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How to Spend 670k Points on One Trip, Honeymoon trip report with photos (BOB/SYD)

How to Spend 670k Points on One Trip, Honeymoon trip report with photos (BOB/SYD)

Old Jun 18, 05, 11:42 am
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How to Spend 670k Points on One Trip, Honeymoon trip report with photos (BOB/SYD)

Prologue: September 4, 2004

My girlfriend and I both have birthdays at the beginning of September, but we couldn’t leave town over the long Labor Day weekend so we decided to celebrate together with dinner at Citronelle (Michel Richard’s restaurant at the Latham Hotel in Georgetown) and spend the night at the St. Regis downtown.

I decided that would be the night I would ask her to marry me.

But that’s more the story of us, and this is the story of our trip.

So let me focus on the St. Regis: The building itself is tired, the hallways muggy (though the a/c worked well in the room). We were given a large suite and welcome amenity of chocolate covered strawberries (or maybe it was chocolates and strawberries, this was several months ago after all).

We ordered a quick room service burger to share (only one, didn’t want to spoil appetite for Citronelle), it was truly an outstanding burger and delivered in 17 minutes. At Citronelle my Duck a l’orange was excellent, but the highlight of dinner was dessert, ‘Breakfast at Citronelle’ which was a sampling of several desserts all made to look like breakfast foods.

At the hotel, turndown service included slippers and shoe-shine is complimentary if you leave your shoes outside by midnight they’re returned before 6am.

Service at the hotel met my expectations. In the morning I called downstairs to find out when the Starbucks across the street opened. They didn’t know, but sent someone across to find out and returned the call in 2-3 minutes. Water pressure in the shower was outstanding, by the way.

We picked up our dog from daycare and went home to call family. (Fortunately she had said yes.) When the future mrs gleff was on the phone, I got to work planning the honeymoon.

We quickly settled on Memorial Weekend for the wedding because everyone would be traveling and the 3 day weekend would be helpful.

And we knew we wanted to go to French Polynesia for our honeymoon. I convinced her (didn’t take much convincing actually) that we should also go to Australia, because the award ticket wouldn’t cost any extra points. As I explained to my then-fiance, “we can pop over to Australia since we’ll already be in the neighborhood.”

I used the QF website to search for award availability quickly, I noted which flights and dates had 2 premium seats open between SYD/MEL/BNE/AKL-LAX.

I then used smile67’s availability tool to check Air Tahiti Nui’s A class on a whole set of dates.
* found 2 first class seats on most flights, amazing for a cabin of 6
* found 4 Z (award business) seats on most flights, don’t know if there were more than 4 as TN displays a maximum of 4 seats in any bucket

Not sure whether the addition of NW as a redemption partner creates pressure on TN award inventory, or whether the coming addition of DL will add even more pressure, but TN’s award availability is amazing.

With just a bit of playing around, we had sketched out a trip: Friday 5/27 fly to Seattle, get married in the morning on 5/29, leave for Tahiti of 5/30. Our travel onward from Tahiti was constrained by TN offering PPT-AKL only 3 days a week (they start PPT-SYD service in July, no help to us), and of course by finding first class seats back from Australia.

I originally booked PPT-AKL-SYD on 6/7 (arriving 6/8) and a return SYD-LAX on 6/13. Later in the day the AAgent called back to let me know she had made a mistake – she had booked me on QF11, which is entirely blacked out from AA award redemption. A bit of playing around and I settled for MEL-LAX two days later.

One more snag: MEL-LAX departed at 10:30am, the SYD-MEL flight I wanted was about 2 minutes short of a legal connection and all they could offer me was a 6am departure from SYD. Not something I wanted to do before a 13 hour tranpac! So I asked about flying down the night before. No dice. That would constitute a stopover, and I was already using my only stopover (Tahiti). So I booked an AA award as an open jaw, and would just buy SYD-MEL one-ways at about US$69 apiece albeit in coach.

