When traveling to one of America’s great small cities, Optimism TravelingMom Cathy Bennett Kopf prefers to book a room in an iconic hotel. She thinks it’s the perfect way to gain insight into a city’s history and character. Her lodging choice on a recent trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan?  The Pantlind wing of the Amway Grand Plaza. Read on to learn why.

The facade of the Pantlind wing of the Amway Grand Plaza, an historic Grand Rapids hotel

Pretend you’re a movie star when you sweep through the grand entrance of the Amway Grand Plaza. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/Optimism TravelingMom

Hotel Review: The Amway Grand Plaza, Grand Rapids, MI

What can a hotel have in common with a former President? The same birthday! The Amway Grand Plaza, currently operated as one of Hilton’s Curio Collection hotels, is a massive lodging, exhibition, and entertainment complex located in downtown Grand Rapids. It has a modern glass Tower section that opened in 1983, but I stayed in the the historic Pantlind wing that dates back to 1913, the same year Grand Rapids’ most distinguished resident, President Gerald R. Ford, was born.

Sweeping into the opulent lobby made me feel like I was a visiting foreign dignitary instead of a broad visiting Grand Rapids to do research on local breweries. That’s the transformative power of an iconic hotel and why I choose them when visiting America’s great small cities.

What Works for Families at the Amway Grand Plaza

  • Spacious rooms with large closets have connecting capability, offering convenience for families.
  • You’ll enjoy pointing out the time capsule features of the hotel, like the rotary dial telephones. Buy some postcards, let the kids write them out and post them in the brass mail chute.
  • Convenient covered parking is connected to the hotel via a pedestrian skyway for easy, weather-protected access.

What Doesn’t Work for Families

  • My room had a tub. Some don’t, so if you need one, make sure you ask. And the bathroom was small; it was fine for a single guest but parents who need to assist a child will find it to be a tight fit.
  • There was no fridge or mini bar in the room which meant I couldn’t bring back my restaurant leftovers.
The breakfast buffet in the lobby of the Amway Grand, an historic hotel in Grand Rapids

The breakfast buffet is currently served in the hotel lobby which is scheduled for renovation. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/Optimism TravelingMom

Rates in the fall of 2016 begin at $249 for a room with 2 queen beds. Free WiFi is provided. Self parking per day is $24; valet rates are $29. Packages are available that include a breakfast buffet.

Glitter on the Ceiling

My jawdrop moment at the Amway Grand happened when I walked into the Pantlind lobby and caught my first glimpse of the massive chandeliers suspended from the gold leaf ceiling.

I shared a cab from the airport with a business traveler. I appreciated cutting the $40 w/ tip fare in half. He said he always stays at the Amway Grand when he’s in town but wouldn’t tell me why, instead insisting that I wait and see.

And, boy, did I.

The lobby oozes opulence from a bygone era and was my favorite feature in this historic Grand Rapids hotel. The ceiling is covered in hand-applied gold leaf and is the largest installation of its kind in the US. The three Austrian crystal chandeliers weigh over 4,000 pounds and illuminate the fountain and seating areas. Although my room was quite nice, I kept gravitating to the lobby to soak up the glamour.

A Convenient, Downtown Location

Guests arriving by car will appreciate the covered skywalk that connects the hotel to the parking garage. The weather in Western Michigan isn’t always as lovely as it was during my visit.

The Amway Grand is located in the heart of downtown, so walking to many of the area attractions is an excellent option. For example, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is a quick 7-minute walk from the hotel over the Grand River. A friendly concierge is located near the registration desk in the Tower section of the hotel and can provide maps and information about local attractions, including details about why Grand Rapids is known as Beer City USA.

The hotel itself is a destination. I enjoyed taking the self-guided historical walking tour of the property and learning more about interesting features of the hotel such as the fact that the Imperial Ballroom was a bank building for 100 years until it was incorporated into the Grand Plaza in 2000.

Prepare to be dazzled! The Amway Grand Plaza, an historic hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has a glittering lobby that'll make you feel like a movie star.

An Unusual Surprise

I reached my room via the main bank of elevators. Mounted on the side is a plaque that lists prominent guests who have stayed in this historic Grand Rapids hotel in the past and their room numbers. I scanned the register but, sadly, no one famous had slept in my bed.

The spacious king bed in the Amway Grand Plaza, an historic hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan

My king room in the Pantlind wing of the Amway Grand was large and well-appointed. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/Optimism TravelingMom

My king room was large and decorated in traditional Queen Anne-style furniture that included a comfortable chair and writing desk. A deep closet and dresser that doubled as a TV stand provided ample storage.

WiFi was complimentary and reliable and the bathroom was spotless. There were two lengths of glass shelving to accommodate multiple guests’ personal items which I found convenient.

I also discovered a nostalgic surprise in the bathroom. I remember Amway door-to-door salespeople from my childhood. The company, headquartered in Grand Rapids, owns the hotel and chooses to feature its name brand toiletry products. I expected a discount experience, but enjoyed the quality and pleasant scent.

There wasn’t a robe in my room which was disappointing but I called housekeeping to request one and it arrived within minutes.

Dining, Shops, and an Oasis

The entire Amway Grand Plaza complex is massive. Leave a trail of bread crumbs. There are 8 different options for food and beverages, including a rooftop restaurant if you want to take in a view of the city. There’s also a gift shop and clothing boutiques (Hint: seek out the sales racks in Boutique Emmanuel for deep discounts on designer items.)

Resort-style pool at the Amway Grand Plaza, an historic hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Wish I’d brought my bathing suit. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/Optimism TravelingMom

It never fails. When I pack my bathing suit, I find a nasty hotel pool. But when the pool’s dreamy, I’ve left my suit at home. And so it went in Grand Rapids. The pool, located in the Tower section, was large and gloriously quiet. It has beach resort-style lounging areas and is adjacent to the fitness area. The hotel also offers a spa and salon.

Historic Grand Rapids Hotel to Undergo Renovation

During one of my conversations with the concierge, she mentioned that the Pantlind wing of the Amway Grand was scheduled for renovation. General Manager Mike Donnelly confirmed that construction will begin around September 2017 and continue through December 2018.

Mr. Donnelly indicated that the design is still in the testing phase. He told me that the hotel’s developed 3 model rooms to find the concept that works best. “We are throwing around the descriptors ‘Iconic’ and ‘Glamorous’ among others.”

I mentioned the lack of a mini fridge in my room and he assured me that they’ll be installed in the rooms as part of the renovation. Besides the room makeovers, the lobby, currently the site of the morning breakfast buffet and a cocktail bar, will also get a major overhaul. Mr. Donnelly acknowledged, “This is the best real estate in our facility and this renovation will capture the ultimate potential of this space.”

One of 3 magnificent chandeliers in the lobby of the Amway Grand Plaza, an historic hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Surrounded by crystal and gold, guests at the Amway Grand Plaza feel like royalty. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/Optimism TravelingMom

I timidly inquired about the chandeliers. He assured me that they’ll remain in place. I was relieved but also saddened. I was hoping they’d be going on the auction block and I could score one at a deep discount. I’d need a new house to accommodate it, but, hey, a girl’s gotta dream, right?