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Learning my ABCs: Algeria, Bahama, Cuba and the Cubana IL-96

Learning my ABCs: Algeria, Bahama, Cuba and the Cubana IL-96

Old Nov 24, 15, 7:09 am
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Learning my ABCs: Algeria, Bahama, Cuba and the Cubana IL-96

See, it's a good thing I finished my last trip report last week...less than 24 hours before it was time to head out on the next trip. A good thing, because the next 6-8 weeks are about to get super crazy hectic.

First, there's this trip. Headed off first to Algeria...via Cairo, because, well, Jason logic and cheap fares. From there it's on to Cuba on the Cubana Ilyushin-96 in Bourgeois Class. Followed that up with a stop in the Bahamas (via Grand Cayman, naturually) and then finally home...all in 11 days. Three more countries which will bring me to 185 visited and 11 to go.

Then, only 5 days after getting home from that trip I'm off to Bangkok for eight days for work...with a routing only I could dream up. DC, Toronto, Delhi, Bangkok, and on the way back...Bangkok, Delhi, Vienna, Zurich, DC. The things I'll do to find a cheap P fare that I can earn PQD on.

Then, I actually get a couple weeks off...before heading to West Africa with Hauteboy and DanielW to check off The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea...and hopefully no Ebola. It's going to be a very very busy few months.

First, if you have any interest at all, my previous trip reports are at:

I. London to Iran and Afghanistan in a mix of C, F, and LCCs
II. Above the Arctic Circle with UA/CO/LH and SK in whY, C, and F
III. Around the World in 40 Days for 40 Years
IV. 8 Places People Who Are Right in the Head Do Not Spend New Years
V. 12 Countries, 10 Airlines, 4 Islands, 27,080 miles, 11 Days
VI. 6 Countries in 6 Days - Caribbean Island Hopping and first AA Experience
VII. Guyana, Suriname, and French Guyana with an unexpected sidetrip to Caracas!
VIII. To Haïti - for vacation and a milage run!
IX. Around Senegal and West Africa
X. 4th Annual New Years in Dangerous Places - Libya Edition
XI. Kosovo and FYR Macedonia - Milage Run in United Business + TK/LH
XII. Washington to Peru and Machu Picchu on COPA and TACA
XIII. To Johannesburg...for 36 hours!
XIV. Here a Stan, there a Stan, everwhere a Stan Stan....
XV. Air Burkina, Air Cote d'Ivoire and 7 countries in West Africa
XVI. Turkey for Thanksgiving....with a side of Tajikistan, Serbia, Montenegro, and Moscow
XVII. Into the Heart of Darkness... Congo, Angola, Gabon, OH MY!
XVIII. HI! Four Islands, Lots of Planes, Beaches, and Convertibles
XIX. Plenty of Salt, Not Enough Oxygen...a Trip to Boliva, Colombia, and Ecuador
XX. Learning to Relax - Long Weekend in St Christopher and Nevis
XXI. You're spending New Years WHERE? IRAQ? (2009-2010)
XXII. Pineapples, croissants, and neon OH MY! A trip to Hawaii, Paris, Andorra, and Vegas
XXIII. South Pacific, Israel, Lebanon - 6 weeks - 71,500 miles - 24 countries
XXIV. Sundae bloody Sundaes...a 2014 United Year in Review
XXV. Lakes, Lemurs, and Lithuania: Horton Hears a Houthi!
XXVI. First Americans tour to North Korea 2005 - Arirang Mass Games
XXVII. Doing the Needful - Lufthansa Business US to Chennai
XXVII. C-ing things: Canada, Curry, Cameroon, CAR, Chad, Camels, Chengis Khan and China!

My dilemma starts here...since I'm already well into this trip now, and things have already gone drama-llama, I'm debating if I should post the trip as I planned to carry it out when I left...or as it actually appears to be unfolding. Let's go with the original plan:

I. DC to Cairo in United Global First and Lufthansa EuroBusiness
II. Overnight Cairo, Cairo to Algiers in EgyptAir Business
III. Visiting Algiers
IV. Algiers to Madrid on Iberia EuroBusiness, overnight Madrid
V. Madrid to Havana on the Cubana Ilyushin IL-96 in Business
VI. Visiting Cuba: Havana, Matanzas, and Varadero
VII. Havana to Nassau, Bahamas on Cayman Air Business and British Airways 767 Business
VIII. Visiting Nassau and Nassau to Baltimore in United Biz/First

So, the plan is:



That said, I have to go get on a plane...not one I expected to be getting on, but hey, if all works well it looks like I have a 787 business class all to myself...

