It was February. Winter had been gray, nasty and long, and my family had traded the cold/flu/plague back and forth for weeks. We needed sun and an escape from the sniffles. The night before our planned departure, a long-awaited parents-only trip to Scandinavia in winter suddenly seemed like a terrible, horrible no good, very bad idea. We’d be leaving sick kids behind to go to another continent. We were exhausted. Snow boots sounded awful, and it all felt wrong (even if it was a great business-class redemption).
So we canceled at the last minute. We had grandparents lined up to watch the kids back home, which meant we were still determined to go somewhere — just not across the Atlantic and not for that long. As lovely as Sweden and Denmark might have been, we wanted somewhere closer, warmer and with clear blue water.
As long as we were being picky, we also didn’t want to go to a busy “resort factory,” didn’t want every single meal to cost a small fortune, and were looking for a destination with a good February weather forecast and last-minute availability.
Okay, so we were a little picky.
Given the criteria, the destination quickly became very clear — a points-friendly hotel on its own private island in the British Virgin Islands. Specifically, our new four-night destination was to be Scrub Island, a Marriott Autograph Collection property that just reopened a few months ago after undergoing repairs from 2017’s Hurricane Irma.
While we had been to the US Virgin Islands before when we stayed at the Westin on St. John ( which also recently reopened after the hurricane), this was our first trip to the British Virgin Islands (BVIs). Boy, were we in for a treat.
In This Post
We booked our stay at Scrub Island about 24 hours before departure, which I’m guessing isn’t the norm. Rooms at this resort can be booked from 60,000 Marriott points per night for a standard hotel room that is around 375 square feet in size; the resort is comprised of 26 guest rooms and 26 one bedroom suites. There is also a collection of ten villas that range from two to six bedrooms. As you would guess, those options cost more. I’ve seen one-bedroom suites for about 100k Marriott points per night, but often the larger accommodations are bookable either with cash or with 60k Marriott points per night + a cash co-pay.
There’s still construction happening, as three new villas are currently being developed with a scheduled opening for this year.
Our rate with a AAA discount was just over $400 per night. TPG values Marriott points at 0.9 cents each, so we would have been a little under that redemption rate given cash prices if we had used points. (I also have other plans for my remaining Marriott points, so this time we went with cash and earned points.)
There also is a $30 per night resort fee per adult. I was surprised when I realized it was a per person charge; that’s a new one for me.
If I had the Citi Prestige® card I could have used that to get the fourth night free. Getting that card is absolutely on my 2019 credit card plan for just this reason.
Should you wish to book a five-night stay on Scrub Island, Marriott points would be an attractive option since the fifth award night is free. If you book at the current 60k per night price before the property jumps to 85k points per night on March 5, a five-night stay would cost you 240,000 Marriott points (plus resort fees).
You can even lock in a Points Advance reservation now, then work on earning enough points to cover the stay, as long as you earn them at least 14 days before check-in.
With both the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express® Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express® Card you’ll earn 100,000 Marriott points after you spend $5,000 on your card within the first three months of card membership until April 24.
We came here for the location, and it did not disappoint. Scrub Island is about a five-minute (free) ferry ride away from the island of Tortola and the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport (EIS) on Tortola. (Tortola is about 18 miles from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands and roughly 130 miles east of San Juan, Puerto Rico.)
To get here from Houston, we flew United nonstop to San Juan, then connected to a very small Cessna on United’s partner Cape Air to go the final 35 minutes to Tortola. We could have used 35,000 United miles round trip to book Saver awards to San Juan then purchased just the Cape Air segments for Tortola, but there wasn’t a way to redeem United miles for the whole journey. Since there weren’t a ton of last-minute options available, we paid cash for our tickets, then used miles from our Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to offset the price a bit.
Another option to get to Scrub Island is to fly to St. Thomas on airlines such as JetBlue, United, American Airlines or even Spirit Airlines. From there, you can take a ferry to Road Town in Tortola (prices are around $60 round trip for adults). This could be a more budget-friendly option, as I’ve seen Spirit flights as low as $70 to St. Thomas.
