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Old Dec 3, 2008, 1:09 pm
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Asheville, NC
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New York hotel site inspection report

I recently spent six nights in New York, stayed at three properties, and visited four others. Here's the site inspection report I wrote for my agency.

The Lowell

Don't be put off by the postage-stamp lobby right off of East 63rd Street in Manhattan's Upper East Side. I loved everything else about the Lowell from the residential feel of its guestrooms to the genuine warmth and personal attention provided guests at this boutique hotel. I was upgraded to a Junior Suite on one of the floors recently decorated by interior decorator Michael Smith. The room is large by New York standards and extremely attractive with muted earth tones of tan, gold, and brown. Renovated rooms feature dark hardwood floors with oriental rugs. My marble bathroom was large with double sinks, a tub (with its own small flat screen television to match the large wall mounted set in the bedroom), and an immense shower. Being on the south east corner of the building, the room was flooded with natural light. Other perks? Bvlgari amenities, free internet, a live potted orchid in the bedroom, and an orchid in a vase on the bathroom vanity. Families will appreciate the spacious one and two bedroom suites, and for a real treat, book the Penthouse suite.

Waldorf Towers

My impression of the Waldorf Towers began while sitting in the lobby waiting for the Sales Manager to arrive to begin my site inspection. I watched as three generations of a family arrived at the Waldorf and saw their two young, impeccably dressed granddaughters twirling in the marble lobby. I saw a fashionably dressed mother and her three teenaged daughters leave the hotel for a day of shopping on Madison Avenue. This as much as anything told me about the guests for whom this would be the ideal hotel for a trip to New York.

The Waldorf Towers is a small luxury hotel within the very large Waldorf Astoria located on Park Avenue. With its own private entrance on E. 50th Street, the Waldorf Towers is comprised mostly of suites — elegant, impeccably decorated accommodations with a neo-classical style that reminds one of an earlier gilded age. The suites are incredibly large with full living rooms well suited for entertaining and wonderful bedrooms. The hotel is so configured that it is easy to create anything up to a five bedroom suite. Even the yet-to-be-renovated rooms were wonderful, and the newly renovated suites are even more so. A special treat: walking down the hallways and viewing the pictures of the many celebrities who have visited this storied hotel.

The Carlyle

Located at East 76th and Madison, the Carlyle is located in a residential neighborhood very convenient to such attractions as the Metropolitan Museum. This is a very attractive hotel, and the newly renovated rooms come in either an ivory or a blue color scheme; I found both very appealing. There is much variety among the rooms (and the bathrooms), and it's important to know your client's preferences when booking this hotel. Do they want a bath tub? a separate shower? a powder room in their suite? a kitchenette? Chances are, the hotel can accommodate whatever they wish — if you work with the Sales staff. For a special treat, book a tower room for incredible views of the full expanse of Central Park — or looking south down Madison Avenue.

The Towers at the New York Palace

I knew virtually nothing about the Palace Hotel except that it had been recently acquired by the Dorchester Collection. I was first shown a basic room in the main hotel — a 350 square feet room that feels spacious because of the wide dimensions of the room and an especially good layout. The room was quite attractive with a neutral decor — a light tannish-gold color scheme. Moderately priced, this is a good value option in midtown New York for visitors who want to be in the area of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Rockefeller Center. Executive Lounge floors in the main hotel cost $150 extra and offer breakfast, small sandwiches at lunch, and canapes and cocktails in the evening.

