Fantasy islands: vacation like a celebrity

Want to hang with Bill Gates or J. Lo? Two tropical paradises make it possible - without breaking the bank.

Bill Gates’ love nest

If the past few years of being Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous in room 2001 at yet another all-inclusive resort has lost its appeal, maybe it’s time you considered a more exclusive sunspot ? the type of place where you might see Bill Gates striding past the driving range or Janet Jackson swinging to a reggae beat. What’s that, you say? You can’t afford to drop $1,000 a night on some over-the-top movie star’s retreat? Not to worry. Here’s how to holiday where the celebrities hang out ? without cashing in your RRSP.

Massive investments in the early 1990s transformed the tiny speck known as Lana?i from a Dole pineapple plantation into Hawaii’s most exclusive island. This green and blue tropical paradise off Maui’s west coast now boasts two glamorous resorts ? the Lodge at Koele (named the world’s best golf resort by Condé Nast Traveler magazine)and Manele Bay (No. 4 in the same ranking). How special are these sister properties? For his nuptials, Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, reserved the entire 250-room Manele Bay resort and vowed “I do” on the cliffside 12th hole of The Challenge golf course.

As you might have surmised, these properties, with room rates starting at $400 per night (all prices in U.S. dollars) aren’t for paupers. Fortunately, those of us who lack Gates’ deep pockets can enjoy much the same experience as he did for a quarter the cost by staying at the funky 11-room Hotel Lana?i. Prices at this homey inn start at $105 per night for a standard room, including continental breakfast. (1-800-795-7211; You get a dose of history thrown in for free. Built in 1923 by pineapple entrepreneur James Dole, Hotel Lana?i was designed to serve as lodging for the plantation’s executives. Its rooms, all with private baths, offer comfortable furnishings, Hawaiian quilts and ceiling fans, but think cozy rather than spectacular. Where this hotel shines is its food. I rate its restaurant, Henry Clay’s Rotisserie, as the finest on Lana?i.

The best part of all? Guests of Hotel Lana?i can hop a free shuttle to Manele and Koele and enjoy complimentary use of the executive putting green at the Lodge or a swim on Manele’s beach. You have signing privileges at both properties and are free to explore as you choose. With its idyllic snorkeling beach, lush gardens and sunset torch-lighting ceremony, Manele will fulfill your fantasies of what a tropical resort should be. Or visit the Lodge at Koele for a complete change of style. Located in a cooler upcountry location, its Great Hall with overstuffed leather chairs and stone fireplaces looks and feels like a Colorado mountain lodge.

Even duffers should consider splurging on a round of golf at one of these resorts’ two gorgeous and world-renowned courses. Once you’ve mastered The Challenge at Manele Bay, designed by Jack Nicklaus, jump on the shuttle over to the Lodge at Koele,where The Experience, a Greg Norman/Ted Robinson design, lures players around its pine-covered hills and dramatic gorges. Both tracts are so meticulously manicured, you’d swear someone vacuumed the fairways. Of course, if the greens fees at those courses ($225 for non-resort guests) are too daunting, you can always take a swing at the nine-hole Cavendish Golf Course, a no-frills public facility where visitors leave a donation in an honor box. Mind you there’s no clubhouse, no tee times, no carts and no scorecards. Just show up and join the locals.

John Travolta flew his family to Manele on his private jet. A cheaper and more scenic way to get to paradise is to board the Expeditions ferry ($25 each way) for the 60-minute crossing from Lahaina Harbor on Maui to Lana?i. You’ll be escorted by whales and bottlenose dolphins.

J. Lo’s hideaway

If you’re looking for casinos, all-inclusive resorts, shopping malls and fast-food franchises, you’ve come to the wrong island. Anguilla (rhymes with vanilla) has the laid-back ambience of the Caribbean before cruise ships and mass tourism. Electricity only came here in the 1980s, but today luxury villas cater to the whims of regular visitors such as J. Lo, Robert de Niro and Janet Jackson. Those stars are reputed to love the island’s kickback-and-relax mentality.

Chances are you’ll be struck by the same friendly attitude. On many Caribbean islands, histories of grand plantations and slavery created bitter racial politics and seething resentment. But Anguilla’s rocky limestone soil proved such a failure at growing sugar and cotton that plantation owners couldn’t afford to keep their slaves. So the freed slaves acquired their own land and fended for themselves. Hence there’s no class system and a refreshing absence of social tension.

There is also, to be honest, a lack of foliage. Locals call the island The Rock and the title is fitting. Unlike its lush West Indian neighbors, Anguilla is dry and flat with scrubby vegetation that sustains herds of wild goats, but not much else. On the other hand, the island’s 30-plus pristine beaches, all open to the public, are among the best in the world.

I spent a week checking out accommodations along Anguilla’s 25-km length and five-km width. At Rendezvous Bay, on the south coast of the island, I had three km of sugary sand and aquamarine sea almost to myself. From April to mid-December, rooms start at $100 per night; suites with kitchens, sleeping up to five, go for $195 and up. On Sunday nights the alfresco Cedar Grove Café serves up a West Indian buffet and live local music. Tennis courts, sailboats and kayaks make this resort ideal for families (264-497-6549;

On the north coast, Carimar, on Meads Bay (264-497-6881;, rents one-bedroom apartments in villas with kitchens starting from $175 per night from mid-November to mid-December. No, you won’t have a butler, but you will be able to frolic on a blissful beach, practically next door to where J. Lo and Beyoncé fork out as much as $50,000 a week for five-bedroom villas. To make the deal even sweeter, Carimar accepts Canadian dollars at par.

There’s a slew of other accommodations available. To view some of the options, visit, operated by the Anguilla Hotel and Tourism Association, and bid on one of the donated prizes. Four nights with breakfast at Cap Juluca ( was a recent offering with a minimum bid of $400. Rumor has it that Janet Jackson hangs out at this luxurious haven, voted the top hotel in the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Bahamas by Travel + Leisure magazine readers. The two-km beach is studded with Moorish-inspired villas that start at $345 per night.

What is there to do in Anguilla? Tennis, diving and dominoes(the national pastime) are prime daytime activities, while nightlife is more about sandals and cut-offs than evening gowns. You’ll find a live band at the Pumphouse, a local landmark, most nights. Or check out Bankie Banx, a local musician, who performs at The Dune Preserve, a beach shack that looks like the aftermath of a hurricane. (Kevin Bacon is apparently a barefooted regular.) At Gwen’s Reggae Grill beach bar, $10 gets you a heaping plate of slow-barbecued ribs with salad and rice; an additional $3 buys you a Carib beer and the opportunity to spend the afternoon destressing in a beachside hammock.

Getting to Anguilla involves flying Air Transat to St. Martin, then hopping a ferry for a half-hour ride. The island has no bus system so you should count on renting a car (about $250 per week, plus $30 for a temporary license). People drive on the left side, but you’ll find the transition easier to handle than you think. After all, the island has only two stoplights and almost no traffic, except for those wild goats. The average speed limit is 60 km/h. Sound like your speed?