Governors Island is a mere eight-minute ferry from the southern tip of Manhattan (five minutes if you’re travelling from Brooklyn’s Pier 6) and already a favourite summer respite for harried New Yorkers. Before you’ve had time to stow your bike and collect your thoughts, you’ve been transported to a 172-acre car-free green space with playing fields and historic buildings, art installations and a grove of hammocks, plus an altogether slower pace. Now you can sleep there, too.
After opening on June 29, with a grand opening event set for July 11, Collective Governors Island is a “glamping” camp from Collective Retreats that offers guests the kind of limited experience that’s trending in travel right now.
“Collective Retreats was born out of the belief that the travel experience doesn’t need to be confined to physical buildings that inevitably start to depreciate and become outdated very quickly after opening,” says Peter Mack, Collective Retreats’ chief executive officer and co-founder. Its mission, he explains, is to connect guests with the land, people, and themselves. “We don’t pave roads, pour foundation, or build any permanent structures in order to protect and respect the land we operate on.”
Collective Governors Island is a “glamping” camp from Collective Retreats that offers guests the kind of limited experience that’s trending in travel right now. (David Gray/Bloomberg)
The company already offers seasonal luxury accommodation under canvas in other destinations where it would be difficult to build a hotel without impacting the beauty of the place, from 1,000 acres of ranchland in Vail, Colo., and Big Sky, Mont., near Yellowstone National Park, to an organic farm in New York’s Hudson Valley and a 225-acre ranch in Texas Hill Country. “With this retreat, we are excited to offer an oasis for New Yorkers and visitors to escape the concrete and grind of the city, reconnect with nature, and recharge,” Mack says.
Collective’s “asset-light” business model — subverting a traditional hotel approach, in that it doesn’t own the land its camps are located on but is investing in a guest’s experience of a destination — not only works for the Trust for Governors Island, which acts as steward alongside the National Park Service, it’s also a model that clearly appeals to both veterans and innovators in the travel industry.
Simon Turner, former president of global development for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, joined the company as an investor and adviser near the end of 2017, when a round of $10 million in funding was also announced. Earlier investors include Sam Shank, founder and CEO of Hotel Tonight; Evan Frank, co-founder and CEO of Onefinestay; and Brad Gerstner, founder and CEO of Altimeter Capital.
Croquet is available for guests to play on the lawn. (David Gray/Bloomberg)
Glamping as a trend continues to develop as well. In a 2018 study, travel company Cox & Kings named it one of the top eight experiences that will continue to grow momentum this year, as an “immersive experience that doesn’t compromise on luxury”. Searches for “luxury camping” and “glamping” interests have also doubled in the past three years, according to Google Trends.
The accommodation arcs around a central lawn overlooked by Collective’s Three Peaks Lodge restaurant, where you also check in, hang out, and take in a view of New York Harbor that includes the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Manhattan skyline. An adjacent repurposed shipping container is a bar (alcohol license pending) and cafe for takeout, while a wooden stage will be used for live music performances but is also a handy platform for giant Jenga construction.
The head chef, Jason Rutigliano, works from an open kitchen/tent adjoining the restaurant. He does wonders on induction plates in lieu of gas flame, which isn’t allowed on the island. When he’s not cooking, you’ll see him sporting a selection of neon-coloured headbands and talking to guests with gusto about the island’s farm, which supplies much of his produce, and the sustainability of the whole endeavour.
Glowing journey tents at night against the Statue of Liberty and the Staten Island Ferry. (David Gray/Bloomberg)
Diners can choose between an a la carte menu (highlights: chilled corn soup, $10; pan-roasted fish of the day with seasonal vegetables, $28; rigatoni Bolognese; $24) or the three-course “Ferry to Flame” prix fixe, which will change depending on what produce is available.
Inside the tents, it’s pure comfort, with neutrals and natural finishes such as fur throws, wood, and woven rugs. In the Summit Tents, designer Cassie Novick has also peppered slightly different nautical touches throughout; ours came with a rope light fixture, vintage books and binoculars, and brass compass. Add to that the 1,500-thread-count sheets, a French press coffee bar, electricity, Wi-Fi, and a hot shower—this was a far cry from my experience of a dome tent in Greece. With the tent’s front completely open, bug nets zipped up, we couldn’t wait for the sun to go down and the whole scene to light up, as the Staten Island Ferry glided back and forth. Magical.
One caveat: For all the tranquility that a night or two at Collective Governors Island offers, late evening is also when nightlife on the waterways comes alive with party boats. It’s fun to watch for a while, but when the beats continue into the early hours, it becomes (literally) tiresome.
Collective Governors Island will run seasonally, May through October. Rates vary on dates and availability, starting at $150 per night.
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