Flying Fancy: Review of Emirates First Class

And we’re back! Actually, we’ve been back from Africa over a week, but I’ve been in post-vacation mourning.

post-vacation-cat
I remember when I was on vacation. That was nice.

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.

anistonemirates-20151009110626719

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.

Continue reading Flying Fancy: Review of Emirates First Class

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Flying Fancy: Review of Singapore Airlines Suites

I think I’m generally pretty spoiled. And I’ve had some pretty spectacular flying experiences.

But our trip in the Singapore Airlines Suites was so over-the-top, it almost made this girl (formerly from the trailer parks of West Texas) downright uncomfortable.

Singapore Suites check in
I’m ready to check in, dorky grin included

First of all…let me just stop you right there. I’m sure you know, or suspect, that a ticket on such a flight from New York to Frankfort to Singapore costs about the equivalent of a nice car–or even, a West Texas trailer. But we didn’t pay that. We paid about $375 per person all told, thanks to miles we got last year through a LifeLock deal (the deal’s no longer available, guys. Sorry.)

Ticket for Singapore Airlines

So, we cashed in those miles for a true first class adventure on an airline that consistently gets rave reviews for its customer service. And, since the total flight time was around 19 hours (7.35 from New York to Frankfurt, 11.25 from Frankfurt to Singapore) PLUS a two-hour layover in Frankfurt, it’s worth using the miles to have a truly relaxing and pampered experience.

We started at the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK. It was my first time there and it was a freaking awesome lounge! So coolly designed, yet cozy at the same time. Amazing (and free!) food and drinks, and they even had a spa featuring Dr. Hauschka products. I got a $20 15-minute moisturizing facial and then settled into a giant lounging couch with a blackberry bramble and a flatbread pizza for a snack. I almost wanted to just stay in the lounge. (Still, it’s no Turkish Airlines Istanbul Departure Lounge, which has to be the most amazing lounge I’ve ever been to, hands down, bar none).

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse interior
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse interior

Back to Singapore Airlines: Soon, it was time to board the gigantic A380 aircraft. We went down a separate, dedicated bridge to get to the front part of the plane, where our flight crew was waiting with champagne and newspapers to greet us (no trashy magazines, alas. I had to bring those myself.)

Singapore Airlines A380
The behmoth

Now on to the star of the show-–the much talked about suites: The whole set up reminded me of the old train berths.

Singapore Airlines Suites
Those stairs on the right go up to the Business Class section.

There are 12 suites, and on our first flight from New York to Frankfort, there were only two other people in the suites section.

Singapore Airlines Suites

We had picked the middle two seats, which can be folded down and combined into a double bed. Your seat is surrounded by private walls and your “pod” even includes a door. But the walls don’t go all the way up to the ceiling, so a very curious tall person walking by could still crane their neck and look down into your “pod.” And there were a lot of people (flight crew, mostly) walking around throughout the flight. Nevertheless, you did feel completely private and blocked from the view of those sitting around you.

Singapore Airlines Suite 3D

IMG_2433

The tan leather seats were like recliners, huge and wide and with lots of leg and back settings. Across from me, in another tiny seating/footrest alcove was the entertainment system and the Givenchy bedding. Soon after boarding, we received our pajamas and a Salvatore Ferragamo amenities kit, including a full-sized perfume.

Givenchy bedding on Singapore Airlines Suites

Ferragamo amenities kit on Singapore Airline

Ferragamo perfume from amenities kit

The fold-down bed is just awesome. There’s no denying that the best amenity on any first class flight is the ability to change into some pajamas, get completely prone on nice comfy pillows and sheets, and get some sleep. That, and all the new movie releases they have on board, which can keep you from getting any sleep at all (on our Cathay Pacific flight home, I made this mistake, watching “Foxcatcher,” “The Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Horrible Bosses II,” and something called “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.” I was very cranky by the time we landed in Chicago. And I still had a flight to DC to look forward to.)

Double bed on Singapore Airlines

Double bed on Singapore Airlines

The food on the Singapore flights was, of course, good. I’m not sure it measures up to my favorite – Lufthansa, and it certainly couldn’t compete with the meal we’d had the night before at Le Bernardin! XFE had pre-ordered his meals using their Book the Cook option online, including a delicious pork cooked in beer (!) for the flight from Frankfort to Singapore. I don’t remember much of what either of us ate–I think I had some beef brisket on the first flight and a duck confit on the second, both off the menu–but I’m sure it was better than whatever food box I might have had the option to purchase on a United flight.

Wonton soup on Singapore Airlines
My favorite meal of the flight was a wonton soup I had before we landed in Singapore.
Givenchy plates on Singapore Airlines
I was, however, very impressed with the Givenchy plateware.

