Spending Christmas and New Year in Paradise: LH,EK,BA(F);TG,SQ(C); Conrad Maldives

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  1. calvinoeh
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    We didn't have anything initially actually planned for Christmas/New Year break. Work commitments were unpredictable and if all hell broke loose at work, I might actually have to work over Christmas and New Year. Thankfully two weeks before Christmas, work began to slow down and I was actually able to take a nice 2 week break to finish of the year.

    At this point our options were severely limited. There were no cheap flights to anywhere except for a UA/AA first class to Tokyo for ~$3k price war that I did briefly consider but ultimately was above our budget and we had enough of cold weather. We were only looking at first class redemptions (business class just wasn't cutting it anymore after the Dublin trip) on Star Alliance and as expected by this time, it was almost impossible to find one seat, much less two seats that we needed. On the flipside, the good thing about booking last minute was first class Lufthansa availability which only opens up around 2 weeks prior to departure.

    We were also picky on where we wanted to go. Most of the time, we would just head to where the cheap flights and miles would take us but we had enough of the cold weather in Austin and spending a week in even colder weather in Europe or North Asia just did not sound appealing. We needed some hot weather with a cold beer with sand between our toes. Heading to a beach back home in South East Asia didn't sound too exciting either and I couldn't find any reasonable options for other beach destinations like Bora Bora or Seychelles. We also skipped all the close by options to Austin like the Carribean or Mexico as by this time tickets were really expensive.

    By some pure miracle, I was able to find us an option to head to one of our favorite places on Earth, the Maldives for some beach R&R:

    I redeemed a straight forward Lifemiles redemption on their website for a Orlando to Osaka via Frankfurt on Lufthansa first class. We miss the First Class Terminal and we would be able to try the seat + bed combo on the 747 operated on the Osaka flight.
    From Osaka, I redeemed a United MileagePlus business class redemption to Maldives via Bangkok and Singapore on Thai and Singapore Airlines.
    Heading home to the US, we paid for one of those infamous "cheap" ex-Colombo first class fare on Emirates and British Airways via Dubai with a night layover to explore Paris before flying back to London and Houston where we would drive back on a one way car rental back to Austin.
    My only slight disappointment on this trip was the need to redeem a 25k coach United MileagePlus ticket from Austin to Orlando per person. This was double the "normal rate" but tickets were going for $600-700 per person. Ouch!

    We had actually been to Maldives twice before (first for our honeymoon and a second honeymoon on a mistake Emirates fare) and told ourselves that we would only head back to the Maldives if we could stay in a high end hotel. next time we would be back, we would stay in a high end hotel instead. Lydia was jumping up and down in excitement when I told her I managed to get Hilton Honors redemption for 6 nights at the Conrad. The 6 nights costs us 225k or 37.5k a night thanks to AXON which was a steal considering even the cheapest room were going for about $2500USD by now!

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    As usual, the full trip report will be available on my blog with installments below:


    Introduction
    Austin to Frankfurt: United Economy & Lufthansa First Class
    Frankfurt to Osaka: Lufthansa First Class
    Osaka to Bangkok: Thai Business Class
    Bangkok to Male via Singapore
    Seaplane Transfer to Conrad Maldives
    Beach Villa and Water Villa at Conrad Maldives
    Routine in paradise
    Male to Dubai via Colombo: Emirates First Class
    Dubai to Paris: Emirates First Class
    Radisson Blu Champs Elysees
    Exploring Paris
    Paris to Houston via London: British Airways First Class
     
  2. calvinoeh
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    Seaplane Transfer to Conrad Maldives

    I didn't sleep too well probably due to the excitement of finally being back in the Maldives and heading to Conrad. I got out of bed around six and woke up a grumpy wife before heading for a nice morning walk around Male. We strolled along the water heading to the fish market hoping to see some tuna but was disappointed by the lack of bustle at the market. Maybe we were too early?
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    Fishing boats​
    A Conrad rep picked us up from our hotel at the pre-arranged time and helped us with the luggage and transfer to the seaplane terminal. Again, we really didn't need this service and there was no charge from Conrad for this but the help with the luggage was much appreciated and we left the rep a nice tip.
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    Trans Maldivian Seaplane Check-In counter​
    After check-in, we had to wait a couple of minutes before being driven to the seaplane terminal and escorted to the Conrad lounge to await our flight. The lounge was perfectly air-conditioned and we got some breakfast. Conrad also offers a 15 minute complimentary back massage (I presume to entice folks to sign up for a Spa package) which we enjoyed so much that we did pay for an hour long massage once we got to the Conrad. The massage therapist also provided us with a 20% discount for use on our first few days once we got to the island.

