Review: Necker Island, British Virgin Islands
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Rob writes: I’ve met some fascinating people in 11 years of running this site, and Tom is absolutely one of them. Twenty years younger than me and independently wealthy after founding an IT company, he is now probably the world’s leading expert on private island resorts. His blog, The Good, The Bad and The Luxurious, is an authority on this topic and uber-luxury resorts in general – despite Tom’s, ahem, unique writing style.
Tom and his family recently visited Necker Island as part of a tour of British Virgin Islands resorts. As you can redeem Virgin Points to stay at Necker Island, I thought you’d be interested. Some edits have been made, mainly for length. This is still long but it’s a Bank Holiday weekend ….
Every now and then, we peasants are invited to the sanctuary of Lord Branson of Richard’s home to suck the dirt between his toes. By this, I mean that Necker Island runs Celebration Weeks, which are trips where you don’t need to book the entire island for over $110,000 per night. One can instead stay in rooms that range in the more humble $5,000 to $8,000 per night range. Think of us as the Tesco Value option to the regular Harrods guest.
Usually these Celebration Weeks are reserved for hurricane season, as we commoners are more disposable during this time, and our families don’t expect such a big payoff if we’re sucked into a passing storm, like that cow from Twister. On this occasion, one became available during peak Caribbean weather. As someone that famously said (to all my three readers) I would never go to Necker Island, you’re probably wondering what’s changed. The price bothered me, but they had a ‘stay 4 pay 3 offer’ which eased that.
The idea of communal dining was repulsive to me, that is until I had children – because we all know a problem shared is someone else’s problem. What bothered me more than anything is that all the reviews made it sound a bit shit, and I have no logical counter for that.
Escape from Moskito
This was the most challenging property I’ve ever booked. After enough persistence, I was eventually able to hand over enough money to fuel Dickie’s private plane for a few hours. I was then surrounded by silence when trying to communicate with anyone, only for them to go into overdrive and start communicating everything, everywhere, all at once.
Perhaps I preferred the silence because they began to haggle with me about when we could have dinner. They asked if our six-month-old and two-year-old were happy to dine at 8 pm. Definitely not – my kids are like Gremlins, never feed them after late. It already started to feel restrictive and an uphill battle just to change dinner times when they previously said it was fine.
We arrived on the island via Moskito Island, another Virgin Limited property. It’s only an eight-minute boat ride, with both islands visible from one another, but they are very different properties. Moskito Island is meant to be about privacy due to the large, 8-11 bedroom villas that must be exclusively booked. I use the word “meant” because it was as private as Johnny Depp’s last marriage. That’s a review for another day (EDIT: you can read it here). However, we never saw another guest. It was weird to find myself in a situation where I was happy to see other people, but after four nights by ourselves, it was a pleasure to see some homo sapiens roaming around.
Before arriving, we were sent a link to an app which contained a suggested itinerary, a map of the island and messaging tool to message the Necker team. The only thing is, when you load it for the first time, it showed full names of all guests staying on the island. I’ve never seen a privacy issue like that before, not even the Pentagon is this reckless. Oh. After I mentioned this on Instagram, someone from management apologised and said they fixed it (how, I don’t know, as it had already happened), only for the app to randomly show everyone’s names again. The IT gods have a great sense of humour.
Otherwise, they did an excellent job with the room setup. Everything was perfect, and I even heard a squeal of delight as my daughter discovered the sunglass-wearing lemur and flamingo soft toys they left for her. I will tip my hat to them; it was one of the best room setups I’ve seen in a while, even if, thereafter, they decided never to restock a single thing.
Necker Island has four houses, each containing multiple, unique bedrooms: The Great House (where we stayed), Bali Lo, Bali Hi and Temple House. Each has separate facilities that make them semi-self-sufficient, such as a pool, bar, and lounge area. It offers more variety for picking your room, although I’m only going to recommend the Master Suite.
You can argue you shouldn’t be in your room much, but not to the extent it’s as depressing as an episode of Succession to be in your minuscule $5,000 / night room. I could only stomach coming here if we stayed in the top suite. Most rooms are barely 40 sqm, whereas the Master Suite is a respectable 137 sqm, although included in that measurement is a terrace, which every room has.
