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Oceania the long way and 787 Tour | SEA-SFO-SYD-AKL-NRT-SEA | UA/NZ/NH J

Oceania the long way and 787 Tour | SEA-SFO-SYD-AKL-NRT-SEA | UA/NZ/NH J

Old Jul 19, 17, 12:08 am
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Oceania the long way and 787 Tour | SEA-SFO-SYD-AKL-NRT-SEA | UA/NZ/NH J

Welcome to my first trip report!

Having been inspired by many trip reports (wisdom) I've read here on FT, I decided to write my own -- and now I have so much respect for those who do this often. It's quite time-consuming sorting through your photos and trying to remember things, so kudos to you all. After all, it is quite enjoyable.

Any feedback is welcome – this is my first time writing a trip report so please be gentle, but after all I am posting here for discerning FT eyes and know the consequences.


BACKGROUND
I work in the consulting industry - every now and again you get a period of time between projects when you essentially have nothing to do besides find your next gig.

Having traveled extensively for client gigs last year, I've accumulated many different currencies among UA, DL, Hilton, and SPG, as well as elite status nearly everywhere (except Hyatt!).

Finding myself with at least a 2 week break between projects, I decided to spontaneously take a "working holiday," if you will. Options were Asia, Oceania, or Europe, and I wanted to use UA miles earned from the 70k Mileageplus Explorer card signup bonus awhile back, account balance from flying BR and AC last year, and combine them with my Chase UR.

I really had just 2-3 days to plan for this trip before leaving. In fact I was spending time with my parents for a short 4th of a July getaway when I booked this trip – I told them the next morning and they stared at me in disbelief. Who books a trip on a Monday night to leave Wednesday evening? Yes – these points and miles fanatics do.

ROUTING
After poking around and finding bad weather for most of my top Asian destinations, poor routings/schedules to Europe with UA and partners, I ended up finding availability down under (after extensive searching) The routing would cost 150k UA miles and ~$200 in taxes and fees. I'd get to sample UA, NZ, and NH J products as well as utilize the UA Explorist Perk between SYD and AKL. Award space on these airlines is generally hard to find, so I was very pleasantly surprised (and felt like I won the lottery!) with this routing with solid J products.

SEA-SYD was priced at 70k on UA metal, SYD-AKL was free (taxes were $90!!), and AKL-SEA (via NRT) was 80K on NZ and NH metal. All in all I'd get 3 days in Sydney and 2 days in Auckland. I was hoping I could work a BR leg in there, but alas, the schedules and availability did not work out. Booking 2 days out, beggars can't be choosers.

For reference, DL wanted 260k for an itinerary similar to this (if you can find availability), though surprisingly with a last-minute booking there was saver J availability (LAX-SYD for 110k SkyPesos). Count me out. A revenue booking like this would have cost upwards of $17,000, which made me the value-seeker in me feel good, but I also knew I would never pay for a last minute J ticket down under I have to thank the miles and points game for letting me take a holiday like this so last minute, and in relative style.

I’m lucky that in my industry I can work from virtually anywhere as long as I am reachable. Being 17-19 hours ahead (and with long periods without WiFi) of the North American west coast (where I am based) this was slightly difficult, but worked out well as I tend to be quite disciplined with my schedule on the road.

A few friends in both SYD and AKL ended up being free, so this will be the tale of traveling through these cities along with some eating and drinking.
  • SEA - SFO in UA Y (waitlisted for J but did not clear) on an A320
  • SFO - SYD in UA J on a B789
  • - Stay at the Hilton Sydney for 3 nights -
  • SYD - AKL in NZ J on a B772
  • - Stay at The Langham, Auckland for 2 nights -
  • AKL - NRT in NZ J on a B789
  • NRT - SEA in NH J on a B789



In total, nearly 20,000 miles flown over 7 days with 5 days on the ground.

As a last note, I tend to be a Delta-loyalist, but realize the value of UA miles (I’ve used them quite often to fly BR J regularly). Overall, I was generally quite impressed with other carriers outside of my home DL-realm (though, still wouldn’t fly United domestically given the choice ).

POST INDEX
  1. SEA – SFO in United Y on the A320, the AMEX Centurion Lounge SFO and SFO – SYD in United “Polaris” J on the B787
  2. Hilton Sydney and Sydney sights
  3. Dining Around Sydney
  4. SYD – AKL in Air New Zealand J on the B772 and the Air New Zealand SYD Lounge
  5. The Langham, Auckland and Auckland sights
  6. Ziplining, Wine Tasting, Olive Oil Tasting on Waiheke Island
  7. AKL – NRT in Air New Zealand J on the B787, ANA Business Class Lounge NRT
  8. NRT – SEA in ANA J on the B787

PHOTOGRAPHY
Unfortunately I did not bring my DSLR on this trip -- I packed everything into a carry-on (including some gifts for friends) and did not have room to pack in my camera. As such, everything is shot on a revolutionary iPhone 6S

NEXT UP: SEA – SFO in United Y on the A320, the AMEX Centurion Lounge SFO and SFO – SYD in United “Polaris” J on the B787

Last edited by bj27; Aug 20, 17 at 12:58 pm
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Old Jul 19, 17, 12:10 am
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SEA-SFO in UA Y, AMEX Centurion SFO, and SFO-SYD in UA J

SEA-SFO in UA Y
Flight #: UA 214
Departing: SEA 6:15pm
Arriving: SFO 8:25pm
Booking Class: XN, waitlisted for I class (did not clear)
Equipment: A320
Seat: 19F (exit row window)



Funny thing is I used the SEA DL A SkyClub prior to this United flight. The check-in agent and I shared a look of terror when I mentioned I had to fly UA tonight.

The new DL SC shines as one of the best US3 carrier lounges in NA (besides special FlAAgship or Polaris lounges). Good food options, wide salad spreads, and rotating hot dishes. Large space accommodates many people and the new design concepts are slick.

