Maximizing Miles in the Maldives: Cathay First, Eating in Singapore, and a Park Hyatt Water Villa

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by gleff, Mar 4, 2012.  |  Print Topic

  1. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670

    Two things happened last year
    which inspired this trip:


    • Hyatt took over management of the Alila Villas in the Maldives, rebranding it a Park Hyatt, meaning that I could use my Gold Passport points for a redemption. The hotel is a top category redemption (22,000 points per night) but that’s actually a great value considering the high room rates there. The base room is a villa, as well.

      Still, a trip to the Maldives is an expensive proposition — you don’t just have to get yourself to the middle of the Indian Ocean, but for a resort as remote as this one you have to get yourself there, and airport transfers from Male to the resort involve a domestic flight and a boat ride, something that costs ~ $500 per person. Plus actually being in the Maldives is far from inexpensive, you’re going to run up quite a tab on food alone. (Though the Park Hyatt offers complimentary breakfast to all guests in sharp contrast to the Conrad Maldives which no longer even honors the breakfast benefit to Hilton Diamond members.)
    • Fortunately, I had just taken advantage of the Capital One 100,000 point signup bonus. And at the time the best redemption value was converting points to hotel gift certificates, a 70% better return than just redeeming points for travel directly. Most international hotels hit you with a currency conversion charge, but the Park Hyatt Maldives bills in US dollars to begin with so there’s no such charge. Even better.

    Thanks to Capital One, I had Hyatt dollars burning a hole in my pocket. And thanks to some generous promos last year (not quite Faster Free Nights, but still lucrative), I had Hyatt points to burn too.

    And while I haven’t been the Maldives before — I’ve been to tropical paradises before, and had an overwater bungalow at Bora Bora Nui back when it was a Starwood property, before joining Hilton — I have some sense of the chain properties there. I can’t compare the Park Hyatt experience to places like One & Only Reethi Rah or the Four Seasons — and I won’t — the Park Hyatt seemed like the best option for me and indeed I think it’s one of the very best hotel redemption values that there is, anywhere, right up there with the Conrad Koh Samui.

    Starwood’s W is impossibly expensive as a redemption. The Conrad looks nice but isn’t kind to elites. It’s also expensive to upgrade a villa. The Waldorf=Astoria Beach House is tempting even at the top HHonors redemption level. There are certainly lesser chain hotels, a Holiday Inn even, but that’s not my style and not what I wanted to experience if I was going to spend the time to get to and be in the Maldives. The Park Hyatt it was.

    Now how in the world to get there? The goal with miles is to get to Male, but that’s hardly easy, the only oneworld carrier that flies there is British Airways, three days a week, and the flight departs London Gatwick. Star’s only flight there is on Singapore Airlines from Singapore. The Middle Eastern non-alliance carriers can take you there, and indeed long after I booked this trip Etihad became a partner of AAdvantage. They’re even starting Washington DC service next yaar, and in the future I’d likely fly them Washington Dulles – Abu Dhabi – Male and call it good. But I set this trip up without that option.

    I started looking at flying in and out of Colombo, less than 500 miles away and an inexpensive city to buy tickets from. I could do an add on to Male without too much expense. Thai Airways flies there from Bangkok, Cathay Pacific flies there via Singapore and also Bangkok (depending on day of the week). I decided against, it’s an extra flight and in the case of Cathay it’s two business class flights from Hong Kong with still the need for the purchased flight to get to Male, before needing the domestic connection.

    Instead I decided to break up the trip — I booked a Cathay Pacific first class award to and from Singapore using American miles, and a separate Singapore Airlines Krisflyer award for business class Singapore – Male. Getting that award with Star Alliance partner airlines can be tough in business class, certainly getting more than one seat is a real challenge (despite the flights ultimately being mostly empty). It’s more doable with miles in Singapore’s own program, miles I got through transfers from American Express Membership Rewards. Singapore does add fuel surcharges to their awards (~ US$300 per ticket for taxes and fees), and also gives a 15% discount for redeeming miles on Singapore flights using their website.

    But putting this together, and for February travel, I had concerns about pulling off the flights with the potential for bad weather. I was going to need to get out of DC, certainly subject to snow storms in mid-February. And my logical gateways for Cathay Pacific are New York, Chicago, or Toronto (which is dropping first class unfortunately). But weather in those cities hardly seemed something to bank on, either. So I decided to grab seats out of San Francisco, probably the easiest market to get two first class Cathay awards from. And I gave myself about a 24 hour cushion to make it there. I’d fly out on Friday after work, send all day on Saturday in San Francisco (giving myself a buffer in case of weather-related irregular operations), and catch the midnight flight Saturday night to Hong Kong connecting onto Singapore.

