Kelp jerky, $60 naps and so many gym classes I got banned: My stay at the Equinox Hotel
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It was a stay so good I fainted. Or rather, it was a stay so good I decided to have an IV drip just for fun — and then I fainted.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
In an office full of Hilton Diamonds, Hyatt Globalists and Marriott Bonvoy Ambassador Elites, I rarely receive the same kind of premium perks as my colleagues when I stay at hotels.
But at one of New York City's newest hotels — the Equinox Hotel at Hudson Yards — I can flex an entirely new kind of preferred membership: My Equinox fitness club all-access pass.
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I've been a devout Equinox member since 2015. I use my membership to take classes at 26 different locations around Manhattan and get access to premium bathrooms and lockers no matter where I am in the city. So, ever since the wellness brand broke ground on its first-ever hotel venture, in Hudson Yards (the largest private real estate development in the history of the country), I've been dreaming of a staycation at this luxury property.
Related: Use your points to book a wellness retreat
When the 212-room Equinox Hotel began welcoming guests in July, we wondered if people would really want to bed down in a hotel run by a fitness brand. The answer, it turns out, is unequivocally yes. This is a review of a two-night stay at the flagship Equinox Hotel in New York City. But it's also a story about how a wellness powerhouse cracked the code on sleeping in a city that, until now, supposedly never slept — and how much people are willing to pay for the privilege.
The Equinox Hotel isn't part of any loyalty program, though eligible American Express and Chase cardholders can book this property through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) and Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resorts Collection (LHRC), respectively for some nice perks.
Related: Booking hotels through a credit card portal
Both luxury hotel booking programs include elite-like perks such as daily breakfast for two, an upgrade on arrival when available, a $100 property credit and other extras. Travelers should note that, on the same date, a stay booked through Amex FHR (available to those with The Platinum Card® from American Express), was pricing at $585, while the Chase rate was nearly $100 more ($675). Booking direct through the property or through an OTA like Hotels.com and you'd pay only $555 on that same evening, making the Amex FHR rate the best overall value, with the $100 property credit and breakfast.
Related: The best credit cards for hotel stays in 2020
We booked a two-night stay in late January through Hotels.com (for a nonrefundable rate of $465 per night) because we had earned a Hotels.com free night (worth up to $345) to help offset the cost.
Whether booked through an OTA, a luxury hotel program or directly through Equinox, guests essentially receive memberships to the Equinox Hudson Yards fitness center (read: the hotel gym) for the duration of their stay. That includes access to all the facilities, including a eucalyptus steam room, dry sauna, multiple pools and unlimited fitness classes.
The Equinox Hotel is located in the heart of New York City's flashy new Hudson Yards development on the city's far west side, at the coveted 33 Hudson Yards address. Tucked between 11th Avenue and 33rd Street, the hotel is across from the Vessel, a futuristic Thomas Heatherwick-designed landmark that, in the summer, doubles as the world's most ostentatious workout prop. From many public areas, you can admire views of the remaining exposed west side rail yards and the Hudson River beyond.
If you're in New York City for a convention at the Javits Center, the Equinox Hotel is extremely convenient, though that's pretty much it. Hudson Yards, and this entire part of the west side, feels far from just about everything you're likely to do. It's also still very much in development; getting to the hotel both on foot and by car can be impeded by the massive construction zones all over this part of Manhattan.
One upside to the location is that it connects to the High Line, which runs south through Chelsea to the Meatpacking District. The hotel is also a 10-minute walk to New York Penn Station. On the subway, travelers can get here via the 7 train or, perhaps better, take an Uber, which will drop you off right out front. Later this year, Hudson Yards will also be home to Edge, the highest outdoor observation deck in the Western Hemisphere.
Official check-in at the Equinox Hotel is 3 p.m., but I wanted to arrive early and drop off my luggage (er, gym bag) and scout out the property. So, I called around 10 a.m. to see what time I could check in, and was told to come by anytime. As I found out later, getting late checkout wouldn't be so easy: When I asked at the front desk the following day, I was only able to get an additional 30 minutes tacked on to my staycation.
There are two separate entrances at the Equinox Hotel: One for guests and one for gym members. The 60,000-square-foot Equinox fitness center is technically a "destination club," meaning you need a membership to that specific club or a "destination access membership" to get in.
