Editor’s Note: Some of the information below may be out-of-date. The British Virgin Islands and Florida Keys were heavily impacted by Hurricane Irma. Please visit caribbeantravelupdate.com, fla-keys.com or the specific hotel’s website for updates.
“Sure, they sound amazing, but I can’t afford a private-island resort. I’ll have to fly to the other side of the world. Plus I bet I’ll get bored...” We’ve heard all the old myths about private-island resorts. Now it’s time we busted them.
Myth No. 1: I’ll be bored without Wi-Fi.
“You should see the look on teenagers’ faces when I tell them there’s no Wi-Fi,” says Matthew, the general manager, as he tours us around Petit St. Vincent, a secluded haven in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “It usually takes them about 24 hours to break the habit and adjust.” Forget teenagers, I think to myself. What are we going to do?
Morning arrives, and I awake in our beachfront two-bedroom, private island villa (the size of a house) to admire the sun rising above the sea. Sighing happily, I immediately grab my phone. Oh, wait. Is this really how I start my mornings: with a social media fix? What better place to detox than here? I fight the urge to run to the lobby, the only place to get connected on the island, and instead go to my villa’s flag pulley system. I lower the red flag (do not disturb) and hoist the yellow to summon a butler to bring breakfast. I could certainly get used to this.
Throughout the week, we’re challenged to fill our time sans iPhone apps. Should we opt for a massage at the new spa? Sign up for a PADI lesson at the Jean-Michel Cousteau dive center? Hike up Marni Hill for a view of the island? Yes, but first we grab complimentary snorkeling gear and head for the water. The West Side Beach has little privacy nooks, each with a hammock, two lounge chairs and a dining table. Without mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, I have the time to read a paperback book. How analog. The 24-hour adjustment is slowly working.
We sail on the resort’s sloop Beauty to the protected Tobago Cays, where we snorkel with turtles. We watch a James Bond movie on the beach and attend a reggae beach party with nutmeg-dusted rum drinks. I can’t imagine being bored on an island like this. On our last day, we sail a Hobie Cat (with assistance) to Mopion Island, a tiny sandbar straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. From the uninhabited isle, we have the perfect vantage of the resort. I snap a pic, knowing I can’t post it on Instagram just yet. That’s OK. Right now, I want to keep this place all to myself. From $1,100 per night
- Rebecca Kinnear
Petit St. Vincent
When to go: Low season, May through mid-December, offers better rates and special deals like free nights and an all-inclusive option, but the resort is closed September and October.
How to get there: First, fly to Barbados (BGI). From there, Mustique Airways provides a flight to Union Island; then it’s a 20-minute boat ride to the resort.
Must-pack: Without access to TVs or Wi-Fi, bring a tablet preloaded with plenty of books.
Myth No. 2: I have to be in the 1 percent.
A recent self-realization: I like my beaches secluded. Towels placed edge-to-edge on a crowded stretch of sand isn’t my idea of getting away from it all. But I always thought my only shot at a private island resort would be if I somehow cozied up to Richard Branson at a party (hey, it could happen). Seclusion comes at a cough-inducing cost — or so I thought.
That is, until I found myself kayaking through crystal-clear water to Scrub Island’s Honeymoon Beach, a quick five-minute trip from the boating-and-beaching resort. Feeling like an explorer, I washed up on shore as the only inhabitant — the peace and quiet was perfect for collecting shells and admiring the cliffside homes just across the sea.
Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina, a 1.5-mile stretch of the British Virgin Islands that Christopher Columbus discovered in the 1500s, remained virtually uninhabited until about 15 years ago — it was where pirates once stopped to scrub the barnacles off their boats, hence the name. Now, the namesake resort’s 52 Marina Village rooms and nine private villas discretely dot the coast, looking down a Technicolor trio of blue water, white sand and green palm trees. The landscape is hilly, the air crisp and quiet, the vibe nautical chic (be prepared to rub elbows with the yachtgoers docked at the 55-slip marina) and the spacious rooms all have VIP views of the endless sea. The location feels thoroughly exclusive, but no private plane is required: I hopped on a commercial puddle-jumper from San Juan to Tortola, where the Scrub Island ferry was poised to meet me for the 10-minute trip (and greet me with rum punch).
I dove right in — to the tiny infinity plunge pool at Ixora Spa after I stumbled, deliriously relaxed, out of a destress massage ($135 for 60 minutes). There were slightly more people — maybe 12 — at North Beach on the other side of the island, but we each managed to find our own little pocket of lounge chair and sand, and we swam and snorkeled with only groupings of coral and seaweed between us. More social guests can hang at the three levels of pools, complete with a hot tub and a waterslide.
You might have to lift a finger at the pool to spread out your own towel or flag down a waiter if you want a Scrub-tini — there are no butlers here. Then again, at $12, that cocktail will taste so much better than the $50-per-glass Champagne cart at other resorts. Even the little on-island shop doesn’t have the same sticker shock of other resort boutiques — a rather handsome Indian cotton caftan was only $45.
Sure, there are sailing excursions to the cays of Jost Van Dyke and The Baths at Virgin Gorda, or you can venture to the barefoot-casual Pusser’s restaurant on Marina Cay island in high season, but frankly, I wasn’t interested in public islands this time around. Over a dinner of red snapper ceviche and sweet plantains at the alfresco Tierra! Tierra!, my fellow private islanders were happily clinking glasses. A keyboard player launched into reggae tunes. We’re all secluded together, and it’s divine. Rooms from $308 per night.
