Marriott Frenchman's Reef Resort, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

This St. Thomas resort is a great place to light it up, by land or sea

© Paul Kandarian

You want to get a glow on in St. Thomas? Check out Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort, an iconic U.S. Virgin Islands property high on a bluff overlooking the ocean and capital city of Charlotte Amalie.

You can do it by sea: Try the most unique night kayaking adventure using lighted, clear-bottomed kayaks giving you a most interesting view of what’s below you, or a sunset cruise where rum and food are abundant.

You can do it by land: At Coco Joe’s, a beach-side restaurant, get it with Voodoo Juice, a literal bucket full of rum-soaked goodness, or a glow-scrub massage at Lazule’s Spa.

I’d never been to Frenchman’s Reef before, but heard from friends it’s one of the best resorts on St. Thomas. What I found gave me no reason to question that, save for the oft-sluggish line at reception, be you checking in or out or just having questions. But there are ample staff members wandering about to at least make you feel better about waiting -- better still if they’re bearing rum punches.

Marriott Frenchman's Reef Rooms and Accommodations

Frenchman’s is a lovely resort, on a bluff with outstanding views. My room fronted the ocean and from my balcony every morning I watched massive cruise ships putter in and out of the harbor. About four years ago, the resort underwent a $48-million redesign, which included jazzing up the spacious rooms and adding a fitness center, two pools, restaurant, lounge and spa.

My room was more than big enough for my solo-traveling needs, with an Internet connection that was wonky the first night then inexplicably smooth thereafter. I had a king bed, spacious closet and bureau, adequate work station and sizable bath, with rainhead shower, Thann aromatherapy toiletries, and two free bottles of water a day. A nice touch is the in-room safe, one of the biggest I’ve ever seen, with room for laptop, Kindle, camera and more, and with a slide-out drawer for easy access.

One drawback, at least for this serious coffee addict, was the so-so Andis Commercial coffeemaker with Toulouse coffee packets, a tiny, four-cup affair that while efficient, had me longing for a Nespresso or Krug machine I find in many other hotels.

Marriott Frenchman's Reef Dining and Restaurants

But there’s coffee in abundance downstairs, where the breakfast buffet at the Aqua Terra restaurant was massive, and decidedly American (St. Thomas is a U.S. territory, after all), with towering windows overlooking Charlotte Amalie. I also appreciated the resort’s offerings of gluten-free food at all its restaurants. One afternoon I had a Reuben on gluten-free bread at the Sunset Grille, an open-air restaurant near the pools, which was one of the best ever.

I didn’t eat at Havana Blue at the Morningstar end of the resort, but it looked smashing, a blue-hued, very atmospheric bar/restaurant with outstanding views. I did take most of my meals at Coco Joe’s on Morningstar Beach, a short walk from the hotel proper up the hill (and where you’ll often see fat iguanas lazing in the sun), a low-slung, open-air café with largely American offerings.

Here you should check out the Caribbean gourmet hot sauces that accompany meals, made from Scotch bonnet peppers, a little of which heated up my rather routine ham-and-cheese omelet to a head-sweating degree, always a sign of thermal culinary success in my book.

And here, as a celiac sufferer, I was again happy to see the resort’s gluten-free freedom we are offered, up to and including dinner rolls and a pasta dish that was about as good as any wheat variety I’ve had.

Marriott Frenchman's Reef Activities and Attractions

I’ve kayaked my share in the Caribbean, always by day. Night kayaking here ($65), an hour-and-a-half trip around the harbor on clear-bottomed kayaks with LED lights, is said to be the only ones like it in the world, which could be classic Caribbean hyperbole, but unique nonetheless.

Our guide was Evan, an irrepressible, affable lad from Spokane who chucked the corporate life after college to bum around the water on St. Thomas. The view of the sea bottom was very cool, the lights glowing down on rocks and occasional fish swimming by. But that was about it. Evan gave it his all to spot turtles, manta rays and other aquatic life, but creatures will do what they will do, the tourist’s schedule be damned. But just being on the water is always a blast, and the occasional shouts from shore-bound tourists encouraging us was a clue we were onto something special.

We did see ample amounts of ballyhoo, a blue-hued, needle-nosed creature about six inches long that bounded up and over the water’s surface like a skipped stone, often over our kayaks and sometimes landing inside. No biggie, you just grab the squiggly wrigglies and toss them back in the water, although it did make some of the more skittish members of our group a bit squeamish.

Evan was a delight, engaging in non-stop patter about pirate lore and legend, talking about how islanders used to string chain across the water to rip the bottom off pirate ships, and how Bluebeard was the most famous pirate to ply these waters.

If you want to get a food and booze glow, you should take a sunset cruise ($85-$300) aboard The Cat, run by a super friendly crew of Joe, Stephanie and Sydney, who never let your cup or belly go empty. Rum drinks abound and the dinner buffet was the best I’d ever had on a sunset cruise, with steak, salmon, pasta, pulled pork, jerk chicken and more, in massive amounts.

You can make your skin glow for good health at the resort’s Lazule Sea Spa and Salon, which was added with the renovations. One day, I got perhaps the most exhilarating treatment ever, a signature sugar glow with Vichy, a full-body exfoliation with sugar rub, and a pressure-point hot water massage from a rack of powerful shower heads on a rack they roll above you, leaving you alone for 15 minutes to get pounded into blissful submission by the thundering water.

Following that, you get a rub with scented body butter, hot-towel wrap and a scalp and foot massage. The $130 it’ll cost you will likely be the best massage money you will ever spend. And after, wander out to the private spa pool, watch the sun go down and plan your evening.

Which should include the Voodoo Juice to keep the glow going. For $13 at Coco Joe’s, you get a bucket filled with ice, and rums coconut, citrus, banana and pineapple, with juices. Finish that, refill it for $9. If you get through the first one. I barely did.

So to get lit up at Frenchman’s Reef, it’s two if by land – Lazule’s Spa and the Voodoo Juice at Coco Joe’s Voodoo Juice – and two if by sea: Night kayaking and the sunset cruise. Whatever you decide, it’s all good to glow.


Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort, St. Thomas

5 Estate Bakkeroe

St. Thomas, USVI


Rooms from $220 nightly