On to the flight. This was your standard UA domestic flight, I guess. I haven't flown UA in a long time (being a frequent DL flyer for work), so originally was allocated something like 30F but then checked in at T-24 and grabbed an "Economy Plus" seat on accord of my (now) UA Premier Silver status.

I had requested a "Plan B" upgrade by calling into the Premier Silver desk (is that actually a thing or just a marketing spin to make us peons feel special?) and it took a few tries to get the agent to understand what I was talking about, but it was done correctly. I ended up being 4 out of 20 on the list, which methinks was done correctly -- but maybe others were using instruments. Normally I would have done more research but I didn't care as much about this leg and was happy with my extra legroom, exit row seat.

Nothing special to write about here. No IFE so I just streamed some random TV shows. I didn't mind being in Y for this short hop down to SFO.

AMEX Centurion Lounge SFO

Flight from SEA arrived on time -- it was pleasant enough. First things first -- I had to pick up some Blue Bottle coffee beans for my friends in Sydney. I had a 2:30H layover here in SFO so figured I would look for a gift (be it Blue Bottle or not) and then visit the AMEX Centurion lounge (it was that or the UA lounge and supposedly the AMEX Cent wins by a mile).

After perusing through the UA domestic terminal (G?) and the International terminal and finding nothing (and looking through the SFO terminal directory), I decided to settle on some Ghirardelli chocolates.

To the AMEX Centurion Lounge I went.



The lounge is located one level up from the main departures concourse area, located between the UA domestic terminal and the international concourse.

A friendly agent (I find all the AMEX Centurion Lounge agents to be quite nice) welcomed me and processed my check-in and mentioned dinner was to be served until 10:00pm.

On the menu tonight:


Stewed chicken tasted fine -- standard lounge fare, methinks. Generally I find lounges tend to do some sort of protein that stands up well to prolonged time on heating elements and won't dry out. Stewed chicken satisfies both requirements.



Some veggie options.









My sampler plate. I didn't finish anything -- just wanted to try out all the options knowing I'd get a full meal on UA's late-night SYD departure.

I didn't take any pictures of the lounge -- it was quite crowded. The food options were just fine. Perhaps I am jaded now in frequent flying when it comes to lounge food options. No self-service drink station (besides water and iced tea) meant I had to ask the bartender for a sparkling water (I'm not much of a drinker when it comes to flying).

I also didn't visit any other lounges on my trip to SFO. Normally flying into SFO I'm on DL or AS so the Centurion lounge is inconvenient to use.

As an aside, I laugh when I see "dandelion greens" being masqueraded as haute cuisine. A look at the description brings me back to childhood pulling dandelions out of the ground and blowing their spores everywhere. The taste is fine -- bitter with a bit of zing. I don't mind them but it's just funny how far we've come. I did decide I needed a bit of greens in my life so had a second helping.



Overall, the Centurion Lounge is okay. It's quite busy during the late night as many international flights are departing (and I'm assuming SFO has a large population of AMEX Plat/Cent cardholders given the demographic).

SFO - SYD in UA "Polaris" J
Flight #: UA 863
Departing: SFO 10:50PM
Arriving: SYD 6:50AM (+2 days)
Booking Class: I Class
Equipment: B787-9
Seat: 5E (middle right side aisle)

Ah, tonight's main event! I haven't flown UA in a long time (and I don't think I've ever flown UA J in recent memory) so I was interested to see how this flight would be.

UA's 787 seats have been described in great length in other trip reports and blog posts, and I will not detail them here. However I will say while reverse herringbones and SkySuites ala KE and JL are far superior, I actually don't mind this type of seat -- I believe these are the BE Diamond seats. KLM has installed them across their fleet (minus their A330s which desperately need updating, and their 787 which have a nice reverse herringbone product), and I've flown them a few times and have been satisfied. DL has installed these seats on some of their 757 fleet and the first time I flew those SFO-JFK I was pleasantly surprised on how much I slept (could have been the incessant Napa "wine tasting" and drinking that occurred that weekend as well).

They are not the widest but the foot cubby is sufficient. I definitely wanted to get row 1 but of course that was booked already. Again, to put things in perspective, I was happy just to get a decent lieflat on this 15 hour redeye flight down under.

I also find that the UA iteration of these seats is well... Boring. They almost seem like your factory-standard seats, with little customization or design elements (like the KLM seats which have a little bit more of a designer's touch with the fancy partition between seats).

Some cabin shots.







Shortly after boarding, the flight service leader Melissa came around and introduced herself to all the J passengers individually. What a lovely individual who knows what she's doing. Tonight's crew was PmCO. Apparently the Australia flights have a mix of both senior and junior FAs and I was too woozy to understand the contract differences, but Melissa mentioned that she had just flown in that morning from SYD and does this route quite frequently. She was pleasant, though she did walk quite heavily, I did notice.

I'm not sure if the blue (and they are BLUE) FA uniforms are new, but I quite liked them--and I think this is only due to the fact that I am used to the black/white attire of DL FAs with their splash of red here and there. But either way the uniforms are done quite nicely, I thought. The blue provides a splash of color in an otherwise bland looking cabin.

I also requested the sleep items (gel pillow, mattress pad, duvet, pajamas, slippers) and figured I would get them after takeoff, but the FA working my row (Tanja) delivered them pre-takeoff... Consistent UA J flyers know that with the introduction of the new Polaris service items, there is absolutely 0 space to store any of this. You get:
  • A Polaris/Saks amenity kit
  • A light blanket
  • A full sized pillow
  • A gel pillow
  • A mattress pad
  • A duvet
  • Slippers
  • Pajamas
  • Noise cancelling headphones

Of course in the BE Diamond seats there is nowhere to put these, so I stuck everything in an empty mini-overhead bin with some others in nooks and crannies around my seat. Of course there are "no stowage during takeoff and landing" stickers EVERYWHERE, and being used to BR (who require you to put EVERYTHING in the overhead bin) I put all the sleep items up above and left my travel pack (a repurposed DL TUMI amenity kit, haha, with chargers, chapstick, etc. in it) in the tray below the IFE screen. Wasn't asked to remove anything.

