News & Reviews Caribbean & Mexico British Virgin Islands Review: Moskito Island, British Virgin Islands – The boring, unnurtured sister to Necker Island

Just minutes from Richard Branson’s home on Necker Island, Moskito Island is another one of his ventures that promises so much but delivers so little.  However, it is an entirely different proposition to the rest of the Virgin Limited Edition portfolio, and I don’t mean because they’ve named it after a parasite spreader.  At least it’s an accurate name, as it’s swarming in mosquitos, with the name acting like a disclaimer.  Even if you got malaria and sued, a judge would dismiss it with a carefully one-worded summary of: duh.

What it offers (once fully finished) is ten uniquely designed, ultra-luxurious 8-11 bedroom villas scattered around the island, set in the beautiful British Virgin Islands.  They call these Estates, which are booked exclusively on an all-inclusive basis.  Each Estate is privately owned, yet Virgin manage them all – and with a lack of standardisation to be seen anywhere, it offered the owners a vast amount of creative freedom.  Little tells you this is connected to Virgin in any way – luckily, there’s not even any Virgin Cola in sight.  With such diversity amongst the Estates,  and each offering something incredible, picking was the hardest part.

It’s also the most expensive property I’ve ever stayed in, so this review is really just an advert for my GoFundMe page.  Grab your wallet and read on, won’t you?

Anticipation

As a sure sign that things will never go well, I was looking forward to coming here.  The exclusivity, setting, bespoke offering and accommodation looked to set Moskito Island in a different league from the competition.  So naturally, my first interaction was comparable to meeting Santa for the first time, finding he was an abusive alcoholic and had just shat his pants.  Like with Necker Island, the sales team were ranked somewhere between useless and Greg from Succession.  Maybe they’re on strike, like everyone else in Britain.

We eventually agreed on this incredible invention called commerce.  Then we had a few chats, including an hour-long Zoom call to discuss preferences, which was probably the most impressive pre-arrival intro I’ve ever had.  I was told the head chef would send menus for our approval based.  Which obviously never happened.  What a rollercoaster of emotions: useless to gods-amongst-men, and if you think I’m going to say back to useless because they forgot everything we discussed, then the joke is on you.  They ignored 90% of it.

Knock knock.  Who’s there?  No one; I’m only giving 10% of the joke.

Estates

Getting to Moskito Island is relatively simple once you reach the BVI.  They collected us from the airport, drove for less than two minutes to the dock and took us on a 30-minute boat ride.  You can take a helicopter too, but Lucie has forbidden travel by that until the year 2300, and there have been no accidents for the past 70 years.  They outsource the transfers to another company, which showed by the lack of anything on board, including water.  The captain managed to find two tiny bottles sized appropriately for a doll house.  I want to tell you they should bring the arrival experience in-house, but I suspect they would only make it worse.

Of the ten available plots on Moskito Island, only five Estates have been constructed, with four available to rent: Branson, Oasis, Point, and Village.  I initially booked Oasis, as the modern, somewhat minimalist design with an expansive pool and view had a Miami Beach vibe that I really liked.  After going back and forth, I changed to the Branson Estate because it was beside a private beach that seemed better for the children.  Whilst that is true, I failed to comprehend the ferociousness of the wind, so whilst no one will argue that there’s sand there, it’s definitely not a swimmable beach.  I wish they made that clear, but reservations were too busy figuring out how to keep their jobs without doing their jobs to respond.  At times, the waves were so strong they could wash you away like this island washed my money away.  There’s also the question of how much you care for privacy because there were a lot of boats around the island.

We had an opportunity to visit the Oasis and Point Estates.  As a sign of my brilliant ability to pick right, it was only when I did a tour of the Oasis Estate on Instagram that anyone took any interest in this property.  But then the interest exceeded everywhere else I’ve ever stayed.  Should social media be the barometer of success?  Nope, but it certainly gives an insight into the importance of looks, which none of us could have known before this scientific study.  Even so, you will still not get a definitive answer from me regarding which one is best, as it’s so personal.  Oasis has the style I would pick over the others, but its position above a hill, battling the wind from every side, comes with a negative.  The Point is on a cliff edge, but not as exposed, and is closest to the only real beach on the island.  It has gone for a more relaxed approach that feels a bit more Caribbean.

