Ever since Cool Runnings single handedly reshaped Western values, won the hearts and minds of the known universe and won every award going, including, but not limited to an Olivier Award, Turner Prize and Pigasus Award, I have wanted to go to the Caribbean.
Yet much to my shock, around the age of 11, I discovered my parents were poor. Ok, not poor in the sense we had to start selling our teeth or sell The Big Issue to our neighbours, but the kind that had the government giving a monthly helping hand. So you would think with this obsession with the Caribbean, it would have been one of the first places I would visit upon getting into luxury travel. Instead it will likely be one of the last.
Next week we fly out to Mexico, but it was all planned so very different. Mexico was just an add-on to a Caribbean tour, which started in Necker Island. As you may have spotted, I am quite the connoisseur of private islands. If I had not spent all my money on staying on them, I’m sure I’d own one. So Necker Island, Richard Branson’s private island, has this hold over me that made me feel incomplete. Like a chlamydia induced itch, it was hairy, ugly, kept me awake at night and just wouldn’t go away. It is the last of the luxury private island resorts left to visit – the missing last piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
Normally the island is exclusive use, but they have Celebration Weeks throughout the year, where you can join the other riff-raff and stay there with people who aren’t on your Facebook contact list. This year they had several opportunities with a 3 night minimum stay.
So I booked it.
Yet at this point, doubts started to creep in. The kinda doubts anyone would get, when a private island, for $5,000/n, has the sales team emphasising the communal aspect of the trip and questioning if privacy was important. This definitely needed more research than I have become accustom to. Previously I spent countless hours researching our trips, like I was an intrepid Columbo. Now we’re away so much, I have to just get out the Ouija board as a time-saving device. Completely unrelated, but if anyone knows a priest, I could do with his phone number.
Now for those of you who know me, and those of you that stalk me, I am not known for my social prowess. I’m not on holiday looking for some new friends or to join your cult, no thank you. So when someone mentions communal dining, the hair on the back of my neck rises and books itself on the first flight outta there. At this point, I needed to know for sure that Necker Island was worth the time and money.
The rooms seemed a good starting point.
First of all, Richard, we’ve been using the metric system since you were 15. What’s all this with square feet?
Bedroom 5 (including bathroom): 570 sq ft. The deck is 200 sq ft.
NEW: Southern Terrace bedroom 10 (including bathroom): 391 sq ft.
NEW: Southern Terrace bedroom 11 (including bathroom): 442 sq ft.
NEW: Leha Lo (including bathroom): 338 sq ft. The deck is 347 sq ft.
Let me translate this into a format we can all understand
Bedroom 5: 53 sq m. The deck is so small, a maximum weight of 5kg per guest is in place to avoid structural collapse.
Southern Terrace bedroom 10: 36 sq m
Southern Terrace bedroom 11: 41 sq m
Leha Lo: 31 sqm.
I repeat: thirty one square metres. Guantanamo Bay offers more space than this. This is after yet another natural disaster destroyed the property and it had to be rebuilt, so I can only surmise that previously the rooms were intended for the island flamingos, not humans.
It suddenly became very clear to me how Sir Richard became a billionaire. $5,000/n; 31 square metres. That must be amongst the most expensive real-estate in the world. Sir Rich bought the island for $120,000. I ain’t got the smarts he does, but I’m calculating he’s done alright for himself by living on a tax haven that people pay for the privilege to visit.
Yet wait! If you’re prepared to go to $7,500/n, then they have gone overly generous.
Master Suite (including bathroom and deck): 1,480 sq ft (137 sq m)
So now the trip has gone up 50%, yet this is the only acceptable room to stay in. It’s the only one large enough I can hide in, to avoid Branson hunting me down and forcing me into some diabolical group activity, like drinking Virgin Cola.
At this point, things were looking dire. It would be almost as expensive as North Island, with none of the benefits. Even the Ouija had enough at this stage, so set itself on flames and started screaming Latin at me. I had to go find a review.
Remembering the classy BBC documentary Billionaire’s Paradise: Inside Necker Island, I decided to watch it again. Of course it couldn’t be as bad as I recalled. There’s no way it gave the impression of a swingers party for illiterate trust funders. Oh – my bad. That’s exactly what it did. If you own a hotel and want to know how to put people off visiting, you should contact the BBC and get them in. What a fine job they did. If the plan was to make it even more exclusive, as no one wants to visit, then I slow clap their genius. I doubt even the tax authorities would want to visit after this. Excellent work, Mr. Branson.
I suddenly remembered that Google existed, so I should probably use it to find what other people thought. Let me give you a tip when it comes to reviews: ignore those from people who did not pay for it. Everywhere is great if you’re not paying. So when the source of reviews is limited to someone who used 1,200,000 Virgin Atlantic miles, and another of a journalist that was there on a last minute freebie, I consider it as truthful as a Scientology manual on kindness. And then I remembered: a charming couple we met in Miavana, who made my travels look amateurish, mentioned they were there. So we reached out, and their description sounded part like a Sandals, but mostly like a party in a Judd Apatow movie, that was directed by Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild, set in a brothel. Poor food, service and accommodation was the gist of it.
This will not be the end of it. One day, likely not too far in the distant future, I know too well that I will end up arguing with myself. I will revisit this article and exclaim that it’s not so bad after all. That $5,000/n ain’t even a problem – I could write it off as a legitimate business expense, claiming I was seeing a tax advisor. Yet for today, I have as little interest in it as a game of Virgin Bingo.