Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Düsseldorf to Singapore

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel and/or flight review.

A couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed a great holiday in Vietnam, where some resorts far exceeded my sky-high expectations (and rank among the best hotels I have ever stayed at). Over the coming weeks, I will publish the following trip reports:

  • Review: Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Düsseldorf to Singapore (today)
  • Review: Singapore Airlines A330 Business Class Singapore to Ho Chi Minh City
  • Review: The Reverie, Ho Chi Minh City
  • Review: Anantara Hui Me
  • Review: Six Senses Con Dao
  • Review: Evason Ana Mandara, Nha Trang
  • Review: Six Senses Ninh Van Bay
  • Review: Amanoi
  • Review: Avani Quy Nhon
  • Review: Anantara Hoi An
  • Review: Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, Hoi An
  • Review: Banyan Tree Lang Co
  • Review: Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
  • Review: Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class Hong Kong to Düsseldorf.

Today (June 21, 2017): Trip report: Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Düsseldorf to Singapore.

On April 22nd 2017, I flew Business Class in a brand new Airbus A350-900 of Singapore Airlines (SQ) from Germany’s third largest airport, Düsseldorf International Airport (DUS), to one of Asia’s busiest hubs, Changi International Airport (SIN). SQ is often regarded as one of the world’s best carriers, no matter the class you are flying in. Reputation matters and with great service, delicious food, an impressive inflight entertainment system, and the always smiling Singapore Girl, the SQ A350 experience lived up to expectation although the experience would have been even better with the addition of an amenity kit, a tail camera, and a more comfortable flat bed. To my own surprise, there were only 4 passengers in Business Class on this 11 hour 30 minute flight, so the whole experience felt like a private flight.

SQ features in my top 10 list of the best airlines for longhaul Business Class.

  • Trip: DUS-SIN
  • Airline: Singapore Airlines
  • Aircraft type: Singapore Airlines
  • Aircraft registration number: 9V-SMB
  • Flight Number: SQ337
  • Date: April 22nd
  • On time departure: Yes (11.am)
  • On time arrival: Yes (5.25 am)
  • Miles: 6459
  • Flight time: 11 hours 30 minutes
  • Seat: 15A
  • Class: Business Class

In this review (more information & photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):

  1. Cost of my ticket
  2. Lufthansa Business Lounge at Düsseldorf Airport
  3. Features of Singapore Airline’s A350
  4. Business Class Cabin
  5. Business Class Seat (& what seat to choose)
  6. Amenities
  7. Food
  8. Entertainment
  9. Other inflight experiences
  10. My verdict

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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1. COST OF MY TICKET

The cost of my one-way ticket from Düsseldorf to Singapore was 240 euros + 55,000 Miles& More miles. Miles and More is the frequent flyer program of SQ’s Star Alliance partner Lufthansa.


2. LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF AIRPORT

As SQ doesn’t have its own lounge at Düsseldorf Airport, its passengers flying in Business Class or those that hold elite status with Star Alliance have access to the Lufthansa Business Lounge, which is located one floor above the airport’s main concourse.  IMHO, the large, rectangularly shaped space lacks atmosphere, because of its functional and rather old and univiting decor, as well as because of the lack of day light, since there is a corridor between the small rooms and the lounge. The lounge has several seating areas, most of them composed of comfortable leather arm chairs. One side of the lounge features several rows of arm chairs in front of a large tv screen, while the other side features several dining tables and a few high-end tables, adjacent to a smoking room. At the center, there are a few work cubicles with computers, as well as a newsstand with complimentary German and international papers. The main food station is located near the lounge’s entrance, with a second smaller station –mainly serving beverages and a few snacks and candies – is located near the TV corner. I visited the lounge in the early morning hours when breakfast was served. Both food selection and presentation was disappointingly mediocre, so if you want to have a decent meal, you’re better of in one of the restaurants in the airport’s shopping mall.

The lounge is located in the Schengen zone of the airport. Consequently, you still have to go through border control to get to the gate (and thus leave the lounge around 1O minutes prior to boarding time).

SQ CHECK-IN AT DÜSSELDORF AIRPORT

SQ CHECK-IN AT DÜSSELDORF AIRPORT

SQ CHECK-IN AT DÜSSELDORF AIRPORT

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF

LUFTHANSA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT DÜSSELDORF


3. FEATURES OF SINGAPORE AIRLINES’ A350

Here are some (fun) facts about the A350 XWB as provided by Airbus and Singapore Airlines:

  • The A350 XWB is the world’s most technologically advanced commercial aircraft, competing with both the Boeing 787 and the Boeing 777.
  • 70% of the airframe is made of advanced materials combining composites (53%), titanium and modern aluminum alloys. Composite materials are corrosion and fatigue free resulting in easier maintenance, while titanium is a lightweight and corrosion-resistant substitute for steel.
  • Eco-smart design brings more than 25% improvement in fuel efficiency compared to the previous generation of aircraft.
  • Advanced pure air filtration system changes cabin air every 2–3 minutes.
  • The A350 XWB is powered by the new Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, generating 25% lower CO2 emissions.
  • The A350 XWB has been awarded Common Type Rating with the A330, and it takes only one week for a pilot to transit from the A330 to the A350.
  • Draft-free air conditioning, adjustable temperature zones and the cabin air pressure, which is closer to the sea level air pressure, make the flight more enjoyable and less tiring for passengers.
  • The total height of the Airbus A350 XWB is equivalent to the famous obelisk monument Place de la Concorde in Paris (17 meters or 55 feet).
  • The length of an Airbus A350-900 is close to the width of a rugby field (around 67 meters or 219 feet).
  • The wings of the A350 XWB cover more than 2 tennis courts (443 m2 or 4768 square feet) and – inspired by birds – change their shape while airborne to reduce fuel burn.
  • The diameter of the A350 XWB Roll-Royce Trent XWB engine is the same as the diameter of the Concorde fuselage!
  • Currently, SQ has 13 A350-900 aircraft in its fleet, with another 56 on order, including 7 ultra-long-haul A350-900ULR variants. The latter will be used on the SQ routes from Singapore to Los Angeles and New York, which – when launched in 2018 – will be the longest flights in the world.

SQ A350

SQ A350

SQ A350

SQ A350

SQ A350

SQ A350

SQ A350

SQ A350


4. BUSINESS CLASS CABIN

The SQ A350 aircraft features 3 classes: Business Class (42 flat bed seats), Premium Economy Class (with 24 recliner seats), and Economy Class (187 standard seats). SQ does not offer a First Class on its A350 fleet, which is not that problematic since SQ’s Business Class is better than First Class on most airlines. The 42 Business Class seats are spread over 2 cabins: a larger cabin in the front of the plane holds the bulk of the seats (26 in total), while the remaining 16 seats are located in a much smaller and more intimate cabin  over the wings (in front of the Premium Economy Class). All seats face forward, offer direct aisle access, and are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. The two seats in the center have a partition screen that can be raised for added privacy. There are no overhead bins above the middle seats, whiich allows for much higher ceilings, creating a senses of space throughout both cabins. The cabin features a drop-dead gorgeous design that was developed by James Parker Associated, the company that also created the opulent interiors of the Orient Express. The color palette in the cabin is a mix of bronzy gold, beige, purple, and chocolate-brown, with plush checked throw pillows that contrast with the dark leather seats.

Click here for a seat map of SQ’s A350-900.

BUSINESS CLASS

BUSINESS CLASS

BUSINESS CLASS

BUSINESS CLASS

BUSINESS CLASS

BUSINESS CLASS


5. BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (& WHAT SEAT TO CHOOSE)

I had selected seat 15A – a window seat – for the 11h30min flight to Singapore. Remarkably, there were only 4 passengers in the first cabin and nobody in the second cabin, so SQ won’t have made any profits on this particular flight. It felt like a private flight (or at least what I imagine a private flight must feel like).

Handcrafted from Scottish leather and diamond-stitched, the seat is one of the widest in the industry, albeit a tad more narrow than the seats on SQ’s A380 and B777 aircraft (which are judged by some to be too wide for comfort). The seat features a pitch of 1,53 cm (60 inch) and a width of 71 cm (20 inch), so there’s more than enough space to comfortably move around. The suite’s wall is quite high, and gets wider on eye level, providing reasonable privacy from passengers sitting on the other side of the aisle. As mentioned above, the seats in the center have a partition screen between them that can be raised for added privacy, although you will still see your neighbour’s monitor when in normal seated position.

One side of the seats features a reading light on eye level and a control panel – to adjust the seat position – in the aisle-side arm rest. A decently sized tray table – who’s hight and position can be adjusted – is stored away in the other arm rest, with an easily jabbed remote control for the inflight entertainment system (more on that below) above it. In front of the seat is a large 18 inch (45 cm) TV screen, with a coat hook next to it. There are a lot of storage compartments in the suite: two small cubby holes located next to the TV screen (one of them with a vanity mirror to make sure you look great throughout the entire flight), a storage box in the arm rest (which can be used for a bottle of water and/or your personal belongings such as your glasses, wallet and cellphone) and a side console above the arm rest, which let you stew and conveniently reach for your laptop (albeit not during takeoff and landing).

The seat offers several pre-programmed seating positions,  including ‘Lazy Z’, a cradling position that ensures your weight is centered and balanced when you’re sitting down, and the ‘Sundeck’, a lounging position that extends the base and foot of your seat so you can stretch and rest your legs on the ottoman.

In the seated position, it’s hard to imagine a Business Class seat done better. However, it’s a somewhat different story when it comes to sleeping. First of all, turning the seat into the 78 inch (198 cm) long flat bed position is not a straightforward process controlled by one push on a button. Instead, you need to put the seat first to its upright position, stand up yourself, and then manually fold the seatback forward (a manoeuvre which will also reveal a blanket and pillow hidden behind the seat back). The good new though is that the cabin crew is more than happy to assist you in this proces and will make up the bed for you. But the problems are not completely over once the seat is fully reclined: to stretch your legs, you need to lay diagonally on the bed and force your feet in a narrow cubby at the end instead of spreading them free. Because of this set-up the flat bed is not comfortable for travelers who prefer to sleep on their side. The only exception are the bulkhead seats on row 11 and 19, which feature a full-width ottoman (center seats) or larger foot rest combined with an ottoman (window seats) instead of a narrow footrest, and are thus the best seats on the plane (and far superior to all other Business Class seats). Another problem with this Business Class set up is that once you are committed to the bed, there’s no way back. If you wake up and want to revert back to a regular seat, your bed is gone.

What are the best Business Class seats on SQ’s A350-900? Click here for a seat map of SQ’s A350-900.

  • Window seats are the best option for solo travelers since they provide a little more privacy, while travel companions should go for the center seats.
  • Bulkhead seats on row 11 and 19 are far superior to all other seats since they feature a full-width ottoman instead of a narrow foot rest, allowing a much more comfortable sleeping position.
  • The seats from row 19 to 22 are located in their own little private cabin and are therefore highly recommended.

What are the worst Business Class seats on SQ’s A350-900? Click here for a seat map of SQ’s A350-900.