The Branson Estate – a beach as swimmable as the one from Jaws.

Branson

The first impressions were a bit underwhelming.  I’m unsure if it was due to the ignored stay list and the welcome food looking like it had just been found in a nuclear shelter cupboard, like the gluten-free cheese crackers, or it was the accommodation itself.  It also didn’t help that, for whatever weird reason, they didn’t show us the entire property until the second day.

The Branson Estate comprises three separate villas connected by roped bridges.  Beach and Mangrove villas are nearly identical four-bedroom villas, each with a pool, hot tub, kitchen, living area and weird-as-hell toilets.  They only differ in interiors and orientation, whereas the three-bedroom Headland House is an entirely different style with additional facilities.  It sits atop the cliff, with views in every direction.  Were the Branson Estate purely Headland House, with a bit of a beach, it would be fantastic.  The added villas just felt like a bonus.

We started in Beach Villa.  Moskito Island offers discounted rates if you take less than four rooms, but they spoke like these four rooms in this very villa were all we were allowed to use.  At one point, it even sounded like other people might be in the other villas, which would have been extremely weird due to how they share facilities, but then they verified they would never do that.  I’m not sure what the point of that chat is.  That’s like warning me of man-eating tarantulas roaming the island, then following up the next day to confirm that, no, you were confusing reality with Lord of the Rings.

Beach Villa’s Master Suite offered little in the way of the over-the-top luxury that Moskito Island promised.  Like with Necker, I understand there’s a lack of desire to spend all day in your room, but it’s quite hard to avoid any time there, so it’s important to get it right.  They seem to play into that by making you not want to even give a shit in the room because the toilet situation is outrageous.  In our suite, the toilet was directly behind the bed and was separated by a white sheet – that felt like a real Branson power play.  He either loves his wife so much that they don’t mind this, or he truly hates her and wants to display dominance.  In another bedroom, their toilet is outside.  Outside!  Is it too late to have one of those tarantulas back?  They sound better than shitting outdoors.  But I won’t let anyone ever accuse me of not being thorough in my reviews, so I overcame every remaining piece of humanity I possess and used it.  Branson built these villas for his kids – I’m starting to think he doesn’t like them.

Nearest to the Beach villa is a bar, which you can help yourself or be served, a private beach, table tennis, a hanging sofa and a large dining area.  There’s also a lemur enclosure, which is naturally the most brilliant thing in the world.  Unlike Necker, where most lemurs roam free, they’re all in an enclosure here because staff kept feeding them, and it turned them into right dicks.  The lemurs that is.  Apparently, the staff believes in ruining children’s dreams, so they’re dicks too.  You will only find lemurs on the Branson Estate, meaning other guests from other Estates come to it, which goes against this so-called privacy thing you probably expect when you exclusively book an 11-bedroom villa.  It’s right below one of the bridges that connect Mangrove and Beach villas, near one of the bedrooms.

These little perverts can look at you taking a dump.

Yet it’s over at Headland House where everything comes together.  Headland House has the largest pool, with the best views, and acts as the entire estate’s centrepiece.  The living room is bigger, the colour scheme is more relaxing, the entertainment system is better, and the amount of glass and light, particularly the bi-fold glass doors, allows an indoor/outdoor feeling.  That’s even before you get upstairs to the gigantic lounge area, which has one of the two bars in the House.  This is like the social hub, even more so than the beach area where we had breakfast most days and where you would likely spend most of your time.  What’s so brilliant about it is its almost redundant nature-there’s no need to go there, but it’s so elegantly decorated and such a vast space that you kinda feel you should.  We settled on a dinner here, on a table that could comfortably host 20 people, opposite another table of equal size.