But what is exceptional is the Tower wing (only the Tower wing participates in the Virtuoso program). This "hotel within a hotel" was the find of my trip. With a completely separate check-in area and concierge desk, these rooms occupy floors 41-54 of the hotel with alternating floors offering "modern" and "traditional" decor. The styling of the contemporary floors features a distinctive modern carpet design and beautiful blond zebra wood doors and trim. The traditional floors feature red carpeting and rosewood woodwork. Guests can request the styling category of their preference; I liked both. Request a west facing room for their fabulous views of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Lead-in Tower rooms are a generous 450 square feet, but because Virtuoso guests receive an exclusive upgrade at the time of booking (as of 2009, but the Sales Manager will honor it now), they will end up in a 600 square foot Junior Suite. This is a screaming value in midtown Manhattan. Baths in the Junior Suite category and higher are spacious with separate tub and shower. Parents traveling with their children will appreciate 1 BR corner suites with 1 1/2 baths, kitchen with stove and refrigerator, expansive living room and dining room, and a Master Bedroom. For even more space, the corner suites connect to a double-double room to create 2 BR suites. Other perks include Butler Service and the use of the hotel's Maybach courtesy car.

The Plaza

This property, perfectly located at the southeast corner of Central Park, has recently undergone a $400 million renovation. The 59th Street entrance is now reserved exclusively for apartment owners; hotel guests enter on the Fifth Avenue side of the building (as do patrons of the Palm Court restaurant and the Oak Bar). The public spaces of the hotel are impressive, and the Palm Court has a beautifully reconstructed stained glass ceiling, a feature of the original property that was removed by a previous owner.

This is one hotel where room selection is critical. A room with a lot of natural light is highly desirable because the gilded furnishings look overdone in artificial light; it is especially important to work with the Sales Manager when booking this property. Block clients into a room with full-length windows and a view preferably to the east (Fifth Avenue) or the north (Central Park). In the summer months — when the sun is high in the sky — courtyard view rooms are said to have plenty of natural light. The lead-in Plaza Room is a large 600 square feet; request a "38 unit" on floors eleven or higher which offers a peak of Central Park. 1 BR Fifth Avenue Suites are especially nice — and for clients who want a real WOW, book a 1 BR corner suite with Central Park views.

W Union Square

This hotel, located on the northeast corner of Union Square, is an attractive "trendy" hotel which would be perfect for business travelers needing to be downtown, and the convenient Union Square subway station provides a quick 15 minute train ride to midtown. The lead-in "Wonderful" room is small (285-320 square feet). I saw a "Spectacular" room, quite nice at 340 square feet. While not overly large, it would be great for a single traveler. I was told that Virtuoso guests in either of these room categories are upgraded if possible to a "Mega" room (355-390 square view) which has a southern exposure and looks directly out onto Union Square. For families traveling together, consider a "Fantastic" suite — especially an "05" unit on the southwest corner of the building. These suites have a small living room and the option of utilizing a connecting bedroom to create a 2 BR suite. I had lunch at the hotel's restaurant, Olives, Todd English's restaurant with moderate prices and very good contemporary Mediterranean cuisine. Note: the entire hotel will undergo a rapid rolling soft goods renovation between March-July, 2009.

Plaza Athenιe

The best surprise was for last. I have been a frequent guest of the Plaza Athenιe which is around the corner from my sister's apartment on the Upper East Side. It is a classic small hotel with an European feel. While the rooms are a bit on the small side, the hotel offers very warm and personal service.

However, I learned that the property will close on Jan. 5 for a substantial renovation, reopening in six months. I was shown a model of the new rooms — so recently completed that the smell of fresh paint was still in the air. The room was stunning — and substantially larger — featuring hardwood floors, very tastefully chosen wallpaper, and new built-ins. The effect was a slightly contemporary take on the classical ambiance of the hotel's. But the biggest WOW was the new bathroom, much larger than the tiny bathrooms now existing in the rest of the hotel, featuring beautiful marble floors, new marble vanities, a large new tub, and a separate rain shower with three massage jets. It's hard to know exactly where all the extra space came from, but I learned that the hotel will lose about 10 rooms in the course of the renovation, and I expect that space will be better utilized. (The present layout loses a lot of useful space in large entrance hallways to some of the rooms). I expect that upon its reopening this summer, the newly renovated Plaza Athenee will be the crown jewel of New York's boutique hotels.
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