  • I suggest to avoid the window seats in row 17 and center seats in row 18 due to their proximity to the galley and lavatories.
  • I also suggest to avoid row 22 because it is located in front of the Premium Economy bassinet seats (so you may end up being close to young children).

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT 15A

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT 15A

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT 15A

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT 15A

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT 15A

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT 15A

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT 15A

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT 15A

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT 15A

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT 15A

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT 15A

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT 15A

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT 15A

BUSINESS CLASS: BULKHEAD CENTER SEAT

BUSINESS CLASS: BULKHEAD WINDOW SEAT

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT: FLATBED POSITION

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT: FLATBED POSITION

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT: FLATBED POSITION

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT: FLATBED POSITION

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT: FLATBED POSITION


6. AMENITIES

Unfortunately, SQ doesn’t offer amenity kits in Business Class on any flights. Passengers in the premium cabin only receive slippers, socks, and eye shades. Bathroom amenities – such as shaving kits, toothbrushes, tooth paste, hand lotion and perfume – are available though in the toilets. When I asked one of the flight attendants for an amenity kit during this particular flight, she came back a few minutes later with some bathroom products (from the toilet) in addition to some postcards, playing cards and children’s toys (although I am a full-grown man of 40 years old). A surreal but nice gesture nonetheless.

Noise canceling headphones (to block the noise from the engines and cabin) are provided, although you can not take them home with you.

AMENITIES

AMENITIES

AMENITIES

AMENITIES

AMENITIES

AMENITIES

AMENITIES

AMENITIES

AMENITIES

AMENITIES

AMENITIES


7. MEALS

SQ enjoys a stellar culinary reputation, which is reflected in its collaboration with world-acclaimed chefs who own Michelin-starred restaurants, like Singaporean culinary maestro Sam Leong, Suzanne Goin of Los Angeles’ Lucques, Carlo Cracco of the Michelin two-star restaurant of the same name in Milan, and Matthew Moran of one of Sydney’s finest restaurants. The airline is famous for its ‘Book the Cook’ service where you can select your gourmet main course from a premium selection of dishes at least 24 hours before departure.

Unfortunately, the ‘Book the Cook’ service was not available on this Düsseldorf to Singapore route, and while the food was excellent (and clearly a step above that served on other airlines), I was not blown away by the meals, somewhat contrary to my previous SQ flight experiences.

Shortly after takeoff, the following lunch was served:

  • Singapore chicken and lamb satay, with onion, cucumber, and spicy peanut sauce.
  • Salmon Riletto, with potato allumette, picked apple, red onion and fine salad leaves
  • Pan seared lamb loin, with roasted vegetables, leek-potato gratin and thyme sauce
  • Black forest gateaux, with blueberry compote and vanilla sauce

After dinner, the crew passed by with a fruit bowl and a chocolate box, from which you could choose a selection.

Mid-flight, I ordered a snack – Oriental noodles with chicken and black mushrooms – which tasted quite good.

Ninety minutes prior to landing, above the Gulf Of Bengal, the following breakfast was served:

  • Selection of sliced fresh fruits
  • Cornflakes with skim milk
  • Fruit yoghurt
  • Bircher muesli with fruit
  • Poached eggs with Hollondaise sauce, with pan-fried bacon, sautéed mushrooms, creamed spinach, and roasted potatoes

WELCOME DRINK

HOT TOWEL

MENU

MENU

MENU

MENU

MENU

MENU

MENU

MENU

MENU

MENU

MENU

MENU

MENU

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

WINE CARD

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

MID-FLIGHT SNACK

MID-FLIGHT SNACK

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST


8. INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

The 18 inch (45 cm) LCD screen in front of each Business Class has no touchscreen function and you need to use a video touchscreen handset located above the side rest to command Krisworld, SQ’s inflight entertainment system. The latter features an impressive selection of 1,000 entertainment options, with tons and tons of movies, television programmes, music, games and apps.

SQ also offers a Companion App that allows you to discover what is playing on KrisWorld even before you step onboard. Via the app, you can browse content pre-flight and place movies and TV shows in a folder that you can access on board by linking your smartphone to your tv screen. You simply need to download the free SingaporeAir mobile app from Google Play or App Store to enjoy this features.

Wifi is available on SQ’s A350 and of reasonable speed. To access the onboard internet, you need to enable WiFi on your smart phone, tablet or laptop, and connect to the ‘KrisWorld’ or ‘OnAir’ network. WiFi was not complimentary and charged at the following rates: US$11.95 for one hour; US$16.95 for 3 hours; and US$21.95 for the entire flight.

Contrary to all other airlines, and to my own great disappointment, SQ hasn’t installed tail cameras on their A350 aircraft.

INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT


9. OTHER INFLIGHT EXPERIENCES

#CREW: Dressed in her signature sarong kebaya, the female SQ flight attendant is the symbol of Asian hospitality recognised the world over. But besides being an iconic eyecatcher, SQ cabin crew – both male and female – are often regarded as the best in the industry, and with good reason. They address every customer by name and do all they can to make your flight as enjoyable as possible. Having said that, I do feel that SQ’s older cabin crew members are always a little more friendly than SQ’s younger, somewhat less experienced cabin crew members.

# BAR: The SQ A350 does not feature a walk-up bar, but you can order snacks from the menu at any time during the flight.

# TOILET: There are 3 toilets, one behind the cockpit and two located between the two Business Class cabins.

TOILET

TOILET

TOILET


10. MY VERDICT
  • Seat : 8/10
  • Food: 9/10
  • Inflight entertainment: 9/10
  • Service: 8/10
  • Cabin ambience: 9/10
  • Overall experience: very good: 8,4/10

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Top 10: my preferred airlines for longhaul Business Class

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (June 19, 2017): Top 10 world’s best airlines for longhaul Business Class.

Each year, I give a round-up of my favorite 10 Business Class products in the world. Flying Business Class is purely aspirational for most, a lifetime experience for some (I belong to this category), and a must for a select few. With Business Class, the journey itself becomes a fun experience: there is no waiting in line or hassling at the airport, you get access to upscale airport lounges, you will interact with attentive personnel, gourmet food and wine will treat all your senses, and a comfortable flat-bed guarantees total relaxation. But which airline has the best Business Class cabin and product? I hereby present you my selection of the top 10 best Business Class cabins of 2017 (reflecting my own personal taste).

There is more information (with several trip reports & Youtube clips) below my slideshow. Think I missed one? Leave a comment, or take the poll below!

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10. FINNAIR

When Finnair became the European launch customer of the next-generation Airbus A350 XWB (extra wide body) aircraft two years ago, it put a lot of effort in the cabin design of its new flagship longhaul Business Class product and collaborated with top Helsinki firm dSign Vertti Kivi & Co. The A350’s bright and spacious Business Class cabin features 46 seats in a 1-2-1 layout, ensuring direct aisle access to all passengers. The Zodiac Cirrus III seats convert to fully flat beds, while a large touch-screen inflight entertainment system comes programmed with films, TV shows, music and other digital content on demand in numerous languages. An exquisite new A350 signature menu features Nordic delicacies and carefully selected wines. A very nice touch is that Finnair offers free WiFi to all Business Class passengers on its A350 planes. In addition, there’s a dedicated Ladies’ Room that provides cosmetics and other supplies for female passengers. When you book a flight on Finnair, keep in mind that its A330 planes have a less impressive Business Class product, although they still features fully flat seats.

  • Official website: Finnair
  • Aircraft: Finnair’s newest Business Class product is only offered on its Airbus A350 planes.
  • Review: read here my review of Finnair’s Business Class in an Airbus A350 XWB.
  • Review: read here and here my reviews of  Finnair’s Business Class in an Airbus A330.

9. UNITED AIRLINES

It is pretty fashionable to complain about American carriers, especially about the service they deliver onboard, which – there is no denying it – is inferior to that of their non-American competitors. However, that may no longer be true, now that United Airlines unveiled its all-new United Polaris Business Class, the airline’s most significant product transformation in more than a decade, featuring a reimagined, sleep-enhancing, departure-to-landing experience for intercontinental travelers. Named after the North Star, United Polaris is the shining new star of Business Class travel that flyers can turn to for a tranquil and restful journey. Crafted as individual, forward-facing, suite-like pods, each customer’s personal suite will feature a ‘do not disturb” sign, mood lighting, one-touch lumbar support, several storage areas, multiple surfaces for simultaneous working and dining, a high-definition entertainment screen, direct access to the aisle, 180-degree flat-bed recline and, for seats in the center of the cabin, electronic privacy dividers. In rethinking the international Business Class experience, United conducted more than 12,000 hours of research.

UNITED AIRLINES


8. SWISS INTERNATIONAL AIR LINES

Swiss International Air Lines is the pride of the Lufthansa group, which also manages Lufthansa itself, Brussels Airlines, Eurowings, and Austrian Airlines. The airline revamped its Business Class a couple of years ago, and it is easy to see why the new product was instantly loved by passengers and copied by many airlines (such as Finnair, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines). The Swiss Business Class seat has a built-in power outlet (that is multi-national when it comes to plug formats), cubbyholes for shoes, and a small countertop to put things on when the tray is not extended. The seat itself turns into a 78-inch/2-meter flatbed that lowers into a space carved out for it in the seat in front (foot space is not generous though). The seat’s integrated massage function will pamper you en route. Food on Swiss is very good, and clearly a step up compared to most other airlines. SWISS recently added the Boeing 777-300ER to its fleet, and for the occasion, a newly designed cabin interior for its flagship aircraft was introduced, offering top comfort and visual appeal in all three classes, with the 62 lie-flat Business Class seats being an enhanced and refined version of the SWISS seat concept.


7. AUSTRIAN AIRLINES

Austrian Airlines’ small fleet of Boeing 777 and 767 airplanes underwent a revamp of their Business Class product a couple of years ago. The red-blue color scheme makes for a nice cabin, there are comfy blankets and a brilliant Viennese coffee menu on board, and the seats – identical to the ones of Swiss described above – can be adjusted for softness and of course go fully lie-flat, which is great for sleeping. But what really sets Austrian Airlines apart – among all airlines – is its onboard food. With the award-winning company DO&CO, Austrian has chosen a partner that creates airline foods using only fresh raw ingredients. DO & CO has succeeded in improving the reputation of in-flight meals by offering exclusively homemade food. On board Austrian’s long-haul Business Class, a qualified chef from Austrian’s catering partner DO & CO accompanies the crew, who takes the passengers’ orders and also serves freshly prepared meals which are currently – IMHO – the best you will have in the skies.

  • Official website: Austrian Airlines
  • Review: read here my review of Austrian Airlines’ Business Class in a Boeing 777-200.

6. EMIRATES

The success of Emirates’ Business Class product is very much based on the comfort and space of its Airbus A380 fleet, and that’s why the mega plane is quickly being rolled out on all the major international routes. The window Business Class seats are perfect for solo travellers, while the dual and more intimate seats in the centre of the cabin are perfect for partners travelling together. Mammoth amenity kits, a huge entertainment selection played on the private screen, and a roomy and well-appointed bar on the upper deck makes flying Emirates quite an event, and in addition, the ground service matches the flying experience (e.g. chauffeur service, a gigantic Dubai lounge). Lie-flat Business Class seats are available on all Emirates A380 aircraft, and most Boeing 777 aircraft, but unfortunately, Business Class cabins on other aircraft offer only deeply-reclining comfort or spacious sleeperettes.

