Private Island Retreats Are Oasis for Luxury Travelers
In a world where it’s harder to unplug, the luxury of a private island retreat secluded from the rest of the world is becoming increasingly appealing.
Fitness executive Jim Worthington had one goal for the luxury trip he was planning to celebrate the birthday of his girlfriend, Kim Levins: privacy. So he booked into Gladden Private Island, a tiny hotel off the coast of Belize that opened in December.
Tropical getaways are getting so exclusive, you and your partner will be the only ones at the resort for your private island retreat.
The accomodation was a cosy, single two-bedroom villa. In fact, the whole island “is less than an acre. You could walk from one tip to the other, and it would take less than 30 seconds,” Worthington reccounted, laughing. “It was like being Robinson Crusoe—you have no idea the staff is even there.”
He and Levins spent their days basking in solitude, spending peaceful hours at the edge of the water. “The beauty of where you are is unbelievable,” Worthington says. The stay was so memorable, that the couple plans to make the island a regular vacation spot, taking a week to decompress there every 18 months or so.
It might sound like a risky proposition: rather than a vacation villa, a personal hotel with a full cadre of staff to cater to a couple’s every whim (from $2,950 per night for two, all-inclusive).
This is the hottest new niche in high-end travel—not a penthouse suite, but an entire island just for you.
Gladden is the brainchild of Chris Krolow, the host of HGTV’s Island Hunters, with 2 decades of expertise in selling and leasing private islands. His concept was simple: Create the ultimate couples-only hotel, a luxe hideaway for barefoot sojourners with the tracks of any other humans concealed.
The journey to Gladden is no easy route, making it more ideal for at least a long weekend getaway. Set on a pair of mangrove-fringed islands a few miles off the southern coast of Belize, Gladden is accessible from the capital, Belize City, itself a nonstop flight from several hubs in North America. From there, a 30-minute helicopter ride will transport you finally to the resort.
The setting of the resort is superb. The coast of this Central American nation is fringed with a low-lying archipelago of more than 400 atolls set in crystal blue waters reminiscent of the Maldives or the South Pacific. Krolow describes the beauty of the island to be “like a jewelry box of blue all the way around,” especially “the color, the clarity of the water—it’s like nowhere on the planet.”
Having two islands is key to pulling off the private island retreat concept, he says. One houses staff accommodations, buildings for generators, and other infrastructure, while the second, smaller island will be the resort where guests can feel completely alone. The employees consist of two couples who tag-team on everything from cooking (one of the women is a certified Le Cordon Bleu chef) to spa treatments (massages are offered, gratis, as often as guests wish). And to prevent visitors from getting startled by the staff, there are small warning lights in every room that flash red when support team members are crossing over from their standalone islet.
Although Gladden offers two bedrooms that can accomodate four guests, more than half of Krolow’s bookings are couples celebrating birthdays or anniversaries.
In an overconnected world, seclusion has become almost a benchmark of luxury travel.
Among other private-island resorts, also located in Belize, is Little Peter Oasis ($4,995 for a four-night package). It offers a similar accommodation for up to four guests in a two-bedroom villa, built over the edge of a private lagoon protected by a reef.
In the Maldives, Cheval Blanc Randheli, the tropical offshoot of French resort Courchevel 1850, has 45 traditional villas on one site but also operates a three-bedroom “owner’s villa” on a nearby private island. Just a short five-minute sail away from the main island, there are thirty staff available to tend to your fancies or leave you to your devies, whichever your prefer.
The 14-acre Dolphin Island in Fiji ($2,790 for two nights) sleeps eight, and a local fisherman will stop by every day to drop off his freshest catch for the on-site chef to prepare. Satellite Island ($2,730 for four people for two nights) is a rugged, high-end hideaway with a lodge for one family off the coast of Tasmania. It’s ideal for outdoors types keen to hike in isolation or swim in crisp, clear waters. In northeast Ireland, the lakeside Trinity Island Lodge is a converted granary that once served the now ruined Trinity Abbey in nearby Cavan. Starting from $1,297 per week for six, it features its own sauna and game room, as well as miles of forest trails.
Chris Laugsch who runs the high-end villa rental agency Welcome Beyond, is confident of the new demand. “People have seen and done the five-star hotels—that’s the usual stuff. More and more, people really want to disconnect during their holidays, and what better way to do that than on a completely private island?” Laugsch has also added an entirely private island to his portfolio, an eight-person hideaway off Nicaragua’s coast.
The growing trend is indeed reflecting on the popularity of such private island getaways. Gladden is almost sold out for next year, and Krolow is planning a sister property on a similar island in nearby Nicaragua. But he isn’t sure he’ll ever be able to indulge his ultimate goal, which he mulled before beginning construction on Gladden.
“I wanted to take it one step further and make it for one person,” Krolow says. “But not enough people travel alone.”