Compass on St. John, USVI

Weekends: Driving by Compass on St. John, USVI

To the directionally challenged, finding St. John on a map may take you in several very different directions.

In the Great White North, for example, most look east towards the Atlantic Ocean and the province of New Brunswick where they find the “Fundy City” of Saint John. To add confusion in your search, gazing at nearby Newfoundland will uncover a destination with the same name; in this case spelled St. John’s. What these locations also have in common is a North Atlantic climate notorious for being unpredictable and sometimes freezing.St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands is anything but cold. With idyllic year-round temperatures, unspoiled beaches and excellent snorkeling and shopping, the atmosphere is always warm and friendly.

Leaving St. Thomas, USVI aboard the Mary II, our destination was Caneel Bay Resort, a Leading Hotels of the World exclusive property. A dream-made-reality by philanthropist Laurance Rockefeller in 1956, luxury abounds at the resort but remains true to his original vision for protecting the environment.

Located within the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John, it encompasses 170 acres of pristine natural surroundings and seven of the world’s most breathtaking beaches. Getting away from it all is made easy as there are no TV’s in the rooms and Internet access is available only in the business center.

To circumnavigate the island over a four day period, we chose a new entry into the small SUV market, the Jeep Compass. It offers the potential for off-pavement maneuvers in a comfortable package particularly well suited to the winding two-lane roads on St. John.

Winding roads you ask? Some corners are so tight; it is impossible to see where you are headed before completing the turn. The experience of driving on the island is further enhanced by the need to pilot your vehicle on the left side of the asphalt.

As someone accustomed to driving on North American highways, I had to constantly remind myself which way to look when entering a street or proceeding through a four-way intersection. Thank goodness my passengers showed considerable restraint with their comments, especially those in the backseat. Otherwise it could have turned ugly in a hurry.

Sharing the same platform as the Dodge Caliber, the Jeep Compass sports a 2.4L 4-cylinder DOHC 16V Dual VVT engine with 172 hp. Power is transferred to either the front wheels, (FWD) or all four wheels, (AWD) through a 5-speed manual or the optional CVT automatic transmission.

Equipped with AutoStick for clutchless manual shifting, it was an advantage on more than a few occasions to override the CVT and lock in a specific gear for hill climbing and rapid decent. Electronic Stability Control and ABS provided additional support.

Inside, the Jeep Compass highlights function and space geared toward the urban commuter. Seats fold flat for additional storage. A full-length console offers cupholders, MP3 and cell phone size storage, while the AM/FM radio with CD player and changer controls highlights an auxiliary input jack. The interior is firm yet comfortable.

Located on the far west corner of the island, Caneel Bay Resort invites guests to stay in 166 spacious rooms. With accommodations near the tennis courts and fitness center, and beachside rooms with concrete patios, unobstructed views of the aquamarine ocean and the occasional wild donkey strolling past, vacations range from active to sublime. It is even possible to stay in Cottage 7, the original Laurance Rockefeller private estate.

Unparalleled snorkeling, kayaking, sailing and windsurfing are right out your front door. World-renowned fishing for Marlin, Dorado, Tuna, Wahoo Snapper, King Fish and Skip Jacks is but a cast away.

The Turtle Bay Estate House provides the perfect setting for an intimate dining experience. The adjacent Wine Room highlights an extensive wine list comprised of more than 250 selections. Closer to the main lobby, ZoZo’s Restaurant serves a unique evening menu overlooking the Caneel Bay and St. Thomas in the distance. Those seeking a Margarita, salad or burger can saddle up to Caneel Beach Terrace and catch a glimpse of Monday Night Football should the need arise.

Our island adventure in the Jeep Compass took us east on Highway 20 past Hawksnest Bay, Cinnamon Bay, the Francis Bay Trail and eventually Leinster Bay. Legendary as a snorkel and scuba destination, Leinster Bay formed the basis for our exploration of the underwater shoreline.

Getting to the ideal location meant skirting a 10ft. wide section of rocky coastline, most of which was covered by low growth trees and shrubs. Over the course of four days, the Jeep Compass never put a tire in the wrong place. Even beachside driving over rocks and deep ruts proved easier than expected.

Safely back on asphalt, the spirited engine and tight suspension of the Jeep Compass made short work of discovering the rest of the island. Retracing our way back by a different route, we passed numerous sugar mill ruins dating back to the late 1,700’s.

Several hours later we found ourselves driving high mountain roads and stopping to gaze as evening settled on the main city of Cruz Bay. Sunset comes quick, but never too fast to enjoy the sound of waves breaking on the beach from the comfort of your lounge chair. Mojito anyone?

2008 Jeep Compass

Configuration: front engine/ front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 2.4L 4-cylinder/ CVT
Power/torque: 165 hp/ 172 lb-ft
Fuel (capacity): Regular (52L)
Fuel economy ratings: 10.2 L/100km city; 8.4 L/100km hwy
Observed fuel economy: 9.2 L/100km over 100 km

Where to Stay:
Caneel Bay Resort
P.O. Box 720
St. John, USVI
Caneel Bay Resort

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