August 21, 2013

With 'glamping,' urban hotels move their comforts outdoors

A couple of New York City hotels offer guests the option of sleeping on their patios, where they can gaze at the stars but don't have to – well, you know what – in the woods.

By Deepti Hajela / The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Ahh, the joys of roughing it in the great outdoors – champagne, high thread-count sheets, flat-screen television. Camping, New York City-style.

click image to enlarge

Kathleen Boyle poses for a picture in a tent on the patio of her room at the Affinia Gardens hotel in New York.

The Associated Press

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What would camping be without s'mores, an option at the Affinia Gardens hotel in New York.

The Associated Press

At least a couple of city locales are offering this unusual option – the chance to sleep outdoors, incredibly comfortably. It's an urban take on "glamping," where hotel comforts are taken outside.

"It's basically being able to sleep under the stars in a luxury setting," said Jeffrey Poirot, general manager at AKA Central Park, which offers an outdoor bedroom on its 1,000-square-foot terrace outside its 17th-floor penthouse.

For about $2,000 per night, the offering includes a bedroom setup – queen bed, fireplace, television – but also a telescope to look at the stars and the ingredients for that campfire favorite, s'mores.

AKA has been offering the option for the past few years, Poirot said. It's a popular option in the summer months, and has been booked more than half a dozen times this year, he said.

The idea of glamping (glamorous + camping, get it?) is a relatively recent arrival in the United States over the last decade or so but has been popular in other parts of the world, like Africa, where wealthy visitors wanted to travel but always in comfort. There are websites dedicated to it, showcasing luxury camping sites in some of the world's most beautiful natural environments.

On a recent night, Anita Waxman and Tom Dokton made a go of a night on the terrace. The couple, who live in San Francisco but spend time in New York City frequently in their roles producing musical theater, eagerly made use of the fire to roast some marshmallows.

"That's what camping is all about," Waxman said, who admitted that in previous camping forays with friends, she would stay for dinner, then return to her home or a hotel.

"This is exactly what I want," Waxman said, and Dokton agreed.

"The access to the city, being in the middle of the city and having this kind of atmosphere, it's fantastic," he said.

They had engaged in luxury camping during their travels internationally, but were thrilled to have the chance to do it in New York. And they still felt a sense of solitude, even in a city of millions.

"There's a sense of privacy up here, too," Dokton said.

At the Affinia Gardens hotel on the Upper East Side, guests who book the patio suite (starting at around $300 per night) can pick from a range of options from dinner outside to a bed made up on the patio floor in an actual tent.

General Manager Steve Sasso said the offerings had been in place for a few years, with around 10 percent to 20 percent of those booking the suite choosing from the outdoor options.

"Today's travelers are really looking for unique experiences," he said.

They're guests like Kathleen Boyle of Queens. She and her husband booked the room to celebrate their anniversary, and decided to sleep in the tent.

"We thought that would be really cool and different," she said.

Having the ability to sleep outside but have access to the hotel room made a difference, Boyle said.

"The safety of being able to go back inside, not having to pee in the woods, here's a nice bathroom, that was excellent," she said.

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