    I put my Cathay award on hold, booked my Park Hyatt award stay, then went back and ticketed Cathay and my Singapore Airlines awards. Then I had to decide where to stay in Singapore? I picked the Grand Hyatt because I had two expiring suite nights from the Hyatt Visa, and still had a confirmed suite I could use on paid stays that would be expiring as well, so I combined two free nights with two paid nights upgraded. Last year I stayed at the Intercontinental, and despite a huge upgrade to an Ambassador Suite I wasn’t especially fond of that hotel and didn’t want to return. I considered the Conrad as well but the time-sensitivity of my Hyatt award certificates made the decision for me.

    Hong Kong would be another challenge, I considered an award at the two Intercontinental properties, but neither treats Royal Ambassadors especially well on award nights (though the Grand Stanford is more generous than the Intercontinental Hong Kong, though the latter is the better hotel). I considered the Grand Hyatt but didn’t want to burn points, a paid night was prohibitively expensive. So I settled on the Conrad, where a Cash and Points award was available and where Diamonds are treated well, I was confident not just in lounge access and internet but also a Harbour View.

    I opened a correspondence with the Park Hyatt, asking about confirmed upgrades. I figured that if I was going to make it all the way to the Maldives, I wanted the full Maldives experience. The base room is a villa, and it seems that Diamonds tend to get upgraded to villas with private pool subject to availability on arrival, though this is not guaranteed since with ‘all suites’ there’s nothing due Diamond members ‘by right’ in the program. Many prefer the villa with pool for its privacy and overall spaciousness. But I wanted a water villa, because that’s one of the things that’s archetypical of resorts in the area. Plus I had an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora and loved it — the direct access to the ocean, the uniqueness, the beauty walking to and from the room.

    I was quoted rates to confirm upgrades at booking that I thought were quite reasonable: $200++ per night (10% service charge, 3.5% Goods and Services Tax, $8 per person bed tax) to upgrade to a pool villa or $350++ per night to upgrade to a water villa.

    I’m since heard that they’re charging more than that now for a similar confirmed upgrade, so I considered myself to be getting a ‘deal’. I booked a 5 night award, so $350++ times five was hardly cheap, but I had plenty of Hyatt Gift Certificates and I felt a bit flush. Plus the flights to and from Male, and the base room rate, were ‘free’ with miles. So I went for it, and I requested that they assign us to the most private villa possible.

    Now I was excited. And I just had to wait. And wait. Other trips came and went, and even the best ones seemed like vacations I had to ‘get through’ before finally being able to visit the Maldives. Now that I’m back I can say that I’m thrilled with the whole trip, that I would do it over. But before we get ahead of ourselves, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride through my eyes..
     
    Kalboz, uggboy, viguera and 3 others like this.
  2. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    Positioning flights to San Francisco, Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf, and Some Dim Sum for the Day

    Since I made the decision to give myself a mini-vacation in San Francisco at the start of the trip, as a hedge against weather — I didn’t want to risk mid-February being able to get out of both DC and a gateway city like New York or Toronto — I started off with some domestic flights on American Airlines in first class as part of my travels. After work on Friday, February 17 I headed over to Washington National airport for a flight to Chicago. Yes, in spite of weather concerns I was connecting in Chicago in the middle of February. But I figured since I had a 24 hour buffer between scheduled arrival in San Francisco and departure on Cathay Pacific I’d be fine, I’d find a way to get out there and at most sacrifice some San Francisco time.

    Check-in at DCA was uneventful, American Eagle regional jet to Chicago took off on time. There was no meal service, seat pitch felt a bit cramped, but it was first class and it was a short flight. We arrived in Chicago on time, hit the Admiral’s Club, and boarding our connecting flight to San Francisco.

    One of the things that’s revolutionized my life, having started flying American a good deal during the oneworld MegaDO‘s executive platinum challenge, is inflight internet. During the month of January I was on a Gogo monthly plan, but since I was going to be out of the country for half of February I cancelled that. Fortunately I had a flight pass from my MegaDO swag bag, and online access was free. That kept me entertained during the domestic flight, along with a bit of dinner, and we arrived on time in San Francisco.

    That’s where I used my GroundLink coupon for an airport car service, the now-infamous Jetsetter deal. As much first purchase I had a $25 credit and that covered most of the cost of the discounted Town Car offering. But since I figured I wanted a bit of help with our luggage, I added on ‘inside pickup’. We didn’t get that, I called the driver who refused to come inside, he asked us what door we’d be at for pickup. I had no idea what door! I wasn’t to baggage claim yet. And I was paying for inside pickup. I was getting annoyed.

    Bags arrived quickly enough, and I called the driver. Waited about 5-8 minutes and he was at the curb and we were on our way. He said, “I wasn’t supposed to be picking you up, I was a replacement, where am I taking you?” Not what the seamless experience I was supposed to have. I had used GroundLink a few weeks earlier in New York and had a much better experience. Fortunately, though I received an email receipt showing charges for the trip, since it was prepaid with the Jetsetter coupon I wasn’t charged at all (not even for the inside pickup I had requested but not received).

