Roughing It, New York Style: 'Glamping' Comes Full Circle

Kathleen Boyle poses for a picture in a tent on the patio of her room at the Affina Hotel in New York, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.  A couple of New York City locales are offering an unusual option _ the chance to sleep outdoors, incredibly comfortably. It?s an urban take on ?glamping,? where hotel comforts are taken outside.  (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Seth Wenig/AP"Glamper" Kathleen Boyle poses for a picture in a tent on the patio of her room at the Affina Hotel in New York City.

In the pantheon of weird mash-ups, there has to be a special place for "glamping." Basically a mix of "glamorous" and "camping," the vacation trend has come into its own over the past few years, with glamping websites and companies cropping up across the U.S. and around the world. On the surface, it's not a bad idea: for people who love the outdoors in theory, but don't want to bother with tents, sleeping bags or bug repellent, it's a way to commune with nature while keeping the rough stuff to a minimum.

(Or, for those with a more historical bent, it's a way to experience the joys of being a 19th century British nobleman traveling in Africa without going through the trouble of hunting an endangered species or shooting a Boer.)

Recently, however, the glamping trend seems to have jumped the shark, with the introduction of New York City's first glamping site. AKA Central Park, a New York hotel, now offers an outdoor bedroom attached to its 17th floor penthouse. For $2,000 per night, customers can sleep under the stars ... on premium sheets, with flat screen TVs, Arne Jacobsen Egg Chairs and spa showers. As for 'smores, the urban glampers can take advantage of the handy fireplaces -- or they can just use the convection oven that comes standard with the room.

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While high, the price is actually not all that unreasonable for New York, where the average hotel room costs $281 and some suites can easily fetch a hundred times as much. For that matter, glamping isn't much cheaper: Some resorts in the U.S. charge upward of $1,000 per night for accommodations in a two-person tent.

A more reasonable question, however, is whether the entire urban glamping enterprise misses the point. After all, a visitor to New York could conceivably duplicate the urban glamping experience by leaving a window open, turning off the lights, and digging into some lukewarm carryout. For that matter, someone looking to rough it New York-style might do better to stay in one of the city's few remaining super-cheap flophouses, where screaming neighbors, roaming vermin and exposed electrical wiring hearken back to the city's rough history.

More to the point, there's something a little bizarre about attempting to experience the outdoors by building a roaring fire, making 'smores, and cranking up the air conditioner. A classic camping saying, attributed to Chief Seattle, states that one should "Leave only footprints, take only memories." For New York's first urban glampers, the carbon footprints seem likely to be large ... and lasting.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings Editor. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.