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Review: Necker Island, British Virgin Islands (Part 2)

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This is the second half of a review of Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island resort in the British Virgin Islands. Tom, the author, runs The Good, The Bad and The Luxurious, probably the leading global source of private island and luxury resort reviews. Read Part 1 of Tom’s Necker Island review here before continuing ….

Breakfast was probably the only passably decent part of the experience because it was simple enough that you can’t really screw up putting a small buffet with fruit, pastries and chia seed pudding out. Except they could, like when the latter was horribly melted and looked like a sperm bank had discharged their waste onto our table. There are flies which show up in abundance for every meal.

We had to pre-order all the kid’s food for it to come on time for dinner. Even so, 45 minutes after we sat down, and well after we finished, the puree arrived. One day they “saved us” some lunch, yet it still took 40 minutes to arrive. Add that to the 45 minutes it took to get an ice cream, and you get a good idea of what to expect. Actually, the best summary is that I cracked one of my teeth while biting into their pork chop. You know things are bad when your holiday ends needing to go to an English dentist.

It’s ridiculous that we had to plan lunchtimes around our toddler because we couldn’t get food otherwise. If this were our first luxury experience, my blog would have been short-lived or just called The Bad.

Service Virgins

Necker Island does not discriminate on age. It’s just a coincidence that everyone seems to be aged between 18 and 22. A lot of Brits work here and they seemed to be part of the competent clique. You know things are bad when you’re grateful that one of the Brits went to help you – they might not be as friendly as the locals, but it does get done.

Everyone is well-meaning but so badly trained. This is not a career for the staff, it’s a gap year. Do not expect any proactivity at all. Absolutely none. No help with anything, no consideration, no preferences are remembered – but Moskito Island lowered expectations so much that things getting done was an honour. I loved watching them on their phones as I was struggling to carry our luggage. Yet if you ask for something, they’ll at least try to take care of it. They got us a baby bouncer, pacifiers and Calpol immediately.

There was also a problem with just finding any staff. If dinner was served at Temple, we at the Great House would see no one around, so you just helped yourself to the bar. I’m not sure what you’d do about getting food, as it wouldn’t arrive in time even if someone was around.

It just blew my mind how lazy people were or how they lacked any initiative. Exhibit A: a broken coffee machine by the beach throwing everyone into a dazed state of confusion, with no possible solution in mind, like, I dunno, going to any of the Houses and bringing a coffee from there.

In the end, there was no answer that anyone could give me that would shock me because I was not expecting anything. Even when the fire alarm went off a few times in a row, and I asked the only staff member I could find if everything was ok, and they said, “I don’t know, speak to guest services,” or when we asked for a tour of the island, and they allowed us to walk into someone’s occupied room.

Wild Life

Necker Island is stunning, with clear, turquoise waters and multiple soft sand beaches. The island is the protagonist. It’s large enough to get lost and beautiful enough that you won’t mind. I prefer my islands to contain something beyond just a pile of sand next to the ocean – a bit more landscape.

Necker has plenty of variety, but whilst I would pick it above most Maldivian properties, I still lean towards the Seychelles and Fiji for the most spectacular-looking islands. Necker is worth being in the conversation, though.

In between being forced into a dictatorship level of compliance, you are given a buggy and access to go around the entire island. There are no signs anywhere, so you can even find yourself at the Virgin Father’s house, although he wasn’t in. Rude.

The buggies change the dynamic because you can head out and do whatever you want. They do have a pre-planned schedule, which includes morning workouts, yoga sessions, or the weirder things like Beach Olympics, which is basically something you should only do if you’re eight times over the legal drinking limit. Or boat trips to nearby islands, which they call a booze cruise. Yet you don’t have to do any of them.

If you’ve not seen the BBC’s Billionaire’s Paradise: Inside Necker Island, you will be in for a shock at the nature of some of the events. It’s not exactly Jane Austen.

Necker is a notorious party island – even the music is in party mode, with Eminem being played at 7 am and champagne served for breakfast – but after a large group of travel agents left, it was mostly a group of people ten years away from going to a bingo hall. This is not intended as an insult, as we were asleep by 9 pm every night. Whilst physically we may have been amongst the youngest, I’m as mentally exhausted as an octogenarian.

You should not come here without preparing for what it is – how, I don’t know. Go to Ibiza, take a load of ecstasy and just set fire to all your money? It’s pretty clear, though, your level of enjoyment from Necker Island will rely on lowering your standards, engaging in activities and enjoying what we Brits call a drink or two, but most civilised countries call being an alcoholic. Necker Island is like Neverland for people that have never grown up.

That’s not to say there is no enjoyment if you don’t do these things. I went along to some of the activities, like the morning fitness session, and my wife had an excellent spa treatment from a Balinese therapist – it looks like this is where the adults worked. Yet the best part is the wildlife. Over one hundred lemurs wander around the island, interacting with you and jumping on you during feeding sessions. My daughter adored every second of it, meaning that the most kids-friendly activity on the island is being swarmed by dozens of tiny creatures with sharp fangs.

Tortoises are roaming, a flamingo pond, parrots in cages, and seven species of lemur. It’s all very Jurassic Park – just minus the T-Rex.

There is no Kids Club, so they subcontracted a nanny, but they were so useless we could have just hired ChatGPT and that blow-up doll from the movie Airplane!. They outsource this, so this is a BVI issue, not a Necker Island one. However, it’s pretty clear this is not a very kids-friendly island, particularly as, at one point, we thought our baby was going to die from consuming a leaf from one of the poisonous trees.

