An exciting new option at a shocking price
For better or for worse, Marriott has spent the past few years expanding its footprint (independent of the Starwood merger) by increasing the presence of its eurocentric subsidiaries stateside. The AC Hotel brand for instance, whose original parent was headquartered in Spain (and established by a Spaniard named Antonio Catalan), expanded to New York’s Times Square at the end of April 2018. This marks AC’s first big splash in the North American market, and with physically stunning spaces and kind, responsive staff members, it’s a worthy addition to the Marriott portfolio. The property is all the more impressive when you consider that the AC is officially billed as three-stars. It appears to be designed to compete with the Andaz-es (four-stars) of the city, and, on better days, complement the EDITIONs (five-stars). Those are lofty ambitions for sure, but for the most part, this newcomer hits the marks… at a cost. If it’s value you’re after, hold on to your wallet and look elsewhere.
New openings like the AC Hotel Times Square are usually good bets for great accommodations. Sure, a freak catastrophe can happen anywhere, but more often than not, it will smell particularly fresh and clean, furniture won’t be dirty and worn in yet, and staff members will have some extra pep in their steps; they’ll be happy to be there! Travel industry generalizations like these aren’t entirely accurate — unfaltering belief in them will set you up for disappointment — but there are reasons why they exist. The AC’s managers are well aware of the inherent advantages the property has by virtue of being new, and unfortunately, they have been trying to capitalize on them to a near obnoxious degree. Everything from the rooms to the nonalcoholic beverages are priced accordingly: very, very expensively.
It’s a shame that seemingly arbitrary premiums play such prominent roles in shaping this business model. The AC Hotel Times Square is high quality, but it won’t be confused for, say, the Park Hyatt. A three-star, even one as good as this, just can’t match up to a four-star or five-star, and naturally, the rates at the former shouldn’t be higher than the latter. That logic should be blatantly obvious, and maybe it is, but it’s not always observed here. The examples earlier in the introduction (the Andaz Midtown and the EDITION) can illustrate this puzzling issue. For a specific night in mid-September, for instance, a “City View Deluxe” room at the Andaz costs…
…$480. That’s a pretty penny, but at least it’s for a reservation at a reputable four-star that’s popular with higher flyers. Redeeming points (25,000/night) is easy enough too. Alternatively, if you were to go 17 blocks to the south at the uber-premium EDITION, you’ll be paying…
…$704 for a “comparable” room (i.e. a deluxe “City View”). That’s even more expensive than the last, but for a top-tier property in New York, it’s reasonable (the Ritz, the St. Regis, the Park Hyatt, and the Four Seasons, all of which are much closer to Midtown, are all north of $1,100 on this specific night). You can still take solace in the fact that you get what you pay for. Can you do the same in a similar offering at the AC in Times Square?
Well, if a $68 discount can relieve the sting of spending several hundred dollars per night, then sure, $636 for the AC Times Square could be worth it. Truth be told though, if you’re preparing to book something that expensive, you’re better off staying at the EDITION for a five-star experience or the Andaz at a considerably lower rate. Those two are objectively more luxurious than the AC — they’re both above three-stars while the AC is not — which means there’s a lot of disparity in how much “bang for your buck” you get. Charging ridiculous amounts for everything doesn’t make a hotel any more premium than its aspirational competitors, but it instead just weakens its own value proposition.
You might be more satisfied if you use Marriott Rewards in lieu of cash. The going rate of 35,000 points per night (standard for a Category 5 property like this one) is nothing to blink at, but the AC Times Square bests its local, vanilla, and utterly uninspiring portfolio peers by miles. If you’re going to spend that many points for a place in Manhattan, read no further: you won’t get any better. Still, no matter how good this is comparatively, choosing between a $636 room rate or a redemption valued somewhere in the neighborhood of $315 and $350 (assuming a valuation between 0.9 and 1.0 cents per point) for a three-star is not ideal. You might find a better value somewhere entirely different… like at the Andaz, for example.
BUT BUT BUT!!!
Perceived value is completely subjective. Astronomical price tags might be deterrents for you, but perhaps the property can offer lots of value to others with different priorities. Indeed, if the AC Times Square is going to win over the most ardent, cost-minded critics, it’ll do so because of its location and its excellent and thoughtful design… and I’d wager that it has a good chance to change minds. You shouldn’t count this one out just yet! The building housing the hotel, for starters, was gutted completely, and the results of the subsequent renovation are beautiful:
It’s located in an unbeatable spot, right off of Broadway and only a few blocks from many major attractions. It’s the perfect “home base” for a stay in Manhattan, especially if you don’t want to ride the Subway or sit in Midtown traffic. You can walk everywhere if you’re so inclined.