What I do distinctly remember is how ridiculously nice everyone was on both legs of our flights. The Singapore Airlines flight crews were incredible and so attentive. They consistently address you by name, your champagne glass is never empty. They’re attentive without being annoying. They made a super big deal out of my birthday, offered up suggestions on things to do in Singapore and where to get the best chili crab, and just really made the whole trip special.

My second birthday cake
My second birthday cake

When I didn’t finish my duck at dinner on the Frankfurt-to-Singapore leg (hard to cut duck with nothing more than a butter knife), they were pretty upset and concerned that it wasn’t prepared properly (it was) or that I hadn’t gotten enough to eat. Which is crazy when you consider that we basically ate something every few hours, and my main course had been proceeded by an appetizer, a soup, and a salad.

Birthday bear with a Singapore sling.
Birthday bear with a Singapore sling.

Overall, it was an amazing experience, and a great start to my birthday trip. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to use that option again, but I’m extremely grateful for having had the chance to roll around and relish all of it.

Cambodia Better Bring It

Ugh. I’ve been slacking on the blogging. I know. The thing is, I had to run all over town to find shorts. In February. In D.C. where the high temps this month have regularly hovered around “freezing your leg hairs off.”

(Also, I’ve had a lot of big deadlines to hit in the past couple of weeks. But let’s just blame the shorts, shall we?)

But we’re leaving this week for our annual Poe Super Birthday Extravaganza Trip to Far Flung Destinations–and this one is going to be a doozy.

This tradition began in 2008, when XFE was in Rome for work right before my birthday. We cashed in some miles and I met him and some of his co-workers over there, and had a merry old time eating lots of pasta, going to lots of museums and drinking lots of wine. And, of course, going to a soccer game (a tradition now whenever we travel to Europe).

The next year, XFE and his co-workers were in Japan, again, right around my birthday. In fact, I spent my actual birthday on the flight coming home. We did not see a soccer game but we did go to the opening day of a sumo wrestling match in Osaka. And ate lots of sushi, including sushi for breakfast after visiting the Tokyo Fish Market.

Tokyo Fish Market
That’s a lot of frozen sushi, which actually sounds quite gross.
Gambate
I don’t know, how do you sumo??

Every year, XFE has outdone himself, planning a bigger and better birthday trip. For my 40th, it was Australia. Two years ago, it was Peru. Last year, South Africa where I stroked a cheetah (YES, a cheetah!) and ate lamb’s brain at one of the world’s best restaurants.

South Africa Safari
Yep, just chilling with an elephant. No biggie.
South Africa cheetah preserve
That’s a cheetah, with my pudgy paw all up on it.

This year, it’s Cambodia (with stopovers in Singapore and Hong Kong). I know, right? I would not argue with anyone who says that I’m spoiled. I would lose that argument every damn time.

Oh, pardon me, I meant to say, the Kingdom of Cambodia. That is, apparently, the official name. Pretty bitchin’.

I am beyond excited. But I will say, it’s hella hot and humid in those places right now. So, I needed a couple of pairs of shorts, particularly since we’ll be visiting the very dusty, very hot, Angkor Wat. I want to make sure I have as much exposed pasty-white skin as possible to attract all of the mosquitoes in the area, and keep them away from my beloved trip planner, XFE. Love = sweating + risking yellow fever.

I don’t really know what to expect from this trip. I always like to say that we actually get to take a trip three times: once during all the excitement and anticipation of the planning stage. The second when we’re actually there, soaking it all in. And the third when I get to come back and write about it all. In fact, those amazing birthday trips (along with the non-birthday timed trips we tend to take as well) is what led to the creation of this blog. I wanted to document and remember all the amazing places we’ve been together. Even Peru, where my intestines tried to escape my body repeatedly.

You can't tell, but this not-so-young lady is wondering where the nearest bathroom is.
You can’t tell, but this not-so-young lady is wondering where the nearest bathroom is.

But because of the fluctuating nature of freelancing, I haven’t really gotten to take that first part of the trip. A lot of the planning has been carried out by XFE. He’s the one who found a spa for us to go get massages our first day in Siem Reap. He’s the one who found and arranged a fun-sounding food tour in Hong Kong called the Won-Ton-A-Thon.

We’ve actually put off a lot of the planning specifics, figuring we’ll use our 20-hour flight on this ridiculousness (YASSS to miles travel!) to figure out more details. Between stuffing our gobs with caviar and bossing our butler around, of course.

How on earth can they be gazing into each other’s eyes when there’s so many other things to see on this airplane??

