I’m not much of a hotel aficionado, but I will admit that the TWA hotel at JFK airport piqued my interest in a very big way. Heck – up until this point in my life, it’s the only hotel in the entire world that I’ve ever actually dreamed about staying at as soon as they announced that they were going to build it. Two weeks ago, I finally got my opportunity and this is a full review of that experience.
What exactly is the TWA Hotel and why is it so important?
If you’re a regular reader of SANspotter.com (or you found this article through a Google search), you probably know darn well what the TWA hotel is all about. However, if by chance you happened to stumble across this article from another article here on my blog, here’s a brief summary of what this hotel is and why it’s so significant:
- Although guest rooms were built in an all new facility, the lobby is a full restoration of the old TWA Terminal at JFK (located adjacent to terminal 5)
- The entire hotel is themed with vintage TWA nostalgia – as a matter fact, it’s as much of a museum as it is a fully functional hotel
- There is a fully restored Lockheed Constellation (in the TWA livery) parked out back that serves as a lounge and bar
- It’s the only on-airport hotel at JFK
How to get to the TWA hotel
As I noted above, the TWA hotel is located adjacent to Terminal 5 at JFK. Access is extremely simple, with a dedicated elevator on the arrivals level (next to baggage claim). There are very clearly marked signs everywhere, and it wasn’t all that difficult for me to find.
Once stepping off the elevator, you step into a small room which is a very accurate replica of Jack Frye’s office (who, if you didn’t know, was the guy who ran TWA from 1934 to 1947). I found it to be a really interesting tribute to the guy who started it all. Not only that, it was a really impressive introduction to the TWA hotel and what was all about.
The other side of this room is a brief mural of the history of TWA aircraft, the entrance to a long oval-shaped hallway draped in blood-red carpet, and hip 60’s music blaring from overhead speakers. A very impressive introduction indeed!
It should also be noted that there is drive-up access to the TWA hotel. Just follow the signs towards terminal 5 as you enter the airport, and you’ll see signs for the TWA hotel. It’s extremely simple and easy.
The amazing lobby
Long story short, the lobby is the most authentic (and awesome) flashback to the 1960’s you’ll ever experience. As a matter of fact, the feeling of walking into the lobby this place was one of the primary reasons why I wanted to write a review of the TWA Hotel as soon as possible. Everything that I’ve heard about this place (and all the pictures that I’ve seen) have done nothing but to get me excited about soaking it all for the very first time. I was definitely not disappointed!
Right away, I could tell that things were very different compared to other hotels (like, duh). The spectacular restoration of the old TWA terminal was impressive in and of itself, but the sound of the 60’s music pumping over the speakers and the relics of TWA nostalgia everywhere was massively overwhelming to this AvGeek. It honestly felt like I was transported back in time to the 1960’s.
I also noticed that (unlike pretty much every other hotel in the world), there was no hotel staff around to greet guests. It felt more like walking into a museum then it did a hotel, which to be honest, was OK by me since I’m a huge airline enthusiast and I’ve been waiting for months to see this place with my own eyes. I most definitely wasn’t disappointed by the lack of hospitality from the staff. However, if that’s one of the things you like about a good hotel, you will probably be disappointed.
The Lockheed Constellation (aka “The Connie”)
Even though the fully restored Lockheed Constellation converted to a bar is one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen, the TWA hotel would still be very impressive without it. However, since it’s there, and they converted it into a fully functioning bar and lounge, it’s what makes this hotel the most interesting and exciting property I’ve ever stayed at.
Several things you need to know about The Connie:
- There is free and open access to it for all. You do not need a room reservation to see it up close.
- While the interior is converted to a fully functioning bar and lounge, the cockpit and forward section of the aircraft is fully restored and very much like a museum exhibit. It’s fascinating!
- If you want to be absolutely sure that you’ll have the opportunity to grab a drink inside the Connie, be sure to make a reservation. There are certain times of the day where it gets very busy and without a reservation you will be denied access (since seating inside is very limited).
Being that I’m introverted and not very much into hanging out in bars and lounges by myself, I just had a brief look inside without staying too long. From what I saw, it looked really impressive. It was most certainly the highlight of this entire TWA hotel review.
The check in process
Remember what I said earlier about the fact that there were no hotel staff members greeting guests as they walked in? Well, that cold vibe extended all the way through the check in process (unfortunately).
Checking into the TWA hotel here at JFK is very much a “self service” kind of deal. The check-in desk resembles an old TWA ticketing desk at the airport, which was a really neat detail.
However, what wasn’t so neat was that checking in involved using a kiosk without any human interaction at all. Yes, there were hotel staff members roaming around behind the desk to assist guests if necessary, but not once was I greeted by anyone. It felt just like checking into a Spirt Airlines flight at any airport across the nation.
For the record, I didn’t mind the lack of personal greetings so much. However I do know that hospitality and the feeling of being at home is quite important to many people who frequent hotels as expensive as the TWA hotel is. Self service hotels are definitely a new concept and I’ve got a feeling that it’s not going to go over quite as well as it did for other industries (such as airlines and supermarkets).
The guest rooms
What are the rooms at the TWA hotel like? Well, if you were expecting the guest rooms to be as swanky and retro as the main lobby, you’re going to be a bit disappointed. However, that’s not to say that the rooms are all that bad either. I was given a room on the 5th floor in the Hughes Wing overlooking the JetBlue terminal (terminal 5). Note that I had to pay a bit extra for the privilege of an airport view, but it was totally worth it in my opinion. I mean, you can’t stay at the TWA hotel without planes taking off right outside your window, right?