What I wound up with:
290,000 AA miles: 2 F awards, LAX-PPT/PPT-AKL-SYD/MEL-LAX (AKL-SYD is J)
176,000 SPG points: 5th night free award at Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa
60,000 Priority Club Points: 2 nights at the Intercontinental Tahiti
24,000 Priority Club Points: 1 night at the Intercontinental Sydney (20% off award sale)
7,000 SPG points: 1 night at the Sheraton Tahiti
37,600 SPG points: 13 cash & points award nights for family at W & Sheraton Seattle
10,000 SPG points: 1 night at the Westin Sydney
7,000 SPG points: 1 night at the Westin Melbourne
14,000 SPG points: 2 nights at the Westin Seattle (1 for us, one for mrs gleff’s parents, bringing us back our dog at the end of the trip)
45,000 Marriott points: 1 night at the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey

All points aren’t created equal, and it isn’t really fair to just tally them, but I spent a total of 670,600 points on the trip.

My family has a place outside of Sydney and most of our time in Australia would be there, just a couple of hotel nights were all that would be needed.

And I still had to pay for DCA-SEA/SEA-LAX/LAX-SEA/SEA-DCA and PPT-BOB. We used mrs gleff’s AS MVP Gold status and purchased Q fares for the domestic flights, allowing us to upgrade at booking… reducing the sting of the higher fare with BofA companion certificates which handily book the companion in whatever fare class the paid ticket is booked in.

PPT-BOB was a bit trickier. I wasn’t using a travel agent for any part of the trip, but it looked like I might have to for this segment. You can book intra-French Polynesia flights once you get there, and it’s even cheaper to do so. But I was paranoid and wanted my tickets in advance.

Among the major online booking sites, only Travelocity seems to display and price Air Tahiti (VT – the local carrier – as opposed to TN, Air Tahiti Nui, the international carrier). I even discovered TN’s ex-PPT pricing glitch but didn’t immediately recognize its full potential. Alas, Travelocity kept spitting up when I tried to ticket PPT-BOB, so I made my first purchase from BoardingArea.com which worked out perfectly by the way. They didn’t even charge a shipping fee to overnight my paper tickets, and were in email contact with me over when the tickets would arrive, etc. Kudos to Randy’s staff.


Friday, May 27

9:15 am Depart Washington-Reagan National (DCA)
Alaska Airlines Flight 1
First Class Seats 2A, 2C

Caught a cab to the airport at 7:20am, at DCA before 7:30. We were bringing our 3 year old Yorkshire Terrier with us to Seattle, leaving him in daycare over the weekend, and mrs gleff’s parents were taking him home while we went on our honeymoon. We paid the $75 pet-in-cabin fee. This was the first time in many many trips with our dog that we were ever asked for his health certificate.

The security line was 40 minutes long, not surprising for Friday morning of a long holiday weekend but still wholly unnecessary. Security checked our tickets and receipt for pet-in-cabin fee, something I’m pretty sure the TSA isn’t charged with, but I’m still glad to have done everything by the book on this trip. I find that if you check in online or even at a kiosk at a busier station than DCA, AS won’t collect the fee.

There wasn’t any time to stop by United’s Red Carpet Club because of the long security wait. Turned out though that we were boarding a bit late. Tons of folks charged the gate agent when he called for F and elites. Full flight with lots of missed upgrades. We get down the jetway but no one is allowed to board. Turns out that an improperly credentialed Gate Gourmet staffer was on the plane and we had to wait 20 minutes for the police. Flight departs 30 minutes late.

AS F really isn’t F at all, even by today’s diminished domestic standards. “Breakfast” is a blueberry muffin, fruit, and choice of omellette or keish. Looks on the tray like what used to be mid-con breakfast in coach. I watched National Treasure on the Dig-E-Player – a bit absurd but better than expected. Why does AS pick up Dig-E-Players so early, 45-60 minutes before landing?

We landed a bit late, had a long wait for baggage (surprise), and headed off to our hotel. We couldn’t take either of the first two cabs because of small trunks and their large spare tires. Shocked me, actually, that these cabs couldn’t fit four pieces of luggage and they’re on airport runs. We don’t usually pack so much, but are going to be away for 3 weeks and in 3 distinct climates.

W Seattle

I arrived at the W just ahead of mrs. gleff’s parents and checked in. Rooms weren’t ready at 1pm, which was alright as it gave me a chance to head over to the Sheraton where several family members were going to be staying.

