A decade ago, when Anne Scully of McCabe Travel predicted villas would be the next big thing in travel, nobody took her seriously. “I was on a panel with some of the top people in the travel industry—CEOs, leaders of businesses—and I said, ‘Villas are going to be the new hottest thing,’” she remembers. At the time, the rest of the panel dismissed her. But looking back, Scully says, “I was so correct.”
It’s true—villa vacations have taken off, particularly in the Caribbean, where clients can live out their fantasies of leaving it all behind for a breezy beachfront cottage far from civilization. And what’s more, they can do it without forgoing the benefits of modern living because in many cases, they’ve upgraded to standards of luxury they’ve never experienced in a traditional hotel or resort. Don’t let the large weekly price tag discourage you—done right, these high-end gems can work out to be a bargain.
a room of one’s own Some of the first marketable villas in the Caribbean were located in Mustique, Scully says. “They’re the most famous villas ever built in the Caribbean. They were famous in Europe before Americans knew they existed.” Mustique’s market mainly targeted British celebrities, people like Mick Jagger and members of the royal family—people for whom a vacation just wasn’t a vacation unless they could escape completely from their lives in the public eye back home.
Today, Mustique is still a high-end, celebrity-spotting destination, Scully says. But it’s one that’s within reach for more clients than ever before. “We have clients that go year after year, a group of friends that get together,” she explains. “The villas now are very democratic. Each bedroom has a bath in-suite. So you can put four or five couples in a villa—a villa that comes with staff, cars, and all that—with five bedrooms that all match. It’s become very popular among couples and friends traveling together, because you can go and nobody’s burdened with a bad bedroom.”
The equal vacation experience, added to the incredible value of Mustique’s villas, make them a steal for groups traveling together, she continues. “For $30,000 a week, divided by five couples, it was $6,000 per couple for this mansion with a cook, a maid, a house manager or butler, if you will, and cars. [In the beginning], it was the best deal in the world for high-end luxury.”
Gradually, the villa trend expanded beyond The Grenadines, to other relatively undeveloped Caribbean islands. Jessica Griscavage, another Caribbean expert at McCabe Travel, says destinations like Virgin Gorda, where hotel and resort options are a bit slimmer than in other parts of the Caribbean, are particularly well-suited for villa vacations. “It’s great for a couple who can’t afford a suite at a five-star resort,” she explains. “They still have so much space.” And villas aren’t just for romantic getaways, either. “They’re also great for young families, where the parents don’t want to have to spend money on a full breakfast when all they need is milk and cereal. Most of the villas come with pools, so kids can keep themselves entertained.” In fact, Griscavage says when she’s booking villas for families with young kids, she searches specifically for properties with fencing around the pool—an added security measure you likely won’t find in a resort.
And the economic benefits haven’t diminished. According to Shauna Sacco, v.p., Caribbean product for GOGO Worldwide Travel, the biggest factor in villas’ popularity is, “The value for the money. If you’re getting a larger group of people to go down to the Caribbean, renting a villa is like renting a house down at the shore.” Of course, the benefits of having your own private space helps, she says, “…especially if you have kids. Families with infants and smaller children go that route because it’s so much easier.”
The market for stand-alone villas has expanded so much in recent years that there’s a villa out there for virtually any traveler. Among Scully’s favorites are Mustique’s “democratically designed” villas, as well as Roaring Pavilion, widely considered to be Jamaica’s most luxurious villa. In addition to being one of the only villas in the world with its own onsite spa facility with a spa attendant, the villa also enjoys a famous location right on “James Bond Beach,” just outside Ocho Rios, site of the scene in “Dr. No” when Ursula Andress emerges from the waves. Spanning a full 5,000 sq. ft., the villa comes with a 9-person staff including a chef and butler, as well as four bedrooms with marble bathrooms and a large, breezy pavilion looking out to a lagoon-style infinity pool. Managed by Jamaican Treasures, Royal Pavilion’s all-inclusive rates start at $5,000 per day and include a car and driver, all meals, airport transfers from Montego Bay and a complete spa menu.