You can also use as few as 7,500 British Airways Avios to fly on American.
As I’ll explain further, I think the very best way to enjoy a visit to Scrub Island is to make it part of a longer trip to the Caribbean that could include other stops in the Virgin Islands such as St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix — or even nearby islands such as St. Kitts and St. Martin.
After landing in Tortola and clearing customs and immigration (which was quick and painless), we headed out of the small airport and saw a man with a Scrub Island sign standing outside. While we weren’t on his list (presumably because we booked last-minute), he was happy to provide free transportation in a large van for the roughly one mile journey to the ferry dock. While this all started smoothly, apparently we missed the ferry, circled back to the airport to get more passengers (who never arrived), then zoomed back when the ferry unexpectedly reappeared. It was all a little weird, but fine once we were actually on the ferry steaming towards our temporary island home.
While getting to Scrub Island from Houston certainly took less time than it would have taken to get to Scandinavia, when you add in two flights and a ferry, it still takes a while. By the time we arrived at the resort, it was dark and we were hungry for dinner. Luckily, we were greeted on the dock with some very tasty rum punch that we enjoyed while being escorted to our room: number 1712 on the ground level.
I have Marriott Platinum status, but no room upgrade was offered or requested. I did, however, inquire about breakfast and was then provided vouchers for a free continental breakfast each day. (It turned out to be more valuable than just that.)
Our room at Scrub Island was clean and well air-conditioned, the mattress and sheets were extremely comfortable, the towels were soft and the water in the shower was usually hot.
Oh, and the view from our windows wasn’t half bad. Really, what more do you need on an island?
The bathroom was plenty spacious with a double vanity plus both a shower and soaking tub. Housekeeping came every afternoon while we were out and did a great job of tidying up. There is a small fridge in the room that they would restock with two included bottles of water each day (as a reminder, though, we were paying a $60/day resort fee for two adults).
If you are hoping to watch TV at night, note they do not have cable at the moment. (Your best bet would be to log into Netflix if you have an account.) Thankfully for those who have to stay somewhat connected, the Wi-Fi worked fine in the room.
I don’t know what Scrub Island was like before Hurricane Irma, but post-reopening I can say that while the bones of the room and hotel grounds are good, things remain a little rough around the edges, like these light switches found in the spa.
None of this was a dealbreaker for us, but it’s time to mention a few things beyond the lack of cable TV. For example, there are literal gaps in construction in some spots, including in the bathroom.
As you walk around the hotel grounds, there are some broken glass doors, broken fixtures, missing light switches, dingy and rusty corners, etc. The bathroom door near the pool didn’t really shut and certainly didn’t lock (or at least I was afraid if I could get it locked I’d never get out).
There’s still construction happening on some villas and some homes on the island have not been repaired at all. Scrub Island is open for business and our room was more than fine, but if you need perfection, opulence and finished corners (literally), consider yourself warned that this may not be your spot — at least for now.
Food and Beverage
Cardamom & Co
On Scrub Island you have three on-island dining options, in addition to room service. The priciest option, and the one we started with the first night after check-in, is the resort’s signature restaurant, Cardamom & Co., located on the top floor of the main building. It is indoors and only open for dinner. While reservations are recommended, we didn’t have one and it was fine.
On the menu you’ll find salad, seafood, steaks and handcrafted cocktails.
We enjoyed the lobster, fish, mojitos and a salad. Dinner for two with one drink each plus tip came to $195 all-in. We were not particularly enthused by the stir-fried veggies, but the rest of the food was fine to good and served with a side of friendly service.
That said, as the days went by, we found other food we liked at least as well, if not better, at lower prices.
For starters, Donovan’s Reef Marina Bar and Grill is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is an open-air restaurant near the pool.
While we didn’t try lunch or dinner here, we did enjoy breakfast all four days using the coupons given to us at check-in as a reward for our Marriott Platinum status. We were entitled to two complimentary breakfasts per day as long as we selected from the Continental Breakfast ($10), American Breakfast ($17), Belgian Waffles ($16) or Banana Pancakes ($17).