Menus were passed out and PDBs offered. I took a sparkling water with lime, my drink of choice.



Tonight's dinner menu.





I chose the poached salmon for dinner and was curious how UA would do a salmon. DL tends to do fantastic salmon dishes IME.

Against better judgment, I chose the southwestern omelette for breakfast and already knew it would not be good. I can't remember the last time I had an egg dish (that has been sitting in the cooler for 15+ hours) turn out nicely. Perhaps I need to fly LH F, OZ J, or CX to get some nice eggs.

The captain welcomed passengers on board and the standard safety video and departure formalities were conducted with an on-time pushback. Normally I like to get a window seat but the thought of 15 hours of needing to climb over a seatmate pushed me into an aisle seat.

J was full tonight, with 44 booked passengers (interestingly full for a Wednesday night) and 4 nonrevs.

30 minutes after takeoff dinner began.

I began with a nice red tasting flight just to sample as I don't really drink when flying. Can't remember the wines (and I forgot to bring the menu off the flight with me sadly), but the Spanish one to the right was nice. Was it a Tempranillo? Who knows. Perhaps I'm partial to Spanish wines as I spent nearly a year studying in Southern Spain.





Next up the starter, the nori wrapped salmon and cabbage salad. FAs came around and distributed bread.



The salmon was actually divine. Funny thing is apparently each FA gets 12 seats. If you can imagine both forward and aft J cabins being in a grid, each FA gets 12 seats to serve (two on the window side and one from the middle), x4 rows = 12 seats. For example, FA 1 gets Rows 1-4 ABD, FA 2 gets Rows 1-4 EKL, FA 3 gets rows 5-8 ABD, and FA 4 gets rows 5-8 EKL.

This meant my FA, Tanja, actually had to serve her half of the aft J cabin and then her 3 seats in row 5, in the forward J cabin since the galley separates rows 5 and 6.

Essentially she has to run between the forward and aft J cabins, which means her hand appeared out of thin air from the curtain and would plop something down on my tray and hustle back to the aft cabin.

It was also funny watching FA 2 come and look after rows 1-4 EKL and turn right around once she reached row 5, to the dismay of the couple traveling in 5KL.

Closeups of the starters.



The cabbage salad is fine. Nothing too special. I would have liked some sort of rocket/parmesan combo, perhaps with some little tomatoes and cucumbers? I guess the theme was Asian here so generally cabbage is pretty acceptable. However the EVOO/balsamic dressing combo strayed from normal Far-eastern ingredients. A bit of east-meets-west, I suppose.



The famed UA salt and pepper shakers. I wonder if these are disposable/single-use? I did not find a opening to deposit more S&P.



The entree arrived some 1.5 hours into the meal service. I noted that I was the last to get the poached salmon as 5KL were informed that there was no more salmon.



Bravo, UA! Nicely tender and translucent pink on the inside, and HOT! Of course, I would not call these cruciferous stems "broccollini," but rather your garden variety. Nonetheless, actually a quite tasty dish which I finished all of it. I did not think I'd like the lentil chili (being personally adverse to both lentils and chili), but it was quite nice with the salmon.

While this dish was somewhat pedestrian (I am used to DL's new fanciful menu marketing and preparations), it did the job and was nicely executed. I guess Tanja's rushed service finally turned into something good.

Tanja came around and offered cheese. Being a sucker for a nice cheese plate I succumbed. We chatted about PmCO crews and the differing contracts and how UA expects all crews to have similar contracts next year when a single operating certificate is achieved. I know little about the UA/CO merger (never flying either) but I guess I spoke the right language (I have VS/AS merger experience, I guess) so Tanja stayed chatting with me for a little bit before returning to her duties. Apparently the FAs (at least these PmCO FAs) get a 5 hour paid break on this flight. Not too shabby. Apparently they layover for 24 hours before flying the return back to SFO and are paid 5 flight hours for that 24 hour layover. Again, not too bad IMO.



Again, quite standard, though I wish UA would offer some sort of fig jam, berry compote, or onion marmalade like DL does.

Last but not least, the famed dessert. 5KL were not impressed as they were stuffed (and a middle aged couple wanting to watch their weight), but with some persuading from myself and Tanja, we got them to share a sundae.



I of course, sampled everything, except for the apple pie (which curiously looks exactly the same as KLM's "Dutch apple pie" dessert... You mean to tell me LSG SkyChefs cater all airlines?!?!).



Salted caramel pretzel bar and some oat thing (did not finish the oat thing, only the bar).


The UA sundae with all the fixings, minus the chipping glass cups.



Tanja mentioned that it's quite nice catering pre-scoops all the ice cream for them, but also mentioned that she wouldn't mind doing it -- it would be a fun aspect of the service.

After the service concluded, the cabin lights were dimmed, water bottles were passed out, and most people went to sleep. I finished off my movie (The Accountant, very good) and also prepared to head to sleep.

UA's 787s have a J cabin between doors 1 and 2, and then a mini cabin behind door 2. Unfortunately, row 5 is the last row in the front J cabin which means close proximity to the lav and the galley. However, being as tired as I was, and with the assistance of a dangerous Melatonin/Benadryl combo (you didn't see that here kids...), I slept quite well for nearly 8 hours!! UA doesn't offer any sort of turndown service (not that I asked, being a rather independent traveler), so I made up my bed myself... It is quite a time consuming process but the bedding is fantastic. What a huge improvement and even better than what DL provides.

I woke up with about 3.5 hours to go, and thought about inquiring about what the "hot snack" options were but ended up letting it go. I actually was quite hungry though, but figured breakfast would be soon.

Indeed, a 2 hours to departure, the lights were turned on and breakfast service commenced.

Nothing special here:





The omelette was actually quite spicy, and I figured the level of heat probably was not appropriate for the general North American public. But being of Asian descent I appreciated it and wanted even more :P

At least the fruit was fresh.



