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, but 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 – cos we all know a problem shared is someone else’s problem. But what bothered me more than anything: all the reviews made it sound a bit shit, and I have no logical counter for that – must be all that glue sniffing.
Escape from Moskito
I assume Sir Dick, as I now affectionately call him, only pays the Virgin Limited Edition’s sales team in Virgin Orbit shares and they’d all gone on strike, as it was easier to launch a satellite than it was to get a response from them. 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, so that’ll help him get to some of those global warming conferences and save the planet. 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. 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. 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, so scrap that point. 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/n 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 Lucie 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, as it was so hot it would have been cooler to sleep under Richard’s sweaty ballsack. 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 – especially if something has recently come out of your bum. But worse than any of that, the minibar had Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut in it – an abomination. The only thing that should go with chocolate is more chocolate.
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/n 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 problem is if you want to do anything outside the norm, like having lunch later than 1 pm. 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/n and getting food started to 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. You try calming a two-year-old down; it’s like arguing with a guy that has a bomb strapped to his chest and is going to set it off unless Mark Twain shows up and hands him the One Ring.
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, whilst another 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, only the worst possible version. Thank god no one was a vegan. Is this Branson’s way of preparing for going back to prison?
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. Weirdly, it was Indian food, which I don’t even like, but by this time, my body was probably so deprived of nutrients that a lemurs shit would have tasted good.
We took a tip from the only other guests with a child and moved to have our private seating, meaning that fisty cuffs didn’t have to come out to get food as they brought over our portions. But 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.
Breakfast was probably the only passably decent part of the experience because it was simple enough that you can’t really screw up putting a small buffet with fruit, pastries and chia seed pudding out. Except they could, like when the latter was horribly melted and looked like a sperm bank had discharged their waste onto our table. Then there are the flies which show up in abundance for every meal. They say flies are attracted to shit, so logic works. And yet, I don’t think there was a single mosquito there – perhaps our blood tastes as bad as the food.
We had to pre-order all the kid’s food to come on time for dinner. Even so, 45 minutes after we sat down, and well after we finished, the puree arrived. One day they “saved us” some lunch, yet it still took 40 minutes to arrive. Add that to the 45 minutes it took to get an ice cream, and you get a good idea of what to expect. Actually, the best summary is that I cracked one of my teeth while biting into their pork chop. You know things are bad when your holiday ends needing to go to an English dentist.
It’s ridiculous that we had to plan lunchtimes around our toddler cos we couldn’t get food otherwise. If this were our first luxury experience, this blog would have been short-lived or just called The Bad.
Necker Island does not discriminate on age, it’s just a coincidence that everyone seems to be aged between 18 and 22. A lot of Brits work here and they seemed to be part of the competent clique. You know things are bad when you’re grateful that one of the Brits went to help you – they might not be as friendly as the locals, but it does get done. Sometimes. I know we have lovely accents and make great baddies in movies, but the Brits generally suck at hospitality. Here they’re the shining light in a sea of bleakness.
Other than the miserable gift shop lady, everyone at Necker is at least pleasant. Everyone is well-meaning but so badly trained. If you put a 5-year-old in charge of launching a space shuttle and, predictably, it explodes, you wouldn’t blame the child, you’d blame the person that put the child in charge. This is not a career for the staff, it’s a gap year. So do not expect any proactivity at all. Absolutely none. No help with anything, no consideration, no preferences are remembered – but Moskito lowered expectations so much that things getting done was an honour. I loved watching them on their phones as I was struggling to carry our luggage. Yet if you ask for something, they’ll at least try to take care of it. They got us a baby bouncer, pacifiers and Calpol immediately.
There was also a problem with just finding any staff. If dinner was served at Temple, we at the Great House would see no one around, so you just helped yourself to the bar. I’m not sure what you’d do about getting food, as it wouldn’t arrive in time even if someone were around.
It just blew my mind how lazy people were or how they lacked any initiative. Exhibit A: a broken coffee machine by the beach throwing everyone into a dazed state of confusion, with no possible solution in mind, like, I dunno, going to any of the Houses and bringing a coffee from there. In the end, there was no answer that anyone could give me that would shock me because I was not expecting anything. Even when the fire alarm went off a few times in a row, and I asked the only staff member I could find if everything ok, and they said, “I don’t know, speak to guest services,” or when we asked for a tour of the island, and they allowed us to walk into someone’s occupied room. We all know it’s condonable behaviour to steal from hotels, but when the guests can steal from you, it’s nowhere near as fun.
