Whenever we’re in the mood to get away for a wonderful beach holiday we think of the Caribbean. It’s close enough to New York City that we can catch an early-morning flight and be on the beach in time for a late lunch and a pitcher of our favorite tropical drink.
Recently, we had a chance to spend a few days on the island of St. Thomas. After the quick four-hour flight from the city, we landed at Cyril E. King Airport and hopped in a wait- ing taxi for the 25-minute drive to our home-away-from-home Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort (www.marriott.com/hotels).
This large, smoke-free resort, popular with couples and families, consists of 478 rooms and suites that have a contemporary design. With a color palette of light blues, sage, and cream, all rooms include ergonomic workspaces (if you must do work while you’re here), high-definition televisions, and rain-style shower-heads.
Our Water View room provided us with a sensational perspective of the cruise ships arriving and departing each day. On our first morning at The Reef, we were amazed to see the Norwegian Breakaway sailing by our window. When we are at home in New York City, we often see this huge ship from our apartment as it sails to and from its dock on the Hudson River.
From our balcony, the infinity pool just below us beckoned with its panorama of the other US Virgin Island in the distance and refreshing ocean breezes. We stripped off our city clothes, hopped into our bathing suits, and headed outside.
Swimming is one of our favorite forms of exercise and relaxation. At Frenchman’s Reef guests have the choice of the infinity pool at the main resort, the beachfront pool at Morning Star, the private pool for spa guests, and the amazing Morning Star beach, where we liked to begin and end the day being caressed by the warm Caribbean waters.
You can be as active or passive as you like at Frenchman’s Reef, the choice is up to you. Whether you like to sit on the beach with a good book and a cool drink, or you like to jet-ski, parasail, snorkel, or go fishing, you will always have great options.
The onsite Adventure Center will be happy to make all the arrangements for you when you decide you’re ready to see what this beautiful part of the Caribbean has to offer. Whether it’s a catamaran half- day sail and snorkel excursion, sport fishing, or night kayaking, they are a team of professionals who love what they do and want to make sure you have a great time during your vacation.
While we were there, the Adventure Center arranged for us to go on The Cat Harbor Lights Dinner Cruise. This is the perfect way to enjoy casual cocktails and dinner, meet new people from around the world, and see just how beautiful island life can be when you get out on the water and feel one with nature. The owner, Jim Trilling, and his crew made us feel like part of an extended family. The food is good and plentiful (flank steak, pulled pork, rib tips, chicken, meatballs, mac and cheese, beans and rice, salad, fresh fruit, and dessert). Add to this generous pours at the open bar and you have one of the best deals on the island (two hours. $65).
The most important reason my partner and I return to a destination or hotel is because of the people we meet who live and work there. Every morning at Frenchman’s Reef we were made to feel so comfortable and at home by the people who worked in the Aqua Terra Oceanfront Grill. I must admit we are friendly guys who make friends easily, but everyone from the hostesses, waitstaff, and chefs were genuine and warm. They all had a love of life that they wanted to share, and they appreciated our friendliness and celebrated us as individuals and as a gay couple.
Every day they told us stories about their lives and wanted to know about ours. By the second day, we were greeted with hugs when we arrived and given an embrace when we left the dining room. This is definitely what makes us want to return to St. Thomas and Frenchman’s Reef, the wonderful people we met.
A special acknowledgment goes out to Julia, the resort’s incredible omelet chef who has been preparing great egg dishes for guests of Frenchman’s Reef for many years. She always had a smile on her face and loved talking to and meeting new people. Her relaxed and friendly personality helped us to start each day ready to enjoy life to the fullest.
With all this positive energy around us, we looked forward to exploring St. Thomas and then returning to Frenchman’s Reef at the end of the day. This particular day, the resort had arranged a private tour of the island with Caribbean Tour Services (www.caribbeantourservices.com). Phillip Shannon, the president of the company, showed us some of the highlights of St. Thomas, including Drake’s Seat where you get a bird’s-eye view of beautiful Meagan’s Bay below and some of the British Virgin Islands in the distance. Shannon and his team are the go-to guys for groups, and provide creative itineraries including tours, events, transportation, transfers, culinary experiences, meetings, incentives, and more.
Inspired to consider some of the great options available to us for our next corporate retreat, we headed back to the resort for sundowners and dinner at the Sunset Bar & Grill, their open-air restaurant overlooking the pools and harbor. (Make sure to reserve a table for dinner at the Sunset Bar & Grill first thing in the morning. This is a popular dining venue and there may be a line of people hoping to get in).