Of the choices, the American Breakfast was the best deal of the bunch as it was ‘free’ and you got a coffee or orange juice with it, though not both. (Coffee and OJ were each $4 if ordered individually.)
The ‘free’ Platinum American Breakfast
If we wanted something else, other entrees were offered at a 50% discount, which was more versatile than first advertised and very helpful in starting out the day on a decent budget. One day I did get the shrimp and grits at 50% off (normally $23) and it was really good.
A simple breakfast for two here took about an hour each day, and not because we are leisurely eaters. These are the islands, so prepare to enjoy meals and activities on island time. If you don’t get your coffee refilled on the first try, it will come on the second or third. That isn’t really a criticism, just a reality. Plan accordingly if you are trying to catch a ferry or have an excursion scheduled. Otherwise order, enjoy the view, and the food and drinks will come when they come.
The third dining option on Scrub Island is the most wallet-friendly: the Gourmet Market & Cafe. This is essentially a well-stocked convenience store that also sells deli sandwiches, pizza, coffee, pastries, etc. (You could even buy your own deli meat and bread here and make your own sandwiches if you were feeding a family.)
Marina Deli and Market at Scrub Island
Josh and I enjoyed some solid $9 toasted sandwiches, plantain chips and local root beer for lunch one day from the market and split a $22 pizza for dinner one night.
You could pick up a bottle of wine and pizza from the market and have your own outdoor dinner and drinks for two under the stars for less than $40, which isn’t bad for a resort in the BVIs.
I must mention two other dining choices, even though they technically aren’t on Scrub Island. One is to take the free ferry just two minutes away to Marina Cay, where you will find the famous Pusser’s. Pusser’s as it used to be was wiped out by Irma. They have reopened with the same painkiller drinks and the same five-star sunset, but for now are operating out of a tent.
We loved Pusser’s so much we went for both a dinner and a lunch, though dinner at sunset was our favorite of the two meals thanks to the views and more extensive menu.
Prices here were about $12 – $19 for lunch entrees and $22 – $38 for dinner entrees, though some appetizers could have been subbed in as an entree at slightly lower price points.
An even cheaper nearby dining alternative was to take Scrub Island’s free ferry to the same dock you would use to get to the airport, then walk about 50 yards to one of the two restaurants/bars at the marina. For lunch one day at the option nearest the ferry dock, we shared a small basket of jerk chicken and a total of three drinks for just $16. Mixed drinks here are literally half the price of those on Scrub Island and just as enjoyable.
The ferry comes once an hour, so you could potentially get dropped off, eat your meal in under an hour, then hop right back on the next boat.
The only resort on Scrub Island is the Autograph Collection hotel, but not everyone on the island is a resort guest. The island is home to Dream Yachts and has a bustling marina with a couple dozen fancy boats docked there for a night, a week or however long. That means the island has some amenities not only to meet the needs of overnight hotel guests, but also those who are boating from one island to the next. That includes a full dive shop called Dive BVI that offers day trips to other islands to snorkel, go diving, etc. Group snorkel trips start at $50 per person.
There is also a boat rental station where you can rent little RIBs and go on snorkel tours. We paid $185 for one of these tours for the two of us and had a guide take us on a 2.5-hour tour to a solid snorkel spot. The tour was fun but would have been more fun had the water been less choppy — we got bumped around like jumping beans!
If you want to get on the water without paying for a tour or boat, the hotel resort fee covers the use of kayaks and stand-up paddle boards to enjoy the turquoise water.
Back on land, there are a few pools, a waterslide and a hot tub. Two of the pools and the hot tub are all in the same area, just on different levels. This is where you will find basically all of the families on the island, as the kids gravitate towards the water slide.
Scrub Island pool and water slide
You can order drinks by the pool with a push of a button and there’s also a swim-up bar right by the slide.
Near the pools is a small beach with a water trampoline.
There’s no designated adults-only pool on Scrub Island, but if you head to the other side of the island, you’ll find a spot that seems to attract adults more than families. The North Beach (they’ll take you in a buggy or it’s a pretty healthy walk) has a relatively long beach, a small pool and another bar.
