David Brooks Grapples With Luxury Vacation

Can he finish two bottles of Champagne in three days?

David BrooksNew York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks took a break from opining to try out a very expensive vacation for the travel issue ofT Magazine, the Times‘ luxury supplement. Mr. Brooks joined the 52-person, 24-day round-the-world tour for a week, going from Four Seasons to Four Seasons in a Four Seasons-branded private jet.

The column begins, like so many stories, with a knock on the door (or, in this case, with a ring of a door chime). Mr. Brooks, who was chatting on the phone in his hotel room in Sultanahmet, attempted to ignore the intrusion. After all, the attentive staff had already taken care of everything: bookmarks had been inserted in open books, damp bathmats had been replaced, even the notes for the very article that we are now reading had been arranged in stacks.

“There was already one ice-bucketed bottle of champagne on the dining room table when the door chime rang,” wrote Mr. Brooks. “I ignored it, continuing my conversation. It rang a few more times. Then there were knocks. I eventually opened the door. A kind, young, liveried man stood there, beaming, with a second bottle.”

On a luxury around-the-world tour, there is always a second, unbidden bottle of champagne.

But can you really see the world when you are being insulated from any world outside of the luxurious one that is being created by the Four Seasons? That’s what Mr. Brooks was there to determine.

“My job was to report back on the merits and demerits of such pampered high-end travel,” Mr. Brooks wrote. “If you wake up in Tanzania in the morning, take a dinner cruise along the Bosphorus in the evening and jet off a few days later to tour Catherine the Great’s palace in Russia, are you really seeing the world?”

No, of course not, but it still is really nice. There are no delays or carrying bags or filling out forms. The itinerary is jam packed, but nothing goes wrong. The staff smiles a lot. And sure, the people are rich, but not that rich.

“What sort of people go on a trip like this? Rich but not fancy. It is a sign of how stratified things have become that even within the top 1 percent there are differences between the single-digit millionaires and the double- or triple-digit millionaires. The people on this trip were by and large on the lower end of the upper class,” explained the author of Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. “Very few of these people were born to money. They did not dress rich, talk rich or put on airs. They have spent their lives busy with work and family, not jet-setting around or hanging out with the Davos crowd.”

Oh, sure, sometimes Mr. Brooks yearned for “a little more pretense and a little more intellectual and spiritual ambition.” But what can you do when you are spending your days hobnobbing with the kind of people who would opt to spend “roughly $120,000” to see as many of the world’s Four Seasons as possible.

Yes, some of Mr. Brooks’ best times on the trip were when he broke away from the group. Except, that is, for a four hour delay in the Casablanca airport in the end. That was just a waste of time, and nothing like the movie.

Fortunately, Mr. Brooks was able to surrender and just drink two bottles of champagne.

Concluded Mr. Brooks:

The caviar in Russia was really nice. So was the beautiful hotel pool in Morocco, the sweet staff at every stop and the little cubes of Turkish delight. And yes, over the course of the three days at the Four Seasons in Istanbul, I did drink both bottles of champagne.

Of course, we all have a responsibility to reduce inequality in our society. But maybe not every day.

David Brooks Grapples With Luxury Vacation