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The Future of Caneel Bay Resort is Down to Two Options – All or Nothing.

The Caneel Bay overlook

The future of Caneel Bay Resort has been in flux since Hurricane Irma destroyed it in September 2017. There’s a lot going on regarding the property, so I will do my best to break it all down today. I’ll also let you know how your voice, how your personal opinion, can truly shape the future of the resort for years to come.

(Click here to skip the backstory, and to go directly to the part about what’s currently happening today.)

The Resort’s History

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Caneel Bay Resort, it is located on St. John’s north shore. The resort was originally dubbed the Caneel Bay Plantation Resort when it opened back in 1935. At the time, there was only one cottage on each of the property’s seven beaches.

Image credit: St. John Historical Society

That seven-cottage “resort” was sold in 1946 for only $80,000, which was the book value at the time, according to the St. John Historical Society. Laurance Rockefeller subsequently bought the property in 1952 and opened up what came to be known at the Caneel Bay Resort. The resort officially opened, along with the Virgin Islands National Park, on Dec. 1, 1956. In 1960, Rockefeller donated the Caneel Bay Resort to the Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc., a nonprofit conservation organization.

The RUE Agreement 

In September 1983, Rockefeller decided that he wanted the property turned over to the National Park Service on September 30, 2023. It was then that he crafted the language for the Retained Use Estate agreement (RUE), which the property continues to operate under today. Under the RUE’s terms, the resort could be passed down to subsequent parties until it was handed over to the National Park Service in September 2023. However when one of the previous owners attempted to sell the resort in 1988, it prompted Rockefeller to write the then-NPS director and remind him of his intention for the property.

“I am concerned that the Park Service may be asked to extend the term of the Retained Use Estate, which would have the effect of enriching the seller and defeating the foundation’s intent to add the Caneel property to the park as scheduled,” Rockefeller wrote. “Caneel Bay is a very special site of outstanding scenic beauty which we believe should be protected and made available to the public as part of Virgin Islands National Park. We have been working together with the Park Service for over thirty years to achieve this end, but ultimately, your successors will determine whether and when the public will have the opportunity to enjoy the site as we intended.”

That last line is key. “…your successors will determine whether and when the public will have the opportunity to enjoy the site as we intended.” 

This is actually happening at this very moment.

The Storms

When Hurricane Irma hit St. John on Sept. 6, 2017, it devastated the island, Caneel Bay included. The once-posh resort was left in ruins. The resort’s operator, CBI Acquisition, opted not to rebuild without an extension of the RUE. They tried to get an extension through an Act of Congress, and it failed. CBI subsequently filed a quiet title action in June 2022. That case is pending. Click here to read the complaint. 

Where We Are Today

NPS announced last week that it was down to two options with regard to the future of the Caneel Bay Resort, and it’s basically all or nothing.

Option A – No Redevelopment

Under this option, the property will be handed over to NPS on September 30, 2023. At that time, NPS “would assume management responsibility of the Caneel Bay area and would not issue any permit, lease, or concession contract to reestablish overnight use or provide resort-style services.”

Under this option, “the NPS would minimally restore the site to allow for safe access by visitors through existing roads and trails, including safe access to beaches. The NPS would not provide visitor services, including overnight lodging at the Caneel Bay area under the no-action alternative.”

Under this option, “the NPS would stabilize some historic buildings affected by the hurricane damage and subsequent deterioration to meet the NPS’s responsibilities for historic preservation and visitor safety. The historic structures would be left in place where possible, and their forms and outlines would be maintained. Existing trails and viewing area(s) may be rehabilitated, and information on site hazards would be provided for public safety, education, and protection of the site. Existing roadways would be minimally maintained and provide hiking access only to viewing areas and beaches. Administrative use of the roads by NPS vehicles would be allowed.”

Option B: Redevelop the Property

Under this option, NPS “aims to balance enhanced public access, recreational opportunities, resource protection, and park operational efficiency while reestablishing an overnight experience on a portion of the original RUE that is consistent with the landscape as envisioned by Laurance Rockefeller. Alternative B also identifies two potential locations for future community spaces where residents, overnight guests, and Park visitors could more directly experience the local culture of St. John and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Under this option, “future transportation system planning, such as the review of existing transportation infrastructure, site circulation including site drop-off and pick-up areas, and parking would be conducted when additional site access is obtained and in coordination with more detailed site planning. Future site-specific compliance and public involvement would be conducted if these actions are pursued. As part of Park- wide planning efforts, the NPS could elect to require an amenity fee for enhanced services or parking fees to help manage visitation at various sites within VINP that are not specific to the Caneel Bay area.”

Option B – Redevelopment

The National Park also released information last week regarding the environmental impact of both options, specifically with regard to the following topics: historic districts, floodplains, socioeconomics, and visitor use and experience. Click here to read the document in its entirety.