Hot Stuff

Necker Island is beautiful. The way it’s spread out across the houses means there are a lot of facilities available. Within the Great House is a hot tub, swimming pool, gym, snooker table and enormous tables for communal dining spread out over two floors. Of course, there’s also the boutique, where a book costs $42, so we can see why Dickie is a billionaire and I’m not. Anything they could put “Necker Island” on, they’ll sell here – some of it is cute, and now, with kids, I somehow get convinced to buy things from there that will inevitably never be worn again.

Over at the main beach, there’s a bar, two tennis courts, a helipad, a large swimming pool, probably the largest hot tub I’ve ever seen, and an outdoor wooden gym. The spa is just two treatment rooms, and the gym contains just a few pieces of equipment, but they were sufficient. There’s no need to exercise, though, as you have more chance of finding a hot tub than a meal.

Conclusion

A place can have no easily definable element of luxury yet still offer a luxurious experience. As I oft repeat: it’s tough to describe a feeling.

Someone told me before coming here: a beautiful island with terrible food and service. I pass those words on to you as my ultimate summary.

Necker Island is not a bad place, it’s just poorly implemented. It offers so much freedom but removes that feeling with the constant worry of when and how much you’re going to be able to eat. In short, it’s a piss-up that offers no more than a budget holiday to Spain. Except for the lemurs – I love those guys.

What Necker offers is a beautiful, genuinely unique island like nowhere else. I can say the same about Laucala, but that’s where the similarities end, as Laucala desires to improve. In contrast, Necker is precisely as per design, and that design, to me, is very much like the Hindenberg.

I don’t feel the approach to coming here should be “it is what it is” when it could stick to the party atmosphere but deliver a much more luxurious experience. I do still see why some people return because there is something inexplicable that somehow turns elements of it into an enjoyable stay.

We spoke to a few people during our stay, and everyone we asked, “Would you return?” was greeted with a moment’s pause, followed by an answer that rhymes with snow. Still, no one decides between booking here or some 19th-century chateau in Provence. It is what it is. And now you know whether it’s for you.

The Good

  • Activities
  • Hot tubs

The Bad

  • Food
  • Service
  • Flexibility

The Luxurious

  • Your own private zoo
  • Setting

Rating

Bad


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Comments (59)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • MT says:

    Mixed feelings on the review, alot of the things complained about as not being luxury or should be different I was already aware of and would be known before you go to NI, so to then have an issue with them doesnt quite seem right. Fair enough if its just pointing out to others in case they didn’t know but complaining about something you know will be the case before you turn up and still going is a little harsh. It seems like the reviewer went knowing it wasn’t for him and wanted to trash the place because he can.

    My main comment however would be that hopefully it wouldn’t put anyone off going to Ulusaba which is quite simply an amazing property and experience. It is commual dining again, but the experience is enhanced by this not decreased. I have to say given the choice I would spend my points at Ulusaba over NI anytime, but thats because I know NI wouldn’t be for me and thus I choose not to go! I know people who have been and loved it because its exactly what they were looking for.

    • Rob says:

      This was, literally, the only private island resort in the world that Tom hadn’t visited, if I remember rightly. I think he felt he had to do it to complete the set!

      Look at his Moskito Island review, which was the stay before this one. He paid $30,000 PER NIGHT there, so $120,000 for his stay. This buys you the right to complain I think.

      • MT says:

        But surely if you do anything in life that you know isn’t your thing, regardless of cost then you can’t hold it against the place. I decided several years ago it makes no sense compared to visiting the Maldives, so haven’t been because I knew it wasn’t for me or my taste. Other people have loved NI however I know as it suits them.

        No amount of money buys you the right to complain about something that is what it says it is but then you don’t like that fact, that speaks more of the person who pays the money than the place that takes it. Equally I don’t think for a minute NI represents good value for money on a celebration week. But really that’s not what the place is about for most of the year! It seems despite all his money Tom didn’t get that.

        • Will says:

          If we take this review on face value, the overriding theme is that it’s hard to get enough food to eat and the quality of food when it is present is borderline.

          I’m not quite sure whose thing it is to go hungry and eat sub standard food.

          Given the marginal cost of food relative to the rate on NI, it’s not really something that I can understand at all.

  • r* says:

    The review makes it sound like the soft product is absolute trash, did they just let it go or raise the issues?

  • May Lim says:

    A very riveting & fascinating reading of Tom’s writing style. Hope to read more.

  • AndyF says:

    More, please. What I find interesting is for some this would be a trip to aspire to but once you get there it isn’t always what you imagined. Especially after watching the BBC documentary, I feel like this is probably a more realistic version of events.

  • TKMAXX says:

    I read some of this guys reviews… this guy will personally lead to the communist revolution the way he writes and thinks.

    • Rob says:

      I find it a very socialist viewpoint – look here and see how, even if you have piles of money and spend $30,000 per night (Moskito Island) you still get treated like crap most of the time ….

      Tom made all his own money. Nothing he did that you or anyone else couldn’t have done. I don’t think he’s bonkers wealthy though (I look at this through a West London filter of course, whereby ‘bonkers wealthy’ would be 8-figure annual income rather than ‘just’ 7 figures), it’s just that his company runs itself and he’s happy to blow his cash on travel. He’s a totally normal guy and his wife used to work at the Connaught, which is how they met – no family cash at all.

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