  • Official website: Emirates
  • Review: read here and here my reviews of Emirates’ Business Class in an Airbus A380.
  • Review: read here my review of Emirates’ Business Class in a Boeing 777-300ER.
  • Review: read here my review of Emirates’ Business Class in a Boeing 777-200LR.

5. JAPAN AIRLINES (JAL)

Business Class seats on selected Japan Airlines planes are named JAL Sky Suites, since each seat is located in its own private space, while still offering unimpeded aisle access to minimize disturbances. Each seats comes with a retractable privacy partition (which can be lowered when you are traveling with a companion), ample storage space beneath an ottoman, and a 23-inch (58 cm) LCD monitor (one of the largest in its class). Comfortable bedding is offered as well, consisting of a highly resilient airweave mattress and pillow, which will send you off to dreamland even if you are like me and have trouble falling asleep on a plane. On top of that, JAL offers some of the finest Business Class food in the sky, with both Western and Japanese menus created by chefs that are working in leading restaurants around the world. You can order in-flight meals from an a la carte menu by tapping a liquid-crystal touch-panel controller, in any order, at any time, and as often as you wish.

  • Official website: Japan Airlines
  • Review: read here my review of Japan Airlines’ Business Class in a Boeing 777-300ER.

4. CATHAY PACIFIC

Cathay Pacific offers a consistent and solid product when it comes to flying Business Class. The carrier’s Business Class features a flat-bed that is just over 82 inches or 2 meters long. A bed extension increases its width by 6.5 inches or 16.5 cm to provide additional hip support, while the side storage compartment offers extra knee space for sleeping on your side. For sleeping, you may choose to leave your armrest up for more privacy, or down for more space. In fact, Cathay’s business seat is identical to the one installed on American Airlines, Eva Air, Finnair, and Air France, but Cathay deserves to take the top spot for their difference in customer service, impressive lounges, cabin crew training, and award-winning cuisine, whilst ensuring their price point still remains competitive. Keep in mind that Cathay’s top-notch Business Class product is not available on some B777 planes with a regional configuration, so plan your travels accordingly.

  • Official website: Cathay Pacific
  • Review: read here my review of Cathay Pacific’s Business Class in an Airbus A330.
  • Review: read here my review of Cathay Pacific’s Business Class in a Boeing 777-300ER.

3. ETIHAD AIRWAYS

Business Class with the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates is not business as usual. The Business Studios on Etihad’s A380 and 787 Dreamliner can be customised to suit every stage of the journey and are the embodiment of style, simplicity and functionality. The Business Studio has a unique dovetail design with forward and rear facing seats that creates a sense of space and freedom, with direct aisle access and convenient storage spaces. Upholstered by Poltrona Frau, the 22-inch (56 cm) wide seat converts into a comfortable fully-flat bed of up to 6 feet and 8 inches (203 cm). The Business Studio offers a space for everything, including a concealed storage, a meal table and a separate large side table that can be used for laptops and other personal belongings when you are dining. Located between First and Business Class, there’s also a lounge on the A380 that seats up to six guests and is fitted with seatbelts, power supply and connectivity ports. Unfortunately, Etihad Airways’ A330, A320 and B777 planes feature a less glamorous Business Class product.

  • Official website: Etihad Airways
  • Review: read here my review of Etihad Airway’s Business Class in an Airbus A330.

2. QATAR AIRWAYS

A couple of years ago, Qatar Airways introduced a stunning Business Class seat on its Boeing 787, A350 and A380 fleet, raising the bar for all of its competitors. And the carrier – which is currently facing difficulties following a severe diplomatic crisis in the Middle East – is now taking it Business Class product to a new, unprecedented level. The so-called ‘QSuite’ features the industry’s first-ever double bed available in Business Class, with privacy panels that stow away, allowing passengers in adjoining seats to create their own private room. Adjustable panels and movable TV monitors on the centre four seats allow colleagues, friends or families travelling together to transform their space into a private suite, allowing them to work, dine and socialize together. Each seat is crafted with thoughtful and luxurious details such as hand-stitched Italian leather and satin rose gold finishing, bringing an unprecedented level of luxury, privacy and style to Qatar Airways’ Business Class offering. To further complement the customisable on-board seating experience that passengers will now enjoy, Qatar Airways is also launching a new food and beverage concept, introducing a menu that offers a host of new dining choices. The new QSuite concept is currently retrofitted on to the existing Qatar Airways B777 and A350 fleet at an estimated rate of one aircraft a month.

  • Official website: Qatar Airways
  • Review: read here my review of Qatar Airways’ Business Class in a Dreamliner.
  • Review: read here my review of Qatar Airways’ Business Class in a Boeing 777-300.
  • Review: read here my review of Qatar Airways’ Business Class in an A330.

1. SINGAPORE AIRLINES

Singapore Airlines has always been synonymous with lavishing luxury in the skies. And they do not fail to impress. With their width of 30 inch or 75 cm, their Business Class seats on the A350 and B777 aircraft are the widest in the world (too wide for comfort, according to some). The unrivalled space between each seat, providing you direct access to the aisle, is a hallmark of the unique 1-2-1 forward facing cabin layout. Featuring a dedicated sleeping surface for added comfort, the seat is designed to accommodate virtually any sleeping position. Designed by JPA and introduced in 2013 on their Boeing 777-300ER and A350, the new Business Class seat – albeit somewhat more narrow – is even better than the previous incarnation of the seat. With Singapore Airlines, you will also enjoy a fine restaurant-style setting and culinary service at 30,000 feet. Each menu, specially created by an International Culinary Panel of celebrated chefs from around the globe, is sure to appeal to the discerning epicure within you. Singapore Airlines makes Business Class look First Class.

  • Official website: Singapore Airlines
  • Review: read here my review of Singapore Airlines’ A350 Business Class.

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Get free VIP perks at luxury hotels when booking via Virtuoso

Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel conteststips, series, or news.

Today (June 16, 2017): Travel Tip: 5 reasons why Virtuoso is one of my preferred sites to book luxury hotels.

As you can read in my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel, I mainly use 3 websites to book stays at luxury hotels without breaking my wallet:

  • When I stay a property of one of the big hotel chains, I mostly make the booking directly on the hotel website to take advantage of a best rate guarantee program (not only will the hotel match the lower price you find somewhere else, but often throw in an additional 10 to 25% discount as well) and a hotel loyalty programs (to collect points towards a free hotel night). This is especially true when I stay at a property managed by Starwood or Hyatt, which both have an outstanding hotel loyalty program, but not so much for hotels of HiltonMarriott, and InterContinental, which have far less rewarding and interesting loyalty programs.
  • Hotels.com – part of Expedia – is my overall preferred hotel booking website when staying at a non-chain property, mainly because of its very efficient best rate guarantee program (Hotels.com matches the price you find somewhere else), excellent customer support, and simple but rewarding loyalty program (you get one night free for every 10 nights you book with them). You can read here why I like Hotels.com and how it can save you (lots of) money when booking luxury hotels.
  • Jetsetter offers a limited but impressive selection of luxury hotels (in addition to private residences and tours) that you can book at up to 40 percent off the usual price. While deals (so-called ‘flash sales’) for a certain property are available for a limited time only (between five to ten days), these flash sales are often repeated throughout the year, so be sure to keep an eye out for their sales when you have a particular hotel in mind (by signing up to their newsletter). You can read here how Jetsetter can help you to make luxury travel affordable.

However, besides the 3 booking methods mentioned above, I often make use of a 4th booking medium, Virtuoso, which can be extremely rewarding when staying at the world’s best hotels, not so much in terms of saving money on the room rate, but rather in terms of complimentary VIP perks that you will receive at the property itself (e.g. room upgrades, dinner, spa treatments, early check-in, late check-out, gift, etc …). I hereby explain you why I love Virtuoso so much, and why you should consider it too when booking your next holiday at one of the world’s most exclusive properties:

GET FREE VIP PERKS AT AMAN RESORTS WHEN BOOKING VIA VIRTUOSO

  • Virtuoso is not your classic hotel booking engine website. It’s the industry’s leading network of luxury travel advisors, spanning over 26 countries and 9,000 travel advisors. So when you book your holiday with Virtuoso, most of the time, you will be in touch with a Virtuoso travel agent and not make the booking online yourself. There are some Virtuoso travel agencies though that offer an online booking tool, such as Classic Travel, which has an excellent website and is my overall preferred Virtuoso travel agency.
  • These days, the internet makes it very easy to research and book your own travel. So why would one still choose to work with a travel advisor? I agree you don’t have to, especially when you are a seasoned travel. However, IMHO, the Virtuoso travel advisors – who are carefully selected individuals – are the exception: they will help you create unique journeys and explorations in every corner of the globe, and arrange experiences that make a trip truly extraordinary.
  • The single best reason to book a stay through a Virtuoso travel agent is that it means value for money as it will get you access to special, complimentary VIP amenities and perks, such as room upgrade, free dinners, spa treatments and/or unique luxury travel experiences.
  • Virtuoso networks with the world’s most luxurious hotels & resorts, most of them belonging to the portfolio of the world’s most exclusive hotel brands.  This includes brands such as Soneva, Four Seasons, Rosewood, Mandarin Oriental, Six Senses and Banyan Tree to name a few. All hotels were you can enjoy the Virtuoso extra perks are listed on the Virtuoso website.
  • The advantage of booking through Virtuoso is particularly evident when staying at an Aman property, the world’s top hotel chain. In line with Aman’s hyper-exclusive and ultra-luxurious reputation, you will never find a lower rate than the one published on the official Aman website. But booking through a Virtuoso travel agent rather than on the Aman website itself will get you some free, extra perks (often worth hundreds of dollars). So if you are an Aman junkie, like me, then Virtuoso is the way to go.

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT VIRTUOSO
  • Most of the times, hotel bookings are not made online, but through a Virtuoso travel agent. There are exceptions though, such as the website of Classic Travel which offers an online booking tool.
  • Virtuoso does not offer the cheapest room rates in the industry nor does it match a lower price found somewhere else. In most cases, the Virtuoso rate will best the best available (and refundable) room rate that you can also find on the hotel website itself, but it does come with all the extra Virtuoso perks (which means a lot of savings in the end).
  • Holders of an American Express premium or Visa Signature credit card can often benefit from similar VIP perks when they make the booking via their credit card travel office and/or pay with their credit card. Contact your local credit card company to find out whether this service is offered.
  • Virtuoso does not  have a loyalty program.

Enjoy the weekend and stay tuned for Monday when we reveal a new top 10 travel list.


Reviews of hotel stays that I booked through Virtuoso (including one of my favorite resorts in the world: Soneva Kiri in Thailand):


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Filed under: Travel tips Tagged: Aman, beautiful hotels, Classic Travel, Luxury, Luxury hotels, Luxury travel, save money, Travel, Travel tips, virtuoso

Hotel review: 5-star safari at Kapama Karula (South Africa)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel and/or flight review.

