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What You Need to Know about Governor’s Island Glamping

glamping Governor's Island

A brilliant view of the Statue of Liberty, a wide open field, a nighttime campfire. What does it take to experience such luxuries? A glamping trip to Governor’s Island. Our adventurous correspondent Julie Chang Murphy is sharing her luxury insider tips on a recent overnight there. Here’s what you need to know about glamping on Governor’s Island in New York.

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Insider Itinerary is an occasional series here at Dandelion Chandelier that shines a light on the best places to see, stay, and dine in some of the hottest luxury travel destinations worldwide. Our far-flung correspondents are sharing their inside tips on how to best experience their chosen cities, especially if you’re visiting for the first time. Consider it your local luxury GPS. 

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Our team has given us the inside scoop on a number of fantastic destinationsEast HamptonNantucketCopenhagen; Cape Town; Ljubljana; Stockholm and Oslo

glamping Governor's Island

The lawn on Governor’s Island.

Next up? Our inside guide on how to have the best first luxury glamping trip on Governor’s Island in New York.

luxury insider tips on how to have a great glamping trip on Governor’s Island

what is glamping?

Glamping – a portmanteau of the words “glamorous” and “camping” – has been a Thing for a while now.

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But does it actually live up to hype? Not far from civilization is a chance to try it out. Our intrepid correspondent was up for the adventure. Here’s her report.

where is Governor’s Island?

A few years ago, hardly anyone would have thought that an island off the tip of Lower Manhattan, formerly used as a military post in the Revolutionary War, could be a setting for rest and relaxation.

glamping Governor's Island

One of the two coastal forts on the island, Castle Williams, was even used to imprison captured Confederate soldiers! But last month on a late Thursday afternoon, as my husband and I disembarked the Governor’s Island Ferry along with a handful of other random New York City couples, the island became an unlikely place for a quick luxurious getaway full of adventure and romance.

Governor’s Island has undergone many transformations. It’s morphed from a legit 1800’s military base to a U.S Army Headquarters with housing, chapels and schools for military officers and their families.After the two World Wars, it transferred hands to the U.S Coast Guard, becoming their largest base on the Atlantic side. By 1996, this island fortress had ceased all military operations.

is there anything to do on Governor’s Island other than glamping?

Governor’s Island has evolved over time into a thriving recreational park destination for New Yorkers. In these past few years, especially, Governor’s Island has become a hub for art, culture and education.

Riding bikes on Governor’s Island

There is a constant rotation of art galleries in former army barracks, large scale interactive installations on green spaces, live music performances, environmentally focused exhibits and learning centers. And of course, the beloved Jazz Age Lawn Party, now in its 14th year.

luxury glamping Governor's Island

Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC with Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra

What You Need to Know about Glamping on Governor’s Island 

And now, there’s glamping. Since last year, the experiential travel company, Collective Retreats, has created a peaceful 6-acres oasis of luxurious campground accommodations that has stunning views of the Statue of Liberty.

It is currently the only way to stay overnight on the island. If seeing luxurious and campground together in the same sentence makes no sense to you, I get it. Read on for my luxury insider tips on glamping on Governor’s Island.

1. Why did you decide to go?

Let me start by saying, camping and me have a hate-hate relationship. But it was my husband and my 10th wedding anniversary and we wanted to do something that was not just another fancy dinner.

He spent a good part of his childhood and early 20’s hiking and camping in the Colorado mountains. A permanent part of his identity stems from those years as a former college hiking club president, camp counselor and ski instructor.

I, on the other hand, am not as one with nature. Drop me in any neighborhood in New York City and I’ll never flinch. But in the woods, I’m convinced there is mortal danger behind every bush in the form of a cunning serial killer or a ravenous bear. And did I mention my aversion to bugs, heat, ugly hiking gear, poor hygiene and bad food? But during my 10 years of marriage, I have learned the art of compromise. And camping in a glamorous looking tent with high-end furniture, s’mores, on-site restaurant and bar- all within view of the city, seemed like a happy medium.

2. How long did you stay? How long is the ideal first visit?

It was a Thursday and we both put aside our work and took a 12 noon ferry to the island for one night. Spending the afternoon, evening and early morning glamping on the island is all you need.

And that short but sweet visit is part of the appeal. You really do feel like you got a respite from the 8.6 million people in New York City without too much hassle and planning. We took a 9:00A ferry back to Manhattan – enough time to enjoy the quiet sunrise, eat breakfast and seamlessly make it back to work and our kids.

I highly recommend getting there in the afternoon, as the timing ensures that some of the delightful food stands and trucks are still open. We enjoyed lounging at Taco Vista sipping on an  afternoon beer and eating too many chips and guac. And there’s also the James Beard nominated Island Oyster if you’re feeling the spirit of the sea. Both spots are located right after you get off the ferry.