Guests entering the hotel walk through a modest entryway that reminded me of the Times Square Edition. Attendants in white Karl Lagerfeld jackets directed us to walk through the stone-and-wood space, past an undulating metal wall that made you feel as though you were traveling through some kind of portal, and to the elevator to the 25th-floor lobby.
Upstairs, in an ultramodern space complete with black stone floors and Zaha Hadid-designed sofas, hotel staff members wore custom white pantsuits and manned two freestanding front desks constructed of resin and stone.
Every design element seemed luxurious — or at least expensive — including the custom light fixture suspended over the Stephen Starr bar and restaurant below.
At check-in, I found out just how far my unconventional "status" would go: During my stay, I'd receive free gym clothes laundering as an Equinox member (talk about elite perks, right?). I also received a complimentary "Quantum Harmonics Brain & Body Boost" treatment at the spa as a perk of Hotels.com gold status. I inquired about guesting additional people into the gym during my stay, to which I was told, "No limit ... within reason."
Then I was given two room keys and directed to a separate elevator bank up to the 32nd floor.
Hotel rooms in New York City are notoriously small, but when I opened the door to room 3217, I was stunned by the amount of square footage (400, to be exact) in the entry-level Deluxe City View guest room.
There was a sprawling entryway with a black marble console and a trio of floor-to-ceiling adjustable mirrors.
The space was large enough to accommodate excess luggage, fashion shows or full workouts — the latter, if I had to guess, was the point.
Rooms at the Equinox Hotel are basically sleep temples, with serious soundproofing (including padded walls and upholstered leather headboards) that effectively blocked out the cacophony from the construction sites and train yards below.
All-natural, spring-free Coco-Mat mattresses are designed to keep you cool at night. By some sort of sorcery, they really don't transfer movement, either, and even travelers with restless partners should be able to sleep through the night undisturbed. It helps that the beds have two separate duvets, too. This is also supposed to help with temperature regulation, but it means your bedmate can't hog the covers.
Everything in the room is whisper quiet (there's even a specially designed air-conditioning system) and all the commonplace sources of ambient noise and light have been eliminated. At night, custom blackout blinds conceal every trace of light from the 10-foot windows. Once I finally figured out how to turn off the bedside tablet (flipping it face down on the nightstand), the only luminescence my eyes detected was a tiny green flash from the smoke detector.
Turn on the room's night settings and everything becomes impossibly dark, quiet and cool — 66 degrees, supposedly the optimal temperature for sleep. But simply sit up and step off the bed, and a motion-activated light illuminates the floor with a soft glow.
Instead of a desk, the room had an angular velvet chaise and a marble pedestal table. This seemed like a style-over-substance decor decision, but when I actually sat down to write on my laptop, I realized it was a smart substitution: The table height was perfect for working or eating room service, but the chaise was far more comfortable for lounging or watching television than the furniture you usually find shoved into the corner of a hotel room.
A television equipped with an Apple TV box was recessed into the wall across from the bed, though it took me until the second night to realize it wasn't working (the only channels I could get were CNN and a screensaver of Monet paintings). I considered calling the front desk for help, but after three fitness classes and an invasive medical — ahem, spa — treatment, I could hardly stay awake once I climbed into bed.
The bathroom, which could be completely closed off from the rest of the room by a sliding louvered door, was a revelation. Sadly, there was no bathtub (select suites have black-marble soaking tubs) but the stone walk-in shower had a trio of adjustable taps and a bench (if you've ever tried to shave the back of your knee, you'll know why I used the word "revelation" here).
I couldn't figure out how to get all the taps on at once, which was frustrating, and having the faucet on the side of the sink was also a bit awkward.
But there were many surprising details here that offset those small annoyances. Among them: Towels with loops that easily hung onto hooks without sliding off, and hooded boxer-inspired Reigning Champ bathrobes that guests could be seen wearing all over the hotel.
Like the foyer, the mirror panels in the bathroom could also be adjusted, so you could see the back of your head — perfect for hot styling tools.
Instead of the fitness brand's signature Kiehl's products, I was surprised to find an array of Grown Alchemist amenities made from botanicals harvested from the nearby High Line park. Yes, really. I can't remember the last time I tried a hotel product I liked so much I went to buy it at the spa, and I was thrilled the room had full-size dispensers so there was no limit to how much of the calming evening cleanser, fragrant with chamomile, Tasmanian pepper and tangerine, I could use.