So this is where we’re at, folks. Do you want the property redeveloped or simply cleaned up enough that we can enjoy the beaches? The National Park Service wants to know what you would like to see happen. All of our opinions matter and will be used to shape the future of the Caneel Bay Resort property. You can share your thoughts by filling out a quick form. The comment period has ended.

As always, I will keep you posted on this. And if there is ever a topic you would like to know more about, please feel free to email me at

Want to check out a related story? Click here to read “A True Look at the Caneel Bay Beach Club.”


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  1. Kathie Swanson

    Thank you Jenn for this information! It was very interesting to read! My wish for this property, is whatever makes the most sense for the residents of St. John ❤️

  2. Roy McKay

    This property was a world class resort that brought visitors from all over the world to enjoy the natural beauty of St. John and the resort itself. The resort employed 500 people. Our family visited every year making lasting friends with many of the local staff. It should be restored to its former glory and be an asset for the USA, the US Virgin Islands and St. John. Other countries would give their eye teeth to have such a beautiful site to restore. Rebuild it, restore the lost employment, put St. John back on the map and minimize the intrusion of the US Park Service, which has no demonstrated ability to manage a destination resort. All I got after visiting Bryce, the Grand Canyon, and many other US Parks was a bad case of food poisoning. Let a top flight resort develop and run this property, please.

    • Larry

      I totally agree with Roy McKay. St John is a magical place and Caneel Bay made it a world class place.
      A deserted and destroyed park has been an eyesore long enough. A resort can transport workers from St Thomas like the previous resort management did. Also consider on-island affordable housing for exclusive use by island employees only. If you build it, they will come.

  3. Karen

    Based on your recent article about your visit to Honeymoon Beach, there doesn’t appear to be a huge demand for “luxury” beach amenities. The community cultural center description isn’t very detailed. Would it be similar to the amphitheater that was at Cinnamon? Can they prevent the previous managers from bidding? What access will the public have under the “all” option? Still lots of questions.

  4. James

    “Caneel Bay is a very special site of outstanding scenic beauty which we believe should be protected and made available to the public as part of Virgin Islands National Park.”

    Option A

    The parks service can always come back later and add community / historic learning areas, small concessions, and/or provide maintenance and other parks service jobs with local residents having first priority.

  5. David Cascio

    I think I prefer Option B.

    Under this option, NPS “aims to balance enhanced public access, recreational opportunities, resource protection, and park operational efficiency while reestablishing an overnight experience on a portion of the original RUE that is consistent with the landscape as envisioned by Laurance Rockefeller. Alternative B also identifies two potential locations for future community spaces where residents, overnight guests, and Park visitors could more directly experience the local culture of St. John and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

    It seems to me, that if you could limit the size of the “overnight” experience, enhance “public” spaces and be consistent with Rockefeller’s vision, it seems to make sense.

    It would also provide employment opportunities.

  6. Sharon

    For those of you who mention option B providing employment opportunities, you need to realize that every business on St. John is struggling to find enough employees. So, why would a new resort have any better luck. St. John does not have adequate housing options for anyone who wants to work on the island. Bringing back a luxury resort, whose ship has sailed, will just make it worse for everyone. I would prefer something between Option A and B, but happily choose option A as being the most realistic and flexible for future generations.

    • Larry Hines

      To alleviate worker shortages in all the island businesses, affordable housing could be built that requires it’s residents to be employed on island.

  7. Mimi baum

    Option A beaches belong to people of STJ and those who visit allow people to access beaches as other on north shore can be accessed
    Preserve the natural beauty

  8. Greg

    The reason my wife and I have returned to St John so many years is because we don’t like the ‘resort’ vacation. I understand everyone is different and enjoys different things, but if you want a resort vacation, there many to choose from on other islands. I agree with Sharon. Adding a business that could require many new workers would further strain an already strained labor economy. Since covid, the island has started to look different with regards to the types of crowds that show up. I said this in a recent comment, but this isn’t Cancun, let’s keep it that way. My preference is to return Caneel to its pre-resort status and provide access to the beaches from the road.

  9. George P Molloy

    Our family has built, lived & vacationed on St John since 1972.
    One of our favorite beaches has always been Honeymoon despite the walk.
    Mr. Rockafeller’s vision was to eventually integrate Caneel Bay Resort with the rest of the NPS. St John has experienced plenty of development particularly since the late ’90’s. We do not need anymore!
    Return Caneel Bay to the general public. “Power to the People!”