The AC is equally superb on the interior as it is on the exterior. After going through an automatic revolving door, you’ll find yourself in a minimalist lobby that somehow manages to feel warm, inviting, and unique. How often do you see a mobile hanging from a glass ceiling?!?
The wall closest to the street is made almost entirely out of glass, so natural light streams in during the day to create dramatic visual effects that change with the time and the weather. Throw in some eclectically-styled yet functional furnishings and you have a perfectly pleasant area to hang out in, maybe do some work, and enjoy the sunshine from the comfort of air conditioning. The architects and the interior designers did a commendable job seamlessly integrating these elements here in the lobby and throughout the rest of the hotel (a lot more on this, particularly when it comes to the light, later). From the first impression on, it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into figuring out every single detail in every single room. Nothing here feels gratuitous or out of place.
The reception desk is located off to the right, and when I arrived, there were plenty more “ooohs” and “ahhhs” to be had. A guest, who appeared to be checking out, was in the middle of a shouting match with an associate. Eventually she stormed away, swearing up a storm. Meanwhile the manager called the police. She huffed past me as I was taking photos, muttering, “Publicize whatever you have BECAUSE THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!” Alrighty then, if you insist…
After her removal from the premises, there was an opportunity to take a mostly unobstructed photo of the front desk. The dark marble contrasting the brightly-lit “AC” sign makes for an impressive backdrop, but it’s not overbearing either.
During check-in, the amiable employee working the front desk explained all the benefits offered to me as Marriott Gold elite member. If you hold that status, you’re technically entitled to upgrades and free breakfast, among other things. No other rooms were available, so the former was out of the question (but that’s no big deal), and the latter was, um, a bit complicated. Marriott has been infamously inconsistent with how it provides its breakfast perk, and lo and behold, the AC Times Square doesn’t yet have the proper infrastructure to serve it. I was instead issued a $10 meal credit that could be applied to any bill from one of three “eateries” on the premises. The first and only sit-down option is Boqueria, an independent tapas restaurant that happens to pay homage to the brand’s Castilian founder.
I didn’t get a chance to try the breakfast, but the online menu and official photography suggest that you can order Spanish classics a la carte to complement a continental breakfast. That’s a better set up than a lame buffet consisting of yogurt, stale muffins, and watery scrambled eggs, but man, it’s expensive! As per the menu, the cheapest dish (“French” toast) is $11. In other words, you’re gonna be paying for food here EVEN WITH the $10 credit applied. That seems to defeat the purpose of having “complimentary breakfast” as an elite perk, but oh well, something is better than nothing.
Alternatively, there’s a “bodega” adjacent to the front desk that sells assorted snacks and beverages. I don’t think you can consider day-old pastries and Häagen-Dazs and the like as acceptable breakfast foods, but at least the credit can be applied here as well.
Lastly, there’s a self-serve coffee station in the lobby. There’s no food here, but if you want a $5 Nespresso or a $3 cup of hot water and a Lipton teabag, you can spend your $10 allowance here too… but please don’t do this. You can get free coffee and tea in your room.
After being underwhelmed by the overwhelmingly-priced breakfast options, I was issued a pair of keys and directed to the elevator bank. Pre-signing the bill at check-in stung (while not as expensive as the rates cited in the introductory example, my room still cost $580 for the night! Ouch.) but impressive design features make it easier to stomach the pain. The elevators look like they belong in Dubai, with grays contrasting with dark gold accents shimmering about.
Reviews seldom consider, yet alone evaluate, the quality of the elevators, but the ones at the AC deserve special recognition. I never had to wait for more than 15 seconds, and every ride was uninterrupted AND private. Perhaps it was a lucky coincidence, but seeing that the hotel was sold out, this seems like an unlikely explanation. Maybe I’m crazy, maybe not, but in any case, being able to move about so quickly and efficiently deserves some sort of shoutout.
The elevator landings are far more intimate here than in the lobby, but that’s okay. It almost feels as if the doors open to an apartment building rather than a chain hotel. Murals of modern art adorn some of the walls, while simple-yet-warmly-toned wallpaper covers the others. Thick, lux carpet lies below.
