Okay, So What Was the Whole “Necker Experience” REALLY Like?
Well, the truth is, it was pretty fantastic from start to finish. I was sort of expecting that 3 days would be quite enough—the ratio of help to guests is better than 2 to 1 and I thought that could seem stifling—but I must have grown more accustomed to being treated like a princess in the past six years since my experience at the Four Seasons Wailea on Maui—because I felt like I could quite happily stay for at least another, oh, week. There is a distinct lack of horses on Necker (although the dog department was ably filled by Field Spaniel Sumo), and, latte upon request or no, that is just completely unacceptable in the long-term.
I was one of the 24 attendant guests not because K and I are the kind of bosom buddies who gossip on the phone with any frequency or even email all that often—I hadn't known he'd met a woman until I received the Evite on New Year's Day (more reason to think it was a hoax)—but because we've been, since high school, the kind of friends who can pick up wherever/whenever and continue on with a level of warmth and intimacy that many day-to-day friendships lack. And, his half-sister in Egypt couldn't make it (she and the rest of the family there are doing okay, as of a couple days ago).
There really were two equally phenomenal aspects to this particular event weekend—the people, and the location. I'll start with the people.
First of all, French, Russian, and English were all spoken pretty equally amongst the attendees (not all spoke all three, but several did). Someone asked me at dinner one evening if I spoke any languages other than English and I was pleased to be able to answer that, yes, I knew a little Swahili and a little more Portuguese. I was just as pleased to have no one there able to test my abilities.
As I've said, my roommates were Sophie Barthes and her daughter. There are drawbacks to sharing a beautifully appointed but relatively small room with a 17-month-old, including that she goes to bed at 7, which means I go to bed entirely in the dark, trying not to kick the Pack-n-Play . . . but I have to admit, there are drawbacks to sharing a beautifully appointed but relatively small room with me, the walking easy-access pharmacy, if you have a precocious toddler. And the little toddler-sized mosquito net was the cutest thing ever. C, the toddler, talks all the time in some language or another. I think my French is just about as good as hers. Note: French was not one of the languages I claimed to have any knowledge of.
Other guests with notable accomplishments include the bride's father, who invented a black body and thus emigrated with his family to the US on an "Einstein visa"; the bride's sister-in-law, Courtney Hansen (who was as sweet as she is lovely); the groom's daughter's after school activities director—who also seems to own the TriBeCa pier where the activities take place; and any number of international business/culture people. For the most part, people knew and/or were related to each other and were there having a fun weekend together—the environment was as laid-back and welcoming to me, a complete stranger to all but three people when I first arrived, as it could possibly have been.
As for Sir Richard Branson himself, he also seemed to be an easy-going guy, and has an amazing deal going on here: he invites the rich and famous to pay an insane amount of money to stay at his home—for which they feel privileged—and then he comes and hobnobs with them—for which they feel privileged—and he gets to network with the rich and famous of the world. Of course, some of them he may not like, but he always has the option to stay away from those—and he can do some pretty brilliant networking with those who he does get along with. He also has a keen sense of the environment, and while he's trying to develop private space travel, he's also reintroducing flamingos to Necker Island, and is developing a non-governmental, international coalition for ocean health and global fish sustainability. He was disappointed Ian wasn't there to chat with; me too. But, if he needs Ian, there are ways to find him.
Nevertheless . . . I get the feeling Sir Richard might be a little lonely. He has a wife and kids, but the kids (both in their 20s) are in London, I'm not sure his wife comes to Necker whenever he's there, and I'm pretty sure I would be lonely (and may just be projecting). He leads such an extreme life—far less "normal" than mine—I don't know. As much as the island was virtually perfection, I wouldn't want to live there.
And, going on to the second part of this weekend, the actual "hotel" part of the island, it was virtually perfection. The food was invariably delicious (quail; sushi served from a kayak in the main pool; beach barbecue; etc), and, at the request of the bride, was 100% sustainable and organic and all of the meat, as well as the wedding cake, was kosher (her family is Jewish, and some of them keep kosher). There were bars all over the island and, if they were empty, you were invited to just go and serve yourself. Coconut palms grew thickly around the main swimming pool at the main beach, and several of the (male—females were in sun dresses, usually) employees would climb up the trees to retrieve young coconuts, carve them open with machetes, and serve the coconut water with a straw.
The place was decorated Balinese-style, and unlike the house we rented in Kona in January, the wooden furniture and artwork probably was actually from Bali. Certainly, there was no scrimping on comfort—all sofas, chairs, and beach-side pavilions were richly restful, scattered liberally with pillows, and blindingly white and clean. In the main lodge, for guests' entertainment, was a pool table, a computer (WiFi if you had your own computer), several chess boards, a collection of international rhythm instruments, a giant TV (never on during our stay), and a spinet piano—far the worse for living in an open, humid environment. I played a scale and it was barely recognizable.
There was also a loft library with a drum set and a guitar (we managed to keep the 9-year-old and the 6-year-old from trying to play those) and a ton of books.
Each room was equipped with a light, batik robe and a heavy spa one for each guest; laundry service was free; phone calls—local or international—were included; the postcards in the lacquered wooden box on the desk were stamped. When asked, by the groom, if the amount was the same to Egypt, the girl serving us at breakfast the last morning said that the office manager would check each address to make sure before the cards were placed in the mail.
Sun creams, in 4 strengths (Tourist: 30; Traveler: 15; Islander: 6; Local: 0 [dark tanning oil]) could be found in numerous locations, as well as bottles of aftersun recovery sprays and Off.
Activities at the main beach included sailing in Hobie Cats, kayaking, snorkeling, kite boarding, and any number of other things (I was mostly chatting with people).
Of all the people I know, I think my mother-in-law would appreciate the Necker Island experience the most. Bali themes; snorkeling; shelling (there was a good beach with a gentle surf and lots of miniature shells to dive for); sailing; warm, gentle air; food whenever you ask for it. I would love to get her there sometime.
As for myself, I'm calling this trip not the "trip of a lifetime," but rather "the FIRST trip there of this lifetime." You never know!