Weekend at Iguazu Falls - American Business Class, Gol, and the Sheraton in the Park

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  1. gleff
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    Here's how I spent last weekend :)

    Standing in line at TSA an inquisitive fellow (perhaps a wannabe Behavior Detection Officer) was asking me where I was headed. I told him Iguassu Falls. He asked where that was. I told him I was going for the weekend. “Gotta dosomething this weekend.”

    Coupled with top tier elite status on American and some extra systemwide upgrades, along with a bonus promotion meant to incentive additional flying by passengers from the oneworld Mega DO in January, I could fly business class and earn. I started looking around for confirmable upgrade seats. There were plenty of South America via Miami.

    One of the places on my ‘list’ that I’ve always wanted to see has been Iguassu Falls, and since I could get confirmable upgrades to and from South America, why not? I’m not especially keen on American’s old angled business class seats, I’m really looking forward to the rollout of their new business hard product, but for a South America flight departing in Miami I’m really just in the air a bit over 7 hours, eminently doable.

    There are several routes to fly and an airport both on the Argentina side and on the Brazil side. As an American, I need a visa for Brazil and they charge a higher fee because the U.S. government is extortionate to foreigners, it’s their way of striking back at the American people, but since we individually have little say in the matter it doesn’t change U.S. policy, it just deters tourism. And yet I’m sympathetic.

    If I were to enter via Buenos Aires or Rio I wouldn’t need a visa to fly to the Argentina side of the Falls, but I would have to pay a similar reciprocity fee.

    The only way to visit the Falls without that $140+ tax as an American would be to arrive on the Argentina side but not via the two major Argentinian gateways. I dismissed that entirely since I didn’t want a land transfer or a longer flight than necessary in intra-South American economy. Besides, I wanted the option of visiting the Brazilian side of the Falls in any case. I booked flights with confirmable upgrades via Sao Paolo.

    Of course that meant I had to get a Visa. And Brazil doesn’t make that process easy. Naturally you need a couple of passport photos, those are easy enough to come by. And you’ll mail in your passport. The fee, though, is payable only by US Postal Money Order. And they will only mail back your passport in a US Postal Service pre-paid Express Mail envelope.

    I went to get the postal money order but hadn’t realized that they required an Express Mail envelope, so it was back to the post office. I genuinely don’t recall the last time I was in a post office, we don’t keep Express Mail envelopes at the office, they tell me no one has asked for one of those for as long as can be remembered. (Folks who are self-employed have another hurdle, the requirement to submit a bank statement showing sufficient funds for the intended stay.) It also wasn’t obvious where to mail the package to, the website referenced a physical location based on a street corner rather than a street address. So that took some extra research.

    I sent the passports off and hoped for the best. In theory you’re able to track progress online, and after a few days the package showed up as having been received. No further progress was checked off until the passports were actually completed with Visas. The whole process took about two weeks.

    A couple of months passed and I hadn’t thought much about the trip beyond booking a hotel. I did a bit of research on lounges in Sao Paulo, but otherwise figured I would just show up and figure out how I wanted to approach the park.

    Last Wednesday towards the end of the work day it was time to head out to National airport, the usual $20 cab ride.. much faster than changing trains on the metro and cheaper than parking. I couldn’t check in online for the trip and couldn’t check in at the kiosk, so I walked over to the premium line. It was several people deep, the woman in front of me was traveling to school for 2.5 years and had about 8 pieces of oversized luggage which the AAgent didn’t charge extra for.

    After about 10 minutes I was up to the podium, the inbound aircraft for my flight to Miami was delayed, it was coming out of Miami and doing a straight turnaround but weather in South Florida was bad. The flight was already showing an hour’s delay but looked to increase a bit from there, my 2 hour connection was no longer looking as comfortable. I was confident I’d still make it but the system had flagged me for rebooking, to the agent moved me to the late Miami – Sao Paulo flight. I’d increase my layover in Miami by two hours but I’d still make my flight to Iguassu Falls with plenty of cushion.

    Two seats were issued in the middle section of business class for the 777, and I was told nothing else was available.

    On the plus side, the tickets were re-issued in J class rather than C which is what’s used for business class upgrades. I got it into my head that I might be able to upgrade the J ticket to first class, an on the way through security rang the Executive Platinum desk which told me that seats in A (first class upgrade) were available. Once through security I went straight into the elevator and up a level to the Admiral’s Club where I asked about an upgrade. The agent took one look at the reservation and said that I couldn’t be upgraded further since I was already upgraded to business. Rats! It was that obvious? I had hoped the J re-booking would obscure that but no such luck. I had further hopes that I would earn bonus miles for a business booking on the segment, but didn’t have any luck with that either.

    The agent did, however, offer to see if she could get row 8 seats unblocked, the row only exists on the right side of the aircraft, so two seats in the row instead of 6. It’s near the lavatory but it’s the most private, and it’s a window and aisle rather than 3 seats in the middle, there would be no stranger to sit next to. She had to make a phone call, and brought me new boarding passes in the lounge.

