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I’ve just come back from travelling around the world on a tight itinerary in only 10 days. In that time I flew in 4 different classes on 6 flights, 4 trains, 3 buses, stayed in 5 hotels and entered 6 lounges.
Here is a brief summary:-
Etihad – First Class Melbourne/Abu Dhabi – 777 (Seat 1A)
I just got on board and slept so disappointed the personal chef. Long and wide flat bed inside a private compartment. Decor is very brown, cream, gold and chunky but very comfortable once you are snuggled in. Perfect late evening flight after a full days work in Melbourne. NZ lounge in Melbourne is a bit average but the arrivals lounge in Abu Dhabi was great. Nice shower facilities and a wet shave so I walked out the door to my 8:30 meeting at Masdar City as though I’d never even flown.
Jumeirah Etihad Towers – Abu Dhabi
Enormous over the top hotel with spectacular public areas. The room was on the 40th floor, very modern design with massive floor to ceiling windows, a stand alone bath that looked out over the whole city. Abu Dhabi is really spread out. Taxis are reasonable so allow time to get between all the sights. Ferrari World was good fun if you like all things red and are brave enough to ride the world’s fastest roller coaster. The Grand Mosque was more spectacular than the Taj Mahal and a little known place I spent time in was Masdar City, a fully sustainable city of the future.
Etihad – First Class Abu Dhabi/Munich – 777 (Seat 1A)
This was brilliant, if you watch the new Etihad ad it is exactly like this. Even though I was on points you still get the free limo, nice Audi A6. You get dropped off at a private lounge where you get checked in whilst sitting down, fast tracked through customs then a really big lounge with an amazing food range (with a temporary roped off first class section) A real sanctuary from the chaos of an overstretched airport. On board was incredible, 6 hours day time flying over the mountains of Turkey. The personal chef sat with me to design my lunch, components, timing etc. I chose to work for a few hours, using the excellent $20 wifi which meant I could work as though I was at my desk. Quite amazing!! Afterwards I watched some live TV. Certainly all these aspects put EY well ahead of the pack.
Alphof Hotel – Solden
I spent 3 days snowboarding in Solden, which is 4 trains and a drive from Munich, but all worked efficiently. No need to book any of the trains, there is a desk at Munich Airport which can arrange it very quickly with a nice dose of German attitude. Solden is a fairly unattractive Austrian town set at the base of some incredible mountains. Don’t come here if you want to ski in, ski out. Come here if you want to name drop as this is where the new James Bond move “Spectre” was filmed a few weeks back. Also come here if you want the thrill of taking five gondolas up a mountain then spend the next few hours skiing down, stopping for photos on the way down. One session we did over 20km with out getting on a lift!
Easyjet – Economy – Innsbruck/London Gatwick (Seat 1A)
For the fun of it I paid an extra $20 for an exit row which is great when the plane takes 20mins to load, the door is wide open and the cold wind is coming through, even better when the door closes you have no leg room. EasyJet, it’s convenient and cheap – just suck it up! Gatwick is a real dive and getting through immigration takes time, however the bus to Heathrow Terminal 5 was there waiting and took under an hour.
British Airways – Business Class London Heathrow/Vancouver – 747 (Seat 2K)
Terminal 5 is pretty spectacular, check in is easy and efficient but once you get through immigration it’s like a manic Westfield Centre on a Saturday morning. That was a surprise as most airports are the other way around. There are One World lounges at each end of the terminal. The First Class lounge is huge, great food and a variety of free services. There were massages somewhere but I ran out of time. BA use an old 747 on the YVR route with some J class seats in the nose. Very spacious and comfortable but so old almost tatty and the TV screens were so tiny as to be almost unwatchable. Food and service was very good, nothing like nan making you a nice cup of tea.
Shangri-La – Vancouver
The Shangri-La is a fantastic hotel in the centre of town, luxury Asian style decor. Large rooms, everything automated, great personal service. Would highly recommend for both the business and leisure traveller. Brilliant healthfood cafe/supermarket next door so never even checked out the restaurant. Meeting facilities were excellent too. Comfortable city to walk around in, some really nice seafood restaurants. Overall feels like you are in an Australian city, like Sydney – lots of rain but just a lot cooler.
Fairmont Chateau – Whistler
There are coaches every couple of hours to Whistler and they drop off at all hotels, it takes just over 2 hours and the road is spectacular. This place is like a palace at the foot of Blackcomb Mountain. Although the Fairmont Chateau is huge it somehow mountains the feeling of being in a homely boutique hotel. The facilities and services are out of control. There are several restaurants, ski valet, sauna, spa, hot tub, adventure desk, shops, resident artist and live music each afternoon. In the 2 days we took advantage of all the facilities of the hotel. However Whistler is not just about hotels it’s about outdoor pursuits. When I first arrived it hadn’t snowed for several weeks so we went zip lining, which is a fun and exhilarating way to get close to nature. Overnight it dumped fresh snow so we spent a full day exploring Whistler Mountain, the best areas were Symphony and Harmony, fresh powder snow and wide open slops with spectacular views between the snow showers.
United – Economy Plus Vancouver/Los Angeles (Seat 4A)
I used the Plaza Premium lounge which was free as an AMEX Platinum member and ended up spending a fair bit of time in there as my flight was delayed by several hours. The delay meant I would miss my connection in LAX and there was nothing United could do to assist as my LAX/MEL was on a separate ticket. Good tip for travellers to know, don’t buy separate tickets, get the travel agent to book it all for you. United was pretty average and not worth paying for a premium seat.
The Shore Hotel – Santa Monica
The bonus with a 24 hour flight delay is a full day on the beach in Santa Monica. The Shore Hotel is a great modern, environmentally friendly hotel, funky colours, located on the beach next to Santa Monica Place Shopping Centre and 3rd Street which is one of my favourite shopping streets in the world. An early morning run took me along the beach then down Main Street where I found Urth, a really cool organic cafe that attracts the Lululemon wearing Cougars who line up for their morning latte fix. In the afternoon I hired a bike and managed to chill on the almost empty Will Rogers Beach and then finished off in Venice Beach. I stood still for 5 mins in Venice and just observed life, in that time I saw a man being arrested, another getting a tattoo and a couple having their fortune told. Another 5 mins and I’m sure I would have been scammed of my last remaining USD.
Qantas – Business Class Los Angeles/Melbourne – 747 (Seat 2A)
Tom Bradley terminal has improved out of sight, modern, efficient and some world class restaurants. The new First Class lounge is quite, spacious and feels like you are home already. Nothing like reading The Age whilst dining on the Rockpool menu. What can I say about Qantas. Always comfortable, great service, great food and good movie selection. This is the not so popular early flight (1930hrs) as it is not the A380 but the fact you can sit in the nose, have dinner, go to sleep at a reasonable time then land in Melbourne at 0500hrs is a huge benefit. It is the only aircraft in the terminal, customs is a breeze and you avoid the peak hour traffic.