The Branson Estate has three hot tubs, all of which are actually hot.  So every morning we would wake up, open the bi-fold doors and slip out into the hot tub as the sun rose.  My two-year-old daughter has not stopped saying, “I want to go to the hot tub” ever since, which makes me think I’ve kept her really grounded and she’ll grow up being able to cope with whatever life throws at her.

Accommodation is the focus of Moskito Island.  You are not choosing to stay on Moskito Island; you are choosing an Estate that happens to be on Moskito Island.  The Branson Estate is a phenomenal villa.  Once we moved to Headland House, the experience was transformed.  It compares favourably against any property I’ve ever stayed in, anywhere.  The space, decor, views, comfort and overall feeling of luxury is extraordinary.

Construction

Regardless of where you’re staying, picking the right villa will always impact your stay.  If you want to be near the beach, but your villa requires going through an assault course to get to one, you won’t be happy.  At Moskito Island, your villa is the centrepiece of your stay because there are only two places you can go outside of it.

On the opposite side of the island to the Branson Estate is a Manchineel Beach, which you exclusively book.  The idea behind that is great – only North Island offers something similar, although last time we were there, it was just a beach with a towel under a tree, whilst here there are full facilities including a (shock, horror) bar, as well as a water trampoline, water sports equipment, volleyball court, loads of loungers, shade, a dining table.  It’s a charming spot.  How they manage this when they have all 10 Estates occupied will be interesting because even during our stay, when only one villa was occupied, we couldn’t go one day as it was booked.  This forms part of the many problems with Moskito; whilst North Island tries an “anything, anytime” approach to luxury, Moskito requires everything to be pre-planned.

The only other area is the Beach Club, which has two tennis courts with spectator seats, water sports, a small gym with two Pelotons, some weights and cardio machines (the Oasis Estate has a Peloton and Peloton treadmill on-premise).  You can also eat here and enjoy what I suspect is the largest pool on the island, which naturally has a hot tub.  The beach is not pleasant, though, but it was good to walk here from the Branson Estate just for a change of scenery.  There’s nothing spectacular about the Beach Club, you’re not going to have some near-religious experience whilst there as you admire the beauty of the plainness, but it at least exists to diversify the stay.

There is no spa.  In fact, there are not even any spa therapists – they have to come from Necker Island.

Whatever You Want, Whenever They Can Provide It

Your experience is going to entirely depend on your Estate, not only from the perspective of the accommodation and facilities it offers, but because every Estate has staff that only work on that property. Our host, Laurita, was a ray of light.  A truly delightful person that you would just want to hang around with.  But I’m not that kind of person, so I’ll still say that I feel she needs more experience to go from a great person who can do a good job to a great person who does an equally great job.  If you happen to have a brilliant host, things will likely fall into place, but it still relies on the team based on the Estate to deliver it.  For us, this is where things went from “could be better” to “Is there a hallucinogenic tree on this island poisoning everyone?”

The food started decent, although the Executive Chef had recently left, and within a few days, it started to feel that way.  When I mentioned our love of Japanese food, they told us of their Thai chef, cos they’re clearly the same thing.  To his credit, for a resort standard, he did a good job of it, although unsurprisingly, his Thai food was better.  There is no menu (except for breakfast); it’s flexible and created based on discussions with the chef, which I always have mixed feelings about.  Hat-tip for her extraordinary skills at creating ice cream, but by the final day, we were already bored with the sharing style pattern, which was basically a change of fish or meat.  Breakfast is the same every day, with fresh fruit, cereals, pastries and a choice of five options to order.

Like on Necker, you are stuck between deciding whether you would prefer high winds blowing your food away or no wind bringing the flies in.

Burn them, burn them alllll!