Usually, this is the part of a hotel review that would talk about the gym and spa. But the Equinox Hotel is essentially a massive fitness mecca with rooms piled on top, so instead, I want to tell you about the utter glory and insanity of the ensuite minibar — basically, a closet filled with everything from Diet Coke and roasted nuts to mysterious tonics, potions and lotions.
Take almost everything you thought you knew about hotel minibars, run those preconceptions through a Pilates reformer and ask Gwyneth Paltrow to restock the amenities. The result is the Equinox Hotel RoomBar.
Spread across more than half a dozen drawers and shelves, the in-room "minibar" included everything from a complimentary Nespresso station to healthy snacks (crispy almond-butter Brussels sprouts; spicy Thai and spirulina-flavored kelp jerky) and familiar soft beverages.
There were also locally crafted liquors and chilled bottles of wine and Champagne; fitness gear and accessories to use during your stay; and Rhone athletic wear for purchase.
There were also shelves and drawers stocked with dietary supplements, and other wellness products you can probably buy on Goop.
Among the most baffling was an ampoule full of "hypertonic" (read: seawater) you're supposed to consume on an empty stomach to promote "cell renewal, energy levels and protein synthesis," whatever that means. I was also intrigued by the Magnesium Ease spray that promised to aid with sleep and muscle recovery with just three spritzes, and a vial of mysterious "brain fuel" that apparently improves concentration and other "cranial" functions.
I think I'll stick to iced coffee, thank you very much.
But after perusing the very entertaining (and expensive) selection of products, I decided to change into my gym clothes, grab a free bag of popped turmeric-and-garlic-flavored water lily seeds and head downstairs to the gym.
Fitness center and spa
The Equinox Hotel is anchored by a 60,000-square-foot fitness center with everything you'd expect to find at a hotel gym (cardio equipment, free weights, weight machines) — just at a massive scale. I couldn't even count the number of treadmills.
Related: The best hotel gyms on Earth
Hotel guests and club members enter a sprawling, living room-style lounge area and coworking space marked by chevron-patterned wood flooring that extends up the walls toward the ceiling, oversized velvet sectionals and geometric leather ottomans.
Sheer volume aside, the amenities likely to appeal most to travelers are the heated outdoor pool and roof deck; the indoor saltwater lap pool; the hot and cold plunge pools; and unlimited access to Equinox's robust lineup of group fitness classes.
Between the official check-in time (3 p.m. on Friday) and checkout time (noon on Sunday), I took as many classes as possible: Vinyasa yoga, a barre class, a kickboxing-focused circuit called Rounds, a HIIT-style class called Whipped and Anthem, a spin class that's basically Equinox's version of SoulCycle — though, since Equinox owns that, too, you can always just take an actual SoulCycle class downstairs at the adjacent studio for an additional fee.
The sixth class I took was a late-afternoon Barrel Sauna Meditation course that's exclusive to this club. An instructor leads a 20-minute guided meditation inside the barrel saunas with no more than six students inside.
Come summer, the sundeck here is apparently quite a scene, with cocktails circulating around the pool chairs. But during the winter, there are four freestanding barrel saunas travelers can use — along with the pool and outdoor showers — as part of a regenerative post-workout circuit.
As a person who absolutely loves working out, I can honestly tell you I was having the time of my life seeing how many classes I could feasibly cram into a weekend stay. That is, until I received the dreaded nastygram from Equinox: "Oh no! That's your third missed class."
Continue reading: How to stay fit while traveling
Equinox members will recognize this digital slap on the wrist as the one you receive when you book, but late-cancel or skip, three classes within a 30-day period. The punishment? You can't make online reservations for classes for an entire week.
I know what you're thinking: No, I didn't actually skip any of these classes.
Prior to checking in at the hotel, I tried to book some of these classes through the Equinox app in advance so I'd get a head start on my marathon weekend of wellness. But because I don't usually have access to this location, I wasn't able to sign up.
Unless you have an Equinox membership that includes access to the Hudson Yards location, you'll need to register for classes through the concierge. Because my hotel reservation was under the same email that's linked to my gym membership, the Equinox app was seeing that I'd signed up for these classes — but hotel guests don't check in this way. Instead, my name had been put on a guest list.
