The Big Apple? As juicy as ever: SAMANTHA LEWIS takes the first Virgin flight to New York after the travel ban and discovers the city’s sights are still exhilarating (and its pizzas still worth every calorie)
- Samantha Lewis boards Virgin Atlantic’s momentous first post-travel-ban flight to New York
- Her base for the trip is the newly opened Pendry Manhattan West hotel – which has ‘a coastal calm vibe’
- Her itinerary includes a drink on the highest sky deck in the Western Hemisphere and a slice at Joe’s Pizza
The Mail on Sunday’s Samantha Lewis flies out to New York in Virgin Atlantic’s ‘upper class’ cabin. Pictured is her swanky seat on the November 8 flight
It’s been a long time coming, but finally we are allowed back in the US after a 600-day travel ban. Virgin Atlantic’s first flight out to New York felt momentous: cabin crew greeted excited passengers by waving American flags. Of course, they’d been patiently waiting for this day, too. Yet John F. Kennedy airport is surprisingly quiet and I breeze through security.
On the drive into Manhattan there are signs that the city has been bruised by the pandemic. It’s hard not to notice the boarded-up shops and for-rent signs that dot many streets. But then I pull up on the edge of a giant new development and evidently it hasn’t hurt its urban renewal plans.
This area is located on Manhattan’s West Side and is within walking distance of major attractions like Madison Square Garden and the High Line. It’s made up of restaurants, bars, cafes and retail shops – think Peloton’s flagship store, Whole Foods and more.
It’s also home to the newly opened Pendry Manhattan West hotel, which is my base for the trip. The entire vibe of the luxury hotel is coastal calm, which was inspired by the brand’s Southern California roots. The contemporary spaces have a soothing effect with their neutral colour palette, soft lighting and flickering fireplaces.
There are 164 rooms and suites with floor-to-ceiling windows – those on the top levels have views of the Statue of Liberty. And the staff? Among the best and most attentive I’ve encountered.
‘Enjoy all that’s new and exciting – you have a bit of catching up to do!’ reads a notecard in my room. Luckily, I’m in the city that doesn’t sleep, so that shouldn’t be a problem.
Samantha’s Virgin Atlantic flight, VS3, is pictured here performing a dual take-off from Heathrow Airport with British Airways flight BA001 to celebrate the reopening of the transatlantic corridor
Virgin Atlantic crew at Heathrow on November 8 celebrate the lifting of the travel ban (left). And pictured right are the crew on Samantha’s flight ready to welcome her on board
The Pendry’s Eastern Mediterranean restaurant, Zou Zou, is set to be a showstopper but it’s not quite ready yet, so instead I head out to explore New York’s food scene.
There are plenty of places to get an alfresco bite thanks to ‘dining sheds’ that have sprung up on the streets and sidewalks. Initially introduced to adhere to social distancing measures, they are likely to become a permanent feature.
Meanwhile, if you prefer to dine indoors get ready to mask up and show your vaccination pass. New York feels like it’s still on high alert and these rules are being strictly enforced.
Samantha’s base for her New York odyssey is the newly opened Pendry Manhattan West hotel, pictured
There are 164 rooms and suites with floor-to-ceiling windows at Pendry Manhattan West
The entire vibe of the Pendry Manhattan West is coastal calm, writes Samantha
Samantha is bewitched by Pendry Manhattan West’s ‘contemporary spaces [which] have a soothing effect with their neutral colour palette, soft lighting and flickering fireplaces’
The Pendry’s Eastern Mediterranean restaurant, Zou Zou (pictured), is set to be a showstopper, says Samantha, but it’s not quite ready during her stay
One of the coolest new Big Apple attractions is The Edge at Hudson Yards, pictured, the highest sky deck in the Western Hemisphere
Samantha is pictured on the left enjoying a drink on The Edge sky deck. Pictured right is her Joe’s Pizza slice – ‘cheese-laden, glistening with grease and worth every calorie’
The restaurant everyone is desperate to get a table at right now is Ci Siamo (pictured), says Samantha
The restaurant everyone is desperate to get a table at right now is Ci Siamo, which is located directly across from my hotel. It’s a comeback for restaurateur Danny Meyer, who is behind eateries like Shake Shack and Union Square Cafe. Ci Siamo (meaning ‘here we are’) serves Italian fare that revolves around wood-fired cooking, handmade pasta and an impressive Italian wine list. But if you want to feel like a proper New Yorker, make a beeline for Joe’s Pizza in nearby Greenwich Village. It’s an institution and arguably the city’s best slice: cheese-laden, glistening with grease and worth every calorie.
Travellers returning to the Big Apple will no doubt be keen to check out the newest sights. One of the coolest is The Edge at Hudson Yards, the highest sky deck in the Western Hemisphere. The attraction opened on March 11, 2019, but was closed two days later when the city went into lockdown. Now it’s drawing between 7,000 and 8,000 visitors per day, which will go some way to helping the city recoup the $80billion lost in tourism revenue.
For $36 you get sweeping views of New Jersey to the left and Midtown Manhattan to the right, where you’ll spot icons like the Empire State and the Chrysler Building. Courageous visitors can also choose to climb the 1,300ft skyscraper and lean out over the building’s edge. This costs $185 – a glass of champagne is included in the price as a reward for your bravery.
Despite visiting many times before, the bright lights of Times Square prove irresistible for Samantha
The ice rink at Central Park helps make it all the more Christmassy. Samantha writes: ‘There’s truly magic in the air at this time of year that makes everything feel extra special’
Other familiar landmarks are busy but not suffocatingly so. Despite visiting many times before, I’m lured back by the bright lights of Times Square – the city’s epicentre for Broadway shows. It’s buzzing with life when I visit and the atmosphere is typically electric.
From here I stroll on to Central Park to enjoy the spectacular fall foliage. The park is vast (it’s easy to get lost!) so it’s a good idea to map out a route. I go in search of the promenade, the prettiest spot where towering elm trees in the brightest shade of gold line the path.
I continue towards the park’s famous ice rink, which is having its grand reopening in a few days. It marks the start of Christmas where the city transforms into a dreamy winter wonderland. Festive markets pop up for the season, streets get covered in kitschy decor and Fifth Avenue’s shimmering window displays are unveiled. There’s truly magic in the air at this time of year that makes everything feel extra special. Oh New York, how we’ve missed you.
Virgin Atlantic flies direct between London and New York with return fares from £358 per person, including complimentary food, drink and inflight entertainment. For further information visit www.virginatlantic.com or call 0344 8747 747.
Rooms at Pendry Manhattan West start from $625 (£470) plus tax per night. For more information visit www.pendry.com/manhattan-west.
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