USVI: Cosmopolitan Luxury and Island Adventure

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Frenchmans-Reef-MarriottRumbar at Frenchman’s Reef Marriott Resort

It’s all about the perfect location when it comes to a successful incentive meeting. The USVI offers the perfect setting to enhance your group’s productivity and inspiration. The combination of luxury venues, top-tier meeting hotels and adventurous group activities make for successful group takeaways. There’s no U.S. passport required and it’s only 1,100 miles southeast of Miami. We touched down in St. Thomas to experience the luxury and adventure in the USVI.

LOCAL LUXURY

From the moment you land, you’re engulfed in the island atmosphere. The cool breeze, turquoise waters and sweet aromas take you in and relax the whole group. The landscape is mountainous with the emerald waters that peek out between the large bushels of green and palms.

To begin our evening my group and I made our way down a narrow stone staircase at Villa Norbu, a private waterfront home in St. Thomas. Our welcome reception was on a 1,500-sf mosaic stone terrace. The staff greeted us with champagne that we sipped while enjoying the green and blue shades of Loveland Bay. Chef Taj Siwatu, one of the island’s top sushi chefs, prepared a modern sushi pizza and homemade California rolls while a Spanish guitarist serenaded the crowd.

The estate is placed at Devil’s Triangle of the Mahogany Run Golf course with perfect views of the 13th and 14th holes. The vibe is extremely magical upstairs with a deep hot tub, wooden deck and plush couches. The lighting is romantic, the orchid aroma fills the air and the sound of the waves calms the whole group. The spectacular views and tranquil vibe really surprised the crowd. It was magnificent.

“It’s such a beautiful and relaxing place,” says owner Alain Brin. “We host receptions by the bar or on the terrace and dinners on the deck. It’s gorgeous at sunset.” Premier Destination Services in St. Thomas assists planners in booking the villa for groups up to 50 pax.

Dinner was served at the nearby Old Stone Farmhouse along the beautiful St. Thomas’ Mahogany Run golf course. The 200-year-old plantation farmhouse was restored into a 120-seat dining space serving fresh, sustainable seafood and prime meats. The stone walls, wood fixtures and white linens in the dining room make for a warm place for groups to gather.

Chef Tony May invites the group into the kitchen, where we add our signature to the walls of visitor autographs dating back several years.

Chef May describes the U-6 scallops, kangaroo and prime beef servings that are offered as a main course. I chose the scallops that chef paired with fresh herbs and polenta. As our group sat around three rectangular tables lit by low candlelight, we felt the cool breeze and a rain shower on the exterior.

“We are blessed with so many dining options in the USVI, but this is a truly unique experience,” says Thomas Hoffman, CEO of Premier Destination Services. “We love to customize anything for a group that is different and special to the particular area.”

ACTION-PACKED ADVENTURE 

The calm evening relaxed us for the following day where we amped up the energy at Tree Limin’ Extreme Zip Line in St. Thomas. One by one we made our way across six zip lines and two sky bridges near the highest point on the island. The crew instructed our group and provided all safety measures before heading up. Luckily for me, I’m a bit of a daredevil. I volunteered to go first since some of our other group members were a little intimidated.

The staff played reggae music and clapped as I prepped for takeoff. I took a breath, waved back at my group and leaped off the platform. As the wind rushed towards me, I threw my legs toward my chest and sailed through the jungle canopy at 35 miles per hour.

For a fun night to chill out barefoot on the beach, book the 80-room Bolongo Bay Beach Resort. The oceanfront property hosts groups up to 500 pax on a private beach with nearby access to onsite pools. Popular events include beach dinners catered The Lobster Grille and Iggies Beach Bar & Grill. Each of the bamboo covered restaurants accomodate between 150 and 200 pax. After dinner, enjoy live entertainment on a white sand beach, or charter Bolongo’s 53’ catamaran. 

THE RITZ-CARLTON ST. THOMAS

At the 180-room Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas, Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Future Society Ambassadors of the Environment program offers planners a great way to combine adventure and education. The facility weaves eco-awareness and land/sea experiences together through a wide variety of group activities exploring the USVI’s extraordinary natural wonders and cultural heritage.

The program debuted in February 2013, following three other Ritz-Carlton properties. The program’s epicenter is Jean-Michel Cousteau’s 5,000-sf Ambassadors of the Environment Center, presently undergoing LEED Platinum evaluation.

The building is entirely made of recycled products like corque tiles and bamboo cabinets. Other aspects include solar ovens for F&B and solar roof panels. As groups explore the facility they learn and apply what they have discovered about sustainability in their work and personal lives.