On each floor, all but one of the guest rooms can be found along a single corridor. The last one, which was assigned to me for the night, is directly opposite the elevators.
This was a dreadful discovery initially — hotel walls, let alone those made of wood, traditionally have trouble containing sound — but the benefits of this paneling proved twofold later in the evening. It’s a neat texture that fits in with the minimalist aesthetic, sure, but more importantly, it effectively insulated the interior from exterior noises. The sounds of hallway traffic and elevator beeps were indistinguishable throughout the night, so the sleeping conditions were all the better. The thoughtfulness here reinforces the notion that the AC Times Square is smartly designed, but this feature isn’t particularly glamorous. Let’s be honest, few people are gonna say, “WOW, the wood here is a TOTAL game changer!” They might, however, say the same about the lighting. Just like in the lobby, both the sun and artificial sources are creatively used to enhance the rooms and their furnishings… and it makes a world of difference.
A good amount of light can make a space appear much bigger than it really is. In New York, where hotels are notoriously small, every optical illusion helps. The AC architects get this — you want a room that feels more like an urban oasis and less like a glorified broom closet — and they planned accordingly. Their ingenuity extends down to the way that shadows are cast. The “closet”/”dresser”/storage unit, which features an open design and thus leaves your belongings exposed, is naturally shrouded in darkness. That means that in lieu of doors, there’s still some degree of privacy. Should you need to see better, you can just hit a switch to turn on an overhead fixture that’ll illuminate the nook.
The desk is only a few feet away from the closet — right adjacent to the door — but light here plays an entirely different role. If skies are clear (and it’s not night time, obviously), you won’t ever need to use the lamp sitting off to the side. Instead, you’ll find the work surface perpetually bathed in sunshine.
All of these visual tricks are more impressive when you consider that, even on the 18th floor, the views are partially obstructed and darkened by other neighboring skyscrapers. It’s hard to utilize light when, relatively speaking, there isn’t very much of it to begin with… yet somehow the AC executes it! It’s remarkable, honestly.
Forgive me for devoting more than 400 words of this review to explaining how cool the sun and the shadows work together, but trust me, it’s worthy of praise. The artificial light in windowless spaces like the bathroom is well-deserving of it too; it’s stunning in its own right.
Many design-focused hotels frequently suffer from the same tragic flaw: they’re nice to look at, but actually using anything inside is a pain in the ass. Aside from the rectangular toilet seat here — quite literally a pain in the ass — the function consistently matches the AC’s appealing form.
The shower, with its white textured walls to contrast dark gray flooring and wall paint, is as pleasant to use as it is to admire.
The shower heads are nice and there’s plenty of pressure, even when you opt for the rainfall. You won’t ever feel like you’re being dribbled on from above, which is an objectively awful sensation when you’re trying to scrub yourself clean.
Because the controls are located right near the entrance to the shower, you don’t have to worry about spraying yourself when you turn on the stream. You can twist the handle, wait for the water to warm, and then enter at your leisure. If there’s anything worse than “weak” water, it’s getting doused by cold water. These two faults are regrettably far too common at even the most luxurious of properties, so kudos to the AC for getting this right.
The bath-specific toiletries are provided by Korres, a Greek beauty company that I had never heard of prior (but it’s not like I’m an expert in the subject either). The products were simple yet smelled nice, which is about all you can hope for in complimentary bottles of shampoo. Offensive these ain’t!
Once you’re done washing yourself, you can help yourself to a towel hanging at the opposite end of the shower (adjacent to the door). As great as the water pressure is, you shouldn’t have to worry about inadvertently splashing them. They’re placed far and high up enough, and, for what it’s worth, underneath more dramatic lighting.
All of the other amenities you might expect to find in a hotel bathroom are accounted for next to, and under, the sink, starting with another bar of Korres soap (for stressed skin!), as well as a makeup remover, a washcloth, and a hairdryer. There are plenty of outlets too, in case you need to plug in your own stuff.
In keeping with the “exposed-yet-private” design of the closet area, there are no cabinets or built-in shelves underneath the sink. Instead, there’s small stand (on wheels) that stores extra towels and toilet paper, various personal hygiene kits, lotion, and Kleenex. It’s a mostly-good set up, although perhaps maybe those tissues should be kept on the counter by default. Those seem to be too important to stash away.
