Summer is here, which means it's officially wedding season-which means it's also honeymoon season.
Lining up a dream postnuptial vacation can be just as high-stakes as planning the big day itself - especially complicated, it turns out, if you are a billionaire.
Nobody knows that better than the planning team at Ovation Vacations, a leisure travel consultancy for ultrahigh-net-worth individuals - media moguls, real estate tycoons, financiers, movie stars, talk show hosts, and pro athletes. The team of 30 agents plans more than 200 honeymoons a year, at an average of $50,000 per trip. That's almost $1 million in honeymoon bookings each month.
Ovation's president, Jack Ezon, handles handling client requests from the practical to the absurd. By the end of my second day in a consulting crash course with Ezon and his team, I had arranged a couple's hard-to-get dinner reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro (of "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" fame), booked a private meet-and-greet with the pope (for a Jewish man, no less) and helped organize a transatlantic charter flight for a sheik's bird.
But wait, there's more ...
Someone Has to Carry the Meat
After signing a nondisclosure agreement, your first rite of passage is to travel with the meat: The agency's clients include many kosher and halal travelers (along with plenty of picky eaters), and one of the most common requests Ovation fields is to have specific cuts of beef flown from a client's U.S. butcher to the other side of the globe.
The title of T-bone chaperone always goes to the agency's most junior planner, whose unenviable task is to lug the filets through airport security in chilled briefcases, then onto a commercial jet and the desired hotel kitchen. Cooking the meat can be exacting, too: One planner, Amy, has received paint swatches in the mail from a traveler showing precisely how medium-rare he wanted his steak.
I processed a request from a new client who wanted his al dente pasta boiled for an exact number of minutes. One pop star client fulfilled the stereotype by requesting freshly picked dragonfruit every morning for her daily "pink drink" smoothie ... in Iceland. The local authority had strict regulations against the importation of exotic produce, so Ezon had to volley test fruits with the Icelandic government for weeks before securing customs approval.
Celebrities Aren't the Only Ones With a Dreaded Rider
Riders are compiled for every one of Ovation's honeymooners, often very complex. On the manageable end, particularities range from specific plies of toilet paper to strange bed-making methods (two top sheets, with the duvet covering only the bottom half of the mattress, for example). One newlywed visiting the Seychelles would drink only Fiji water; a crate was flown in to supply her nightly. Another wanted Elchim hair dryers everywhere she went, including far-flung Laos and Sri Lanka. Once, Ezon was provided with a typed list of 16 condom types a new husband wanted stocked in his minibar.
Sometimes the requests are so massive that construction crews get involved. For a five-night trip, one prominent television actor paid $40,000 to have her hotel bathroom's granite sink lifted 7 inches higher, so she wouldn't have to bend over when washing her face. A husband recently spent $80,000 to have a 210-foot yacht completely carpeted, so his new wife could wear her stilettos on board instead of having to-gasp!-go barefoot.
Sometimes You've Got to Build the Beach
Why customize the perfect hotel room if you can't do the same for the beach? That's what Ezon's team did when one couple's dream Caribbean vacation in a presidential villa with a small private beach was nearly destroyed by a storm that permanently washed away the seafront. The planning team hired a motorcade of dump trucks to move sand in from another part of the island, for $50,000.
One agent, Christiana, recently traveled to a St. Lucia resort with a strict first-come policy for use of their chaise lounges. It had refused Christiana's client's offer to buy the entire beach, so Christiana checked in to the resort and claimed the best beachside seats for them before sunrise each morning.
Most Wishes Can Be Granted ... Unless They'll Land You in Jail
"We'll do anything for our clients as long as it's legal in the country they're visiting," says Ezon, who says he has fielded only one request for a prostitute in his 18 years of honeymoon planning. There have been asks for cocaine and even money laundering-both a hard no-but most of the boundary-pushing demands tend to revolve around exclusive experiences. Tickets to the Vanity Fair Oscars after-party are low-hanging fruit. More impressively, Ezon has organized an overnight at Versailles for honeymooners who wanted to sleep in King Louis XIV's bed. He also arranged a meet-and-greet with Vladimir Putin (no Trumps were involved). Within two hours of joining the agent team, I was on the phone with the Vatican, sorting out the logistics of having the pope marry an interfaith couple on their elopement-cum-honeymoon.
