Friday, 14 December 2012

Hilton on the Park - Melbourne

As long time readers will know, I have a history with this hotel, my first stay was appalling and things have been getting better and better since. This pattern continued with the check-in this time.

I was some hours before check-in. Originally, I would have been happy to drop bags and go for an extended wander, however, Friday 14th was a day when it decided that it was going to rain rather heavily in Melbourne, so I'd decided that if I could hole up in some corner with WiFi, that would be find.

I've opted on this trip to get non-smoking rooms (no choice in Sydney) on the grounds that I feel that the upgrade pool is better and that it's usually warm enough to go out for a smoko. 

I was welcomed, not chided for being several hours earlier than check-in starts (I'm looking at certain Londump Hiltons here) and was told that they would prioritise my room, but if I wanted to go up to the Exec Lounge, I could wait there, it might be a couple of hours. That seemed fine to me and here's a wifi voucher.

Two long blacks and a pastry later, they showed up with a key and had already transferred my bags. It's a modernised corner suite, I couldn't be much happier.

Anyway, day 1 was Zombie day, apart from the odd smoko and a trip to the 7-11, it pretty much confined to base, where I worked out that what I had forgotten and what I needed to get for my stay in Melbs. I did whinge about about the WiFi, which seemed a bit slow and determined to only allow one device at a time - on reflection from the other two stays in Australia, it was decent. Dinner on Day 1 was room service - Chicken Parm and Fries, the fries were good, the Chicken Parn wasn't. I didn't order room service again.

Day 2 was a nice walk down into Central Melbourne, picked up the essentials, charged up my MyKi, had a couple of coffees, back to the hotel, scoped out Bridge St and ended up at Grill'd for a late lunch. Grill'd was good. A slow walk back up the other side of Bridge St back to the hotel for a short nap and then out to Two Fat Indians for dinner. Good Lamb Saag, but I need to remember to order it desi style, skippy doesn't do spice.

Day 3 was a rather longer walk along the Yarra, starting at the Casino and ending at the other end of Bridge St (I meant to go on a further 5km, but my heel was starting to chafe), pho for lunch and then back for a somewhat longer rest that I had managed. Dinner was a take out pizza from just up the parade - great toppings, weird base.

Day 4 was the traditional trip to St Kilda and a lovely day for it, an early lunch then a snap decision to go to the zoo, returned from that and head down Brunswick St to have dinner at Vegie Bar and then back to repack.

Then the next morning, it was time to repack and head off to Brisvegas, but there were early morning balloons to make me happy. It's nice to open the curtains and have hot air balloons hanging lazily in the sky just outside the window.

You'll notice a lack of mentions of the lounge. I used the lounge for breakfast every morning, I found it decent for that. The staff were very friendly and good at customer service. The view of the MCG from the lounge was great. However, both afternoon tea and evening canapes were, ahem, disappointing in terms of quality and after day 1, I only used the lounge for breakfast and the odd swift bottle of Coke Zero.

However, the suite was great and the cleaners did a good job of picking up after me, the only slight disappointment was turndown service, which seemed to occur about 5pm and consisted of no changes to bedding arrangements, just placing a mentos and a room service breakfast hanger on the bed. What's the point?

My point stands, every time I've been to the Hilton on the Park, it has got better and better. Next time it should be fabulous.

Trip Report 13: SIN-MEL (SQ C)

On arriving at the Silver Kris Lounge in Terminal 3, I went and cigaretted mightily on the balcony by it. It was warm and rainy outside, which makes a change from freezing cold and rainy inside.

The Business Class section of the Silver Kris Lounge is a good lounge, it's almost at excellent lounge level, but needs a bit more work to reach that level (more plugs, a cigar lounge, better wi-fi), but for a four hour stay it will do nicely. I showered at a leisurely pace, continued with my hydration programme and caught up on emails etc, although the wifi was showing sighs of being overloaded. 

The food selections were plentiful, but few of them took my eye. I had a nibble at some chicken tikka (good) and a couple of forkfuls of pork with bitter gourds (not to my taste), but that was more time wasting than anything else to be honest.