    We were staying at the Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf. Not my usual style, but I had some unusual logic for the choice. Back in the Fall there was a TripAlertz offer where if you referred friends, anyone who signed up with their email address got you a $10 site credit. Needless to say I received a whole bunch of credits. Two problems, however.

    • I asked TripAlertz if I could give away all the credits as a contest on the blog, I thought that might interest them for the additional publicity and it wouldn’t cost them anymore because I’d be using up the credits they had already given me. The terms and conditions of the credits said they couldn’t be used for anyone else. TripAlertz likely wouldn’t have known, since all they had was my email address on the account. But even though I had seen at least one other blogger give away credits, I didn’t want to break rules in a giveaway (and I’d have felt awful if I gave away the credits and then recipient had them invalidated). Unfortunately, despite emailing them and tweeting them, I never got a reply. So the giveaway idea was scratched.
    • I quickly discovered I really wasn’t interested in any of the ‘deals’ that they offered. Their focused seemed to be mid-scale all-inclusives in Mexico and Caribbean. Not really my style. So when a decent enough San Francisco hotel popped up, I jumped on it. And since I was flush with credits, I booked two nights instead of one. That way I’d have no problem with a 9pm checkout, which was perfect for my midnight departure.
    Arrival was smooth, and despite the photos on the website and elsewhere which make it look almost a boutique property it has over 500 rooms and is a busy property.
    Outside the hotel entrance are couches and chairs with fires to keep you warm.
    [​IMG]
    At check-in I was told that our rate included parking (I hadn’t rented a car) and internet. And that we were booked into a room with two double beds. They told me they couldn’t upgrade us to a King room. I asked them to add my Starwood Preferred Guest Gold number to the reservation (benefits shouldn’t apply on a third party booking like this) and they did — and proceeded to find me a king-bedded room. I even earned points on the room rate paid by TripAlertz.
    It was a long walk to the rather funky-shaped room, but it was cozy and did the trick.
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    The toilet and shower were in a separate, tiny room off the sink the area, and one had to squeeze in.
     
    Putra, Kalboz and uggboy like this.
  3. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    It was otherwise spacious, and the only other strange thing about it is that the previous guest had left avocados in the closet, which housekeeping apparently hadn’t seen:
    [​IMG]
    Most of the guests at the hotel were much younger, some interactions at check-in made it seem like they’d never stayed in a hotel before, there was definitely a party vibe to the median guest during my weekend stay but all was quiet in my room.

    We had a good sleep and woke up around 6am, nice considering I was on the West Coast but presumably still on Eastern time. There’s a coffee shop in the lobby of the hotel, it’s shockingly expensive, two drinks in the morning were going to be nearly $20 so we went to the Starbucks a block away.

    Come 10am we were off to a bit of brunch at the San Francisco staple, Yank Sing for dim sum. There are several locations, I’ve always gone to the one at the Rincon Center.
    [​IMG][​IMG]
    They didn’t get particularly busy until maybe 10:45am, so we had easy and relaxed access to all the dim sum carts as they went around, and we sampled plenty.
    [​IMG][​IMG]
     
  4. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    The glutinous pprk dumplings were excellent, though surprisingly not hot. The soup dumplings were good, though not as good as Din Tai Fung in Bellevue, Washington. The egg tarts weren’t quite a hit, but I’d be having some outstanding ones in a matter of days.

    These were minor quibbles, overall Yank Sing is as good a dim sum as you’ll get in the United States and on the whole the equal of most places in Hong Kong. But it’s pricey for what it is, you’ll often spend $25 per person or more and with all that we tried it was over $40 apiece. Compare that to the $10 or so I usually drop at Mark’s Duck House down the road from my house… Still, it’s not a trip to San Francisco without dim sum at Yank Sing!

    After brunch we walked around the farmer’s market on the water.
    [​IMG]
    And spent a few hours at a cooking class held in the home of a chef, all in all a pleasant Saturday afternoon.
    [​IMG]
    Then it was back to the hotel for a bit of rest before heading to the airport. On checkout, it was suggested I see the doorman for assistance with a cab, only there was no doormen and no cabs were queued. I went out on the street and managed to flag one, guiding it into the hotel’s driveway. Another couple that had been waiting for a cab thought that I was doing that as an employee of the hotel and wanted to get into my cab. I explained that I was just a proactive guest, and suggested they follow my lead and flag a cab themselves…

    No traffic at that hour, we were quickly back to the airport.
     
    Flying Bat, OY-JFS, Jimgotkp and 4 others like this.
  5. kyunbit
    Original Member

    kyunbit Silver Member

    Messages:
    893
    Likes Received:
    1,154
    Status Points:
    825
    I am waiting for more :)
     
    Bonnie, uggboy and gleff like this.
  6. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    Cathay’s New San Francisco Lounge

    We departed the Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf at the conclusion of our free stopover in San Francisco (who says that American doesn’t allow stopovers on one-way partner awards? They do, at the North American gateway city.)