Then I realized — when I was working in an office and not very happy with my work environment, I would spend a lot of my free time daydreaming and researching our upcoming trips. Now that I’m my own boss, I seem to be a bit more focused and productive. Hence, no daydreaming and a lack of blog posts, as well.

Which makes this trip kind of exciting. I haven’t ruminated it to death. I’ll be seeing everything with fresh eyes. Sure, we might miss some neighborhood or hot restaurant that we would have known about if I’d just spent more time on TripAdvisor, but I’m looking forward to just being blown away by the strangeness and the newness and the overall foreignness.

I haven’t even really thought out my packing list. Which is why, while the rest of the greater Washington D.C. area was out chipping ice off their sidewalks on Sunday, I was running around a mall trying to find sweltering-weather appropriate gear.

Why didn’t I pack some anti-malarial pills? (nice shorts, btw)

And, while I’m typing this, I’m supposed to be packing. XFE has been packed since Saturday.

Guess I better get to it.

Friday Links: Panda Poop Edition

It’s been quite a week. The days are getting so much shorter, which has made getting up to go to the gym at 5:30 am so much harder. The weather’s been weird, or, actually, typical for September — brisk one day, hot and humid the next. On Wednesday night, my metro train got stuck in a tunnel for 20 minutes and then all of the evening rush-time passengers were offloaded at the next crowded station. There are a lot of changes and upheavals going on at work, creating a lot of uncertainty and confusion.

I’m looking forward to a weekend of wine, bad television, a nice nap, and maybe even some non-artistic sushi. Here’s hoping next week is more … consistent, shall we say?

Scream

  • I love sushi an inordinate amount but I don’t know if I’d be able to eat these little artworks, especially the embryo in the womb one. Little too meta for me.
  • As you may have heard, the panda here at the National Zoo had a baby two weeks ago and, of course, there’s a panda cam, which would normally cause me to snort derisively. But this 52-second video of Mei Xiang cradling and washing her baby is pretty damn cute and quite soothing. (Hope she doesn’t mistake him for a piece of sushi)
  • In slightly related news, panda poop is magical and our next source for renewable energy.
  • “Death does not extinguish resentment.” The long term effects of child abuse are perfectly illustrated in this unusual obituary.
  • I’ve not yet had the privilege of flying them, but Singapore Airlines has the most expensive first class product out there. It’s not even fair to call it first class, it’s so beyond that. Those clever folks at Buzzfeed have come up with a listicle of 16 things you could buy instead of a $13,000 ticket.
  • Speaking of travel: XFE has certainly made use of Twitter as a way to get the attention of airlines, but this guy took it to the max, buying a promoted Tweet to express his displeasure with British Airways’ customer service.
  • This pleases me immensely. Cats in tiny paper hats.
  • And with that, I think we could all use a nap. Luckily, there’s an infographic for that. Because we’ve all been doing this whole napping thing wrong.
How To Take The Perfect Nap
 

 

Croatia: Sometimes Getting There is Half the Fun*

(*OK, maybe not half. Maybe more like, a third of the fun. Or even a smaller fraction. If I were good at math, I’d be able to tell you what a smaller fraction would be. But I’m not. Back to the blogging.)

First, let me clarify: it does not take 20 hours to get to Croatia. Unless. Unless you are travelling using your United Airlines miles, which automatically puts you at a direct-flight disadvantage, particularly if you’re going overseas.

And, if you want to go on a specific airline because they have a new product, like, for example, they’ve upgraded their business class (like Austrian Airlines just did) or, you already know and like the existing product (like Lufthansa first class).

Let’s review — the options are: get to Croatia relatively quickly (7.5 hours to London, 2 hours to Dubrovnik), but crushed back in coach, OR take the long way in first class and eat mountains of caviar and sample wines and champagne from around the world for hours on end while wearing Lufthansa-provided pajamas. That you get to KEEP. Croatia 006

We went with the second option. And today, Lufthansa is low on their monthly caviar supply.

Croatia has long been on my bucket list of places to visit. I heard about it pretty much the same way everyone else did – on the news because of the Balkan Wars and the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Later on, when I lived in London in 1997, I remember British people telling me about how beautiful Croatia was before the war and how it had been such a popular vacation destination. They talked about all the beautiful coastline, and how it was like Italy but cheaper (that’s still true, by the way).

And, it just sounded so exotic and different. I certainly didn’t know anyone who’d been there (other than the nostalgic British people I came across). I just kept reading about it on travel lists.

Then suddenly, we were going to Croatia. The right deal at the right time just came along.

croatia - map

After my embarrassment over my ignorance of Peru’s recent political upheavals (“wait, is there a Peruvian version of ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians?’ No? Oh, well then I’m not really invested”), I decided to actually read a bit about Croatia’s history.