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    A short while later it was time to board, we were further delayed than it appeared on arrival to the airport, we wound up closing the aircraft doors a bit after 6pm rather than the planned 4:40pm departure time. My connection in Miami would have been down to 40 minutes, still doable but I had no reason notto accept the re-booking so there would be no rush on arrival.

    It was a standard domestic first class flight, short-haul dinner was served, I had the chicken. The 737 had both Gogo wireless internet and seat power. And the flight attendant providing most of the service up front continually acknowledged each passenger by name without looking at his manifest. That’s really all I could possibly ask for out of a 2.5 hour domestic hop!

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  2. gleff
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    [​IMG]
    Arrival into Miami was extremely choppy, the weather that delayed our aircraft in the first place was still sitting there. I watched as we approached the weather through online flight tracking, it was a massive storm. Though pretty well shaken, we were no worse for wear on arrival.


    Since I had about 3 hours to kill before departure of the flight to Brazil, I stepped outside for some fresh (i.e. humid) Miami air. That necessitated going back through security, and the lines were atrocious. The premium line took about 30 minutes to get through. There was only one checkpoint open for the D terminal, and pre-check was closed for the evening.

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    Nude-o-scopes were in use, I opted out as per usual. I’m not so much concerned about my privacy, I have no shame about my manhood. I really just object to being asked to ‘assume the position’ though have considered going through and flipping the bird, that would be consistent with the required stance in the machine. I had perhaps the most thorough full body rub/screening that I’ve experienced to date, but was finally through and headed to the Admiral’s Club near D30.

    The place was deserted. There was no problem grabbing seats, of course. I had internet. And I decided to grab a snack from the café’, unlike many other Admiral’s Clubs where there’s a menu and you might order a sandwich from the bar this one has a small room with a food display behind glass, you go there to order and pick up your food and the choices are more extensive. I had a salad.

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    Around 35 minutes prior to departure I headed out to the gate, the 7 gate trek can actually be done via the airport’s monorail system but I decided to walk. The terminal was deserted.

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    By the time I approached the gate, boarding was already about two-thirds complete. I walked straight on through the premium boarding lane, had a few minutes’ wait on the jetway, and found my seat in row 8.

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  3. gleff
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    [​IMG]
    There at the seat was a blanket and pillow in plastic wrap, and a bottle of water in the seat’s cubby hole. There was no amenity kit, which didn’t seem odd until I saw others in the cabin with one. I asked a flight attendant who seemed shocked, “A coach passenger must have taken it! That happens all the time, you have no idea. I’ll have to see if we can find one for you.” Another flight attendant came over and they had a discussion about it. Again, agreement that it must have been taken by a coach passenger on their way to the back. There was no discussion of the possibility that it might have been forgotten, the two seats in row 8 had no amenity kits and of course that’s the ‘hidden’ row in the- cabin. After this discussion one of the flight attendants came by with amenity kits. Not that I especially needed the contents, I come prepared most of the time.

    Menus were also at the seat and I was pleased to see that there would be one of the Richard Sandoval entrees on offer, the halibut which I’ve had before (on the MegaDO) and enjoyed. Also pleased that one of the breakfast options would be the Sandoval eggs over biscuits, which I tried on the ground at American’s premium services media event the week before.

    We sat on the ground for awhile, about half an hour past scheduled departure, with no word from the captain or crew, but once airborne the pilot announced a flight time of 7 hours 26 minutes, and that we would have an on-time arrival.

    Shortly after takeoff I decided to change. One thing I’ve learned in my travels is that pajamas are not just a gimmick. They’re not just a first class extravagance. I actually feel much more comfortable, relaxed, and sleep better if I change into them for the flight. So even though I was flying business, I brought a couple of pairs with me (one for each international business class leg of the trip). On the outbound I put on the American first class PJs which I had picked up in Dallas the week before. For the return I had a pair of Singapore Airlines first class (Givenchy) pajamas.

    Meal service began shortly thereafter. I skipped the soup. The salad and entrée were served on a single tray. As expected the Sandoval entrée was good, it was certainly a ginormous piece of fish! Though the halibut was a bit overcooked which was disappointing.

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    After I’d had my fill, really mostly the side dishes and a few bites of the fish, a flight attendant took my tray and asked for my choice of cheese or ice cream. I chose the ice cream.

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    I started watching The Iron Lady but began dozing off about halfway through. Some people find the seat I had annoying because of its proximity to the lavatory, other passengers passing by during flight. But I really didn’t notice it, and since there’s no one across the aisle from me it felt more private, more conducive to sleep (my spiffy AA pj’s didn’t hurt, either).

    I woke up just before breakfast, naturally I went with the eggs.

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    Boarding cards were distributed prior to landing, I filled my out on the way down, touchdown was smooth but then we had about a 20 minute wait for a gate. Once we’d disembarked I was out quickly to the immigration queue which was less than a minute, Brazilian citizens were lining up but there were few non-citizens waiting.
     
