Hotel Review: Marriott Frenchman’s Reef St. ThomasPosted by in Travel
A trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands seemed like just the thing to thaw my daughter and me from the polar vortex, so a girl’s getaway was in order. In researching hotels, I soon realized there weren’t a lot of options on this tiny island. The Ritz is the most expensive and the next step down was the Marriott or Sugar Bay. The Marriott seemed to fit our needs, with pools and a beach, comfortable rooms, a large breakfast buffet, and a location close to Charlotte Amalie (every other hotel is another 20-30 minutes away).
We got in our rental car and drove on the left side of the road to the hotel (my first experience driving on the left!). Although we had directions and Google maps, we pulled in at a Marriott that was not our hotel. Before you arrive at the hotel there is a Marriott time share. The sign out front does not indicate it is a time share and not the hotel, so after a confusing attempt to check in, we were directed to the Marriott hotel next door. This time we found it and walked into the open air lobby to check in. Our room was not ready but we were told it had been cleaned and just had to be inspected. We were given a pager. I asked about parking and was told there are a few spots in front (only about 8 total truly) and then there is a parking garage up the hill. We ended up parking in the garage and hauled our luggage down a very steep hill. No one explained there is a staircase in the garage that leads to a walkway to the hotel. There are signs on one level of the garage, but we did not see any on the top level.
We sat on a terrace and enjoyed the ice water and free rum punch served in the lobby. However, it was hot. We were tired. After half an hour I inquired again at the desk and
was told the room had still not been inspected and that the desk clerk would call and request the inspection. 45 minutes went by and we hauled ourselves and our luggage into the lobby and conspicuously stood near the desk. Someone asked if we needed help and I explained about the room and said I could not believe it took an hour and 15 minutes to simply inspect a room and in fact I could care less if it had been inspected. I wanted to check in and if there was a problem I would call. This time we were told the room had been inspected but the system had not been updated and thus our pager did not go off.
At last we were given our keys (only one of which worked) and directed to the room. Our room was on the first floor, which is below the main area of the hotel (the lobby is on 4 and the pool and restaurant are on 3). In fact this is actually a partial basement, carved into the cliff. Our room had a lovely walk out patio with a view of the Charlotte Amalie harbor. There were three cruise ships in port every day we were there and we had a good view of the cruise ship dock, as well as the entire harbor. The patio entrance was a regular glass door that locked with only a small lock that turned in the door knob. There was a dead bolt but a key was required. I would have been more comfortable with a room that opened to the outside if it had a deadbolt. The floors above us had balconies.
The room was comfortable with two double beds (both comfortable), an arm chair, a desk, and a dresser that contained an empty refrigerator (no mini-bar nonsense!) and a coffee maker, glasses and safe. Two of the pillows were flat and two were acceptable. The bathroom was adequate but not as nice, as updated, or as comfortable as the room – a cramped one room unit with sink, toilet and tub. We soon discovered that the room was perpetually damp. Our damp (not wet) bathing suits and cover ups never dried when hung over a chair overnight. Bathroom towels never dried. There was also no vent or fan in the bathroom. The dampness definitely made us feel as though we were in the basement. The upside of the basement was that it was very quiet. There were no people pounding through the halls, no footsteps over your head or other sounds.
We paid $649 per night for this room. I felt it was high, but that’s about what you can expect to pay in high season in the Caribbean for a hotel of this caliber. I found some of the hotel staff very helpful and others were adequate. All had clearly been carefully trained however to greet guests with a smile and a “hello, how are you?” Most tried to make small talk as well. This was friendly but it honestly got a bit tiring. Every time I needed to speak to someone I had to have a long conversation. I did appreciate talking to staff who truly tried to be friendly and welcoming.
Our first order of business was to head to the beach. There were no signs and no indication in the guest guide in our room where the beach was. We found the pool area (two pools, both with infinity edges and a hot tub with a bar area and a kids’ sprinkler pad) but could not find the beach. Finally we asked and were directed around a corner near the towel service (no signs pointing the way). We emerged to find a “scenic elevator to the beach” as the sign said, which was out of order. We still couldn’t get to the beach. We asked again and were told there were 87 (!) stairs around the corner from the elevator. This was a bit of a surprise to us. There were indeed MANY stairs, but they were spaced out a big with longer steps. Going down wasn’t so bad. Going up was a challenge and we passed people huffing and puffing their way up.
