Review: Frenchman's Reef Resort on St. Thomas

Frenchman's Reef Resort & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort
••• Marriott Hotels & Resorts

For more than four centuries, boats have plied the Caribbean waters surrounding St. Thomas seeking riches. For the last 40 years, many travelers seeking a treasured experience have found it at the iconic Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort. Set atop a bluff overlooking the sea and St. Thomas Harbor, the resort commands sweeping views in almost every direction.

With nearly 500 rooms and suites, Frenchman’s Reef is the largest resort on the island, and boasts arguably the most striking setting.

 This is a full-service resort that’s family-friendly but not kid-obsessed (you won’t find any life-size cartoon characters walking around).  It's the kind of place where parents don’t have to worry about shushing their kids at every turn, and the overall vibe is laid-back and welcoming. In other words, families can relax here.

While the resort does not have a dedicated, drop-off children's program, kid-friendly activities are incorporated into the daily programming, especially during peak periods. (The Beach Olympics and Sea Creature Race are favorites.) There’s plenty of pool action, including a safe splash zone for little ones, as well as a lovely beach. The very popular Adventure Center (located on-site but independently run) offers a raftload of excursions, from sailing and snorkel trips to very cool night kayaking tours. 

When kids are ready for a break from the beach, there’s a swimming pool nestled behind trees just steps away.

 When you want to be active, head to Morningstar Beach and the water activities center, which offers kayaks, snorkels, paddleboards and Jet Skis There’s also an area for beach volleyball. 

If you’d like to check out the city of Charlotte Amalie, you can hop on the resort’s water taxi ($7 per person, one way) for a scenic ride across the harbor.

If you think you’ll be exploring more of the island during your vacation, consider renting a car rather than relying on cabs. Taxi fares are priced per passenger, not per ride, and that means a family of four could easily spend $80 for an outing to town or another attraction.  Do that a few times during your trip and it adds up.

Of course, with nine dining options, four pools (including a stunning infinity pool), tennis courts, fitness center, spa, and a beach with more water activities that you can shake a snorkel at, you might not need to leave the resort at all.

The onsite restaurants range from the large, indoor Aqua Terra, which serves breakfast (either buffet or a la carte) and dinner, to the open-air, beachside Coco Joe’s for Caribbean-inspired breakfast, lunch and dinner. Kids menus are available at all of the restaurants, save for the upscale Havana Blue on Morningstar Beach.  There’s no poolside or beachside food service, but there are dining options adjacent to both, so taking care of a mid-afternoon craving is never a problem.

Best rooms: The resort is made up of two separate areas: Frenchman’s Reef, and Morningstar Beach.

The hub of the resort is Frenchman's Reef, which saw a $48 million renovation in 2012 and is made up of three connected multi-story buildings: Main Tower, Sea Cliff Tower, and Ocean Tower.

(The primary difference between the buildings is the view.) Main Tower looks out over the point of the bluff, but rooms here can be noisier because they also overlook the pool and outdoor restaurant area.  Try to get a room on an upper floor for less noise and better views. Sea Cliff Tower, the quietest of the three buildings, overlooks the Morningstar Beach area and snags the beautiful sunrises. Ocean Tower guests are treated to views of the harbor and spectacular sunsets. Two restaurants (Aqua Terra, open for breakfast and dinner, and open-air Sunset Grill, serving lunch and dinner), a market/gift shop, spa, and plenty of open air seating areas call the Towers home.

Rooms in the Towers, while not overly luxurious, are updated, spacious, and very comfortable. Each room has a balcony, mini refrigerator and flatscreen TV.

 

Morningstar Beach, located to the south of the bluff, is accessible from Frenchman’s Reef by an elevator, a 100-step staircase, or a two-minute shuttle service that departs from the main lobby on a regular basis. The property comprises two- and three-story "plantation style" buildings set right on the beach. The rooms are a bit dated when compared to those of Frenchman's Reef, but the beach is at your doorstep. Multigenerational families often take advantage of connecting rooms to create a house-rental feel. 

Like nearly all hotels, Frenchman's Reef sets rates using a surge pricing model. Nightly room rates range from $200 to $500 during the summer, and from $380 to over $700 during high season. Room rates do not include a fairly hefty $45 daily resort fee, which includes wireless internet, use of beach and water gear, and access to the fitness center, tennis courts, and shuttle service. Be sure to check the resort's web site for special offers.

Best season: For the best weather, visit St. Thomas between April to June, when you can expect mild temperatures, very little rainfall, and shoulder-season prices. During hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to the end of November, temperatures can average in the upper 80 degrees.

During the island’s peak season, from December to March, temperatures generally range from the mid 70s to high 80s with breezy evenings. The resort is busiest from January through April, especially during U.S. school vacation weeks, and this is also when the resort's activity programming is the most robust.

Getting there:  U.S. citizens do not require a passport to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands. Cyril E. King Airport, about a 15-minute drive from the resort, is served by five airlines with daily service to and from the U.S.

Visited: October 2015

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Disclaimer: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.

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