And, honestly, after showing up for my third or fourth class, they weren't even checking me in at that point. They just waved me along like, "There's that crazy girl with all the questions who keeps taking photos of everything."
Because the app never registered me checking into the gym, I had been banned from booking more classes by Saturday night.
Though the concierge could keep adding me to the list, he couldn't help me with my personal membership problem. For that, I had to reach out to the gym's manager. It took me a couple of days to get an answer from someone who could waive my punishment. It struck me as a bit odd that, as a longstanding gym member and a paying hotel guest, I'd been penalized for making great use of the facilities. Though it was a small nuisance, it's strange Equinox hasn't encountered this yet — or at least bothered to come up with a workaround.
After all, Harvey Spevak, executive chairman and managing partner for Equinox, told The New York Times in 2019 that the idea for the property came from Equinox members who were choosing hotels based on accessibility to Equinox clubs.
And though I'd been told at the front desk I could add multiple people to the guest list — in my circle of fitness fiends, having access to this club is like getting guested into a Centurion Lounge — when I tried to do so with the concierge, I was told only hotel guests on the reservation were allowed on the guest list.
Again, I was a bit surprised that the experience wasn't more seamless. Where, I wondered, was the extra love for members who weren't just paying upwards of $500 a night to be hotel guests, but who pay more than $200 in dues every single month?
I did love the complimentary gym clothes laundering service (typically $10) that -- as promised -- had my clothes picked up, washed, dried, folded and returned in about two hours.
There was another quirk to the fitness club experience. Guests are promised 24-hour access to the gym, but when I inquired at the front desk about this, I was told the club closes to guests when it closes to members (times vary depending on the day). You don't get exclusive access to the sprawling gym floor, studios, swimming pools or lounge areas.
Instead, guests can be escorted by security to the sixth-floor E by Equinox, the brand's notoriously expensive, ultra-exclusive training club. I could not wait to see what a $500 monthly gym membership gets you. Privacy, it turns out, and not much else.
The spartan floor has two mismatched treadmills, a single step machine and a few benches (the space is intended more for personal training than sitting on a stationary bike for an hour). All the marble, leather and opulence, it turns out, is reserved for the locker rooms, which have private changing rooms, toilets, showers and vanities.
Oh, and the Fiji water and fruit selection in this neck of the wild Equinox woods is excellent.
Many Equinox clubs have spas, but few have the sort of lavish, high-tech, ultratrendy treatments you'll find at the Equinox Hotel. Everything on the treatment menu seems to promise to make you slimmer, stronger or smarter — or some combination of the three.
I was tempted by the Facexercise Body Sculpt + Tone massage that promised to make me look leaner, or the $1,800 Lunar28 facial that came with a set of serums that retails for $1,600. This is all supposed to resurface your face and make you look supernally luminous but, for some reason, my budget request to pay for this was denied. Bummer!
Instead, I decided that — in the name of good travel journalism — I should try the treatments that promised to cure jet lag. Or, at least, leave you feeling well-rested and alert.
I won't go into the details here (that's for another story coming shortly) but the quick version is that I took advantage of my complimentary Quantum Harmonics treatment, which promised to give me the experience of getting at least three hours of sleep in 30 minutes. It's billed as "immersive sound and harmonic resonance therapy" on a Wave Table. I didn't wake up from my nap (normally $60 for 30 minutes) feeling groggy, as I usually do. But I'm also not sure I ever actually fell asleep.
The next day, I wanted to try something more, er, involved: a supervised IV nutrient drip. I requested the $250 Jet Lag formula — a shockingly bright infusion of Vitamin C, zinc and other vitamins and minerals — and the CliffsNotes of this tale is that having an IV inserted at a spa isn't any less petrifying than a doctor's office to someone who faints at the sight of her own blood (that's me).
In my semiprivate relaxation "pod" overlooking the still-exposed western railyard, it will surprise absolutely no one to know that I may have just ever so briefly passed out after the IV was inserted.
Fortunately, I passed out under the supervision of a registered nurse and already had an IV hookup of fluids in a fancy spa with fancy dried fruits and fancy teas and infused water. If you're going to faint, I can recommend the spa at the Equinox Hotel as the place to do so.
After I recovered from the shock of the IV (and of having convinced myself to voluntarily pay hundreds of dollars for this experience) I very nearly stopped panicking long enough to enjoy the view.