    On arrival at San Francisco International Airport, check-in was a bit confused. We walked straight up to the first class line, one person was being checked in ahead of us, I was surprised how many people are already in the queue nearly three hours before flight. It took longer than usual, apparently because of the reservation system changeover at Cathay which apparently was one of the less smooth transitions we’ve seen in awhile (and I say that having flown US Airways on the day that the combined America West-US Airways moved over to SHARES, flying out of Florida on a Sunday with online check-in and kiosks non-functional). The agent actually needed to see my printed confirmation to prove that I had onward travel beyond Singapore for immigration purposes, even though my onward travel was on the same itinerary.
    [​IMG]
    Once check-in formalities were handled we proceeded to a short though slow-moving security line, made an immediate left-turn towards the first set o lounges, and found our way up to the new Cathay Pacific lounge which has gotten much attention since opening a few months ago.
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    The lounge is bright, the furnishings match a standard Cathay Pacific style. And it’s certainly a good lounge by U.S. standards. But it’s a “Business and First Class lounge,” there’s no separate first class side, and it is a busy lounge.
     
    Flying Bat and uggboy like this.
  7. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    We got there long before our flight and there were very few open seats. We found a couple of seats together in the corner, and one was even near an outlet. My immediate reaction to the lounge, in addition to being crowded, was that there weren’t enough seats that had access to power. I wasn’t too worried about it, my first class seat would have seat power, but you still don’t want to draw your battery down before a 14 hour flight.


    Internet access requires a fixed code which they’ll give you at the reception desk, it’s on a sign and they’ll hand you a slip of paper with the password to use.
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    Food was modest — make your own salad, a couple of hot items including overcooked pasta — the highlight of course was the noodle bar.
    [​IMG][​IMG]
     
    OY-JFS and Jimgotkp like this.
  8. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    [​IMG]
    I had some spicy peanut soup which wasn’t especially spicey, a bowl of peanut sauce more or less with noodles (not a bad thing!).
    [​IMG]
    Soon enough it was time to board. Ultimately, and I know I point out the flaws in the lounge, it was a nice space considering it was a lounge inside the U.S. and it’s even an improvement over when Cathay was using the BA lounge. I like the design, the noodle bar makes it authentically Cathay, it just needs to be larger. It’s too crowded leading up to a packed 747.

    Of course I would have loved a separate first class section, that’s not realistic with just two flights a day — one with 6 seats and one with 9 upfront — and not usually full cabins at that (although the first class section would likely be full of oneworld top tier elites regardless of class of service).

    Ultimately they didn’t have enough space to work with, they did a nice enough job with the space they had, but I wouldn’t purposely arrive early just to experience the lounge.
     
    OY-JFS, Jimgotkp, Bonnie and 2 others like this.
  9. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    Cathay Pacific First Class, San Francisco – Hong Kong

    Lucky recently said to me that Cathay Pacifc first class was ‘my second home’. Indeed, I’ve flown it a good bit. It’s an outstanding, solid product. My first experience with it I was excited beyond belief. It was the stuff of legends — great hard product, great service, and perhaps most importantly something that was extremely difficult to get.

    It might even have been the snufalufagus of award travel, no one knew whether two first class award seats on Cathay even really existed, or they were just an urban legend or figments of a frequent flyer imagination.

    That all changed back in 2009, first the cracks began to show in availability with Toronto – Hong Kong opening up two first class award seats usually on Tuesdays. Then June 2009 came and the floodgates truly opened, it seemed that booking far in advance you could get two first class award seats on most flights, most routes. The depths of the financial crisis had hit, people weren’t buying the seats the way they used to, and Cathay changed the way they handled inventory.

    Things have tightened up for sure in that time, but the seats are still pretty ubiquitous. Cathay First is probably the all-around best product that is also easy to get for long-haul travel. I don’t know if it’s because I’m lazy, or that they just happen to offer the best flight availability and connections for where I’ve wanted to go and I’m less interested in doing backflips to try new products, but I find myself onboard Cathay in first class on my award travels more and more.

    I did my Philippines trip two years ago in Cathay first, I’ve flown them to London,, I flew them over Thanksgiving to Thailand, there’s this trip (the Singapore portions), and I ave another award booked with them for later in the year as well.

    For North American flyers, the flights to Hong Kong on Cathay are from New York, Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver.

    Toronto used to be the absolute gimme, but they’ve ended first class service there and are flying planes instead that offer business, premium economy, and coach. I find availability from New York to be ‘ok’ but not as good for more than one traveler as you might expect considering they have four flights (one is New York – Vancouver – Hong Kong, and yes that means you can book just JFK – Vancouver if you can find it availabile). Chicago is a good, reliable flight for availability. But the real gold mine for first class award space is San Francisco, though oddly enough business class space can be hard on the SFO flights, much easier to get out of Los Angeles where it’s first class that’s harder.

    And of course American Airlines domestic award space is unmatched, so getting to the gateways is usually quite possible (though from many cities, San Francisco requires two flights as it isn’t a oneworld hub, which is also likely why it’s easier to get the award seats from there, they rely primarily on origination/destination traffic to fill the planes).

