A Resort of One's Own

Article excerpt

Byline: Sana Butler

In pursuit of privacy, some travelers are renting out entire hotels for their friends and families.

When the Grand Hotel Quisisana on Italy's Isle of Capri booked a 50-room reservation last year for a 60th-birthday celebration, it naturally expected the guests to spend the night after they finished dancing in the ballroom. Instead, the birthday boy charged the $830,000 bill to his credit card--and when the party ended, the 100-plus guests boarded the yachts that had brought them from Naples. "They just used the rooms to get dressed and change," says hotel director Alessio Lazazzera.

Forget a sit-down dinner in a private restaurant room. Unfazed by the credit crunch and economic turndown, today's wealthy elite are renting entire hotels, taking over resorts and booking every room on a cruise ship to guarantee that ultimate luxury: complete privacy for themselves and their guests. The entire party often travels by private jet or yacht, and the only thing expected of them is that they have a good time at the host's expense. "If you can afford it, you want to be in an environment where there are no strangers," says Fred Varnier, general manager of the Amanpuri Phuket resort, which occasionally rents out all 30 pavilions and 40 private villas for $100,000 a day to certain discreet parties. "They don't want to let their hair down around people they don't know."

In the past, such all-expenses-paid extravaganzas typically took place only for weddings or extended family reunions. But now the growing ranks of the young and wealthy, as well as rich retirees who realize they can't take their fortunes with them, are booking entire venues for less momentous occasions. At Rome's Cavalieri Hotel, an American couple recently booked 48 of the 370 rooms for a toga party. For $140,000, the Ritz-Carlton New York can arrange a one-night "Friends With Money" package, which includes 15 executive suites with views of the city skyline or the Statue of Liberty and fireworks for 32 guests. A Russian oil tycoon blocked all 25 rooms onboard a Bora Bora cruise in March, inviting friends who had never been to Tahiti.

Sometimes people rent an entire hotel and leave most of it empty; a retired investment banker reserved the Hotel Rosa Alpina, a 50-room mountain retreat in the Dolomites, for 18 friends to celebrate his wife's 50th birthday, with helicopter rides to Venice, massages in heated tents and a two-star Michelin chef on call for picnic lunches. …