I don’t think you can appreciate how hard it is to be English, spend my entire life in England and having to write to a predominantly American audience. I would love to give you a great US equivalent, but instead, I must refer you to the sad times of the 1990s, when the best we could come up with was Harry Enfield. Don’t bother going on YouTube to watch it; you’ll lose all belief in those supposed British humour we are granted at birth by royal decree. To summarise: a character called Loadsamoney would go around telling everyone how rich they were. The kind of person that walks around with their bank balance printed out so they can accidentally drop it beside you. The name-dropping, the insecurity, the vainness, the wretchedness, and the unearned confidence, all on display during every meal.
I know I come across in a constant zen-like state of calmness, but the truth is I rarely get bothered by other guests. Yet this chap receives a special mention because every reason why the working and middle class will soon rise up and burn us in our homes was on display here, caricatured by one single, obnoxious, loathsome mammal that must have accidentally been given sentience.
What does any of this have to do with Necker? Nothing. I just needed someone to hear it. Every other guest was lovely.
Necker Island is stunning, with clear, turquoise waters and multiple soft sand beaches. The island is the protagonist. It’s large enough to get lost and beautiful enough that you won’t mind. I prefer my islands to contain something beyond just a pile of sand next to the ocean – a bit more landscape. Necker has plenty of variety, so whilst I would pick it above most Maldivian properties, I still lean towards the Seychelles and Fiji for the most spectacular-looking islands. Necker is worth being in the conversation, though.
In between being forced into a dictatorship level of compliance, you are given a buggy and access to go around the entire island. There are no signs anywhere, so you can even find yourself at the Virgin Father’s house, although he wasn’t in, much as we doth protest. Rude. The buggies change the dynamic because you can head out and do whatever you want. They do have a pre-planned schedule, which includes morning workouts, yoga sessions, or the weirder things like Beach Olympics, which is basically something you should only do if you’re eight times over the legal drinking limit. Or boat trips to nearby islands, which they call a booze cruise. Yet you don’t have to do any of them. If you’ve not seen the BBC’s Billionaire’s Paradise: Inside Necker Island, you will be in for a shock at the nature of some of the events. It’s not exactly Jane Austen.
Necker is a notorious party island – even the music is in party mode, with Eminem being played at 7 am and champagne served for breakfast – but after the large group of travel agents left (eurgh, those people are the worst…), it was mostly a group of people ten years away from going to a Bingo hall. This is not intended as an insult, as we were asleep by 9 pm every night, so whilst physically we may have been amongst the youngest, I’m as mentally exhausted as an octogenarian.
You should not come here without preparing for what it is – how, I don’t know. Go to Ibiza, take a load of ecstasy and just set fire to all money? It’s pretty clear, though, your level of enjoyment from Necker Island will rely on lowering your standards, engaging in activities and enjoying what we Brits call a drink or two, but most civilised countries call being an alcoholic. Necker Island is like Neverland for people that have never grown up.
Yet that’s not to say there is no enjoyment if you don’t do these things. I went along to some of the activities, like the morning fitness session, and Lucie had an excellent spa treatment from a Balinese therapist – it looks like this is where the adults worked. Yet the best part is the wildlife. Over one hundred lemurs wander around the island, interacting with you and jumping on you during feeding sessions. My daughter adored every second of it, meaning that the most kids-friendly activity on the island is being swarmed by dozens of tiny creatures with sharp fangs.
Furthermore, tortoises are roaming, a flamingo pond, parrots in cages, and seven species of lemur. It’s all very Jurassic Park – just minus the T-Rex, but the disaster element is included. It even offers you up a case of “expectations vs reality” as we descended on the beautiful flamingo pond, got there and then realised they all had to shit somewhere.
There is no Kids Club, so they subcontracted a nanny, but they were so useless we could have just hired ChatGPT and that blow-up doll from the movie Airplane!. They outsource this, so this is a BVI issue, not a Necker Island. However, it’s pretty clear this is not a very kids-friendly island, particularly as, at one point, we thought our baby was gonna die from consuming a leaf from one of the poisonous trees.
Necker Island is beautiful. The way it’s spread out across the houses means there are a lot of facilities available. Within the Great House is a hot tub, swimming pool, gym, snooker table and enormous tables for communal dining spread out over two floors. Of course, there’s also the boutique, where a book costs $42, so we can all see why Dickie is a billionaire and I’m not. Anything they could put “Necker Island” on, they’ll sell here – there’s probably even some Necker condoms out back, but some of it is cute, and now, with kids, I somehow get convinced to buy things from there that will inevitably never be worn again.
