My round-the-world trip began with an extended stay in the United Polaris Lounge Newark prior to boarding an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Africa.
Having been quite impressed by the Chicago location a few months back, I had deliberately scheduled a lengthy visit to the Newark Polaris Lounge in order to fully indulge and unwind, and I was pretty excited for it as I disembarked from my Air Canada flight and made my way over.
Anyone who’s visited Newark Liberty International Airport knows that the place isn’t exactly going to win any awards for smart and intuitive design. The airport has three terminals, with my Air Canada flight arriving at Terminal A, my evening Ethiopian flight departing from Terminal B, and the majority of United Airlines’s operations – including the Polaris Lounge – housed in Terminal C.
I therefore had to take the AirTrain and re-clear security twice in order to visit the lounge: once to get to the lounge itself, and once to get to my departing flight.
After clearing security at Terminal C, turn to your left and walk a short distance, and you’ll see the Polaris Lounge on your right.
United Polaris Lounges are open to passengers travelling in international business class or First Class on United or a Star Alliance carrier (excluding flights to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean), so you’d have access if you were flying out of Newark on a number of airlines, such as Air China, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Swiss, or TAP Air Portugal (though you should allocate enough time to take the AirTrain to other terminals).
You’ll also have access if you flew, or are about to fly, business class with United on the same day and are connecting through Newark. Meanwhile, Star Alliance Gold members travelling in economy class and United Club membership holders do not receive access, and are invited to access the various United Club lounges at Newark instead.
The lounge entrance leads to a circular foyer with light fixtures shaped like an airline’s route network, and the front desk is immediately ahead. Present your eligible boarding pass and you’ll be welcomed into the lounge.
At around 2,500 square metres or 27,000 square feet, the United Polaris Lounge Newark is quite a large space, so it’s worthwhile to take a walk around the premises when you first enter to decide where you’d like to settle in.
Upon walking in, the bar is located directly ahead, so let’s begin there. Every Polaris Lounge has a fully-staffed bar that serves up soft drinks, hand-crafted caffeinated beverages, and a variety of locally- and internationally-inspired beers, wine, spirits, and cocktails.
The spacious bar seemed like a very popular choice among lounge patrons, with most seats being occupied throughout the afternoon and early evening, only clearing up in the later hours of the evening when many long-haul flights departed.
Around the back of the bar is the Dining Room, where you can enjoy sit-down à la carte meals throughout the day. Breakfast is served until 11am, with the lunch and dinner menu coming into effect after that. I returned to the Dining Room in the evening for a quick dinner, which I’ll cover later in this review.
Turning right from the Dining Room, the lounge opens up into two parallel corridors: one consisting of the main seating area, and one consisting of the secondary dining area, where guests can choose from a buffet-style selection if they’d prefer not to have a full meal in the Dining Room instead.
The seating area spans across the entire length of the lounge. Chairs and side tables along the windows provide a commanding view of the Newark airport tarmac traffic, while the Polaris Lounge’s distinctive “pod”-style seating is situated further back. Importantly, each seat has access to USB and power ports.
Allow me a moment to comment on the Polaris Lounge’s aesthetics, which combine an elegant colour scheme (deep blue with white marble accents) with graceful patterns (like the complex design on the carpet and the intersecting circles used on the floor-to-ceiling partitions) to bring about a modern and welcoming feel. It’s certainly a class above the cookie-cutter feel of your average United Club, that’s for sure.
Since I intended to finish up some work in the lounge, I chose one of the pods to sit in for now. I’m very impressed by how ergonomically these pods were designed: it’s a comfortable space to use your laptop (with easy access to power plugs, of course) with a cup of coffee or even a plate of food from the buffet at your side, and there’s a dedicated lamp that provides ample lighting.
There’s more pods towards the back of the lounge, as well as a few scattered seats along the back wall.
Meanwhile, the other corridor running the length of the lounge consists of the buffet spread, a few countertops with drinks and snacks, and another seating area with a few dozen dining tables.
The buffet features a pretty diverse mix of hot and cold dishes, like pasta, shepherd’s pie, soup, salad, finger foods, and cookies and desserts. In case you aren’t satisfied with the selection, remember that you can always go for a sit-down meal at the Dining Room. I decided to sample a few dishes from the buffet while I worked, and then I’d indulge in a sit-down meal later on.
