New York's latest luxury: a night under the stars
In the concrete jungle of New York City, where open sky can be hard to find, the latest luxury offering is a night under the stars -- or, under twinkling city lights, at least.
From terraces and high-rise balconies atop Art Deco buildings or glass-walled modern structures, this new breed of hotel offers straight-up views, with nary a window pane or curtain to impede the breeze.
And in a city where air pollution, bright lights and the dizzyingly tall skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline can obscure the stars, hotel companies say they offer travelers a unique experience.
"When we identified something we think will really delight people and give them a one-of-a-kind chance of living -- something that they can't get somewhere else -- we quickly tried to make that happen," said Elana Friedman, of luxury hotel group AKA.
For the not-so-insignificant price of $1,995 (1,500 euros) a night, the AKA Central Park promises a five star "outdoor bedroom," 17 floors up, complete with a queen-size bed, candle-lit dinner, fireplace, romantic snacks, and a giant telescope to admire the stars in the city that never sleeps.
To the strains of live jazz guitar, Brazilians, Australians, Emiratis, and even New Yorkers spend the night doing what travel agents call urban "glamping" -- short for "glamorous camping."
"This experience made me never want to go traditional camping again," one guest at the AKA, Jennifer Semeter, told AFP.
Pitching a tent in the New York jungle
Born of a desire to enjoy the great outdoors -- without missing out on the pleasures of a comfortable mattress -- the trend towards luxury camping has only recently taken hold in New York, after the exceptionally harsh winter of 2011.
"Our guests started to get that kind of cabin fever and really wanted to be able to have that outdoor experience," explained Susana Ramos, marketing manager for Affinia Gardens, which also offers open-air luxury accommodation in Manhattan.
But the guests weren't looking to rough it: "After such a crazy snow storm, they really wanted to have a warm, summery, outdoor experience," she said.
Affinia Gardens' outdoor suites -- which include tents on leafy terraces in the Upper East Side -- run from $309 to $700 a night, depending on the season.
As Dutch tourist Jeff Jungbeker entered one such space for the first time -- where the glow from a candle illuminated the comfortable bed and a bottle of chilled white wine, the 42-year-old said he was astounded.
"In New York, it's unbelievable... Because normally, spaces are very closed, so being outside in a tent is beautiful," he said.
While there are still few hotels that offer this type of experience, they are part of a wider movement in the Big Apple to reclaim the rooftops, said travel expert Michael Luongo.
Ever since poets of the Beat Generation of the 1950s fascinated with the Manhattan skyline proclaimed "the city is ours," New Yorkers have been looking up to the skies.
And since the 9/11 attacks, "the value of looking at the skyline became more important," explained Luongo, because, with the loss of the Twin Towers, "you began to appreciate more what you have."
For any tourist, a night under the stars of New York would be unforgettable, Luongo said.
"There is nothing that says America as much as a skyscraper. It's our gift... to architecture," he mused.
"That's our legacy."