Starwood has a quirk that allows only 3 award rooms at a hotel per member. But you can transfer points to other members at the same home address. So mrs. gleff and I can each reserve 3 rooms, or 6 per hotel. And Starwood has 3 hotels roughly within walking distance in Seattle (the W and Sheraton are 4 or 5 blocks away, the Westin a bit farther), allowing for a maximum of 18 award rooms.

All of my out of town family were on cash & points awards, and both the Sheraton and W were participating this quarter, so I was using 2800 points and they were paying $45 per night at the Sheraton and I was using 4000 points and they were paying $60 per night at the W. I checked into the rooms of those that would be arriving that night, including mrs. gleff’s brother and grandparents and my brother and grandparents.

I wasn’t staying at the Sheraton so wasn’t technically entitled to any elite benefits there, and would only have been entitled to benefits on a single room in any case (though mrs. gleff is an Ameniti $10 trial SPG Gold…) but I managed to talk the desk into club rooms with nice views, including several of their best views of the water (which one doesn’t usually think of the Sheraton as having) for everyone. And I also talked them into 4pm checkout on all of the eventual 6 rooms there as well. I’ve never understood people complaining about not getting hotel upgrades. Sure there are problem properties, and properties that are genuinely full, and problem or unhappy checkin staff, both those aside it’s how you ask; your rapport at checkin.

Back to the W Seattle, I really do love this hotel and always have. Note that I didn’t have a suite. There was a large conference booked over several days staying at the hotel, and they’d wrapped up a bunch of the small number of suites that the hotel had. Plus Snoop Dogg was staying there and his concert was actually paying for a suite. So I was in a Kool Korner room.

View from our room
Hallway off the room (actually, there’s a long hallway, turn left, and this is the hallway into the rm)
Bedroom
Bathroom view one, two, and three

I did notice a few areas where form overtakes function. I didn’t have enough drawers in the room for both mrs gleff and myself. 1/3 of the chest is taken up by the safe and it’s only about half the size of the usual hotel chest.

That night we had dinner with mrs. gleff’s parents, my grandparents, and my brother at the hotel’s restaurant, Earth & Ocean. It’s much improved over two years ago. The chef is very creative with presentation and they offer very high quality meat and fish. Mrs. gleff had very large sweetbreads with no sinew whatsoever. Despite the food, it’s not a great restaurant, at least it wasn’t on this occasion. Service lacked. Several times they dropped silverware by the table. I cringed when someone in the party asked for a Miller Lite and the waiter said “I don’t think so. But I’ll check.” with a roll of the eyes He never returned to the subject (such as to followup and apologize for not having the first choice, and perhaps offer a suggested alternative).

One wrinkle that came up on Saturday was that I realized I was going to have a problem taking pictures on the trip. The plan was to use a digital camera but not bring a computer to transfer photos to. I was just going to transfer pictures from the camera to my photo iPod (thank you, Gratis Networks). I didn’t have a camera connector, but I picked one up at an Apple store on Saturday. Got back to the room and – whoops – I didn’t bring the camera’s USB cable. It was sitting in the box at home. I went to a camera store down the street from the W but no luck. They sent me to a second store, nothing. They called two other stores and determined that there was no usb cable for sale for this camera in all of Seattle. I managed to talk the salesman into opening a new box and selling me the cable out of it. Actually I was just charged for joining their ‘camera club’ which was less money than a USB cable would have cost, I assume he just returned the open box to the manufacturer.

I was already feeling some difficulty getting away from my computer. Saturday morning I read about federal government (DOJ, Homeland Security – a moniker which still creeps me out) opposition to cell phones in flight due to terrorism risk, because terrorists might use phones to coordinate an attack. I wanted to blog about it. Don’t phones already exist on planes (airfones)? Will terrorists decline to use their phones because it’s against the rules? If that were true wouldn’t they worry about terrorism in the first place, since that’s against the rules too? Without a computer, I couldn’t vent in my usual fashion. Then again, this was probably a good sign that I needed a vacation – including from the news.

From there it became mostly wedding activities, such as Saturday night dinner and Sunday morning photos, so I’ll skip most of that and save the stories for family, rather than forcing them on readers here.

