Review: Air China Forbidden Pavilion First Class Shanghai to Tokyo

We arrived at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport a couple of hours before our scheduled departure for Toyko-Narita.  Check-in was quick and simple, and I was pointed towards the security line where I was able to skip the line since I was flying First.  I ended up clearing security and immigration only minimally quicker than my friend who was on the flight with me in economy.

After about a half an hour in the Air China First Class Lounge (review forthcoming), we made our way to the gate where we discovered that we would be boarding buses to take us to a remote stand.

Yup, we seriously were going to use a remote stand to board a B747-400.  This was a tad strange to say the least.  I was able to take the private van for first and business class passengers, and after about a ten minute ride, we arrived to our plane — which happened to be the furthest plane away from the terminal.

Boarding our Air China B747-400 from the ramp

Boarding our Air China B747-400 from the ramp

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Review: Park Hyatt Shanghai

First of all, I’ve made no secret of my love for Park Hyatt properties.  I feel that they are some of the nicest and well-done properties in the world, and are certainly amongst the best hotels in which I’ve stayed.  Before my trip to Shanghai, I’d previously stayed at Park Hyatts in Tokyo, Dubai, Melbourne and Zurich, and all four of them ranked at or near the top of my list of favorite hotels.IMG_9170

The Park Hyatt Shanghai easily joined the very top of that list.

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A Layover in Bangkok – Six Hours in the City

As previously noted, we spent the first part of our layover at the THAI Royal First Lounge, but with twelve hours between flights, I wanted to get into the city a bit just to experience a little of the utter chaos that is Bangkok.  We left the lounge and headed for Thailand immigration, where our passports were stamped.  From there, we headed towards the taxi cab queue, but decided to play things “safe” and talk to one of the “official” airport transport / tour agents.  This is a surefire way to pay more for transportation, but we didn’t really feel like dealing with language barriers and preferred to pre-pay for a driver for the day.  We ultimately arranged for a driver for six hours for about 3,000 Thai Baht (~USD$100)– though that’s relatively expensive, we were happy to pay it, as it was pretty simple and easy for us. Continue Reading →

Review: THAI Royal First Lounge and Royal Orchid Spa – Bangkok

After a wonderful flight from Munich, we arrived well rested a little after 1pm at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi  Airport.  Upon deplaning, we were immediately met at the end of the jet way by a THAI representative who quickly whisked us away on a golf-cart to transfer security and immigration.  In less than five minutes, we were checking into the THAI First Class Lounge.  We had about twelve hours to kill before our redeye flight to Shanghai, so we planned to mix some time in the lounge with a day trip into Bangkok.

THAI Royal First Lounge

THAI Royal First Lounge

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Six Initial Thoughts on My Trip Around the World

After two weeks and just under 22,000 miles of travel around the world, I’m finally getting acclimated to the real world after arriving back in Washington from Tokyo last week.

DCA-ORD-MUC // MUC-BKK-PVG // PVG-HKG-PVG // PVG-NRT-IAD

DCA-ORD-MUC // MUC-BKK-PVG // PVG-HKG-PVG // PVG-NRT-IAD

I’d initially planned to publish trip reports as I went on this trip, but after a pretty intense first few days of Oktoberfest in Munich, that whole idea went out the window.  On this trip, I used my time in airports and on flights to relax and sleep instead of writing.  As a result, my trip reports will be published, post by post in the coming weeks.  I’ve got all sorts of goodies in this set, in addition to my flights in United, THAI, Air China and ANA First Class, including:

  • Le Meridien, Munich
  • Park Hyatt Shanghai
  • Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Tsim Sha Tsui
  • Grand Hyatt Shanghai
  • Hyatt Regency Tokyo
  • Sights of Munich and Oktoberfest
  • A Day in Bangkok
  • THAI Royal First Class Lounge and Spa, BKK
  • Sights of Shanghai
  • Air China Forbidden First Class Lounge, PVG
  • Sights of Hong Kong
  • A Nights in Tokyo

Continue Reading →

An Around the World Trip — Introduction

As I previously wrote, I will be embarking on a two-week journey around the World starting tonight.  While I’m meeting twelve other friends in Munich, two of them will be joining me for our exploits in Asia.

Though we all have somewhat different flights, we all did manage to get on the same THAI flight from Munich to Bangkok to Shanghai.  And we all managed to do it all with miles.

How exactly did we do it?

I’m so glad you asked…

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Around the World with US Airways Miles

A week from today, I will be embarking on another around the world adventure — this time it will include a stop at one of my favorite places in the World — Munich during Oktoberfest.  The Oktoberfest trip is one that I’ve taken the past four years, so it was a no-brainer to book a fifth straight year at the Weisn.