The primary host, Laurita, was with us from 8 am to 4 pm, and then Christy would take over as the evening host, yet every morning someone new was around, resulting in no consistency.  During the day, the host would have help from one seemingly randomly-allocated person that looked like they’d won a competition.  Limiting the people on property is usually for privacy reasons, whereas here there are random people walking around, seemingly doing nothing, to the point that someone was probably asleep in our bed as I was note taking.  It’s like a re-enactment of Goldilocks, but with some nearly expired gluten-free crackers instead of porridge.

It very much felt like the island became a dead zone after 4 pm, as so many of the staff left the island.  It’s like the island has shut for the day, with someone turning the lights off and closing the park.  When I went to check out the Beach Club at 6 pm, it was like a ghost town.  Although ghosts are notoriously hard to communicate with, whilst everyone here would be a breeze as they’re always on their phone.

Before 4 pm you could ask, but they’ll try but likely fail, like when we asked for some inflatables for the swimming pool, which they said in writing they would get for us (and weirdly then showed up at Necker Island), but come night you’re basically living like Tom Hanks on Castaway.  I’m not sure if The Purge rules apply and it becomes a lawless dystopia where you must cower in your home, but let’s say there’s a 50/50 chance.  Where this really hits home is if you’re trying to organise anything, it always felt like you would have to wait until the next day and by then it’s likely too late because everything needed organising in advance, which really goes against a luxury experience.  Take, for example, wanting a massage, we could not get anyone because they had to come from Necker and they were too busy.

Pictured on the left: senior management post 4 pm

Laurita admitted she missed the email with all our preferences in, even though the email was acknowledged by someone else on the team.  Sometimes all you can do is apologise and make amends.  Problem is, even after that, mistakes kept coming, like receiving food I’m allergic to.

Ignoring the ignored stay list, they really did try to kill us with kindness.  Laurita was previously a nanny for the Branson family and went above and beyond to look after the children, even when we hired a completely useless nanny as well.  She was grabbing everything from storage, from colouring books to doll houses to toys, all whilst playing with our daughter.

But it kept coming back to a clear indication that they were not at the standard expected.  Like when they moved us to the other villa but did so in such a way that they just dumped everything in one room and we had to keep returning to find things left behind.  We could not find the nanny cam, which resulted in a housekeeper bursting in on Lucie as she was trying to put our daughter to sleep.  She started grabbing our bags to find the camera, only to find it, drop it and break it.  They sent over a replacement camera the next day from Necker, but to add to the slapstick routine that didn’t work.

Don’t come away from this review and mistake incompetence for a lack of caring.  I believe a lot of them cared, there’s simply too little experience and too little understanding of luxury. It was like they’re still finding their feet, even though they opened in 2021, which means their eyesight must be pretty rubbish or their feet very tiny.  It was just too laid back, to the point you wonder where housekeeping is, or sometimes where anyone might be.  Even when the host was asking for assistance it could take an age, like an umbrella for the pool that took three hours to arrive.

When it’s so inconsistent, with preferences easily forgotten, it becomes an issue.  Like how housekeeping didn’t show up one evening and another time came extremely late, when they knew the children go to sleep really early.  Many things didn’t bother us – right up until they do, then it combines to create a toxic environment.

People are strange when you’re a stranger

Getting things wrong, forgetting to do them, and being inflexible is one thing.  Yet Moskito Island lands itself in a higher echelon of stupidity than that.  There’s a lot to unpack here, so let me give you some of the “Best Of” highlights.  Normally you’d be lucky to experience one of these, but so many in a single experience make this the holy land of lousy service.

It was hard to follow what exactly was going on with the staff.  We would see them randomly hanging around and doing nothing, like sitting in one of our kitchens or on a sun lounger.  I cannot emphasise enough how unprofessional this is, but it won’t normally bother us.  Until it started to become a privacy issue

Selling itself as one of the most private islands in the world whilst also being one of the least private, as people just randomly show up, like a guy walking into our living room at 7 am to open the bi-fold doors.  Or someone randomly showing up at the pool, or two guys hanging around our hot tub one evening.  Yet when you need someone for a drink, they’re not there.