The W was the perfect place for us to get married though, and some of the things we did a bit differently worked quite nicely. Our officiants were a husband and wife couple. We had a harpist rather than a pianist. Flowers and candles and tables and comfortable couches were done in harmony with the W overall. And everyone had their own individual wedding cake, although they were all displayed with an ice sculpture of a large wedding cake. Very much to our taste and personalities.

One of the reasons I love Seattle is that Starbucks is open when I want coffee at 6am, as I did on the morning of the wedding. Actually, this Sunday morning I think the Starbucks across from the W may have been open at 5 or 5:30.

Ordered room service breakfast around 6:30, it arrived in 14 minutes. I had an excellent avocado, bacon, and cheese omellette. Truly delicious. The food at the W, from the restaurant to room service to banquet, is good across the board.


Sunday, May 29

4:50 pm Depart Seattle (SEA)
Alaska Airlines Flight 576
First Class Seats 2A, 2C

After our ceremony and brunch we quickly changed and headed off for the airport around 2:30pm. We were at the airport at 2:50pm for our 4:50pm flight and found a more or less deserted airport. There was no elite security line today, but then there was really no security line whatsoever anyway. We went to the Boardroom, got some drinks and snacks, and settled in and relaxed after a long weekend.

Boarded the flight at 4:20pm after picking up a comb, which I’d stupidly left in the bathroom at the hotel. ‘Dinner’ choice was a mozzarella chicken sandwich or a salad with chicken. Mrs gleff and I both saw the chicken on the sandwich and thought it was a big piece of mozzarella. Wrong, but still tasty.

Two hours and two minutes flying time to LAX. There was one empty seat in F, our upgrades would have cleared on this flight at 72 hours without paying a Q fare but possibly only this flight – the F bucket on our 3 other AS flights had shown F3, F2, and F0 even weeks before flight so I’m glad we confirmed the upgrades at booking, plus not having to sweat it out on this trip is nice in and of itself.

Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey

It took 40 minutes to get our bags after the AS flight, but it felt like more. I know that AS baggage problems are really centered around SEA, but it has me worried about my luggage generally and I was nervous that the bags wouldn’t make it to LA the day before leaving the country. They all finally arrived, though, and we headed off to the Ritz-Carlton.

Since we were heading out to PPT the next day, I wanted to stay relatively close to LAX rather than heading out to Laguna Niguel or some such. But I didn’t want to spend my wedding not at an LAX airport hotel. I thought about Beverly Hills (e.g. the Pen, Hotel Bel Air), and auh2o has often suggested the Beach House) but finally settled on the Marina del Rey Ritz, about 10 minutes from LAX.

I vacillated for a long time on the rate to book. I could have booked the FHR rate at about $275 with an upgraded room (really a regular room, but with a Marina view, only 275 sq ft) which came with late checkout and meals. That was probably the best deal, but my conceit about using points for pretty much everything on this trip got the better of me. I had booked an award with Marriott points, probably not the very best use of 45,000 points but I felt the need to do it anyway. I was booked into the lowest category of room. At work we do a reasonable amount of business with Ritz-Carlton properties, and that gave me a bit of juice to work with. A simple prompt a few days in advance about the volume of business and I checked in to find I had been assigned a suite on the 9th floor with a Marina view. Late checkout wasn’t a problem, either.

The bellman brought up our bags, brought us ice, and may generally have been the friendliest and most enthusiastic hotel employee I’ve ever come across. He pointed out their complimentary shoeshine service which required only leaving shoes outside the door (a nice feature, very common, but I really like it).

In the room we found the bed turned down with slippers, chocolates, and water bottles on each nightstand. There was a real marble bathroom and a nice bed. Bathroom had some of the most extensive amenities I’d seen, products by Bvlgari plus toothbrush, nail file, etc etc etc.

Room
Bed
Bath and Bath 2
Balcony View

TripAdvisor reviews of this property are frequently negative, suggesting that it’s well-worn and uncomfortable, but that couldn’t have been farther from my experience perhaps because I was in a suite.

