Rooms are hostel style -- small, plain, with shared bathrooms and little privacy
Walls are thin, and hallways can be noisy
Spotty Wi-Fi in the rooms
Showers are a little worn
For visitors on a budget who want a prime New York City location, the 600-room West Side YMCA could do the job. The Upper West Side hostel provides minimum frills: expect dorm-style rooms and shared hallway bathrooms. There's free Wi-Fi and a small cafe, but the real highlight here is proximity to Central Park, Columbus Circle, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the Museum of Natural History, and Times Square, all while staying in one of New York's most desirable neighborhoods. A cozy lounge and Medieval-style architecture, plus epic views of Central Park, add overall ambiance. The West Side Y's expansive fitness facilities -- which are open to guests and local residents with Y memberships -- include exercise rooms, a basketball court, an indoor running track, two swimming pools, and scheduled classes.
City hostel within easy rach of several New York tourist attractions
Built in 1930, the 600-room West Side YMCA provides affordable beds in one of New York City's more prestigious neighborhoods. The 14-story building -- which through history has housed such luminaries as Martin Luther King Jr., Tennessee Williams, and Malcolm X -- sits on a one-way street in one of New York's most desirable neighborhoods. Skinny trees line the street in front of the hostel's Medieval-style exterior.
The cozy, warmly lit West Side Y Lounge with its moody, orange wallpaper, dark-wood tables, black bench booths, and random assortment of decorative pillows, provides a nice retreat. Solo couches circle the TV area and mock fireplace, which is framed with wood decor. Quirky, fun paintings of animals line the walls. The main entrance to the Y, with its high-arching ceilings, chandeliers, and bustle of people passing the security desk, is reminiscent of Grand Central Terminal. One nice touch: The long, plain hallways end with peepholes, which offer picture-perfect views of Central Park.
In Manhattan's residential and ritzy Upper West Side
The West Side Y is on the lower end of New York's Upper West Side. Surrounded by apartment buildings with suited doormen, the hostel is about a half block from Central Park West, and three or four blocks from Columbus Circle, with an upscale mall in the Time Warner building, and Lincoln Center. Times Square, Carnegie Hall, and the Museum of Natural History are within 20 minutes' walking distance, or a one- or two-stop subway or bus ride. Columbus Circle is the hub for the 1, A, C, E, B, D and N trains.
Streets around the Y are clean and busy enough to make it easy to hail a cab. During fall and winter, guests will have prime access to New York Fashion Week activities at Lincoln Center, and the spectacular people-watching that goes with them. For art-film aficionados, Lincoln Plaza Cinema is right around the corner, along with several places to eat, bank, and shop.
Bare, tiny sleeping quarters, and shared bathrooms reminiscent of college dorm life
Guest rooms on the Y's upper floors -- which have either singles or bunk beds -- are small, stuffy, plain, and show signs of wear. With their white walls, green carpets, and light-wood furniture, sleeping quarters look like freshman college dorms and provide only the barest of necessities. Full-size, rollable beds come with one square pillow and a thin blanket over the sheets. There are towels but no washcloths, one tiny bar of soap, and two plastic cups wrapped in plastic in the cubby-style closet shelves. The walls are thin, and conversations, whistling, and the sounds of toilets flushing can be heard from the hallway.
Bathrooms look like public restrooms, and shower shoes are a good idea. The design is modern, with mosaic-style tiling, shallow sinks, and bright lights on either side of the mirrors, but don't expect extra soaps or lotions. Since male, female, and unisex bathrooms occupy each floor's main hallway, be prepared to run into other guests clad only in towels. Wi-Fi is free, but spotty. Telephones are provided in the hallways. Each room has a binder with practical information about New York City, including restaurant suggestions and subway maps.
Expansive fitness facilities, small convenience store, and a cozy lounge
While the Y's guest rooms lack extras, the big highlight here, aside from the location, is the 65,000-square-foot fitness area offering several strength-training machines, a core area with mats, abdominal machines, and medicine balls, a basketball court, an indoor upper track, and a cardio room with bikes, elliptical machines, and treadmills. There are a boxing room, karate room, a yoga/meditation room, two pools -- which at times will be blocked off for YMCA classes -- and fitness classes, all of which are available to staying guests. Be aware that this is a public YMCA, so young children, families, teenagers, and many others will be using these facilities too.
There's no on-site laundry, but there's information in each room about nearby laundries and services. The Y doesn't offer breakfast, but the Gourmet To Go cafe by the entrance sells muffins and other breakfast items, sandwiches, coffee, chips, and candy. A small hallway business center offers Internet use. Wi-Fi is free throughout the property.