The North Beach on Scrub Island
Frankly, all of the pools were too cold for my liking in February (I’m a Texan and like warm water), but the vibe on North Beach was very chill and calm. There are much better beaches in the BVIs, but if what you want is a nice view, cool breeze, some quiet and maybe a beach drink, this is a solid spot for a couple hours.
North Beach on Scrub Island
For a workout on your trip, there is a well-stocked gym near the marina.
Unless you need to stay on a flat surface to get your heart rate up, however, I recommend just going for a walk or jog. The incline getting to the top of the island was more than enough of a daily workout for us! Seriously — some spots are hilariously steep but the views are worth it.
On previous trips to the Caribbean, I’ve had a string of bad luck at spas. In fact, for a few years, I stopped getting massages in the Caribbean completely as too often they were disappointing considering the price. I’m not sure what made me try this resort’s Ixora Spa, but suffice to say I went in with low expectations.
Spa on Scrub Island
Instead, I enjoyed my massage so much I went twice.
The spa has some unfinished corners, but the outdoor plunge pool was absolutely gorgeous (though still too cold for me to get in). More importantly, both therapists we used had good pressure and were very skilled at helping us relax and de-stress. The prices aren’t cheap, starting at $140+ for a one-hour massage, but we very much enjoyed our time in the spa.
Plunge pool at the spa on Scrub Island
Each day we were there, the resort had one scheduled and included activity for guests to participate in, such as a sunset cruise, a tour, yoga, etc. We signed up for a sunset cruise and were looking forward to it, but ultimately missed the boat by 30 minutes. While the activity card in our room we received at check-in had the correct 5pm departure time, the breakfast menu we saw every morning said the cruise departed at 5:30pm. We thought it was at 5:30 and it was long gone when we arrived. Others who did catch the boat ride said it was a fun time.
Sunsets in BVI are epic
Families should note that on Scrub Island there is no kids’ club, along with no available babysitters, and no kid-focused planned activities. Perhaps this will change in the future, as they did have some available babysitters before the hurricane, but for now, there’s really just the pool, the beach and some floaties.
Perhaps because the resort is not as family-focused, there are no rails along the marina, there’s lots of water and plenty of steep stairs everywhere. I’m personally glad our 3-year-old wasn’t with us. While there were some families at Scrub Island, I found this resort to be best either for adults or for older kids who are ready to enjoy snorkeling, hiking and exploring the nearby islands with their parents. (That said, if you wanted to make it work for a family, it is certainly possible.)
We went to Scrub Island in search of sun, serenity, outdoor activities and beautiful water. It didn’t disappoint on any of those levels. While the hotel is on a private island, you aren’t isolated the way you would be somewhere like the Maldives. The free ferry every hour can take you off the island, helping with both exploring and staying on a food budget.
I recommend Scrub Island despite it still being a little ‘scrubby’ around the edges. But I don’t recommend coming here and just staying on the little island. Use it as a home base to go to nearby Virgin Gorda and explore The Baths, to snorkel, and to see the world-famous beaches on other spots in the BVIs.
We enjoyed our time on and off Scrub Island – photo from Virgin Gorda
If what you want to do is just veg-out at a full-service beach resort for a number of days (and there’s nothing wrong with that), there are probably better spots to consider. (For example, you could just park it on nearby Puerto Rico at the St. Regis Bahia Beach.)
The service at Scrub Island is friendly, but not always prompt or super responsive. The on-island beaches aren’t overly spectacular. The pool is nice, but not huge and there aren’t separate spaces for families looking for fun and adults looking for quiet. The standard room is fine but not somewhere you want to while away the days.
You should come to Scrub Island if you want to use or earn Marriott points while being stationed in the middle of some of the most gorgeous water and islands on earth.
Scrub Island’s number one amenity is its location, so use that to your advantage, then return to your room each night get some good rest in the middle of paradise before starting your next island adventure.
As for us, we’ll make it to Scandinavia one day, but I don’t at all regret skipping it this time for a winter break in the sun.