The balcony extended only about 3 feet, conducive to walking outside briefly but not to spending any time out there. We placed a couple of our leftover wedding cakes out there for the night as a substitute for refrigeration and ate them in the morning with room service coffee.

We walked around the Marina mid-morning and had a nice but pricey lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, Jer-Ne. The duck and cheese eggrolls were outstanding.

To be continued...

Last edited by gleff; Jun 19, 05 at 10:24 am Reason: UBB Code
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Old Jun 18, 05, 1:41 pm
  #2  
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Monday, May 30

4:20 pm Depart Los Angeles (LAX)
Air Tahiti Nui Flight 21
First Class Seats 1K, 1L


We pulled up to the Tom Bradley International Terminal and I found a disorganized mess that exceeded even MEX. There was a line far outside the terminal for baggage screening near LH checkin. Fortunately there was a little used screening line at the far left hand side of the terminal, right next to TN checkin. There was virtunally no line.

We checked in with Air Tahiti Nui (bags were tagged with the same priority sticker as business class) and were given lounge access cards and headed off through security. Immediately past screening and directly ahead are the elevators that take you upstairs to the lounges. TN uses the QF/BA lounge (business class using the same lounge as F), which is the first one by the elevators. It’s really terrible as far as lounges go. Midshelf liquor, some food, chex mix, stale ham and cheese sandwiches. The bathroom isn’t even inside the lounge, it’s a more public space, and as a result quite unpleasant.

We sat ourselves down and it turned out that we were next to some kind of aging rockstar, I never did figure out who. BA special services came for him and his entourage, and board them right before their takeoff to LHR. Apparently they were on 20/20 a few days before, and they talked very loudly about Tommy Lee and Paris Hilton and there’s apparently a sex video out there about this guy, he doesn’t mind at all and thinks it could help him if it comes out. He won’t sue to stop it but would like to negotiate a percentage of the profits. He didn’t walk well, kinda hobbled.

After the LAX-LHR flight departed the lounge was mostly empty, populated only by the PPT flight and consisted primarily of honeymooners. They announced boarding in the lounge 30 minutes prior to takeoff.

Upon boarding, FAs passed out headsets and (overstuffed and bountiful) amenity kits, newspapers (LA Times, USA Today) and magazines and menus.

The seat didn’t really seem to recline 180 degrees as expected, maybe a bit more than 170 degrees and I found it a bit lumpy. It wasn’t the typical first class cocoon/coffin but rather standalone seats more like business class. In full recline position it was a little bit lumpy. Not bad, but not up to world standards for a sleeper seat IMHO. It was even a bit narrow, a consequence of the single row of 6 across (2-2-2). I really liked TN, though, because I don’t need a true sleeper seat on an 8 hour flight and what really sets them apart is their service and catering.

I had heard in the lounge that they were offering J customers upgrades to F for $600 pp one-way. Apparently this was popular, I think 2 honeymooners took them up on the offer. Mrs gleff and I had reserved the seats 8 months out, two customers in the center seats had clearly come in on the CDG-LAX flight (and from the reception they received at immigration in PPT, appeared to be a government official and his wife), so I assumed that the young couple on the left side of the plane were upgrades from paid J. So F was full (6/6).

After takeoff, flight attendants changed from standard FA uniforms into Tahitian garb, and then back into usual uniforms for landing.

Meal service was a lovely two hour affair, with proper china (with TN tiare flower logo) and only the silverware for each course out at any given time, replaced at the appropriate time with the correct items for whatever one would be eating next (even using a tray with silverware wrapped in a napkin). The menu was as follows:

DINNER

Cold lobster with shrimps and cucumber salad and grilled scallops yakitori, or
Feta cheese and thinly sliced duck breast

--

Grilled beef chateaubriand porcini, or
Cornish stuffed hen with Cajun creamy sauce, or
Stuffed salmon filet with shrimps and saffron sauce, or
Grilled lemongrass shrimps and tarragon lemon sauce

--

Parsley chateau potatoes
Mixed wild rice
Zucchini and yellow squash gratinated

--

Selection of French cheese

--

Dessert cart
Strawberry tartlet, chocolate cake, carrot apricot cake
Fresh fruit basket
Sherbet and petits fours


