When the boat docked on Necker Island, I knew I had landed in the lap of luxury. The private island in the middle of the Caribbean, complete with its own restaurants, infinity pools, tree houses, boats, water-sports equipment, a full staff and on-site landscape artists is a dream for most people. For Richard Branson, it's home.
The Virgin Group founder and celebrity-entrepreneur-billionaire-creative genius bought the run-down island decades ago and today it's one of the most coveted destinations in the world. For approximately $50,000 (the going rate right now) you can rent the island for a day. Thankfully, I didn't have to take out a loan for this trip. I was invited to the island by Branson for the official kick off the first annual Kite Jam competition in the British Virgin Islands, and I was more than happy to send in my RSVP.
The group of writers ranged in age from just-barely-old-enough to I-could-be-your-mother. While most people on the trip found their paradise in rum cocktails on a beach chair, I took the opportunity to explore one of the most talked about destinations in the world. After all, I could get a rum cocktail anywhere, but I couldn't predict when I would be back on Necker Island.
Guests arrive the boat or private plane (or soon, from Branson's magic carpet bag, the high-speed two-person submarine, appropriately named the "Necker Nymph") and are greeted by Necker Island staff, who just might be some of the most beautiful people in the world. The women are dressed casually, but stylish (think: long silk skirts, jeweled tank tops and flip flops) and the men are clad in Bermuda shorts and polo shirts. As the guys help you off your chariot (in my case, a ferry boat), the ladies hand you warm towels and champagne cocktails -- a true sign you've arrived paradise. I casually left the group behind and made my way down the dock toward the beach, and headed toward the trees. I was on my own Lewis and Clark-type expedition to search for anything I could find on this fantasy island.
As you might expect from Branson, there are surprises at every corner. I made my way past the flamingos, turned right at the turtles and headed up the hill to the guest house -- an extraordinary piece of architecture set on top of the hill on Necker Island and looking out onto the Caribbean. On one side, a grand dining room dressed in deep reds and dark woods, accented by candelabras and chandeliers. On the other side of the room, an open-air living room designed in green and white, which makes for a gorgeous setting against the turquoise-color Caribbean water. As you might expect, there are a few bars, a couple cozy nooks, and of course, a rooftop putting green for the golfer in all of us. Just in case you get hot and don't want to make the trek back down the hill to the ocean, there's an infinity pool right outside the guest house.
I spent the last few hours on Necker Island surveying the scene from a beach chair. I wondered if some of these kids really understood where they were, and if I would ever get the chance to come back. I wandered away from the crowd one last time before having to board the boat back to my hotel. This time, with a glass of champagne in hand, I turned toward the trees and set off into the gardens. Tall flowering plants were everywhere and in the distance, you could hear the sounds of the wind whooshing through the sails of the kite-surfers who were braving the water.
I looked up to see if I could catch a glimpse of the sport and instead, I found myself intrigued by the trees. Scattered across the island were tree houses -- each one with ladders leading up into the wooded shack 'house' in the leaves. With no one around, I made my way up a ladder for a peek inside. A sofa, covered in purple and red silk and adorned with throw pillows sat on the far end of the tree house, a rug covered most of the floor and two windows were open slightly -- both offering dramatic views of the island. How romantic, I thought...
Before I boarded the boat back to my hotel I had a moment with Branson to chat about the island.
"I particularly love the tree houses," I said.
"Oh, the love shacks?" he replied.
Yes, of course, the love shacks... only on Richard Branson's island.