"Old New York"-style opulence, like the others; but a superb spa, gym, and pool to best the rest
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 spas 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.
The fine-dining Clement restaurant serves contemporary American dishes with hefty price tag
Staff attendants at the pool and gym, poolside dining and cocktails available (though, unlike other Peninsula hotels, like those in Hong Kong or Beverly Hills, the attendants don't automatically bring guests water and towels)
Free fitness classes (yoga, aqua-aerobics, and boot-camp-style cardio, among others); free water, tea, and coffee; even free workout clothes to borrow
Free DVD library
Free local newspaper of choice, including the New York Times and the Financial Times
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.
Two blocks from the E or V subway lines; many other subway stations are within a four block radius
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.
Bedside electronic control panels let you adjust the lights (you can switch to "mood lighting" by the push of a button), the radio, the temperature, and the TV from bed; it's fun, but the only real advantage is being able to turn off the lights before bed without having to get up.
Small, 27-inch flat-screen TV with 100 plus channels including HBO, HBO2, and Showtime (more than at most other hotels) in most room types; 42-inch TVs come in the suites
DVD player and a list of movies you can borrow for free
Free Wi-Fi and hard-wired Internet
No iPod-docking radio, except in some of the suites
Deep tub, great shower pressure (it's almost painful), bathrobes, slippers, and aromatic (but lesser known) bath products from Davi
Firm mattress; down pillows and duvet, high-quality sheets
Standard and Deluxe Rooms and Junior Executive Suites (620 square feet) have "interior views," which makes the rooms quiet, but you're not likely to get much natural light (rooms above the 15th floor, however, have a slight view from the locked balcony); Grand Luxe Rooms (480 square feet with a king beds or two doubles), Junior Suites (575 square feet), Executive Suites (725 square feet), Deluxe Suites (1050 square feet), Grand Suites (1625 square feet), and The Peninsula Suite (3,300 square feet and redesigned in 2012 with a grand piano, library, private dining room, and black Jacuzzi tub, among other highlights) all overlook either 5th Avenue, 54th or 55th Street.
Large indoor pool and incredible gym with plenty of freebies, including fitness classes
Warm, glass-enclosed pool on the 22nd floor -- 42 feet long (enough for a short lap); 3.5- to 5.5-feet-deep; children welcome
Superb gym, one of the best in New York (open 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.) -- new Life Fitness cardio and strength-training equipment; free water, apples, headphones (for the private TV monitors on each of the cardio machines), magazines, organic teas and coffee, and workout clothes (even shoes); extra space to stretch; beautiful views of the New York skyline
Personal trainers and free fitness classes daily -- yoga, aqua-aerobics, and boot-camp-style cardio, among others
Outdoor sun terrace (open during warm weather)
Free access to men's/women's locker rooms, including their sauna and steam rooms
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.
Free access to the aromatherapy steam room, Finnish sauna, ice fountain, and "experience shower" (unlike at most other New York hotels, like the Mandarin Oriental or the Waldorf Astoria, which charge as much as $50 per person, per day, to access the spa facilities)
Comfortable Asian Tea Lounge (organic teas) -- part of the reason they encourage you to arrive about an hour before your scheduled treatment
Facials, waxing, and other beauty and nail treatments from the salon
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
Renovated with a 2013 opening, Clement serves contemporary American dishes in a chic modern setting; the well-executed fare is on the pricey side, averaging about $35 to $40 for an entree, like black sea bass and lamb
Styled in the spirit of 1930s Shanghai, Salon De Ning -- a 23rd-floor rooftop terrace that's popular among locals for its beautiful views and swank outdoor setting -- offers excellent, $22 cocktails.
The Gotham Lounge, a quiet, elegant meeting area just off the lobby, hosts a popular afternoon tea from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Otherwise, it's a quiet space for a more mature clientele to indulge in a $22 martini without the clubby riffraff.
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.
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