LIGHT MEAL

Beef and chicken burrito
Mixed fruit tartlet
Fruit juice, coffee, tea, chocolate and herb teas and beverages from our selection


WINE SELECTION

Chateau prieure Lichine, Margaux, 1997
Chassagne Montrachet, Bourgogne blanc, 2002
Domaine du Tariquet Sauvignon, Cotes de Gascogne, 2003
Clos Des Menuts, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, 2000
Champagne Moet et Chandon, Brut-Millesime blanc, 1999
Champagne Nicolas Feuillette, Brut-Reserve particuliere

I chose the beef (which was a perfectly cooked mid-rare) and the lobster salad. The FA also brought me leftover lemongrass shrimp as I commented how that entrée would make a nice additional side along with my rice and potatoes.

Mrs gleff and I were the only ones to partake in the cheese course, everyone else was too full. The dessert cart had 3 different cakes, 2 sorbets, cookies, and some other treats, and they stocked enough so that all passengers could have everything.

I don’t recall where I had read to expect it, but I anticipated pajamas. Unfortunately, because I hadn’t dressed as comfortably as I might have otherwise, none were provided.

I slept three hours, played trivia in TN’s game system against other pax on the plane (came in first every time, but usually against only 3 other people). There was a decent sized TV but movies weren’t on-demand.

Each of the 3 groups of 2 in F were given a bottle of champagne at the end of the flight, the 99 Moet & Chandon. We arrived about 5 minutes late, at 9:45pm.

We came off the plane and down stairs and were guided to the terminal where three men were playing Tahitian music. Flowers were handed out upon entry to the terminal. We deplaned out the forward door of the plane so first class is out first. (We came in through the back of J.)

We turn in our immigration form that doesn’t ask for our name as we enter the terminal, presumably it’s a tourism survey with an official imprimateur, then go through immigration. Lots of typing and we’re welcomed in.

Bags were out quickly, with first and business class priority tagged baggage out first. Baggage carts are complimentary. Through customs, asked simply how long we were staying, and we caught a cab to the Intercontinental (1800CFP, I’d expected more).

InterContinental Beachcomber Resort Tahiti

It was a ten minute drive to the hotel maximum, probably less. Checkin was busy, and the Ambassador line unmanned. A staff member saw my Ambassador card which was in my hand and brought me over to that open line.

I’d booked a panoramic room which shouldn’t have been available for points. (A known glitch in the Intercontinental forum, suites are often available for the standard number of points.)

I had been thinking on the plane that I didn’t want an upgrade to an overwater bungalow, the view would be great in a panoramic room (maybe better than from the OWBs) and I’d heard lots of folks were disappointed in the motu bungalows, which are the lower of the two categories of bungalows, and the ones I’d likely be upgraded to. Still, I asked about an Ambassador upgrade when told I’d been assigned a panoramic room. It’s probably just ingrained in my genes.

The woman at checking brought out the manager on duty. I didn’t care about the upgrade, really, but it was still amusing to watch this person go through the different stages of upgrade denial: first, “you have a staff rate” (no, it was an award, but presumably the internal reimbursement rate is similar) then “we don’t upgrade award rooms” then “we’re sold out tonight” and finally “you already have an upgrade” (true, it’s better than the usual award room, but it was also what I booked). Finally I was told that if I was staying at the hotel on my way back through Tahiti I could have a motu bungalow, but I had chosen to try out the Sheraton Tahiti on my return instead.

We were given fruit drinks while checking in, something I didn’t see done for others who weren’t Ambassador members. After the upgrade dance at checkin (which, by the way, is why mrs gleff always takes a seat while I go up to the desk…) we were taken by cart to our room. Our bags were already there and our Ambassador gifts (picture of the resort, Intercontinental French Polynesia DVD) and welcome snack were there too. The ironic thing about giving a gift of a DVD was that the room had no DVD player.

I didn’t like the room the longer we were at the hotel. But I wouldn’t have liked the bungalows here either as there was no privacy, they even shared walkways with the main pool and are bunched together such that you see other decks from yours. The Lagoon Bungalows esp. # 507 – 511 on the far edge of the property past Le Lotus restaurant but still facing Moorea seem nice though.

