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Below Average Biz Class to the Above Average Balkans

Below Average Biz Class to the Above Average Balkans

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Old Aug 6, 19, 3:01 pm
  #1  
pjs
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Join Date: Mar 1999
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Below Average Biz Class to the Above Average Balkans

Planning

My wife and I have been on a couple of great European cruises in the last few years (Eastern Mediterranean and Baltic) and we were looking into an Adriatic cruise for this summer. When I priced it out last year, the itineraries seemed overly expensive and the ships on offer were nothing exciting (putting aside the Crystal/Seaborn/Regent level which we are not in the market for when we are about to have 2 kids in college).

So, the better option appeared to be flying into either Zagreb or Dubrovnik, driving up or down Croatia and flying home from the other city. I was able to take advantage of the Iberia promotion last year and grabbed the 90k Avios. Once the points hit my account, I quickly booked MIA-MAD-DBV in biz for May 31, 2019, before all the transatlantic space dried up for the summer. The MAD-DBV flight was all one class when I booked so we were stuck in economy for that one. The flights cost 50k pp so I transferred over 10k Avios from BA to make up the difference. Apparently, I managed to do so before Iberia made that difficult due to the promotion.

For the return, I found space on Air France ZAG-CDG-ATL on June 11, 2019 for 21k economy and 53k biz. I ended up booking biz, even though it was the crappy A380 hard product, as I figured we could get lounge access at CDG and be off that massive plane in ATL before most of the other passengers.

To get to Miami, I booked us on DL ATL-MIA for 8k Skymiles pp in Main Cabin (just before DL added basic economy awards). I gave us about a 4 hour layover in MIA to enjoy the AA Flagship Lounge.

As for our hotels, I booked the Dubrovnik Hilton almost a year in advance at 70k per night for 3 nights. I ended up swapping in a free weekend night from $15k spend on the Ascend card. Funny aside on this one – the rep I spoke to didn’t realize that there were no more standard room awards at the hotel when I called to use the free night. She ended up gifting me the free night as she had already canceled and tried to rebook my reservation before she realized her mistake. So, I paid 140k for 3 nights (which were going for close to 500 Euros per night) and kept my free night for later use.

In Split, I found the Le Meridien Lav (just outside Split) on a points and cash Starwood award (pre-August 2018) for 5k SPG plus $75 per night for 3 nights (rates were well over $200/night). I decided the cost of the Uber back and forth was worth the cheaper cost of the hotel compared to some of the in-town options. The hotel also has a beach and marina (and free parking) so we could relax a bit as well.

For our one night in Zadar, I booked an Airbnb for ~$80, which turned out to be comfortable and well-located (and had free parking just outside old town). I also decided we would detour to Ljubljana, Slovenia for a night on the way to Zagreb and booked the Intercontinental using a free night from the IHG credit card (rooms were ~250 Euros per night for our date and the only other chain option Four Points was way out of town compared to the IC). For our final two nights in Zagreb, I flipped a coin between the Westin and Sheraton (both 17.5k Marriott points per night) and decided on the Westin as it was much closer to where I had to return the rental car.

My rental car was to be picked up on the third day in Dubrovnik (for a day trip to Montenegro before our last night in Dubrovnik) and returned in Zagreb on arrival there. I booked Sixt via Priceline and ended up with a nice BMW 1-Series with built in GPS and great gas mileage which was handy as I drove about 1300kms in total. Despite all the Sixt horror stories out there, they could not have been easier to deal with.

I’ll update this report over the next few weeks and add some below average pictures as well.
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Old Aug 6, 19, 6:37 pm
  #2  
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5/31 – From Flagship to Sweatbox

We said goodbye to our 17 year old (who was babysitting her grandmother while we were gone – yes, I put it that way on purpose) and grabbed an Uber around 8:45 to ATL. I had signed us up for a free CLEAR trial just before this trip so we checked our bags at DL (free with DL credit card) and quickly got through security. We were flying out of B so we hit the B Sky Club for some breakfast.

DL 1795 ATL-MIA 11:45

We boarded on time and had an uneventful flight. We landed in MIA around 15 minutes early and grabbed our bags. We then had to hike around the upper level at MIA from J to E for Iberia check-in. Luckily, it was open even though it was still about 3 ½ hours until our flight.

I had noticed that our MAD-DBV flight had switched to an A321 with business class so I asked about sitting there given that we were on a business class award, but the agent cluelessly told me that the flight didn’t have business class (he was wrong) and I wasn’t in the mood to argue. I figured I would ask in Madrid at the lounge.

We went through CLEAR at E (although it didn’t really save any time) and walked through the connector to D where we entered the AA Flagship Lounge. It’s a huge space and never was crowded in the 2 hours we were there. The food and self-serve bar were excellent. There were also nice views of the runway and AA international gates. This was probably the nicest airline-flagged US domestic lounge I have been in so far and given the lack of crowds, better than the Centurion lounges I have visited (MIA/DFW/PHL). Even the wife was impressed with the food and she’s not one to care about airline lounges much.