Last edited by ironmanjt; Dec 27, 15 at 7:54 pm
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Old Nov 24, 15, 7:30 am
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This. Will. Be. Epic.
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Old Nov 25, 15, 2:42 am
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You are a legend. Safe travels and good luck.
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Old Nov 25, 15, 10:42 am
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Subscribed! Safe travels and wishing you nice a/c rooms!
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Old Nov 25, 15, 4:43 pm
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Just got done reading your previous TR and here's another one! Loving it and waiting for the rest.
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Old Nov 25, 15, 4:47 pm
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OMG torture ?
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Old Nov 26, 15, 1:49 am
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Yay, this promises to be another epic episode.
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Old Nov 26, 15, 12:27 pm
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Cannot wait to see what happens -
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Old Nov 27, 15, 1:30 am
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You are a legend, no joke, really.
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Old Nov 30, 15, 12:28 pm
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Originally Posted by nolan222 View Post
Subscribed! Safe travels and wishing you nice a/c rooms!
Haha, and lots of Starbucks...right? Good to know my reputation is deserved...

Originally Posted by avneeshj View Post
Just got done reading your previous TR and here's another one! Loving it and waiting for the rest.
Thanks for the compliments...just got back and first installment tonight.

Originally Posted by ExpatSomchai View Post
OMG torture ?
In what way?

Originally Posted by ueutyi View Post
You are a legend, no joke, really.
Seriously appreciate the compliment!
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Old Dec 1, 15, 8:36 pm
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I. DC to Cairo in United Global First and Lufthansa EuroBusiness

It felt like it had only been days since my last trip, but in reality it had been nearly two months since I got back from my big Africa and Mongolia trip. I think that's probably a commentary on how busy things were with work and life in general that it flew by without me even noticing that it had been a while since I'd traveled. That and the fact that I kept myself very busy with planning future trips and how I would finish every country in just under a year.

Fortunately I'd been able to get a good flight of of National Airport for this trip, and being right before a holiday I had the extra time to fly up to Newark to make the international connection. Dulles isn't a bad airport, and I really appreciate the nonstop options, but when my choice is a 15 minute Uber or 45+ minutes out to Dulles, National wins. Factor in the fact that Dulles security can get pretty ugly in the mid afternoon leading up to international departures...not to mention how crowded the clubs are, well, I still prefer DCA to Newark (even with all its delays) any day.

Speaking of clubs, I'd already checked in online, so was able to sample a bit of the new fare in the United Club. I love the historic club at DCA, even more so now that they opened the back room to make it a bit roomier. I'm a big fan of the new hummus and olives, but a big BOO to the cheese cubes. I really miss the Tilamook pepperjack and wish they would bring it back:



As soon I'd gotten to the airport I was hit with an hour delay, which made me glad I'd booked a 2.5 hour connection in Newark. I've learned that lesson before and won't make it again. Two hours in Newark in the winter is my absolute minimum when I have an important connection to make. We eventually left just over an hour late, but with winds it was announced we would be only about 45 minutes late into Newark...not bad at all.

United flight 3304 (operated by Republic)
Washington DC, National (DCA) to.Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 14:28, Arrive 15:39, Flight Time: 1:11
Embraer ERJ-170, Registration N651RW, Manufactured 2005, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 106,887
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,144,727


I was so incredibly excited for this flight, more than I probably should be for a DC to Newark flight. See, I remember the good old Continental days, when they used to fly 737s from DCA to Newark. Sure, they had a small first class of only six seats sometimes, but at least it was an option. I know it's like 45 minutes in the air, but when it's the start to a big international trip there's something a bit exciting about having a bit of room, time for a beverage, and just relaxing. Speaking of beverage, pre-departure beverages were offered:



Once in flight, beverages were again offered, along with a rather feeble snack basked. But hey, not complaining at all, when this route is its usual ERJ-145 nothing is offered at all...even a drink usually. Plus the fig bars was actually kinda tasty...although I'm sure it was loaded with sugar:



Got to Newark, gate right on time, and still had a bit of time to hit the United Club since my arrival, departure, and the club were all within a three minute walk. Sometimes you luck out! I'm going to complain a bit here, however, because flying first out of Newark really should be branded Global Worst instead of Global First. Firstly, the only lounge experience is the super packed United clubs. On top of that, you still have to pay if you want anything other than the $5 a bottle swill they pour for free. It's just a rather unpleasant experience.

