The Super Luxe Social-Distancing Vacation Is 2020's Biggest (Only?) Travel Trend
These places offer both five-star amenities and safety
As we begin reemerging from our pandemic lockdowns but continue to stare into an uncertain future, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where, when and in which ways we’ll be able to travel more freely.
Those who can afford a five-figure vacation — or even a six- or seven-figure one — have a few more options at their disposal, of course. Just as private jet usage has increased in recent months, a new trend has emerged alongside it: the super swanky social-distancing vacation, where hotel and resort buyouts are the name of the game.
A World of Unreal Buyout Opportunities
“More than ever before, travelers will now be looking to book holidays where they can spend quality time together with confidence that where they choose to stay is the best and safest option for them,” says Vanessa Neal, the group sales and marketing director for Virgin Limited Edition. They have eight different properties across the world, the most famous of which is Richard Branson’s Necker Island, which has long been regarded as one of the preeminent examples of a lavish, exclusive-use island getaway. It can all be yours for $102,500 per night for up to 40 guests.
Assuming your bank account isn’t a restriction, then, the only limit you have is your imagination in terms of the type of private vacation you can put together. Want to start a small commune in the Irish countryside? Rent the Dromoland Castle in County Clare for $33,000/night, with 97 bedrooms fit for 190 guests, set on 450 acres including an 18-hole golf course.
Looking for a month-long retreat, maybe in Africa? For $1.5 million, you can bring 40 people to Time + Tide Miavana in Madagascar, inclusive of all food and drink, not to mention a $50,000 contribution to conservation efforts. Or you can pull those purse strings tighter and head to one of Time + Tide’s two Zambian properties, costing between $200,000 and $300,000 for a month with up to eight or 12 people, including a $34,000 conservation contribution.
You can even take your show on the road, or the tracks, as the case may be, by renting a full train. Ride in style across the beautiful Scottish landscape in the Belmond Royal Scotsman, which sports 22 cabins for up to 40 passengers, and allows you to book a private and bespoke two to four night itinerary. Belmond Afloat, meanwhile, offers a fleet of seven river barges in France, ranging from two to six bedrooms and serving from four to 12 guests. The two newest barges, Lilas and Pivoine, start at €50,920 for a fully-inclusive six-night itinerary.
The Maldives remains a dream vacation for many travelers, and the style of the nation’s top resorts is actually a perfect fit for a world of social distancing. When you can’t swing a total hotel buyout, a private overwater villa is the next best option.
“Being in a private villa compared with a large central hotel building is very important,” says Sonu Shivdasani, CEO of Soneva. You can even opt to stay in your villa the entire duration of your stay, taking advantage of plunge pools and waterslides and all the rest, while reducing your interaction with other guests to zero, which is something that some vacationers do in such settings already. Meanwhile, the bulk of your time is spent outdoors and in the sun, with nothing but crystal clear waters around you.
Caerula Mar, a property in the Bahamas which just opened in February and is the subject of HGTV’s Renovation Island, is planning on opening solely for hotel buyouts this summer. In fact, an unnamed contingent of European royalty rented the property out earlier during the pandemic.
“Our location in South Andros is very off-the-beaten-path,” says Sarah Baeumler, who owns the property along with her husband Bryan. “A full resort buyout allows our guests to take full advantage of our stunning surroundings with a fully customized experience, not to mention it helps minimize their contact with other travelers.”
The property was originally built in the 1960s, with the couple restoring and transforming it, a process chronicled on the show. “Guests really want to tailor the services to an ideal fit for their group,” Baeumler says. “A full resort buyout means lots of time together and guests also appreciate the many locations on the property to break away and enjoy quiet moments.”
There are plenty of stateside properties offering buyouts as well. This is ideal for those who want something closer to home, or just don’t want to deal with international air travel as well as the ever-shifting landscape of traveling restrictions and quarantine mandates.
Get your own slice of coastal California heaven with a stay at the five-star Malibu Beach Inn. The property is located along “Billionaire’s Beach” and offers 47 rooms, with buyouts costing between $25,000 and $45,000 per night. Switch coasts and consider renting out The Wauwinet on Nantucket, a 32-bedroom property with access to two private beaches and a restaurant offering a 1,400-bottle wine list, for $13,500 per night.
For a smaller scale private stay on the island, the White Elephant Loft at 32 Main Street is a historic three-bedroom house, and the only bookable accommodation on Nantucket’s Main Street. The three-bedroom property goes for $1,595 per night and includes a BMW to cruise in for the duration of your stay.
When Swanky Meets Safety
For the wealthy traveler, the idea of a lavish and secluded, totally private, vacation has always been an intriguing and in-demand option. Now though, these opportunities come with the very real benefit of minimizing risk while traveling.
Soneva, which operates the Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani resorts in the Maldives, as well as the Soneva in Aqua boat, is also instituting a “one island, one resort” concept with testing upon arrival, quarantine protocols in place, and private transportation. “Feedback from our guests suggests that we have struck a happy balance between reassuring them that they will be safe, while also not making their holiday a chore, and still making it feel like a dream,” Shivdasani says.
The company has researched air filtration and cycling rates on airplanes versus in buildings, expected virus half-life in particular temperature and humidity conditions, and a range of additional factors when putting their plan in place. “Because of all the practices above, guests will feel safe, but also be comfortable to interact with our hosts and other guests without a strong concern about catching the virus,” Shivdasani says.
“Travelers will want confidence in their choice of holiday as we see a shift in what factors holidaymakers consider important — with safety coming first,” says Virgin Limited Edition’s Neal. “We are already starting to get a greater taste for this demand with some of our guests who wish to collectively pull their family and friends together for a buyout of a property — enabling them to have both the seclusion and security of a holiday with minimal risk of exposure — without compromising on the typical luxuries and experience they would expect.”
Whether a castle, a train or a private island is more your style, clearly now’s the time for you to live out your wildest socially distant vacation dreams.
See the world from your inbox.
Sign up for The Journey, our Travel newsletter.