Around 4, we headed back to E and took the people mover to the midfield gates. We boarded around 4:35.

IB 6124 MIA-MAD 17:10

We had seats in Row 3 in the middle section of the 1-2-1 configuration. Our seats were the closer together variety, both had a table between the aisle and the seat.





Our flight got off to a fantastic start when I accidentally knocked my wife’s cell phone into the gap behind the seat. It took two flight attendants and the purser (and most of the pre-flight boarding time) to retrieve the phone. I’m sure they were all thrilled with me.

We pushed back on time and business was full. Pre-departure beverage of water or orange juice as we pushed back. I didn’t ask for anything else as I figured I would be pushing my luck after the cell phone incident. We took off at 17:23, about 15 minutes after pushback. It’s pretty much a straight shot across the Atlantic from Miami to Madrid.

There was a 3 prong adapter for the headphones so my noise canceling earbuds didn’t work (they only have a 2 prong converter). I used the uncomfortable Iberia headphones and watched The Mule, a decently entertaining Clint Eastwood movie, during dinner. Good old Clint put his 80+ year old self in a threesome in this movie. I liked that the handset locked so you could not accidentally pause or FF the movie when banging into it. The WiFi was supposedly free for 30 minutes, but I could never get it to work anyway.

My wife got her menu around 17:50. I got nada. Here’s the menu:








She got a tablecloth around 18:00. I still got nada on my side.

Finally around 18:05 I got my tablecloth and we all got warm(ish) towels. My menu arrived at 18:15. About 2 minutes later, they took my order.

Drinks came around and I tried the 2014 Rioja. It was pretty good. It was served with nuts and olives (that I gave to my wife).




I realize this is only sort-of a redeye, given the early departure, but they could pick up the pace a little. Another round of drinks were served at 18:45 – still no actual food. Five minutes later, food! The appetizer, soup and salad were all very good. The cheese was served at the same time – it was a small portion but also tasty.



Around 19:05, we got our main course. The fish was not overly dry which, in my limited experience, is an achievement on a plane. Of course, the gobs of butter probably helped. It tasted better than it looked.



Cheesecake with raspberry sauce was also quite good. I asked if they had any fruit and the FA brought me some melon, which was nice.




The service, while slow, was attentive and friendly, if a bit unorganized. The quality of the food was good overall. Dinner ended at 19:30 so a little over two hours in the end.

Cabin lights were dimmed around 20:00 and I tried to sleep. Unfortunately, the cabin was way too warm and the lack of individual air vents did not help. It probably was exacerbated by the fact that we were so close together in these seats too.
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Old Aug 7, 19, 5:08 am
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great report so far... pics very nice... (compliments from a photographer myself)
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Old Aug 7, 19, 10:56 am
  #4  
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6/1 – The Walls of Victory

Onboard the Iberia A330, it finally cooled off after a couple of hours, but then it got a bit bumpy which did not help the sleep situation. We probably slept on an off for a couple of hours. Around midnight/06:00 Madrid time, the lights came on and a lame continental breakfast was served. I drank the coffee to wake up, but that's about it. I would have expected something like this in economy, not business. We skipped it as we knew we would get better food in the lounge.




We landed at 07:20, about 25 minutes early and the airport was empty. We were in the lounge by 07:30. I did check to see about moving to business class on our next flight, but no luck. As we were going from a non-Schengen to non-Schengen flight, we stayed in Terminal 4S and used that lounge. We were told that we would get a gate in that terminal and then be bussed to T4 where our flight was to depart from.




Let’s take a quick break from the trip report for an interesting aside. If you’ve read my other trip reports, you know I am a massive Liverpool supporter. Well, it just so happened that my team made it to the Champions League Final (again) in, uh , Madrid, on, uh, June 1 – i.e. today. I had really thought about stopping in Madrid and skipping our first day in Croatia to try and get tickets to the match. I even went so far as to book a Holiday Inn Express in the suburbs for 10k points just in case. In the end, I decided it was a bad idea for a couple of reasons. Tickets were outrageous and I could not even find two together anyway. Also, it is my wife’s vacation too, so making her sit through drunken fan events without tickets would have been unfair. Also, the one-way cash price for the flight to Dubrovnik the next day was expensive. As it turned out, I found a great place to watch the match in Dubrovnik, as you will see later on in this report. While I would have gone to the match (or tried) if I was alone, I think I made the best decision (for my marriage).

Back to our report: The Iberia lounge was very nice and the breakfast spread was pretty good, with different types of omelets, meats, cheeses, etc. plus decent coffee. We still had about 3 hours before we needed to go to our bus gate, so I took a shower, then we both found available nap rooms, which only had curtains, so they didn't exactly lend themselves to great sleep.