    I spotted the "Conrad seaplane" from the lounge and was hoping we were going to getting on that plane since it was supposed to be more exclusive.

    To save time when reaching the island, most of the check-in formalities like credit card authorization was completed in the lounge itself.
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    Outdoor Smoking Patio


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  3. calvinoeh
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    Beach Villa and Water Villa at Conrad Maldives

    With six nights at the Conrad, we split our half our stay at a beach villa for the first three nights with the last three nights at a water villa for $150USD on top of the Hilton points we were paying. We beach villa was located on the main island, facing the house reef which allowed us to quickly hop in the water to meet our underwater friends everyday. The room itself was HUGE with plenty of room. We were welcomed to the room with some Christmas cookies and a bottle of red wine thanks to my Hilton Hhonor status. The unique feature of the beach villa was the outdoor shower and the humongous bath tub that we only used once since it did take almost 45 minutes to fill it up and being environmentally friendly, I wasn't too happy on wasting all that water.
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    Welcome Gift​

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    The water villa we were staying in was located on the second island where most of the water villas are located. The water villa was equally as spacious as the beach villa. The main difference was deck equipped with our own private small plunge pool and direct access to the sea.
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  4. calvinoeh
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    Routine in Paradise


    Our days in paradise starts of with a morning walk/run before breakfast at one of the three available locations. There's the large buffet at Atoll market which we stop going after the first day since it seemed rather chaotic. We also gave up on breakfast at the Mandhoo after the first try even though it was less chaotic but the food selection was limited and was "too healthy" for us. Our favorite option was breakfast at Vilu on the water villa island. It was serene enjoying a late breakfast of good food accompanied with sparkling wine and good coffee overlooking the crystal clear blue water. We particularly enjoyed the daily changing curry of the day for breakfast.

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    Atoll Market​

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    View from Mandhoo
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    The rest of the day was spent the way we like it with multiple trips to the house reef with breaks by lazing around the beach or one of the two pools at the Conrad. Having been to two other Maldives resorts with their own house reef, the house reef at the Conrad was our favorite due to size of house reef itself and the amazing sea life. We saw plenty of fishes including sharks and a couple of manta ray.​
     
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  5. calvinoeh
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    Male to Dubai

    It was time to leave paradise. We were driven from our water bungalow to the seaplane jetty on a buggy by our island host where our seaplane was already waiting for us. The seaplane crew was however no way to be seen (probably having a late lunch). It would be another ten minutes before the crew showed up and it was not a big deal since there was an air-conditioned room to wait in that had water and coffee.

    Our flight back to Male was operated by the "Conrad" seaplane. The seats seem newer than the "normal" seaplane and there was air-condition on but overall, there was not much difference. We would be the only two hotel guest on the ride back to Male with another hotel employee who looked to be leaving Conrad for good also joining us. Things get slightly hairy before we took off as we overheard the captain complaining that some of the navigation didn't seem to work and he had to make several calls trying to resolve them. We did get on our way but I honestly wasn't sure if the original issues were resolved.
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    We safely arrived in Male thirty minutes later where a Conrad rep was again waiting for us. He escorted us to the bus that would take us to the main terminal where he handed us over to another rep who helped us with our bags to the Emirates check-in counter. There were no lines at the Emirates counter and the agent manning the first class counter was able to quickly to check us in with bags checked all the way to Paris in spite having two separate tickets - one for the Male to Colombo flight and the second for the Colombo to Dubai to Paris ticket.

