Billionaire beach cabanas

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The beach cabana has become prime holiday real estate.  For the price of the average honeymoon suite, some hotels are providing beach and poolside cabanas with an endless list of high life amenities: butlers, TVs, Evian spritzers...even sunglasses cleaning. While on the surface it might seem like a private cabana would imply a desire for seclusion, in fact these fabulous follies are all about being seen.

Gone are the days when a well-placed sun-lounge would elicit envious glares from fellow guests. In the age of bottle service and VIP rooms, the cabana has become a much-coveted status symbol. They range in style from little more than a curtained daybed to poolside palaces, and tend to be prominently positioned in the very best locations at the water’s edge.

The most basic amenities – like those at the Amankila in Bali are an endless supply of towels, water, suntan cream and an attentive butler. Guests can order breakfast, lunch and dinner from the comfort of their thatched-roof retreat and never have to leave. In fact they rarely do, as the cabanas are available on a first-come-first-serve basis and are completely complimentary. Much like a waterfront apartment offering free rent, they’re extremely popular.

For US$650 a day, Atlantis resort in the Bahamas lays on the extras. The cabana contains the usual array of towels and treats. In addition guests receive a hangover cart whose contents include frozen vodka and all the ingredients for a Bloody Mary, painkillers, cold eucalyptus eye towels, vitamin C and electrolyte powder. (For purposes of comparison, an actual room at the same resort can be had for as little as US$200 a night.)

In some hotels the cabana brings with it a sense of place not easily experienced by lying on a lonely towel. The mansion previously owned by the late Gianni Versace, now a hotel named The Villa By Barton G, has one of the most appropriately extravagant and priciest cabanas around. Starting from US$850 a day in high season, the Bacchus pool cabana comes with private butler, stocked refrigerator, fruit and veggie platter, TV, DVD player, internet, Evian face spritzer and all the star status of knowing that Versace passed endless hours in exactly the same place.

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Glimpsing a Hollywood star behind the billowing curtain (or being mistaken for one yourself) is what taking up residence in a cabana is all about. At the star-magnet Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles, the odds are favourable. This is the backdrop against which Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall filmed Designing Women in 1956, and the famous bungalows have played host to everyone from Frank Sinatra to Julia Roberts. Frozen refresher towels and fresh sorbet are just the beginning. They also provide sunglass cleaning, flat screen TVs, internet access, fax number, two cordless phones and a dressing room for the all important costume change. At $250 US a day, it’s a relative bargain.