Food trucks on Governor’s Island

3. What are the tents and campgrounds like?

It’s a pleasant 10-minute stroll to the campground, where you pass some of the abandoned army barracks. I made sure to peek into some of the windows to make sure no one was hiding in there waiting to come out later that night. Luckily, all I saw were faux wood walls and chalkboards.

The first thing you notice about the campground is the wide, open field. The tents are dotted around the main field, and there were two young girls riding bicycles on the rocky path. A toddler walking around in his diaper. And couples sitting on lawn chairs or playing corn hole. I definitely felt like I wasn’t in New York City anymore. In fact, maybe I was on a Kansas prairie.

There are three different tent accommodations to choose from. Journey Tents ($150 per night), Summit Tents ($500 per night), and the most luxury option, Outlook Shelter ($700 per night).

The Outlook Shelter, Collective Retreats, Governor’s Island. Courtesy Photo.

All the tents are beautifully furnished with designer curated decor. They have that Scandinavian rustic-modern flair and come equipped with electricity, in-room coffee, tea, cocoa and hot water kettle. There’s also an in-room safe for valuables and WiFi.

Governor's Island glamping tent

The tents at Collective Retreats glamping site on Governor’s Island, New York.

The key difference is that only the Summit and Outlook options come with their own private ensuite bathrooms. For Journey campers, there are plentiful private showers, sink vanities and toilets in tent units that are shared. Your privacy is ensured by zipping the tent shut and locking it to the floor via a hook and lock device.

We booked last minute when only the Journey Tents were available, and I was particularly squeamish about the bathroom situation. But I was pleasantly surprised at their privacy and cleanliness. We never had to wait for one and it helped that they were also housed in a tent with pale wooden beam floors that made it feel almost like a tropical outdoor shower and less like a porta-potty. Whew!

The Journey Tent itself felt spacious and cozy at the same time. There was plenty of room to walk around inside and the bed was so plush and comfortable that I promptly fell asleep for a quick nap.

4- What was the restaurant like?

 I’m always wary if I have only one food option. So prior to boarding the ferry, I got off a subway stop early and went to Eataly at the Oculus to stock up on some of their prepared foods and savory snacks. There’s a Lady M there so of course I had to bring two slices of their delicious Mille Crepe cake. Ever prepared, I also stopped at Épicerie Boulud for some pastries for the next morning.

Dining at dusk on Governor’s Island

Better safe than sorry, But it turns out the restaurant, Three Peaks, was actually great! The portions were small and the service a bit haphazard but overall, very tasty. We shared a creamy Burrata appetizer with Arugula and Candied Walnuts. For entrees, we dined on Pork Chop with Peach Barbecue Sauce and Broccoli-Bacon Slaw and Atlantic Cod with Summer Squash Ratatouille.

Another fun option, if you want to have a more authentic camping option, is to order their BBQ Box. The packages contain everything you need to cook and serve yourself a burger, steak or cod. You can also order a S’mores kit to roast around the campfire after the sun sets.

5. What was the most memorable thing about the visit?

 Even though my husband and I were there for alone time, you can’t help but find yourself in natural conversation with the other campers who have chosen this eclectic experience. There are communal games like life-sized jenga, tug of war, the aforementioned corn hole, and board games scattered around to promote good old-fashioned fun and camaraderie. We met one couple celebrating their 23rd anniversary, and two others commemorating their 1st and 7th, respectively.

One thing we all did not anticipate was that guests must stay within retreat grounds once the island closes (6pm). But with a nightly movie screening, live music, and a campfire, we didn’t miss wandering around a dark island too much.

6. Is this a good trip for families with kids? teenagers? romantic partners? solo travelers? 

 As evidenced by the multiple couples we saw and chatted with, glamping seems to be a popular date night idea. There were also a couple of families and the ones with young kids looked like they were having a blast. The older teenagers looked pretty bored like they’d rather be somewhere else. But what else is new? Solo travelers might love the effortless opportunities for socializing or enjoying their solitude while reading a good book and watching the sun set behind the Statue of Liberty.

7. Describe glamping at Governor’s Island in 3 words.

Peaceful. Rejuvenating. Painless.

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Crediting her training as a cultural anthropologist at Wellesley College, Julie has immersed herself in various industries in the last 15 years including fashion design, event planning, fitness and even investigating police misconduct. Julie lives in NYC where she loves trying every ramen and dumpling restaurant with her husband and three children. She finds joy in bold prints, biographies of fierce women, kickboxing and spending way too long finding the perfect polish color to express her mood.

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