I watched another movie (Allied with Brad Pitt, also a decent movie if you don't want to think too much) and pretty soon were were landing in SYD. Immigration cards and fast track arrivals cards were passed out.

I popped in my Telstra SIM card I had topped up from a previous SYD trip and off we went to SYD.

Arrivals was generally a pretty quick process, though area for processing is not well signed-- many confused people. I've done it before so I knew where to go, but the fast track arrivals slip that UA gives its J passengers is pretty useless -- IME nobody looks at it and just waves you through. Early morning is a pretty busy time at SYD as all the overseas redeyes are arriving (including fellow DL 41 from LAX).

Having no checked bags I made my way to the Sydney Airport Train and caught a ride into town.

Emerged out of St. James station and it was like deja-vu with this view.



The Hilton Sydney was a short 3 minute walk from St. James station.

NEXT UP: Hilton Sydney and Sydney sights

Last edited by bj27; Jul 19, 17 at 2:17 am
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Old Jul 19, 17, 5:31 am
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Am really enjoying your TR. Hope you enjoyed Sydney
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Old Jul 20, 17, 12:23 am
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Hilton Sydney and Sydney sights

Hilton Sydney
Number of nights: 3
Elite Tier: Diamond
Cost: 118,000 HHonors Points
Cash Cost: $608 USD
Redemption Value: .51 cents/point

Booking
Initially I had booked the Sheraton on the Park with cash -- it came out to about $509 all-in for the three nights I was looking at (didn't consider points since it was 48,000 SPG points for the three nights which I felt was poor value). I stayed here with my parents over the NYE period last year when we visited Sydney and did not have a great experience -- much contrary to what those on the SPG forum think.

The Hilton wanted 150,000 HHonors points for the three night stay, which I also felt was poor value.

Then, 2 days before arrival the Hilton dropped to 118,000 points for the stay, which I bit. Thought I would try a new SYD property and was eager to not have to stay at the Sheraton again anyways, and the Hilton Sydney is generally well-regarded among Hilton properties in AUS/NZ.

Check-In
I arrived at the hotel after taking the airport train from SYD around 8:30am, and walking the rest of the two blocks to the hotel from St. James station. SYD locals will know the airport train is quite convenient if you are going between the CBD and the airport (though expensive). I know very early check-ins plague the SYD hotel scene since so many flights arrive in the early morning, so much so the Marriott at Circular Quay apparently has a special lounge area specifically for early check-ins.

Thankfully it's low season in SYD and the friendly agent confirmed that while my room was not ready, it would be ready within an hour and invited me to have breakfast in the executive lounge and wait.

Apparently the highest room category the Hilton Sydney grants Diamonds is the "Relaxation Room" which is an open layout type room -- all the rooms below this category apparently are quite small. The associate mentioned I had been upgraded to a "Deluxe Room Plus" on the top floor -- no Relaxation Rooms were coming available within the hour. This was fine with me since I was by myself and didn't plan on being in the room that much anyways.

This was a huge improvement over the Sheraton which wanted to charge for early check-in after declining a Platinum Your24 benefit. The associate also asked for a phone number so she could text me when my room was ready, and phoned the EL to let them know I was coming upstairs. Off to a good start.

Check-In area: much more grand and updated space than the Sheraton, I thought.





The Executive Lounge is located on the 36th floor, which is not actually the highest floor in the hotel (which is the 43rd floor). On this particular Friday morning, there was no crowd. I mostly had the lounge to myself.

I got some light food and a double espresso (a double short black as you Ozzies call it) from the Nespresso machine.

I always notice produce in Australia/New Zealand to be on the.... Drier side. My assumption is since they can't grow this year, it all has to be shipped in from somewhere else.







The smoked salmon was actually of quite a high quality -- none of the fatty, chewy stuff you find in the States.





Was thankful for the fruit selection. Wish they had berries but understandably they are hard to come by in this part of the world.





EL mostly empty -- it's actually quite a nice space and I prefer it to the lounge at the Sheraton. This feels a little more open and like there are different areas you can choose from.





Berenberg Jam! A favorite of my mother's. I was tempted to steal one or two to bring back to her but decided it wasn't worth the trouble attempting to stuff jam of all things into my quart-sized bag for liquids.



After catching up on some email (note you need to get a WiFi code from the lounge attendant) and having some fruit and coffee, the main lounge concierge walked over to inform me my room was ready. Slightly over the 1-hour mark, but not too bad. It was nice she proactively came over to find me -- probably because I was one of three people in the lounge.

I received a Deluxe Room Plus on the 43rd floor, far from the elevator (my preference). Note these rooms are exactly the same as the entry level rooms, but are on a higher floor (the "Deluxe" part) and apparently come with a 375ml bottle of wine and 2 bottled waters (the "plus") part.

First impression is that the rooms are quite small, but the space is used quite efficiently.









Note the shower is separated from the bedroom by frosted glass (directly behind the chair in the picture below). This could be a privacy issue if you are traveling with someone who you are not as close with.





The sink area is actually quite tight and I can't imagine more than one person's personal effects fitting on the counter here.







Overall, the room was clean, modern, and well-appointed. Nothing too out of the ordinary from your normal city-center Hilton. A personalized letter of Diamond benefits was also given to me but I forget the contents. All the standard stuff of course, though I did remember Diamonds receive both a 1,000 point welcome amenity and full breakfast buffet at Glass brasserie (the Hilton Sydney's on-site celebrity chef inspired restaurant).

Also -- water pressure here was fantastic. I swear this hotel may take top marks for efficiency in cleansing (minus water usage, of course).

After getting settled, I ventured downstairs to avail myself of a quick workout, having been gorging on catered food and sleeping nearly the past 20 hours.

One excellent thing is that the Hilton actually owns a real gym (Living Well gym), that is part of the building. Living Well gym actually sells real gym memberships and isn't just your normal "fitness room" you find at many hotels. Hotel guests receive free access via their key card. This alone, for me, would be a key factor of coming back to stay here.

