Home alone: I was one of the only guests at the newly reopened Plaza Hotel, and it was truly magical
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Editor’s note: The Plaza New York provided a complimentary stay to TPG to be among the first to experience the reopened property. The opinions expressed below are entirely from the author and weren’t subject to review by The Plaza or any external entity.
New York City is back, and after a historic, 15-month-long closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, one iconic hotel is finally welcoming guests again. And TPG got a sneak peek earlier this week.
The Plaza New York: A Fairmont Managed Hotel reopened its doors on Thursday, May 20, for the first time since March 2020. It was the longest closure in the hotel’s 114-year history. While some facilities remain closed — the Food Hall and shops in the basement, for example — the sensation of normalcy (and luxury) I felt when walking through that famed lobby filled me with optimism about what’s sure to be one of the city’s greatest revivals.
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The hotel’s reopening may be big news for the city, but it has a special significance to me, too.
I grew up visiting the hotel with my mom — accompanying her on work trips to the Big Apple and stopping in to stroll through the lobby, sip tea at the Palm Court and dream of one day being lucky enough (or earning enough points) — to stay overnight and get the true experience for myself.
As a little girl, I idolized the precocious childhood literary character, Eloise, from Kay Thompson’s eponymous book, and often dreamt of what it must be like to roam the halls of The Plaza New York day and night feeling like you owned the place.
Well, I finally got to experience that this week when a select group of media was invited to an exclusive “Sleepover Soirée” to be the first guests to stay at the hotel since its closure last March.
I slipped into my favorite high heels for the first time in nearly a year, donned my fanciest tulle skirt and pranced down the halls, as we had the place almost entirely to ourselves (think: “Night at the Museum”). We were also among the first to try out black orchid facials at the Guerlain Spa, a new afternoon tea menu in the Palm Court and even see how the hotel is reimagining some of its most extravagant spaces to meet the changing needs and desires of guests these days.
You would never be able to tell the hotel has been empty for the last year.
Every corner of the building shined and sparkled as it did during pre-pandemic times. The staff was just as friendly and eager as ever to help cater to guests’ every whim. And the extra COVID-19 precautions provided an additional sense of safety throughout my stay.
All guests for the event confirmed they’d been fully vaccinated in advance and were given rapid antigen COVID-19 tests upon arrival.
I checked in, took my bags up to my room and, within 10 minutes of taking my test, received my results via text – negative, along with all the other guests.
Guests can choose from a number of COVID-19 testing solutions, from the hotel’s in-house doctor and COVID-19 testing partners who can do on-site and in-room testing. Both PCR and antigen tests are available to guests but not required.
There are Plaza-branded touchless hand sanitizer stations throughout every high-traffic area and on every floor, as well as signs reminding guests to maintain physical distance and wear masks at all times within the public spaces.
I was staying in the pristine Laguardia Suite on the 17th floor, which came with a personal care kit with complimentary hand sanitizer, antiseptic wipes and face masks. The room featured a bedroom, sitting area with plenty of space to decompress and 1.5 baths — one of which housed the most beautiful and inviting bathtub I’ve ever seen, which was begging for a warm bubble bath and a glass of Champagne.
Upon arrival, I found a personalized note from George Cozonis, managing director of The Plaza. He welcomed me to a 24-hour experience that very few people have seen and they “hope to never see again: The Plaza without guests.”
After all, the hotel is banking on the fact that, after a year cooped up and locked down, we’re all ready to kick our heels up and start celebrating life’s little moments and joyous occasions that we haven’t been able to the past year.
That’s why some of the most luxurious rooms like the Royal Plaza Suite and the Grand Penthouse Terrace Suite are being reimagined to host small-scale events like proposals, birthday parties and microweddings, with new celebration packages available.
They’re also offering complimentary transportation to and from the hotel (up to 100 miles) for anyone staying in any of the property’s 29 Legacy Suites.
After a year with minimal luxury and no extravagance, The Plaza is the perfect place to dip your toes back into the travel world and indulge your every childhood whim. And that’s exactly what I did during my one-night stay.
At the Guerlain Spa, I tried the signature black orchid facial. The spa was spotless and the staff was warm and inviting. I had never visited the spa before the pandemic, but I was extremely impressed with the amenities, menu of treatments and the facial itself.
Afterward, I enjoyed afternoon tea in the Palm Court. I haven’t been to the Palm Court since March 2019, when I treated my niece to the special Eloise-themed tea time (featuring a special Eloise menu with cotton candy and other kid-friendly treats) on her first trip to New York City.
Set in the most central part of the first-floor atrium, the restaurant has physically distanced tables and a new plexiglass divider around the length of the bar. They’ve even rolled out a new menu option in celebration of New York City’s reopening, called the Manhattan Tea — I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the freshly baked warm scones or the lychee and rose macaron ever since!
