“My island for your boat.” – in the early 1920s William K. Vanderbilt knew he had made a great deal when he traded his 250-foot-yacht, The Eagle, for Fisher Island and the elite privacy that this winter retreat would provide. The deal had been Carl Fisher’s idea. Fisher had purchased the island from Dana A. Dorsey, one of America’s first African-American millionaires. Fisher, whom some considered part entrepreneur and part huckster, also was the successful developer of Miami Beach.
Life in the Gilded Age consisted of lavish parties consuming leisure hours. On the island, that tradition continues. Uber private and only accessible by ferry, yacht, helicopter or sea plane, this exclusive 200-acre island is an oasis onto its own. Encompassing more than 700 villa-like condos and free-standing homes, on the island resides an international community.
Every wish is within easy reach by golf cart. Championship golf and tennis with clubhouses, two deep-water marinas, a beach with another clubhouse, the island has its own post office, firehouse, astronomical observatory, gourmet market, restaurants and a day school that teaches Mandarin to residents’ children are all on the island, within minutes of Miami Beach.
I felt excited for the opportunity to explore this private paradise with one of the country’s most expensive zip codes. In 2010, Fisher Island had the highest per capita income in the U.S.
Boarding Fisher Island’s private ferry, I was reminded of present-day security.
“Is it Stewart?”
“No, Stuart,” I said, spelling it. Thank goodness I’d brought my driver’s license.
“And the purpose of your visit?” asked the guard as he scrutinized my ID. “And you are only staying for one night, correct? … I’ll have to call to verify your invitation.”
I doubted Billy Vanderbilt’s friends had to endure these questions.
Despite inconvenience, the scrutiny was worth it – think lush tropical paradise, banyan trees, wandering peacocks and a beautiful villa. Fisher Island Hotel and Resort offers a select 45 villas and is included as a member of the prestigious Leading Hotels of the World. The courtyard sports its very own outdoor sunken hot tub surrounded by lounging chairs providing that “private getaway.”
With the mansion showing its age, a redo was a must. Following a competition, Hirsch Bedner Associates, an award-winning top global hospitality design firm, won the opportunity. Think restoration, not replacement. And $60 million later, it was evident that HBA painstakingly had paid homage to details and restored the mansion to its former glory. Historic elements were kept intact – bronze-framed windows, marble fireplaces, antique European oak and mahogany paneling. Back to its original grandeur, the mansion continues to be part of the private club, hosting special functions and galas, along with several restaurants.
Other island amenities also received a facelift – guest cottages, tennis courts (18 courts on grass, clay and hard court surfaces), Spa Internazionale and the newly revamped seaside golf course. Impeccably manicured and designed by Pete Dye, The Links, surrounded by panoramic views of the Miami skyline, is one of the top 10 9-hole courses in the U.S., having hosted several national PGA and Senior Tours.
Dye wasn’t exaggerating when he said there are 18 holes of design features all within nine holes. The course proved to be a challenging but fun par 35. My favorite hole was No. 7 – a par 4 that plays along Miami’s shipping channel where cruise ships, yachts and barges sail, providing a fun and beautiful distraction from tee to green.
With its mix of Old World elegance and contemporary touches, the restored Fisher Island Hotel and Resort continues to be synonymous with privacy and exclusivity, the ultimate resort vacation that exudes opulence and style. Live like a Vanderbilt!