Over at the main beach, there’s a bar, two tennis courts, a helipad, a large swimming pool, probably the largest hot tub I’ve ever seen, and an outdoor wooden gym. The spa is just two treatment rooms, and the gym contains just a few pieces of equipment, but they were sufficient. There’s no need to exercise, though, as you have more chance of finding a hot tub than a meal.
- Hot tubs
- Your own private zoo
A place can have no easily definable element of luxury yet still offer a luxurious experience. As I oft repeat: it’s tough to describe a feeling, as much as E.L. James gave it her best shot. Someone told me before coming here: a beautiful island with terrible food and service. So I pass those words on to you as my ultimate summary. Necker Island is not a bad place, it’s just poorly implemented. It offers so much freedom but removes that feeling with the constant worry of when and how much you’re going to be able to eat. In short, it’s a piss-up that offers no more than a budget holiday to Spain. Except for the lemurs – I love those guys.
What Necker offers is a beautiful, genuinely unique island like nowhere else. I can say the same about Laucala, but that’s where the similarities end, as Laucala desires to improve. In contrast, Necker is precisely as per design, and that design, to me, is very much like the Hindenberg. I don’t feel the approach to coming here should be “it is what it is” when it could stick to the party atmosphere but deliver a much more luxurious experience. Yet I do still see why some people return because there is something inexplicable that somehow turns elements of it into an enjoyable stay.
We spoke to a few people during our stay, and everyone we asked, “Would you return?” was greeted with a moment’s pause, followed by an answer that rhymes with snow. Still, no one decides between booking here or some 19th-century chateau in Provenance. It is what it is. And now you know whether it’s for you.
Room type: Master Suite When: March 2023 Rates: from $8,400/n all-inclusive
The review we’ve all been waiting for. Honestly I was surprised you even went in the end. I was expecting it to be bad but not that bad…
I wonder if you got yourself another blacklist btw
Thank you for making me informed. I would never ever ever ago here, as service, food and amenities – and lack of flies – are a significant part of why I choose the places I do.
When I saw your instagram post of all the noise in the great room (I suspect someone considered loud music relaxing) I knew your stay would be a disaster. Thanks for taking one for the team.
Was Mosquito even worse?
They are very different stories with common chapters.
Another classic review. Appreciate the humor. I was thinking the worst of the review would be the lack of A/C but wow, it sure got much worse. heh
Waiting for this review since I read you were going. Shocked about the service and food issues. Do you suppose it would be any different when renting the entire island? I too learned the hard way regarding Flamingos. Worst poop smell of any creature for sure. Thanks for taking one for the team.
In the words – word, actually – of Spy mag’s late great movie reviewer Walter Monheit:
So what I’m getting here is that all your preconceptions were wrong, you’re in love with the Caribbean and deeply regret not visiting the sooner, yeah?
I am reading this out loud to my friend at Ellerman House and we are both laughing out loud. I’ve been to Necker and even had Sir B hit on me in the hot tub before realizing I was with my husband. Wouldn’t go again in a million years.
PS why we find it extra hilarious is that we just returned from Jacks Camp in the Kalahari.
Clearly you were not there as sir richards guest it understand how special Necker is.
I have been to necker no less than FIVE times- yes five, once with my family and four times as an invitee for the Necker cup. What you failed to mention was how EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE was at your constant service, you do not pay for ANYTHING once you are in property, every activity from wildlife conservation, tennis lessons, scuba instruction and EVERYTHING else yiu can think of is available with a simple “ I would like too”. MOST IMPORTANTLY Sir Richard and his family are the most gracious, humble, kind, unpretentious, and genuine family you could ever hope to meet- regardless of monetary status. NONE of them have social media accounts as they are too understated to EVER flaunt their status or experiences. SHAME ON YOU for not being as gracious to the Branson Family as they have been in sharing THEIR HOME with you.
You are right, of course. Someone that decides to commercialise their home and is a nice person should be beyond criticism. Henceforth, I will only criticise properties owned by people that anonymous guest does not approve of.
You’re the best!! Love love your reviews!
No idea whether “anonymous guest” is making that up or not.
But they may have (inadvertently) put their finger on an issue:
It sounds as though much of the problem is because there is no General Manager to
a) own the experience for the guests
b) manage staff
c) take feedback
This is always a challenge with small hotels (I think it was Tyler Brule who said a hotel needs to have about 60 rooms to work, although you can overstaff (and pay) to make a smaller place work)
Does Branson have butlers in each residence, or take his butler with him as he travels?
Made worse if the staff regard themselves as working for the owner, and that paying guests are somewhat inferior.