I recently enjoyed a terrific holiday in South Africa. You can read my trip reports here:


Today (June 14, 2017): Review of Kapama Karula (Kapama Private Game Reserve, South Africa). 
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Address: Kapama Private Game Reserve, R40, Hoedspruit, 1380, South Africa
  • Hotel website: Kapama Karula

Set on the banks of the perennial Klaserie River, Kapama Karula the flagship five-star lodge of the Kapama Game Reserve, home to the Big Five. Meaning ‘place of peace’, this ultra-luxurious and prestigious lodge exudes calmness and depicts the pinnacle of elegant safari accommodation, with wraparound views of the African bush enhancing the overall sense of tranquillity. Modern whitewashed wood and vast sections of glass, complemented by a neutral colour palette, give Kapama Karula a contemporary African feel. The open-plan lounge and bar are spacious yet cosy, with skylights drawing in natural daylight and moonshine. Kapama Karula has twelve suites, each exquisitely decorated and with generous private space. Each suite has its own outside deck area, full-sized heated swimming pool and sun loungers for relaxation.

Kapama Karula features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels in South Africa and the most insanely beautiful safari lodges in South Africa.

In this review (more info below the slideshow):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there
  • Photos

Click to view slideshow.

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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • The lodge is located in the family owned and managed Kapama Private Game Reserve, which occupies a vast area between South Africa’s northern Drakensberg mountains and the Greater Kruger National Park. The reserve was established in 1986, when the late Johann Roode bought a farm called Moria near Hoedspruit. Initially, he used it for cattle grazing, but as harsh conditions and predators took their toll on the cattle, he began the transformation of the vast property into an ecotourism business by acquiring new land. Today, the reserve spans 13 000 hectares of magnificent African bushveld, teeming with over 40 mammal species (including the big five) and 350 bird species.
  • Adjacent to Kapama, Hoedspruit’s Eastgate Airport is ideally located to receive guests flying to Kapama on daily scheduled flights (by South African Express Airways) from both Johannesburg and Cape Town, and on private charters. This airport is just a 10 minutes’ drive from the reserve entrance, and Kapama offers complimentary transfers in open game viewing vehicles directly to any of the four luxury game lodges on the reserve (including Kapama Karula). If you don’t like to fly (like me), the game reserve is also easily accessible by road from Johannesburg in under 5 hours via excellent roads.
  • The Kapama Private Game Reserve features four establishments, each with a unique personality: Kapama River Lodge, Kapama Southern Camp, Kapama Buffalo Camp, and Kapama Karula. The latter is the flagship five-star lodge amongst the reserve’s 4 varied accommodation options and ranks among the best and most exclusive safari lodges in Southern Africa. This ultra-luxurious and prestigious lodge is clearly targeted at the discerning traveler that demands the very best.
  • Kapama Karula enjoys a natural setting on the banks of the Klaserie River, which serves as a water source for the resident wildlife. Meaning ‘place of peace’, this exclusive safari lodge exudes calmness as it offers wraparound views from all of its facilities and villas of the African bush enhancing the sense of tranquillity. The layout of the property is simple but convenient: the communal areas (small lobby, boutique shop, restaurant, and lounge) are centered around a small forested courtyard, with the 12 suites located along two walkways that spread out in each direction. The property is surrounded by an electrical fence to prevent big game from entering the resorts grounds.
  • The Klaserie River provides the backdrop for 12 exclusive suites, two of which are luxury family suites. I stayed in one of the latter during my visit, which must have been one of the most drop-dead gorgeous suites I have ever stayed at in my life. The enormous villa featured an open-plan living room, replete with gas fireplace , which flowed into the master bedroom. The en-suite bathroom was a highlight, with indoor and outdoor showers, his and hers basins, and a stand-alone bath. There was a second bedroom leading off the living room that could be accessed through an interleading door or its own entrance. The suite had a private outside deck, which offered terrific bush views, with sun loungers and a medium-sized heated swimming pool. The 10 superior suites are similar to the family suites, except that they only have one bedroom.
  • What makes Kapama Karula so special, is that it features one of the most stylish designs of any game lodge in South Africa. The interiors of the public areas and the 12 suites are all marked by magnificent white-washed woods, neutral colour palettes and vast sections of glass that make the most of the natural light and views. The open-plan concept and wide outdoor decks match the minimalist, airy and modern interiors. If you love interior design you will be in heaven here, with contemporary furniture fused with the tactile textures of the African bush, recycled materials used in pure harmony with quality fittings, and colourful paintings contrasting with lush under-canopy vegetation.
  • If you can drag yourself away from your suite in between game drives, you can always visit the open-plan lounge and bar. Spacious yet cosy, this lovely facility features the same overall stunning signature design of the lodge, with skylights drawing in natural daylight and moonshine. Alternatively, you can also enjoy the African sunshine on the lounge’s outside wooden deck, with views over the Klaserie River. Spotting one of the Big Five from here is not uncommon.
  • The lodge has only one restaurant, adjacent to the lounge/bar area, which serves breakfast, a 3-course lunch, and a 3-course dinner (all included in the room rate). The chic dining room – with its colourful modern art, lovely fireplace and Phillipe Starck chairs – creates the perfect setting for the gastronomic delight that awaits you at Kapama Karula. The sumptuous food and award-winning wines rank among the best fine-dining culinary experiences that I ever enjoyed during an African safari (although some Tripadvisor reviewers are more sceptical of the lodge’s food offerings). Weather permitting, evening meals are often enjoyed seated around a roaring fire in an open air boma.
  • Kapama Karula’s multipurpose library is equipped with audio-visual equipment and two internet stations with complimentary Wi-Fi for lodge guests wanting to connect to home (although high-speed WiFi is also available in the suites). A romantic fireside dinner for two can be enjoyed in the library, with prior arrangement.
  • A spa – located uphill behind the curio shop – is the newest addition to Kapama Karula. Surrounded by glass, this stunning newly built spa has an intimate connection with the bushveld scenery. Impalas can often be seen grazing beyond the glistening glass. The spa offers a range of health and beauty treatments in four deluxe treatment rooms. For a body workout, the fitness centre is equipped with state-of-the-art cardio and weight-lifting equipment, or you can run or walk on the treadmill or cycle on the Wattbike. After working up a sweat, you can visit the steam room, or relax in the pool overlooking the African bush.
  • Of course, the prime reason for a visit to Kapama Karula is to observe the African wildlife. Two daily game drives, in addition to bush walks, are offered and included in the tariff. Accompanied by a skilled ranger and tracker, you can expect to encounter a diverse range of animal and bird species on game drives. Since this is a Big Five reserve, seeing lion, elephant, rhino and buffalo is possible (and almost guaranteed) during a safari in Kapama Private Game Reserve. Although leopards are present in the reserve, they are far more difficult to find, especially when compared to your chances of spotting leopards in neighboring Royal Malewane or Lion Sands. I would recommend to stay at least two nights at Kapama Karula, to increase your chance of spotting all the animals that are on your bucket list.
  • Below is a schedule of what to expect on a typical day at Kapama Karula:
    • 5 am: wake up call.
    • 5.30 am: light breakfast (tea, coffee and rusks).
    • 6 am: game drive. Halfway through the game drive, there’s a stop for hot drinks and snacks.
    • 9 am: return to the lodge for full breakfast.
    • 9.30-1 pm: time at your leisure.
    • 1 pm: 3-course lunch.
    • 2-4 pm: time at your leisure.
    • 4 pm: afternoon tea.
    • 4.30-7 pm: game drive. En route, you’ll stop for a sundowner drink while watching the sun set over the distant peaks of the Drakensberg mountains.
    • 7pm: return to the lodge. A variety of completely different species can be seen on the night drive back to the lodge.
    • 7-9 pm: 3-course dinner.
  • The game drive vehicles at Kapama Karula seat only 6 guests in order to optimize each guest’s game viewing experience and comfort, affording ample space for photographic equipment (and some refreshments of course). Game drives are always accompanied by a two-man team. Besides the guide (who drives), there’s also an animal tracker sitting on the front of the vehicle. The open vehicles are perfectly safe for a safari. Wild animals do not associate open vehicles with humans or with food. Lions are naturally fearful of humans and, unless you stand up or run away, they will not see the humans in the cars as prey.
  • All meals, soft drinks, spirits, wines, and game drives are included in the rates at Kapama Karula, so you can completely relax and enjoy the endless temptations available.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

Because of its stylish design, wonderful facilities and exceptional food, Kapama Karula is hands down one of the best safari lodges in South Africa. Yet, it does have a few shortcomings related to the wildlife experience that you need to beware of when considering a stay here:

  • Although the Kapama Private Game Reserve is a great place with reliable wildlife viewings, there are some fence lines and overhead cables in certain areas of the reserve which detract from the sense of wilderness and spoil the natural beauty.
  • Game viewing at the reserve is good but not as exceptional as in the private game reserves bordering the Kruger National Park with open fences like Royal Malewane or Lion Sands.  The Kapama Private Game Reserve is entirely fenced in, so the animals cannot roam freely and are confined to that specific patch of land. The good news is that the game viewing is fairly predictable (and great for a first time safari traveler), but if you have been to the bush before, you may be disappointed because it may feel like a large open zoo.
  • Contrary to game drives in other private game reserves, the safaris in Kapama follow the paths, so it does not always allow for close up views of the animals.
  • Because of a severe drought that is affecting South Africa, the reserve made the controversial decision to feed the animals (with large piles of hay found around the landscape) and medically intervene. Although this isn’t a bad thing and also done at other reserves (to safe their number of animals), it does detract from the feeling of seeing animals in the ‘wild’.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 7/10
  • Design: 10/10
  • Pool: 8/10
  • Resort grounds: 8/10
  • Rooms: 10/10
  • Food: 10/10
  • Breakfast: 10/10
  • Spa: 9/10
  • Service: 10/10
  • Value for money: 8/10
  • Overall experience: exceptional: 8,8/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury resort like Kapama Karula (and receive many free perks).
  • All suites are similar in layout. However, some suites are a bit of a walk, so if you have an aversion to that, you have to request one close to reception.
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

The best time to visit really depends on your personal preferences – nature has something to offer throughout the year. Incredible game viewing can be experienced at any time and there is not really a ‘best time of year for game viewing’. The region enjoys summer rains and dramatic thunder storms – temperatures soar into the 30s in the summer months. The vegetation is lush and verdant attracting incredible bird life while many new borns appear at this time of year. The winter months are drier and cooler – the vegetation is sparser resulting in improved visibility for game viewing as the animals make their way to the watering holes for hydration.


HOW TO GET THERE

Kapama Karula is easily accessible by road from Johannesburg in under 5 hours. Most guests though will prefer to travel by air, by making use of a commercial flight to one of the nearby airports (either the Hoedspruit Airport or Nelson’s Kruger Mpumulanga International Airport), or by chartering their own flights directly onto the lodge’s private airstrip.


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FAMILY SUITE: ENTRANCE

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FAMILY SUITE: MINIBAR

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FAMILY SUITE AT NIGHT

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LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE MORNING GAME DRIVE

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BREAKFAST

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AFTERNOON TEA

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DINNER

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BOMA DINNER

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Filed under: Trip reports: luxury hotels Tagged: big five, Hotel review, Hotel Review Africa, Hotel Review South Africa, Kapama Karula, Luxury, Luxury travel, review, safari, Travel, Trip report

SriLankan A330 Business Class Male to Doha (via Colombo)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel and/or flight review.