Dining alfresco is one of the best things about island living, and at the Sunset Bar & Grill you can relax over drinks and enjoy a leisurely dinner. We requested a table in the back with a water view. Here you can still hear the music being played by the band on the verandah, but it is not obtrusive.
Being a beach boy at heart, I couldn’t resist ordering the Surf & Turf: grilled lobster, skirt steak with citrus butter, asparagus, and roasted garlic potato purée. The fish was so fresh and the steak tender and moist. Other great choices include the Double-Cut Rack of Lamb with creamy Parmesan polenta and a Port wine rosemary reduction; and the Pan-Seared Sea Scallops with citrus fennel salad and a Myer’s Rum butter sauce.
Instead of dessert that night, we opted for a dessert cocktail called Death by Chocolate: Stoli Vanilla Vodka, dark crème de cacao, chocolate ice cream, and whipped cream. Now this is what dessert should taste like!
The next day, we decided to stay onsite and enjoy all that the resort has to offer. After an early morning walk along the beach and one of Julia’s amazing omelets, we headed to the Lazule Sea Spa. Featuring eight treatment rooms, three poolside cabanas, a full-service hair and nail salon, steam room, and private spa pool, this is like having your own private sanctuary within the resort. After our facials, body scrubs, and massages, we spent the early part of the afternoon lounging by the pool. If you truly want to feel like a VIP, book a spa treatment each day and then enjoy the exclusive use of the spa pool, or purchase a Spa Pass for $25 a day and come and go as you like.
That afternoon we met with Anthony Armas, the resort’s director of sales & marketing, and Leanne Laplace, wedding sales man- ager, who told us about the wedding options available at Frenchman’s Reef.
Armas and Laplace told us that, with their prime location and amazing views, it’s no wonder that so many people choose to get married here. They have hosted many wedding ceremonies, and same-sex couples have found this to be a wonderful destination wedding venue. The resort’s certified wedding planners work closely with each couple to ensure a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Every detail is handled for you, including referral of decor, flowers, photography, and entertainment. With innovative St. Thomas catering featuring modern culinary trends and the freshest ingredients, the couples and their guests rave about Frenchman’s Reef as the perfect setting for a luxury Caribbean wedding.
With all this talk about marriage and luxury weddings, we decided to book a table at Havana Blue for a romantic dinner for two. Voted one of the “Top Five Beachside Restaurants in the Caribbean” by Caribbean Travel & Life Magazine, we couldn’t wait to see what it was like.
That evening we were all set to walk to this privately-owned restaurant that is located at the far end of Morning Star Beach, but nature had other plans. Suddenly there was a tropical downpour that had people running for cover. Luckily, the resort provides a courtesy shuttle every five minutes from the main lobby to the Morning Star Beach Club.
Happy to arrive at the restaurant without getting wet, we were seated at a table close to the beach, but not so close as to have the rain interfere with our meal. The open-air dining room, with floor-to-ceiling fabric sheers framing open windows, refreshing trade winds, and hundreds of glimmering candles, is truly magical.
We started off the night with a couple of their signature cocktails: a Brazilian Caipirinha with Leblon Cachaça, fresh citrus, and raw sugar; and a Pacific Pearl with Stoli Razberi Vodka, Champagne, fresh raspberries, and a sugar rim.
The menu at Havana Blue features dishes that highlight the best of Latin America and the Pacific Rim, so needless to say we were primed for an exceptional meal. We started with the Habana Ensalada: fresh spinach, jicama, red pepper ribbons, paprika dusted hard-boiled egg, miso bacon crumbles, queso blanco croutons, and a warm sesame, passion fruit vinaigrette.
Now that our mouths were truly watering, we segued to the main courses. My partner ordered the Ancho Filet: grilled filet mignon, ancho chile and espresso rub, jalapeño creamed spinach, cilantro, chorizo mash, and tempura leeks. With this amazing combination of ingredients, you know I had to try it! What a taste sensation. No one ingredient overpowered the other, just subtle variations in flavor and textures.
My entrée of choice was the Mahi Maho Mahi: pan-seared, yuca encrusted, mahi mahi, citrus jicima slaw, creamy aji amarillo risotto, and key lime, white wine sensación. With taste buds twitching, I seriously considered ordering seconds.
As this was our final night on St. Thomas, we decided to make the moment last and lingered over after-dinner drinks. We talked about the allure of island living and what we appreciate most when we travel.
Soon the rain had stopped, and the lights of boats could be seen just offshore. It is at moments like this that we truly appreciate the close proximity of New York City to the Caribbean. This trip, with the welcoming people we met, and all the great amenities at Frenchman’s Reef, is just what we needed to relax, enjoy nature, and savor the simple pleasures life has to offer.