We slept for about 2 hours and then headed to our bus gate. The bus was crammed full of people and then we were driven to the plane. We got to our plane about T-10 and most of the people already on board had moved to empty seats as they must have thought the flight was mostly empty. A game of musical chairs later, we were ready to go.

IB 3154 MAD-DBV 11:40

The legroom on the A321 was not terrible but the slim line seats were not comfortable for almost 3 hours. There was also no IFE so I just listened to podcasts and snoozed.




We landed on time in Dubrovnik, but our luggage took a while to come out.

I had ordered a car from the Hilton just to save hassle. It was about $10 more than an Uber, but nice to have someone there to meet us. My wife doesn’t mind me being thrifty but hates when I am cheap (I’m sure other spouses out there can relate). We had a whole van to ourselves and a pleasant ride to the Hilton.

We checked in and received a nice room with a balcony overlooking the Fort. This is one of the nicest Hiltons I have ever seen. It seemed more like a Conrad or WA to me. The staff were extremely helpful and well-trained. The lounge was very nice and had a few different servings per day (breakfast, appetizers, drinks, desserts). The location cannot be beat – just a few steps to the old town gate.





As my wife got settled, I walked over to the tourist office and picked up our Dubrovnik Cards, which I had pre-purchased online so we could get admission to several tourist sites at a discount. As long as you hit at least 2-3 places (including the wall), it is worth getting. I also walked over to Caffe Bar The Kop, a Liverpool-themed pub very close to the hotel, and reserved a table for the 9pm kickoff of the Champions League Final. I had to pay to reserve a table, but that came with some special T-shirts and unlimited chips and salsa (woop de do). Most importantly, we had a prime seat for the outdoor projection TV showing of the match later that evening.

As we had napped in the lounge and the weather was pleasant, we decided to walk the city walls in late afternoon. It was not too crowded and we got some great pictures.






Then we had a little bit of time to walk around the old town, visit the old pharmacy and take some more pictures.




We found a great place for dinner – Aquarius – and had our first of many whole fish dinners and cheap, good local bottles of wine.




After dinner, we headed back to the hotel to put on our Liverpool garb and walked over to watch the match. In the end, it wasn’t the best match, but Liverpool won 2-0 so the crowd was happy. We stayed to celebrate for an hour after the match before finally stumbling back to the Hilton around midnight and crashing.





This last picture wasn't taken by me

Up next: Thrones and Michelin Stars
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Old Aug 8, 19, 12:51 am
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Nice place to watch the football from!

I hope the chips and salsa were fine!
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Old Aug 8, 19, 3:52 am
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Liking it so far, as Dubrovnik is on the edge of our radar - although a bit full of tourists for our taste!

The IB long-haul looks decent, even in the service in your aisle was a bit out of synch with the other side.

The fish platter I LIKE! !
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Old Aug 8, 19, 7:02 am
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Originally Posted by fotographer View Post
great report so far... pics very nice... (compliments from a photographer myself)
Thanks - just iPhone 8 pics.

Originally Posted by nequine View Post
Nice place to watch the football from!

I hope the chips and salsa were fine!
We're on keto so we didn't eat the chips but I cheated on my diet with some beer.

Originally Posted by T8191 View Post
Liking it so far, as Dubrovnik is on the edge of our radar - although a bit full of tourists for our taste!

The IB long-haul looks decent, even in the service in your aisle was a bit out of synch with the other side.

The fish platter I LIKE! !
Thanks - plenty more fish platters to come. In June it wasn't too crowded and I've heard September/October is nice as well. July and August should be avoided based on what I've read.
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Old Aug 8, 19, 8:17 am
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6/2 – Thrones and Michelin Stars

We slept off the remainder of our jet lag and were up at 08:00. We decided to have breakfast in the restaurant and sat outside in the beautiful weather (low 70s at that time).



The buffet was good. Made to order omelets, smoked salmon, meats, cheeses, bacon, sausage, etc.

After breakfast, we walked through the old town as the shops opened and just browsed around. It’s fairly small so it can be covered in a couple of hours. My wife found some arts and craft places to buy a few locally-made things.




I am a big Game of Thrones fan and the show had just concluded a couple of weeks before this trip so I decided to take a tour. My wife is not a fan so she kept on shopping and browsing the stores in Old Town. I really enjoyed the tour. The guide was a massive fan, and her mom was a stand-in for Peter Dinklage (or so she said). We got to see many of the places where they filmed and the guide provided context about where the CGI was added using pictures of the real scenes. We also had some great photo opps from the fort across from Old Town.






After the tour ended and we had seen the steps of “Shame” I met back up with my wife and we went to a cute little wine bar named D’Vino for some wine and cheese.