I understand that first may not be around long so they don't want to invest too much, but they should take a lesson from Lufthansa. Cordon off a small corner of the lounge for first passengers. Offer the drinks which you normally have to pay for for free (or at least two or so) and give the people who have chosen to pay for first a little something extra on the ground. But, I guess United isn't trying to win customer experience of the year award yet, despite things having gotten better recently.

That said, I was only too happy to board as soon as announced:

United flight.70
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Amsterdam, Netherlands (AMS)
Depart 18:00, Arrive 07:15 next day, Flight Time: 7:15
Boeing 767-300, Registration N656UA, Manufactured 1992, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 110,551
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,148,384


Crew was rather distracted upon boarding, but did manage to offer up a menu and amenity kit within a few minutes. I like the look of the new amenity kit, although it's a bit bulky for my tastes, especially to consider re-using it:



I was excited to see what was on offer on the recently revamped United international menu, but unfortunately it was nearly identical to my last flight in United first. Disappointing:



Pre-departure bubbles in the ever-classy United plastic flute were offered, no refills:



Load was two of five tonight...wait I mean five of five once the nonrev party boarded. I mean party because it was three people traveling together who talked loudly the whole time, and the crew spent more time paying attention to than to the two paying passengers. Par for the course unfortunately. Before anyone asks why I continue to pay for it, the extra space more than makes up for it to me at 6'4, and I've never had a problem getting sleep due to the nonrevs, so, yeah. The usual Château le Oscar 2015 and warm mixed split cashews:



After the mixed nuts and a glass of wine, all was forgiven, when I found out they had indeed loaded garlic bread tonight, and the flight attendant gave me a wink and promised "I'll save you as much as you want sweetie!"



Strangest appetizer ever...ONE tempura prawn and a bit of roasted corn...with BBQ sauce. Points for originality:



Mushroom and leek soup. Sort of bland, but at the same time it was somewhat tasty and felt like home cooking:



The salad, unfortunately, was disappointing. Couple of limp wrinky olives, and flavourless tomatoes. Usually Global First has pretty decent salads, but this one missed the mark:



I've had the pork chop before, and remembered it being pretty good. Unfortunately, tonight, it was pretty dry...as was the stuffing...which is one of my favourite foods on earth. Even the white asparagus was overcooked and limp. United was not having a good food night, unfortunately:



As disappointing as the meal was, the cheese selection was definitely way above average for United. I asked for, and did receive seconds it was that good. Unfortunately, there was a limited quantity of my preferred sweet biscuits, but minor details:



Finished it off with a sundae with hot fudge. Tonight's request of "with cherries" was met with three cherries, which is pretty much the average response based on my extensive research



After dinner, I passed out for four solid hours, which is pretty good considering the total flight time was just under 6.5 hours total, and the dinner service wasn't too fast. Had to be woken up by the crew, which to their credit despite not asking if I wanted breakfast or not before takeoff, let me sleep until we were barely five minutes off the ground. My first look at the screen through blurry eyes actually showed that we were already down to 5,000 feet! I don't wear my glasses too often, but had taken my contacts out on this flight to avoid my eyes drying out too much, so it looked like I'd be going through the airport in glasses today. Oh the horrors.

Immigration was quite a walk today, but was fast once there, and anyone who knows me well doesn't have to ask where my first stop was. Apparently, with glasses, I look like my name should be Jordan:



After coffee I had plenty of time to hit the Priority Pass lounge for a bit, which turned out to also conveniently be the Lufthansa lounge. Fortunately wasn't too crowded, and was able to wash up a bit, put a pair of contacts in, brush teeth, and basically make myself feel presentable enough until I could make it to Frankfurt for a proper shower. Had a few bottles of water, and got to the gate just in time to board the flight to Frankfurt.