The gym is well-appointed and quite large. I believe you can actually receive a quick fitness consultation from a personal trainer complimentary if you are a hotel guest, but I did not inquire.



After a workout (it's amazing how weak you feel after sitting on your butt for 20 hours and flying transpacific) and a shower, I did some more work and then ventured out for a quick jaunt around town.

I've been to Sydney before but missed the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) and the Royal Botanic Gardens last time, so those were my main points of interest tonight before meeting up with friends.

Beautiful QVB. Boring shops but nice place to walk around.





Fountain at Hyde Park on the way to the Royal Botanic Gardens.



Out of the many, many pictures from the Royal Botanic Gardens, this is the only one I felt worth sharing. The gardens are beautiful, but it behooves you to walk to the end (Mrs. Macquarie's Point) to get a beautiful view of the Sydney skyline, the Opera Building, and Harbour Bridge.

I lucked out with my timing (yes slightly filtered but you get the idea).



I also really lucked out with the weather -- but apparently Sydney is like this in the winter (what a pity!). 65 and sunny? I wouldn't complain if I were you, Sydney-siders.

Spent too much time at the park and then my friend called as the end of the work day was nearing. I walked back to the CBD, and we grabbed a drink near the Opera house with some other friends as our dinner reservation was not until 8pm.

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Old Jul 20, 17, 12:26 am
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Originally Posted by wtcmor View Post
Am really enjoying your TR. Hope you enjoyed Sydney
Thanks, wtcmor. I thought Sydney was so-so last time I visited with my family after a poor experience at the Sheraton on the Park and throngs of tourists. I guess during NYE is the "peak" of the peak season, and to top it off, it was hot.

This time was a much nicer experience with less crowds and a more enjoyable temperature.
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Old Jul 20, 17, 12:49 am
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Dinner at Mercado

Lovely Spanish restaurant located in the CBD which my friends had wanted to try for quite some time.

We ordered a nice bottle of 2013 Grenache to start -- Palacios Remondo "La Montesa" if I recall correctly. While it retails normally at only $20, it was a perfectly drinkable Grenache to pair with our meal tonight.

To start, soft shell crab sliders with harissa aioli.



This was arguably our favorite dish of the night: turkish pumpkin ravioli with burnt butter and yogurt.



The sauce was so heavenly we ordered some grilled bread to mop it up. We only realized 10 minutes later as the butter coagulated on our plates we perhaps eaten 2 sticks of butter between the four of us. Oh well, when on vacation.



I will also mentioned we ordered a lovely foie grais parfait but we were so ravenous a photo was forgotten or ignored with haste as to not delay consumption from hungry hosts.

Brussel sprouts with mint oil and jamon iberico.



Braised octopus with sobrasada and olive.



Beef carpaccio with anchovy creme fraiche and caviar.



Smoked wagyu beef tongue with salsa verde and horseradish. Could have used more horseradish but was quite nice.



Good friends, good conversation, and good food rounded out the night. My friends were amazed I'd just decided to come down under 2 days before. Points life, I guess.

We decided to call it a night since I'd been up for a while and being Friday, most folks were pretty tired.

Brunch at Three Williams

The next morning I forewent the Hilton's breakfast offerings, grabbed a double short black at the EL and off to brunch we went.

Apparently winter is truffle season here in Australia (I did not know this was a thing), with many establishments having specialized menus as a result. A local favorite is Three Williams Cafe, and apparently they have one of the best truffle menus.

We all ordered our own dishes, but out of memory's sake, I photographed all of them.

The special menu.



Sweet potato truffle fries. Fries were on the soggy side, but understandable since the pile is enormous. The amount of truffles was insane. Could have used more queso sauce too, but I guess the focus here is the truffles.



Some truffle BLT toast or something or other.



Roasted peking duck truffle pasta. I had low hopes for this but was a surprisingly nice combination of flavors that worked well -- very complex and deep. Sadly, however, the pasta was overcooked.



Loaded mushroom toastie. Wish I had ordered this, as was delicious.



Truffled chicken breast (my dish). The beurre noisette was much too buttery and I had a hard time finding the jerusalem artichoke puree. However, the chicken breast was done nicely and not overcooked. That's all a man can ask for.



After brunch we drove to Bondi beach where it being off-season, the throngs of crowds had subsided and was a much more pleasant experience. We walked the Bondi-Coogee walk but only got as far as Tamarama Beach where we had some nice refreshments. We definitely are not the "rough it" type.





I ran a few errands with my friends and later in the afternoon we headed to the Grounds of Alexandria for a quick espresso and a bite to eat. I remember coming here in the Australian summer and thought "what a lovely place" but frankly overrun with people. We ate in the main restaurant and the food was of high quality but downright cold. Such a shame.

But they do have everything from an espresso bar to a market (when it's open) to a soda bar to a pizza bar, you name it. The place is very well done in a retro farm-like style but with modern twists. Well worth a visit if you are ever in Sydney.

This time we just got pastries and an espresso. For a company who started as a coffee-roaster, their espresso is surprisingly one of the most acidic ones I've had.

Menu at the pizza bar.



Pastries being hawked.



Fruit stand.



Salted caramel tart. This lacked the moistness I had envisioned but I gave it a pass since it was the end of the day. You don't really come to the Grounds for outstanding food (most of it is just passable) but rather the atmosphere and the easy accessibility of just about anything you want.



After a nice sit-around and chatting, we made our way to the Star (Sydney's casino) for a quick drink before dinner. Dinner tonight was at the Flying Fish, a quick walk from the Star.

While grabbing a drink at the Star, we diddled around with their new Game of Thrones slot machines. Not being a huge GoT fan (or rather just haven't been enlightened or addicted yet), I thought "why not?" and stuck in $20 AUD. The slots certainly were interactive, with a large three-screen display that was curved upwards about 15 feet in the air. Impressive machines to say the least.