I will be joining ten other friends in Munich for four days, and at least two days at the tents of Oktoberfest — the world’s largest festival.  We also plan to attend a Bayern Munich match, the famed Hofbrauhaus, and some other various sites in and around Munich.  Last year I was able to experience the closing of Oktoberfest, and it was definitely worth the effort to stay for it on Sunday night, so we will be enjoying the closing ceremonies once again from the Hacker Pschorr tent.

The 2013 Closing Ceremony at the Hacker-Pschorr Tent at Oktoberfest

The 2013 Closing Ceremony at the Hacker-Pschorr Tent at Oktoberfest

When planning this trip last year, I wanted to take advantage of a stash of US Airways miles that I had on hand, as I was uncertain of how the impending US Airways / American merger would affect the very favorable US Airways award chart.  As such, I decided to stretch the value of my miles as far as possible.  I also want to try several Star Alliance first class partners while I could, since one could no longer book US Airways on Star Alliance partners after March 31, 2014.

In order to squeeze that extra value out of my award, I decided to book a trip from the US to North Asia… yes, North Asia. Continue Reading →

Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam: Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


Join me as I chronicle my journey through the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and Aegean Seas on our 12-night “Mediterranean Empires” cruise aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam. The next few blog entries will detail the various ports of call we visited during the cruise…

May 6 – Istanbul, Turkey

After spending the majority of the day at sea cruising through the Dardanelles, we approached Istanbul from the west at about 3pm.  The approach into Istanbul was beautiful, and I enjoyed pointing our parts of Istanbul to my girlfriend, Aunt, and Uncle.  I previously spent time in Istanbul about a year ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Because of this, I really looked forward to returning on this trip.

We ultimately didn’t dock until around 5pm due to high winds, but when we did my girlfriend and I disembarked and walked into town directly to the Galata Bridge.  We had the fortune at docking at the cruise ship birth closest to the Galata Tower and Bridge, so the location was extremely convenient.  After viewing the fishermen from the Galata Bridge, we proceeded to the Egyptian Bizzare – or Spice Bizzare to see the sights, sounds, and smells of the place.  Overrun with spice merchants, vibrant colors and smells filled the air making for a pretty intense setting.  Ater this, we walked back across the bridge, and up the hill to Galata Tower for a panoramic view of Istanbul.  As the timing worked out, we were up on Galata Tower right around sunset, which made for some amazing pictures.

We then continued up the hill to the Galata area.  We explored the side streets full of bars and cafes, and came upon a few of the bars that I’d been to last year on my trip to Istanbul with friends.  We started back towards the ship before stopping for a Turkish dinner of kebab and Turkish pizza.  It was tasty as always.  We returned to the ship around 9:30pm where the ship was putting on a Turkish Bazaar dinner up on board – they really did a nice job with it though we did not partake.

May 7 – Istanbul, Turkey

This was a unique port of call for a cruise since we were docked in Istanbul overnight.  The overnight call aspect of the cruise was one of the most attractive features of the trip for us.   Having been to Istanbul before, I had a pretty good idea of a proper tour itinerary for my girlfriend, aunt, and uncle that next morning.  We decided to take the tram to the Sultanahmet stop – a short, ten minute trip (for €3 per person, each way).  Here, we toured the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, and Sistern Basilica.  Entrance to the Blue Mosque is free, but we did have to wait in line for about a half an hour before being allowed to enter and take pictures.  The view inside was amazing as usual, and  reminds me of the cover of my high school World History textbook.  Next, we walked over to the Hagia Sofia, but decided not to enter due to the massive line to get in.  Entrance would have been €10 per person had we decided to brave the line.  I did go inside the Hagia Sofia on my last trip to Istanbul, and in my opinion, it would have been worth the wait.

Alas, the rest of the group didn’t want to wait, so we headed across the street to the Sistern Basilica.  Entrance to the Sistern was also ten euros per person.  I quite enjoyed this last time, and I did on this trip as well.  It’s a dimly lit cavern full of water and yellow and red lighting.  We then proceeded to the Grand Bazaar, which was only about a ten minute walk from the Sultanahmet area.  As usual, the Grand Bazaar was utter chaos – not quite my cup of tea, but the ladies wanted to get some shopping in.  We took a quick break for a lunch of doner kebap before taking the tram back to the ship in time for our scheduled 5pm departure.  The sail away from Istanbul was simply beautiful as we passed Istanbul landmarks like the Galata Bridge, Topapki Palace, Hagia Sofia, and Blue Mosque.  That evening, we enjoyed appetizers in the room before our dinner at Tamarind — the specialty Asian Fusion restaurant onboard.