    I tend to prefer Cathay’s 777 over the 747, because the cabin has only 6 seats rather than 9 and both are generally staffed with 2 flight attendants. I also prefer the 777 because the seats are in my opinion better situated for couples.

    The 747 is an airier cabin, and one of the restrooms is bigger than what’s offered on the 777s (it has two windows even). But seating for couples is tough, there’s row 1 in the nose and those seats open towards each other, those are the preferred seats for most couples. The other option is row 4, seats A and D, which are a window and middle since they open towards each other. But 4D in the middle is a bit of a smaller suite and has a smaller closet in the seat, and it’s back by the galley which can be bothersome.

    In contrast, the 777 has 1D and 1K which open towards each other, and 2D and 2K which open towards each other. Most couples choose one of those two pairs. Although some prefer 1A and 2A, since you effectively have the whole side of the cabin to yourselves since the D seats in the middle open away from you.

    I’ve also always found the 777 a bit smoother of a ride.

    Still, there’s a magic to the nose of a 747, not unlike the slendor of the upper deck (which is one thing I love about Lufthansa first class, they put first upstairs!).

    On this flight we were packed, 9 of 9 seats occupied. Fortunately we had 3 crew members working the cabin rather than the traditional two, and I never noticed any sort of degradation of service.

    We were among the last to leave the lounge, with the gate right next door there was really no reason to rush off at the start of boarding and it’s not as though you need to be on board quickly to grab overhead space. There are no overhead bins in the first class cabin, which makes for an extremely spacious sense of place. Instead each first class seat has its own closet. You can put items underneath the ottoman of your seat. And anything you can’t fit the flight attendants will be happy to store for you. Plus, we’d be onboard for 14 hours, why add 30 minutes more?

    By the time we made it down to the gate area, the line was long and the place a bit of a zoo.
    [​IMG]
    Here’s the spacious cabin:
    [​IMG][​IMG]
    And my home for the next 14 hours:
    [​IMG][​IMG]
     
    Putra, Bonnie and uggboy like this.
  10. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    [​IMG][​IMG]
    Amenity kits and pajamas were distributed, along with menus and hot towels. I had a pre-departure orange juice, and shortly after takeoff a glass of Krug, served with nuts (which I wasn’t especially in the mood for and didn’t try, I’m actually a bit burned down on airline nuts although the pending new nut mix that American will be serving is quite good and when I get that onboard I’ll go back to eating them).
    [​IMG]
    For those unfamiliar with Cathay service, you can dine with another passenger — they install a table extender, one passenger sits on the ottoman (“buddy seat”) which has its own seatbelt. They set the table and you’re as though in a restaurant, albeit above 30,000 feet.

    Here’s the menu for the flight:

    Supper
    Caviar and Fine Smoked Salmon
    Caviar and Fine Smoked Salmon
    International Favourites
    Fennel and apple soup
    Mesclun salad with king crab, tear drop tomatoes, cranberries and balsamic vinaigrette
    Grilled U.S. Wagyu beef tenderloin with red wine sauce, parsley potatoes, asparagus and baby carrots
    Or
    Lobster and crab ravioli with toasted red pepper coulis and grilled baby zucchini

    Chinese Favourites
    Double boiled conch and mushroom soup
    Cold plate – marinated gluten with cucumber
    Kung Po chicken with steamed jasmine rice and stir fried mixed vegetables

    Cheese and Dessert
    Camembert, Yellow Cheddar, Danish Blue, Herb Goat Cheese
    Seasonal fresh berries with cream
    Bread and butter pudding with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce
    Black sesame sweet soup

    Tea and coffee

    Pralines

    Snacks
    Grilled saffron marinated prawns skewer with cucumber raita
    Grilled chicken breast with Brie, chipotle mayonnaise and pesto on sour dough bread with mesclun salad
    Wontons in noodle soup
    Hot pot rice with minced pork patty, water chestnut and mushroom, served with chicken broth
    Ice cream

    Breakfast

    Starters
    Orange or apple juice
    Mango smoothie
    Fresh seasonal fruit
    Natural or fruit yoghurt
    Assorted cereals

    Main Courses
    Free range eggs-freshly scrambled, fried or boiled
    Served with your choice of grilled Nuernberger sausage, grilled apple wood smoked bacon, roesti potatoes, grilled roma tomato or mushroom
    Dim sum with chili sauce
    Siu mai, shrimp dumpling, mini glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf, crabmeat dumpling
    Lobster congee with spring onion pancake

    Bread Basket
    Assorted breakfast bread and fresh toast
    Served with Mrs. Bridges Scottish preserves, Tasmanian meadow honey and butter

    Tea and Coffee

    I started with the caviar…
    [​IMG]
    … and then went with the Chinese meal. It’s always pretty good, not great, Cathay’s food is in my view its weakest component. But the Chinese options are almost always superior to the Western choices.
    [​IMG]
     
    pokerhammy, Jimgotkp and uggboy like this.
  11. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    [​IMG]
    It was late, I didn’t want a huge meal, so I skipped cheese and dessert — figuring that if I was really interested I could have it later on in the flight. I headed to the nice oversized lavatory to change into my PJs and agreed when one of the flight attendants asked if she could make my bed. (I also asked for an extra pillow, I find that makes me much more comfortable.)
    [​IMG]
    I settled in but found I wasn’t able to sleep right away, so I started watching television on the StudioCX entertainment system, one of my favorites, for its incredibly extensive offerings. I watched the (entire) 8th season of Entourage and finally was able to sleep for a couple of hours.