As is common at luxury properties (and *ahem* certain three-stars that like to pose as such), a bathrobe was hanging in the closet, with a pair of slippers stashed away in one of the pockets. Strangely, there was only one black robe available — there’s usually two and they’re usually white — but hey, something is always better than nothing.
Also near the robe is an assortment of features that are typical of most hotels, like an iron and a shoehorn and hangers. One shelf of the closet, for instance, is devoted entirely to housing a safe. Its appearance is almost comical; it’s a small, enclosed box in a room that’s otherwise designed to promote openness. The extra-tall shelf directly above also makes for an amusing juxtaposition — assuming that quirky furniture cracks you up — but there’s nothing actually wrong with this here.
A mini fridge is beneath the lockbox, and unlike the vast majority of its counterparts in other locations, this one has a window in the door. Too bad it doesn’t have all that much to show off…
At least the water bottles are free, which is something you can’t say very often during your stay at the AC Times Square. The chilled glassware is a nice touch AND nice to touch on a hot day, while the “¡Salud!” coasters are subtle-but-noted nods to the brand’s Spanish heritage.
In similar fashion, one of the two drawers below honors the traditions of the AC’s parent company. In case you didn’t know, the Marriotts are devout Mormons, which partially explains why you can find a copy of the Book of Mormon in every single room.
There are a few other freebies beyond the water bottles, like some coffee and tea. The serving sizes, especially when it comes to the tea, leaves a little bit to be desired.
My reservation was only for one night, so I can’t speak to whether or not that stock is restored daily by housekeeping. This definitely seems to be a “hope for the best, expect the worst”-type situation. Given how overpriced everything else is, it’s reasonable to assume that the AC is just as stingy with its teabags.
On the flip side, this sorry offering is a weak spot in an otherwise great “office.” If you’re a businessman traveling solo who just needs a place to sleep and maybe do a little bit of work, you’ll be perfectly content at the AC. There’s enough caffeine for a quick jolt (for one. Sorry, couples and families!), and a console where it’s easy to spread out and be productive. It’s elegantly designed too, and, of course, it receives plenty of light from both natural and artificial sources.
It’s far too common to see a hotel desk that lacks sufficient light, electrical outlets, and space, as well as comfortable seating arrangements. I’m happy to report that the AC Times Square avoids all of these shortcomings. While the abundance of light has been WELL documented thus far, it’s worth pointing out that there are plugs built directly in to the wall above AND below the writing surface.
For those who sleep next to their phones and their iPads (stored on a side-table, hopefully!), you’ll find even more outlets and jacks to keep them juiced. By my count, there were 16 total electrical sockets that were free to use. I’d say that’s excessive, but this is one thing where it is FAR better to have too many than too few. Great job, AC Times Square electricians!
There’s also an excellent 55-inch LG television that hangs above the desk, and it’s mounted in such a way so that it can pivot and tilt in whatever direction you may need it to. It’s definitely high definition, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s 4K quality either.
Of course, none of this would matter if the bed sucks, and thankfully, it doesn’t. Marriott’s mattresses are consistently excellent, but obviously you’re entitled to a different opinion. The ones at the AC are firm, but not anywhere near as firm as what you might find at an Asian hotel…or a Hyatt! The linens were fresh and clean, but do be aware that my perception may be skewed. There would be some serious issues at hand if the sheets were already pilly so soon after the grand opening.
In addition to the all of the aforementioned power sockets and jacks, there are quite a few sources of light: a standard lamp mounted to the wall, a “snake” LED for reading, recessed halogens up in the ceiling, and obviously, the massive, near-floor-to-ceiling windows during the day.
The night table looks cool, as it appears to be floating in air, and its wood trim fits in with the other appointments. It holds a small telephone handset (that should probably be near the workspace, but I digress), a pad of paper, and a ridiculously small pen. If you have big mitts, don’t count on getting a lot of use out of this writing utensil…
All of these issues are ultimately minor in nature, and unless you hate toilet seats with corners and tiny freebie beverage servings, these shouldn’t be the reasons why you write the AC Times Square off. The masterful design is the main attraction, and while you may have to sacrifice functionality at OTHER properties, you won’t here. The dreams of an Ikea fanboy with a taste for luxury is most representative of this Marriott, and that alone makes it worthy of your consideration.
