Hong Kong/Cathay Pacific
The start of our second trip around the world – albeit a much quicker trip than the last one. Alyce was pretty anxious heading in to the last trip, and I couldn’t really blame her. We were going to be away from everything that we knew and was familiar to us for nearly 3 months.
This time, she was much more relaxed (relatively speaking, of course). We would only be gone for 12 nights. And although neither of us were particularly happy about having to board Moose at the vet for that time, we knew he’d be taken care of. Our parents watched the pain in the butt – aka Chunk.
We spent the night before we left in New Orleans, making things easier for the following morning. Our flight to Chicago left New Orleans at about 7:30 a.m. It was on an American Airlines Embraer E175 regional jet and we were in business class. As with most domestic flights, it was pretty standard. Though, I will say that the plane was actually pretty nice. Many regional jets can be cramped/not good to fly on, but we liked this one. And it was clearly a pretty new plane…I think it even had a new plane smell.
Upon arriving in Chicago, the cold air took our breath away on the brief walk up the gate bridge (I think it was 6 degrees F). We followed the signs to the international terminal, and recleared security then waited for the lounge to open.
It was a little past noon, and the Swiss lounge was still pretty dead looking. I finally found someone there and asked when they’d be opening, at which point I was informed that Cathay Pacific no longer uses the Swiss Lounge. Oops. I should have checked on that.
Now, Cathay uses the BA First lounge. It is a bigger, much more spacious lounge compared to the Swiss Lounge. That said, the food and drink selections were without a doubt superior in the Swiss Lounge. It was not a big deal, and the extra space was nice. Plus, you get your fill of food on the plane.
When it was time to board, the lounge attendant came and got us (just Alyce and I) and brought us directly to the gate. He got our boarding passes scanned and made sure we were first on the plane with no wait. That was definitely A+ service.
You’d think by this time we’d be used to these fancy flights and not get all excited upon boarding. But we still get our glass of Champagne (I drank most of Alyce’s) and take pictures…and just act like a couple of excited little kids.
Some other passengers were eventually brought in to the first class cabin, though I’m pretty sure that these were last minute upgrades based on how it happened and the fact that the seats were still for sale about 30 minutes before we boarded. No bother to us, as it didn’t make in difference. We were in seats 1A and 2A again, in our own little private cabin. If you can get those two seats on a 77W, that is the way to go for a pair traveling together.
The flight itself was fantastic. No surprises there. Service was incredible despite a nearly full cabin (5/6). Cathay does tend to not walk around the cabin so much as they rely on you to hit the flight attendant button – at which point they appear immediately. They don’t do this out of laziness, but more so that the cabin is quiet without much foot traffic.
Also, the food and drink were good, and I like Cathay’s entertainment options. I must have watched a whole season of Parks and Rec. Otherwise, the flight was pretty similar to our last Cathy first class flight (see the link for more specifics about our last flight). That is one of their hallmarks – a very consistent and great experience. Alyce must have gotten 8 hours of sleep. I got some – maybe 4-5. Still great sleep for being on a plane. Cathay’s beds are probably the second most comfortable we’ve flown in – behind Singapore Airlines Suites.
One thing I’ll add about the flight is that it was New Year’s eve. I wasn’t sure if there would be a countdown/champagne etc. upon crossing the date line. There was really no mention of it, which didn’t bother us. I guess it was because they didn’t want to disturb anyone who might be sleeping.
Upon landing around 8:00 p.m. Hong Kong time the following day, we were first off the plane and were past customs/immigrations with our bags in about 10 minutes. I picked up some cash from an ATM, and we were off in a cab to Tsim Sha Tsui. I had printed out the map/hotel name in Cantonese before we left, which eliminated any potential confusion.
The taxi ride was 30-40 minutes and about $40 US. We checked in and made our way up to the lounge for a drink (water). Evening service had already concluded, so we were out of luck for any food…but we weren’t hungry anyway.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Tsim Sha Tsui, and were upgraded to a harbor view room. Overall, it was a fine hotel room – though nothing to get too excited about. The location may be superior to the Grand Hyatt on Hong Kong Island depending on what you want to do. Though, one thing that is not debatable is that the Hyatt TST is literally right on top of the MTR, whereas the Grand was about a 10 minute walk away from the nearest MTR station.
Alyce crashed in the room, but I wanted to make use of the little time we had in Hong Kong. I grabbed my camera and headed out at about 10:00 p.m. As I was walking around with no particular place to go and carrying an expensive camera, I was reminded of how safe Hong Kong is. I literally had no fear. Imagine grabbing an expensive camera and just wandering the streets of downtown New Orleans at midnight. Now imagine getting shot and robbed – because that is what would happen.