Lufthansa flight 987
Amsterdam, Netherlands (AMS) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 09:00, Arrive 10:05, Flight Time: 1:05
Airbus A320, Registration D-AIUE, Manufactured 2014, Seat 6F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 110,779
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,148,612


Fortunately, the flight wasn't terribly full, and was able to change my seat on the Lufthansa app to have a whole row of glamourous EuroBusiness to myself. Again, short flight so it's not a big deal, but it's always nice to have the extra space when possible. Speaking of possible, it always amazes me that Lufthansa is able to serve great snacks on a 45 minute flight. Look, more cheese!



Once in Frankfurt, we'd come in at the extreme outer A gates, which meant a rather long walk to the tunnel to the B gates, and eventually to immigration. Fortunately, once to immigration the line wasn't too bad, and I was soon in the lounge enjoying a bottle of water while waiting on a shower. For some reason, the lounge was absolutely packed, which I later found out was because we were right next to the gate for the A380 to Singapore which was about to leave. Once that left the lounge cleared out, I got my shower, and it was time for a very German breakfast:



But no sooner was I finished with my breakfast snack than they changed the buffet over, so had to have a lunch snack too:



Soon it was time to board the incredibly full flight to Cairo. Apparently the recent bombing of a Russian aircraft over the Sinai hadn't detoured most travelers, and the flight was absolutely packed.

Lufthansa flight 580
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Cairo, Egypt (CAI)
Depart 13:30, Arrive 18:35, Flight Time: 4:05
Airbus A321, Registration D-AIDM, Manufactured 2011, Seat 9E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 112,594
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,150,427


I'd managed to grab 9D for this flight, which is my favourite seat on the Lufthansa A321 since there is no 9F, which guarantees you get the whole row of two to yourself. Considering we had 14 rows of business class today (seriously!) I considered this a pretty lucky break. This was going to be my first time in what I'd consider longhaul Eurobusiness with a flight of four hours, and I was curious how the service would be. It started out with packaged nuts, which was fine considering they were cashews...my favourite!



What's this...a printed menu on a shorthaul? Impressive!



The chicken was actually super tasty, and was super impressed with both the burrata cheese starter and the delicious desert. The saran-wrapped salad was a little tacky, but overall a great meal for such a short flight. No comments on the white wine...for some reason it just sounded unsually tasty to me for a change:



After lunch/dinner, chocolates were passed out, which were also super tasty:





All in all, considering the long routing I took to get there, the whole journey passed quite quickly. It was nothing spectacular or glamourous, but an overall solid performance that went by quickly. Considering I'd taken a longer routing because I was a bit short on miles quick and painless and comfortable was all I was expecting, and United and Lufthansa definitely lived up to expectations so overall...it was a good set of flights.

Next up, time for Egyptian immigration, a short overnight, and then off to Algeria!
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Old Dec 2, 15, 7:53 pm
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II. Overnight Cairo, Cairo to Algiers in EgyptAir Business

After landing in Cairo, it was a rather long walk through the airport to get to the arrivals area. There's no real clear signage for what you need to do, but I remembered from previous trips that you can go to any of the bank offices in the area and pay for your visa. Once that is done, they issue you with a visa sticker. You take the sticker to the immigration officer who sticks in in your passport, and stamps it. They take all major currencies. However, just as remembered, immigration moved at a snail's pace. I think Cairo may have one of the slowest immigration areas in the world, and even the business class line wasn't moving any faster.

Finally stamped into the country, after the odd question of "next stop Russia?" I set off through baggage claim to customs, where the guy looked at my passport, seeming to decide if he wanted to size me up for a bribe, and eventually decided he wouldn't, and let me through. I had booked in at the Le Meridien Airport, after reading lots of good things about it online. It was pretty easy to find with the signs online, a couple of ramps up through the airport from baggage claim, a walkway/skyway across the road, and I was in the hotel. It was mildly confusing, but pretty easy to figure out with a little patience.

