Governors Island camping: What to expect when you stay at this ‘magical’ retreat

At Collective Governors Island, there are luxurious accomodations, chef-created breakfasts and vast and beautiful views of the city.
At Collective Governors Island, there are luxurious accomodations, chef-created breakfasts and vast and beautiful views of the city. Photo Credit: Carolyn Butts

Camping in New York City is an actual thing now and you can do it in style (as we New Yorkers do).

Forget any ideas you have about pitching a tent in the woods — the new camping grounds, Collective Governors Island, is all about the glamping (glamorous + camping) experience.

Think luxurious accommodations, chef-created breakfasts, vast and beautiful views of the city . . . it’s probably the closest thing you’ll get to “roughing it” in nature.

“The word that comes out most frequently from guests [during the two-week soft opening] . . . is just ‘magical,’” said Peter Mack, the CEO at Collective Retreats, the company running the glamping grounds.

On Wednesday, the six-acre retreat officially opened for the season (through November) and we took a tour of the amenities to see just how magical it is.

Here’s what you can expect if you stay.

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

You’ll have Governors Island to yourself if you get up early enough. The island opens to campers at 7 a.m., which gives you three hours to run, bike and be alone before the public comes by boat. In general, the island is chock full of activities, including skating on a synthetic ice rink, biking, art exhibits, zip lining and more. When you’re not relaxing in your tent, you have the entire 172-acre island to explore and incredible views to set your gaze on.

The Collective will also have its own programming (more to come) and currently has sunrise and sunset yoga classes, s’mores-making around a firepit at 8:30 each night and many games to play, from cornhole to scrabble. (Important note: The s’mores are created with homemade marshmallows and graham crackers.)

The actual amenities range from cute and convenient to luxurious and expensive.

Those who can afford $450 to $650 per night will get to stay in the “Summit” tents, which house a king or two single beds with 1,500 thread-count sheets, a down comforter and “designer-curated” blankets. Don’t worry about your phone losing battery power; there is electricity and bedside sockets at your disposal. And there’s no sharing a latrine or shower with strangers. Each Summit tent has its own fancy bathroom with a rainshower head and an actual porcelain toilet. It literally is a hotel room set in the great outdoors — you even get free breakfast and a s’mores kit.

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

For anywhere from $75 to $127 a night, the “Journey” tents offer a more quaint experience but still a nice one. Choose between a queen or two single beds with 1,000 thread-count sheets and electricity and plush Turkish towels. But you’ll have to share a bathroom trailer, which has private toilets and showers.

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

If you want to grill out like you do on a camping trip, you can. The Collective provides grills that you can use if you purchase a barbecue box, which comes with pre-seasoned meats that you grill yourself outside.

Otherwise, the dinner menu isn’t far off from what you’d expect at a hotel: a chilled corn soup appetizer, rigatoni Bolognese, a pulled pork sandwich, fresh pan roasted fish from Montauk and more.

The cuisine is crafted by head chef Jason Rutigliano, who has worked as a private chef and at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality, among other places.

His kitchen is located within the Three Peaks Lodge, which is basically the lobby/game room/lounge at The Collective.

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

The campground is the sixth location Collective Retreats has created (with others in the Hudson Valley, Texas, Yellowstone, Vail and Sonoma) in the four years since its founding.

Peter Mack, the CEO, said that the company’s dream was originally to set up in Central Park near “Shakespeare in the Park,” but “when we started communicating with the Governors Island Trust, we knew immediately that it was absolutely even better than something like Central Park.”

The island, which is a former military and U.S. Coast Guard base in New York Harbor, was left virtually abandoned in the 1990s and has become a major recreation space for locals and tourists alike.

The Governors Island Trust, which was created to make it a public park, believes that hospitality is part of that strategy, according to its president and CEO, Michael Samuelian.

Plans for the retreat came together quickly and have transformed the space almost overnight, he said.

“This was a gravel pit three months ago,” he said. “This happened so quickly and happened in a magical amount of time.”

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

A foursome from Long Island made the trek to stay the night in a couple of the smaller Journey tents.

“The furnishings are stunning,” said camper Eleanor Fichtelman. “The chandelier and table lamps are beautiful.”

Her friend Anne Boehl wanted to go glamping now rather than later.

“I thought that if we don’t do it now before others find out about it, we’d never get in,” she said.

She’s probably right.

For more information, visit collectiveretreats.com.

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver