“The high net worth [set] don’t want to holiday somewhere near the encatchment area where a low-cost carrier deplanes or embarks,” says Farhad Heydari, a luxury lifestyle editor and journalist. “They want to be as far away from the masses as possible.” Think private islands, private estates and private villas -- in short, places that have a limited supply of rooms that fill up months or years in advance.
While most of us can hardly afford to vacation like that fraction of the 1 percent, sometimes just knowing where they venture is enough to stoke the wanderlust. Start lusting -- our roundup of the world’s top billionaire playgrounds awaits.
Islands Apart: Where the Ultra-Rich Town Down
While commercial flights descend in droves upon mainstream Caribbean destinations like Montego Bay and Nassau, the ultra-rich touch down on private runways in far more remote locales.
And just a short private jet hop away, on the Out Islands of the Exumas in the Bahamas, is David Copperfield’s Musha Cay, with its stunning sandbar that materializes for just a few hours a day, open-air theater on the beach and 5 plantation-style guest houses -- each hugging their own private beach. The property can accommodate up to 24 guests, with rates starting from $37,500 per night for up to 12 people.
The billionaire clientele drawn to oases like these more often than not opt for all the extras, too -- perhaps a private fireworks display (offered for $25,000 at Musha Cay) or a rare vintage Champagne flown in on a whim from the mainland.
Half a world away in Fiji, the CEO of Red Bull owns another favorite private island frequented (and usually hired out in its entirety) by the billionaire set. Laucala Island is a largely sustainable property surrounded by coconut plantations and turquoise lagoons where each of the 25 butler-serviced villas has a full-size swimming pool and yoga pavilion.
And on the island of Kuda Hithi in the Maldives, guests arrive by private yacht at Coco Prive and have a personal dive master among their dedicated staff. There’s a master villa and 5 offshoot villas for a maximum of 12 guests, and rates for 2 people start from $8,000 per night.
The sky is quite literally the limits at places like these, says Bruce Wallin, editorial director at Robb Report: “If you want to fly in your own Broadway cast to put on a production -- and people do that -- it might be extra,” he quips.
It’s All in the Destination … With a Few Perks
Some places that beckon the rest of us hither entice billionaires, too.
“Africa is hugely popular,” says Stacy Small, owner of LA-based Elite Travel International. “These trips appeal as they typically include stays at small exclusive posh safari camps, and private planes are the standard mode of transfer.”
In an iconic African safari destination like Kenya, the uber-rich might choose to rent out an entire luxury camp such as Cottar's 1920s Camp, with 10 decadent tents set in a private conservancy with its own landing strip near the Masai Mara. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, mere millionaires, commandeered the entire property for their entourage in 2009.
But that was before the opening here of the even more exclusive Cottar's Homestead -- a 10,000-square-foot home with 5 bedrooms and terraces overlooking grasslands covered with wildebeest and serviced by a staff of 8, including a private wildlife driver and additional wildlife spotter, as well as a chef and security guards.
In the world of villa rentals, France delivers some of the most bespoke travel experiences for those who can afford it. On the slopes of Courchevel, France -- the most jet-set village in all of the Alps -- the sounds of helicopter blades choppering Russian tycoons to their villa hideaways cut the cool mountain air.
At Chalet Pelerin in Le Miroir, France, A-listers and industrialists are flown in from the airport in Geneva to spare them the 2.5-hour drive to this 5-bedroom chalet, where days are spent heli-skiing off-piste in nearby La Thuile, Italy.
With nary a second to feel the chill of sitting on a chair lift, guests can relax in the chalet’s private après-ski cabin in a spectacular off-piste setting. The chalet’s wellness facilities are as decadent as at any world-class spa, with a steam room, sauna, outdoor hot tub and saltwater pool. And a private ski guide, chef and guest photographer are all part of the package.
High Life on the High Seas
And if you’re wondering where mere millionaires really get culled from the billionaire’s domain, it’s at sea. “Chartering a mega-yacht is really in the realm of the billionaire rather than just the standard millionaire,” says Wallin of Robb Report. “It’s potentially the most exclusive travel experience you can have.”
Wallin points to the mega-yacht class of ships -- hired anywhere from $200,000 to $1 million per week -- as where the opulence factor slips into the stratosphere. “It’s like a floating mansion or palace basically,” he says, “with the helipad, water toys, the private movie theater and a crew taking care of everything.”
And the superyacht Nirvana, says Wallin, inspires particular awe -- the 6-deck, 290-foot-long ship hosts 12 guests, with a crew of 26 tending to their every whim and has such amenities as a 3-D cinema, full gym, multiple jet skis and water ski boats and 2 vivariums populated by water dragons and bearded lizards!
The horizon is pretty much the limit on yachts like Nirvana.
“You’re in a completely private environment and you can go out in the middle of the ocean and hang out, go to a beautiful cove to have all to yourself, or dock in Monaco and get in a tux and go to the casino for the night,” says Wallin.
Ah yes, very different from you and me indeed, these billionaires on vacation.