Food and beverage
Shortly after opening, the Equinox Hotel welcomed Electric Lemon, a concept from James Beard Award-winning restaurateur Stephen Starr.
I'm not sure why, but I expected the restaurant and bar to be dead during my stay. After all, a winter storm was rolling in, it was frightfully cold and windy and, to most New Yorkers, Hudson Yards is just out there.
But from relatively early in the morning until late, late at night, this place was bustling with a young, very stylish crowd. Every seat seemed to be full, and in the summer, they no doubt spill out onto the 8,000-square-foot terrace, with its original Jaume Plensa sculpture and reflecting pool.
I'm not usually one for visiting "hip" places, but this was certainly one of those.
Over the course of the weekend, I had dinner and drinks here, as well as a light lunch. The clean, health-focused American menu was fun and almost fanciful.
On Friday night, my boyfriend met me at the 24th-floor restaurant for dinner. It was around 8 p.m. and we were told that, without reservations, we could either grab seats at the long, communal table for an hour and 30 minutes (the pressure!) or wait until 10 p.m.
Neither of us had eaten much that day, so we promptly filled in seats between two other parties at the communal table and set about ordering the newly fashioned deviled crab crudo with ginger dressing ($24), and a black bass served with poblano, salsa borracha and a side of warm tortillas ($41) that seems to be a menu mainstay. We also ordered the Atlantic cod ($36) which was cooked well but entirely too salty.
The drinks were excellent (try the Blue Thai with vodka, galangal, Thai basil and blueberries) but, as with everything in this neighborhood, gut-wrenchingly expensive even by New York City standards: a cool $18. Then again, you can't buy a condo in this building for less than $5 million, so the menu prices were consistent with the kind of crowd Hudson Yards seems so determined to attract.
Like dinner, room service in the morning was prompt, filling and tasty — but cost an awful lot of money for food I wouldn't venture back to Hudson Yards for -- $34 covered the small pot of coffee and avocado toast. After the compulsory service charge and tip, the bill totaled more than $53.
I placed my order through the tablet, and my meal — packed neatly into a metal bento box-style arrangement (a refreshing departure from those oversized and somewhat embarrassing carts) — arrived within 30 minutes.
Coffee and other light beverages were available by the pool deck, though I suspect this space is more for cocktails and food during the summer.
Back at Electric Lemon for lunch — this time in front of the gas fireplace by the bar — I was impressed by, of all things, a dish called "fancy vegetables and dip." The artful arrangement included broccolini, heirloom carrots, rosy pink lettuce and other leaves and roots.
At street level, just past the fitness club entrance, there's an outpost of Juice Press, typical for New York Equinox locations. I ordered an iced turmeric latte with ginger, vanilla, honey and oat milk. This is, after all, the Equinox Hotel, right?
When I'd finally exhausted all my onsite options (and consumed three or four of the free Golden Delicious apples in bowls all over the hotel), I started to venture off into Hudson Yards for sustenance. For guests who find the hotel's dining venues limited, there are other overpriced places to eat in the immediate vicinity.
One in particular — Tavern by WS — is an elegant brasserie in the same tower as the hotel, though you'll have to leave the building and go around the corner to get there.
This is the kind of fare you're probably going to be craving after six workout classes and a puncture wound. At least, I know I was. Lobster ravioli and a steaming bowl of minestrone with San Marzano tomatoes and pole beans was just the ticket.
I drank gallons of snake oil during my two-night stay at Equinox Hotel Hudson Yards and I loved every single sip.
Before checking in, I thought I'd love the Equinox Hotel, if only for its proximity to my gym. Like so many members, missing my Thursday morning kickboxing class or Monday evening cycling class can be one of the less-fun parts of traveling. I am a creature of habit, if nothing else.
But I can honestly say now the Equinox Hotel is one of my new favorite properties in the city for a staycation.
In the refined glow of Hudson Yards, guests can count on a good night's sleep — the kind you usually have to work 80-hour weeks to earn. In fact, the hotel experience was more seamless than the fitness club experience, which seemed somehow to not take into consideration the Equinox members the hotel was supposedly designed for in the first place.
By the time I wrapped up my final gym class of the weekend — a 45-minute kickboxing circuit — I was famished. So, I just may have grabbed that $12 bag of kelp jerky on my way out.
All photos by the author.