Isn't it amazing the way the luxury market has exploded over the past several years? This magazine is a perfect example. Look at the price of the diamond earrings on page such-and-such ($30,000). Or the car a couple of pages later ($320,000). But I suppose both make perfect sense, as they are being sold to the person who just bought the house in the back pages for $13 million. And all this in a magazine that 12 years ago was mostly ads for produce stands and body shops.
All the money made during the '90s has produced new spending patterns among the wealthy. What sets rich people apart these days is not so much how they look or what they drive, but the way they seek out expensive personal services and the exclusiveness that only isolation can bring.
Not surprisingly, these services are popping up like mushrooms. Every day, press releases cross my desk for the latest all-condo cruise liner (apartments starting at $3 million) or jet-sharing service (shares begin at $250,000) or unique trips (deluxe suite on the Queen Mary to Europe, return by private jet, $99,995 for two). Some of the more politically conscious staff members look at these and say, "What wretched excess." I look at them and say, "What a good buy."
Let's examine one in detail and I'll show you what I mean. I'll choose Musha Cay in the Bahamas because it's the archetypal private island, the sort of place celebrities go to get married without the prying eyes of the paparazzi. It has the reputation of being at the top of its class, and besides, I just went there. Granted, it was a press trip, but when I'm in my luxury-sampling mode I leave no stone unturned. I was able to get a very clear idea of what you get for your money.
First of all, try to get past the "celebrity" thing. If you're like me, your problem is not being stared at in public, at least as long as you're not wearing black socks with shorts. And while Musha Cay (pronounced, of course, "key") can guarantee total privacy and discretion (staff members have to sign confidentiality agreements and do get fired for talking to reporters), it's also perfect for those of us not in the public eye.
Examples: a successful hedge-fund manager celebrating his 50th birthday, or the 75th birthday of a beloved-and generous-family patriarch. A once-in-a-lifetime wedding anniversary. The family reunion of a rich family that can actually tolerate each other for a week or so. Or a board of directors meeting that packs a wallop of a perk-and allows for top-secret business discussions around the pool, in the bar...
The cost per week is a little over $300,000. Pricey, yes, but here's what you get: a 150-acre island in the best part of the Bahamas, with unparalleled natural beauty-perfect white-sand beaches (seven of them) with crystal-clear blue water; gourmet food, all wine and liquor included; there's a pool, jet skis, wind surfing, all sorts of boats to use, snorkeling, scuba diving; satellite TV, and you can telephone anywhere in the world; golf carts to get around in; and a staff of 30 that tidies up every time you leave your room.
The weekly rate includes you and up to 23 guests. There are five villas spread around the property. Pier House and Blue Point have two bedrooms and share an expansive common room and kitchen. Palm Terrace has five bedrooms and is perfect for families. And Highview is the grand manor house, lording over it all with 10,000 square feet. It has two master suites, and I peeked in at the one in which Oprah stayed. It was as big as a house and had his-and-hers bathrooms, with a shared verandah and a hot tub in an air-conditioned glass-enclosed room that overlooks a spectacular view of the islands to the south. Don't worry; they're also owned by Musha, so there won't be paparazzi with telephoto lenses, an important consideration for not just Oprah but Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Kevin Spacey and Robin Williams, all of whom have stayed here, but not all at the same time. (Now that would be a picture.)
And then there's the Beach House, which is where I stayed. It's way off by itself, with a thatched living room, a completely private beach that demands skinny dipping, and a sybaritic outdoor bathroom that was great fun and certainly a cut above the outdoor bathroom at my uncle's fishing camp.
The style of the architecture and décor is a sort of Bahamian version of Architectural Digest or Elle Décor. Everything is top-quality and imported, beautifully designed and finished. How nice is it? Bill Gates stayed here, and he brought along the Buffetts-Warren and Jimmy. To me that says it all.
I grilled Dawn, the manager, about the ins and outs of making your stay on Musha all it can be. Chances are she and your personal assistant will spend several days faxing and talking on the phone, arranging your food preferences and the evenings' entertainments and special extras-like fireworks, a frequent request.
If you're arriving on your own plane, it will probably fly into Georgetown in Great Exuma, and then you'll transfer to a smaller prop plane for the short trip to the landing strip on adjoining Cut Rudder Cay. If you want, you can keep a plane at the airstrip "just in case," as one family with a 91-year-old grandfather did. One of Musha's big attractions is its proximity to the States. If you're off in the Seychelles or somewhere, yes, it's quite nice and all-but if you have to be back suddenly for that hostile takeover or grand-jury indictment, well, 30 hours on a jet, even a private one, is no picnic.
Dawn can arrange to have a yoga or Pilates instructor there, or you can bring your own, and there's a gym overlooking the water (air-conditioned, of course). Golf is a tiny bit of a problem; you have to fly to a nearby course.
You'll certainly want to do some exploring. This part of the Bahamas is full of private yachts, and it's fun to sail over to Staniel Cay (population 80), with its archetypal "cheeseburger in paradise" bar and grill. On the same trip we stopped for snorkeling at Thunderball Cay, where they have a grotto full of colorful fish, which you have to swim through a little cave to reach. There's another nearby island where some very nice pigs live. They see a boat arriving and they run down to the water and splash in the surf while you feed them Oreos.
Musha Cay will remind you of Caneel Bay or the Four Seasons in Nevis, but with one big difference. It hit me when I was driving the golf cart over to breakfast at the Landings, where they have a bar and dining room. I rode past the pool that's right on the beach. The sand was freshly raked, the jet skis were sitting in a row, the water sparkling in the sun. But something was wrong. I couldn't put my finger on it. Then I realized: There was no one there. At Caneel Bay the place would already be full of strangers fighting over lounge chairs. But Musha Cay-it was mine, all mine! At least for the rest of the week.