I read two books: one bodice ripper “Croatia: A Nation Forged in War.” Let me tell you, it was a laugh a minute. It was a very dense book, but it definitely covered everything. And what I learned is Croatia has been a country that’s been kinda screwed. It had been occupied by the Greeks, the Romans, the Venetians, the Austrians, the Hungarians, and even the French before being consolidated into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which was then invaded by Germany during World War II.

That’s another thing – I also learned about Croatia’s own ethnic cleansing and genocide against Jews, Serbs and gypsies during World War II. I was totally unaware of the Ustashe before I read this book.

The other book was called “They Would Never Hurt a Fly: War Criminals on Trial in The Hague,” by Croatian journalist Slavenka Drakulic. This cheerful tome was actually a much easier, if grim, read. I whipped through it pretty quickly, although the subject matter was chilling.

Well-prepared, I luxuriated in Lufthansa first class, finally tearing myself away from the caviar just in time to get my first glimpses of Croatia’s more than one thousand islands (no, seriously, there are over 1,000 islands). They were little dollops of greenery edged in tan and turquoise dropped into the cerulean blue Adriatic waters.

Yep, it was that inspiring and poetic. And romantic.

heart-shaped-croatian-islan

We eventually waddled off the plane in Dubrovnik and picked up our rental car. This was actually done outside the airport at these portable buildings like they used to have at school, which gave the whole thing a slight air of delinquency. I kept looking around to see if any scholastic authorities were about to pounce and ask me what I was doing hanging outside the portable classrooms.

But no, my only companions were a bunch of mildly Mediterranean dudes smoking cigarettes and dealing with other clueless tourists, primarily very young people from England and Japan.

After securing our Volkswagon, we were off, driving about 35 minutes of twisty hillside roads from the airport to our hotel in Dubrovnik, the pearl of the Adriatic.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you all about that hotel. It’s worthy of its’ own post.

Croatia 018That’s not a picture of our hotel, by the way. That’s me, bedding down in first class.

You Fancy, Huh? Review of Thai Airlines First Class Service

Just in case you were wondering: first class on Thai Airways does not suck. No, actually, I’m even willing to go a step further and say it’s quite nice. Alright, alright, the truth is it was fantastic. Un-freaking-believable.

Oh, and for the record, in general, (and I say this with some expertise now) the first class experience on a foreign carrier overall is leaps and bounds nicer than on a U.S. carrier. Sorry, but it is true. I don’t care if I do cause some diplomatic incident here.

For example, the state of our first class lounges in the U.S. is a national embarrassment and I fully expect Congress to get on this issue immediately. They are a disgrace compared to our international cohorts.

Dear Congress, Do you know that I once spent a wonderful morning in the Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul and I swear on all the Real Housewives that they had a mini-theater? Sure, it was showing some philharmonic something-or-other, followed by some nature stuff, but it was a mini-theater, none the less. There was also a pool table. And a hanging honeycomb in the breakfast buffet so you could slice your own pieces of wax and honey and slather them over delicious biscuits and butter. HONEYCOMBS HANGING FROM A STRING, people!

What do American first class lounges offer? Some sad little goldfish snacks and well drinks. (OK, they’re slightly better than that, but not by much.)

But even more delightful than that Turkish Airways lounge (did I mention the honeycomb?) was our experiences as first class passengers on Thai Airways.

Continue reading You Fancy, Huh? Review of Thai Airlines First Class Service

On Today’s Agenda

So, we’ll be doing a bit of this today.

It’s a pretty exciting day. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in weeks. I’m pretty sure I’m going to sleep throughout the entire vacation from sheer exhaustion.

We’ve been planning this 32,000 mile trip for almost a year. We used 320,000 United miles to fly first class, all the way, first on Luftansa and then on Thai Royal Airways. Half the fun is just going to be getting there and back.

I’m really going to miss this munchkin. But even though we both have ginormous rolling duffel suitcases, there just wasn’t room for her. Don’t worry. Petunia Pot Pie will be watched over by Running Buddy Amy, although Her Royal Catness is pretty independent and doesn’t need much attending.

She’s soooo much cuter and only slightly safer than these guys.

What the hell. I mean, seriously. What. The. Hell. Words almost fail me. In case you can’t make it out, that’s one oddly named shark (tasseled wobbegone) eating another oddly named shark (brownbanded bamboo). Not just eating, but swallowing it whole.

That’s just jacked.

Oh, and just guess where this oddity of nature took place? If you guessed the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, you’d be right.

Bon Voyage, indeed.