Based on the appearance of the lobby and the room itself, you’d be correct in assuming that the AC Times Square utilizes this “Glam-Ikea” aesthetic in its other public spaces. The design is consistent through and through, like in the small basement business center and in the fitness center next door to it.
Thanks to its gray walls and low ceiling, the gym has an appearance that’s somewhat more becoming of a dank workout pit, but it nevertheless still fits in with the overall vibe of the AC. After all, what seedy sweatbox uses neon as a decorative piece and has excessive recessed lighting?
For a room that can’t possibly hold more than two dozen people comfortably, there sure are a lot of towels on offer.
These two spots are all well and good, but the real star of the AC Hotel Times Square is at the other end of the building. The Castell Rooftop Lounge is exactly where its name suggests it is, and, despite contrasting in the visual sense, it is the undisputed cherry on top of the property. The elevators leading up to the top floor deposit guests in a swanky, wood-paneled room that feels much warmer and more foo foo compared to the minimalism seen most everywhere else.
There’s an interesting assortment of seating options, with traditional tables and chairs, high top stools, and, in a few places, couches. With glass fireplaces and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Manhattan, plus attentive staff members willing to cater to your every desire, you might feel as if you’re in a wealthy person’s living room…
…although I’d be pretty concerned if a friend of mine had a liquor collection this extensive.
Seriously though, the grand wooden arches, complemented by a near perfect view of the Empire State Building, make for a beautiful bar. You’ll pay for it when you order drinks — the cheapest menu item, a can of beer, costs $8, wines are about double that, and cocktails are closer to $20 — but the experience justifies the cost.
The real piece de resistance awaits outside. Pass through some french doors adjacent to the bar and you’ll be out on a balcony perched in the middle of the Manhattan skyline.
There are plenty of places to sit back and relax in privacy. Like on the interior, there’s a wide variety of seating arrangements, many of which are partitioned off by hedges, shrubs, and small trees. It’s classy and tasteful; the greens add some much-needed color to the urban jungle around.
The lounge opens at 4 pm and stays open late in to the evening. You can come by whenever, you can take a seat wherever, and you won’t ever wait longer than a few seconds for a server. It’s a relaxed environment despite its surroundings, and the attitude of the unpretentious and enthusiastic staff members will make you feel right at home. The furniture is comfortable for sure, but the best part is that you’ll never get too warm, even on a hot summer day. Because of how the space is laid out and how the sun is positioned in the late afternoon, you will always be in the shade. This is yet another stroke of engineering genius.
As you lean back, sipping on your cava and enjoying the view, you’ll inevitably find yourself thinking: “Wow, this is worth it!”
…until you see the bill.
I really want to love the AC Hotel Times Square, and, at the surface level, it’s easy to. The property is objectively stunning, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive looking three-star in Manhattan. Everyone who had a role in building the place deserves a promotion, as it seems like the desires of their guests dictated their decisions and then some! The architects harnessed light in a way that’s seldom seen outside of some of the newest, most innovative hotels in the world. The interior designers chose furnishings that are tasteful, stylish, and delightfully minimalist. I cannot stress it enough: the results are beautiful. Add in a staff that’s kind, attentive, and willing to go above the call of duty to make a stay as enjoyable as possible, and you have what amounts to an excellent choice for your next trip to New York. If you can book a room at a decent cash rate, you by all means should… but that’s a huge “if.” If you can’t, either look elsewhere if you seek any semblance of a good value, or be prepared to hand over an arm and a leg and maybe your first-born at check-in.
The good, the bad, the ugly of the AC Hotel Times Square, New York
- The Good
- The property has a style factor to it, and even though the guest rooms aren’t huge, they’re designed and appointed with masterful attention to detail.
- Bathrooms are surprisingly spacious, and more importantly, all have excellent sinks, toilets, and showers.
- The location — only a few blocks from the Empire State Building — can’t be beat.
- The rooftop bar and lounge is an incredible spot to start, or end, your night.
- The Bad
- Your dollar doesn’t go far here; you’ll be paying a premium to stay right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan.
- The points rate — 35,000/night — isn’t particularly great either.
- Seriously, WHY is everything so expensive?
- The Ugly
- There’s no breakfast for elite members, but there is a $10 breakfast credit. That can buy you about a third of a bagel.
Have you stayed at the AC Hotel Times Square in New York before? What are your thoughts?