Travel

This Luxury Hotel Was Founded by a Real-Life Pirate of the Caribbean

Go hunting for treasure-or cocktails-at Saba Rock.

Photo courtesy of Saba Rock
Photo courtesy of Saba Rock
Photo courtesy of Saba Rock

Blink and you might miss it. From afar, the acre or so of rock popping out of the British Virgin Islands’ North Sound Inlet is a mere blip-about half a soccer field-seemingly barren. But keep those eyes open, and the details emerge.

First, a two-story half-circle structure. Then, the red telephone booths: one in the back, one on the dock out front, both imported from England and refurbished into actual working order. Then a crop of spindly palm trees, a small beach with hammocks and chairs, and a dive shop. You might also see the fish tank as you approach, but if it’s 5 p.m., you’re more likely to spot the massive tarpon converging near the dock for mealtime. (They have no teeth, but sometimes, in their excitement, they gum all the way up the arm of the chef who feeds them.)

But regardless of when you come upon this tiny cay, it’ll be party time-and not just for the tarpon. That half-circle structure is Saba Rock Resort, a luxury hotel with two bustling bars, a dive shop, and a restaurant, usually filled to the brim with those who’ve floated up looking for a good time. They’ve taken a ferry or their boats are moored in the marina, dinghies tethered along the front. The main way to arrive is by water, but if you need a helipad, that’s available too.

Photo courtesy of Saba Rock
Photo courtesy of Saba Rock
Photo courtesy of Saba Rock

There would be no Saba Rock as we know it today without Bert Kilbride: untamed adventurer, diver, and wreck hunter affectionately nicknamed “The Last Pirate of the Caribbean.” And it fit him. “He was definitely the stereotypical grouchy, bearded pirate who loved his rum,” says Alain Prion, the resort’s manager. He also sported chunky jewelry, some no doubt scavenged.

Kilbride had so much enthusiasm for underwater exploration he created the standards for what would eventually become the PADI Introductory SCUBA Course, taught worldwide. He originally owned nearby Moskito Island, which turned into a diver hangout-it’s in close proximity to hundreds of wrecks and treacherous reefs. (Moskito Island is now owned by Richard Branson and has a very different vibe.)

Photo courtesy of Saba Rock
Photo courtesy of Saba Rock
Photo courtesy of Saba Rock

In 1967, Kilbride was also named “Receiver of Wrecks” by Queen Elizabeth II. “That gave him a kind of carte blanche to go over all the wrecks that he found, to document them, and to bring some of the things that he found up to the surface to be used as exhibitions,” says Prion. He cataloged 138 wrecks in his lifetime, including the famous Royal Mail Steamship (RMS) Rhone wreck, which came to its demise in 1867 thanks to a late-season hurricane. He once said he “recovered enough artifacts [from the Rhone] to fill a museum, including the skull of the ship’s carpenter.” Now, thanks to the efforts of Kilbride, the wreck is a national marine sanctuary (that’s also been featured in the movie The Deep).

After selling Moskito Island in 1970, Kilbride bought nearby Saba Rock for a modest $25,000, intending for it to be his home and the headquarters of his dive company. But the curious had other plans. “People began to hear about him and hear about the legend,” says Prion, explaining how visitors would swim over and make themselves at home, wandering around uninvited. “I think at that point, he was the gentleman who said, ‘well, have a drink!'” He erected a modest thatched-roof bar and restaurant-signs on top simply said “BAR” and “RESTAURANT”-and called it Pirates’ Pub. “It was a hopping place,” says Prion. “When I was [in the area] in May of 1994 there was a pirate’s ship anchored nearby. It looked like a pirate ship, anyway, with a flag and all that. I don’t know where he got it from.”

Kilbride sold Saba Rock in 1997. Under its new owners, a hotel was added to the property, and it thrived until 2017, when Hurricane Irma had other plans.

Photo courtesy of Saba Rock
Photo courtesy of Saba Rock
Photo courtesy of Saba Rock

It was a double whammy: first, Category 5 Hurricane Irma tore through the islands in September, the most powerful storm on record across the Atlantic Ocean. Then just two weeks later, Hurricane Maria blasted through, yet another Category 5. The country saw a whopping $3.6 billion in destruction, but by the beginning of 2020, many hotel properties were finally getting back on their feet. And then the pandemic hit, once again delaying the Caribbean comeback. Until now.

For BVI regulars who visited pre-Irma, the islands today will be both familiar and excitingly new. The storied 1969 Bitter End Yacht Club, once leveled, reopens this winter reimagined, with the first over-the-water bungalows in the Virgin Islands and a new beach bar salvaged from a vessel that sank in Irma. A resort of private villas, Oil Nut Bay recovered relatively quickly by 2018, but recently added four new villa rentals. Mainstay Guana Island Resort reopened in late 2019 with three new greenhouses and 100 chickens(!); Rosewood Little Dix Bay, on Virgin Gorda, followed in January of 2020 with a complete rebuild, still rustic-yet-luxe in keeping with its Rockefeller-owned legacy. A new all-inclusive private island wellness destination, the cliffside Aerial BVI, was on its way to opening when Irma thrashed its progress, finally able to welcome guests in April 2021. Another new property, the Malibu-style Long Bay Beach Resort on Tortola opened right before the pandemic only to close soon thereafter. Now back open, future big plans include a high-end rum bar.

The dollop that is Saba Rock Resort also underwent a full rebuild after being flattened, opening under new owners this past October. Working with European architecture firm ADR, the structure was entirely rebuilt, this time with stringent hurricane-proofing in mind.