    I woke up and it was halfway through the flight. Having only picked at my dinner, I decided to order some snacks. Since my first set of Cathay Pacific first class flights I’ve been a fan of their black sesame soup, so it was a no-brainer. I ordered that and the hot pot rice.
    [​IMG][​IMG]
    One of the important things to know about Cathay Pacific service is that they stay out of the cabin as much as possible during flight. They’re not uber-present the way that Singapore’s cabin crew is. Instead they try not to disturb. It’s unlikely you’ll catch their eye if you want something. You’re supposed to – and they want you to – use the flight attendant call button whenever you would like to call a flight attendant. For an American, trained on U.S. domestic carriers, this can be a little bit uncomfortable. Most of us are used to using that button only in the event of a life or death emergency and flight attendants make clear to us that we ‘shouldn’t have done that’ (usually not in so many words) whenever pushing the button without the aircraft being on fire. Not so Cathay. They’re there within seconds to help you. But they just need to be called, or else they don’t want to disturb you.

    After my snack I started watching a movie, which one I don’t even recall, and drifted back to sleep. I woke up about 2 hours out from Hong Kong, and about 30 minutes later had breakfast. I skipped the cereals and yogurt and went straight for the main affairs.
    I like to have dim sum onboard largely for the glutinous rice plus I like the chili sauce, and the eggs are also freshly made onboard. So I had both:
    [​IMG]
     
  12. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    [​IMG]
    The sun was rising and we’d be in Hong Kong shortly.
    [​IMG]
    So I changed out of my PJs, got my carryons reader to disembark, and grabbed a magazine to read during landing. We were on the ground shortly, and I was well-rested and ready for a quick shower in the Wing before heading on to Singapore.
     
    Jimgotkp, uggboy and Bonnie like this.
  13. Bonnie
    Original Member

    Bonnie Silver Member

    Messages:
    186
    Likes Received:
    362
    Status Points:
    450
    Great report, Gary! Great photos!!

    Every time I read one of your trip reports, that's where (and just as important, HOW!!) I want to go next!
     
    uggboy likes this.
  14. schnitzel
    Original Member

    schnitzel Gold Member

    Messages:
    1,867
    Likes Received:
    2,833
    Status Points:
    1,470
    Yup - same here. Maldives, first class flights, Hyatt. I'm ready. Can't imagine when I'll have time, but I think I've got the points.

    Great series!
     
    Bonnie and uggboy like this.
  15. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    Singapore is one of the easiest airports in the world to navigate. Last time I was here, though, I tried out the Jetquay meet and greet service largely because it was about half the price arranging for it through the Intercontinental as through any other hotel or arranging it directly, and because I wanted to try it before setting my in-laws up with the service, and also because I wanted to experience it and share that here on the blog.

    There’s not any special reason that meet and greets are needed in Singapore, but after traveling for a day or 20 hours I’m not always in the best of sorts, it’s nice not to feel the need to think about what you’re doing, having someone with a sign with your name on it, a nice, comfortable, and spacious car for you, as well as a cold towel and a bottle of water, can be well worth the cost even when that’s twice as expensive or a little more than a taxi.

    So I arranged for the Grand Hyatt to have a car meet me at the airport, I set it up on the hotel’s website.

    I met the representative with the Hyatt sign once walking into the arrivals hall, was escorted out to the curb where he went to fetch the car. Bags were loaded up and it was about a half hour to the hotel.

    One of the things I do like about arranged transportation, and that I consider a major failure when a hotel flubs this up, is that I should be immediately known to the hotel. I can’t tell you how many times I shake my head, pulling up to a hotel in a hotel vehicle and the hotel doesn’t know who I am when I arrive. There’s no excuse for that. If they don’t match up the car to the guest then they should have the driver call 5 minutes ahead. When I get out of the car the staff should know my name at least, though if I’m being checked in on the club level (or better yet, in-room or in-suite) then there should be someone in the lobby who introduces themselves and escorts me to the club or to the room to complete check-in formalities. The Grand Hyatt got that right.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    Greeted by name as I got out of the car, escorted upstairs to the club lounge (in the new tower) to check in. I had a seat and the agent began looking for a room for me. My booking was made using two free suite nights from the Hyatt Visa and two paid nights with confirmed suite upgrade. Both my free suite nights and suite upgrades were expiring, so this seemed a reasonable use.