  10. Brian

    This is a careful and interesting balancing act. I am a frequent visitor to St John and have been for over 30 years. Many of my friends and family enjoyed Caneel Bay and the understated approach to the luxe resort experience. Tourism has changed and the expectations of the luxury traveler have also changed. No developer is going to look at this opportunity with anything other than a balance sheet. Why run a business if not to make money, right? The property was given to everyone, not just the elite wealthy who graced the environs. If not for the generosity of the Rockefellers St John would likely look something like St. Thomas, or Cancun. On the other hand, I’d hate to see another Trunk Bay! Balance the public interest with the current housing shortage, labor markets, environmental impact, and profitability and you have a win.

  11. Dwight

    My wife and I stayed at Caneel Bay several times between 1995 and 2015. It was truly a glorious place. But once it became so very pricey, we looked for other options on the island, and found them. We were sad to see it destroyed, and came to realize it could never be rebuilt into the same ‘Grande dame’ it was before. More importantly, perhaps, by allowing ourselves to find other options, we actually came to spend our money in the overall St. John community, re-routing it from the RUE owners more directly into the local economy. That’s one of several positives. We spend about month on St. John each year and feel at home on island. We’re very emotional and energetic about preserving it.

    And we miss Caneel Bay; the natural beauty and the diversity of the beaches. We’re sure this is true for many others. We could probably afford to stay at a ‘new’ hotel on the property, but would think it shame that we have to pay so much to again enjoy Caneel, Scott’s, Turtle, and Hawksnest beaches. We know that many others could not afford to do so. On balance, allowing the entire property to be used as a part of the park is best for everyone, and in fact, that is what the original owner intended.

    We vote A.

  12. John

    I have been going to St John for 40 years. I would like to see the property restored with hotel and dining options. The place employed hundreds of islanders from various islands. They will come back. There are plenty of beaches for us to see and use including honeymoon and Solomon. The island needs a resort with a mid to upper mid price range.

  13. Laura Condon

    St John doesn’t need a “world class resort.” It did when the original resort was built. But now there are lots of very high end options on St John. World class villas and condos that can be had fully staffed with cooks and cleaners. St John needs more affordable options. And it needs greater access to the beautiful beaches on the property. I will read the whole text of the options before submitting my response but at the moment I support plan A.

    And please remember that responding here does not mean you are giving your voice to the Park. Please click on the link and reply directly to them. Jenn can’t assemble and submit your opinions.

  14. Chuck mcclung

    As a frequent visitor over the past 10 years I have experienced more crowds than I ever expected
    I firmly believe that the present infrastructure, roads,sewage as well as beach access is maxed out
    Restaurants are having a hard time finding help
    So that being said I feel that to return the entire area to its Natural state would be best to preserve this beautiful island for us to enjoy forever

  15. Jim S.

    Caneel Bay Resort was a special place that me and our family made some great memories. I would love to see it restored to it’s previous glory BUT I would be 100% the current ownership having anything to do with it. Would love to see Rosewood take it back over. Really any entity that would treat the employees well and respect the culture of St. John

  16. Bonnie

    Why not another Maho Campground here?or Concordia?or Cinnamon Bay?Family oriented and more affordable. And maybe housing for the employees on site.

  17. Nancy Gilbert

    Caneel was NEVER a LUXURY Resort. Are you kidding!! We went there for years and years – NO airconditioning, No TV for years and we LOVED every minute of it. It was luxurious to us to be back with nature in quiet surroundings – so relaxing and enjoying the beauty of this special place. The staff was always friendly and welcomed us back like old friends. The food was good and everything was so peaceful. Yes, Rosewood did a remarkably good job. Our grandchildren spent most summers there and we have missed it dreadfully these past three years. They are in their mid-thirtys now and we are enjoying being 80plus and would love to be able to go there again and enjoy what the hurricanes tried to destroy. Even if we go back to no air conditioning in the rooms, we will be there!!!

  18. LP

    Option A. There are already so many options for lodging and it is crowded enough these days. I think the natural beauty of STJ is what makes the island a world class destination, not huge resorts.

  19. B. KNOWLES

    I would love to see Option A. Allow this area to be available to everyone and not just those who can afford to stay there. But we must also think about the local people and what they want/need. Caneel Bay did employ a lot of the local population and therefore I feel their voices should be heard above those that only travel there a few times a year.

  20. gary

    i am responding as an outsider who loves” the gilligans island feel “we started visiting about 17 years ago .the amount of visitors was an expected amount with cannel open .i would not hope a world class resort would invade this wonderful island. we all go there to escape and enjoy a little more simple way of life. inviting the rich and famous would change the feel of this paridise. if they could return to past glory without expanding i think it would be good for all involved .i dont want to see this place get priced out of site. .

  21. OrfObxStt

    There’s plenty of Option A on St John. Option B still provides public access AND nurtures the economy of St John and the USVI. Done tastefully it will be an asset.

