespect for the island’s heritage notwithstanding, it was all very lovely; and the Dude, an avid photographer, was in heaven snapping photo after photo.

Finally, spent from our orgy, we staggered over to the beach—and that didn’t turn out to be too shabby, either. Backed by the resort’s dining terrace, furnished with a large boat dock, and facing built-up St. Thomas, it wasn’t exactly an ideal of picturesque seclusion. But it was still rather pretty, with a few shady spots and plenty of beach chairs scattered about (with big signs everywhere warning that they were for resort guests only, but how were they going to enforce that?). And we were practically the only ones there, with all the actual resort guests presumably enjoying the privacy of the other six beaches, safely tucked away from the unwashed rabble.

Bagging ourselves a pair of "for resort guests only" beach chairs, we put down our stuff and headed into the water to swim and snorkel. It wasn’t a very good place for swimming, we found—there were rocks and beds of turtle grass on the seafloor, and also patches of coral scattered all over, so you could never be sure if you were safe putting your feet down.

Well, no matter. We swam to our right, heading for the eastern side of the bay, where we’d heard there was a nice reef. And the reef did turn out to be nice, with plenty of fish and coral—all the kinds we’d seen already on our trip, plus a few we hadn’t, which was exciting. Unfortunately, most of the reef was in somewhat shallow water, and as it was also fairly bristling with sea urchins, we found it more prudent to swim alongside it instead of over and through it. And the water was awfully murky as well. So our view of the sea life was rather limited—but still, we were tempted enough by what we saw to keep swimming along the reef, further and further out, towards the open ocean…

That was when I saw it. Just a fleeting glimpse—an outline—a flash of movement—but I froze. Slowly, I turned my head and looked around, and it was like suddenly seeing the picture in one of those Magic Eye things.

We were surrounded by jellyfish.

Just then, the Dude caught my eye and motioned for me to bring my head up out of the water so he could tell me something. He started to say that he thought we were too far out and we should start back, but I cut him off. "Yeah. Let’s go back. Right now. Because…"
"What?"
"OK, dude, don’t get freaked out, but… we’re surrounded by jellyfish."
A pause.
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah."
Another pause. And then we both simultaneously dove underwater and swam for our dear lives back towards shore.

We surfaced, panting, in shallow water a few yards out from the beach. After making sure we were both OK, we decided to confine our snorkeling henceforth to the shallow part of the bay, nice and close in to the beach.

And, to our surprise, we found that the snorkeling was quite good here as well, thanks to those treacherous patches of coral scattered around—each one was like its own miniature reef, with a few fish swimming around it. We also caught sight of a live conch and some sea snails. But the most exciting moment was when we glimpsed a sea turtle feeding on one of the turtle-grass beds. The visibility out here in the middle of the bay was very good—much better than around the reef. We finally trooped out of the water feeling satisfied—until the Dude let out a yelp of pain as he realized that he had pulled a muscle during our mad swim towards shore.

That’s when we found out what the other advantage of Caneel Bay was—its convenience. We were able to spend a little time resting on the beach chairs, then, leaving the sand, we could wash our feet clean at the little spigot the resort had thoughtfully provided. And after we discussed the rest of our afternoon and it became clear that the Dude was in no shape to press on and hit another beach as we’d planned to do, we were able to go to the nice resort bathrooms to get out of our wet swimsuits and get dressed. And finally, there were comfortable chairs and couches on the resort’s terrace where the Dude could sit and rest before we went to catch a ride back to our accommodations. If we’d been so inclined, we could even have had a bite to eat at any one of two or three overpriced resort restaurants that lay within a 50-foot radius—because, naturally, those are open to the unwashed masses as well!

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