A couple of weeks, I enjoyed a FABULOUS holiday in the incredibly beautiful Maldives. You can read my trip reports here:


Today (May 31, 2017): Trip report: SriLankan Airlines Airbus A330-300 Business Class Maldives to Qatar (via Colombo).

On April 7, 2017, I flew Business Class in an Airbus A330-300 of SriLankan Airlines (UL) from Male International Airport (MLE) in the Maldives to Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Qatar, via a stopover in Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) near Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo. SriLankan Airlines is a medium-sized airline and operates an all Airbus fleet, consisting of 13 A330 wide body planes and 10 A320/A321 narrow body aircraft. Sri Lanka’s flagship carrier has a very rough and turbulent history, and is currently in a troubling financial position, although its management is trying to make the airline profitable again (more on that below). I do hope that SriLankan Airline’s problems will soon be a thing of the past, since the carrier offers a great onboard product and employs a wonderful staff. Keep in mind that this review only covers SriLankan’s newest Business Class product, which is available on all A330-300 planes, while the older A330-200 planes features a less impressive product (albeit still with flatbed seats).

  • Trip: MLE-CMB-DOH
  • Airline: SriLankan Airlines (UL)
  • Aircraft type: Airbus A330-300
  • Aircraft registration number: 4R-ALM (‘City of Sihagiri)
  • Flight Number: UL116 & UL217
  • Date: April 7, 2017
  • On time departure: yes (3.30 pm)
  • On time arrival: yes (10 pm)
  • Miles: 482 (MLE-CMB) + 2245 (CMB-DOH)
  • Flight time: 5 hours
  • Seat: 4A (MLE-CMB) & 4K (CMB-DOH)
  • Class: Business Class (D)

In this review (more information & photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):

  1. Cost of my ticket
  2. Business Lounge at Male and Colombo Airport
  3. The remarkable history of SriLankan Airlines
  4. Business Class Cabin
  5. Business Class Seat (& what seat to choose)
  6. Amenities
  7. Food
  8. Entertainment
  9. Other inflight experiences
  10. My verdict

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1. COST OF MY TICKET

I paid 1350 euro for a round-trip Business Class flight from Frankfurt to Male and booked the ticket directly on the SriLankan Airlines website. This is a great (and hard to beat) deal to fly in a superb flatbed from Europe to the Maldives, and the deal is still available – with departure from a German airport on selected dates – at the time of writing. It does however include 2 stopovers, one in the Middle East (since SriLankan Airlines codeshares with both Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways after it cancelled most of its European routes) and one in Sri Lanka itself. In my case, the itinerary was routed via Doha, with the Frankfurt-Doha and Doha-Frankfurt legs being operated by a brand new Qatar Airways A350 plane (the other flights were of course operated by SriLankan Airlines itself).

Keep in mind that when you arrive in the Maldives, and when you are not staying in the North or South Male Atoll, you will have to take another flight – either a seaplane or a domestic flight – to get to your resort. So, all in all, it took me 4 flights to get to Soneva Jani, which was a little too much, despite the great deal. Next time, I am willing to pay more for a more direct itinerary (at least, when no award seats – that can be booked with miles – are available).


2. BUSINESS LOUNGE AT MALE & COLOMBO AIRPORT

I did not have time to visit the Business Class lounge at Male on this particular occasion, because my seaplane arrived late; after check-in I was immediately whisked away to the plane (where boarding was already taking place). However, I have visited the Male Business Class lounge on several other occasions, and it is a good place to rest for a while and wait for your plane’s departure, given that Male airport’s sole international terminal is very small and often very crowded. It’s just a square room, which is used by all airlines (so there’s only one Business Class lounge in Male). There’s enough seating for most guests and a mediocre buffet is on display, featuring the usual stuff (e.g. fruits, salads, soup, sandwiches, some curries). The design of the lounge is rather old-fashioned, and also, the place does not get a lot of daylight due to the darkened windows, which give it an overall rather depressing ambiance (but it’s still a better alternative than waiting in the crowded terminal itself).

SRILANKAN AIRLINES CHECK-IN COUNTERS AT MLE

At Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport, I did not have enough time to take photos or clips from inside the lounge, since my connecting time between flights was less than 45 minutes. I did have a quick tour of the facility though, and it looked a great and modern place, with seats for around 150 passengers, a large buffet, a dining area, and even an adjoining spa room. The entrance doors, which felt like walking into a kind of India Jones temple, were particularly impressive. However, my overall experience of the lounge atmosphere was not that good since the place was extremely crowded. This was probably due to the fact that over the past couple of months, Bandaranaike International Airport was closed during daylight hours for a badly needed runway repair (the airport has only one runway), with consequently all flight departures leaving at night. The airport and lounge were a mess since they could not deal very well with the large influx of travelers, but the good news is that at the time of writing, the repairs have been finished and operations should be back to normal (so you will be able to enjoy the lounge in all tranquility again should your travels take you to or via Sri Lanka in the near future).


3. THE REMARKABLE HISTORY OF SRILANKAN AIRLINES

Sri Lanka’s national carrier has an impeccable safety record, with not one single crash or major accident recorded since it was launched in 1976. However, the airline does have a turbulent history though, facing episodes of corruption, tragedy and national pride. SriLankan Airlines suffered heavily during the past civil war, with a sad highlight on July 24 2001, when the carrier lost 2 A330, one A340, and one A320 aircraft during a Colombo airport attack (without any passenger fatalities). The carrier recovered quiet well after the termination of the civil war, mainly under the guidance of Emirates, which managed and owned a minority stake in the airline. However, the Emirates deal came to an end in 2008 following a personal dispute, when Emirates refused to bump fare-paying passengers to make way for the entourage of Sri Lanka’s president. Since then, the carrier has been plagued by corruption of its senior management, and has accumulated record losses. Also, the (irresponsible) purchase of brand new A330 and A350 planes led to further suffering of the airline. The new management is trying to reverse the bad financial situation: the A350 order was cancelled and the airline also terminated all of its direct routes to Europe (except for its Colombo- London and Male-London routes). There are also rumours that the airline is talking (again) with Emirates for a new deal.

SRILANKAN AIRLINES AIRBUS A330-300 AT MLE

SRILANKAN AIRLINES AIRBUS A330-300 AT MLE

SRILANKAN AIRLINES AIRBUS A330-300 AT MLE

SRILANKAN AIRLINES AIRBUS A330-300 AT MLE

SRILANKAN AIRLINES AIRBUS A330-300 AT MLE


4. BUSINESS CLASS CABIN

Both flight legs (from Male to Colombo, and from Colombo to Doha) were operated by the same two-class A330-300 aircraft. Like all A330-300s in SriLankan’s fleet, the plane featured the carrier’s newest Business Class product, which is far superior to the old, less flashy Business Class product installed on SriLankan Airlines’ A330-200 planes. All Business Class seats – 28 in total – are located in one cabin behind the cockpit. There are 7 rows of 4 Business Class seats each, with all seats having direct aisle access and a lot of privacy due to a 1-2-1 alignment (a so-called herringbone layout). The Business Class seats on the sides are angled toward the window (about 2 windows per seat), while the seats in the middle are angled towards each other. IMHO, this is the best Business Class seat type around. American Airlines, Air France, Qatar Airways, Eva Air, Finnair, and Cathay Pacific features the same Business Class seat type, which I have previously reviewed here:

For a seat map of SriLankan Airlines’s A330-300, click here.

BUSINESS CLASS CABIN

BUSINESS CLASS CABIN

BUSINESS CLASS CABIN

BUSINESS CLASS CABIN

BUSINESS CLASS CABIN

BUSINESS CLASS CABIN AT NIGHT (CMB-DOH)


5. BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (& WHAT SEAT TO CHOOSE)

I was seated in 4A for the MLE-CMB leg, and 4K for the CMB-DOH leg.

All Business Class seats have the same characteristics: 192 cm (78 inches) in pitch, a width of 53 cm (21 inch), and a 180 degree recline.

One side of the seat – located towards the window for window seats, or the center line for middle seats – features a rather large side cabinet with a mirror and enough room to store your personal belonging (such as cellphone, wallet, glasses, and other bits and pieces). On this cabinet’s outer wall, at eye level, you find a reading light, and below that the seat controls, a remote control for the entertainment system, and a universal power supply outlet. This side of the seat also features a large work surface, which hides the decently sized, fold-out tray table beneath it, so you can always eat and work at the same time.

In front of the seat, below the entertainment screen, is an ottoman footrest, which forms part of the fully flat-bed when the seat is reclined. The flat-bed is just over 2 metres (82 inches) long and the side storage compartment offers extra knee space for sleeping on your side. For sleeping, you may choose to leave your armrest up for more privacy, or down for more space.

The large, private screen (15.4-inch or 40 cm) swings out from the side of the seat suite’s wall. However, it doesn’t tilt up and down, so unfortunately, watching the screen from the near or fully flat-bed position is almost impossible.

What are the best Business Class seats on UL’s A330-300? For a seat map, click here.

  • Solo travelers should go fo the window seats.
  • Travel companions should go for the middle seats. However, due to how private they are, they really don’t lend themselves all that well to traveling with a partner, as you will have too lean forward when you want to have a chat.

What are the worst Business Class seats on UL’s A330-300? For a seat map, click here.

  • I suggest to avoid the very front row (row 1) due to its proximity to the galley and lavatories.
  • I also suggest to avoid the last row of Business Class (row 7) which is close to the Economy bassinet seats. In addition, window seats in row 7 are missing a window.

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (FLAT BED POSITION)

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (FLAT BED POSITION)

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (FLAT BED POSITION)


6. AMENITIES

On both flight legs, noise-cancelling headphones, a pillow and blanket were provided. However, passengers did not receive an amenity kit, probably due to the short flight times (one hour from Male to Colombo, and 4.30 hours from Colombo to Doha).


7. MEALS

I was surprised that a full meal service was offered on the short, one-hour flight from the Maldives to Sri Lanka. I had the Moroccan lamb chop, which tasted quite good and was presented with grilled haloumi cheese, saksuka vegetables, grilled peppers, and vermicelli rice. An assortment of fresh fruit was offered as dessert.

The Colombo to Doha flight featured a menu that was a celebration of rice and focused on Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. The meal was served at once on one tray and consisted of:

  • Starter: mixed platter of Arabic Mezze
  • Main course: prawn curry Sri Lankan style, with vegetable fried rice, snake gourd fresh salad, and pickled brinjal (
  • Dessert: a seasonal assortment of finest fresh-cut fruit

Except for the starter, which did not taste well and was also poorly presented, I did enjoy the meal (although it definitely wasn’t the best meal I ever had at 37,000ft).