  22. Cory Davies

    No offense to those of you who’d like to see pre-Irma Caneel Bay resort come back. I respect your past relationship with the resort and memories made there and I wouldn’t begrudge you if it did. But I think that eventuality is now moot. As I read it, Option B likely translates into a slightly grander version of what we currently have at Cinnamon Bay with the camp grounds or what we had once with the Maho Bay Camp as someone mentioned above. In order for CBI or Rosewood or any company like that to get involved again, they’d likely have to have at least a 40-year renewal of the RUE or REIT in order to make the financial commitment to build it as well as, and perhaps more importantly, the ability to limit public access to the Caneel beaches in order to entice their guests with privacy and exclusivity. You can’t convince me or them that their business model would work without it.

    I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Irma and Maria did more than just destroy the resort. Given the timing being a just few years away from the expiration of the RUE, I think the storms also killed any chance of it coming back as the NPS now has the leverage both from a legal and court of public opinion standpoint. The best argument for bringing Caneel Bay Resort back was the impact it would have on the local economy including jobs, but now that STJ has made it nearly 6 years without them and people have adjusted, that argument has definitely lost some steam and seems to be outweighed heavily by the desire for public access (though I wouldn’t want to speak as though I was speaking for the locals).

    For all those reasons above and more, I’d vote for Option A. I agree that the NPS is ill-prepared to construct and operate a first class resort. I’d rather them not even try and do what they do best, create infrastructure designed to entice the daily visitor while mitigating the impact on the environment. If that ends up being like Trunk with concessions and showers, so be it, but I also wouldn’t mind if the Caneel peninsula was like one big continuation of Hawksnest. A parking lot with trails to the 6 beaches would be awesome, like doubling the number of North Shore beaches you can visit all at once. Heck one of the beaches could be known as the place you go if you have young kids while another is the one for people who really want no noise and even another is where the volleyball and “louder” limers like to reside. I also like the potential benefit that opening up the Caneel beaches to the public might mean less overall traffic per beach to all STJ beaches and less of a human impact on any one beach like Trunk or Maho.

    Whatever happens, I will still love STJ just as much as I always have. But if and when the Caneel Bay beaches are accessible by land as they have been by sea, my jeep will definitely be the first one in the parking lot!

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    Option B and here’s why
    In 1965 I was a receptionist at Caneel Bay Plantation. Today as a retired Hospitality Executive who has had the opportunity to be affiliated with many world class hotels in NYC I would classify CBP as being in an exclusive Category 1 ranking . It had / has a unique environment and thankfully to this day has not be found by the masses, i.e. tour groups or conventions, or beer-can hatted party goers. etc.
    In St. Croix there was a very popular bar, The Stone Balloon. It had a large sign inside, “There will be no dancing tonight at the Stone Balloon, you didn’t come here to dance anyway”.
    Just like the Stone Balloon, if you want “the big everything enjoyment hotel” in your vacation Caneel Is not your destination. It’s a resort of tranquility. A resort where you can forget the hassle and madness of the outside world.
    Again Option B ………Rebuild it and I’ll come back to work there today.
    PS Also the many beaches of CB have always been open to non- hotel guests just as with the other Virgin Island beaches.

  26. M P Smith

    I have several problems with Option A. 1) If I read the post correctly, beach access would be by hiking. That limits it to the relatively young, able-bodied population and discriminates against the disabled and the elderly. 2) If beach access is the point, then activity would presumably be limited mostly to lying on the sand in the sun/swimming. I didn’t see any mention for provision of water sports let alone any other activities. 3) Enjoying the island’s natural beauty does not preclude a low key resort. We visited CPB much less for sunning than for sitting on the balcony and enjoying the view, the on site availability of al fresco dining on interesting and delicious regional dishes, having a week to recharge in a peaceful away-from-it-all environment, and cooling off with the cross breeze of open windows on two opposite sides of the room. No AC needed. My preferred option would be a smallish resort building (to limit crowd size) with de lux service but without the casinos, conference centers, over the top decor and accessories, and circus atmosphere. It can be done without destroying the host’s financial bottom line.That would be my choice. NPS has been doing it for decades with their always wonderful, price is right National Park lodges run by concessionaires. Another example along those lines is the top rated Viking cruise line.

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  28. allan weidner

    St John is overrun by visitors. The island needs more space for the current number of beachgoers, not an expensive exclusive resort. Furhtermore as it is closed and access to one of the beaches is limited it has become a haven for turtles and importantly part of the NPS mandate is to protect habitat for the ”

  29. Paul De Longe

    My wife and I visited SJB back in the mid-70’s. It was a dream vacation: peaceful, beautiful, relaxing, uncrowded, not over-developed, not intended for gaudy customer entertainment. St. John’s Bay offered fine dining, beautiful walkways to unique beaches, modest units with very welcome quiet style. We would love to return to that natural beauty and sane relaxation that we found. The resort should be unquestionably be restored to the quiet, relaxing sanity it once possessed.

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