I got some decent pictures and made my way back to the hotel, probably getting back to the room around 12:30 a.m. Neither one of us had much trouble sleeping that night.
Kuala Lumpur/Malaysia Airlines
We woke up kind of early (Alyce moreso than myself). Really nothing too out of the ordinary, and we both had gotten plenty of sleep over the last day+ of travel. Our flight did not leave until around 2:30, so we were not in a rush.
Breakfast in the lounge was good – plenty of continental selections along with eggs/bacon/sausage and some Chinese options. It was definitely superior to US club lounge breakfasts, though that is the norm for most of Asia.
After breakfast, Alyce went back and hung out in the room while I went walking around some more.
We set off for the airport around 11:00 and decided to just take a cab the whole way after planning on catching a cab to the airport express station. It worked out well as the cab ride back to the airport was only $30 US. I think it is cheaper on the way back because you don’t have to pay as many tolls. Either way, Hong Kong taxis are pretty cheap overall.
Checkin was quick and easy, as was immigrations. Malaysia uses a contract lounge in Hong Kong, but I knew that we could access Cathay Pacific’s First Class Lounge as a OneWorld Alliance ticket holder in First Class. So we went straight to the Pier, which was near our departure gate.
Upon arrival, we were informed that the first class lounge was closed for renovations but that there was a special roped off area. That was fine, and we took it easy there for a little while. Being a bit of a dork on this stuff, I wanted to see what the actual Cathay first class lounge looked like, so I convinced Alyce to head to the nearby lounge “The Bridge” we had passed.
I should have looked up the Cathay lounges on the internet because that lounge only had business class as well at this time. At this point, we just settled for that – and I use the term “settled” extremely loosely as Cathay’s Hong Kong business lounges are my favorite business class lounge.
The only other option was the Wing, which I was 100% sure had a first class lounge but was too far away to make Alyce walk just to see a slightly nicer lounge. I may have made the run if I had been by myself. Also, I’m sure Cathay Pacific would have notified us of the First Class lounge closures at checkin, but we were flying Malaysia.
We arrived at our gate just before boarding began and were among the first on the plane. This was on the Airbus A380, which features Malaysia’s latest and greatest first class. I thought the seat was nice, but definitely a step below Cathay Pacific, Singapore, Etihad, and Qantas. Though, the seat did have a ton of storage space, which is always very useful.
One slightly odd thing is that the entire plane boarded through the very front doors. So that resulted in a lot of traffic in the first class cabin during boarding (usually there will be multiple entrances or the door behind first class will be used). Another odd thing was that Malaysia does not serve alcohol until the flight is airborne. I think I had read somewhere that it might be because they don’t want to pay the duties on the booze.
Once the big plane was fully boarded, we taxied to the runway and took off. As soon as the seatbelt sign flashed, the flight attendant made her way back with the Dom Perignon. It tasted good, but I’d be lying if I pretended to know all that much about fine Champagne.
The food was surprisingly good on the flight. Being that this was only a 4 hour flight, it wasn’t the entire usual first class production (caviar, etc.). Still we enjoyed all the food.
I also thought that Malaysia had one of the better entertainment selections, but that is all just personal preference. One thing that was a little annoying was that I had never heard more announcements on a flight in my life…and each one was made in 8 different languages. That is something I hate to complain about, and I’d much rather the flight deck share too much compared to too little – but it was a bit excessive. One update on the weather in Kuala Lumpur would have been just fine as opposed to the 6 given.
The only reason I even mention it is that every time they would start the announcements, it would stop the movie/tv show you were watching. To give you an idea, I put on a 2.5 hour movie just after takeoff, and I did not finish it on a nearly 4 hour flight. Not a big deal, and it may have just been our particular flight crew.
Overall, I enjoyed the flight. It is not quite up to the standard of a couple of other first class flights we had taken, but great nonetheless. I’d have no qualms about booking a much longer flight with Malaysia on the A380.
Kuala Lumpur immigrations/customs was quick and friendly. We caught a taxi, and the driver knew right away where we were going (he didn’t need to see the map). The ride only took about 40 minutes – it can take 60+ depending on the traffic – and cost about $35-$40 US.
English seemed to be spoken at many places in Kuala Lumpur. I was really impressed with how modern everything was. It reminded me very much of Singapore. I knew going in to it the Kuala Lumpur was a pretty modern/developed city, but it was even nicer than I was expecting….very nice roads/interstate system, big modern skyscrapers all over, nice taxis, clean, etc.
