8 Exclusive Private Islands

Everyone wants to get away from it all for a while. Of course, whether that’s through your own private hideaway or a relaxing vacation, most people have to choose one or the other. But with a bit of money saved up, you can join the elite of the world in owning a solution to both. These islands aren’t necessarily the most remote or extravagant islands (although there’s plenty of both here). What they all share in common is unmatched exclusivity, where your company on the island can be the wealthiest of the wealthy…or perhaps just a family of turtles.

1. Ni’ihau

Ni’ihau is famously known as Hawaii’s “Forbidden Isle,” and for good reason — it’s private property. Bought by a private family in 1864, the island is home to fewer than 200 people, for whom Hawaiian is the primary language and English second. Although now home to a military base and some hunting tourism, Ni’ihau’s rules are still very strict in terms of visitors – even for the native’s relatives. A notable exception was made in 1992, when parts of the movie “Jurassic Park” were filmed on location. Historically, “The Ni’ihau Incident” — where a Japanese pilot crash-landed on the island returning from Pearl Harbor, was captured and then escaped with the help of Japanese locals — is considered to be a major factor in the eventual Japanese-American internment during the rest of World War II.2.Wakaya

Wakaya is one of the 332 gorgeous islands that make up what we know as Fiji. It is not the source of the controversial and popular Fiji Water (said to be drawn from an artesian aquifer on the main isle of Viti Levu). Instead, Wakaya is the island that company founder David Gilmour (no relation to Pink Floyd) bought in 1973. In addition to building a village, a marina, a gym and a school, Gilmour also built a 10-bungalow resort named Wakaya Club and Spa. A night at the resort will set you back a cool $7,600 plus taxes, but that hasn’t deterred Bill Gates, Tom Cruise, Spain’s Prince Felipe and others from making a visit.

3.Santo Stefano

For those who are looking to invest rather than visit, there are a couple options. If you’re in the mood for something Mediterranean, there are worse options than Santo Stefano — just under fifty miles from Naples, neighboring beautiful Ventotene island, and hosting a number of older rustic buildings. One in particular will probably catch your eye — an 18th century prison built to hold 600 inmates. While the prison is not currently included in the sale of the island, listing indicated it could be added in for the right price. As the asking price is a mere 20 million Euros, why not splurge a little?

4. Taprobane

If you’re picturing an island getaway, you think of relaxing first and foremost. But imagine your stay lasting a little longer, and all sorts of activities come into mind — sailing, making tropical cocktails and eventually writing/drawing/composing a magnum opus. Taprobane is one of the smallest islands on this list, but it has played host to a large number of artists — and many of them drew particular inspiration from their stay. Since being founded by the Count de Mournay, this Sri Lankan satellite has played host to author/composer Paul Bowles, painter Balthus and pop singer Kylie Minogue who immortalized the island in her song “Taprobane (Extraordinary Day).”

5. Moyenne

The glamour and wealth of owning a private island is made very apparent in some of these destinations. Yet Brendan Grimshaw’s private island is as far from lavish as humanly possible. While Grimshaw hosts walking tours on the island and offers a small restaurant for the tourists, much of the island was restored to natural habitat by his own hands. Despite rumors that the island holds buried pirate treasure, two digs have come up empty-handed. Grimshaw’s greatest treasure is much simpler — a population of more than 100 land tortoises. The eldest is in his seventies and is named Desmond, after Grimshaw’s godson.

6. Skorpios

If the name of Skorpios is not instantly known, its owner’s should be to anyone alive in the ’60s. Aristotle Onassis, in addition to being one of the wealthiest men on the planet, was also the second husband of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who he married on the island in 1968. The couple lived there for a time and Aristotle, his son, and his daughter Christine are all buried on the island. A 2001 census revealed a population of two on the island — likely caretakers, as the current owner (and Onassis’s granddaughter) Athina lives in São Paolo and for years did not even have an active Greek passport.

7. Double Island

Off the coast of Australia and protected by the Great Barrier Reef, Double Island offers a serene southern Pacific getaway. In addition to being used in television shows like “The Mole,” the island has also been a resort for local gold miners and has been used as cattle grazing land. Of course, the island is probably most important to the Djabugay Aborigine people. In their religion, Double Island is the resting place of the great Rainbow Serpent Gudju Gudju, ancestor of all creation.

