Real-life “White Lotus”: Workers share wildest demands from rich guests
“It’s that blend of access to the unattainable and luxury at its finest,” said Barnabas Carrega, co-founder and CEO of GR8 Group, a “global experience agency” that caters to a super-rich clientele.
How inaccessible and luxurious? Well, for starters, Carrega’s company recently closed the Palace of Versailles to arrange a private dinner for a couple celebrating their 10th anniversary. That’s just the beginning. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s a taste of how the world’s richest people travel in the name of love.
A yellow diamond in a conch shell off Madagascar
For the son of one of her wealthiest clients, Julia Carter, founder of Craft Travel, pulled out all the stops to make an over-the-top proposal to his longtime girlfriend on her trip to Africa. They started with an ultra-luxurious safari in Botswana, then flew privately to Madagascar (about $100,000 round-trip), where they caught a helicopter ($3,200 round-trip) to Miavana, a private island home to 100 species of lemurs , where villas cost $7,000 a night for two guests.
Carter arranged a diving trip for the diving-loving couple, after which they returned to their private boat. There, the customer asked his girlfriend to open a seashell he “found” while swimming. Inside was a yellow diamond ring by Graff. The girlfriend said yes, and the couple toasted with a Ruinart vintage champagne, bottled the year the bride-to-be was born. They are now considering renting out the entire Miavana estate for their wedding, which would cost around $100,000 a night.
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A custom piece performed on a private jet
If you can afford to buy anything on the planet, next is “the desire for something that isn’t available in the mass market,” said Matteo Atti, chief marketing officer of private jet company VistaJet and a professor of luxury business development at the International University of Monaco. “It shows love by showing how much effort you put into making things happen,” he continued, “not just about buying something off the shelf.”
One such demonstration of this ethos was the client who asked to have a bespoke play written for his wife – and performed on board their private jet. “His wife loves theater and he said, ‘I’m going to commission a play,'” Atti said. “We found a group that could perform in small spaces… and they designed and created a piece just for them that only the two of them have ever seen.”
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$25,000 in fireworks for a superyacht birthday
In his 30 years in the yachting industry, a romantic trip for Carl Sputh, a charter broker for Northrop and Johnson and former yacht captain, stands out the most (think triangle of sadness guy). As captain of the Starfire, a 178-foot superyacht, Sputh helped a client organize a surprise for his wife’s 50th birthday during their voyage around the Los Roques Archipelago of Venezuela. “When I say it was in the middle of nowhere, I really mean in the middle of nowhere,” Sputh recalled.
The crew secretly put together a beachside dinner on a private island, brought in firecrackers and a pyrotechnician by seaplane, and transported furniture, food, and decorations to the beach by barge at night. They pulled off the surprise, which included 25 minutes worth of fireworks (about $1,000 a minute). Between the $280,000 for a week on the yacht, $75,000 for dinner on the beach, and $80,000 for general expenses, the birthday trip came to nearly half a million dollars.
Mid-air marriage proposal during a skydive over Mount Everest
Why get on one knee when you can propose while skydiving more than 5,000 feet above Mount Everest? For approximately $80,000, luxury travel company Remote Lands arranged such a proposal, followed by a champagne breakfast at 13,000 feet.
“It’s the tallest mountain in the world, there’s nothing more amazing,” said Catherine Heald, the company’s co-founder and CEO. In addition to the death-defying jump, the American couple – already experienced skydivers, thank God – also spent three days trekking in Nepal and staying at one of Kathmandu’s most luxurious hotels, Dwarika’s.
An Escape to the Serengeti
With an unlimited budget and a week to plan, Hillel Spinner, luxury travel consultant at Embark Beyond, was tasked with finding a “unique and romantic” destination for an ultra-wealthy client to elope with. They chose Tanzania and rented several luxury safari lodges from One Nature Nyaruswiga in the heart of the Serengeti for the couple and their two young children.
They hired a local Maasai guide to lead the ceremony and 20 Maasai dancers to perform afterwards. The children were then flown home and the newlyweds went to Santorini, Greece for a week where they fell in love. Spinner says the pair were thrilled with the trip, which has totaled well into six figures.
Truffle hunting in Tuscany for a buried engagement ring
As co-founder of Roman & Erica, a “lifestyle management firm” for the ultra-rich (annual membership fees start at $100,000), Erica Jackowitz is used to accommodating her clients’ every whim. She was recently given carte blanche to plan a proposal for a client during his upcoming trip to Italy.
She booked them a three-day trip to Florence for around $50,000 with a stay in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze. Jackowitz worked with a team of stylists to plan outfits that suited each moment of the itinerary. The trip culminated with a helicopter ride to Val d’Orcia in southern Tuscany, where the couple went truffle hunting on private property in the town of San Giovanni. The day trip was complicated: Landing permits for the valley — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — were “outrageously expensive,” and Jackowitz arranged for the ring to be buried and discovered by a truffle-hunting dog. The customer said yes.
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A 10th Anniversary (and Proposal) Expedition to Antarctica
To fulfill a client’s girlfriend’s dream, Scott Dunn’s travel curator, Rachael Mendizabal, arranged a trip to South America and Antarctica. The adventure – which cost between $250,000 and $300,000 – began in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, where they hiked, biked, tasted wine and even stargazed with a renowned astronomer.
The journey continued with a flight to King George Island in Antarctica, where they boarded a luxurious expedition yacht equipped with its own helicopter and submarine. They explored with the late mountaineer and author Edward Webster – which was documented by polar photographer Paul Nicklen and a private film crew. To mark the couple’s 10th anniversary, they flew by helicopter to the emperor penguin colony on Snow Hill Island, then to a tubular iceberg, where the client eventually proposed. She said yes, and they toasted with a bottle of vintage champagne from the year they first met.
The Louvre to itself for a suggestion
After years of his girlfriend hinting that Paris was her favorite city, a client came to Kensington Tours’ Adrijana Basic to help him plan a proposal trip. Since the girlfriend was an artist, Basic privatized the Louvre for the occasion. A “donation” of at least 30,000 euros is required to secure the museum.
After the Paris portion of the trip, the couple flew by private jet to the French Riviera to stay at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc’s Villa Eleana, which costs about $14,000 a night. The trip ended with a cruise around the Cote d’Azur aboard the Lionshare, a 130ft luxury yacht.
A nearly $1 million “White Lotus” double anniversary trip
For two couples who are both celebrating their anniversaries, the GR8 Group recently arranged a three week voyage through Sardinia, Greece and Sicily on a 180ft mega yacht. While the outing came with a nearly $1 million price tag, it mixed a mix of high-end and local experiences. For example, they closed Sicily’s ancient Greek theater of Taormina so the couples could have a private dinner and opera performance. Another day, they learned how to bake bread from a family that has been in the business for over 100 years.
“Because in the end,” Carrega said, “we don’t want someone to walk away and say, ‘Oh, I spent a bunch of money on all these luxurious services, but was it really an asset to me?'”