Lori Hyde was hunting for a unique vacation experience when her curiosity was piqued by Pretty Joe Rock, a tiny speck of land in the waters off Marathon in the Florida Keys with just enough room for a two-bedroom home and a few clusters of mangroves.
She and her husband spent a week on the petite island in February, relaxing and enjoying each other's company, with no one else around but the resident birds.
"I was looking for a rental that would be private so that came up as I was searching around and we were like, well it can't get much more private than that," said Hyde, 43, a stay-at-home mom who lives in Woodbridge, Virginia.
"It's not an exclusive sort of thing. We're just ordinary people who just did something cool."
Indeed, the idea of renting a private island usually conjures up images of multimillionaires spending a fortune to jet off to a tropical paradise in the Caribbean or the South Pacific. If you have a lot of money to shell out, the possibilities are endless.
But while a big budget will give you more options and luxurious accommodations, you don't have to be rich to rent your own island for a vacation. It can sometimes take as little as a few hundred dollars a week, a sense of adventure and the willingness to look at locations closer to home.
The island mystique
Pretty Joe Rock
Pretty Joe Rock, for example, can be yours for under $3,000 a week, which includes the use of a boat to get you to and from the island. Owner Bob Rainek said he gets a broad spectrum of renters, from blue collar to white collar; from families with kids to couples.
"It's almost a universal thing that people have this romantic kind of feeling for islands," Rainek said. "It's a mystique to be on your own private island, to have water 360 degrees [around you.] It's a primal type emotion, as I look at it."
Business has been brisk despite the economy, partly because people who might otherwise go to Mexico for a vacation have been scared off by that country's drug-related violence and are looking for something exotic closer to home, Rainek said. He was proud to tout the Florida Keys, which he called "America's Caribbean," as an alternative.
Some of the most popular places to rent islands may surprise you. They include the northern United States and Canada, said Chris Krolow, the CEO of Private Islands Inc., a company based in Toronto, Ontario, that has about 200 islands for rent all over the world in its database.
Clients come from all walks of life, spending as little as $550 for a week on Republic Island in Michigan (which comes with a log cabin) or more than $66,000 for a week on The Rania Experience in the Maldives (which comes with three villas, a private chef, a yacht and other ultra-luxurious touches.)
'Robinson Crusoe' experience
For something in between, a budget of several thousand dollars a week is usually a good start.
"We're even finding more and more people who are saving and planning a honeymoon on an island. It's a little bit more expensive than what they had originally planned but it seems to be a growing trend," Krolow said.
"It's probably the most romantic experience that you could ever imagine just being on this tiny island with the person that you just married."
You can choose a self-catering island, which gives you the use of a home but requires you to bring your own food and make your own meals (the less expensive option), or a full-service island that comes with a staff, according to Vladi Private Islands, a company based in Hamburg, Germany. Its database of about 150 islands for rent includes everything from Île de Chantemesle near Paris, France, to Forsyth Island, New Zealand.
Some people seek the thrill of being dropped off in a remote place that's completely undeveloped. On "Robinson Crusoe" islands, you are left to your own devices, make your own meals, bring a tent or hammock and anything else you may need, the company said. Nova Scotia, Canada, is one part of the world that offers such opportunities, added Sabine Rollinger, a Vladi spokeswoman.
Krolow recalled a CEO who last year spent 10 days on a deserted spot in the Marshall Islands bonding with his 13-year-old son.
"It's pretty much the closest you'll get to being stranded on your own private island," Krolow said.
Spending a lot or a little
Necker IslandOn the other end of the spectrum, there's Necker Island, Sir Richard Branson's 74-acre paradise in the British Virgin Islands complete with luxurious accommodations and a large staff.
It's all yours for at least $53,000 a night for up to 28 guests, though you can rent individual rooms for a fraction of that price during a select few "Celebration Weeks."
YouTube: See what $53,000 a day gets you on Necker Island
It may sound like the ultimate getaway, but people who are looking for that private island feel might be a little disappointed by such a huge resort, Krolow said.
And if the idea of having an island all too yourself is too expensive or intimidating, you can try one with a single lodge or hotel perched on top, like the quaint five-room bed-and-breakfast on East Brother Light Station near San Francisco, California. Starting at about $300 a night, it's an island stay that's both private and not too hard on the wallet.
Whatever your budget, an island may be waiting.
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