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  4. gleff
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    I walked over to the transit check-in desk for Gol, it had a long line but I decided since I was there anyway I might as well grab my boarding pass rather than going upstairs, not knowing what the economy check-in line might look like there.

    I had booked an aisle and middle in row 5, the whole plane is coach. Seat assignments secured by emailing contactus@golnaweb.com.br.

    Brazilian domestic flights have a maximum weight for carryons of 5kg but the agent wasn’t the least bit worried, he just asked if I had any checked bags, I said no, and he handed me my boarding pass. Actually he printed two of the same pass, rather than one for each of us, so I’m glad I looked at them. That was quickly corrected.

    Now it was off to find a lounge and a shower. I went upstairs and right by the domestic security queue found the Smiles VIP lounge. It’s Gol’s lounge, and I’m not an elite with them, but the lounge offers access via Diners Club and Priority Pass as well.

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    Inside I had to wait a few minutes for use of a shower, but the attendant said he’d page when one opened up. Internet access was via a code, you have to log in with personal information (name, ID number, but nothing whatsoever checks the validity of the data you enter to register). The coffee machine looked like it made good coffee, but the lounge had no milk or cream of any kind. The food didn’t look especially appetizing. It was crowded, the seating wasn’t all that comfortable, but my real purpose there was a shower.

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    There are two shower rooms and the attendant at the front desk gives you a real key, for which he’ll take a boarding pass or other ID as a deposit. The shower room to the left is small, to the right much larger. They’re not especially well lit, light enough to shower but I wouldn’t want to be a woman doing makeup in there. They give you a medium-sized towel for drying off, a small hand towel, and a small bath mat. There’s no shower kit per se, just a liquid soap dispenser on the wall. But the shower room was clean, the water pressure good, the water hot, and I was thrilled to refresh after the overnight flight.

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  5. gleff
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    [​IMG]
    Once through I caught up on email for about 20 minutes before it was time to go through security. No shoes of, no liquids out, no laptops out. It was just an x-ray and a metal detector. Through in a matter of seconds. I first proceeded to gate 15, just beyond security, where my boarding pass said my gate would be. But since this is Sao Paulo, the gate had changed to 23 (something the airport is well known for).

    Queuing for the domestic flight was interesting. Everyone lined up. There were two lines, one was priority and one was regular. But there was no rhyme or reason to who went into the priority line, except that most people did not. The gate agent came through the line checking boarding passes and IDs, and ripping off a piece of the boarding pass. Anyone who had waited to get into line until after she had done this might have boarded without a ticket or ID check, and taken any open seat, though one presumes they did a head count to match actual load to the flight manifest (though I didn’t see them do this).

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    I don’t really understand the rush to board this flight, it didn’t much matter what order you got on. It’s a one-cabin coach domestic flight with plenty of overhead space since few people carry on rollaboards, most folks seemed to check large amounts of luggage and to respect the 5kg rule for carryons. I did not, of course, my 20″ Tumi was likely 30+ pounds.

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    The flight was uneventful. Buy on board drinks and snacks were offered, very few people took anything. I did see a large bottle of water from which plastic cups could be filled, so guessed that water was free, but I didn’t see anyone taking water. Everything else was charged. Since I hadn’t eaten since breakfast on the flight, I was hungry and bought a small sandwich which served the purpose of delaying my hunger until I could reach the Sheraton. (I had looked at food options in the domestic terminal but everything was unappetizing.)
     
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  6. gleff
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    Landing was to a remote position. For everyone at Foz de Iguassu — there are no jetways. Covered stairs are brought to the plane and you walk over into the terminal.

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  7. gleff
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    With just a weekend in South America, and a goal of visiting one of the places I’ve wanted to see for years, I decided on convenience and time savings — I picked the Sheraton because it’s actually in the National Park, on the Argentina side.

    The Sheraton is on the pricey side, rooms were over $250++ and suites around $575++ during my stay. It’s a Starwood category 5 — so delivers a bit over 2 cents a point without any high season points supplement. The rooms are small and so I decided I wanted to have a suite guaranteed. That’s double the points, and a little bit better than 2 cents a point in redemption value. Not the highest value award on a cents per point basis but I knew that I would enjoy the stay most if I had a little bit more space and a view of the Falls (which the suite would provide), but I didn’t want to pay $1200+ for the privilege over two nights.

    In order to get there we walked straight through the airport, past baggage claim and the small arrivals hall, taxis queue up right outside. It’s no problem to get a cab at the airport in Brazil ad head to Argentina.

    We told the driver we were headed to the Sheraton and he mentioned that we had to pay an entrance fee to get into the National Park before reaching the Sheraton, which I already knew. He mentioned the fee had to be paid in Argentine Pesos (130 ARS per person, about $29), something I also knew — he commented that on the Brazil side the park will take all forms of currency, but not to enter via Argentina, and he offered to stop for us to change money along the way. I already knew this requirement, and it’s on the hotel’s website, so I already had the cash.