Check in was...not the most efficient, with the check-in agent keen to show me he was paying lots of attention, and wanting to tell me every little detail about the hotel. Eventually I assured him I would come down if I had further questions, but would like to just get up to my room. I was told I had been upgraded to a "Panoramic Suite" but didn't have super high expectations. I probably should have. Entryway into the dining room:



With a kitchen:



Dining room, looking into the living room. The only BIG downside, is the desk had absolutely zero power outlets or places to plug things in. Had I been staying longer I probably would have called down to see if I could get an extension cord, but it was a really awkward oversight:



Half of the bedroom:



The other half of the bedroom. As mentioned, this suite was HUGE:



Half of the large bathroom. Couldn't get a pic of the other half due to all the mirrors, and well, didn't want a picture of myself:



Welcome gift of SPG macarons, almonds, apricots, and dates. Went perfect with my duty free wine from Frankfurt:



Albeit a bit short, had a great night of sleep, and woke up to explore a tiny bit more. That's when I realized the room also had a balcony/sunroom:



View of the airport from the sunroom:





All in all, I was super impressed with this hotel. Sure, there was the awkward power issue, but I'm pretty sure that would have been solved if I'd stayed longer. I also didn't check out the bars, restaurants, or other facilities, but the room met my expectations, which at the end of the day is really what a hotel is about especially for an airport hotel!

After checkout, I walked over to the airport. That was when it hit...a bit of food poisoning. Not sure if it was the room service quesadilla or one of the flights from the day before, but things were...less than happy. Check-in with Egypt Air was only mildly awkward (about a 15 minute line for business class check-in) but immigration and security were relatively quick and then I was off to find a lounge. EgyptAir has multiple lounges in Cairo, but they always seem to be super crowded and have a poor selection of food.

I tried one or two of the lounges (they are all close together) before remembering that the one I'd previously decided was the best was all the way to the left when you go through immigration. Walk through duty free, towards the food court, take a left, and keep going to the very last lounge. That was the one with better seating, and it was only half as crowded as the other lounges.

That's not to say the food selection was a whole lot better for breakfast:



Since I'd opted to sleep in a bit, soon it was time to board. According to the seatmap, business class was barely half full, but according to ExpertFlyer the flight had been zeroed out for weeks and wasn't selling tickets.

EgyptAir flight 845
Cairo, Egypt (CAI) to Algiers, Algeria (ALG)
Depart 09:15, Arrive 12:25, Flight Time: 4:10
Airbus A321, Registration SU-GBW, Manufactured 1997, Seat 9A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 114,278
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,153,111


Turned out this was an absolutely ancient A321...over 18 years old! It turned out to be 7/16 in business class, despite the fact you couldn't buy a ticket and seats weren't reserved. Who knows what EgyptAir's logic is!

Cabin pic of the big plushy seats:



Mystery welcome "fruit" drink...I had a sip and it was way too sweet so passed on the rest:



Bling bling! The seatbelts were right up there with Emirates for faux gold-plated bling:



Service was pretty quick after takeoff, and breakfast was served in two courses. The bread was extremely dry and disappointing so I passed on it, but the cheese, as always, was super tasty:



The omelette was billed as cheese, but I couldn't taste any cheese in it. The giant mutant mushrooms were pretty amazing, so combined with the eggs it made for a satisfying meal overall. Can't really complain too much, since it's pretty hard to screw up an airline breakfast. Maybe some day someone will try something adventurous like crepes or eggs benedict, but until then this was right up there.



After the meal service...the crew completely disappeared. In fairness, when I went to the washroom and asked they were happy to refill water, but there was nothing proactive about it. Overall, it was a solid flight, but one doesn't fly EgyptAir expecting luxury, Krug, or caviar. It was a very solid flight that got me from Point A to Point B quickly and comfortably, and overall completely met my expectations. Now, time to explore Algeria!
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Old Dec 2, 15, 9:25 pm
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A few pictures in your last post aren't showing up for me for some reason. And now they are so nevermind.
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Old Dec 2, 15, 9:26 pm
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Originally Posted by wrp96 View Post
A few pictures in your last post aren't showing up for me for some reason. And now they are so nevermind.
Looks fine on this end....maybe try reloading?
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Old Dec 2, 15, 9:31 pm
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Originally Posted by ironmanjt View Post
Looks fine on this end....maybe try reloading?
When I went to reply, they showed up.

That post was just to let you know people really pay attention to your posts.
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