Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 27, 2021
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Time Out New York


I love being a travel writer -- the adrenaline rush of flying off in a heartbeat, immersing myself in the culture, sights and sounds of a new place, capturing all of it with my camera. What I don't like is the personal wear and tear of the job, the drying effect of plane air on my skin and the tiring thrust of pavement on my feet. Life's too short not to look after your body. So whenever I can, I hop off the fast track just long enough to pamper my body and revitalize my spirit before moving on again.

Imagine my glee, while on a whirlwind assignment in Manhattan, when I discovered that my temporary digs at The Plaza -- one of the world's most celebrated hotels -- had just opened a spa to rave reviews.

Perfectly located for my cultural (and shopping!) spree, The Plaza sits just across from Central Park, facing Fifth Avenue. The hotel is a National Historic Landmark and a few minutes' walk from exclusive shops and a brisk walk (or short cab ride) from New York's famed "museum mile" where I was due to review the latest gallery installations.

For almost a century, The Plaza has mirrored Manhattan society's penchant for style through good times and bad: the excessive '20s, the Depression, two World Wars, the Cold War and the new millennium. I felt an auspicious pang while passing through the same entrance and riding the same gilt-edged elevators that once saw luminaries like the Vanderbilts, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Marilyn Monroe, John and Jackie Kennedy, the Beatles and endless list of international heads of state. Recently, a select Hollywood "A list" of stars attended the $2.6-million wedding of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Barely glancing around my splendid suite (Baroque with a gorgeous marble fireplace, an antique desk, the finest business equipment, sumptuous bath and windows overlooking Fifth Avenue), I called the Plaza Spa. "Hmmm... peppermint foot treatment... the 'complete Eloise'... and a facial. Sounds good," I said.

By 9am I was out in walking shoes, camera and notebook in hand, looping past horse-drawn buggies en route through Central Park to the great museums. By 4:15pm, after racing through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, the Jewish Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, my mind felt exhilarated, my body ready to drop. I shed my clothes for a robe and ran to the spa.

And what a spa! From the elegant entrance, where the receptionist holds court behind an antique, ormolu-embellished desk, the 8000-square-foot area opens to apricot marble floors uncluttered except for eclectic essentials: precious antique chests, state-of-the-art crystal sinks and marble-rimmed whirlpool tubs. The space, designed by Soho-based architects Stonehill & Taylor, includes his and hers private dressing rooms, saunas, steam and treatment rooms and an "outdoor-atrium" whirlpool room, as well as couple's rooms for side-by-side indulgence outfitted with twin baths and treatment beds. I could only guess who was behind the door next to mine, watched by a guard. Sssh! No one tells. Secrecy, it seems, is part of the impeccable service here.

After selecting a milky bath potion, I relaxed in the fragrant, effervescent rush of water. Later, as I lay covered by soft-as-cashmere towels, the masseuse began manipulating my feet, applying acupressure to my soles, reflexing my toes and ankles. By the time she rubbed in a refreshing peppermint tea tree foot balm, I felt the aches of age magically slipping away.

As she massaged my limbs, kneading deep into the tissues, loosening tight muscles, releasing tensions while working toward my neck and back, my mind wandered into a trance-like state. Visions of Eloise danced in my head. To refresh your memory, Eloise was the beguiling, six-year-old storybook character created in the mid-'50s by actress-singer Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight. Eloise lived at The Plaza with her British nanny, her dog and her turtle. A loveable nuisance, she tormented the staff with naughty impulses, lamenting that "she is not yet pretty... but already a person."

As the beauty therapist commenced the botanical facial (taking meticulous care to avoid the slightest hint of lavender -- which, unlike everyone who loves its aromatherapy, I avoid due to allergies), and massaged the mask into my temples, I imagined Eloise's joy in a room full of creams and powders. What havoc she could wreak!

By the time my facial was over, I remembered that beauty is just skin deep. I returned to my room feeling beautiful and carrying a "gift bag" with a new Plaza Frette robe and Sensi slippers, a luxurious bonus included in the "Complete Eloise" spa package.

Lounging on the chaise before a warm fire, thoughtfully lit by the turndown maid, I wondered if I should venture down to the Oak Room for dinner. Nah... I decided to revel in the glow of my polished and nurtured body and dine on a salad from room service. After all, early the next morning, immediately after breakfasting among Manhattan's power brokers -- in the Palm Court, no less -- I was destined to run to New York Harbor to review the newest Carnival cruise ship.

I know. It's tough being a travel writer. But someone's gotta do it.


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