Eventually, I got bored, had more cigarettes and went hunting through duty-free to see if I could get hold of any bargains. Prices weren't as keen as I remember them to be and as Australia now only allows 50 fags duty-free, I ended up buying nothing except a drink of teh tarik. After a short break in the butterfly garden, it was time to board, in fact I was running a teensy bit late.

Security was not a problem, I picked the wrong queue, where there was a family travelling with two small children and more hand luggage than I thought was humanly possible. But as my boarding pass was scanned, there was a beep. For one moment, one brief moment, I thought the impossible was going to happen and I was getting an upgrade to Suites. Alas, it was merely to tell me that the IFE wasn't working in my seat and that the Chief Purser would be along to see me later. This wasn't actually a problem, I haz iPad, but I probably would have watched it as KrisWorld has a very good selection of drama serials.

It's also obvious that the Business Class seats are starting to be ready for a refresh, they looked a little worn compared to when I first flew them four years ago, one or two corners looked like a deep clean might be useful and one or two of the many storage containers were a little more difficult to keep shut than they should be. However, the SQ 380 C seat remains in my opinion an excellent seat, although I do understand those who do have criticisms of it's positions other than fully-flat.

Service was friendly, willing but a tiny bit haphazard on this flight, which had slightly more Singapore Boys than usual. I had to refuse the bowl of nuts three times, but other than that dinner was just as I expected. (No pics due to dimmed cabin) A nice crabmeat timbale for a starter, the usual excellent garlic bread (no other airline gets garlic bread as well as SQ does), a lamb dish which looked dull, but turned out to be flavoursome, having much much more rosemary flavour than you would imagine and then some slightly naff cheese to finish with. All matched with a couple of glasses of what was NZ Sauvignon Blanc, but kept on being introduced as French Medoc (wrong colour, dear).

Just before I retired, the Chief Purser came and made one last attempt to get KrisWorld going and then handed out a reasonably substantial sum in duty-free vouchers which I shall spend on the way back to SIN on December 30th.

I flipped the seat to bed and had just managed to nod off when things got a bit bouncy, quite a bit bouncy and by the time that had subsided it was breakfast time. This is the problem with night flight to MEL. It was only 6:30, by the time you have cleared out dinner and served brekkie, you only really get about 2 hours potential sleep. Breakfast was a bit haphazard, the fruit was nice (but too cold) and the breads didn't turn up until very late because they didn't serve my aisle. Two attempts were made to give me someone else's cup of darjeeling, but on the positive side, I got two large refills of tomato juice.

Arrival at MEL was on time, but we did do a victory lap of the airport whilst taxiing and there was a bit of a farce waiting for the doors to open. However, quickly through immigration, my bag was already on the belt, not selected for customs inspection nor did I get to meet the cute spaniels they use as drug dogs. From landing to kerbside was 50 minutes, from doors open to kerbside was 22 minutes - that's excellent for an Australian arrival.

There were just about enough little niggles on this flight to take it from an excellent flight to merely a good flight. Some were more down to the hard product, some felt more like a bit of a crew problem. However, this is merely by rating them against other Singapore Airlines flights which have been uniformly of a very, very high standard.

Trip Report 13: FRA-SIN (LH F)

I was a cranky and grumpy Yanto by the time I boarded, but I was swiftly soothed by the attentions of an excellent crew who very much agreed with me that the Frankfurt transfer experience left a lot to be desired. In fact they told me a few tales of woe that put mine in the shade. 

The Lufthansa A380 has First upstairs and at first glance, it doesn't look like a terribly exciting product.

There were five of us today out of the eight seats. One of us was no problem, he went straight to sleep as soon as we took off and remained asleep all the way to Singapore. Because I was so late arriving, I had to wait to get the usual boarding gifts, I declined the nuts, had two glasses of sparkling water and looked at the rather sparse amenity kit and the rather improved pyjamas (nearly all my pyjamas come from airlines), whilst reading the menu. I quickly found the sweet spot in the seat for relaxing and powered up the iPad from the seat so I could get on with my SVU marathon that I had downloaded previously.

