Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Set in a grandiose, century-old building on 5th Avenue -- amid eclectic, highest-of-the-high-end jewelry boutiques, long-lauded restaurants, and some more mainstream retailers like the Gap and the World of Disney -- the 239-room Peninsula Hotel evokes a quiet, classic, business-leaning elegance that's similar in spirit to that of the Ritz-Carlton. Virtually every square inch of the property is gilded, coated in marble, flourished with something French (or Asian), or (less-thrillingly) carpeted. Its doormen are quick to hail cabs and they'll rush out into the rain to open a car door, umbrella in hand. But, naturally, this is par for the course for a New York hotel at these prices.
So, what differentiates the Peninsula? In terms of elaborate, awe-inspiring beauty, the Peninsula is arguably bested by the St. Regis (across the street), the Pierre, the Plaza, the New York Palace, the Four Seasons, the Mandarin Oriental, and a number of other steeply priced competitors. And while the standard guest rooms are significantly larger than the average hotel room in New York, they have small TVs, lack iPod-docking radios, and their firm beds fail to meet that too-plush-to-wake-up standard of comfort found at most other high-end hotels (as well as some cheaper big-chain hotels).
But the Peninsula has one clear advantage -- one of the best indoor pools, gyms and in the city (only the pool at the Mandarin Oriental compares). The rooms, too, have some notable perks -- a printer/copier/fax machine, a one-touch "mood lighting" control panel on the bedside table, and a speaker system in the bathroom connected to a control panel in the tub so that you can switch from classical to adult contemporary midway through a soak. Considering this, and the fact that the hotel is often less expensive than the hotels directly on Central Park -- the Ritz-Carlton, the Plaza, and the Mandarin Oriental, among them -- it can be an excellent luxury pick for the price.
Formal, attentive service -- prompt doormen, white linen on the room service carts, knowledgeable concierges. A dozen extra free bottles of water for the room? Just ask.
Surrounded by some of the highest-end retailers on 5th Avenue
Though its building sits along the dense, shopping stretch of 5th Avenue -- such ultra-upscale outfits as Bottega Veneta (purses) and Takashimaya (elaborate, bejeweled miscellanea) share the block -- the Peninsula's entrance is actually along East 55th Street, across from a beautiful church and significantly less foot traffic than you'd find along the avenue. More mainstream retailers like the Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, and the World of Disney also fit snugly along 5th Avenue, drawing considerably more tourists than you'd find farther north in the Upper East Side (near the Pierre Hotel, for example), but the Peninsula's more central location is not without its perks -- Adour, the signature French restaurant by internationally renowned Chef Alain Ducasse is just across the street at the St. Regis Hotel.
When it comes to well-thought-out room features, the Peninsula's guest rooms are a cut above. Individual printer/copier/fax machines; a single-button system to set the room to "mood lighting" from the bedside table; a console in the tub that'll let you control the radio -- all unique highlights you won't find at the Mandarin Oriental, the Carlyle, or the the Plaza (the Four Seasons and the St. Regis, however, do have fax machines in the rooms).
But when it comes to the basics, the room doesn't quite hold up to the luxury standards elsewhere. No doubt, the down pillows are superb, but the especially firm mattress doesn't quite have that over-the-top plushness found at other high-end hotels. Plus, the 27-inch flat-screen TV is a bit too small to read subtitles from bed (comparatively, most other luxury hotels have at least a 37- to 42-inch screen). And while the bathroom speakers might seem nice, most other hotels in this price range have an iPod hookup so that you can pick your own tunes.
Guided by Asian, European, and Ayurvedic philosophies, the ESPA spa was ranked among the best spas in North America by Conde Nast Traveler in 2008 and it still rivals the best spas in New York.
As there's only a king bed available for most room types, this isn't an ideal choice for families, but there are some notable advantages over other luxury hotels -- namely, the pool.
Well cleaned, throughout
Aside from some slightalong the edge of the tub, the entire hotel is kept exceptionally clean -- no stains, strewn room service trays, or dusty corners.
Fine for room service (available 24 hours), but the overpriced on-site restaurant is unremarkable when it comes to both the food and the ambience
The on-site cuisine at the Fives restaurant -- named for its location on 5th Avenue at 55th Street -- doesn't quite compare to the celebrity-chef-led destination restaurants at other high-end hotels, like the St. Regis, Trump International, and the Mandarin Oriental (just to name a few). But in general, the food is well prepared and focused on high-quality, local and organic ingredients. But for the price (about $90 for a humble breakfast for two) and the setting (a rather bare white room with a few paintings, potted plants, and no view to speak of) there are better restaurants in the neighborhood. Some personal favorites: Abboccato and Il Gattopardo (Italian, both about one block away); Anthos (Greek, three blocks away); Adour (French, across the street at the St. Regis); the Modern (exceptional American-Nouveau, two blocks away at the Museum of Modern Art); Burger Joint (some of the best, and cheapest, burgers in the city, only two blocks away).
About 30 to 90 minutes from three airports
New York has three nearby airports: JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark (in New Jersey). Getting to town from JFK or LaGuardia is usually more convenient than getting there from Newark, but travel times are heavily dependent on the time of day and traffic conditions. From JFK, a taxi to anywhere in Manhattan costs a flat rate of $45 and takes around an hour in average conditions. From LaGuardia, a metered cab ride to midtown Manhattan costs about $40 and can take 30 minutes if traffic is light, three times that if it's bad. Rides from Newark cost at least $40 (plus tolls) and can take more than 90 minutes. It's customary to tip your driver 15 to 25 percent.
Those looking to save some cash can use the privately run shuttle buses that are available at all three airports for about $14 per person. For more information on the shuttles, go to Super Shuttle or New York Airport Service. Public transit is also available for as little as $7 per person, but travel can take up to two hours and involve a lot of lugging bags up and down stairways.
For mass-transit directions right to the hotel, check out HopStop.com.
The 239-room Peninsula has small TVs in the standard rooms, but the indoor pool, superb gym (free workout gear, organic teas, and a sauna and steam room), widely praised spa and salon, and in-room fax machines make it a fine choice for a quiet, classically luxurious hotel. And for designer shopping, its 5th Avenue location is ideal.