Travel has returned to London: What it was like to stay at the Four Seasons at Park Lane on post-lockdown opening night
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Editor’s note: The Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane provided a complimentary stay to TPG. The opinions expressed below are entirely from the author and weren’t subject to review by the Four Seasons.
For months, London’s hospitality sector has remained dormant. A glimmer of its pre-pandemic self with pub doors shut, hotels closed to everyone but essential workers, theatre lights dark and restaurants running on a takeaway-only basis.
Since the country’s third national lockdown on 5 January, a walk through Central London has shown the capital to be — at points — lifeless. With its residents staying at home and the dark days of winter hanging low, London itself was unrecognisable.
However, in the country’s gradual reopening out of lockdown, life has slowly — but surely — been returning to London’s streets. In February, Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled England’s roadmap out of lockdown, which saw the gradual reopening of the country, from dining to travel, theatres, gyms and everything in between.
So far, that roadmap plan has stuck. Outdoor meetups between small groups were allowed to resume from 29 March, nonessential shops, outdoor dining, including pubs, were allowed to reopen from 12 April. Most recently, indoor dining was allowed to resume as well as international leisure travel as of 17 May. And, most importantly for London’s crippled hotel sector, hotels and bed and breakfasts were allowed to reopen across England.
While full recovery is still a long way off for many hotels across England and much of the U.K., Monday marked a genuine first step in the road to restoration of pre-pandemic business for hotels.
One of those hotels is the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane, which reopened its doors to paying leisure travellers for the first time since January. I was invited by the hotel to experience what it’s like to stay at the property in a post-lockdown London.
Upon entering the Four Seasons at Park Lane, it was clear this wasn’t the travel experience that I’d been used to in years past. I arrived at the hotel via Uber because of London’s temperamental rain and stormy weather (happy spring in England!). A cheerful bellhop opened the front door for me — a notable change in that gone are the days of high touchpoints on a rotating door.
Upon entering, the bellhop offered to take my bag, asked for my last name and led me to a hand-sanitiser station, as well as a temperature check station. After a quick scan of the wrist confirming my temperature was below fever grade, I was allowed to enter the lobby and proceed to the front desk.
In pre-pandemic times, the lobby of the Four Seasons at Park Lane was one that was bustling, with guests flurrying in and out with shopping bags and suitcases in hand. There would be customers looking to dine in the hotel’s Amaranto Restaurant, grab a negroni at the Amaranto Lounge or sip Dom Perignon in the On the Terrace eatery.
Not this time.
During this stay, it was clear I was one of the only guests that would be coming to check-in at the hotel that day.
At reception, the check-in agent greeted me with what was surely a smile behind his mask, welcoming me by name to the property. He expressed how excited the hotel was to welcome back guests.
But, even so, the hotel was just about at 10% of its capacity. Of the 196 rooms at the property, that means just about 19 were booked. After spending a few minutes in the lobby, it was clear that dozens of people walking through the hotel’s front door as you might be used to in pre-pandemic times simply wasn’t going to be the case. The bustle of a hotel lobby has largely gone — a victim of pandemic restrictions.
Though guests weren’t as frequent of sights throughout the lobby, the one recurring theme was the emphasis on guest safety — part of the Four Seasons’ “Lead With Care” initiative. At each lift station, there was a motion sensor hand-sanitising station. Additionally, on each floor of guest rooms, there was a table with spare face masks — perfect if you’ve left your room without a mask.
Lead With Care as a concept was clear throughout the entire property — including in my room. Upon entering the front door to my Executive Conservatory room, it was clear that the cleanliness standards on display in the lobby continued throughout the guest rooms.
The entryway was shining and spotless. Every corner of the room appeared well looked after. Whereas in pre-pandemic times, you might be used to seeing built-up dust clusters or a stray hair on the carpet from a previous guest, there was no trace of other travellers having stayed in the room. It was really that clean — both in the entryway and bathroom…
… and living area and bedroom sections of the room.
Getting out of the house and returning to travel — even if it is within the same city — will take a new amount of courage for some travellers who are particularly nervous about returning to the normalities of pre-pandemic life. Inside my room, there were two packets of sanitary equipment — each one containing a face mask, two antibacterial wipes and a convenient pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitiser. I found it to be a nice touch, though could have perhaps used additional wipes.
On each of the high touchpoint areas was a reminder that the property had thought about the sanitary cleaning practices of the room. For me, it helped put my mind at ease a bit more for my first hotel stay in several months — a feeling that many rusty travellers will surely have as well.