    A very helpful fellow, our cab driver also noted for us that we might need a Visa to return to Brazil, since we were Americans, and were we planning to come back to fly out of the Brazil airport in Iguassu? He wanted to let us know before we left the country, in case we’d have trouble getting back in. (Of course, if we hadn’t had such a visa we wouldn’t have been able to enter in the first place, but the concern was noted and appreciated).
    The driver also offered to stop for sightseeing of the Brazilian side of the falls on the way to the hotel, since we were already on that side and would save an immigration check later to come back, but after a day’s flying we were looking forward to making it to the hotel.

    The driver incidentally was happy to take either Brazilian Real or Argentine pesos for the ride, which cost about US$58 on the way to the Sheraton and US$50 on the way back. (Fixed quoted price, not meters, and I did not attempt to negotiate.)

    When we reached the checkpoint to exit Brazil, our driver took our passports inside to an office, surrendered our arrival slips which we had received on the way into Brazil (noted that if we were staying on the Argentina side less than a day we wouldn’t have to do that), and brought us back fresh slips to complete prior to arrival at Brazilian immigration on the way back. We drove on, and shortly reached the checkpoint to enter Argentina where we pulled up to a booth, handed over our passports, and were quickly admitted.

    A short drive onward and we reached the entrance to the National Park, because of the lateness of the day the cab driver thought we had to buy passage directly at the gate, but when we got to the gate we were directed to turn around and go back to the ticket booth, apparently a new change. So he got out, we gave the driver our 130 Argentine pesos apiece, and he brought back the tickets which he presented at the park entrance gate. Then it was a mere minute or two farther to reach the Sheraton’s entrance.

    All-in, the trip took about 45 minutes, but I imagine that backups at immigration could make it take a bit longer.

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    We got out of the cab, paid our driver, and a Sheraton employee immediately appeared to assist with bags. We each had just a 20″ rollaboard, so no need, but he insisted. He clearly wasn’t insisting in the way hotel employees often do for the purpose of extracting a tip — he genuinely appeared to believe it was his duty, and said “I will leave it right by the desk where you’ll check in, but please allow me, this is the Sheraton after all!” and he said it with pride. (Across the board, and without exception, every hotel employee we interacted with was extremely friendly and service-oriented. They were far from perfect but everyone was certainly trying.)

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    Walking into the hotel I was struck by the huge glass walls highlighting views of the Falls. I had been under the impression that “you can’t really see the Falls” from the hotel, and that you only get the obscured top of the Falls. And while it’s true you see just the top, it’s still magnificent.

    Check-in was quick, they had our pre-reserved suite ready. It was room 346. There are six floors of the hotel — a bottom floor with gym and spa that opens onto the pool, a floor with the breakfast restaurant and a lounge area of sorts by the glass looking out over the property, that I never saw used, and then the reception level with a bar area, followed by floors 1-3 which are guest room floors. Since you can see the top of the Falls from the lobby level, any Falls view room should have that. Though of course the higher the better and we were on the top floor.

    They issued us two keys, one needs to be inserted in a slot near the door in order to activate power in the room. Immediately upon entry you were in the living room, which featured a desk and a couch.

    It was’t really even two separate rooms, so it was more of a junior suite, and in fact the two rooms share a television set that will swivel around so you can watch it in either room (similar to the junior suites at the Parker Meridien in New York that are a standard SPG Platinum upgrade).

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  8. gleff
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    [​IMG]
    The ‘next room’ was a bedroom which had two closets, a bed, and two nightstands. The bed was hard — certainly not the standard Sweet Sleeper mattress or bedding — but it was still comfortable and conducive of sleep.

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    The bathroom was reasonably large with separate tub, shower room, and toilet room (though none of those were themselves especially large). Only one sink, though.

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    There was a balcony spanning the entire room, and you could walk out onto the balcony from either the bedroom or living room. It was furnished with two chairs, and overlooked the pool and the Falls.

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  9. gleff
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    [​IMG]

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    When I arrived in the room there were 3 bottles of water – two in the entryway and one in the bathroom. Additional bottles of water were brought with evening turndown service.
    The room was only 538 square feet in total, but since a standard room is only half that size (!) I felt like I made the right choice for myself.

    The hotel website’s announcements currently warn,

    FIRST FLOOR REFURBISHMENT: MAY 2012 – SEPTEMBER 2012
    From May 1 to September 3, 2012, we will be refurbishing the first floor of the hotel and there might be some noise from 8am-6pm. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.


    But ‘might’ and ‘some’ were hardly my experience. Throughout most of the workday (with no siesta) there was loud jackhammering going on.

    It wasn’t a sleep disturbance, I was up long before it started. And some would say “who cares, you’ll be out at te Falls all day.” Though I do prefer to relax a little bit, at least part of the time, with a cocktail in the bar outside overlooking he rainforest and the Falls. Strangely, I quickly got used to the noise and it didn’t especially irritate me.

    One thing I noted when I arrived in the room was the South Pacific-style electric outlets, I don’t know why but I expected European outlets. There was one outlet which accepted any plug in the room, though, reducing the challenge (it was by the door).