Good morning! I had not had the ‘pleasure’ of reading your blog until yesterday. It came to my attention as I was one of the ‘elderly’ (48 yrs old) UGH ‘travel agents’ on the island, and I cannot pass up the opportunity to post a rebuttal to this untrue, unkind, unflattering review of the incredible Necker Island. Once you arrive at the dock on island, you are warmly greeted by the staff with the warm feeling of arriving at someone’s personal home. It is someones home – Mr. Branson’s home. Our group was each personally invited to the island to experience what we each had previously sold (either as an island buyout or multiple bookings at villas on Moskito Island), and all had raving reviews from our guests once they returned. I knew exactly who you were when you mentioned your children – I helped the staff feed the tortoises with your darling little girl several mornings in the Great House at breakfast. I would NEVER suggest to any of my guests that Necker Island is suitable for children – it is an adult property, and suited perfectly for anyone ready to get away and have some fun. To liken it to Ibiza (where I have been) is completely incorrect. In Ibiza, it was quite common to embark upon someone doing lines of cocaine in the bathroom – this is CERTAINLY not the case here. The staff was welcoming, hospitable, and ready to help with anything anyone needed. To correct you, the GM was most definitely on the island, and available to assist guests with any task you would have approached him with. I personally work with a very large, diverse portfolio of clients, of all ages, and I make sure I work with them to find villas that would best suit their age, mobility, preferences, and budgets – I would not send someone to this beautiful paradise who is an octogenarian needing to go to bed at 9pm. The activities that are offered to guests are unlike any I have experienced anywhere else I have stayed! The staff interacts with the guests making sure everyone is having an absolute blast! If you want a kite boarding lesson at 7 am – you are going to get one. Hobie Cat sailing around Saba Rock? Check! Tennis lessons with 2 resident pros any time of the day? Absolutely! Lemur feeding? Just tell them when. The ONE thing we can agree on is the miserable ‘Loadsofmoney’ gentleman – despicable. I understand you are writing to a specific genre – people who would rather ring a bell for service in their bedroom or by the pool – so this property (s) would not be where I would recommend sending them. For everyone else who wants to arrive on a private island, kick off your shoes, and forget about the rest of the miserable world (and grumpy travel bloggers), then this IS your place.
Betsy- It sounds like you’re a perfect fit for middle market clientele. People who read Tom’s (quite excellent) blog appreciate his candor, sense of humor, criticisms, and how he understands the nuances of true luxury. I would be shocked if you have been to even 1/10 of the properties he has visited and paid for; I would assume you took this as a free trip, so your opinion doesn’t really matter either way.
The experiences you mentioned that you had never previously experienced (kite boarding at 7a, Hobie Cat sailing anywhere, Tennis lessons with pros at anytime of day etc.) prior to Necker can easily be had at a large majority of luxury properties. My husband and I often request things last minute and at odd hours (we get up at 5a) and are almost always accommodated wherever we stay.
My husband and I also love to be in bed by 9pm, and I would suggest that doesn’t just apply to “octogenarians”- we are 36/40 respectively.
Having met Tom and Lucie, who happen to be lovely, I would say that you’re probably the exact type of person I would actively avoid if I were required to spend time on an island with random freeloaders.
Lindsey. You know what people do when they assume. Betsy’s first hand report was very refreshing after having read the rant of a pompous British attention hound. Some people are just enthralled at how smart they are. They are soon disappointed to see most people don’t share in their disillusion. If Neckar was like this malcontent writes then it would have closed long ago. Kudos to Betsy.
By that logic, every complaint of any company in existence is incorrect. Go onto a Porsche or Ferrari forum and see hundreds of people having issues with their cars. Are they all wrong?
I am laughing because Tom is far from pompous. As a matter of fact, if anything, he is sometimes overly generous to properties. Why do you read his blog if you don’t find the reviews useful and/or entertaining.
Necker wouldn’t need to close as it is owned by someone and used as their personal home etc.
There are plenty of properties/restaurants that I have been to that I have thought to be horrid that are able to stay in business; it comes down to expectation and what people are used to experiencing. You have garbage logic, and clearly lack intelligence by having to toss out misplaced insults.
“Betsy” also got a free trip so probably has a different motivation; people like Tom’s blog because the reviews are not a “pay for play”.
You say that I have “garbage logic…by having to toss out misplaced insults “. And yet you casually toss out misplaced insults. So good luck with your own garbage logic. But what do I know. Let them eat cake.
Looks like the good news of your bad review has gotten around, Tom. Someone has clearly sent you a flock of new fans. I appreciate the added comedy in the comment section, though I’m not sure anyone will match anonymous guest. The selfish part of me wants you to visit the South Africa & Kenya properties next.