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St. John Essentials

Where to Stay
caneel bay resort garden view roomSt. John has a variety of accommodations, from luxury resorts to affordable campgrounds, with plenty of condos, villas and guesthouses in between. Many are clustered in or around Cruz Bay. It's worth looking into villas and other vacation rentals; there are many throughout the island. Wintertime is high season in the Virgin Islands, especially during the holidays; hotel rates go up accordingly. For lower rates (albeit with a bit of risk), travel during the summer/fall hurricane season.

Popular with honeymooners, the romantic Caneel Bay is one of St. John's few luxury resorts. The sprawling property includes 166 airy rooms and 7 beaches on a 170-acre peninsula. It's a great place for a quiet escape; rooms do not have TV's or phones. Guests can enjoy yoga or meditation classes at the Self Centre, and there's a raft of outdoor activities available including snorkeling, sailing, windsurfing, golf and tennis.

If you're more interested in shopping and restaurants than seclusion and soft sand, check out the condos of Gallows Point Resort, which are within walking distance of Cruz Bay. The rocky beach here is hardly the island's best, but the units are spacious and colorfully decorated, and there's a great Italian restaurant (Zozo's) right on site. Rooms include TV's, wireless Internet and fully equipped kitchens.

Garden by the Sea is a charming, mid-priced bed and breakfast just a 10-minute walk from Cruz Bay. The three brightly decorated rooms have canopy beds and hardwood floors (but no phones or TV's). Full breakfast is served daily on a veranda surrounded by tropical plants and flowers; the rotating menu includes dishes like frittatas, eggs Benedict and pina colada French toast.

The Treetops guesthouse is one of St. John's more affordable options, offering three clean guestrooms in the lushly forested area of Fish Bay. Rates include coffee and pastries at breakfast. Although it's only 2.5 miles outside of Cruz Bay, it's not on the regular public transportation circuit, so a rental car is recommended.

If you're looking to stay within the National Park without having to "rough it," you might enjoy Estate Concordia Studios and Eco Tents. The 25 "eco tents" have running water, screened windows, kitchens and private bathrooms, and are large enough to sleep four to five adults. The property also has nine studios, large open-air rooms with fully equipped kitchens and private baths. Most of the tents and studios offer sweeping ocean views.

Where to Shop
cruz bay ferry dock st john usvi Cruz Bay is full of very upscale boutiques, most of which are one of a kind. At the atmospheric, stone-walled Mongoose Junction (to the left of the ferry dock), don't miss Bougainvillea Boutique for chic bathing suits, linen fashions and straw hats. Bamboula, which sells everything from bed linens to keepsakes from all over the world, is St. John's most eclectic shop.

Check out Donald Schnell Pottery for hand-blown glass, kaleidoscopes and windchimes, and Sea Leathers for belts and accessories made out of fish skin.

Adjacent to Margarita's (across from the dock) is St. John Editions, which has fabulous fashions including Lilly Pulitzer, Koko and Flax.

At Wharfside, Dreams and Dragonflies features local art, funky jewelry and hand-painted clothing. Verace is an exquisite jewelry boutique with distinctive, hand-made pieces by artists from around the world.

Out of the way, but worth the half-block stroll, is Pink Papaya (in the Lemon Tree Mall), an artsy shop specializing in boldly colored Caribbean handicrafts.

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    --written by Sarah Schlichter and the Cruise Critic editorial staff

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