    Internet access costs 70 pesos (~ US$15.70) per day, they will take it off the bill at the end of stay for elites.

    Breakfast here is free for all guests, regardless of status. Some folks area big fans of the breakfast, there’s decent variety with 7 separate stations. I wasn’t a fan, I didn’t think most of the items were especially high quality (such as runny scrambled eggs from a carton) though I did love the peach juice and the fried potato balls.

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  10. gleff
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    [​IMG]
    Overall food options at the hotel were limited, and not especially good, but the property is geared for tourists making short stays so a wide variety on the menu may not be necessary. The property is relatively remote, which is to say it isn’t located in one of the major metropolitan areas of South America. And they’re catering to a wide variety of tastes. So it’s about what you’d expect from a hotel whose main purpose is to serve as a base for exploring the Falls rather than as a culinary retreat. No one comes here for the food, better food is unlikely to draw additional business, and it’s inconvenient to go off property during a short stay. So with fairly captive guests, with guests who are coming from reasons independent of the food, without a ton of culinary competition, and where it’s unclear they’d earn an even bigger price premium with better food offerings, it’s fairly well-expected that the food would rise no higher than you can eat it, you won’t go hungry, but it isn’t great.

    Most of the time at the hotel was spent looking out at the Falls. Much of the time there was spent walking around the park and checking out the Falls. But I also spent about an hour in the early afternoon by the pool, when things were at their hottest and I wanted a respite from walking around. We were the only ones making use of the pool during that time.

    The park itself is open from 8am to 5pm, though staying at the Sheraton you’re already in the park so there’s little question of access. I didn’t see anyone kicking visitors out before opening or after close, though I’ve heard of folks running into officials asking why guests were in the park, with varying levels of concern (from “please leave” to “oh, ok”).
    In the late afternoon I sat out on the deck of the hotel’s bar, located on the lobby level.

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    I made a 6pm spa appointment on my second day. There was a bit of a language barrier with the spa, so I didn’t get great descriptions of the treatments, and the spa menu listed names but not descriptions. Rather than going with the Swedish massage, I opted for what sounded like the most local choice, a native massage that lasted an hour and turned out to involve having mud plastered on me which I showered off at the end, cost was about US$85 all-in.

    The treatment was good. There are separate men’s and women’s locker rooms, they give you a key for a locker to disrobe and leave your personal items, there’s a wrapped comb in the locker, a bath robe, and slippers. Everything was clean, I wouldn’t rate the spa with the best of Asia but I was happier with the experience than what I might have gotten locally home in the States.
     
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  11. gleff
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    It really is all about the Falls, and while some will prefer to take the location and not the view, since they’ll see the Falls closer up and are only about a 10-15 minute walk from the nearest waterfall, I really did value the view from the room. Here’s what I woke up to:

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    If I were going to return to Iguazu Falls, I would stay here again — for the location, if it’s a quick trip, it’s wonderful not to have to add the time and hassle of travel (though it’s only convenient to the Argentina side, of course! And if you fancy a helicopter ride you can only do that across in Brazil) — but recognize that’s what you’re paying for. The hotel is recently renovated, the physical plant is fine. The service is excellent. But I wouldn’t want to eat here for more than a couple of days.
     
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  12. gleff
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    The really stunning thing about the Sheraton isn’t the views per se, it’s that you’re already inside the park. You can arrive in the afternoon, drop off your stuff in your room, and pop over to the Falls. You’re literally 15 – 20 minutes’ walking from your hotel room door to some of the most impressive sights you’re likely to come upon, anywhere.

    From the hotel there’s easy access to an upper trail that will take less than an hour to walk around, and a longer lower trail loop that is about a two hour walk including plenty of time to stop and admire the Falls.

    I admit I was surprised that the park trails were paved, that there were stairs down the steep parts, and that much of it was even made wheelchair accessible.

    The first walk was the upper trail, and just past the hotel pool along the trail I came upon several Coati or Brazilian aardvark.
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    A few minutes down the trail I had the brilliant idea of walking up some stairs for a bird’s eye view of the falls, unfortunately you can get higher on the outside stairs but not all the way up:
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    From the upper trail you’re basically above much of the water fall activity, looking down, it’s a great view but not as up close as I’d see later the lower trail, no nearly as dramatic, but still impressive.
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  13. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    [​IMG][​IMG]
    A visit along the lower trail involved several levels of steps.
    [​IMG]
    Along the way there was a snack bar/gift shop, underscoring that even though you’re in the midst of jungle, just as there’s much that’s paved, you’re also very much in the middle of a tourist site. It’s less commercialized than some, to be sure, but everyone else around you that doesn’t work in the Park is a tourist.

    There are Falls both large and small, and along the way you see some beautiful water flows that are a dribble in comparison to some of the dramatic gushers along the trail.
    [​IMG][​IMG]
     
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  14. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    [​IMG][​IMG]
    There are also some impressive, forceful and all-encompassing water flows.
    [​IMG][​IMG]
    … with rainbows nearly everywhere
    [​IMG]
     
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  15. gleff
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    And the trails bring you right up close next to the Falls.
    [​IMG][​IMG]
    Here’s a video with sound I took, panning across the waterfall I was standing right next to. There’s nothing impressive about my camera skills, and nothing special about the photography. It’s just click and point using a handheld camera that also happens to take video, just as a way of capturing what I was standing right in the midst of.

