There's visiting New York, and then there's visiting the heart of Manhattan.
At New York's St. Regis hotel, guests stay in a 1904 Beaux Arts landmark building that underwent a $100 million renovation in 2006 involving everything from the Louis XV furniture to hidden high-tech amenities. Just beyond the hotel's doors is some of the world's best shopping, including Emilio Pucci and Japanese department store Takashimaya. Star sightings are common on these streets.
After a day of lugging shopping bags, guests can settle in at one of the country's , the King Cole Bar, which houses a famous 1906 Art Nouveau oil mural and claims to be the birthplace of the Bloody Mary (here called a Red Snapper, $18). Even walking through the lobby to the bar is an ethereal swagger by Italian marble, gilded moldings and a gleaming chandelier.
Just a 15-minute walk away — with countless other luxury accommodation options along the way--is the , sitting right on Columbus Circle and a stone's throw from Central Park. Some of the rooms in this 52-story, modern high-rise designed by Philip Johnson and Costas Kondylis offer views of the park through floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Guests able to tear themselves from the windows might head to Jean Georges, a three-star French-fusion restaurant on the main floor.
Other four- and five-star spots include the and the . The former, the chain's resort on the Kona-Kohala Coast of West Hawaii, offers an inimitable beach on which guests enjoy bungalows carved into black lava and private tiki huts. The Hong Kong location features an infinity pool with views of Victoria Harbor and underwater classical music.
While each offers singular services, all are part of a select group of luxury hotels offering a wide-range of amenities mean to lure travelers seeking high-level luxury.
What's behind the list
Inspectors with Forbes Travel Guide, formerly Mobil Travel Guide, examine every hotel on its current four- and five-star lists, as well as perform assessments of new properties launched the previous year. Each hotel receives an announced visit, wherein an inspector tours the property and looks for more than 200 different attributes (cleanliness of the property, rooms, room products, the beds, linens, bathrooms, etc.). In addition, an anonymous inspector visits the property for a two-night stay, during which he or she tests multiple elements of the experience and service (breakfast, room service, fitness center, concierge, etc.), as well as the facilities. Each five-star hotel receives two unannounced two-night inspections.
No general guest surveys are conducted or considered, and inspectors pay for the rooms and all services they use. This year's series of inspections began in January and were completed in October. A property is not inspected until it has been open for at least six months.
While some hotels earn their ranking on convenience (pets are allowed at the family friendly , for example), history (the , built in 1923, offers white-glove service, a famous and Gaddi's, the only dining room with dinner and dancing), or privacy (at , only guests may use the pool and spa), others offer more novel features to lure guests.
The guest rooms at the , which opened in 2008, offer a grown-up refuge in the heart of Beverly Hills. With flat-screen TVs, mosaic-tiled marble bathrooms and gentleman's valets near the door to dump pocket change or keys, the Spanish Colonial-style hotel is a thoughtful newcomer. Most impressively, when guests lay their heads down at night, it's on customized pillows embroidered with their initials.
At the in , those looking to relax can indulge in bathrooms boasting infinity tubs with light therapy and “champagne” bubbles, flat-screen TVs and stream showers. Conveniently, a butler available 24 hours a day can bring up chef-prepared room service or any other request to the room, or bathroom.
These perks may set a property apart from competitors, but during a global downturn, might not be enough to spark the interest of weary travelers. A survey by global market-research firm Euromonitor, published this summer, forecast the global hotel industry to shrink 3.6 percent in 2009. The forecast for 2010 includes overall travel and tourism growth, in 2008 a $944 billion industry, according to the World Tourism Organization, but at lower-than-normal levels.
Still, even when vacation budgets are trimmed, there are some things travelers won't give up: unique experiences they can't get anywhere else. Little else compares to the at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, which is noted for its mountain-top perch. Over 7,000 feet above sea level, the property is also noted for its service: A ski valet whisks guests to and from the slopes; lavish amenities include house-made chocolates at Chocolate Atelier, as well as heated sidewalks and walkways.
If that's lacking in old-fashioned country appeal, just two hours away from is the in Washington, Conn., sits on 28 acres. It has rooms with 18th and 19th-century art, four-poster canopy beds and views of rolling hills, meandering streams and flourishing gardens. The dining room is also a destination for foodies seeking a seasonal, local and organic menu.
Of course, such luxury doesn't come cheap. The lavish rooms and suites at many of the hotels on our list can run into the thousands per night.