Rather unfortunately, the Lead With Care programme means that the hotel isn’t stocking its in-room mini-refrigerators — an important note if you like to take advantage of a drink from the comfort of your room. However, there was still a coffee and tea selection on offer.
The Lead With Care initiative follows the advice of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), though this particular hotel is in London. The programme’s current guidance requires that all guests aged 10 and older wear a mask or face covering when in public indoor spaces on the property and when receiving service in their room.
However, the CDC has recently revised its advice that fully vaccinated travellers no longer need to wear masks when in indoor environments. In response, the American Hotel and Lodging Associate said on 18 May that it’s updated its stance on indoor mask-wearing. It’s unclear if the Park Lane Four Seasons — and Four Seasons chain in general — will adopt that guidance.
During my stay, there was a clear emphasis on social distancing in common areas. In the hotel’s Amaranto Lounge and restaurant area, which is where both dinner and breakfast are served, tables were spaced out, so no two tables were too close together.
The Amaranto Restaurant is a stunning eatery just off the hotel’s lobby and aptly named Amaranto Lounge. With a rotating menu curated by Executive Chef Henry Brosi, guests can expect a colourful and tasty culinary journey. I opted for the burrata with heirloom tomatoes as a starter, which featured a creamy burrata and a sweet, yet smoky taste from balsamic pearls and a touch of honey. For my main, I got the lobster linguine, which is served in a spicy shellfish sauce — a full-senses experience.
Aside from the food, it was reassuring to see the cleanliness standards being upheld even for those who were out of the guest’s direct eye. During my dinner, I saw a receptionist cleaning her stand and a bartender wiping down his workspace. And, all staff remained in full mask compliance. It’s what goes on when most aren’t looking that shows how seriously — or not seriously — a brand is taking its COVID-19 precautions. It’s easy to lay out a standard of care to put guests at ease, but it’s another thing — and even more rare — to see all employees follow those guidelines.
In addition to the hotel reopening to travellers from 17 May for leisure stays, the spa was also able to open on Monday. It was clear there were already a few customers of the spa who had booked their treatments for opening day. I didn’t indulge, but the view of the treatment rooms overlooking Hyde Park was stunning.
Also on the tenth floor, where the spa is located, is the gym, which looked modern and updated. In my time at the hotel, I didn’t see anyone use its services but did notice that it was undergoing a HEPA air circulation process — a reaffirming notice and reminder of the property’s commitment to keeping guests safe.
Perhaps my favourite part of the experience at the Park Lane Four Seasons is its chauffeur service, which is perfect for the nervous traveller in the pandemic era of travel. With the chauffeur service, guests can grab a ride in the hotel’s dedicated Mercedes to anywhere within one mile of the hotel. The comfort of knowing there is a safe, easy-to-access mode of transport for hotel guests can be a huge perk in times when many are looking to avoid public transport and large numbers of people.
While the hotel remained shut to leisure travellers for the past four months, it didn’t use the time to refresh any hard product elements of the property. However, in Aug. 2020, it did refresh some of its rooms as well as unveiling its grand Hyde Park Suite, a panoramic suite on the hotel’s ninth floor.
My Executive Conservatory room was one that received a refurbishment, which was done in partnership with London-based designer Tara Bernerd. However, there are still rooms across the property that have yet to receive a facelift. The rooms that haven’t yet received a refresh are still nice in an old-school style, which some travellers prefer, but if you’re keen on getting a more updated room, I recommend booking that option and making sure you get an updated room at check-in.
For the Four Seasons at Park Lane, 17 May was the first sign that travel would resume in London. With the first guests entering its doors for nonessential purposes since January, it was a glimmer of pre-pandemic normality — though this time, with masks. It’s clear the hotel is attempting to create as normal of an experience for its guests as possible. There was no red carpet rolled out for the first night of reopening, and really, that’s a good thing. It’s a sign that travel has returned and the hotel is looking to return to business as usual.
For me, it was a reminder of just how badly I needed travel. After being — for lack of a better phrase — locked in the walls of my one-bedroom flat for much of the past four months, my one-night stay was a reminder that travel is one thing that will bring us joy after more than a year of upheaval. Whether it’s a one-night staycation in your own city or a one-month venture to a new, faraway country, travel brings out a sense of awe and delight that’s hard to find anywhere else.
That said, travel now isn’t the same travel that we knew in 2019. In fact, it’s not even a close relative. But, it’s still travel — and a type of travel that we will get used to.
Featured photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy
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