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High and Mighty

Size isn't everything, but — as some of the world's tallest hotels prove — it doesn't hurt



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Park Hyatt Shanghai, Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, Four Seasons New York, Burj Al Arab, Radisson Royal Hotel

THERE’S SOMETHING PRIMAL that draws us to high places. Long before parachutes and observation decks, people were climbing cliffs and trees and daring each other to look down. This penchant must be part of what attracts us to high-rise hotels and resorts, a sector of the hospitality industry whose popularity continues to, well, rise. While many of these hotels offer far more than just height, inevitably most of their guests find themselves returning for the view.

Take Dubai’s Burj Al Arab (pictured), for instance. If Louis XIV could have built vertically, Versailles might have looked like this sail-shaped structure towering 1,053 feet above the Persian Gulf. Self-billed as the “most luxurious hotel in the world,” it boasts an absurdly opulent interior that’s a riot of Italian marble and gold leaf. There are personal butlers, a “pillow menu” with 13 options, a fleet of Rolls-Royces for hire and (if cars are too down-to-earth) a helipad. The landscape definitely gets in on the act, though, as the view from the aptly named Skyview Bar, situated in an ovoid tube 656 feet above sea level, is spectacular.

“Serenity” isn’t a word you’d normally associate with China’s largest metropolis. But though the Park Hyatt Shanghai is superficially as big and brash as the city itself, once you step inside you’re transported to a world where even a fluttering lotus petal can seem disruptive. The hotel occupies floors 79 to 93 of the country’s tallest tower, so street noise isn’t an issue as you laze in the infinity pool or flap about in the tai chi courtyard. Things do get livelier in the trendy nightclub on the 92nd floor, yet even there, as you watch the pinwheeling lights below, it’s easy to lapse into a meditative state — more so, admittedly, after a few glasses of huangjiu.

High-rise hospitality isn’t a recent development, however. Completed in 1957, Moscow’s Radisson Royal Hotel (formerly the Hotel Ukraine) stood for two decades as the world’s tallest hotel. While the neoclassical façade speaks to Communist Russia’s infatuation with muscular buildings, the recently restored interior is a subtle mingling of old-world elegance and sleek utility. The czars would have approved of the lobby, with its marble floor and frescoed ceiling, though it’s hard to say what they’d have made of the Wi-Fi-equipped library. Standing at 650 feet, the Radisson Royal affords panoramic views of the Moskva River, but the most arresting sight of all might be the one from the outside, showing Stalin’s fantastical, forbidding interpretation of the skyscraper.

There’s little that’s low-key about the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, the tallest hotel in the world, which occupies floors 102 to 118 of a sparkling new skyscraper on Victoria Harbor. The top floor is home to the restaurant-bar Ozone, which is what you’ll be inhaling when you step onto its al fresco terrace. Yet while the hotel offers stunning views of Hong Kong, you’ll struggle to avert your eyes from the décor: Everywhere you look, there’s a swirling chandelier, a mirrored column, a glowing lattice, an impossibly stylized chair. The hotel describes itself as “taking luxury to new heights”; it’s also taking luxury to new extremes.

In New York, if you had to pick the city’s loftiest hotel suite, you could do worse than the Ty Warner Penthouse at the Four Seasons New York. Not only is the suite at the top of the city’s highest hotel, on the 52nd floor, but it also comes with one of the world’s steepest daily room rates ($35,000, plus tax). Non-billionaires looking to feast their eyes on the view can head to the hotel’s signature restaurant, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, which provides some of the best celebrity-spotting in town.

Speaking of celebrities, Donald Trump has a well-publicized aversion to the small scale, so it’s no surprise that he should lend his name to the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, the steel and glass edifice that looms 92 stories over the Loop. But comparisons to The Donald only go so far. The muted, elegant interior suggests old-money Midwestern understatement rather than conspicuous wealth; the staff is friendly and attentive without being overbearing; and a premium is always placed on comfort over style. Even taking into account the hotel’s lavish amenities, the only truly grandiose thing about it is what lies beyond its windows: the big-shouldered Chicago skyline, jostling along the shores of Lake Michigan, a spectacle that will never seem subdued.

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