    Iguazu Falls

    The Falls were remarkably beautiful. They can be seen in just a couple of days, I wouldn’t want to spend much more than that. But they were among the most beautiful and impressive things that I’ve seen and the 48 hours there were well worth it.
     
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  16. gleff
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    Checkout from the hotel was smooth, I did need to stop by the desk though to have them remove internet charges from the bill that was slipped under my door (as they told me I would need to do when I checked in).

    I had inquired earlier about getting a cab from the hotel back to the airport on the Brazilian side, and was told it wouldn’t be a problem and that no advance reservation was needed, there’s a waiting queue of cabs near the hotel and they’d just let one know to come up front for us when ready.

    Once again we had a 45 or 50 minute ride between the hotel and the airport. There wasn’t much in the way of traffic, but it’s a slow drive made a bit longer by the two border stops. First we had to exit Argentina, showing our passports, and then a short while later we had to enter Brazil. We had surrendered our entry document on the way out of Brazil and into Argentina before arriving at the Sheraton, so now had to fill out a new form that would be stamped in addition to the stamp in the passport, that would then be surrendered in a few hours again as we departed the country via the airport in Sao Paulo.

    On arrival we went inside and passed through a luggage screening. You have to screen your bags before making it to the check-in desk. There were separate lines for each of the 3 upcoming Gol flights, and no one ahead of us waiting to check in for Sao Paulo.

    The agent insisted on checking our rollaboards. Cabin baggage is limited to 5kg and 20″ Tumi rolling bags with a couple days’ of clothes are going to weigh more than that. We had met no resistance on the outbound portion of the trip originating in Sao Paulo, and I hadn’t even really thought about it, which is why I didn’t take precautions. If I had done online checkin, or if we had taken turns checking in without bringing our carryons up with us, it would have been a non-issue.

    Some people pay attention to the carryon rules, others do not, but it’s nice that as a result there’s plenty of overhead space on the aircraft so it doesn’t much matter when you board the plane.

    With the check-in agent insisting, we did check our bags to Sao Paulo, where we’d pick them up and convert them back to carryons for the rest of the trip home. Not everyone on the plane, of course, checked similar-sized baggage. We were just the unlucky ones.

    The trip to the airport had taken only 45 minutes, which is what I expected and about what it had taken on arrival to the hotel. But I left a pretty big cushion of time in case there was any sort of backup at either Argentinian or Brazilian immigration. Since there wasn’t, it was nearly a full hour until boarding. I had eaten breakfast, but it was now just after 1pm, and I knew from the pass through Sao Paulo a couple of days earlier that food in the airport was limited and not very good once I’d get there. I knew there would be some snacks in the American lounge, but it was going to be a long time until dinner on the flight. So I left the checkin area and went upstairs to the food court.

    [​IMG]
    There were about 4 different food options and a great view of the tarmac. One place served wrapped sandwiches (yuck), another didn’t look especially hygienic, a third was a pricey buffet. I settled on the 4th option that was a ‘Montana’ grill of some kind, serving sandwiches in a pita pocket among other things but cooked fresh. I had sliced steak with fries, and the meat was surprisingly tasty, an excellent snack.

    Then it was back downstairs, where the line for the initial baggage screen which hadn’t had anyone in it on the first pass through was about 20 people deep but took only a few minutes to clear. We then headed on through the ‘real’ checkpoint (with metal detector) and onward to our gate area, which was crowded but that had a couple of open seats.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    There was a mad rush to queue when boarding was called, but without my rollaboard I didn’t even have overhead space to worry about, the last thing I wanted was to spend as much time as possible on the ground in a coach seat on Gol. So I didn’t hurry getting up from my seat.

    Boarding passes were checked and we walked outside onto the tarmac for the short strut out to the plane, which turned out to be painted in Varig livery.

    [​IMG]
    While the flight up to Iguassu was fully booked, the flight back to Sao Paulo on a Saturday afternoon had a pretty light load. So even though I didn’t rush to the front of the line for boarding when I did get on the plane it was hardly full.

    [​IMG]
     
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  17. gleff
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    Here’s the seat pitch on the single cabin aircraft, it actually wasn’t terrible

    [​IMG]
    And the buy on board menu:

    [​IMG]
    After a short hour and 20 minutes we landed at Sao Paulo and were off the plane quickly (being in row 4 helps with that). I had to wait for bags at baggage claim, they had “priority tagged” my bag because I was unhappy with checking it, but I didn’t expect that to matter, I assumed it was a way to pacify me over the inconvenience, and indeed I was right. The rollaboard didn’t come out earlier than anything else. But I had plenty of time to kill, it was only about 4:30pm by this time and it was 6 hours until my American flight would be departing for Miami.