We would constantly see people on their phones or have AirPods in, all customer-facing people.  Lucie was ignored at the water sports area as the guy was on his phone, whilst I asked our AirPod-wearing waitress at the Beach Club what the food was and she didn’t even know.  She probably had just one job that entire day.  After we finish, she asks if we want dessert, so we ask what it is and at this point, I’m delighted to confirm that she still didn’t know.  Comedy works that way.

I wanted to use our bathroom, down by our private beach, and couldn’t because one of the staff was using it; you felt completely exposed due to the abundance of people that seemed to just walk around or sit down on their phones.  There was a part of me that was interested to see how far it could go and how bad it could get.  When I got back my socks from laundry, but only one per day, I really thought they were just taking the piss now to see when I break.  I held steady though, I’m a professional reviewer.

I could make no sense of why websites like Disneyplus, Netflix or even Amazon, BBC and CNN were blocked here.  It looks like the staff are treated like children, but they act like them too.  I also couldn’t get over all the flowers being fake.  Even the rose petal welcome swan was fake.  Next, they’ll be telling me the lemurs aren’t even indigenous.

When we departed for Necker, we realised some clothes were left behind.  They showed up dumped outside of our door in a bin bag.  Nineteen days later, and after repeatedly chasing, they finally ordered the baby monitor they broke, which they had agreed to replace whilst we were on the island.  Just like the blood-sucking creatures on this island, Moskito will live with you long afterwards – just perhaps not for the right reasons.

The Good

  • Lemurs.  Lemurs are always good.

The Bad

  • Service
  • Things to do
  • Everything under construction

The Luxurious

  • Accommodation

Rating

Bad

Yet so much promise to be great.

Conclusion

Moskito Island might be a completely different proposition to Necker Island,  but it suffers many of the same issues, just in an exaggerated format.  It somehow manages to make Necker Island’s team look like they were awarded a master’s degree from a top Swiss hospitality school.

There is so much potential at Moskito Island.  But I hate potential; I want reality.  I don’t take too much of an issue with the pricing because you can easily spend over $25,000/n for a 5-bedroom villa in Amanyara, and you’ll be lucky to get a complimentary breakfast included with that.  When you can have an 11-bedroom villa for less than $30,000/n off-peak ($41,500 during peak), and it’s all-inclusive, on a per-person basis, that’s what we call in the industry a swell deal.  The problem is what you get for that outside of the world-class villa.

The island has nowhere near the beauty of Necker Island.  The facilities, opportunity to explore, beaches, hidden areas and the abundance of wildlife are all absent.  There is no spa, no kids club, and you cannot even go for a walk at the moment as there’s nowhere to go.  You are limited to your admittedly incredible villa, the beach club or the beach – assuming no one else has booked it.  At this stage, I would pick most properties ahead of Moskito.  There are better choices in the British Virgin Islands, let alone worldwide.

For a property open for close to two years, its biggest disappointment is the soft product being so raw.  It’s like I went to a pre-opening, ran by people who had to Google what pre-opening meant.

The travel industry offers FAM (familiarisation – basically freebies) trips which I’ve always turned down, not only the suffering from hanging around other people but the lack of suffering from not paying for the trip.  I want to offer this non-biased view that no one else is willing to, and I feel paying for it is very much a part of that.  Yet after this, I’m starting to reassess that view.  This was an expensive, failed experiment, like trying to launch a satellite from a Boeing 747.  RIP Virgin Orbit.  Coming as a group would have changed the dynamic, but it should still hold itself up to a better standard without the entertainment being yourselves.

The island is heavily under construction, meaning there is a lot of “jam tomorrow”, with the promise of a spa, another leisure centre and more on the way.  Yet that won’t fix most of the problems.  The future is…well, precisely the same as the present.  Pretty fucking awful.

Room type: Branson Estate When: March 2023 Rates: from $30,000/n all-inclusive 

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 25th Apr '23

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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