Although the rooms were clean and modern without any of the swoopy 1960’s retro vibe of the main lobby, there were quite a few little TWA and retro-themed details which I thought were interesting. These included things such as a fully functional rotary phone, copies of vintage Life magazines from the 1960’s, and an Etch-a-Sketch available for purchase from the mini bar. There was even a can of Tab in there as well!
And since no TWA hotel review would be complete without a telling you how comfortable the bed was, let’s just say that it was decent. I am a very light sleeper, and I’m very picky about the pillows are use. Thankfully I didn’t have any major issues with the bedding in my room.
I should also note that noise from the airport was a non-issue as well. Again, I’m an extremely light sleeper and I’ll wake up at the very slightest of sounds. I had no problem sleeping through the night even though my room was right above the arrivals level of terminal 5 with cars coming and going all night. The windows here at the TWA hotel are very nicely soundproofed.
The rooftop pool
One of the biggest regrets of my TWA hotel experience was not bringing a bathing suit. The weather was absolutely perfect during my visit, and I couldn’t help to think that it would’ve been really nice to hang out in the pool and watch the JFK airport at work. Lounging in a pool and watching airplanes are two activities that I’ve never combined before, and I’m still kicking myself for having missed that opportunity.
As far as plane spotting and photography goes, it’s probably one of the best locations around all of JFK. However, I’m not exactly sure how the hotel staff would feel about someone hanging out up there with a large camera and not partaking in the bar or the pool. I’m willing to bet that you’d be OK hanging out for a few minutes and taking a few pics, but you’re probably going to get kicked out if you’re just up there to take pictures of airplanes.
Don’t quote me on this though. It was just the feeling I got considering how crowded it was up there. Besides, there were a lot of hotel staff members hovering around seemingly very eager to get people to buy drinks. Anyone who isn’t buying is likely going to be frowned upon in my opinion.
It should be noted that only guests of the TWA hotel will have access to the rooftop pool. Unlike the Connie on the ground level, you’re not going be able to get up there without accessing the elevators with your room key.
Other notable amenities of the TWA hotel
Due to the fact that my visit was extremely brief and that I was heavily distracted nearly the entire time (lol), there isn’t much I can tell you about other features of the TWA hotel such as the gym and restaurants. There are indeed both here, as there should be in a full-service hotel such as this.
There is also a very lightly-staffed food court on the ground level. I found it to be somewhat lacking in both service and selection, but this is the place where I chose to purchase my dinner. Long story short, I wouldn’t recommend it. The food was so-so and the prices were high, and because of that, I highly recommend that you walk over to terminal 5 and find something to eat there.
One of the most comfortable places to hang out here at the TWA hotel is the center section of the main lobby. There’s a large open area with bright red velvet couches and lounge chairs, which is served by waitresses from an adjacent bar. Just sit down, relax, and a waitress will arrive within minutes ready and willing to deliver you anything you wish to drink. A martini perhaps? It would go perfect with the view of the TWA-liveried Connie right outside the window.
The nitty gritty this TWA hotel review: everything I liked and didn’t like
By now you’ve probably got a very good sense that the TWA Hotel lived up to the hype for me. It was everything that I was hoping that would be, and more. But the question is: would I have enjoyed it as much if I wasn’t such a mega airline and aviation enthusiast? Honestly, I really think that I would have.
Why I liked it:
- Everybody in the place (both guests and staff) seemed very happy and excited to be there. All the guests were walking around taking pictures, and reminiscing about TWA and the airlines of that era.
- All of the staff seemed especially enthusiastic and were excited about the job they were doing. This helped to make the atmosphere upbeat and fun.
- As an airline enthusiast, it felt especially good to me that the creators of the TWA Hotel had enough passion (and money) to see it through to fruition. These kinds of specialty-themed of projects don’t happen very often, and I felt extremely thankful that they built not only a great hotel, but a museum honoring the legacy of TWA as well.
Why I didn’t like it:
- This hotel just opened a few months prior, so I was surprised to see how run down it was in certain areas already. There were dirty floors, cracked paneling in the tunnels leading to terminal 5, and dirty fabric on the chairs in the main lounge in the center of the lobby. Not what I would expect for a brand new hotel.
- I’m sorry, but I just don’t like the “self service vibe” of the TWA Hotel. Yes, the bar and wait staff in the lounge are more than eager to get you anything that you need, but the fact that the check in process involved doing everything myself without talking to a single human being was slightly off putting. I guess that I never realized it before, but I actually like to be greeted when I walk into a nice hotel.
The final verdict
One of the most interesting things about my one night stay here was that a lot of my non-aviation enthusiast friends seemed very interested in the place and were anxious to hear about it. To me, that says a lot about the attractiveness and longevity of this property. You don’t have to be a mega hard-core aviation fan to appreciate the significance of the TWA hotel. It’s an interesting place even if you don’t have any interest in airlines or air travel.
If you’re a fan of aviation and or 1960s nostalgia, the hotel is very much worth a visit. You don’t even need a room reservation to experience much of what this property has to offer. The lobby is huge and open with lots of interesting things to see and do. It’s a really great place to kill some time at JFK if you’re faced with a long layover between flights.
Speaking of which, I actually had an entire afternoon to kill after the 11 AM check out and my 7 PM Virgin Atlantic flight to London that evening. Instead of hanging out in the airport terminal for most of the day, I chose to sit in the lounge of the TWA hotel writing blog posts and enjoying drinks in a relaxed and quiet atmosphere instead. Don’t tell anyone, but this hotel is essentially a free lounge for terminal 5.
It’s also a really great hotel of course, and I absolutely cannot wait until my next visit. Especially since I won’t be distracted by gathering content to write another TWA Hotel review (since this one ought to cover it).
Have any questions about this hotel? Please leave them down in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help out as best I can.
For more information (and to book a reservation of your own), do check out the TWA Hotel website.