Crossing Over into Wonderland: Mystery Shopping Newark’s Polaris Lounge
This past holiday season, my husband and I decided to booster up, N95 up, and join the throngs of COVID-weary Americans who were ready to hit the airports again for a little adventure. It was, after all, a trip we call “to celebrate 30 years together,” and we weren’t about to let COVID take it away. We chose to go abroad for our escape at a time when travel worldwide couldn’t be crazier. I’m happy to report that, thanks to the newly opened United Polaris Lounge at the Newark Liberty International Airport, we had an amazing experience.
As Managing Director of The Olinger Group, a market research firm that specializes in luxury travel, I know a thing or two about traveling for business and ending up working like a crazy person in the airport lounges. This was so different! I’m convinced the Polaris Lounge would blow away even the most seasoned lounge visitor.
While Polaris Lounges have been rolling out across the country since 2018, Newark’s opened just weeks before our trip during flight cancellations and employee shortages, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it really be worth it? Did a lounge only available to first-class international travelers really make sense?
After finding out that 75% of first-class seats on our plane went unsold, and that we could upgrade for a pittance, it was a great opportunity to try it out. Also, it was a chance to mystery shop the Polaris Lounge for TOG clients, so we went for it. Any sacrifice for the job, right?
First, the Lay of the Land
Simply schlep your stuff to Newark Airport Terminal C, between Gates 100 – 120, and you’ll find Newark’s Polaris Lounge – 27,000 square feet of OMG (i.e., a complimentary fine restaurant, a hi-end buffet, a beautiful bar, sleep suites, spa-like shower rooms, conference rooms and office cubes).
Along one wall is the restaurant, comfy chairs for lounging and a huge glass window. You can take in great views of the cityscape – stunning at night. Down the other wall are the business amenities and sleep suites, all beautifully appointed.
The check-in process was extremely easy. You scan your ticket, show your passport, and the fun begins. For me, it was like Alice crossing over into Wonderland. I completely forgot about the pandemic. I didn’t feel like I was in a dirty, crowded airport anymore but rather that I just stepped into a huge luxury hotel, complete with marble and a crystal chandelier. My husband and I resisted the impulse to high five each other all the way across the lobby, but we did pinch each other! But honestly, Polaris is definitely like nothing else out there. Other airlines are going to have to up their game. Spending a day in the tastefully decorated Polaris Lounge is like a trip within a trip.
Checking Out the Food
Hoping for more than pretzels and M&Ms from an airport lounge?
The Polaris people get you. If a freshly made apple cider spritzer, enhanced water with fruit, or ONLY BEST COFFEE EVER is more your thing, come right this way. They even have a Coke or two tucked away for those desperate for fix.
So, let’s talk about the buffet. Of this you can rest assured: this is not the continental breakfast at the Springhill Suites. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, their marble buffet is filled with a rich assortment of high-end, home-cooked dishes, served up in cast iron pots. Plus–and I loved this–they provide a list of the allergens, so you know exactly what you’re eating.
There’s also a fine dining restaurant at Polaris, but we put in our request too late to get a reservation. Chanttel Tip #1: When you arrive, get on the restaurant list as soon as possible. Remember, everything at the Polaris Lounge is included with your ticket – even a high-end restaurant experience. Could it get any better?
The Shower and Sleep Situation
I don’t know about you, but I always feel like I’m covered with a layer of ewww whenever I travel. Being able to shower at the airport (with some fancy soaps, lotions, spa slippers and a robe to boot) was just what we needed. Then, we get handed a fresh pillow and a warm blanket from Saks Fifth Avenue just as we’re entering our sleep suite. Pretty sweet indeed!
FYI…the sleep suites are little glass cubicles with dimmers you can turn up or down as you wish. Chanttel Tip #2: Put the dimmer on low so people can’t peer in at you, especially if you’re a mouth breather. You also get a posh little sleep kit that comes with a sleep mask, earplugs and bottled water, and there’s a sound machine in the room in case you can’t fall asleep.
A Tale of Two Lounges
We got to experience the Newark Polaris Lounge twice – once on the way out and once on the way back while we were waiting for our flight back to New Orleans. While both experiences were great overall, I must say that when the lounge is busy, it’s a completely different experience than when it’s not. No doubt holiday travel and a shortage of employees because of COVID had much to do with this but, at one point, it was hard to get silverware or a cup from the buffet, and they ran out of towels to dry your hands on in the bathrooms. By this time, they’d spoiled me rotten, and I expected more.
- Hey, United! Upgrade your TP – one ply just won’t fly with luxury travelers. Also, make sure to keep the paper towels stocked. Each visit to the restroom was an exercise in air drying
- Remind the front desk people near the sleep suites to keep it down out there. People are, after all, trying to sleep
- Consider adding lockers so guests don’t have to worry about watching their stuff
- The chairs in the sleep suites don’t adjust for comfort. Can you fix that before our 31st anniversary, please?