There's nothing homely about this home-style stay, writes Saska Graville.
I've got my own set of front-door keys, my own iPhone and even my own doorman who greets me by name every time I enter and leave the building. I'm also thousands of kilometres from my own apartment. But that's the beauty of a One Fine Stay holiday. You might be in a foreign city, but you immediately feel at home.
Having reviewed (for Traveller) one of the London offerings from this accommodation company, I have high expectations for my Manhattan booking. It doesn't disappoint. The concept is simple: holiday stays in locals' homes, which they move out of for the duration. And not just any homes. A quick trawl through the New York properties (One Fine Stay only operates in New York and London, for now, with Paris and Sydney possibly next on the list), reveals everything from a chic four-bedroom Park Avenue townhouse to an airy one-bedroom Williamsburg loft. These are home-stays with hotel-like comforts - and then some.
Which is how I find myself with my own doorman. I've taken up residence in a glamorous West 21st Street, Flatiron-district apartment, and the doorman has been given my name for when I arrive. Forget the usually minuscule New York hotel room, this is bigger than most suites I've had the pleasure of reviewing. I've got a vast bedroom, two bathrooms, a giant living-dining area and a modern kitchen. Many American hotel rooms can't even rustle up a kettle.
Described by One Fine Stay as "polished" and designed by a "star architect", my temporary home is impressively sleek. The walls are clad in exotic tigerwood panelling, the furniture is funky modern and bespoke-looking (no corporate-bland hotel decor here) and a lacquered cabinet displays artistic "objets" and curiosities. My bed is king-size, the master and guest bathrooms are gleaming marble and the dining table is big enough for me to host a New York dinner party, should I so wish. There's also a view of the Empire State Building from every room, plus a giant flat-screen TV placed at the perfect sofa-viewing angle. I. Love. It. Even more remarkable is that I've got all of this for $US359 ($397) a night.
Try typing that figure into any hotel website search and see what it gets you in midtown Manhattan. Not a lot. The cheapest rate I could find at a nearby downtown spot was $US500 a night, and you'd need to add a zero for a suite to match my apartment's acreage. Plus there are all the extras New York hotels like to spring on you.
Which brings me to another of my favourite things about a home-stay. No checkout fear. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's experienced mild heart failure on being presented with a US hotel bill that has the taxes, tips, late-night sessions at the bar (dangerous), breakfast in bed and Wi-Fi, added on top of the room rate. Gulp.
With One Fine Stay, your rate includes everything, even Wi-Fi. And have you ever had a hotel hand you your own iPhone? This last bit is the icing on the customer-service cake. Not only do I have free local calls and internet access, but the phone is loaded with local recommendations from the apartment's owners and has a direct line to guest services if I have any problems. (When I couldn't find any plates in the kitchen, a set of crockery was dispatched from One Fine Stay's SoHo office.) The sat-nav on the iPhone is, incidentally, very good for your "I'm a local" street cred. No more navigating around town as a map-clutching tourist.
The one thing that seems to concern people when I encourage them to think outside the hotel option and consider a home-stay, is the thought of being surrounded by someone else's "stuff". Fear not.
Yes, the owner's belongings are still there, but everything is either in locked cupboards or, in the case of clothes, secured behind red tape. Each property is also "de-personalised" by the housekeeping team prior to your arrival - so no photos of the real owner to give the game away when you're lounging on the sofa pretending it's all yours.
And certainly no random toothbrushes. The team cleans every apartment, stocks the bathroom with Kiehl's goodies, and changes the towels and sheets. Does that satisfy all you doubters?
Having filled the fridge with milk and breakfast staples from the nearby Trader Joe's supermarket (food shopping, such a local!), had a night on the sofa with home-delivered takeaway (when in New York …), done a load of clothes washing (one less job on arriving home) and used the dishwasher, it strikes me that a home-stay removes the buffer that a hotel puts between you and a new city. Not that I don't enjoy that buffer. I love a five-star stay as much as the next person, but I also love getting under the skin of somewhere new, and in all my trips to New York, I've never felt as integrated into the city as I did on this visit.
Of course, I'll happily check in to hotels again, but I'll also always investigate this as a more budget-sympathetic option. With that in mind, I'm jumping on the Eurostar when the Paris site is launched. Le Marais, here I come.
The writer was a guest of One Fine Stay.
United Airlines flies from Sydney to New York from about $1800 return. united.com.
West 21st Street, New York City. onefinestay.com/new-york/west-21st-street-2/. From $397 per night.
NEW YORK HOME-STAYS FOR ANY BUDGET
West 16th Street is a one- bedroom apartment in the Flatiron District. It sleeps two and prices start at $279 a night. onefinestay.com/new-york/west-16th-street/.
BROOKLYN FOR FOUR
Judge Street in Williamsburg is a quirky two-bedroom home. Sleeps four, available from $299 a night. onefinestay.com/new-york/judge-street/.
East 12th Street, a 19th-century brick townhouse in the East Village. This is amazing - really colourful and eclectic. It has five bedrooms, sleeps 10 and costs from $1339 a night. onefinestay.com/new-york/east-12th-street/.