We were only spending one night at the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur. Still, I upgraded us to a suite because I knew how nice the suites were here, and it did not disappoint.
We had unfortunately just missed the lounge evening service, but we made our way to it to have an evening sparkling water. The lounge was big and a very nice space. You had a great view of the Petronas Towers and could hear live musice being played at the hotel bar above – there is an open space between the lounge and the bar/restaurant above.
Overall, this is a really impressive hotel. It is new, and everything in it seemed to be done the right way. Also, it is relatively inexpensive as most things in Malaysia are to foreign tourists (similar to Thailand).
I did want to venture out and take some pictures, but we had a pretty early morning the following day. So I didn’t waste any time…but it had started raining when I went to leave. After killing some time in the room on the computer and watching some people play ping pong in the next building over, the rain had stopped. I did get to take some pictures of the Petronas Towers.
We again slept pretty good considering all the travelling we had been doing.
Singapore Suites Class to London
Yep, Suites Class. First class is for suckers.
Not really, Suites Class is just what Singapore calls the first class section on their A380 planes. Though, it is listed separate from first class on many airport signs/check-in booths, etc. Either way, I was pretty excited because it is considered to be the ultimate flying experience by many.
Breakfast was supposed to open at 6:00 in the hotel lounge. It did…technically. We were the only people in there, and a lot of stuff was still being put out. We only had a couple minutes to grab a little bit to get us on the road, but it looked like it would be a pretty nice breakfast setup once complete and had several hot options.
The taxi to the airport was about the same price and time as the one to the hotel. I did like our brief time in Kuala Lumpur and would like to go back for a longer stop someday…maybe combined with a scuba trip to one of the many fantastic scuba spots that are supposed to be in Malaysia.
At the airport, check-in was quick – as was immigrations. We were in the Singapore lounge in no time. This lounge was pretty nice considering it only serves a 40 minute flight to Singapore. There were several hot breakfast options and a full stock of booze in case you wanted a morning cocktail.
Speaking of which, I nearly decided to drown my sorrows away in booze. What sorrows? It was at this point that I got on the internet and saw that all the recruits that were sure things to commit to play at LSU in the high school all-star game had in fact gone elsewhere…Well not all of them, but most of them. I could feel the meltdown in Baton Rouge from the complete other side of the planet.
But I realized I was in the middle of an awesome trip and moved on much sooner than had I been watching it live in Louisiana…And I’ll readily admit that the whole idea of a grown man following where a high school kid is going to go to college is completely ridiculous. But whatever, it’s a problem I share with most fans of LSU football. Moving along…
The flight on Silk Air (Singapore’s regional arm) was as nice as a 40 minute flight could be. The seat was like a US domestic business class seat. They did manage to serve us breakfast on the quick flight, which I thought there was no way they could pull off.
In Singapore, we did not have to clear security to get in the airport this time. We made our way straight to the “Private Room.” That is what Singapore calls their lounge level above first class; it is only accessible by people flying on a Singapore Airlines first class ticket (Star Alliance partners in first class have access to the first class lounge). A couple years back, only passengers who actually paid for first class tickets (i.e. no award tickets or upgrades) could access the private room – though it was apparently pretty empty at that point.
And I guess this is as good of a place as any to discuss how I booked these tickets. Singapore does not release first class award seats to partners at any time. Period. You have two options: (1) Pay for first class or (2) book using Singapore KrisFlyer miles. I chose option #2. I transferred points from American Express membership rewards to Singapore and then was able to book a seat to London in Suites Class at the saver redemption level – no easy feat in itself. But it was worth it.
Back to the private room, we were personally escorted back to the lounge and asked if we wanted to sit at a table or just take it easy in the chairs for the time being. We decided to eat. I got sushi and lobster; Alyce got Satay and sea bass. It was some of the best lounge food we’ve had yet.
It was pretty quiet in there at that point, with just one other group in the whole lounge. That would soon change…
After we finished eating, I decided to go check out the “ordinary” first class lounge. That lounge was not crowded either and had plenty of places to sit comfortably. It had a buffet setup with plenty of good food on it as well. I may have snuck in a plate of sushi on my walk around.
I made my way back to the Private Room, ordered a cappuccino, and enjoyed some relaxing time catching up on some computer stuff.
About 90 minutes before our flight was scheduled to depart a large family walked in. Now let me set the record straight, I don’t get mad at kids for doing things they shouldn’t be doing – they’re kids. I understand that. It is when the parents don’t even attempt to correct them that I get annoyed. We’ll be parents soon, and I know I have a whole lot to learn in that department – but being a considerate person is not something that comes and goes. You either are or you aren’t. And in my book, there aren’t many worse things that you can say about a person than that they’re just an inconsiderate jerk.
