And we’re back! Actually, we’ve been back from Africa over a week, but I’ve been in post-vacation mourning.
That coupled with the fact that as a self-employed person, I made $0.00 during my little three-week break, and yet, my bills still came in during that very same three-week period and—quite rudely—those not-so-nice credit corporations and utility providers still expect to be paid. Which led to a flurry of “Hey, remember me? Can I do some work for you this week?” full-on panic-work activity and therefore, no blogging.
I’ve got TONS to say about South Africa and Tanzania and different safari styles and small little islands north of Zanzibar and Great Migrations and artisan gins and hot air balloon flights over the Serengeti (yes, that happened and wow), but before I get to all of that, I have to start at the end—with our flight home.
Because we flew in the rarefied air of Hollywood royalty in Emirates First Class.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with Emirates First Class at this point. It’s pretty ridiculous. And I say this as someone who has flown in Singapore First Class, which I also deem….pretty damn ridiculous.
Once again, lest anyone think we’re secret millionaires who won the lottery, we used airline miles to fly Emirates, this time in the form of 200,000 Alaskan Airline miles and $65.46 per person in fees and taxes (FYI, Alaskan Airlines has already caught on to schlubs like us using their miles to book Emirates First Class and has doubled the miles now needed to book the same ticket we booked. Womp. Womp.).
Similar to our Singapore flight, we were facing more than 21 hours of time in the air plus layovers, so for us, upgrading to such comfortable accommodations made total sense. Here’s how our return flights home broke down:
- Pemba to Zanzibar: 30 minute flight on a Cessna that held 12 other people with questionable hygiene and no air conditioning.
- Zanzibar to Dar Es Salaam: 30 minute flight on the same Cessna with a group of new people with questionable hygiene and no air conditioning. Actually, I have no further questions on the hygiene of my fellow passengers. It was abundantly, nose-stingingly clear.
- Dar Es Salaam to Dubai: 5 hours, 40 minutes.
- Dubai to Dulles in D.C.: 14 hours, 20 minutes.
It was, to put it mildly, a haul, even in First Class. Which, I know, sounds a bit like complaining that my diamond shoes are hurting my feet.
But, overall, an amazing experience. Well, ok, a mostly amazing experience. Let’s just say that by the time we boarded that large A380 in Dubai at 2 AM (not even halfway through our travel itinerary, mind you), I was ready for some serious, Jennifer Aniston-style pampering, and boy, did the Emirates product and crew deliver.
(*Sidenote about that Pemba to Zanzibar flight—we were lucky to be on it at all. We booked out flight on FlightLink, a local carrier, who then moved out flight to Pelican, another local carrier. Without notifying us. Did I mention that it was moved to an earlier time? And we only found out about the change because the nice folks at Manta Resort called the day before to confirm our flight information.
Then, when we got to the Pemba Airport, the folks at Pelican said they had no record of us, but they could accommodate us provided we pay $260 US. In cash. No receipt available. We said we had no cash, of course, so the Pelican gentlemen said we could just pay at Dar Es Salaam. Needless to say, we did not pursue this suggestion either and just hightailed it to our Emirates flight. Was this all just a bad attempt at a shakedown or a lack of bookkeeping/infrastructure/basic record keeping/agreement between local carriers? We don’t know. I will say: SHADY.)
For space and wordiness sake, I’m going to skip the details of our Emirates flight from Dar Es Salaam to Dubai other than to say 1) the Emirates lounge at the Dar Es Salaam Airport is quite a sight and includes a non-working, fake-rock fountain wall and the best damn toasted cheese sandwiches in all of Africa; 2) We had the whole First Class to ourselves. And 3) CAKE. We had called ahead and pre-ordered XFE a birthday cake (that’s apparently something you can do on Emirates) and the very nice Emirates crew brought it out after dinner and it was delicious.
We landed in Dubai around 12 AM and were escorted from the plane and on to, basically, a party bus that would take us to our A380 concourse. The bus was gorgeous—decked out in cream and gold–and we had the whole thing to ourselves for the 10 minute or so ride. If we hadn’t been so tired, I’m sure we would have run up and down it. As it was, we just videotaped it and giggled.
The Emirates-luxury wagon deposited us at the wonder that is the First Class lounge/terminal in Dubai. It. Is. Massive. Like, a mall massive. Like, an airport terminal massive.