    We spent the rest of the time at the Plaza Premium Lounge that Emirates uses. The lounge is nicely furnished with views of the tarmac and has a pretty good selection of food. As with all other lounges in Male, there's no alcohol available and with the ice machine broken when we were, we had semi-cold coke instead.
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    We decided that it was not worth the extra cash for business or first class on the short hour or so Male to Colombo flight. We were seated in the bulk head seats that had plenty of leg room. I spent the time through the flight finishing up a book while enjoying music on Emirates' extensive IFE.
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    IFE​

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    Cold Snack Plate​


    On arrival in Colombo, we browsed the airside shops looking for massages but there were more expensive than what we would pay. We then proceeded to the Emirates lounge where we took a shower, caught up on email and had a light snack.
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  6. calvinoeh
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    Dubai to Paris

    The fifteen minute complimentary shoulder massage for first class passengers was the perfect way to wake up after our a couple hours of sleep on the lounge chair. We would continue to skip booking a hotel for such a relatively short layover but nothing beats sleeping on a real bed.

    After freshening open with a shower, the Dubai sun was now already out and we headed to the dining room for some breakfast. I was getting bored with eggs for breakfast and decided to do some sushi instead and the kitchen was nice enough to make me some fried quail and foie gras from the lunch/dinner menu.

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    "Breakfast" dessert​
    It was time for boarding right as we got done with breakfast. Our boarding gate was right outside the lounge and first class passengers board directly from a dedicated gate on the same level as the lounge allowing us to bypass any lines and get on the plane within minutes of leaving the lounge.

    As usual on Emirates flights, we were warmly welcomed and shown to our seats before being served pre-departure Dom and Arabic coffee and dates. The captain came on the PA and announced we would be delayed for several minutes as they sorted out some baggage issues. The delay didn't bother us too much especially with the comfort of traveling in first class. While on the ground, the crew kept the Dom flowing and together with the couple seating in front of us, we probably finished of a bottle and a half while still on the ground.
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    A380 taking us to Paris​

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  7. calvinoeh
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    Radisson Blu Champs Elysee

    Hilton Arc De Triomphe had been one our list of hotels to stay at if we ever visited Paris. However, the hotel left the Hilton brand a couple of months ago. We decided to use some of our Club Carlson points earned during their generous 50,000 points promo and instead stayed at the Radisson Champs Elysees. The redemption for 50,000 points was another steal considering that the hotel was retailing at ~300 Euros a night.

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    Check-in was pleasant and efficient. We were upgraded to a nice corner room with a balcony room either because of my lowly Carlson Silver status or the agent was being nice after finding out that we had problems with our luggage. The staff of this hotel is definitely an asset since they were extremely friendly and helpful. The concierge proactively offered to follow up with Emirates on our missing luggage.

    The room we were upgraded to was on the small side but functional which I assume was the norm in Paris.

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  8. calvinoeh
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    Exploring Paris

    With a couple of hours wasted at the airport trying with the luggage situation, we were only left with a couple of hours of daylight to explore Paris. Wanting to make the most of our now shorten layover in Paris, we immediately headed out after a quick freshen up at the hotel.
    First up were the obligatory pictures of the Arc.
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    Guided by directions from the hotel concierge, we next made our way to the Eiffel Tower on the metro. The concierge’s recommendation to get off at Trocadéro stop was spot on as it provided great views of the tower while walking towards it from across the river Seine.

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    By the time we got to the towel itself, the sun was beginning to set allowing for some different scenery. I guess I can thank Emirates for that.​

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  9. calvinoeh
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    Paris to Houston via London

    Paris to Houston via London

    We arrived at the airport much earlier than we’d like to since our missing bags were still not found at this point. The baggage handling agent on Emirates claimed that our missing bags had already been checked in on the flight to London and onto Houston. Sure enough, this turned out not to be true as the British Airways check-in agent could not find any record of our bags. I appreciated that she made a couple of phone calls trying to help us out but made no progress.