    Suite upgrades book into a Duplex Suite, but a little before 2pm when we checked in there must not have been any available and they said “we’ve further upgraded you to a Grand Suite.” The Duplex Suite is two levels, and a larger than the Grand Suite, but the Grand Suite is considered the better room by one category.

    The room had a half bath and a kitchen in the entryway, a dining room table and desk and couch in the main sitting room, a bedroom, large bathroom with dual sinks, tub, separate toilet room, and shower, and a large walk-in closet room.
     
    Bonnie and uggboy like this.
  16. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    Jimgotkp and Bonnie like this.
  17. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    The club lounge is a nice space, and service is good although far from stellar — staff don’t necessarily remember your name from day to day and in my case didn’t remember how I take my coffee each morning. The breakfast spread is good, hot items vary daily, although not the most impressive I’ve experienced. Club guests get breakfast in the lounge and aren’t given the option of breakfast in the restaurant.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    Jimgotkp, Bonnie and uggboy like this.
  18. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    [​IMG]
    The evening service is impressive, several hot and cold items as well as desserts, including sushi.

    [​IMG]
    One of my favorite things about arriving in Asia, a bit jetlagged but on vacation, is that I’m usually willing to just go to sleep when I’m tired. And that means waking up at odd hours. I’ll order coffee from room service in the middle of the night when I get up, and usually some food. So good quality room service is a strong plus in my book.
    Here’s the Char Kway Teow and the Nasi Goreng.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    Location is going to affect hotel choice primarily on a business trip, this property is on Scotts Road, the Orchard Road area, which is great with plenty around but may or may not match office needs especially given traffic. But cabbing wherever I needed to go was quicker than on my last visit — staying at the intercontinental near the Marina Bay Sands took me a good half hour to get to the Hilton on Orchard road, whereas this time I made it to the Sands in about 10 minutes from the Grand Hyatt.

    At check-out, I had to go downstairs to the lobby instead of to the lounge, since the lounge reception doesn’t open until 7am. At the front desk there were a few people ahead of me, so I had to wait, and then when I was helped the process was a bit confused. It was my fault, I was asking for several things — to -pre-arrange a cab to the airport so I wouldn’t have to wait for one to be flagged, to use Hyatt Gift Checks towards the bill, to use remaining Singapore dollars I had in my wallet towards the bill, and then to put the final SGD$10 or so on the Hyatt Visa I had given them at check-in which of course they wanted to swipe again (never understood the need for formal checkout in Asia, along with giving them back the credit card swiped at checkin, while in the U.S. I rarely even check out of a hotel). Each step required checking with someone else, and so the affair was about 20 minutes long.

    Nonetheless, it was overall a great stay. I was thrilled with the value, a lovely suite and a nice club, free internet of course as an elite benefit. Hyatt Diamonds have a good value proposition here for sure. Bottom-line: My wife has decided that’s where we stay in Singapore – and last year we were in the Ambassador Suite at the Intercontinental.
     
    Jimgotkp, Bonnie and uggboy like this.
  19. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    Eating in Singapore

    Some folks see Singapore as just a stopover, maybe a place to embark on a cruise, or a connecting point to other destinations in South Asia. I disagree. And not just because they’ve got a really cool zoo, you can do that and the Night Safari and call it good if you’re so inclined but it’s a place I really enjoy hanging out in largely because I could stay for a month and not get bored of eating myself through the city.

    It’s not all hits, the dishes the first night at a restaurant in a strip mall that had been recommended, Liang Kee Teochew Restaurant (details here), were disappointing.

    [​IMG]

    I should have known immediately on arrival, because it was dinner time and the restaurant was completely empty. That made service more than a little awkward, their attentiveness meant hovering, refills on tea every minute or so, questions of concern over not eating the entrees quickly enough. I was glad to leave…

    [​IMG]

    Still a bit hungry, back to the hotel, decided to check out the café out in front of the jW Marriott next door to the Grand Hyatt. It’s a great spot for people watching, and also a great spot for a little dessert.

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    Across the street from the hotel is the ION Orchard shopping center, a high end retail mecca (though it seems the lower you go on each floor, the more mundane the shopping), it’s full of interesting food as well as luxury brands.
     
    Jimgotkp and uggboy like this.
  20. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    Lunch at Yakitori Enmaru (recommended here, details here) was good and interesting, though service was slow and lackadaisical. We arrived and stood in the entryway unacknowledged for a couple of minutes while two employees fussed with the cash register. Once seated getting attention from a server took awhile though the restaurant wasn’t busy. The food, though, was surprisingly good and interesting for a mall venue.

    The first item we tried was Fujiyama Soba – noodles served on a hot stone, it’s crispy and has pork belly, and you’re given a broth to dip the noodles in.

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    The bacon wrapped cherry tomatoes were tasty:

    [​IMG]

    Here’s the Tekone Tsukune, a minced giant chicken ball on a stick with herbs and cartilage and served with egg yolk for dipping. It was certainly flavorful but the texture wasn’t my favorite.

