Luxury tents, gourmet meals redefine camping on NYC island

  • Jul. 6, 2018 7:10 a.m.

NEW YORK — Just imagine it, a luxurious room on an island, with chef-prepared meals and a view of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline.

Hotel? Not exactly.

It’s actually a campground of high-end tents on New York City’s Governors Island, the latest outpost for glamping, or glamorous camping. Rates that can run more than $700 provide such creature comforts as full beds, high thread-count sheets, bathrooms, plush towels, electrical outlets, barbecue grills and an on-site restaurant offering prime cuts of meat.

There isn’t a leaky tent, musty sleeping bag or can of baked beans in sight.

“We’ve tried to create an experience where people can put all those concerns aside and connect to the place that they’re in, the people that they’re with and themselves,” said Peter Mack, CEO and founder of Collective Retreats, which has developed similar camps in Colorado, Montana and Texas.

Visitors staying in the 27 smaller journey tents share bathroom facilities; those staying in the 10 larger summit tents have their own private, en suite bathrooms, spa robes and even a campfire s’mores kit.

The location, Governors Island, is a 172-acre (70 hectare) plot of land that sits just off the southern tip Manhattan, with stunning views of the city’s Financial District, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Formerly used by the Army and Coast Guard, a portion of it is now home to a national monument overseen by the National Park Service, while the majority was transferred over to the city and state for the benefit and use of the public.

It’s accessible only by ferry and currently open to the public for six months of the year, which means visitors to Collective Governors Island have specific windows both to plan their stays as well as how they get to and from their tents during a visit. At night, once the ferries have stopped running, people staying there have to remain within the campgrounds, but in the mornings they have the run of the island to themselves until the boats start operating again.

The goal is to turn the island into a year-round destination, said Michael Samuelian, president and CEO of The Trust for Governors Island, the organization that oversees its redevelopment. To that end, the site hosts events including musical performances and art exhibits.

Collective Retreat’s pitch for a luxury camping ground on a portion of the island made perfect sense, he said. Putting up tents and communal bathrooms requires less infrastructure than building a full-scale hotel, which is on the ultimate goal list. But it allows the trust to start having overnight visitors and figure out the transportation and other needs to make it a full-time, year-round destination.

“It’s absolutely worth it because big-picture, this is the direction we need to go,” Samuelian said.

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