We decided we’d had enough of the old town crowds by then (I bet July and August are insane there), so we walked out the Ploce Gate and visited Banje Beach to see the views back toward Dubrovnik and dip our toes in the (cold) Adriatic.




On the way back, I stopped in the GoT store and got my iron throne pic that came with the tour.



Bonus points if you can figure out the significance of the '6'

After all that time in the heat, we were ready for a nap. Plus the weather was starting look a bit stormy. We went back and relaxed at the Hilton.

After the storm ended, we walked over to Restaurant 360, a Michelin starred eatery along the wall near the Ploce Gate. While the view was fantastic and the food was good, the portions were small and the service was a bit pretentious.








We were still hungry so we grabbed gelato on the way back through Old Town. We turned in for the night early as we had a busy day ahead of us and a new country to check off the list.

Up next: Motor to Kotor
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Old Aug 8, 19, 8:31 am
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Q: On the menu, what’s 880 kn in money?
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Old Aug 8, 19, 12:02 pm
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Originally Posted by T8191 View Post
Q: On the menu, what’s 880 kn in money?
£110..... or $134 for our friends across the pond.

There's a thing called google Uncle T It doesn't discriminate on the basis of age!
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Old Aug 8, 19, 12:14 pm
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I confess to idleness ... a privilege afforded to the elderly!!

OK, so not a cheap meal. I prefer SA, where we can dine (for 2) similarly for c. £50 ... or $60.7056
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Old Aug 9, 19, 12:51 am
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Originally Posted by pjs View Post
After the storm ended, we walked over to Restaurant 360, a Michelin starred eatery along the wall near the Ploce Gate. While the view was fantastic and the food was good, the portions were small and the service was a bit pretentious.
...
We were still hungry so we grabbed gelato on the way back through Old Town. We turned in for the night early as we had a busy day ahead of us and a new country to check off the list.
That is always my fear after reading so many TR and going to fancy restaurants with tasting menus that the food looks so minuscule for which you pay an absolute fortune for... then feel like you need to go have something else (proper!) to eat as you are not full.
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Old Aug 9, 19, 7:15 am
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Originally Posted by nequine View Post
That is always my fear after reading so many TR and going to fancy restaurants with tasting menus that the food looks so minuscule for which you pay an absolute fortune for... then feel like you need to go have something else (proper!) to eat as you are not full.
However, last summer we went to Gaggan in Bangkok and were absolutely stuffed and thankful we didn't get the full wine pairing. So sometimes it works out.
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Old Aug 9, 19, 7:23 am
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I think we did well, for our needs, in this TR >>> Eating South Africa

Skip to post #2 unless you’re interested in BA’s in-flight dining!
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Old Aug 9, 19, 7:26 am
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6/3 – Hike and Dislike

I got up early, around 6am, to walk down to the Hotel Rixos and get the rental car from the Sixt location there. I had paid a bit extra for them to open at 6:30 for me instead of 8 so we could get on the road early. I ended up with a BMW 1-series automatic with built in GPS (saving me having to use my phone). It was a brand new car with only a few hundred kms on the odometer.

We grabbed a quick breakfast in the lounge (no one else was there at 07:00) and headed out for Montenegro. The border formalities were quick at that hour and we arrived in Kotor by around 09:30. Unfortunately, there were two large cruise ships already parked in the Bay of Kotor. This was really the only time we dealt with cruise crowds on this trip.



I really wanted to climb the steps up to the old fort and get some nice views back down of Kotor and the bay. My wife wanted to browse around old town so we split up for an hour or so.





About 20 minutes into my hike up the mountain, I got a text saying “this place is pretty but all the stores are full of tourist crap – hurry up.” So, I got up there pretty quick, took a few pics and came back down, as it started raining, which wasn’t helpful for the footing on the cobblestones.





Around 11:00, we left Kotor as the cruise ship hordes were only getting worse. We drove around the bay and stopped at Perast, a small fishing village with a famous island church nearby. We decided not to take the boat ride out to the church and instead looked for some sustenance. We found some wine and charcuterie at a place near the end of the small old town overlooking the water.





After lunch, we headed back to Dubrovnik as the weather wasn’t looking any better. The drive back took longer as we had about a 40 minute wait at the border. When we got to the Hilton, I asked if we could park in the Diamond spots right out front rather than the underground garage and the front desk said that was fine.

The rain and clouds moved in, along with some cruisers, so we rested at the hotel for a few hours. The rain mostly cleared up by 6 and the cruise ship crowds had also faded away. We went to Proto Fish for dinner, a pricey but excellent seafood restaurant in Old Town. There was much more food than the previous night including a huge whole fish cooked in salt that we shared.



We walked back through Old Town for the last time and went back to the Hilton for our last night. Dubrovnik should be on anyone's list, just check the cruise calendar first and don't go in July and August.

Up next: Split via Bosnia
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