The 3-hour program includes indoor/outdoor educational activities with a huge group takeaway. Depending on the age/interest of the group, choose from snorkeling, kayaking, hiking and F&B classes, family activities, gardening and night adventures. Group activities include beach Olympics and beach scrabble.

A $15 million renovation is scheduled between August and November of this year, completely upgrading the guestroom interiors. During our trip, we were given a sneak peek into the modern makeover. The original gold and yellow tones are replaced with deep navy and sand tones, creating a nautical and luxurious vibe.

The resort sits on 30 acres of white sand beaches and lush gardens leading to the inviting infinity pool overlooking the beach and Turquoise Bay. There are four restaurants onsite, including Sails, an open-air eatery along the poolside. Be sure to gather the group around the nearby beach on Tuesday afternoons for the Sea To Sails event. You’ll see the chef and kitchen staff of Sails restaurant arrive by boat and bring newly-caught fish to prepare beachside, all while still in their board shorts. You can’t get fresher than that!

“Your group really feels like they own the hotel, says Andy Cisick, catering sales manager. “Our main focus is always individual attention, personalization and customization for each group.” Meeting space is 10,000 sf.

FRENCHMAN’S REEF MARRIOTT

Adventure Center DMC located in the lobby of the 478-room Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort. Adventure Center offers both hotel and outside groups a variety of fun-in-the-sun excursions available both day and night. Whatever interest your group has, their friendly staff is there to make your trip a memorable one. They offer transportation, ferries to the shopping area, tours, water activities and even day trips. Try the clear, glowing kayak excursion at night where small LED lights illuminate the reef and marine life below. You’ll see nocturnal marine animals that most do not get to encounter on regular snorkeling trips.

The most futuristic activity is the water-powered jetpack experience. The high-powered water toy allows you to blast through the air or hover in space like some sort of aquatic action hero. A 250-horsepower marine engine housed in a boat-shaped pod provides the water-powered pack, pumping seawater to the jetpack through what looks like a fire hose. The jetpack can fly up to 30 miles per hour, with a maximum altitude of 30 feet, the length of the hose. Skilled pilots can do back flips, turns and even dive under water before re-emerging like leaping dolphins.

“We’re the only water-powered jetpack operator in St. Thomas,” says Mark McKellar of Adventure Center. “It’s a very unique operation and definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Mark and his team are in constant communication with the group as they soar individually through the air. There are headphones provided and the staff controls your movement with a remote control.

The Frenchman’s Reef Marriott unveiled a $48 million renovation last year, creating a more social and interactive scene around the infinity pool deck, adding a luxurious spa with an adult-only pool and upgrading the guestrooms. The Reef Tower features new Caribbean décor and state-of-the-art amenities. The newly renovated rooms create a modern tropical setting and now include Marriott signature Revive Bedding. Groups have the option to buyout the pristine and picturesque beachfront rooms at the Morning Star Beach Club and Sea Cliff Tower for a more private beachside experience. Frenchman’s Reef has the largest meeting space on the island at 60,000 sf.

THE WESTIN ST. JOHN RESORT

We boarded a catamaran to the beautiful island of St. John, rimmed with spectacular beaches like Trunk Bay. This is easily one of the most picturesque destinations in the Caribbean. It’s a breezy 20-minute trip to The Westin St. John Resort & Villas, a 47-acre retreat located along the palm-lined shores of Great Cruz Bay.

Group check-in is at the airport and the ferry travels on the hour. The hotel, offering 175 rooms and 146 villas, will conduct a $12 million upgrade of the resort by spring 2014. “The Westin is a wonderful, multi-functional space,” says Bahia Husband, director of group sales. “In St. John, we try our best to create the perfect setting for the perfect backdrop.”

The hotel includes 1- to 3-bedroom villas with bay or hillside views. The 2-bedroom villas include a semi-private pool, full kitchen and dining area. Groups can block-out the villas for a more secluded and private experience.

The Westin offers the personalized service of an executive meeting specialist, the 3,500-sf Great Cruz Ballroom, a 10,000-sf conference center and five multifunction meeting rooms. For outdoor events, the beachside Palm Terrace is ideal for scenic views of celebrity mansions and cool breeze.

“A lot of people think that luxury and adventure are mutually exclusive and that you can’t have both,” says Chantel Figueroa, deputy commissioner/director of marketing for USVI Tourism. “In the USVI you can experience adventure through the culture, history and environment.”