    [​IMG]

    After lunch we headed all the way down to the bottom of the mall, B4 level, to the food court — “Food Opera”

    [​IMG]
     
    Jimgotkp, Bonnie and uggboy like this.
  21. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    The goal? Egg tarts. Lots of egg tarts. Creative and varied in flavors.

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    One of my real favorites, though, worth a visit every time of course and archetypically Singapore, the food stalls. Each cluster has their partisans, and each one has their real standouts. I’m not going to delve into the merits of each one. Except to say that I enjoy the overall experience of the East Coast Lagoon Village food stalls, it’s on the beach with outdoor seating.

    It isn’t as busy as some of the others, and that’s usually a red flag — the standard advice is to go where it’s busy, and just stand in line for the stalls that have the most people waiting for food, you can usually trust the locals to know which stalls are worth waiting on. But the food here is good, and it’s the most enjoyable place to spend an evening sampling plenty of different foods, the best known stalls are the seafood specialists.

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]
     
    Jimgotkp and uggboy like this.
  22. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]
     
    Jimgotkp, Bonnie and uggboy like this.
  23. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    [​IMG]

    After a nice big meal, walk along the beach.

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    Great, reasonably priced food, and a fabulous atmosphere for a cool evening (once the sun has gone down).
     
    Jimgotkp, Bonnie and uggboy like this.
  24. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    Dinner at Waku Ghin, Marina Bay Sands Hotel

    I ate at Waku Ghin on my last visit to Singapore, last year, and enjoyed it enough that it was a must for a re-do.

    This is not an inexpensive meal. Quite the opposite. All-in, it’s nearly SGD$1000 for two without alcohol. And wines are rather extravagantly priced, though I do find the varied flavors and textures throughout the meal somewhat mitigate against a tendency to do expensive solo bottles (though of course they’ll be happy to do a pairing for you).

    The meal was very, very similar to last year’s affair– I suppose some would prefer variety if they’ll be returning but I enjoyed it so much that I really did want the same things again. If I didn’t get my wagyu beef with fresh shaved wasabi I’d have been truly disappointed, for instance.

    It was a quick cab ride from the Grand Hyatt to the Marina Bay Sands. Last year I made the mistake of walking in through the casino, not having brought my passport with me, in Singapore you need to show your passport on entry to a casino because there’s a substantial charge for a local to gamble, it’s Singapore’s way of discouraging the practice. To avoid the fee you have to demonstrate that you’re a foreigner. I actually wound up turning around and going back to get my passport and then showing back up at the Sands (the Intercontinental where I stayed last time is really close), not realizing that it was possible to access Waku Ghin via the Shops.

    This time at least I knew better, I had the cab drop off by the shops, but it was on the opposite end of the complex and required a long walk.

    [​IMG]
    It’s an impressive mall and they even offer indoor boat rides a la the Venetian.

    [​IMG]
    After a walk through the complex I was lost, even having been to the restaurant before. I followed the signage to ‘Celebrity Restaurants’ but as I got close to those the other restaurants were noted specifically, not this one, I asked at a casino entrance and was pointed to a back elevator which took me upstairs. Indeed I could have followed the way to other celebrity restaurants like Guy Savoy as they’er clustered together, not sure why the signage drops off Waku Ghin.

    We were greeted and offered a seat in the bar area, and about 2 minutes later escorted into our kitchen. The concept is that there are multiple kitchens with six stools each. Last time we had our own, this time we would share with a group of three and each group had their own chef preparing most of the food in front of you.

    [​IMG]

    The menu for the evening was as follows:

    Flan with Hokkaido Salmon Roe

    Marinated Botan Shrimp
    With Sea Urchin and Oscietre Caviar

    Grilled Anago with Foie Gras and Zuccchini

    Soup of Topinambour
    With Sauteed Hokkaido Scallop and Black Truffle

    Australian Abalone
    With Fregola and Tomato

    Braised Canadian Lobster with Tarragon

    Australian Blackmore Tenderloin Wagyu Steak
    With Wasabi and Citrus Soy

    Somen with Myoga and Junsai

    Grakuro

    Blueberry Cheesecake

    Salted Sable
    With Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey Cream

    Coffee or Tea and Petit Fours

    First was the Flan with Hokkaido Salmon Roe

    [​IMG]
    Then the shrimp with sea urchin and caviar

    [​IMG]
     
    Jimgotkp and uggboy like this.
  25. gleff
    Original Member

    gleff Co-founder

    Messages:
    3,616
    Likes Received:
    6,793
    Status Points:
    4,670
    The Anago, or salt-water eel

    [​IMG]
    The artichoke soup with scallop and truffle

    [​IMG]
    The two chefs

    [​IMG]
    Preparing our next course

    [​IMG]
    The abalone

    [​IMG]
     
    Jimgotkp, Bonnie and uggboy like this.

Share This Page