MENU (MLE-CMB)

MENU (MLE-CMB)

MENU (MLE-CMB)

LUNCH (MLE-CMB)

HOT TOWEL UPON BOARDING (CMB-DOH)

MENU (CMB-DOH)

MENU (CMB-DOH)

MENU (CMB-DOH)

MENU (CMB-DOH)

MENU (CMB-DOH)

MENU (CMB-DOH)

MENU (CMB-DOH)

MENU (CMB-DOH)

MENU (CMB-DOH)

MEAL (CMB-DOH)

MEAL (CMB-DOH)

MEAL (CMB-DOH)


8. INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

The state of the art Thales AVANT in-flight entertainment system featured the latest blockbusters from Hollywood and Bollywood, and a collection of classics and favourites, with over 50 TV channels, 120 movies, an extensive library of audio CD’s and radio channels, and a large number of games for all age groups. The in-flight entertainment system could be set to the program of your preference by either touching the screen or using a remote control. A noise-cancelling headset assured an enjoyable listening experience. There was also a camera fixed on the plane’s belly which offered great views, especially during takeoff and landing.

INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

LANDING AT COLOMBO

LANDING AT COLOMBO


9. OTHER INFLIGHT EXPERIENCES

#CREW: I liked the hard-working crew of SriLankan Airlines and they made a professional and skilled impression. I was surprised that some of the cabin crew members had face masks upon boarding the plane in Male, but I assume this may have to do with the recent outbreak of swine flu in the Maldives.

BOARDING

# BAR: the Business Class cabin did not feature a walk-up bar.

# TOILET: There were two restrooms for Business Class passenger, one in the front of the cabin and one in the back.

RESTROOM

# WIFI: SriLankan offers onboard WiFi connectivity with new Airbus A330-300 fleet in partnership with OnAir. I did not use the service though.


10. MY VERDICT
  • Seat : 9/10
  • Food: 7/10
  • Inflight entertainment: 9/10
  • Service: 8/10
  • Cabin ambience: 8/10
  • Overall experience: very good: 8/10

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Top 10: most scenic flights in the world

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (May 29, 2017): Top 10 most beautiful flights in the world.

There’s no denying that our planet looks amazing from above. Observing majestic mountain peaks, thundering waterfalls, and deep canyons from a bird’s-eye perspective makes you appreciate even more the vast and often remote wilderness areas left on our world. So be sure to request a window seat on one of the 10 following flights, which I consider to be the most scenic journeys on the planet.

There is more information (with a Youtube per flight) below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite scenic flight in the comments section, or take my poll below!

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10. FLIGHT TO THE SOUTHERN AURORA WITH AIR NEW ZEALAND

In April 2017, the first ever commercial charter flight to view the Southern Lights took of from Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island. The Boeing 767-300ER, operated by Air New Zealand, had more than 130 photographers and aurora enthusiasts on board and traveled south to the Antarctic circle to see the natural lights phenomenon up close. The eight-hour flight crossed the international dateline twice, with the plane flying in large circles so that passengers on both sides could get a good view of the spectacular lights. The special Aurora Australis mission was the bold idea of Otago Museum director Dr Ian Griffin, but caught the imagination of aurora photographers with the flight selling out in less than a week, with some passengers even flying in from Australia, South Africa and Spain. Organisers are hoping to make the special flight a yearly event.


9. FLIGHT OVER THE OKAVANGO DELTA IN BOTSWANA

The Okavango Delta in Botswana is one of the most pristine wilderness areas in the world. The largest inland delta in the world offers access to the spectacle of wild Africa with the heart-stopping excitement of big game viewing, the supreme tranquility and serenity of an untouched delta, and evocative scenes of extraordinary natural beauty. A scenic flight over the delta gives you a bird’s-eye perspective of the golden-grassed floodplains, framed by lush palm islands, that are inhabited by a staggering variety of wildlife. You can keep a look out for hippos in the waterways and elephant and buffalo in the shade of the trees. You also observe how the water channels meander their way through the delta in ever-changing paths as this dynamic water system evolves. Transport within the Okavango Delta is primarily by light aircraft – mostly single engine aeroplanes – although helicopter services are also available.


8. SCENIC FLIGHT OVER AUSTRALIA’S GREAT BARRIER REEF

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s great natural wonders. It is the largest reef in the world and consists of nearly 3000 individual reefs, 880 islands and hundreds and thousands of different types of plant, bird and marine life. Swimming with the fish and admiring the colors of the coral is a must for any holiday to the Great Barrier Reef. But to get a complete grasp of the sheer magnitude of the Great Barrier Reef, you need to stop swimming with the diverse marine creatures, get out of the water, let your feet leave the pure-white beaches, take to the sky, and see the reef from the air. On sightseeing flights to and from the reef, you will experience some breathtaking views over the Whitsunday Islands, and over the coral reef formations that make this part of the world so unique.


7. FLYING IN A HELICOPTER OVER THE GRAND CANYON, USA

A powerful and inspiring landscape,  Grand Canyon National Park is one of the USA’s most popular tourist destinations. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms carved by the Colorado River decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles (446km) long, up to 18 miles (29km) wide, and a mile (1.6km) deep. The Grand Canyon reveals nature’s sheer force with its towering buttes, pinnacles and mesas, and its immense size leaves many visitors weak in the knees. One of the most exciting ways to see the Grand Canyon is on a helicopter tour, with departure from either Las Vegas or near the entrance of the Grand Canyon National Park. Flying above and beneath the rim of the Grand Canyon will offer views you can’t see from any viewpoint on the ground.


6. GETTING UP CLOSE WITH MOUNT EVEREST

Nothing compares to the sheer and raw beauty the Himalayan mountain range has to offer. For decades, people have been driven to push themselves to the limits of their physical and mental endurance by trying (and often failing) to summit Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world at 8,848 meters (29,029 ft) above sea level. It has been the exclusive realm of a select breed of mountaineers, always inaccessible to other mortals. However, you don’t have to be an athlete to get up close with the mountain’s summit. A few companies – such as Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines – offer one hour scenic flights, giving you spectacular views of Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga, the Tibetan plateau and many others. Flights operate every day throughout the year, although the best viewing season is from October through April.


5. DAY TRIP TO ANTARCTICA WITH QANTAS

If you want to fulfill that bucket list dream of exploring the great white Continent without getting your feet wet, then taking a Qantas sightseeing day trip with departure from Australia may be your best bid. No passports are needed and you are kept warm and safe with a glass in hand while the privately chartered Qantas Boeing 747-400 glides effortlessly over amazing scenery. Approximately three hours south of Australia, passengers will usually see the first scattered ice followed by dozens of icebergs and ice floes. The flight then crosses the South Magnetic Pole with views of the rugged mountainous topography of the Antarctic mainland. With up to four hours over the ice and the remaining hours to enjoy the bespoke service – including premium drinks, delicious meals and talks from Antarctic expeditioners – it’s an experience like no other.


4. A FLIGHT OVER THE WORLD’S HEIGHEST WATERFALL IN VENEZUELA 

Angel Falls is located in the Canaima National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in Venezuela. It is the world’s highest waterfall, and it spills from the Auyantepui into what is known as the Devil’s canyon 979 m (3211 ft) below. The indigenous people call it Kerepakupai-mer  but is was named Angel Falls after Jimmy Angel, an American bush pilot and gold-hunting adventurer, who discovered it in 1937. The height of the falls is so great that before getting anywhere near the ground, the water is atomized by the strong winds and turned into mist. The falls ares estimated to be 15 times as high as America’s Niagara Falls. Flying above Angel’s Fall in a light aircraft will give you a birds-eye view of the falls and bring your thoughts as if you were in “The Lost World” of British author Arthur Conan Doyle (1912).


3. LANDING OR TAKING OFF AT BUTHAN’S PARO AIRPORT

Travelers visiting the kingdom of Buthan have no other option (so far) but to fly to Paro Airport, the sole international airport of the four airports in the Kingdom of Bhutan. Located 2,4 km (1.5 mi) above sea level and with surrounding peaks as high as 5,500 m (18,000 ft), it is considered one of the world’s most dangerous airports. So treacherous is the landing, that only a select number of pilots (from Bhutan Airlines, Buddha Air, and Drukair) are certified to land at the airport. Flights to and from Paro are allowed under visual meteorological conditions only and are restricted to daylight hours from sunrise to sunset. Planes have to weave through the dozens of houses that are scattered across the mountainside – coming within feet of clipping the roofs. But if you are not too nervous about the perilous conditions, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views over the clear blue waters over the Paro river and the lush green foliage of the Himalayas.


2. SEAPLANE FLIGHT IN THE MALDIVES 

For most people, thé iconic image of the Maldives is that of a deep blue ocean interspersed by tiny palm islands surrounded by ridiculously clear lagoons and sugar white beaches. The only way to see that breathtaking view of 50 shades of blue is from the air, and although you will catch a few glimpses of the islands from your plane upon landing or departure at Male airport, the best vantage point for the breathtaking panoramas is offered by the waterplanes that take guests to their resorts. Most seaplane transfers in the Maldives are operated by Trans Maldivian Airways. Flying on board a seaplane in Maldives and admiring the picture-perfect archipelago from a bird’s eye perspective is one of the ultimate experiences that the destination has to offer.


1. HELICOPTER TOUR OVER THE ISLAND OF KAUAI, HAWAII

Kauai was the first of the major Hawaiian Islands to rise from the ocean floor and it was the first to become extinct some 5 million years ago. Sculpted by nature for millions of years, Kauai’s legendary and sensational natural beauty is epitomized by the Na Pali Coast – 14 miles (22 km) of sea cliffs ascending 3,000 feet (900 m) above untamed shoreline, with sheer-walled valleys and cascading waterfalls—and spectacular Waimea Canyon, the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’. Kauai also boasts the wettest spot on the planet at Mount Wai’ale’ale and the tremendous rainfall has produced the most remarkable sheer valleys, razor sharp ridges descending to the sea and most amazing array of waterfalls to be assembled anywhere in the world.  Most of Kauai’s awe-inspiring sights are inaccessible from the ground and can only be seen and appreciated by helicopter.


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Travel news: this month (May 2017) in luxury travel

pkFriday newsletters always feature luxury travel contests, tips, series, or news.

Today (May 26, 2017): May luxury travel news.

Every last Friday of the month, you can read my news round-up of what’s happening in the world of luxury travel. In this issue:

  1. Air France launches first transatlantic B787 route
  2. Mandarin Oriental enters South American market
  3. Mandarin Oriental announces a second Dubai property
  4. Richard Branson considers launching another US airline
  5. Ritz-Carlton to construct a Zanzibar luxury hotel
  6. Qantas to build a new international lounge in Perth
  7. The St. Regis Shanghai Jingan hotel is now open
  8. Rynair partners with Air Europa to offer intercontinental flights
  9. The Park Hyatt brand makes its entry into Bangkok
  10. Singapore Airlines A380s  to become private VIP jets?

1. Air France launches first transatlantic route

Since May 1st 2017, Air France has been operating daily flights between Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Montreal (Canada) with the second of its Boeing 787. Montreal is the first transatlantic destination served by Air France with this new generation aircraft, equipped with 30 seats in Business class, 21 seats in Premium Economy and 225 seats in Economy class. AF345 leaves Montreal-Trudeau at 16:50 and arrives at Paris-Charles de Gaulle at 5:30 the following day, while AF344 leaves Paris-Charles de Gaulle at 13:35 and arrives at Montreal-Trudeau at 14:55. For Air France customers traveling to Montreal, the Boeing 787 provides several assets:

  • On-board WiFi adapted to the needs of customers (from 20MB to 200MB for a price varying between €5 and €30);
  • More comfort and space with the new Premium Economy seats;
  • Windows that are approximately 30% larger than on similar aircraft;
  • Improved air pressure and enhanced in-flight humidity levels for greater travel comfort.