You’re not limited to the house you’re booked in; you are welcome to ruin someone’s day by uncomfortably sitting next to them in their house. The rooms are scattered around the island, so picking one will depend as much on the location, views, and facilities it offers. The Great House offered the most, plus it’s where the gift shop is, so my wife was grateful.
The Master Suite is an open-planned living, bedroom and washing area. There’s an ironing room (?!) and a little reading room, separated by a white sheet, with a small sofa bed inside, ideal for a small child. It also offers a small kitchenette, bathroom, additional toilet, outdoor bath and three terraces. That’s two baths and two toilets – the stuff of dreams.
The biggest selling point is the 180-degree views, plus the hot tub, which has resulted in my two-year-old learning to say, “I want to go in the hot tub”. She’s going to be low maintenance. The largest terrace was face-on, facing the flamingo pond, with an outdoor bath, hot tub and sun loungers, but to the left, there was a dining table and to the right, another two sun loungers. The sun passes over the terraces, so you could either avoid or stay in the sun depending on the time of day.
Back inside, a TV was hidden in a cabinet at the end of the bed, which had plenty of movies, TV channels and streaming services to choose from. You could practically live there were it not for the air conditioning not working the first night. I had to steal an electronic fan. Subsequently the air con did work, but it would take hours to cool the room down. The water also didn’t work one morning, which is kinda a bummer.
The room isn’t going to stick in my mind as one of the best places I’ve ever stayed, but it did offer everything we needed – when it worked.
If eating meals around a large table at scheduled times with all your fellow guests sounds like something you’re happy to pay $5,000 / night for, well, I have a bridge to sell you. Or I would sell it, but Branson already sold it to me and said no taksiesbacksies.
You need to understand what you’re getting yourself in for at Necker Island as it is very communal-based. That’s not to say you cannot have privacy or must do everything in groups, but it’s undoubtedly pushed in that direction.
The problems come when you want to do anything outside the norm, like having lunch later than 1pm. On our first day, we were told they would save some food for us because we couldn’t make it on time as one of the children was sleeping. I had to remind myself that we were paying over $8,000 / night and getting food shouldn’t become a negotiation.
This is where it all started to go wrong.
Anyone with children will know patience is not their strong suit, so when I asked for some food at 2 pm, the fact that they had nothing wasn’t the answer I wanted. I don’t mean anything suitable, I mean they didn’t even have any crisps or biscuits. After ordering some pasta, it took 50 minutes to show up. I was asking for anything else, even cereal, which showed up at the same time as the pasta and tasted like it had gone off.
There’s just no urgency with any requests. There’s a good chance they will get done, but not in the next 45 minutes. When it did arrive, we kept being told it was gluten-free for reasons that made no sense to us. At one point, we were told this is because of our preferences, which is not true. Another time they said that the food is made based on everyone’s requirements, so if any of the guests are gluten-free or dairy free, they don’t make two versions.
In between meals they have a snack menu, but it’s offering a pathetic five options. Which will then likely arrive an hour late and remove the ingredients that made it any good, as they’ll think you have a made-up allergy.
It switched between feeling like a diet camp, such as when they ran out of pizza, and we had managed to get our hands on two slices, and a wedding we didn’t want to go to when the menu offered an option of two starters or three mains. I have travelled quite a bit, but never once had to share a meal and practically fight to get more of it.
So one day, it was pizza for lunch, and another was burgers and chips. It’s not exactly The Fat Duck, but I’m not expecting or asking for that on holiday. However, I do ask for quality, which was not present here. It was only on the final night when a meal was served that I was happy to eat more than the minimum to avoid starvation.
We took a tip from the only other guests with a child and moved to have private seating, meaning that fisty cuffs didn’t have to come out to get food as they brought over our portions. Even then, its weird interactions did not fail to astound me, like when they came over with two chocolate mousses and asked if we wanted more. Erm, yeah, there are three of us. They didn’t have any more, so what a great chat that was.
This is the end of Part 1. Click here for Part 2 of Tom’s Necker Island review.
Tom’s blog, with all of his private island reviews, is here.
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