May 8 – Mitilini, Lesbos, Greece

We awoke the following morning off the shore of Lesbos – a Greek Island just off the west coast of Turkey.  The ship was anchored about a mile off shore, so we utilized the ship’s tenders to transport passengers into town.  Mitilini is a picturesque, Greek fishing village centered around a harbor.  It really reminded me of the harbor in Georgetown, Grand Cayman about twenty years ago before the high rise buildings.  The harbor is lined with cafes that turn into nightclubs at night.  Since Mitilini is apparently a college town, these seemingly sleepy cafes convert into a raging nightclub scene after dark (or so we were told).  We enjoyed several beers and shots of ouzo at a couple different cafes in Mitiline before and after a stroll down the main shopping / market area of the town.  The ouzo was a must since Lesbos is where the Greek drink originated!  We decided against an organized tour to another location or beach on the rather large island, and this port served as a leisurely break in between the two, tour-intensive Turkish ports of call.

May 9 – Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey

Kusadasi is one of two port cities used by cruise lines to access the ancient city of Ephesus.  It is the much closer of the two ports (Ismir), and it is only about a twenty minute cab ride from the pier in Kusadasi to Ephesus.  We arranged a cab at the pier as transportation to Ephesus for a total of €60, round-trip.  The drive from Kusadasi to Ephesus is very scenic, as you hug the rugged coastline for most of the 15km trip.  Upon arriving in Ephesus, we paid an entrance fee to the ruins.  The ruins themselves were spectacular.  The pictures below speak for themselves.  Highlights of the ruins included the Terrace Houses (extra entrance fee), and the Great Arena, which held up to 25,000 spectators.

After spending about an hour and a half at the ruins, our cab driver drove us back to Kusadasi, where we briefly walked through the town bizarre before having a Turkish lunch at Toros, right on the harbor.  The kebab lunch was fresh and delicious.

Kusadasi itself functions as a major beach resort town on the Turkish coast.  The coastline, the beaches, and water are beautiful in Kusadasi.  The Turkish coast as a whole is renowned for some of the finest beachest anywhere on the Mediterranean, and this is certainly a region to which I’d love to return.

Next stop:  Santorini, Greece…

 

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Review: United BusinessFirst: Tokyo – Denver

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1 (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo, Day 1 (Park Hyatt arrival, Roppongi)
Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)
Park Hyatt Tokyo
United BusinessFirst Tokyo – Denver


Boarding the Dreamliner for a long flight over the Pacific

Boarding the Dreamliner for a long flight over the Pacific

It took almost an hour and 45 minutes to get from the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku to Narita Airport.  This airport is really nowhere close to Tokyo, as we ventured far from the city center, all the way out to Narita.  Narita is Tokyo’s primary international gateway, but Haneda is definitely the closer of the two airports.  In the future, if I’m staying in Tokyo, I will try to get on a flight into Haneda if at all possible.  The drive out of Tokyo was nice since I got to see some areas of Tokyo that I had not seen before.

Eventually, we pulled first into the city of Narita, and then into the departures area of the airport.  I grabbed my bag and headed to check-in, where there was no line at all.  I quickly went through security and immigration and headed to the United Club since it was only about 90 minutes prior to departure at that point.  The United Club was absolutely slam packed, so I did not take any pictures.  I did; however, have a few beers from the automatic beer machine — I definitely need one of those in my kitchen!  After about 45 minutes in the lounge, boarding for the Denver flight was announced, and I headed down to the gate to embark on a sparkling new United 787 Dreamliner (ship# 3901).

United Airlines (UA) 138
Tokyo-Narita (NRT) – Denver (DEN)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 1E (BusinessFirst)
Thursday, June 27
5:00 PM – 12:50 PM
Duration: 10:50

Seat 1E

Seat 1E

It’s a pretty awesome thing whenever one is seated in row 1 on an international flight, as this almost certainly means that your flight will probably not suck.  We boarded the aircraft through door 1L and the flight attendant showed me to my seat — seat 1E in the front BusinessFirst cabin.

On this flight, the BusinessFirst cabin was completely full, but I still had plenty of room in my seat.  Since I was traveling by myself, I prefer the middle pair of seats so I wouldn’t have to climb over anybody to get to by belongings during the flight, and so I wouldn’t have anyone climbing over me when I was asleep.  This turned out to be a good idea, because my seat-mate was pretty intoxicated — I mean, flat-out drunk.  Luckily, he passed before we even took off, but he did receive a warning from the flight attendant when he woke up a few hours out of Denver.  We departed Tokyo on time, and rolled out past what seemed like dozens of JAL 787 Dreamliners before we rolled down the runway en route for Denver.

After about an hour in flight, the dinner service started.  It was very similar to the menu on the flight over with one Japanese entrée and three Western entrees to choose from.  Since I’d eaten the beef tenderloin on the flights over, I chose the Hawaiian Sea Bass for my main on this flight.  It was excellent, though the sushi, ironically was not quite as good as it was on the flights over (go figure!).  Overall, dinner was very, very good.  Though it was not quite as good as the dinners on the outbound flights, it was definitely tasty and cooked correctly.