As you, know, I have been critical of LH's First Class food as being a bit too fancy for in the air and there were certainly dishes tonight which were in that category. There was an amuse, which was undistinguished, there was then caviar and a chanterelle salad.

The caviar was the usual presentation, although the toast points were better than normal. Indeed the whole breadbasket was tip-top except the brezn, which lacked the required saltiness. The Chanterelle salad was very, very refreshing, but needed more chanterelles. All this was washed down with lots of sparkling water and a couple of glasses of Riesling. But the highlight was the Roast Goose.

Which is a meat which stands up to ovens every well and therefore was succulent and went down great with the Red Cabbage and the dumplings. I did get a funny look for staying with the Riesling, but in the absence of Corton Charlemagne or a VT Gewürz, I thought it for the best.

As usual on the flight, I didn't do dessert, but I had a little cheese, the cheese showed great promise (especially the Livarot) but had been kept too cold, Livarot in particular shoudl be almost motile. So I moved on to peppermint tea.

And thence to bed, this seat converts into a very nice flat bed with an excellent amount of privacy without going the full suite. Very comfortable duvet and a good pillow helped a lot. I managed to get about five hours sleep before my tickly throat got to me. As soon as I arose,   a crew member checked if I wanted to get the bed returned to a seat (yes) and when I went to get changed, I came back to a glass of hot lemon to help my throat which was much appreciated. I did try and keep the Christmas star chocolates, but they were guzzled on waking up I'm afraid. A need for sugar.

I will mentioned the magnificent bathrooms on the 380 on my return journey, I need to take some photos, but I think they are bigger than the bathroom in my first apartment.

Two expressos and a spot of breakfast (fruit and the continental plate) and I was ready for landing at Changi where someone was waiting to escort me to the SQ lounge for my break for my onward flight and then came and informed me that my bag had made it on board at Frankfurt.

All in all, an excellent flight and left me ready for the journey onwards.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Trip report 13; BHX-FRA (LH C)

I'll just start this on the right note for the first half. FRA security management are still wankers. OK. However, despite their best efforts, I'm writing this from the SilverKris Lounge T3 at Changi.

So, I'll off for the biennal Christmas in Australia. I've got the tail end of manflu which did not endear me to this journey, but it is the tailend, so I thought it was liveable with and it turned out to be so.

BHX was easy, as I've commented before, check-in has improved considerably, polite pleasant and efficient. The grunters have gone elsewhere. Security, with a properly working fast track was over in three minutes despite a swab of the iPad and the guys doing it were very pleasant. Compare and contrast to the average FRA experience. I decided to use the new No 1 Lounge for a quick stop using my Priority Pass, where I had some cheese (meh) and nice crackers and topped up the Diet Coke levels.

Boarding for FRA started on time, but the flight was very full and the issue of those with excess bags rose its ugly head again. There were those who did not want to put it under their seat. I don't think this delayed anything, but it certainly wasn't the best of boardings. The First Officer had to make an appearance to settle one guy down (and force a gate check). Anyway, we went out about 10 minutes late, which we were promised they would catch up. With a full 12 in C and I'm told 1 spare seat in Y, the crew were up and at it immediately. 

I declined the offering, it looked unpleasant, there appeared to be a micro salad, a micro dessert and what looked like a cube of fancy meatloaf. Anyway, there was a feast to come as long as I made the connection.

We came into FRAkenstein about 2 minutes late and spent about 15 minutes navigating to the gate. Yes, no buses, although in actuality, this was no reason to celebrate. I was off like a rabbit out of a hat, only to be turned away from B transfer security where I was trying to do the FCL limo to gate trick. Seems there is an FCL in Z which must be used. There isn't. Wankers.

There was then a very long walk to the Skytrain and an equally confusing walk from it. A boarding pass checkpoint where only one lane was operating and the guy was taking about two minutes to glance at the boarding pass, umm and ah and then misdirect people. Which meant the next warden along was busy trying to get people into the right lane. There were two lanes open for security.