Lo and behold, $20 AUD and some frantic button pushing later, I won a "third-tier" jackpot -- $120 AUD. Score! This would be dinner money.



Dinner at Flying Fish

This restaurant at the end of the pier near the Star doesn't receive the ravest of reviews, though my friends have had good experiences there so we decided to go for it after running out of dinner ideas.

Our waiter tonight, Jeans, was a young Frenchman who was enthusiastic about his job and all things seafood (why wouldn't you?).

We ordered a bottle of white (nice, drinkable, and dry -- all I ask for), though I can't remember specifically what it was. I was in charge of appetizers, while a friend was in charge of wine.

Bread with cultured butter to start. Butter was fabulous. Bread was dense and too chewy. I guess that's not what we're here for anyways.





Oysters for all with a "late harvest vinaigrette." Oysters were good, though being from the West Coast of North America we are quite spoiled in this department.



Yellowfin tuna, fennel mousse, puffed rice, and some other accompaniments.



Torched bonito with wakame butter. I was missing the butter as I was really looking forward to that.



Seared scallops with pork cheek and fried egg mayonnaise. Scallops were done nicely but could have used a tad bit more seasoning.



Soft shell crab handrolls. These were fine. Nothing unlike what you'd get at a casual Japanese joint.



Onto the mains.

The special of the night. Can't remember the fish varietal but was served with a dashi bone broth. Actually better than I expected.



Roasted barramundi with chickpeas, pomegranate, saffron labneh. Excellent.





Snapper fillet with jerusalem artichoke (if you are reading closely, this is the second time today I've had jerusalem artichoke), tamarind butter, and smoked almonds. The tamarind butter was again missing, and the smoked almonds tasted like your Costco Smokehouse almonds variety, but the fish was cooked nicely.





John Dory with lobster yuzu butter. Tasted no yuzu or lobster. Seeing a trend here?



Handcut chips with chili and umami salt. I think "umami salt" here just means "monosodium glutamate." Still one of the tastier things on the table.



We also ordered a baby cos lettuce salad and some green beans, but these were quite pedestrian and I didn't bother with pictures. I will note the kitchen did not trim the green beans before preparing them which I thought was a basic step in the preparation of haricot verts.

Dessert--we were stuffed but had to try this yuzu souffle. Having tried a similar dish at a French restaurant in Boston a few months prior, we were eager to see if Flying Fish could actually do it correctly (and with some yuzu flavor to be identified).



They succeeded. Strong yuzu flavor was met with proper souffle-creaminess. The matcha sorbet was to die for, though we did not need the chai cream that was served on the side.



Overall a nice dining experience with nice waitstaff and proper service. I noticed as I was writing this that it seems like Flying Fish serves nothing but "firm white fish." I suppose a little salmon on their menu couldn't hurt?

Nonetheless, we enjoyed our meal. A few areas could use some work but it's a perfectly acceptable restaurant.

Next up: SYD AKL in Air New Zealand J on the B772 and the Air New Zealand SYD Lounge
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Old Jul 20, 17, 1:07 am
  #7  
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Thread title changed as requested.

Looks like a great trip down under.

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Old Jul 20, 17, 11:11 am
  #8  
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Originally Posted by DanielW View Post
Thread title changed as requested.

Looks like a great trip down under.

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Thanks DanielW!
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Old Jul 21, 17, 11:22 am
  #9  
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From the pictures the meal at Flying Fish looks at least acceptable Very nice report!
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Old Jul 21, 17, 12:44 pm
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Originally Posted by offerendum View Post
From the pictures the meal at Flying Fish looks at least acceptable Very nice report!
Thanks offerendum!. It was good -- perhaps I had high expectations but I felt like given the price paid everything should have been perfect (eg. the green beans should have been trimmed correctly!).
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Old Jul 21, 17, 2:05 pm
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SYD AKL in Air New Zealand J on the B772 and the Air New Zealand SYD Lounge

Arriving at Sydney airport I walked to the far end of the check-in area where Air New Zealand is located. I didn't have troubles checking in online but unfortunately Air NZ would not issue me a mobile boarding pass. Not totally sure why, but I had to pick it up at the airport.

I used a kiosk to print my BP (being wary that my carry-on was probably over the advertised weight limit...) instead of going to a desk.

Mach2 by Machiavelli (Priority Pass) and Air New Zealand SYD Lounge

I had not eaten in the Hilton Sydney's EL or downstairs at Glass brasserie and had only gotten a double shot in the EL since I knew I would be eating at the airport.

First stop: checking out one of Priority Pass' newest concepts at SYD airport. Essentially you receive a certain dollar amount off the bill ($36 AUD here) at certain food vendors through both the Domestic and International terminals since I'm assuming there are no lounges which want to take PP members.

$36 AUD is quite generous if you are by yourself. At Mach2 (International terminal, airside) I ordered a chicken/pesto sandwich and another double espresso, and the total was $16. The hostess even asked if I'd like to order more things to hit the $36 AUD benefit amount. I declined since I thought I'd be visiting the Air NZ lounge in a moment anyways.

Mach 2 -- note that I had originally come here because their menu online had advertised cold-pressed juices and smoothies... though I guess they probably just took the original menu from the CBD location. No juices or smoothies at the airport location.



Chicken and pesto sandwich on some sort of seedy, but soft bread. Delightful since the hostess heated it up for me. And it was HOT!



Sydney airport has an "Express Path" security and customs line -- granted it's just a separate entrance to make you feel special as a premium customer. It does just combine with the general line later on, but I guess you do save time if the regular lines are busy.

Security and customs was an easy affair. Automated gates for US passport holders make things a little quicker. Off to the Air New Zealand lounge (not sure its official name, so we'll just call it the Air NZ lounge since I think there's only one. ).



I was welcomed by a nice friendly agent -- I noticed that the Air NZ lounge has self-scan kiosks that are verified by an agent standing there. She scanned my BP, welcomed me, and mentioned boarding announcements for Star Alliance flights would be made.