IMG_3977 IMG_3979 IMG_3981 IMG_3983 IMG_3985 IMG_3987 IMG_3989

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After I finished my sundae for dessert, I had a few drinks and watched several episodes of House of Cards on the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system.  The IFE on the new and newly renovated United (ex-Continental) planes is fantastic with a multitude of movies, tv shows, and other entertainment to choose from.  It is certainly enough to entertain someone for a ten-hour transpacific flight.

IFE and legroom in seat 1E

IFE and leg room in seat 1E

After a few episodes of House of Cards, I reclined my seat to the lie-flat position and dozed off for about 5-6 hours of shut-eye.  The bed was extremely comfortable, and I slept right up until the flight attendants started the breakfast service.  As I’ve mentioned before, the bulkhead rows on United’s BusinessFirst cabins provide much more leg-room in the foot well, providing for a much more comfortable ride.

Anyway, breakfast was served — I ordered the omelet.  It was pretty good — certainly an improvement over United’s domestic first class breakfasts.  Overall, this was a fantastic flight with a great, attentive crew, awesome IFE, good food, and a comfy seat — definitely not a bad way to cross the Pacific!

We arrived in Denver almost 90 minutes early.  Since I was seated in the first row, I was off the plane in a hurry.  After a long walk to Denver International Airport’s immigration area, I broke to the right to proceed through Global Entry.  After about 30 seconds, I was cleared and headed out into the main terminal.  Global Entry is absolutely fantastic, and in my mind is definitely worth the $100 fee for five years.

Because of my early arrival in Denver, I went ahead and changed to an earlier flight back to Washington-Dulles.  By doing this, I gave up my first class upgrade back to IAD, but I did nab and exit row.  The major win here was that it got me back home almost 3.5 hours earlier.  After a relatively short, non-eventful flight back to Dulles, I hopped the Washington Flyer bus back to West Falls Church Metro Station and took the train back home.  WIth that, my 15 day adventure all over the world was over!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Review: Park Hyatt Tokyo

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1 (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo, Day 1 (Park Hyatt arrival, Roppongi)
Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)
Park Hyatt Tokyo


I’m not going to make it a habit to regularly review hotels unless the stay is extraordinary — and this stay at the Park Hyatt Tokyo was exactly that.

As previously mentioned, I arrived from Tokyo’s Haneda airport and was whisked away to the 41st floor lobby, where I was escorted to my room by two people where they performed the check-in procedure in my room.  This alone was impressive to me.  As stated before, I had an Park Deluxe Twin room on the 44th floor.  It was very good-sized with all the amenities one could want.

Executive Twin Room

Executive Twin Room

My room

My room

Bathroom

Bathroom

There were so many details that were not missed in the room, and little surprises awaited me in every drawer, nook, and cranny of the room.  The room included a pretty spectacular walk-in closet, along with a large bathroom with twin sinks, a full-sized tub, walk-in shower, and toilet.  I had a wonderful view South from my room towards the Shibuya area.

View from my room

View from my room

The service at the Park Hyatt Tokyo was phenomenal wherever I went.  From the check-in procedure, to the breakfast service at Girandole, to the bar and dinner service at the New York Grill — everything was top-notch.

The 41st floor features The Peak Bar and Lounge, which features high, glass ceilings and spectacular views of Tokyo.

The Peak Bar and Lounge

The Peak Bar and Lounge

IMG_3957 IMG_3955 IMG_3953 IMG_3952As you walk towards the lobby, you pass Girandole, the restaurant where breakfast is served.  I enjoyed two spectacular breakfasts here, both times ordering the eggs Benedict.

Girandole

Girandole

Eggs Benedict at Girandole

Eggs Benedict at Girandole

There is also a Japanese restaurant, Kozue that I did not try, which gets high marks.   Up top is the iconic New York Grill, from Lost in Translation fame.  The 2003 film featuring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray used the Park Hyatt and specifically the New York Bar and Grill as the setting. It did not fail to disappoint, as both the food and service were excellent both times I went there.

Happy Hour at the New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo

Happy Hour at the New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo

The Park Hyatt Tokyo's famous New York Grill and Bar

The Park Hyatt Tokyo’s famous New York Grill and Bar

I’ve stayed at some very nice hotels in my life, but this one took the cake — this was without a doubt the most over-the-top and nice hotel in which I’ve ever stayed.

How I managed to stay here…

I was able to stay at the Park Hyatt Tokyo for three nights.  For two of the nights, I used two free nights which I received after applying for the Chase Hyatt Visa Card.  The third night, I used 22,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points that I have accumulated over time.  For reference, a normal night at the Park Hyatt Tokyo is typically over $550 per night, so this would qualify as a pretty good use of points if you ask me!Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 7.20.48 PM