8. The World

Of all of Dubai’s ambitious projects, perhaps none have quite the lack of hubris that The World does. A series of artificial islands created from dredged sand, the man-made archipelago from Dubai’s state-owned Nakheel Properties was planned to have almost 300 islands laid out in simulation of a world map. Stars were rumored to be buying some for homes and investors bought various islands for commercial use — the “Ireland” isle was at one point in development to host villas, an Irish Pub and a recreation of the Giant’s Causeway. Unfortunately, the market’s collapse in 2008 resulted in an almost complete abandonment of the project with no development save for a show home on one of the islands. Nakheel has been building on the mainland while they restructure their billions in debt, and the islands themselves are reported to be slowly eroding back into the sea.

Exploring the world’s tallest structure – the Burj Khalifa

burj khalifaThe tallest building in the world does not appear made for this earth. By day it looks photoshopped into its downtown Dubai surroundings, and by night, the hulking spire looks like a rocket bound for the furthest reaches of our galaxy. And like a giant middle finger to its predecessors in the tallest building club, the structure is a testament to the audacity of Dubai – an idea that, what they build is what they are, and they are going to try and build the best.

While the world economic markets receded, Dubai kept building the beast called Khalifa. At a cost of $1.5 billion and a height of 2,717 feet, it humbles the surrounding skyscrapers in downtown Dubai. It possesses at least fifteen world records. It has the highest restaurant, the most floors, and is also the tallest structure ever built. The Middle East has not been home to the world’s tallest structure since 700 years ago, when the Great Pyramid of Giza was eclipsed by Lincoln Cathedral in England.

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While said to be inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s plans to build a mythical mile-high tower called “The Illinois” in the fifties, the Burj Khalifa is very real, and very original. The foundation for the building is based on the petals of the Hymenocallis flower, and it took 10,000 people from virtually every country in the world to complete the construction project. Named after the president of the United Arab Emirates, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the engineering marvel took over 5 years to build, opening in 2010.

The Burj Khalifa is a mixed use tower with offices, residences, the Armani Hotel, and a restaurant called At.mosphere.

At the Top
The official visitor attraction for the Burj Khalifa is called “At the Top” and begins in Dubai Mall, next to the tower. The experience leads visitors through various multimedia presentations that trace the building of Khalifa. A travelator also cruises through a history of Dubai presentation in much appreciated air conditioning. After passing through some general Burj propaganda that includes the superimposing of the Burj Khalifa in a variety of cities, such as New York, one finally arrives at the elevators that ascend to the observation deck.

burj khalifaThe observation deck is on the 124th floor, and reaching it by elevator takes roughly one minute. At a rate of 59 feet per second, it is the fastest elevator in the world. From the 124th floor the view reaches for miles and miles. All of Dubai looks like some sort of Lego set made by giants, unfinished and reaching for open space. The streets head in no particular direction and other skyscrapers appear tame and arbitrary.

A 360 degree panorama is provided from the observation deck, providing epic views of the city, sea, and desert. On clear days, one can glimpse man-made islands floating in the Arabian gulf. If, by chance, a visitor finds himself aching to buy some gold at this height, thankfully an ATM that distributes gold bars is available. File that under Only in Dubai.

The cost of admission varies. Since this is Dubai, there is an expensive option in addition to regular admission. The “immediate entry” choice costs four times regular admission, but one will be able to skip the line. This option is 400 AED ($108), and regular admission is 100 AED ($27). If time is greater than money, then the “immediate entry” preference is for you. Hours of operation are 10:00am to 12:00am daily. Booking in advance on the Burj Khalifa website is extremely wise.

The Armani Hotel
The Armani Hotel offers hotel rooms and residences in the Burj Khalifa. The first hotel named after fashion magnate Giorgio Armani minimizes all unnecessary aspects of hotel operations, delivering a sleek experience from end to end. The check in desk has been abolished, instead light conversation guides the process along. The desk in a “Classic” guestroom is a cube that one must slowly unfold, opening up an expanse in which to write love letters to minimalist designers. While Giorgio may or may not be a fan of desks, the point is minimalization, and it works wonderfully.

burj khalifa

The colors are neutral, the lines are clean, and everything feels easy. This easiness translates to a feeling of being at home – even in bustling downtown Dubai with the pretension of a designer hotel in the world’s tallest building. To cut through that thick ostentation and provide comfort first is a noteworthy accomplishment. (Also of note, free pencil sharpeners and erasers, festooned with “Armani Hotel Dubai,” are there for those that open the guestroom desk.)