Then we visited the hotel’s newly reimagined spaces, like the Grand Penthouse with its rooftop terrace and sweeping views of Central Park, and the Royal Plaza Suite decked out in jewels and gowns from Bergdorf Goodman’s specifically for the event.
All of the rooms were more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.
But the Eloise Suite stuck out to me the most as I was smack dab in the middle of my childhood dream, living out all the extravagance and whimsy of a “rawther mischievous” 6-year-old at The Plaza. The Eloise Shop in the concourse level of the hotel typically has an event space for parties, but with that portion of the building still closed, parties can now be held in the suite with plenty of room to celebrate.
I was just a couple of years older than Eloise when I took my first trip to New York City from my home in Tennessee and continued to accompany my mom on numerous work trips to the city throughout my childhood.
I am forever filled with memories of this timeless landmark and the countless hours we spent meandering the lobby of The Plaza to check out the ornate floral arrangements or gaze in awe at the most magical Christmas tree I ever laid eyes on, all the while hoping to catch a glimpse of a real-life Eloise.
I always had the sense there were resplendent, extravagant things happening within the hotel’s walls — famous celebrities and dignitaries dawning elegant ball gowns and making toasts with flutes of the world’s finest Champagne.
The Plaza became this special symbol of endless possibility to me and my mom. We couldn’t afford to stay there, but that never stopped us from visiting and pretending we were “rawther fancy” enough to mingle with the guests. Afternoon tea was always our favorite, of course.
My mom passed away when I was 24 and the more time goes by, the more I find myself clinging to these memories in her favorite places filled with the magic of New York City.
Despite the bustling chaos of the ever-changing city outside, The Plaza is a timeless beacon of serenity and romance. The hotel has always had a healthy dose of whimsy and excitement, just like my mom. And the reopening of this storied landmark comes at the perfect time, just as the city is also rediscovering its magic.
If I’m being honest, I was worried that staying at the hotel for the first time in my life wouldn’t quite live up to the dream. Growing up in a middle-class household, it’s one of those places I’ve always regarded as the ultimate definition of luxury and glamor, filled with history and importance. I was never really certain I’d get to stay there for myself or, if I did, that I’d feel like I belonged.
But it was so much better than I ever imagined. Walking through those iconic gilded doors, I was immediately overcome with a reestablished sense of that quintessential New York City charm that only The Plaza can provide.
From breakfast in bed (I highly recommend the eggs Benedict) to wandering The Grand Ballroom and dining on the picturesque balcony of one of the fifth-floor terrace rooms, there was a sense of something special everywhere I turned. Just like Eloise, I felt right at home.
The halls, although mostly empty during my stay, are still warm and inviting. The 13-scoop “Home Alone” ice cream sundae at the end of the night was quite literally the cherry on top (life is short — get the dessert).
One of my favorite photos of my mom that I keep on my nightstand is her at The Plaza in 2001, in front of the famed Eloise portrait on the first floor — hair curled, arms full of shopping bags, looking her best, ready to take on the city.
I’ve recreated this photo throughout the years — once by myself and once when my sister and niece came to visit. I can’t wait to have children of my own one day and bring them here to create new memories.
If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t put off planning that dream vacation or making time for the people we love so dearly. It’s up to us to find the things in life worth celebrating, kick up our heels, raise our glasses and make all the memories we possibly can while we’re able to.
And, of course, points and miles can help us get there. As a Fairmont-managed hotel, which is part of the Accor Live Limitless program (ALL), you can now use Capital One miles to put a stay at The Plaza within reach. Redeeming 2,000 ALL Rewards points gets you 40 euros off a stay (about $44, based on current exchange rates). Capital One miles transfer to ALL at a 2 to 1 ratio (1,000 Capital One miles equals 500 ALL Rewards points), so you’d need to transfer 4,000 Capital One miles to receive 2,000 ALL Rewards points and get $44 off your stay.
Rooms at The Plaza typically start at $650 per night (though rooms this summer seem to start at $845), so you’d need to transfer at least 60,000 Capital One miles to your ALL account to cover a night.
You can also earn 5x Membership Rewards points by booking a stay through the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts (FHR) program with a Platinum or Centurion-branded card, including The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. You’d also get elite-like perks such as a room upgrade upon arrival, when available at check-in, daily breakfast for two people and a property credit (typically $100), among others.
The Plaza, like the rest of New York City, is experiencing a true renaissance moment and is ready to open its magnificent golden doors once again to guests of all ages and backgrounds. As New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press conference last month, “This is going to be the summer of New York City … I think people are going to flock to New York City because they want to live again.”
So dust off your fanciest outfit, raise your pinky finger and get ready to experience the world with a renewed perspective — After the year we’ve all had, it’s time to celebrate life. If you’ve never been to The Plaza (or New York City) before, take this as your sign to book the trip. Because after all, nothing unimportant ever happens at The Plaza.
Featured image by Caitlin Riddell for The Points Guy
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