There were about 50 people trying to get through Z-transfer security, which was proceeding at the usual arthritic snails pace. There were about 10 in fast track (which was slower than the other lane) and 40 in the main lane. Some people from the Main Lane were directed in front of us "because they had to catch their flight to Singapore".  Several of us commented that we were trying to catch out flight to Singapore and were ignored. Wankers.

Then the police came with some deportees and, of course, they had to use fast track and they had to go in front of us. No Comment.

22 minutes to clear security, I managed to half a fag in a kiosk before my name was being called by the gate and scraped on board with 4 minutes to spare. 

Lufthansa and FRAport really need to sort this out. UK passengers should not have to go through transfer security at FRA, it would speed up their sclerotic security. Fast Track should actually work for your premium passengers, not actually be used for anyone you feel like and the whole First Class ground handling experience should be looked at. In parts, it's wonderful, in other parts its distinctly Third World.

Anyway, the flight was lovely, more on that later.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Here we go again

It has been a dull autumn of travel, hence no reports. Several out and backs with the full Lufthansa Y experience which every few of you want to hear about again, revisits to pretty much the same gamut of hotels and odd trips to lounges which disappoint somewhat (except for the CIP lounge at IST). The nearest thing to being reportable was an other trip to IST, except this time more as a tourist and somewhat better weather. However, as it used the same flights and the same hotel, I thought it was probably worth a miss. Other highlights of the last three months:

  • My upgrade ratio at Hilton continues to decline, probably because I want a room in cancer corner. I have now have four proper upgrades out of 19 stays this year, had three faux upgrades (we've put you on a higher floor - big fat hairy deal), had one downgrade and nary a sniff of a suite. For my next four stays in warm, balmy climates, I have opted for non-cancerous and will stay outside to smoke. May be I'll get an upgrade...
  • I will, just, requalify for Hilton Diamond on base points this year. The new level increase for 2013 means I won't do it next year, time to start burning those 1.2million points I have. Hello Conrad Japan.
  • Despite having gone through Hell-on-Main six times since the last blog, I still have yet to sample the new A+ pier and its lounges. However, I am still intimately familiar with the B Non-Schengen bus gates.
  • FRA B SEN lounge is nice, but the hot food selection does seem a bit odd. Now I like Fish Fingers, but I have heard mutterings from the assembled crowds and does it get crowded at times.
  • On a thread on Flyertalk, people seem to be nominating Hilton Berlin as one of the best Hiltons in Europe. Now I like the Hilton Berlin, lots and we go back over a decade together, but is it really that good?
  • I am slowly losing my Zürichphobia, although being confined to the D-wing, sorry, pier, most of the time does help that. Transfers are very quick and security is very pleasant.
  • Waldorf Hilton, London. Never again. That's all I'm saying. 
  • I may be flying ScaryTeam in the spring to Montreal and in the class we do not do long haul in at that. I must have been very, very bad in a previous life.
  • I haven't decided if I'm going to requalify for SEN next year or not. I may be wandering off to Miles and Smiles instead - if I can persuade TK's website to fecking work. I can hear you all saying "Aegean" and I'm saying enhancements coming soon as the rest of Star gets pissed off with low-rent Golds.

Anyway, it's getting towards twitchy time. It's December and I have a 65 minute connection at FRA on Wednesday evening, the forecast is for snow, the BHX connector has not been well-behaved recently. Now until A+ opened, I was confident about this connection, we would be dumped at a remote stand, a nice car would pick me up and take me to my favourite bus gates, I would clear security, walk to FCL B and have time for a fag before another car took me to the C-gates. Now, the bloody thing gets to a gate position in Z sometimes or some strange new hell called A Non-Schengen Bus Gates. 

So it's BHX-FRA (LH C)-SIN (LH F) - MEL (SQ C) on Wednesday and Thursday. There will be photos, there will be reportage and hopefully there will be no missed connections.