2. Mandarin Oriental enters South American market

Mandarin Oriental will take over management of the Grand Hyatt Santiago from August 2017, and rename it Hotel Santiago. Following an extensive guestroom and public area renovation, the first stage of which is scheduled to complete in August 2018, the hotel will be rebranded Mandarin Oriental, Santiago. This will be the Group’s first property in South America. Hotel Santiago is located in the heart of the city’s most important commerce and leisure district, known as Las Condes. The property comprises 310 guestrooms including 23 suites with commanding views of the city and the Andes. Its 25,000-square meter grounds contain a large free-form outdoor pool and landscaped gardens which provide a resort environment for guests. The hotel currently features five restaurants and bars as well as extensive banqueting and meeting space. Additional facilities include a spa and fitness centre. The new luxury accommodation, public areas and landscaped gardens will be redesigned to reflect local culture, with features inspired by Mandarin Oriental’s Asian heritage.

MANDARIN ORIENTAL, SANTIAGO


3. Mandarin Oriental announces a second Dubai property

Some more exciting news from Mandarin Oriental. The luxury hotel company has announced that it will manage a second luxury hotel and branded residences in Dubai which is targeted to open in late 2020. The hotel, located in downtown Dubai, will complement Mandarin Oriental Jumeirah Beach, Dubai, the group’s previously announced urban resort which is currently under construction on the beachfront and due to open in the fourth quarter of 2018. The hotel will be the anchor of a 63-storey, mixed-use building, to be known as ‘Wasl tower’, located on Sheikh Zayed Road. The property will have direct access to the area’s business and leisure attractions, including Dubai Opera, Burj Park and Dubai Mall. The downtown Mandarin Oriental hotel will feature 257 spacious and contemporary guestrooms, suites and serviced apartments, which will be located on floors 16 to 38 of the tower, providing outstanding views over downtown Dubai and the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

MANDARIN ORIENTAL DOWNTOWN DUBAI


4. Richard Branson considers launching another US airline

According to UK’s Business Traveller, Richard Branson hinted this month that he might launch a new North American airline after selling his old one to Alaska Airlines. Branson, who sold Virgin America to Alaska Airlines in December 2017 for $2.6 billion, has publicly expressed his displeasure at Alaska Airlines’ recent announcement that it would retire the Virgin brand in 2019Bloomberg Technology reported May 19, 2017 that the Virgin Atlantic CEO noted that Alaska Airlines must continue to pay royalties on the Virgin America name “unless we decide to start another airline. So, we’ll see what happens.” Asked directly whether he planned to launch a successor to Virgin America in the US, Branson replied coyly, “Watch this space.” Alaska Airlines is already contesting the royalty payments for Virgin America, saying it should not have to pay for a name the company isn’t using. Branson contends that the Seattle-based airline is obligated to pay royalties until 2040; the sales agreement calls for Alaska Airlines to pay Branson a licensing fee equal to 0.7 per cent of revenue. 

SIR RICHARD BRANSON


5. Ritz-Carlton to open a Zanzibar luxury hotel

Expected to open its doors in 2021, the Ritz-Carlton, Zanzibar will be an all-suite and villa resort with 90 luxuriously appointed spaces including over water villas, each with its own private pool and a distinct contemporary design inspired by the island’s tropical tableau and unique culture. It will boast of a distinctive dining scene with four themed restaurants and bars allowing The Ritz-Carlton chefs to showcase their culinary versatility and engage with guests through curated and immersive dining experiences. Leisure facilities will include an outdoor pool, a Health Club, a Beach Club and a Kids Club. Guests will have access to a tranquil Spa with eight private Spa Suites offering individual and couple treatments as well as outdoor treatments. An intimate meeting facility will complement the resort facilities for personalized and bespoke events. Located within a convenient 45-minute drive from Zanzibar International Airport, The Ritz-Carlton, Zanzibar will provide easy access to the fabled and magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stone Town, often referred to as the cultural heart of Zanzibar.

ZANZIBAR, TANZANIA


6. Qantas to build a new international lounge in Perth

Qantas customers are set to benefit from smoother connections and improved facilities at Perth Airport with construction to begin on a new integrated domestic and international passenger hub. The new international wing will feature a large outdoor deck with alfresco seating, a streamlined immigration and customs area to enable a faster transfer experience, additional food and beverage outlets and a new Duty Free store. All of the airline’s domestic flights, as well as services to Singapore, Auckland and London, will operate from the new facility. “Perth will become the western hub for our international services to the United Kingdom and potentially other European destinations in the future,” said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce. “Combining all of our operations under one roof means customers can transfer from domestic to international services without changing terminals. The new design allows for an outdoor space and natural sunlight, which is something we know our customers will value ahead of a long haul flight”. Qantas will also construct a new International Transit Lounge that will provide a space for customers to relax and refresh between flights. The transit lounge will offer more than a dozen shower suites, space to refresh and a wellness facility. The outdoor patio provides fresh air and natural light, with a barbeque grill and Neil Perry designed Australian-style BBQ menu.

NEW QANTAS LOUNGE AT PERTH


7. The St. Regis Shanghai Jingan hotel is now open

St. Regis Hotels & Resorts opened its Shanghai property, marking the renowned luxury brand’s ninth hotel in the Greater China region. The hotel offers an exceptional experience that features a timeless blend of innovation and tradition, including the signature St. Regis butler service, unique culinary venues, and elegant design. Situated on West Beijing Road in the heart of the Jingan District, Shanghai’s cultural and business center, the St. Regis Shanghai Jingan provides guests convenient access to explore Shanghai’s storied past and bustling present. The hotel’s elegant interiors create an oasis of calm by combining traditional English and Chinese palatial styles with elements of Chinese art and culture, such as calligraphy and handcrafted gold foil paintings. For added visual interest, five glass sculptures by world-renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly will be featured in the hotel’s public space. The St. Regis Shanghai Jingan’s 436 exquisitely styled guest rooms, including 66 suites, and 55 residences boast sweeping city views, allowing guests to experience Shanghai’s energy from the comfort of their own space. The three-bedroom, three-story Presidential Suite is located on the top of the building, featuring a glass ceiling, vast living room, outdoor terraces with panoramic skyline views, full kitchen, dining room, and lounge area.

ST REGIS SHANGHAI JINGAN


8. Rynair partners with Air Europa to offer intercontinental flights

Ryanair announced a new flight partnership with Air Europa, which will allow its 130 million customers to book Air Europa long haul flights on the Ryanair.com website. Customers can now browse and book Air Europa flights on 20 long haul routes from Madrid to 16 countries in North, Central and South America, including Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico and the United States. This new Air Europa partnership is the latest initiative delivered under Year 4 of Ryanair’s “Always Getting Better” customer experience program, and follows the launch of Ryanair’s connecting flight service via Rome Fiumicino. The second phase of this Air Europa partnership will be launched later this year and will allow Ryanair customers to connect onto Air Europa long haul flights through Madrid. Ryanair is continuing its discussions with a number of other long haul airlines on potential feed and connecting flight partnerships. Globalia Group CEO, Javier Hidalgo said: “This partnership with Ryanair gives us great satisfaction, and it puts us at the forefront of business and allows us to strengthen our competitiveness. With this agreement Air Europa doubles its connectivity with the European continent adding 53 European cities”.

RYANAIR BOEING B737-800


9. The Park Hyatt brand makes its entry into Bangkok

Once the scene of elegant garden parties hosted by the British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand, the prime corner plot in the heart of Bangkok is now home to the new Park Hyatt Bangkok hotel. The interior design brief – to create a sophisticated private residence and sanctuary reflecting Thailand’s rich culture – was eloquently executed by New York-based Yabu Pushelberg, who also served as the designers of the brand’s flagship Park Hyatt New York hotel. This is the award-winning design duo’s first hotel in Bangkok, and they have created a calm and stylish environment unfolding through a series of unique and intimate spaces. New York-based AvroKO designed the three uppermost floors of the hotel’s Penthouse Grill & Bar. The hotel and an adjacent luxury shopping mall are bound together by a continual looped form merging plinth and tower. The twisted coil forms a three-dimensional figure of eight, a lucky number in Chinese culture. Drawing on motifs and patterns found in traditional Thai architecture, the eye-catching façade is clad in extruded aluminium tiles, creating a shimmering moiré-like pattern. The design comes together with spectacular views of the bustling, energetic city from numerous outdoor terraces.

PARK HYATT BANGKOK


10. Singapore Airlines A380s  to become private VIP jets?

According to Australian Business Traveller, Singapore Airlines’ oldest Airbus A380s could be turned into the world’s newest and arguably the ultimate private aircraft: a double-decker jet for the VIP set. The Singaporean flag-carrier will retire its first five A380s from October this year, to be replaced by five factory-fresh superjumbos sporting all-new first class suites (on the upper deck, this time around) plus new business class seats. Four of those pre-loved A380s are now apparently earmarked for resale as private jets aimed at the ‘head of state’ and VVIP market, with interiors to suit. Fashioned by British studio Winch Design, options include a spacious conversion of both decks or just the upper deck (keeping standard airline seating on the lower deck) replete with conference rooms, communal lounges, dining rooms and a master bedroom with adjoining private office and en suite. Geneva-based aircraft reseller Sparfell & Partners is listing four used Airbus A380s and while the company has declined to say where they’re from, the specifications and production timeline points to these as being the earliest members of Singapore Airlines’ A380 fleet. Airbus has previously toyed with a corporate jet version of the A380 based on ex-lease superjumbos, but only one contract was inked – that by Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia in 2007 – who later reneged on the deal, perhaps being happy enough with his private Boeing 747-400.

AIRBUS A380 VIP PRIVATE JET


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Review of SONEVA JANI, the Maldives’ most stunning resort

Wednesday newsletters always feature a luxury hotel or flight review.

Last February, I enjoyed a FABULOUS holiday in the incredibly beautiful Maldives. You can read my trip reports here:


Today (May 24, 2017): Review of Soneva Jani, the Maldives’ most stunning resort.

Inspired by a word that means wisdom in Sanskrit, Soneva Jani is located on Medhufaru island, which is part of an uninhabited five-island cluster in the Noonu Atoll. The Maldives’ most exclusive hotel, and my absolutely favorite hotel in the world, is fringed by pristine beaches, blanketed with lush tropical greenery, and surrounded by a 5.6 km (3,4 mi) lagoon of crystal clear waters with uninterrupted 360° views of the Indian Ocean. Currently, Soneva Jani features 24 water villas and one beach villa, although additional beach villas are planned at a later stage. Each one of the 24 water villas is superbly designed and has a private pool and opens to its own stretch of lagoon, with some villas featuring slides going directly from the top deck into the lagoon below. The highlight of the villas is the retractable roof in the master bedroom, which slides back at the touch of a button so that guests can lie in bed and stargaze.