- Brooke Showell
When to go: Summer offers the same balmy weather at low-season rates, and you might even be able to score a coveted villa.
How to get there: Fly into San Juan (SJU), and take one of the local carriers, Cape Air or Seaborne Airlines, to Tortola (stay tuned for BVI Airways’ highly anticipated daily direct flights between Miami and Tortola). The Scrub Island team will meet you at the airport for the free, 15-minute ferry transfer to the resort.
Must-pack: Since snorkeling gear comes at an extra cost at the dive shop, bring your own mask.
Myth No. 3: I have to fly across the world.
It would be easy to imagine myself on the shores of an isolated Tahitian island. The color of the water is the same shimmering turquoise, giving way to an impenetrable blue where the shallow water sinks into the depths. The same magnificent frigate birds hang lazily overhead, staying vigilant of any potential meal that might rise to the surface of the sea. But it didn’t take me an eight-hour flight to find myself on Little Palm Island, just a 20 minute boat ride from Little Torch Key in the Florida Keys. Every moment that ticks by on the journey brings you a little further back in time, preparing you for an arrival on the quiet banks of this luxurious, private island resort where you’ll find no phones, TVs or Internet to distract. And a big plus for an old curmudgeon like me: no guests under 16 years of age allowed.
Little Palm Island is not a large private island, coming in at 5½ acres of lush foliage ringed by sandy shores. Between the gently swaying palm trees, 30 oceanfront suites and a historic great room stand ready to receive relaxation-seeking guests. A modest pool flanked by a bar and an oversize chessboard wait for anyone looking to do more than soak up some sun. Closer to the lee shore, an activity desk is manned and ready to issue boats and kayaks free of charge to adventurers curious to explore the nearby waters. Of course, there’s also a spa, just in case you need to let go of the stresses from the modern world. There’s no shortage of ways to exhaust the daylight before retreating to private hot tubs and gas fire pits on the beaches behind each bungalow.
Evening has arrived, heralded by an orange sun slipping behind the islands in the distance, and the arrival of one of the island’s most celebrated guests: the miniature Key deer. These adorable, endangered critters actually swim to Little Palm Island through the chain of islands to the north. Though they can be a nuisance at dinner (they do tend to enjoy putting both front hooves on the table and inhaling expensive, exquisitely prepared food), it’s hard to be angry at an eight-point buck that’s no larger than a German shepherd. Torches glow on the peninsular beach while water laps softly nearby, providing the perfect soundtrack for dining on the sand. I’ll be back on a boat home in the morning, returning to the noise of humanity, but for now I’ll enjoy the bliss of being here, away from it all. One more drink can’t hurt as I watch the little silhouettes of deer strolling along the shores, and I forget for a little longer that there’s something else in the world beyond the edge of the torchlight. From $1,190 per night.
- Jon Whittle
Little Palm Island
When to go: The summer months, June through September, bring soaring temps, hurricane season and mosquitoes. The rest of the year is ideal.
How to get there: Fly into Miami, Key West or Marathon and take scenic U.S. Highway 1 to the resort’s welcome station on Little Torch Key. A signature cocktail and shuttle to the resort on their yacht, Truman, are complimentary. For amazing views, arrive via Tropic Ocean Airways’ private seaplane from mainland Florida or the Bahamas.
Must-pack: Bringing along a few bottles of wine or booze wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. Plus, since the resort is in the U.S., there’s no need to declare anything on a customs form.
Myth No. 4: I have to go somewhere tropical.
You don’t need beaches for an idyllic getaway as I discovered at Isle of Eriska Hotel & Spa, a 300-acre private island off the west coast of Scotland. With stunning views of Loch Creran and the Morven Hills and amenities like a spa, a nine-hole golf course and a Michelin-starred restaurant, who needs palm trees?
Owner Beppo Buchanan-Smith drives me across the Victorian-era bridge and ushers me into the baronial mansion, built in 1844. The turrets make me feel like a princess. My sprawling Aruba Garden Suite (ironically named after the Caribbean’s most arid island) has a living room with a gas fireplace, a glass conservatory, a large bedroom, a huge bathroom, and a patio Jacuzzi. I want to stay, but afternoon tea is being served in the Big House, so I head for the turrets.
Melting into a comfy sofa in front of a crackling fire in the wood-paneled drawing room, I tuck into freshly baked scones served with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Feeling to the manor born, I stroll around my kingdom before returning for pre-dinner drinks in the library. “May I pour a glass of wine for you?” the bartender asks. But of course.
The next afternoon, I go for a hike. The weather is best described as changeable (read: rainy, windy), but when I climb up to Sir Ian’s Point, named for a former owner, the views of distant islands and misty hills are postcard perfect. There was nowhere I would rather be. From $244 per night.
— Robin Cherry
Isle of Eriska
When to go: March through October for the best weather.
How to get there: To reach the island, you can rent a car or take the train from either Edinburgh or Glasgow. By car (the best option if you’re comfortable driving on the left), the trip takes just over two hours. The train to Connel Ferry takes roughly three. Connel Ferry is five minutes from the private island resort, and you can arrange for someone to pick you up or take a taxi.
Must-pack: Scotland’s western highlands are one of Europe’s rainiest places. Don’t forget your rain gear and waterproof hiking boots (but if you do, the hotel has Wellies you can borrow).