The 478-room Marriott Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Beach Resort commands attention atop a spectacular promontory at the entrance to Charlotte Amalie Harbor in St. Thomas, USVI. We’re here for the official unveiling of the new $48 million makeover, and the place looks spectacular.
Few other resorts in the Caribbean offer such an impressive setting and powerful combination of attributes for meeting planners. The panoramic views of the harbor and sea, the many private lawns and wide terraces, and the thick lush landscaping are on par with the most exclusive hotels in the region. For group events, there is more than 60,000 sf of indoor/outdoor meeting space, including 31 meeting rooms. And you can quickly access nearby islands for an almost unlimited array of tropical land and sea activities and special events.
The hotel is really two hotels: Frenchman’s Reef high atop the bluff, and the slightly more upscale Morning Star Beach Resort down below fronting one of the most underrated beaches in the islands. While the remote setting feels private, attendees can transfer quickly to the capital city of Charlotte Amalie via a 5-minute water taxi ride direct from the hotel’s new and enlarged dock. Transfers from Charlotte Amalie to the airport, meanwhile, average about 15 minutes.
“We always try to focus on quality instead of quantity but don’t get me wrong, we do over 200 events a year,” says Joyce Griffin, director of sales. “That’s the good thing about having so much space. You can have three or four events going on at the same time and they won’t interfere with one another.”
My favorite is Battery Point, a well known site on the resort grounds that sits out by the edge of the water under the serene infinity pool and cascade.
“Battery Park is historic and we didn’t want to destroy it so instead we make good use of it,” Griffin says. The area holds groups up to 100 pax for dreamy cocktail receptions.
It is a beautiful clear and sunny day as I dance to the beat of the calypso music in the hallway on my way to one of the Reef Tower rooms. Once inside, the calm blue and green hues of my room’s linens and décor are a reflection of the crystalline turquoise waters found right outside my balcony. From my fully wired work desk, I can look straight out across the Caribbean Sea halfway to St. Croix.
For dinner, our group meets with GM Jose Gonzalez at the Aqua Terra Oceanfront Grill. This is Gonzalez’s first time dining with a group since the reopening, and he seems like a proud father bragging about his newborn child.
“I just feel like the experience wasn’t really there before,” Gonzalez says. “We felt we had to expand. Now the experience takes you both outside and inside so it’s definitely something new for all of us.”
The chef brings out fresh pan-seared sea bass with tropical fruit salsa and lemon cilantro risotto. Even more amazing is the dessert—caramelized island banana with rum raisin ice cream. There’s nothing like a cold scoop of ice cream to refresh you after a day out under the Caribbean sun.
On our last night we hop over to the resort’s fine dining restaurant, Havana Blue. This is a must for groups with the oceanfront seating, flowing drapes and hip minimalist decor. A sample of the savory, Latin-inspired fusion dishes include tacos with sofrito marinated filet mignon, roasted poblano crema, manchego cheese, chile-toreado salsa and homemade cilantro tortillas. I indulge in a Pacific Pearl cocktail, a mix of raspberry vodka, champagne sparkle, fresh raspberries and sugar rim. It’s absolutely fabulous. Havana Blue seats 160 pax.
ADVENTURE CENTER TOURS
Located onsite at Morning Star Beach, the full service Adventure Center Tours, St. Thomas offers every imaginable group activity that exists throughout both the USVI and neighboring British Virgin Islands. We decide to try out their nighttime clear ocean kayaking. We pair up and strap ourselves into our clear kayaks rimmed with LED lights that illuminate the passing colorful coral reefs, sea urchins and ballyhoo. We even race a couple of friendly sea turtles who take an interest in us. Sea turtles are faster than you think, especially if it’s your first time kayaking, and their presence elicits no end of oohs and aahs from our group.
U.S. groups can visit the USVI without passports, but only those with passports will be able to take advantage of activities in Virgin Gorda, Jost van Dyke and Tortola in the BVI, about 45 minutes away.
Adventure Center also packages together a fun variety of offsite dinners and cocktail receptions. Many opt for sunset receptions at sea, but we especially recommend private group dinners at the Estate St. Peter Greathouse, a sprawling and elegant plantation built in the 1800s. It’s perched 1,000 feet above sea level with breathtaking views of neighboring island, bubbling waterfalls and botanical gardens. The DMC can also arrange for an astronomer to accompany your group to point out the constellations and discuss old time sailor lore on the plantation’s observation deck.