The stairs ended at a boardwalk by some tennis courts and at last – the beach. It was a lovely private beach, accessible only to guests of the Marriott and Marriott Morningstar resort next door. Chairs and umbrellas were free, but the umbrellas were hard to come by. Behind the beach was another pool. We never did determine where you could get towels down there (we were told you could) but I immediately located the bar for my daily virgin strawberry daiquiris. The water was warm, but the waves are strong with an undertow. It gets deep very quickly. This area is called Frenchman’s Reef because there is a reef out there – and we could see waves breaking on it. There is also an island out
from the shore and plenty of boat traffic. At the end of the day you can see the cruise ships coming around the point from Charlotte Amalie. The sand was soft but HOT! The beach is long enough that you don’t feel crowded, unless you want to sit under an umbrella. A nice touch is a hose at the base of the steps to the bar to rinse your feet. There is a breeze at the beach (this is the windward side of the island) but it was just enough to keep us from getting too hot without disturbing us.
The hotel offers a shuttle to the Morningstar Resort if you can’t do the stairs down to the beach. We took this shuttle to dinner one evening and it was literally a 2 minute ride and the shuttle is
always looping around, so it is possible to access the beach without the stairs.
We tried out all of the pools and enjoyed the infinity pools the most. The pools tended to be fairly crowded and it was difficult to find two chairs together on the pool decks. Both infinity pools on
the hotel terrace have lounge chairs directly in the water, to what end I’m unsure, since the chair is above the water (it’s not like you’re touching the water), but I suppose you could reach your foot down to cool off. We found all of the pools to be just a bit too cool for us, although they were definitely refreshing. The Morningstar pool down at the beach is larger, but had more families in it.
I am not embarrassed to tell you that we make a lot of our hotel decisions based on breakfast. Is it included? Is it a big buffet? And are there some gluten-free options? Breakfast might be one of our favorite things about staying at a hotel. The Marriott included breakfast in our package and what a breakfast it was. Served on the 3rd floor of the hotel in a room with nearly floor to ceiling windows looking out over the Charlotte Amalie harbor, this was a buffet we most definitely approved of. And the best part was one hot dish changed each day, so there was no breakfast fatigue. There was an omelet and waffle station, cereal, fruit, meats and cheeses, pastries and breads, yogurt and cottage cheese and at least 5 hot dishes which always included scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, potatoes, and bacon and regular sausage. The changing dish included eggs benedict, a frittata, and my favorite – corned beef hash, which was served to us the morning after St. Patrick’s Day showing me that the hotel not only makes its own breakfast, but someone in the kitchen plans wisely, making the most of all of their resources. Our server offered milk, coffee, tea, and juices. If you ordered coffee (we did not) it came in an
insulated carafe AND in addition to your nicely sized china mugs, you are given takeout cups to take your coffee with you. Loved this. The staff at the restaurant was friendly but not pushy. We enjoyed our breakfasts there very much. I found a lot to eat that was gluten-free.
The hotel is situated on a little peninsula so it is possible to look in two directions and see ocean from certain terraces, which is really lovely. Your room will either look out over the harbor (as did ours – although it was called a full oceanview room) or it will look out over the beach to the open ocean (called an island view), however these rooms are above the pool area. We had a rental car, so we drove ourselves to Charlotte Amalie (about a 5 minute drive) and also to Red Hook and up to Magens Bay. Nothing was more than a half hour drive for us, so we felt the location was ideal. If you do not rent a car, you can take a taxi to town (but you will have to wait while one is called for you), or you can take the hotel ferry. Ferry is a bit of a misnomer. There is a small boat that leaves from a dock (down many stairs) that will take you to the heart of Charlotte Amalie.
This is not free and there is a $7 per person fee each way and you must buy tickets in the hotel lobby. It goes every half hour. There is a handful of shops in the hotel, including a gift/snack shop that offers packaged sandwiches and salads as well as desserts. It was vastly overpriced (we paid $9 for a pint of Haagen Daz).
We dined at Havana Blue at the Morningstar Resort and it may have been our best meal. There is also a beachside restaurant called Coco Joe’s, a restaurant near the pool and the dining room where we had breakfast each day.
Overall we enjoyed our stay and found the hotel comfortable and relaxing. The biggest drawbacks are the stairs to the beach (if the elevator would work this would not be a concern) and the limited parking. Once we got the last spot in the ramp and another time we followed some people to their car when there were no spaces.
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