 

Saba Rock Resort
Saba Rock Resort
Saba Rock Resort

Call it Saba Rock 3.0. Seven terraced rooms and two suites lean into a modern and nautical theme: surfboards and seaside paraphernalia line the walls, with sweeping ocean views everywhere you turn. Starting at $700 a night, it’s definitely not cheap, but in keeping with Kilbride’s original vision, there’s no pretension to be found. “The owners wanted a barefoot elegance,” says Prion, “where people would feel comfortable coming in shorts, swimwear, whatever, just to relax and have a cocktail, or come for a meal and feel relaxed.”

There’s no need to book a room to enjoy the property: a second-floor sunset bar welcomes anyone until about 9 p.m. (later if no one is staying in the hotel); there’s another bar downstairs; and reservations are recommended for the restaurant, which specializes in sophisticated iterations of local staples (try the favorite, “lobster bits,” served like escargot). Visitors can stop by to lounge on the small beach in hammocks and chairs, book an excursion with the dive shop, or utilize paddleboards and kayaks. There’s also kitesurfing “for those that are fairly proficient,” says Prion, and the hotel provides a regular shuttle to Gun Creek in nearby Virgin Gorda.

Saba Rock Resort
Saba Rock Resort
Saba Rock Resort

Despite the upgrades, the adventuring legacy of Bert Kilbride can be felt-and seen-throughout, from his photograph incorporated into the wallpaper to the artifacts submerged in the showpiece fish tank: cannons, cannonballs, and an anchor from the RMS Rhone. There’s also a new attraction of Kilbride’s on display, a sixteenth-century anchor, which they’re still investigating the provenance of. “That’s going to stay out in the marina area,” says Prion. “We’re installing an underwater camera, so from the hotel you’ll be able to see the anchor and the sea life swimming around it.” But of course, if you want, you can dive to it too.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Writer. She likes to dive for treasure in her refrigerator.

Travel

Airbnb’s New Tool Makes it Easy to Discover Homes You Didn’t Know Existed

And provides comprehensive protection in travel, included for free with every stay.

airbnb new features

We’re living in a new world of travel, which means we’re looking for new destinations and new ways to find places to stay. Airbnb is one of the most popular booking platforms for travellers, and for the first time in a decade, they’ve launched their biggest change yet.

The new tools help travellers find unique homes and provide more options for longer stays.

“The way people travel has changed forever. We’re introducing the biggest change to Airbnb in a decade,” said Brian Chesky, CEO and Co-Founder of Airbnb.

Airbnb Categories

Millions of people are now more flexible about where they live and work. But travel search has been the same for 25 years—you enter a location and dates into a search box. Most of us can only think of a few dozen cities to type into the search box, but there are Airbnbs in 100,000 towns and cities worldwide.

When you open Airbnb, you’re presented with 56 categories that organize homes based on their style, location, or proximity to a travel activity. When you search for a destination, your search results are also organized by categories relevant to that destination. As you view different categories, the map intelligently zooms to show you where the homes are located.

Airbnb Categories uses machine learning to analyze titles, written descriptions, photo captions, structured data from Hosts, and reviews from guests. Airbnb’s curation team members review listings and hand-pick featured photos—so if a listing is in the Amazing Pools Category, the first photo shows a pool. Then, each category goes through a final check to help ensure consistency and photo quality.

The 56 Airbnb Categories include more than 4 million unique homes that are made possible by Hosts all around the world. Airbnb Categories organize homes by what makes them unique, which helps people discover places they wouldn’t have otherwise found. This can help alleviate over-tourism by redistributing travel to new locations beyond the same popular destinations.

Split Stays

In the last three months, nearly half of the nights booked on Airbnb were for a week or more trips. Split Stays is an innovative new feature that splits your trip between two homes. With Split Stays, you will typically see around 40% more listings when searching for longer stays.

When searching a specific destination, Split Stays automatically appear in your search results. They also appear within 14 categories—including Camping, National Parks, Skiing, and Surfing—to inspire you to stay in two destinations as part of a longer trip. For example, when browsing the Skiing Category, Split Stays might suggest a pair of homes near Thredbo and Mt. Hotham.

When viewing Split Stays on a map, an animated line visually connects the two homes to show you the distance between them and the sequence of the stays. Once you select a Split Stay, you’re guided through an easy-to-use interface to book each stay, one home at a time.

MORE: These Are Australia’s 10 Most Wishlisted Airbnb Stays

Aircover for Guests

This northern and southern winter, millions of people will travel for the first time since the pandemic’s start. AirCover is the most comprehensive protection in travel. AirCover is always included and always free, and it represents the biggest upgrade to Airbnb customer service in a decade.

With AirCover, you’re covered by four protections every time you stay on Airbnb:

  • Booking Protection Guarantee – In the unlikely event a Host needs to cancel your booking within 30 days of check-in, Airbnb will find you a similar or better home or refund you.
  • Check-In Guarantee – If you can’t check into your home and the Host cannot resolve the issue, Airbnb will find you a similar or better home for the length of your original stay or get a refund.
  • Get-What-You-Booked Guarantee – If at any time during your stay you find your listing isn’t as advertised—for example, the refrigerator stops working and your Host can’t easily fix it, or there are fewer bedrooms than listed—you’ll have three days to report it and Airbnb will find you a similar or better home or refund you.
  • 24-hour Safety Line – If you ever feel unsafe, you’ll get priority access to specially-trained safety agents, day or night.

AirCover has been designed directly into the Airbnb app and website, making it easy for you to contact an agent and resolve issues quickly. There is a team of specially trained agents for last-minute rebooking assistance. Airbnb also has significantly expanded its 24-hour safety line to cover 16 languages.

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