And even though it was 12 in the morning, everything—stores, restaurants, cigar bar–was open. Totally empty, but open. It doesn’t feel like a lounge because the whole thing runs the entire length of the concourse and is wide open, so you don’t feel like you’re IN a lounge.
I’ll admit, we didn’t even make it the entire length of the lounge. But this guy did and he wrote about it quite extensively. We also didn’t take advantage of our complimentary 15-minute spa treatment. I just felt that 15 minutes wasn’t quite enough and I didn’t want to fall asleep.
Instead, we made our way to the showers, which were so nice after so many hours in transit. They were, of course, gorgeous, decked out in top-to-bottom marble and containing any amenity you could think of. My only issue was that the water never got very hot, but it’s in a desert, so maybe hot water isn’t what most folks are after.
After our shower and clothes change, XFE stopped in at a wine and spirits shop to check out the gin selection and I sat down by the lounge area nearest our gate, which looked like a little bistro with tons of food in glass display cases.
XFE soon joined me and then we made (what I think) was a big mistake: we ordered a burger. Well, XFE ordered a burger. I said I didn’t want anything because I really wanted to eat on the plane. Then I inhaled half of his delicious burger. It had been a long time since we’d had a burger and this one made with wagyu beef was divine.
Finally, it was time to board our gigantic plane, which we could do directly from the lounge. Honestly, this is my favorite part of flying First Class on some of these airlines – not having to go out into the regular concourse and line up and shuffle towards the front. Nope, you have your own boarding area and you just walk right onto the plane. It’s the best.
The whole upper part of the A380 is dedicated to First and Business class. The First Class is made up of these little private suites with sliding doors so you can close yourself off from the aisles. Towards the front of the first class was the gigantic bathrooms…oh, I’m sorry, the A380 Shower Spa–which I have to say, was larger than my bathroom at home. And it had heated floors.
When you first board, an Emirates crew member comes around offering up bottomless glasses of 2006 Dom Perignon and asks you what your schedule for the flight is – when do you want to eat, sleep, take a shower. We opted to sleep first, take a shower and then eat since we’d already showered and eaten in Dubai.
While we changed into the pajamas Emirates provided (oatmeal colored and not at all cute), the crew reclined our seats and made up our beds, including a thin mattress, duvet and pillow. I closed my door and crashed out right away, without even putting in ear plugs or an eye mask. (check out the star lights in the ceiling)
We woke up six hours later with plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the First Class treatment, including a shower, which we were both beyond excited for. Everyone in First Class gets 15 minutes in the Spa Shower (including five minutes of shower time), which, let me tell you, taking a hot shower at 40,000 feet in the air might be THE most decadent thing I’ve ever done. It was unbelievable. I thought five minutes was going to be too short, but it was actually plenty of time.
For toiletries, they had some line of organic seaweed products from Ireland. I made sure to use all of them before and after my shower. Then I douse myself in some Bvlgari perfume from my First Class amenities kit before wafting out of the shower spa feeling like a million bucks. When I got back to my seat, there was a small plate of fruit and a selection of fruit juices, just like a regular spa.
While we were both pretty excited about the showers, I think XFE was even more excited to check out the Onboard Lounge. We made our way through the Business Class section to the Lounge. The Lounge is actually pretty spacious in terms of standing, leaning and seating options and has a tiny little circular bar. We ordered a couple of gin and tonics and got to know our bartender, a tall Brazilian named Daniel who—as we discovered on our second trip back to the Lounge after dinner–also made an amazing espresso martini.
Reluctantly, we headed back to our seats and ordered dinner. Now, I know most people complain about airplane food, but the food you get in First Class is not your typical airplane food, especially aboard Emirates. It’s seriously delicious. You order off a menu with lots of choices and it’s all freshly prepared.
Because we had eaten in Dubai and (in my case), I had snacked on too many mixed nuts in the Onboard Lounge, we stuck to canapes and starters, which were all really, really good. XFE had the caviar starter and I had a tomato soup and then we both ordered the Arabic mezze platter, which was supposed to be a starter, but was a full meal in and of itself and was awesome.
After one more trip back to the Onboard Lounge and watching a few movies, it was time to start packing up and leave all the pampering behind. The whole experience—from the service to the food to the amenities and perks–was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, for which I owe XFE a sincere and heartfelt “thank you.” Our Emirates First Class experience made leaving Africa that much more special and coming home an even ruder wake up as I go through luxury withdrawals!