Sleeping Under the Stars... at a Hotel

Affina Gardens
ABCNews: Do you dream of sleeping under the stars? How about on a hotel balcony, in the middle of Manhattan?

Travelers can do that and more this summer as hotels offer experiences that make the most of the outdoors, from outside "bedrooms," to a camp-out on a back patio, to rooftop yoga.

"I've seen more hotels really focusing on adding outdoor spaces as another venue," says George Aquino, general manager of the JW Marriott Grand Rapids, which this spring added cabanas, firepits and even planters with edible plants to its riverfront deck. "Especially in the Midwest, we know that we only have a few months to maximize on it.… There's just something about being outside that's refreshing and rejuvenating. And guests love it."

The outdoor packages come at a time when an increasing number of business travelers are pursuing "blended travel," tacking on vacation days, often with their spouses and kids, to work trips. A 2010 study by Hilton's Homewood Suites found that 67% of frequent corporate travelers sometimes blended work with vacations. Hotels have been wooing those guests with perks ranging from enhanced fitness facilities to sightseeing tours.

Among the outdoor offerings:

•The AKA Central Park will give penthouse guests the chance to get a night's rest on a bed perched on a 900-square-foot wrap-around terrace. Wood-burning fireplaces and champagne are among the perks.

•Affinia Gardens, a hotel on Manhattan's Upper East Side, now offers tents and S'more-making kits to garden suite guests who want to camp out on their brick terraces.

•The Lorien Hotel & Spa, a Kimpton Hotel, in Alexandria, Va., has a "kids camp-out," in which young guests can take sleeping bags, lanterns, constellation maps and telescopes onto room terraces. There's a special menu, featuring grilled peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and "all those kinds of things you'd try to do over a camp fire, but just coming from our kitchen," says Ben Timashenka, the Lorien's general manager.

An out-of-the-ordinary stay

Hotels say they've spruced up outside spaces and added the programs to set themselves apart with unusual experiences that can attract a wider array of guests.

While common at resorts, "there's something unique about an outdoor experience in an urban environment," says John Moser, chief brand and marketing officer of Affinia Hotels. "Imagine having your own backyard in Manhattan. That's a really special thing. And then taking it to the next level. Think about when you were a kid and had a backyard and set up a tent and had S'mores and had fun with it. … People love the idea of camping out in the middle of New York City."

His hotel chain has incorporated the outdoors at other properties, as well. The Affinia Shelburne in New York City will be opening a rooftop putting green in the next few weeks. Affinia's Liaison Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., has a package offering rooftop yoga and a kit with sunscreen and water; Moser says it's as popular with local residents as hotel guests.

And for $10,000 a night, travelers can enjoy the Affinia Chicago's "Inside Out Suite," which includes a bed on the hotel's rooftop.

"We'll set up the bedroom as if it were always there, with a night stand, lights, and you can sleep under the stars in Chicago," he says. The entire floor, home to the hotel's rooftop bar, will be yours for the night, complete with an outdoor movie screening and breakfast in bed.

The Chicago package, available only on Fridays and Saturdays and weather permitting, is beyond many travelers' budgets. But Moser notes that outdoor packages at the other hotels are more affordable. The garden suites in Manhattan, for instance, start at $309 a night, with S'more kits and tents ranging from $25 to $35.

"The Inside Out Suite is an extravagant thing," he says, but the other "programs are made for everybody and are being used by a lot of people."

Cure for cabin fever

AKA Central Park's outdoor sleeping experience was inspired in part by this year's tough winter.

"Recognizing the scarcity and demand for private outdoor space in New York City, especially after a really difficult winter, we wanted to share our penthouse with those seeking one-of-a-kind experiences," says Elana Friedman, vice president of marketing for AKA, a luxury extended-stay chain of hotels.

AKA Central Park's penthouse suites, which are available through mid-October, can be rented for $3,000 a night. Guests can sleep outside on Frette bedding and have cocktails by a fire with a choice of snacks that include chocolate-covered strawberries. Also available: telescopes and e-readers preloaded with stories to fit the moment, such as romantic poetry.

"The inquiries have been so diverse — from New York City dwellers looking for something completely different to international travelers looking to see New York City in a different way," Friedman says.

Although the program was not envisioned as an annual offering, Friedman says, "If we continue to have the interest … we'll absolutely have it come back."

Jan Freitag, of Smith Travel Research, says that such outdoor experiences are appealing, but most likely only to a limited audience.

"It's a differentiating factor for a small percentage of the travelers, either those who want the penthouse or those who have kids," he says. "It's not appealing to the business traveler who goes in at 10 p.m. and gets out at 6 a.m. and really, really wants that bed. Yes, it's interesting. But it's not for the mainstream."


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