Well these people were inconsiderate jerks. Plus, they were of a certain culture that we’ve noticed repeatedly is just not considerate of other people in general. Repeatedly.
Anyway, one kid was jumping on Alyce’s carry-on bag. The other was hiding behind my chair popping out occasionally and yelling. I’m talking full volume yell inches away from my face. And the parents couldn’t have cared less. Finally, one of them got up and wrangled the kids back by them after 20 minutes or so. Though they still caused a scene – at least it was not in my ear or on top of Alyce’s carry on bag any more.
At that point, I was just praying they were not on our flight. Thankfully, they left a little bit later to go to another flight. Peace and quiet was back.
To me, that is unacceptable anywhere other than a venue specifically aimed at children. This was the highest end of lounges, and the type of place that you would think anyone would keep close their kids nearby and as quiet as possible to not completely ruin the atmosphere of the place. But nope. Also, I’d add that I am disappointed in the Singapore Airlines employees for not stepping in. They apologized as soon as they left, but they should have intervened. Again, I’m not talking about kids just being loud – but loud and uncontrolled across the room from their family in our area and on top of our stuff.
Moving along…We had a pretty quick walk to our flight from the lounge. Singapore likes to hold first class passengers back in the lounge until just before departure and then let you walk on the plane with no lines…That is not our style; we don’t like cutting it close at all. So we left before they told us to.
You clear security prior to entering the gate area. Although boarding had already started once we cleared security, we made it to our seats in no time as there was a dedicated Suites gate to scan your boarding pass and then to enter the plane.
The suites themselves were very nice. I found the seats comfortable for lounging with the ottoman opposite from you, and the bed is widely considered the most comfortable in the sky. I agree. There is also a nice large TV Screen for entertainment.
We had two middle seats so that we could communicate, and they will convert two middle seats to a double bed when you want to go to sleep. I believe this is the only airline that you can sleep in a double bed. The middle seats are definitely the way to go if you are traveling with a spouse.
I found Singapore to have an ok entertainment selection. They had a lot of TV shows, but only one episode of each. I like when they’ll have a whole season – or at least several episodes. I also don’t recall being excited by any of the movies.
You might be wondering why I even care about the airline entertainment knowing that I travel with tons of my own entertainment – fair question. Alyce usually uses the ipad, so it is laptop or bust for me. When you are eating a meal or just lounging, it is much easier to just watch the screen rather than deal with a laptop. And really, the same applies to an ipad to a lesser extent.
Service on Singapore was phenomenal – probably the best yet. It felt like they had 5 different people always perusing the cabin and taking care of the first class passengers. They take a little bit different of an approach than Cathay Pacific, where they are always up and about. To be honest, I prefer that because even though they want you to hit the FA button on Cathay, I’ll still hesitate to do it. On Singapore, I think they’d be at your suite to see what you need before your hand even reached the button.
This flight was about 12.5 to 13 hours long – or shorter than I would have liked. We boarded and were immediately served some Dom. Any leftover tension from the lounge was immediately soothed.
I moved over to an open window seat for takeoff because I’m a kid and like to look out the window. Once we reached altitude “lunch” got started right away.
I had taken the opportunity to “book the cook” before we had left; Alyce had too much on her mind to bother. This allows you to preselect your meal from a much wider list than is generally available on board. I picked sea bass for my lunch and beef rendang for my light meal. The flight attendants offered me to pass on my book the cook choice and go with one of the on board options as well if I changed my mind.
Meal service started with SQ’s trademark Satay, followed by caviar. Then we had soup and our entrees. It was all very good – airplane food or not. I passed on desert and just had a cappuccino and a Bailey’s on the rocks. Alyce had some tea.
Then they made our beds, but I wasn’t quite ready to sleep. So I went and sat in an open suite for another hour or so. I eventually got about 4 hours of sleep; Alyce again slept very well.
We woke up and had our light meal…which neither of us were hungry at all. But I wanted the beef rendang I had ordered. I told them to bring it and ate as much as I could – most of it. I had another cappuccino, and then we began our descent. Alyce just had some fruit and cheese; she didn’t have another meal left in her.
We circled London 3 or 4 times. That was not surprising given London’s notorious shortage of runway space for the amount of traffic at Heathrow. Upon landing, the flight attendants provided us with a priority immigrations slip. The regular immigrations lines didn’t look too bad (it might have been a different story once the rest of the plane got there). The priority line had no one in it. We were through immigrations and customs in no time and were ready to kick off the European leg of the trip!