Soneva Jani features in my top 10 lists of the most insanely beautiful resorts in the Maldives, the most fabulous overwater villas in the Maldives, the best new luxury hotels of 2016, the most astonishing beach retreats in Asia, and my favorite hotels in the world.

In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip and slideshow):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • My review of other luxury resorts in the Maldives
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there
  • Photos

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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • After collecting your luggage at Malé International Airport, you are greeted by one of the members of the Soneva staff and whisked away to the dedicated Soneva lounge near the seaplane terminal, where you can wait for the connecting seaplane transfer to the resort. At the lounge – which features Soneva’s signature eco-chic design and even has a small spa room on site – guests are offered a refreshing drink and some snacks, while a Soneva host takes care of the check-in process (so that you will arrive hassle-free at the resort).
  • Getting to the resort is half the fun since the 40 minute seaplane transfer to Soneva Jani is a breathtaking sightseeing trip in itself. The seaplane flies quite low over the Indian Ocean, offering an amazing view of tiny, sugar-white island rings sparkling atop turquoise colored lagoons and the brilliant sapphire blue ocean. Flying on board a seaplane in the Maldives and admiring the picture-perfect archipelago from a bird’s eye perspective is one of the ultimate experiences that the destination has to offer. The seaplane transfers are very well-organized, since Soneva has a privileged relationship with Trans Maldivian Airways, the seaplane operator; this means that waiting time at the Soneva lounge on your day of arrival or departure seldom exceeds two hours.
  • After a 40 minute flight, the seaplane lands at Soneva Jani International Airport, which must be one of the most amazing airports in the world: a small wooden, floating deck just off the island’s shores. From there, it’s a 2 minute speedboat ride to the arrival jetty of the magnificent resort. During the speedboat trip to the resort, your shoes will be removed and slipped into a linen bag until your departure. This is in line with Soneva Jani’s ‘no news, no shoes’ policy, which encourages a casual atmosphere among all the guests.
  • From the moment you touch down (barefoot) on Soneva Jani’s shores, your personal butler – called a Mr. or Ms. “Friday” – will be on hand with a smile and assist you throughout your stay. These Fridays are obviously handpicked for their extreme likeability and their level of discrete, intuitive service – you only have to think it, and your wish has materialised!
  • One of the many highlights of the resort is its location within a 5.6 km (3,5 mi) lagoon of crystal clear waters with uninterrupted 360° views of the Indian Ocean. The lagoon is so huge that more than 7,000 Olympic swimming pools can fit inside it. It’s impossible to find words to describe the intensely mesmerizing blue of the lagoon’s waters. This fifty shades of blue strike the entire Maldivian archipelago and are present in the shallows of every atoll’s islands, but nowhere are they as blue and clear as at Soneva Jani. In fact, these are the most vibrant shades of blue and most stunning lagoon that I have ever seen in all my years of traveling across the globe.
  • A unique feature of Soneva Jani – which sets it apart from all other resorts across the Maldives – is that its lagoon has access to no less than five islets (four of them deserted). The main island Medhufaru is one of the largest in the Maldives, and fringed by pristine beaches and blanketed with lush tropical greenery. It was home to a farm for 10 years before Soneva Jani was conceptualized, and the extensive gardens on the isle still supply the fruits, vegetables, herbs and mushrooms to the resort’s kitchens, as well as to Soneva Jani’s sister resort, Soneva Fushi. Here, guests can wander through the Labyrinth, a meditative maze created out of ficus hedge that follows an ancient circular pattern. Regarding the other four islands in the lagoon, a beach club with a tented restaurant serving seafood lunches is set up on so called Zuhairs Island, while the other three remain entirely undeveloped, so there is always somewhere a place to play castaway.
  • In this massive space with the islands and the lagoon, there are only 24 over water villas and one beach villa (with additional beach villas planned at a later stage). It’s one of the lowest density resorts in the world, by far. The scale of each villas is extraordinary, with both one bedroom (catering to couples and families with young children) and multi-bedroom villas (catering to larger travel parties) available. The overwater villas are located along a 1,7 km (1 mi) long jetty that is connected to Medhufaru island and curves over the blue water like a snake. At more than 410 square meters (4413 square feet), the one bedroom villas are the largest entry-level villas in the Indian Ocean. Every water villa has a private pool (which is large enough to swim laps) and opens to its own stretch of lagoon, with some villas featuring curved slides going directly from the top deck into the lagoon below.
  • During my holiday, I stayed in the resort’s lowest category villa – a one bedroom water retreat – which was bigger than the presidential suites of most 5-star hotels. Spread across two floors, the villa came with its own 13 m (43 feet) long private pool on the terrace, surrounded by ample areas for sunbathing, taking in ocean vistas and perfect for watching the sunrise (the villas on the other side of the jetty have a view of the sunset). In addition to a spacious master bedroom and a kids’ sleeping area, there was a small glass-encased kitchenette, study room, walk-in wardrobe, and living area with sunken seats perfect for lounging. The sleeping-area for children was conveniently located within the main bedroom (so parents can be assured their children are never too far from them in an overwater environment). The magnificent open-air bathroom – located adjacent to the master bedroom – featured a secluded, wooden surround with sufficient space to swim in and out of. Three different glass-bottomed areas in the villa guaranteed that the underwater world was never too far away. Upstairs, there was a seating lounge and a dining sala with roof deck.
  • All villas feature a retractable roof in the master bedroom, which slides back at the touch of a button so you can lie in bed and stargaze. After an evening in the on-property overwater observatory (cf below), you can try to identify Orion, the Southern Cross, the Bear and more stellar constellations from your bed as you drift to sleep, with just the relaxing sound of the lapping waters outdoors. And there is no reason to worry about rain, since sensors detect an on-coming shower and automatically close the roof.
  • Like all other Soneva properties, the spacious villas feature beautifully designed interiors by Eva Shivdasani, one of Soneva’s co-founders and wife of Soneva CEO Sonu Shivdasani. The eco-chic design complements the stunning Maldivian surroundings and represents barefoot luxury at its best. The soft-coloured interiors are flooded with light, with a few deep purple stains adding a nice contrast. With sandblasted pine decking and Shingle Red River Gum tiles adorning the outside of the fairytale-esque villas, the insides are made from subtly weathered woods and natural materials in a colour palette of white, pastel greens and mauves. The overall effect is ethereal, light and airy to encourage the ultimate state of relaxation.
  • The resort features the Maldives’ first overwater silent cinema – so-called Cinema Paradiso  –  at the southern tip of the main island Medhufaru. Here, you can relax on comfortable loungers under the stars and snack on fresh popcorn, while you are provided with Bluetooth headphones, leaving the surrounding nesting turtles and wildlife at peace. Twice weekly, there is a movie selection for both children and adults, with a focus on classic and insipirational movies. Private screenings and dining experiences can be arranged at extra charge.
  • Soneva Jani’s guests can gaze into the night sky at the twinkling jewel-like stars at the first overwater observatory in the Maldives. This popular experience has awed and amazed guests of all ages at Soneva Jani’s sister resorts, Soneva Fushi and Soneva Kiri, and the resort designers have made the observatory at Soneva Jani even better. A sophisticated telescope rises up through the floor of the observatory deck, offering enchanted views of the starry sky. The deck is surrounded by four dining tables, at which you can dine if you wish. The tables are equipped with screens linked  to the view from the telescope, allowing you to dine with the stars.
  • The resort features the largest overwater structure in the Maldives, the so-called ‘Gathering’, which appears like something out of a fairytale. At three storeys tall and located halfway the jetty, the Gathering is the heart of the resort. It houses the various dining outlets (more on that below), as well as the spa, a gym, library, a boutique shop, the chocolate & ice cream parlour, wine cellar and kids club. The Gathering features a soaring open-sided atrium, with a maze of stairs and walkways connecting all the floors, facilities, inside and outside. There are 104,000 pieces of Red River Gum Shingles from Laos on the Gathering’s roof. Also, there’s a large slide that delivers guests directly from the Gathering’s second floor to the ocean. A Soleni Dive Centre and Marine Biology Champa are located next to The Gathering. From what I heard, the spa may eventually move to another overwater location and a much larger, stand alone kids club is planned as well.
  • Soneva Jani is one of the largest resort’s in the Maldives, and getting around does require some time (although buggy service is available 24 hours a day). All guests are also provided with bicycles or tricycles to help navigate the fun, snaking jetty that connects to the main island, home to Cinema Paradiso, tennis courts, deserted beaches, the Gardens and Labyrinth, and various walking and cycle paths. In addition, a small speed boat shuttles guests between the four untouched islands in the lagoon.
  • Rooms make money, while food and beverage make reputations, and Soneva Jani does not fail to impress here as the menus are as extravagant as the resort itself. Everything is of the highest quality and presented with total care and attention, from the freshest tuna and thin pizzas, to delicate Indian curries, slow roasted lamb, and delicious salads. There are five dining outlets in total, offering various destinations cuisines and private dining experiences, where the resort’s chefs trick your taste buds and mind with elaborate disguises. The main restaurant, called So Fresh, is located within the Gathering, and offers a sumptuous breakfast buffet, lunch and dinner. So Fresh has a myriad of nooks, boardwalks, decks and other spaces to choose from for dining, so every meal can be set in a totally fresh environment if you wish. But Soneva Jani also features an exquisite tasting room (So Imaginative), a mystery dining venue (So Engaging), an intimate restaurant at the Observatory (with only four tables equipped with screens linked to the view from the telescope), a tented restaurant serving seafood lunches at Zuhairs island, and the restaurant at Cinema Paradiso.
  • Soneva has gained a worldwide reputation for its wine collection and Sommeliers, and at Soneva Jani, the wine is housed in a six-meter (20 feet) high glass tower and the list contains around 50% organic and biodynamic wine.
  • The resort has its own chocolate & ice cream parlour, which is open from noon till late night and complimentary to all guest. You can choose of over sixty constantly changing flavours of homemade ice creams and sorbets at the ice cream room. You can also indulge in every child’s dream of never-ending chocolate by sampling cardamom chocolate truffles, passionfruit pralines, and a continually changing profusion of confections.
  • In constructing the resort, Soneva Jani’s management kept its environmental impact as low as possible. The pools use seawater with UV filtration and the villas have been built over the sandy floors of the lagoon, with no damage to any part of the reef.  Furthermore, solar PV is e a significant source of power generation at the resort, all waste-water is collected and treated on-site, and water is also produced on-site, including drinking water. Soneva’s Eco Centro Waste-to-Wealth centre ensures that waste is recycled, while the extensive vegetable garden gives local produce for the restaurants based on organic principles.
  • The resort is managed by Soneva, my absolute favorite hotel brand in the world. The acronym SLOW LIFE (Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences) explains the Soneva philosophy: it aims to create unforgettable, innovating, and enlightening experiences that illuminate their guest’s lives whilst treading lightly on the earth. The ethos and values it is run by are what sets Soneva on different footing as compared to other high-end hotel brands. In addition, there’s also a lot of love and romance in the story of Soneva, which was founded in 1995 by Sonu Shivdasani, a