I had the incredible opportunity as a Starwood Preferred Guest member to purchase a SPG Moments “Hear the Music, See the World” concert package. This particular package, for an intimate Ben Folds Five concert at the Westin Grand Central, included access to the concert, a cocktail party, and a SPG goodies bag. It just so happens that my husband is a HUGE Ben Folds Five fan, one of Ben Fold’s songs was our wedding song, and the package became available before our wedding, so guess what I gave as a wedding gift? As part of this, I was also asked to provide an interview for SPG TV, so be on the lookout for me on your TV when you check into a Starwood hotel! I also booked a stay at the Westin Grand Central, which was just refurbished and reopened (was formerly the Helmsley Hotel) on October 1, 2012. So, we were among the first guests to stay there!
I had booked our flights into Newark, as I had a credit on United Airlines that I wanted to use. As I am intimately familiar with the traffic in the area, I thought it would be best to book a private town car transfer to and from the airport. We used ExecuCar for this meet and greet service. So, upon our arrival into Newark, we made our way down to baggage claim to meet up with our driver and gather our bags. Well, there were a lot of drivers there, but none of them were holding a sign with my last name on it. We arrived early to Newark, so we figured we’d wait until our originally scheduled pick up time. So, we waited…and waited…and waited. I finally called ExecuCar and they could not provide the town car we booked, but instead, sent a SuperShuttle in its place. We had to wait an additional 20 minutes for the SuperShuttle, which by the way, did not pull up where the agent had told us to wait. So, after all of the waiting and frustration, we did finally make our way to New York City and we arrived there in one piece. I will note that ExecuCar made things right- they provided me an immediate refund for the price difference between the sedan and the shuttle. They also made sure my return transfer was on time arriving to the hotel.
Upon arriving at the Westin Grand Central, we immediately noticed that the hotel was experiencing growing pains. As I mentioned previously, the hotel had only opened it’s doors 11 days earlier. There was construction going on outside of the hotel, in the lobby, and in the bar. It had been my impression, based on the hotel’s website, that the bar would be open, but the restaurant would be closed. In reality, it was the opposite. The restaurant was not fully open- breakfast only- and the bar was not accessible. No big deal- the hotel placed a note in the rooms directing the guests to visit the concierge and pick up a list of restaurants within walking distance. So, we went to the concierge to get the list but were told a list did not exist. The concierge did recommend a fanastic fondue restaurant nearby, so we were quite pleased with that. Overall, though, preparations for guests weren’t fully thought through. Not only that, but the hotel was completely sold out- all 700+ rooms! Check in had some growing pains as well. I chose breakfast for my platinum gift, but I didn’t realize until the next morning that I wasn’t given my breakfast coupon. That was easily fixed. They did extend my check out to 4pm, which was nice, considering their occupancy level was so high. I was also not placed on a Starwood floor (not sure there is one!) nor was I placed on a top floor, as Platinum members usually are. The floor we were placed on was quite loud, in fact. They placed a group of bar hoppers just next door. They decided to talk for about 30 minutes in the hallway at 11pm and 3:30am.
The rooms themselves are nice, but a bit small. It was evident that the furniture was brand new and that the room had maybe been used only 1-2 times previously. I would have liked to see a corner suite, which is a bit larger in size and has a more sweeping view. We had a view looking out at East 42nd Street from the 34th floor and we could easily see the Chrysler Building, which is gorgeously lit at night. The decor was based in light hues of tans and blues and provides a very chic, clean and “Westin” look and feel. As for other parts of the hotel, we did not see the fitness center, though we were told by the Westin Fitness Expert that the facility is large and state of the art. The ballroom area was completed, as it needed to be for the concert, and Starwood did an excellent job of preparing the room for the concert. Everything was very well done. The only other area we spent time in is the restaurant. The restaurant is not very large and it’s decor is darker, warmer tones, but it has the potential to be more upscale and have a good vibe.
I won’t go into too much detail about the activities we did- Empire State Building, Macy’s, Times Square, and World Trade Center Memorial. I will note that we were approached in Times Square to take pictures with characters (Hello Kitty, Elmo) and that was not very welcomed. They were strictly seeking cash. We also were asked a few times to attend a comedy show. Not even avoiding eye contact keeps these people away! At the WTC Site, there were a ton of visitors. I highly recommend booking your free passes before getting into town. You can print them before you get there, or you can print them at the Preview Site, but the Preview Site and Visitor’s Center were packed with people and it was hard to get around. For our dining, we choose to eat at Artisanal (32nd St between Park Ave and Madison Ave), Grimaldi’s (6th Ave and 21st St) and Ess-a Bagel (3rd Ave between 50th St and 51st St.).
I believe that when we’re back East for my brother’s wedding in 2013, we’re going to head back to New York for a day or two. If that plan comes to fruition, I would like to stay at the Westin Grand Central again to see how the hotel has progressed. It is in a fantastic location and has the opportunity to be one of the New York’s best hotels!