Ever felt lost at a giant all-inclusive Caribbean resort? It’s not an unfamiliar feeling in a one-size-fits-all place with thousands of rooms and even more guests milling about, where you’re a face in the crowd, a colored bracelet on your wrist.
Not so at Bolongo Bay Beach Resort on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This super-cozy, 62-room resort has been run by the Doumeng family for more than 40 years, and they know your name the instant you arrive and use it every time they see you. The rooms here face a beach so close to your room, you’ll almost get your feet wet just by stepping out of bed. It was the first resort on St. Thomas to offer an all-inclusive plan (they also offer European and Modified American dining options), and it’s a far cry from the norm. There’s no buffet dining, for one thing: here, you sit facing the water and order off a menu. And the booze is premium stuff, not the mundane well drinks you often see at the bigger places.
To say the Doumengs have fun running the place is like saying the water at the resort is warm and wet. Richard Doumeng is managing director, or “The Big Boss” according to the website, with brother Paul Doumeng the general manager, or “The Real Boss.” It goes right through to cousin Scott Nieboer, operations manager, who the site says “Could care less who the real boss is.”
Mikael Doumeng, son of Richard and Katarina (she does sales and marketing and, the site says, “Let’s Richard and Paul think they’re the real bosses”), mans the water sports shop when he’s around, but mostly these days lords over Give Tanks, a philanthropic endeavor he started with college mates to raise money for building schools in Nicaragua.
But lest you think it’s a loosely run resort, think again. They take care of everything in detail here, including raking the beach to keep it clean of seaweed or rocks, and revamping the menu at its main restaurant, The Lobster Grille, where chef Paul Doumeng designs the food offerings.
There are many best parts of this place, most notably the 1,000-foot-long beach, skinny by the building itself, widening out to the right where there are picnic tables, palapas and palm trees, and over to Iggie’s Beach Bar and Grill.
Bolongo Bay Beach Resort Rooms and Accommodations
My room was steps away from the beach, about as close to the water as I’ve ever been at a Caribbean resort (first floor beachfront room-only start at $307 per night and range to $395 in high season).
The rooms are adequate, but not spectacular, looking their age in spots, particularly with exposed plumbing in the bath vanity, but clean and well kept. One nice touch is the louvers in the door (and below the AC unit) that you can open to allow in the breeze and sounds of the ocean. An issue they’re addressing: no WiFi in the rooms, though you can get it in the small lobby, or on the patio near the pool and Lobster Grille. But that can be a plus in itself, forcing you to get out and enjoy the weather, rather than sitting inside to do business. Other room classes are second-floor oceanview rooms (room-only rates $277 to $365), older, waterview "value" rooms ($180 to $230 nightly), and two- and four-person condos starting at $350 and $400 nightly, respectively.
Bolongo Bay Activities and Amenities
Bolongo Bay is a place where you can be equally comfortable doing everything that comes with the price, or nothing at all. There’s free unlimited use of non-motorized water sports, including paddleboards (with lesson if you need one; I did, still couldn’t master it, so I kayaked instead), Hobie Cats, windsurfers, aqua trikes, swim mats, snorkel gear and kayaks. There’s small cardio and workout room, a great swimming pool with swim-up bar, and tennis, basketball and a lighted beach volleyball court.
You can also get a Discover Scuba Diving pool lesson, and there’s a weekly snorkel booze hunt where they plant pints of Cruzan rum in the water near the beach: what you find, you keep (one per snorkeler, meaning that since I found none, the others in the group gave me one of theirs). For an added charge, there are sailing trips on the resort’s 53-foot catamaran, Heavenly Days, scuba excursions, parasailing, and Waverunners.
But there’s no pressure to do anything. At some big resorts, you can self-guilt yourself into partaking of as many activities as possible, just to feel like you got your money’s worth. You can do that here, too, but to really enjoy a beach this good, chill out. I did a bunch of stuff in and on the water, even took a trip over to nearby St. John, but also managed to log enough quiet beach time to read a book and enjoy some beer with it over my three-day stay.
And that, for me, is the best part, the chill-or-not-to chill option. Best part of my day was wandering down to the Lobster Grille for a superb breakfast, hanging on the beach, taking in a little kayaking, hugging the coast to take in the sights, and coming back for lunch and relaxing. Later at night, after dinner, I’d puff a cigar on my small porch, listening to the gentle surf lap the shore, or head to Iggie’s, where they have live music every night of the year.
You can also chat up any random Doumeng (with so many, the odds are you’ll find one around every corner), and talking about the rich family history: the Doumeng elders, Dick and Joyce, used to sail here, fell in love with St. Thomas, and bought this place in 1968 -– with absolutely no hotel experience –- and dragged their kids along, who now run it.
Bolongo Bay is not your typical all-inclusive resort. And that’s the best part of all.
Bolongo Bay Information
Bolongo Bay Beach Resort
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, 00802
Rates: From $409 per night (Book Now)