There Is Crisis Management, Around the Clock
Two consultants are on call for every trip to ensure that travelers get a near-instantaneous response to any on-the-ground emergency, a service that about 80 percent of Ovation's travelers use. Typical requests range from restaurant reservation alterations to complete itinerary overhauls, such as if the forecast calls for eight days of rain.
But sometimes trips go wildly awry, as when a couple got stuck behind a car accident on the way to the Paris airport. Ezon arranged for four motorbikes to pick them up in the middle of the highway (two for the travelers, two for their luggage) and zip them between gridlocked vehicles to make their flight.
Sometimes a hurricane blows through, or a bride trips and falls on her private jet to Miami and chips a tooth. In the latter case, by the time her plane had landed, Amy had booked a cosmetic dentist-and not the one recommended by the bride's high-end hotel, who turned out to be a registered sex offender.
"Emergency" can be a relative word, though. One recent newlywed who unexpectedly needed to re-up her supply of feminine hygiene products was too embarrassed to tell her husband or the hotel front desk. So the planning team had an on-the-ground contact visit a local bakery and stuff the goods inside a baguette that was delivered directly to her room.
Some Honeymooners Are Good at Finding Their Own Trouble
There have, perhaps predictably, been instances of the honeymooners getting woefully out of hand. Ezon explains: "At Ovation we adhere to the same credo as Ritz-Carlton: 'We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen,' and there is a line that clients can cross when it comes to gentlemanly behavior." The wife who hurled dishes at her server when he forgot to bring her Tabasco for her eggs? Yeah, she's been put on the agency's very polite blacklist. Racist comments are another hard no-no-as is making a pass at a spa therapist, even if you don't bellow "Don't you know who I am?" when she rebuffs.
And Sometimes It's Trouble in Paradise
Remember when Britney Spears married and divorced Jason Alexander within 55 hours? Some of Ezon's clients have had their marriages go bust even faster. Just 36 hours into their Maldives honeymoon, one couple decided to call it off-turns out he hadn't cut some illicit habits as promised. The bride was flown out in a jiff. The groom stayed and requested some professional "company." Escorting is strictly illegal in the island nation, so Ovation put him on a four-hour flight to Bangkok and set him up with a "nightl ife guide" instead.
One wife rang Ovation to add her hairdresser to the upcoming trip roster, so she could look photo-ready on a series of big nights out. But after Ezon arranged the ticket and hotel room, he received a call from the husband requesting that the extra booking be canceled. As it turned out, he was having an affair with his wife's stylist: Fredrick. (The honeymoon went on as planned.)
Three's Not a Crowd
Asking your hair stylist along on a trip is common for Ovation's clients-many request the presence of their most trusted helpers, even on a honeymoon. To some high-profile travelers, it's not privacy unless it's shared with a security detail to keep the paparazzi at bay; others just like having their housekeepers, makeup artists, trainers, and personal chefs around. One couple paid $2,250 per day to accommodate a trio of German clinicians who could administer intravenous vitamin B-12 solutions to cure their Champagne hangovers.
Sometimes those extra travelers aren't even human. Honeymooners who can't live (for five days) without their dogs have been known to splurge on suites with extra bedrooms, massages, gourmet food, and even custom-built hotel furniture. As for the second-most common companion creature? Falcons. Christiana has booked several birds of prey on long-haul flights-they're allowed on Emirates and Etihad without a handler, she says, as long as you book them a $21,055 first-class suite. "If you put a cloth over their heads, they remain docile for the journey," Christiana added.
Adding Up the Tab
Ovation has a honeymoon minimum of $20,000, though prices quickly escalate into six figures-especially as private flights are added to the mix. On average, clients spend $1,950 a night for their accommodation, and trips last 2.78 weeks. (Ezon says a large majority stay connected to work while on vacation.)
Among the most expensive trips the team has planned recently is a monthlong private yacht adventure through Africa and the Maldives for a high-profile wife and her billionaire husband totaling more than $1,850,000; a 45-day tour of Oceania, Southeast Asia, and the Med for members of a royal family priced at $1,625,900; and 10 days in Sardinia where the accommodations alone cost $250,000.
Ezon's hard work doesn't go unnoticed either - tips have ranged from Bottega Veneta swag and Hermes cuffs to cases of Tuscan wine and checks for more than $100,000.
(c) 2018, Bloomberg