Nice space. This is just one of 4 main areas within the lounge. The lounge is pretty large, though quite busy. Understandably all Star Alliance partners use this lounge since NZ is the only Star Alliance carrier based here.



I didn't take pictures of any of the nibbles but when I visited there were hot dishes (baked beans, potatoes, an eggplant fritatta dish), cold dishes (fruit, yogurt, smoothie shots, hard boiled eggs, etc.), and a live omelette station (which I did not use).

I settled in for a quick bite and checked my NZ app -- a quick departure delay but showing an early arrival.



Not totally sure why as the inbound flight had been early and both weather in SYD and AKL were clear. Oh well. Who knows!

Around 9:30am the lounge attendants paged that NZ 102 was ready for boarding, so I headed downstairs and walked the quick 1 minute to the gate.

SYD - AKL in Air New Zealand "Business Premier"
Flight #: NZ 102
Departing: SYD 9:50am (actual 10:05am)
Arriving: AKL 2:55pm (actual 2:45pm)
Booking Class: I Class
Equipment: B787-9
Seat: 5K

Boarding was already underway with one lane for economy pax and one lane for premium pax (Star Gold, NZ Elites, BusinessPremier, and all of the abovementioned's in-laws). I don't know what NZ's boarding delineation is as I did not see any mention of zones or groups like we have among carriers in the US.

Today's bird with a partner SQ and frenemy EK in the background. Love that Air NZ operates trans-Tasman flights with a mixture of 789s and 772/77Ws. I think perhaps every now and then there is an A321 in the mix as well.





Only 3 other pax in the J cabin, and I had the entire right side of the cabin to myself. Stephanie came by and introduced herself, as well as informing me of a quick flight time of 2:40H (originally blocked at 3+ hours I think). Even with a slight departure delay we'd arrive early. She explained to me all the features of the seat and presented me a menu for the lunch service.

Jon, another FA serving the other side came over to me and gently asked me if he could call me "bj" instead of "Mr. 27." Of course. I like it when FA's feel like they don't have to be stiff or formal or use "sir."

Then, Curtis, the flight leader (or ISM? purser? can't remember the official title) came over and introduced himself. I mentioned it was my first time on Air NZ and he was excited to tell me all about what the long-haul experience is like. He was excited to find out that I'd be flying to Tokyo a few days later and would get to experience it. He said I'd receive two pillows, a memory foam mattress pad, an amenity kit, etc. etc. Clearly he does this route often.

These kiwis are definitely proud of their home airline (and for good reason). What a spectacular and friendly crew (probably easier to give good service if the load is just 4 out of the normal 26.

Lastly, Fran from the Y cabin came over and introduced herself and welcomed me to my first Air NZ experience (so it's evident the Curtis, the flight leader, had spread the word among his minions). My goodness -- if this is what the service is like on each flight I will be duly impressed. She mentioned she'd been flying for over 20 years and still loves her job. What a crew. I half expected the pilots and first officers to come out and make some rounds.

I guess Air NZ has been at the forefront of the in-flight experience, being one of the first with Premium Economy, SkyCouch, a new IFE, etc. etc. (they could work on their mobile app though).







I quite like NZ's colour scheme here. I know these birds are the older ones in the fleet but surprisingly the seats have been kept up well. These are the herringbone style seats, which generally are not as regarded as well as reverse herringbone. The cream/chalk/beige (whatever you want to call it) provides a more open feel, and NZ's installed mood-lighting as well to add to the experience. Overall a nice cabin feeling.

Something I haven't seen other reporters point out: in this herringbone layout, since your head and shoulders are up against the window, there is actually more room and you don't feel as constricted. In most reverse herringbone layouts I find that the shell is enclosed around your shoulders and makes for quite a tight squeeze. However in this herringbone layout yes, while I do understand it's not as private, definitely felt roomier when the bed was laid down. More on the bed on the AKL - NRT flight.

In a 1-2-1 layout on NZ's 777's, much like Virgin Atlantic's iteration of these you are facing the aisle and away from the window (if you are in a window seat) which makes for a feeling of less privacy. I've also heard complaints of lack of storage space, and I agree -- though I still found it adequate. The space between the seat and the wall has been defacto shelf and storage area, and the seat has a built in pocket below the screens to store things.

The ottoman has a seatbelt built in so you can dine with someone if you'd like, though I imagine for them it may be slightly awkward as you would feel like you're literally sitting in the aisle. Still a nice feature.

Additionally, there is storage space underneath the ottoman as well, which is something you sometimes don't even get in some carriers' versions of the reverse herringbone (you get this on BR, but you are strictly policed not to store anything until after takeoff).



Definitely adequate for a sub-3 hour flight. The seats are well-padded and the pillow they provided on this short hop was even nicer than the one UA or DL provide in international J in terms of size (can't beat the gel-cooled pillow UA has now..). Thankfully these birds also have air gaspers (why are airlines getting rid of these)...not that I needed them today but always nice to have the option if you are too hot.

Departure formalities were conducted, one of Air NZ's famous safety videos were played (I did chuckle). I think it was called "Summer of Safety" which made me laugh since we were in the middle of winter but the weather was certainly nice enough to be summer.

I noted that Air NZ only uses a 1-chime system to indicate a 10,000 feet altitude (where most airlines I've flow two a double-chime to indicate 10,000 feet). The FAs sprang into action and Stephanie came over to take my lunch order.

Today's menu.



Used for both ex-NZ and ex-AUS on trans-Tasman flights.





Nice selections for a 3 hour flight.



Jon came over and served a sparkling water with lemon and ice, and left me the bottle, along with some cashews (not heated, but I won't be picky).



Settling into a movie while waiting for service. "Collide" is an unmemorable, but perfectly fine action-thriller to pass 2 hours.

