Spending a week on a deserted island is one of those romantic ideas that's better in theory than in practice; sure, the privacy is terrific, but what about the lack of room service and fruity cocktails, not to mention the all-important umbrella?
An excellent compromise is spending a few days at the Peter Island resort, in the British Virgin Islands. Peter Island is a huge private island (1,800 acres) that's about a 20-minute boat ride from Tortola. Half of the island is a yacht club, so expect to see plenty of big boats that belong to members of the Forbes list of the World's Richest People.
The island's owner is no stranger to the list himself. Jay Van Andel, co-founded direct-sales giant Amway with high school friend Richard DeVos in 1959, and bought the island in September 2000, having been a guest there over the years. Forbes estimates that the 78-year-old Van Andel, who also owns the NBA's Orlando Magic, is worth $1.5 billion. (DeVos is slightly richer, with a fortune of $1.7 billion.)
The resort itself occupies one section of a peninsula, but most of the island is left untouched. No cars are allowed on Peter Island and young children are discouraged from coming. The hotel staff zooms around on golf carts so there's no noise apart from the sound of tropical birds chirping and glasses clinking from the outdoor bar.
Guests are met at the airport by Peter Island staff, and then are whisked off on Peter Island's private ferry. The boat runs all day so guests who have cabin fever or simply want to explore Tortola have an easy way to island-hop.
The beach is right outside your window
The best rooms on Peter Island are the beachfront cottages, located on Deadman's Bay, the main beach that has the water activities as well as the all-important bar. The cottages are painted green to blend in with the hilly backdrop, and the interiors use natural materials such as stone and wood. With their wood-paneled walls and pitched ceilings, the rooms have the cozy feel and look of a boathouse. The gigantic bathrooms have two-person Jacuzzi tubs and are enclosed in glass, so you can relax in the bath and still have an ocean view (and yes, there are blinds for the bathroom-shy). Each room has a balcony or a terrace; the lower-level cottages lead directly to a grassy lawn with a hammock, and the beach is just steps away. None of the rooms have televisions.
A row of cottages are also available near the marina, and while they are similar to the beachfront rooms in terms of space, the décor is more traditionally Caribbean, with wicker furniture and brightly colored bedspreads. Peter Island also has several stand-alone villas that are available for rent, such as the Hawk's Nest Villa and the Crow's Nest Villa. Two more homes are under construction and will be available in December 2003. With only 52 guest rooms, the resort never has more than 116 people so it never feels crowded.
Most guests will spend their time on Deadman's Beach, which has a long, crescent-shaped beach as well as the casual Deadman's Beach restaurant, which serves lunch and dinner. Guests can eat in the open-air pavilion or on tables set up on the beach, so your toes can be in the sand as you dive into burgers and Carib beer. Most water-sport activities are complimentary, and guests can take their pick from sea kayaks, windsurfers and snorkeling gear. Guided snorkeling tours are also available daily.
Exterior of a beach cottage
The most secluded beach on Peter Island is the aptly named Honeymoon Beach, where only one couple is allowed at a time. The resort can also pack a picnic lunch for couples looking to spend a good portion of their day there. If Honeymoon Beach is booked, White Bay Beach is an excellent alternative. Guests must take a shuttle to the beach, and it has only four thatched roof hut umbrellas; there's a good chance that the beach will be empty or there will only be a handful of people there. When guests are ready to come back (or are getting too sunburned), the beach has a handy phone box to contact the front desk, so there's no waiting around for a shuttle.
The most formal restaurant at Peter Island is Tradewinds, and gentlemen are asked to wear long pants and collared shirts after 6:00 P.M. (While the dress code is pretty relaxed, guests should always cover up.) The food is mostly Caribbean and West Indies-inspired, so expect jerk chicken along with blackened grouper or grilled swordfish. Deadman's Beach restaurant also has a wood-burning oven, and the pizzas are excellent. Meat lovers will be pleased with the large selection of lamb and steak dishes at both restaurants.
Guests staying more than a few days should take advantage of the daily excursions, such as trips to the Baths of Virgin Gorda, which are dramatic rock formations. Mountain bikes are also available to zoom around the island, and there are also tennis courts and a spa. Golfers can sign up for trips to St. Thomas. But if you're like most visitors to Peter Island, you'll spend your days simply strolling between your room and the beach, and the biggest decision you will have to make is deciding which of the two restaurants you want to have dinner in.