We haven’t stayed in a whole lot of hotels since setting sail with Semester at Sea, primarily because the ship often occupies a better location in the city in which we’re docking than any hotel we could afford. But when I had a weekend off while the ship was sailing between Hong Kong and Shanghai—a period when less than 10 percent of the community is actually on board, as most make their own way between cities—and saw a Fairmont had recently opened in the latter, I knew where we’d be spending my time off.
You see, Fairmont is my absolute favorite of all luxury hotel brands—that should come as no big surprise, as I’ve stayed in the properties in Hawaii, Vancouver, Banff, Lake Louise and San Francisco in the past three years—and the latest Chinese acquisition just happens to be the most famous landmark in town.
Located on the bustling Bund, the Peace Hotel (originally the Cathay) was built in 1929 and a favorite among diplomats and celebrities back in the day (or rather, it still is). As one hotel employee explained to me, the Peace Hotel is to Shanghai residents what the Plaza is to New Yorkers—the fact that the hotel received 10,000 applications for a mere 40 marketing positions a couple years ago before it reopened should illustrate just how beloved the building is by its community.
It was the outcome of real estate tycoon Sir Victor Sassoon’s vision and a throwback to the Old Shanghai, but the victim of neglect for many decades, being all but forgotten by the end of the 20th century. Three years ago, the renovations began, and the hotel officially opened under the Fairmont name in the summer of 2010.
Many of the elements of the hotel are the original furnishings from the 1920s, such as much of the glass and some of the wooden floors. During the renovation, as many as 12 layers of the walls were peeled off to reveal the originals. Talk about having your work cut out for you.
In fact, this ornate atrium, the epicenter of the hotel, had been buried over time and was only uncovered a few years back. In the past decades, it actually had held clusters of cubicles—can you even imagine?
Our accommodation, the standard Fairmont Room, was very cool and modern—and quite spacious for city digs, too—forming a square, with a foyer on one side and a huge walk-in closet on the other connecting the bedroom and bathrooms.
The hotel has two historians on hand who oversee the gallery up front, and we had the good fortune of taking a historic tour of the property with one of them. Jenny pointed out all the intricate details of the hotel, which included the heavy emphasis on geometry, a trait of the Art Deco period during which the hotel was designed. Being a former math student, I was digging all the patterns and shapes.
We also got to go to the top floors and take a peek into a couple of the Nine Nation Suites, which just opened this year after being restored to their original forms. My favorite was the Japanese suite. Each Nation Suite is around 1,900 square feet and is themed around a specific country; others are American, English, Chinese, Italian, French, Spanish, Indian and German.
Though I also wouldn’t have said no to a night in the Sassoon Presidential Suite, which takes up the entire 10th floor and spans nearly 3,000 square feet (or three times the size of our San Francisco apartment!).
It’s also a favorite of Bill Clinton’s, who has stayed in this very room many times before.
He slept there (above) and ate here (below).
To be honest, we only left the hotel once in the 48 hours we were there—to go to a Chinese theater and see The Rise of the Planet of the Apes (we needed a little dose of American culture)—but with as tired as I’ve been since boarding the ship in August, that was exactly the rest I needed, and in quite the lap of luxury, too.