A note on Air NZ's IFE: this is hands-down one of the best interfaces I've used. It's snappy, responsive, and Air NZ has lots, and lots of content in multiple languages to support all audiences. I think the only other carrier (who I've experienced) who can compete in terms of content is DL, though NZ offers a much smoother IFE interface, and you can favorite things to save later. You can even email your favorites to keep track of later.

Air NZ's IFE also offers in-seat chat, as well as ordering of food, snacks, and complimentary/paid amenities.

Lastly, I noted that crew members have the ability to send text messages to all pax without interrupting content. For example, on my next AKL - NRT flight, once we hit 10,000 feet the purser sent a message to say even though we departed late, we would still arrive on time and all connections were safe. A great customer experience.



Air NZ's tray table comes out vertically from the shell and expands in front of you. It also adjusts forwards or backwards (so you can get out of the seat without putting the table away), which is so convenient. Nothing worse than needing to use the restroom but having all the service items on your tray table and not being sure where to put them.

The tray table is also LARGE, so definitely room to put everything on here. Something I appreciated as well.

Today's starter: sweetcorn and thyme tart with beetroot relish and goat's cheese cream.



Stephanie also offered for me to sample the other starter, the smoked warehou salad since we had such a light load today (in the back of the picture).



I actually preferred the smoked warehou salad to the relatively boring tart. Can we take a moment and appreciate the care and delicateness to which either catering or the crew have plated these starters?

Bread was offered -- I chose rosemary loaf and garlic bread. Both were excellent.

Olive oil was also offered. This olive oil was peppery, bright, and with a bite. I absolutely loved it and have been searching online for ways to buy this. It was almost too peppery that I coughed a few times when being too greedy, but alas, what an unexpectedly delicious olive oil.



The main course, the hapuka. I had originally selected the paprika chicken breast salad but then switched to this native NZ fish as I wanted to try it out (at the end of the day chicken breast salad is pretty boring as far as dishes go).



The hapuka was delicious. The beans and fennel were fine. The fennel was much too overpowering for the dish and I left most of it. The beans were also slightly boring so I also left most of them. But the fish was done very nicely so I'm glad I went with this dish.

Air NZ also offers high-quality flaked sea salt and ground pepper that is much nicer than your standard iodized salt you find on many carriers.

Jon, Stephanie, and Curtis never failed to keep my sparkling water glass topped up (I drink a lot of water when I fly, and moreso if it's sparkling ).

Stephanie came back and replaced my main dish with my dessert of choice -- the white chocolate and raspberry ice cream with toasted coconut and rose syrup.



I am always let down by white chocolate ice cream since the flavor is too subtle and is hard to perceive when you are having a frozen dessert. However, the rose syrup was absolutely delightful. A forward rose flavor with a very complex and a deep aroma. Nice job Air NZ (and LSG Skychefs/Gate Gourmet/whoever).

Stephanie came back while I was in the middle of my first scoop and asked if she could tempt me with the feijoa parfait as well. Well, of course! I am actually not much of a sweets guy but I do like sampling for the sake of sampling.



Turns out the feijoa parfait was much better than my ice cream selection. I abandoned my ice cream and instead ate the entire feijoa parfait. Feijoa is a fruit native to South America (Brazil, I believe) but also cultivated in NZ. Feijoa's flavor can be overpowering but it was delicate and light in this parfait application -- a little citrusy with a complex strawberry and earthy flavor. It was quite nice.

Also -- note that down under parfaits are not served in a glass and layered like a trifle as us Americans think. Upon further research Americans just tend to serve parfait in a glass, but a parfait refers to the mousse-like dessert that you see on the plate above.

After dessert was completed, Jon offered a cup of coffee and a mint chocolate. I do like Air NZ's mugs.



Being a short flight (and with an extraordinary tailwind), we arrived early at a remote stand in AKL (where I counted 4... yes FOUR EK A380s on the tarmac/at gates).



A quick bus ride to the terminal and we were off to customs processing and agricultural screening.

After these formalities I purchased a SkyBus ticket (SkyBus has a stop right at the Langham, where I was staying), and headed into town.

Overall, a very, very lovely flight on Air NZ and I'm glad I got to try them out. It made me look forward to my flight with them from AKL to NRT. Lovely crew who are proud of their airline and while a herringbone J product is not the general favorite in the market, I found it comfortable and it gets the job done. In terms of technology to enhance the customer experience, I found that Air NZ is really on the forefront (with the exception of their mobile app). Great job Air NZ.

Air NZ award space is hard to come by (especially on any of their international routes, which is all of them except inter-NZ), but somehow I found award space between SYD and AKL for an acceptable date. Being that this flight was "free" with the United Mileageplus "Explorist" perk (granted there were some $90 in taxes), made me feel even better about the redemption. Normally this flight would have cost something like 40,000 UA miles in J.

Next up: The Langham, Auckland, and Auckland sights

Last edited by bj27; Jul 21, 17 at 7:31 pm
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Old Jul 21, 17, 4:19 pm
  #12  
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Originally Posted by bj27 View Post
Thanks offerendum!. It was good -- perhaps I had high expectations but I felt like given the price paid everything should have been perfect (eg. the green beans should have been trimmed correctly!).
I know this feeling.....
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Old Jul 21, 17, 7:26 pm
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Arriving at Sydney airport I walked to the far end of the check-in area where Air New Zealand is located. I didn't have troubles checking in online but unfortunately Air NZ would not issue me a mobile boarding pass. Not totally sure why, but I had to pick it up at the airport.
Australian Customs doesn't accept digital board passes, for any airline ex Australia.

Think comes down to an outdated law in Australia, that prevents the use of an cellphone in an customs controlled area.

It becomes rather annoying when at all other NZ ports, you can use your mobile board passes at every stage upto boarding.
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Old Jul 22, 17, 1:39 am
  #14  
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Great report!

But BTW there is also a SQ lounge at SYD airport, so *A travelers have 2 lounges to choose from (or they can use both ).
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Old Jul 23, 17, 5:26 pm
  #15  
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Wow, incredible report so far. Thank you for sharing!
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