    We were resolved to simply filing a claim once we got back to the Austin but Lydia smartly realized that Emirates was in the same terminal as British Airways and thankfully Emirates also had a morning flight so their check-in counters were opened. We made some fuss to what appeared to be a supervisor and after realizing that we were first class passengers she promptly looked into it. She confirmed that they still could not find the bags and was shocked that we had no case number filed and quickly got a case opened for us.

    Once we got through security, we saw a Laduree shop and bought the biggest box of macaroons they had. We initially had wanted to try these world famous macaroons in Paris itself but ran out of time.

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    With only 10 minutes to go till boarding, we decided to still head to the Cathay Pacific lounge that British Airways uses in Paris. It would be my first time in a One World lounge and I liked it. It was spacious and well furnished. Since we were short on time, we didn’t get anything to eat but I did sneak a can of Asian soya bean milk (yum!) out of the lounge to be enjoyed later.

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    Boarding was underway when we got to the gate. There were no hot towels or pre-departure drinks served which made my decision to sneak the can of soya bean milk to enjoy pre-departure on the flight a good one!

    The English breakfast served on this short flight was pretty decent. The scrambled eggs were creamy just the way I like it! Overall, just another uneventful flight one would expect on this short hop.

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  10. calvinoeh
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    Paris to Houston via London (cont)

    Our flight landed in Terminal 5. It would my first time connecting through Heathrow and I can see why people loathe it. Even bypassing most of the lines as first class passengers, we were stuck in a security line for a good fifteen minutes.

    I was excited to try the British Airways first class experience but was left pretty underwhelmed. We had made reservations for a head and neck massage through the YouFirst service. It was one of the worst massages I ever had. We were seated in a massage chair with wasn’t too bad but the masseur simply wasn’t good at all. There was no pressure at all from the massage and was just a waste of time.

    The Concorde Room, reserved for British Airways first class passengers, was average for a first class lounge. There wasn’t a “wowness” to it similar to Lufthansa’s first class terminal or Thai’s first class lounge in Bangkok. We were still full from breakfast so we didn’t eat anything but enjoyed a couple of glasses of champagne and coffee.

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    The one thing we both did like were the private Cabana rooms. It comes attached with a shower, working desk, television and a reasonable lounger to sleep in. I wouldn’t mind spending a couple of hour layover in here but I guess in general, I would just avoid Heathrow.

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    We just had enough time to take a sneak into the first class lounge that other OneWorld first class passengers can use. It was nicely furnished with pretty good food offerings but again, I thought it to be pretty average and I would not come early to the airport just for it.

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  11. calvinoeh
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    Paris to Houston via London (cont)

    Our flight was departing from a Terminal 5 gate that required us to trek all the way to take a train over. Come on BA, a drive on the Bentley right up to the plane would be a nice. Boarding was already underway when we got to the gate.

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    Once we got to our seats, we were warmly welcomed by the flight attendant and pursue. As usual, we went with champagne on the ground. Pajamas and amenity kits or what British Airways calls a wash bag was distributed soon after.

    I must have gotten irritated by some dust or something on the plane and started to cough and sneeze. The flight attendant brought me proactively brought me some water hoping it would help and I was sure impressed so far with the service.


    It was our first time flying on British Airways (and in first class nonetheless) and I overall liked the hard product. Even though the seats were slightly cramped for a first class seat, it was comfortable and provided enough privacy without being claustrophobic. I also liked the blueish color scheme used in first class that gave the cabin a modern edge to it.

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    Soon after take-off, the flight attendant came around with another round of drinks (champagne of course) with the BEST nuts I’ve eaten on a plane before. The candied walnuts are probably not the best for you but it was simply delicious

    This would also be our first time on a first class cabin where we would actually sit together for a meal like in a restaurant. It was more romantic than eating together side-by-side with earphones on and watching a movie like we normally do.

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  12. farbster

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    very nice trip! how long do you think you could stay at the Conrad given the limited dining options. How fast would one get tired of the same restaurant?
     
  13. calvinoeh
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    There are 4-5 dining options. Dont think you can get tired of it pretty quick. Can't say the same for the wallet though - it is pretty expensive.
     

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