The drinks and snacks consisted of the usual premium coffee and tea selection, a few house-made ice teas (summer lemon tea and green citrus tea, both of which I tried and enjoyed), as well as some nibbles and nosh like M&Ms and wasabi peas.
Turning back around into the interior of the lounge, we arrive at another corridor with some general-purpose seating, mostly consisting of comfortable blue swivel chairs.
On one side of this corridor are the phone booths. Although the name might suggest that they’re intended for making phone calls, I actually found these to be a very comfortable workspace as well, so I moved into one of these private booths as soon as it was vacated.
The opposite side of the corridor plays host to the shower suites and nap rooms. The staff members at the counter here are responsible for allocating these facilities to guests, and it’s a testament to the friendliness and excellent service culture here at the Polaris Lounge that they were extremely proactive in fixing up a shower suite for me even though I only wanted to check them out and take a few pictures.
A nice shower suite can really make the difference between a run-of-the-mill airport lounge and one that brings you true comfort and relaxation before your flight, and the United Polaris Lounge’s shower suites were fully optimized for enjoyment, from the premium toiletries to the Saks Fifth Avenue-branded towels.
I almost felt like taking a shower purely for the sake of fully enjoying the shower suite!
The attendant was also more than happy to show me to the “quiet suites”, which are individual partitioned-off areas with a comfortable lounge chair, where you can close your eyes to relax for a while, or even sneak in a quick nap.
To maximize comfort, each quiet suite is fitted with a Saks Fifth Avenue pillow, some bottled water, some sleep amenities (like an eye mask, earplugs, and lip balm), Ghirardelli dark chocolate, and a small alarm clock.
Back in the lounge itself, next-door to the shower suites is where you’ll find the lounge’s concierge desk. There’s a printer here for you to print off any documents before your flight, and I used it to print my paper boarding passes for my Ethiopian Airlines flight and the onward journey on South African Airways.
After that, the corridor brings you back to the entrance of the lounge.
The lounge’s bathroom facilities are mostly located around here, near the entryway (there are a few additional bathrooms towards the back of the lounge, given the size of the place).
The Polaris Lounge uses individual all-gender bathrooms, with small lights on the door of each bathroom to indicate whether it’s vacant or occupied.
After exploring the lounge thoroughly, I got some work done for the next few hours, first in the comfort of my pod and then in the private “phone booth” workstations.
It was about 7pm when I finished up, and I decided to head to the Dining Room to have some dinner before catching my flight.
The friendly waiter showed me to my seat, and presented me with the menu and wine list.
The menu read as follows, and you can order as many dishes as you’d like (depending on the time of day, you’d either look at the breakfast menu or the lunch & dinner menu):
And the drinks menu read as follows:
Since I was feeling quite hungry, I ordered some polenta fries and some slow-cooked meatballs to start, the seared fresh cod for my main course, and the New Yorker dessert trio as well. I also had a glass of Malbec to drink.
The polenta fries and the cod ended up arriving at the same time, after about a 15-minute wait. The polenta fries were a nice and hefty way to start the meal, and the cod was very tasty, although I thought that the portion size for was a little small for a main course.
The meatballs came out soon after, slathered in a rich garlic tomato sauce. Overall, I was impressed with the quality of the meal, and thought that it was a worthy à la carte dinner selection for one of United’s most premium lounge locations. I probably could’ve ordered a second helping of the cod – such was the small portion size – but I decided to save room for the meal onboard my flight instead.
I polished off the meal with the New Yorker dessert trio – cannoli, tiramisu, and New York cheesecake, and the last one was definitely my favourite.
It was about 8pm when I finished my meal, and with a 9:15pm departure out of Terminal B, I collected my belongings and headed back into the airport terminal.
The United Polaris Lounge Newark treated me to a highly enjoyable four-hour stay. Besides the slight inconvenience of having to re-clear security to access the Polaris Lounge if you aren’t departing on a United flight out of the same terminal, I really have zero complaints about the lounge.
The comfortable and ergonomic pod-style seating, the beautifully-appointed shower suites and relaxation area, and the restaurant-quality food served up in the Dining Room all reinforced my positive impressions of the Polaris Lounge concept, which really stands head and shoulders above most other airport lounges we have in North America.
Going forward, I’d gladly continue to schedule extended-length stays in Polaris Lounges when passing through US airports, and I hope to check out the locations in Houston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles sometime soon.