    Once I had my bag I went upstairs to the departures level and walked over to the American checkin counter. I wasn’t sure I would be able to check in, the AA.com website said that check-in counters wouldn’t open until 6pm although the ticketing office would be open. But there were two people working the Priority AAccess line and also someone working economy. No line, I walked right up and they handled checkin through to DC. I asked about grabbing the Miami departure an hour earlier, hoping to shorten the layover, but they had middle seats available only and couldn’t confirm me up front on a better connection home so I decided to go with what I already had.

    [​IMG]
    Next up was security, and I do like Sao Paulo’s security screening, no shoes off and no liquids check there’s even a poster board with a green check mark next to liquids indicating that they are ok. I did have to take my laptop out, which wasn’t required at the domestic checkpoints at this airport or at Foz de Iguassu. But that’s little inconvenience.
    I actually assumed that there would be a planeside liquids check for U.S. departures, since there wasn’t a liquid screening at the checkpoint — similar to what happens in Hong Kong (and I can’t even imagine flying United in coach Hong kong – Chicago, where you can’t even buy bottled water in the terminal and take it onboard because it’ll be confiscated before you get on the plane, and have to rely on United flight attendants to keep you hydrated). But there was no such planeside screening. Thank goodness Brazil isn’t a U.S. ally in the War on Water!

    Passport control had a fairly long line for Brazilian residents, but almost no line for foreigners, so we were through exit controls quickly. Immediately past immigration was a set of escalators heading upstairs to departure lounges, and we headed straight to American’s.

    [​IMG]
    The lounge is in Terminal 2 Wing D, and was renovated in 2009 to grow to about 6500 square feet. It’s a large lounge with plenty of seating, but with the strategic role that Sao Paulo plays in the American network (and growing) it can get quite crowded come 8:30pm or thereabouts. Of course, walking into the lounge around 5pm or so there were only a handful of folks congregated at the far end of the lounge watching a soccer match and cheering.

    There are showers, comfortable seating, wireless internet, and plenty of power outlets that accept a wide variety of international plug styles.

    [​IMG]
     
  18. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    The lounge has a view of airport operations

    [​IMG]
    And also plenty of food and drink. The alcohol isn’t high end but there’s some selection and it’s self-serve. The snacks aren’t delicious, but there are several items to choose from, mini-sandwiches and some salad, dessert bites, enough to keep you from being extremely hungry during a long layover.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    I saw down, plugged in, logged in, and began to catch up on a couple days’ of reader emails and work. And somehow 5 hours passed and it was time to board…
     
  19. gleff
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    After about 5 hours in the lounge it was finally time to leave Brazil. We headed downstairs and on to our gate at the end of Wing D, and it simply reinforced the notion that there’s not much to do, see, or eat in the terminal. One of the interesting things about the walk is that the international and domestic gates are separated by a glass wall most of the walk to the end of the pier.

    We arrived at the gate and boarding was already about two-thirds complete. Found our way to our seats, there was a plastic-wrapped package of pillow and blanket on the seat along with menu, and an amenity kit and bottle of water in the seat’s cubby hole.
    [​IMG][​IMG]
    Before storing my carryon in the overhead bin in I took out a pair of never-used Singapore Airlines first class Givenchy pajamas and went into the lavatory to change. Getting comfortable in pajamas makes a big difference in front of a long-ish flight, and I’m now sold on the idea for when flying business class.

    As we got underway one of the flight attendant announcements struck me. American provides Bose headsets in business and first class, though I decline as I use my own noise cancelling headset. A flight attendant announced that if business and first class passengers intend to sleep then they should have their Bose headsets wrapped up and accessible to be collected one hour before landing so that flight attendants do not need to wake them in order to do the collection.

    A reminder, in a way, that no matter what amount of hard product investment it’s going to be the service delivery that distinguishes an airline in the first class cabin at least.

    As far as crews go, this one turned out to be excellent, at least for my needs. They kept me hydrated, even bringing me my own large bottle of water, of the size that they serve the cabin with, to supplement the regular sized bottle left at my seat. And they were very friendly. So it was perfect for me.

    But I still couldn’t imagine an ANA, Singapore, or Lufthansa crew in first class waking first class passengers an hour before landing for their convenience of collecting headsets.

    I hadn’t eaten much throughout the day so was strangely looking forward to dinner. I’ve got photos of two different entrees, I had the second of the two.

    Here’s the pasta…
    [​IMG]
    And the shrimp curry:
    [​IMG]
    Followed by ice cream
    [​IMG]
    The meals were much more ‘business class’ than the Richard Sandoval halibut on the outbound, which wasn’t catered for the return from Brazil.

    I slept on and off for the next four hours, in between watching a couple of episodes of the current season of Mad Men. The flight was especially turbulent, one of the bumpiest rides I’ve experienced in the past few years, and that woke me a few times. Not American’s fault, and combined with sitting in the lounge for 5 hours after a coach flight from Iguassu Falls, I wasn’t nearly as comfortable in the non-lie flat seat as I was on the outbound. My lower back was bothering me and I was looking forward to arrival in Miami and a hot shower.
     