The beds in a hotel named for a fashion designer known for his legendary hand in selecting fabrics better be exceptional. And they are. They may be the most comfortable hotel beds in Dubai, perhaps Asia even. Surely, many morning meetings are missed due to the excessive coziness provided by the floppy soft comforter and cushiony mattress. Long after checking out, two memories linger in the mind of the traveler – the bed and the view. The view is exceptional, especially on the fountain-side. It is definitely worth splurging for a fountain-side room and watching the nightly Dubai Fountain show erupt beneath.

burj khalifa

Pricing for rooms starts at around $450 (after taxes) if booked through an aggregator site like Kayak. The top-end Dubai Suite costs thousands more. The hotel boasts 5 stars, and has an Armani branded on premise spa as well as dining.

At.mosphere
The tallest restaurant in the world is located on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa. This den of gastronomical excellence known as At.mosphere is helmed by Chef Dwayne Cheer. Due to safety issues with cooking at such a height, no gas can be used in the kitchen. Instead, a binchōtan charcoal oven is used. The oven is utilized expertly in preparing amazing dishes such as pan fried fois gras with espresso reduction and amaretto foam as well as seared diver scallops with cauliflower puree and grapefruit grenobloise. At.mosphere was profiled last week here at Gadling.

burj khalifa

The Dubai Fountain
The brilliant designers behind the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas lent their extraordinary talents to a fountain complex directly beneath the Burj Khalifa’s menacing spire. Considered the largest dancing fountain display in the world, the Dubai Fountain covers a distance of 900 feet and shoots water up to 500 feet in the sky. Nightly shows occur every 30 minutes from 6:00pm to 10:00pm on weekdays and until 11:00pm on weekends. The accompanying light show is so bright it can be seen from space. The elaborate fountain cost over $200 million to build.

All photography by Justin Delaney

Support for this program was partially provided by DTCM, with no limits on editorial or photographic content.

Starwood bets on Hollywood allure

What do you do when lenders take over two of your hotels, as your coping with the worst recession in seven decades? Well, if you’re Starwood Hotels, you make a $350 million bet with a single property from your W line. The hotel opened on January 15, 2010, and it’s banking on the reputation of Los Angeles as the center of the entertainment world. Located on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, the new W Hotel hopes to attract star-struck tourists who want to get up close and personal with the movie industry.

The only problem is that fewer and fewer people are heading out to Los Angeles, which is putting a bit of a squeeze on the new property. There’s an opportunity hidden in the situation, however. Carlos Becil, W’s North American vice president, says, “When we come out of this down cycle we’ll own the upswing with all these newer hotels,” Becil said to Bloomberg News.

The financial crisis has been particularly hard on the W chain. The W San Diego was taken back by its lenders after Sunstone Hotel Investors, which had owned the property, couldn’t get the terms of its $65 million securitized mortgage changed. The W New York Union Square was bought by Dubai World in 2006. Well, it missed a payment, which wound up pushing the property onto the auction block back in December. Dubai World also has an interest in the W Washington, D.C., a loan on which is 30 days delinquent. The debt servicer and borrower are working on a solution.

Crisis in Dubai creating fantastic bargains for travelers

After years of building new hotels at a record speed, Dubai is starting to pay the price for overcapacity. Hotel prices in this desert state have already dropped more than 25%.

The average price for a room used to be $305, and in just one month, it dropped to $230. This means that tourists coming to Dubai for a week can save over $500.

Of course, this all has to to do with more than a bit of hotel overcapacity. The recent news about the financial situation of Dubai is helping people consider the destination for their next vacation.

A similar thing happened when Iceland stood on the edge of total financial meltdown. Bad news for one country, means great bargains for others. Unless of course that country is the United States, in which case the government comes up with new and improved ways to scare tourists away.

The Dubai numbers come from the UK division of Hotels.com where they noticed a massive increase in search requests for Dubai hotels. Since Dubai released their doom and gloom financial news, searches for Dubai hotels increased by 570%.

Dubai always wanted to make its money from tourism (it doesn’t have much oil), so perhaps by turning into a budget destination, they’ll finally have their wish granted.