  20. gleff
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    About an hour and fifteen minutes out from arrival breakfast was served. Decent enough but again not as good as the Richard Sandoval eggs served on the way down to Brazil (and that I had tried a week earlier in Dallas for their premium services event).
    [​IMG]
    After breakfast I changed out of my Singapore PJs, and we were on the ground shortly after.

    Once we landed everyone poised to make the mad dash for immigration, you always want to get ahead of the rest of your aircraft so that your wait is shorter. But business class was being held for first class to disembark, something that really impressed me with American on this flight and on the flight down to Brazil. I don’t remember the last time a U.S. .carrier ensured that first class got off the plane first. So even though they want to collect Bose headsets an hour before arrival, and threaten to wake up passengers to do so, they do seem to be emulating some of the service standards of the best-regarded carriers.

    The trek to immigration at Miami was bizarre, since it’s one twist and turn after another followed by taking the airport train. Although you take the airport train to immigration, you’re dropped off… nowhere near immigration, and you have another long walk. Like Dulles airport where the new train drops you nowhere near the United gates, but where the terminal is supposed to be sometime in the future.

    When we finally made it to immigration there was almost no line, through the queue quickly, no wait for bags as we hadn’t checked any we were quickly outside into the terminal.

    Of course that meant having to go back through security, and since it’s Miami there was a significant queue. The wait was about 25 minutes, and only that short because we were in the priority line and because they opened up the crew screening lane for passengers.

    The wait seemed all the longer because I desperately wanted a shower, and was afraid there’d be a wait, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

    The onward flight to DC would be leaving from a gate in D in the mid-teens, so I headed over to the D15 Admiral’s Club, went upstairs and immediately on check-in asked for a shower room. There was one available right away, and a staff member came up front to walk me back.
    [​IMG][​IMG]

    The shower was invigorating, and had me poised to make the flight home. I went back into the lounge, ordered some sushi from the paid café menu which turned out to be a perfect breakfast (I had only picked at the eggs on the plane), and by the time I finished it was time to board my flight home to DC.

    That was uneventful, I logged onto Gogo wireless internet as soon as we were airborne and caught up on e-mail for the better part of the flight. Breakfast was cereal, yogurt, and fruit but having just eaten sushi I gave it a miss. We arrived in DC on time, I walked straight out of the terminal where there was no line for a cab and I was home within 25 minutes of landing. An end to my long weekend at the Falls, and with plenty of time to relax and rest up for the rest of the day on Sunday, since I was unpacking by 12:30pm.
     
  21. gleff
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    Well, hope this was interesting to some :)
     
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  22. jbcarioca
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    This was really interesting to me.

    This is the first such review I have read. I was a little surprised you did not choose to stay in Hotel das Cataratas (much better food and ambiance, easy walk to panoramic falls views typical of the Brazil side) but ther are no SPG points there!

    I thought you were very kind about GRU; I would not be so charitable.
    I also have not flown GOL for some time, so I am spoiled by getting food for free, even on the SDU-CGH shuttle with TAM.

    I especially liked your photo of coati. They are all over around our house too, and are delightful little raccoon-like creatures.

    People who stay longer usually enjoy the tour of the Iguaçu Dam, an astounding experience for anybody who likes really, really, really BIG machines.
    Also, on both the Brazil and Argentina side there are very extensive and interesting forest tours. They are great for people who like wildlife and luxuriant varied vegetation, boring for anybody else. I am a fan.

    All in all this was very informative. I learned a lot, and I have been here a few times, but never used a taxi nor experienced the US visa issues.
     
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  23. aptraveler

    aptraveler Gold Member

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    Absolutely, well done. I enjoyed your narrative and the details regarding convenience to the passenger that you shared. I agree with you on the headphone issue, one would be hard pressed to experience said procedure in any of the airlines you listed. Also, your trip through the Brazilian-Argentinean border crossing in a taxi, reminded me of my own experience going through it. Although I only did it once, since I arrived at Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian side and left on Argentinean side on a flight to EZE and then home to IAH. Anyway, great report, kudos to you. You're a well prepared and an efficient traveler, liked that too. :)

    Sent from my iPhone using milepoint
     
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  24. hulagrrl210
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    Great report! I hope to go there someday! :)
     
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  25. Skye1
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    Good report., and excellent photos. Have done this several times, and those falls never cease to amaze me.

    It's actually quite easy to visit the Brasillian side from a stay at the Sheraton, with no massive visa required for US citizens. The hotel can arrange a taxi to take one over to the park that has the amazing vista-view of the falls, and with that there's a very small fee for the "day visit" of sorts into Brasil. IMHO, the quick trip to the viewpoint is really the only box one needs to tick for the Brasillian side, with more time on the Argentine side being spent walking the various trails. Also, always an idea to check if there's a full moon during a visit (or plan a visit accordingly), as the National Park does a very cool night-time train ride & moonlight walk to the top of the El Garganta Del Diablo.
     

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