The bathroom had a 110V outlet as well as 220V, and not just for shavers. There was a window between the bathroom and bedroom with no curtain or shade, and there was no shower curtain or door for the shower either. No robes, no CD/DVD/VCR (TV had only Turner Classic Movies in English). Deck had two wood chairs and a wood table, the chairs didn’t recline and had no cushion. The room was stocked with only 2 towels and I had to call for more, they were brought up promptly while we were at dinner. Bed was very hard.

Breakfast buffet at Te Tiare restaurant the next morning ran 2900 CFP apiece per person but included tax and there was no line for gratuity on the bill. I was brought some kind of nonfat milk with my coffee and it took many requests for cream. The buffet was bountiful with fish, breads, Japanese soup, American breakfast, cheeses and pastries, deli meats, and an omellette station. A better value, though, would probably be the 1400 CFP express breakfast of fruit, breads, coffee.

After breakfast we laid out at the edge of the water looking out at Moorea. We wound up relaxing on the water for about five hours. Originally we had planned to head into Papeete, but for the first day away on this trip laying on the water was just what we needed. It was actually beautiful, although nothing compared to what was in store for us on Bora Bora.

While there's plenty of cultural activities and things to do on Tahiti, my own feeling is to spend as little time on the main island as possible. Next time I'd spend only one night on arrival rather than two.

As you'll see, I tend to be more critical than any property or flight deserves, and I dwell a bit much on shortcomings. I don't mean to do so, but it's a bit of my nature to notice such things. Actually, we both enjoyed our time at the Intercontinental, but certainly wouldn't have wanted to stay at this resort longer than the two nights we did. It was pretty, but we just weren't that comfortable in our room in contrast to what was in store for us at our next hotel. The property is aging a bit, but really is the nicest on the island of Tahiti.

Other photos:
http://host231.ipowerweb.com/~garyan...intercon_1.JPG
http://host231.ipowerweb.com/~garyan...intercon_3.JPG
http://host231.ipowerweb.com/~garyan...intercon_4.JPG
http://host231.ipowerweb.com/~garyan...intercon_5.JPG
http://host231.ipowerweb.com/~garyan...intercon_6.JPG
http://host231.ipowerweb.com/~garyan...intercon_7.JPG

We had the buffet again the second morning and then walked around the resort in a light rain. At 9am we called for luggage assistance. There had been a sign at checkin saying that we should call 45 minutes (!) before planning to leave the resort. The guest services directory said 15-30 minutes. On the phone they said it would take 15 minutes for the bellman to arrive. Turned out it was less than 5. I also asked that they call a cab.

At checkout I offered my Diners Club card for payment but that elicited a frown – the woman would ‘have to go in back and run it manually’ so I gave her a Visa. We were checked out by 9:15 and on our way to the airport for Bora Bora.

Last edited by gleff; Jun 18, 05 at 10:59 pm Reason: fix UBB code
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Old Jun 18, 05, 2:50 pm
  #3  
 
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Wow, amazing trip for a ton of points. Congratulations on your marriage and good luck!

Looking forward to more photos.
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Old Jun 18, 05, 9:16 pm
  #4  
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Wednesday, June 1

11:10 am Depart Papeete Intl Tahiti Faaa
Air Tahiti Flight 452


Egads, we were about 45 minutes ahead of my planned schedule. After a 5 minute cab ride (1500 CFP) I went to check in.

There are 2 domestic terminals at Faaa and 1 international. Entering the airport, the first terminal is for Air Moorea, then the international terminal, followed by Air Tahiti (VT). Several shops, an upstairs restaurant, downstairs shops, Bance Socredo, McDonald’s, and business center.

Checkin requires you to first screen all bags, which then receive a tag. You take them over to checkin yourself after that (at least at LAX at the TBIT the bags are taken to checkin with you and you aren’t allowed to touch them after screening, couldn’t you put something dangerous in after receiving the tag? Maybe they aren’t worried about terrorism, but then what’s the point of the screening anyway?)

International passengers (I wasn’t asked to prove it, by the way) get 20kg checked luggage apiece. We were over, and were asked to pay an excess baggage fee. I was offered a 30% discount for paying the roundtrip charge up front – 6900 CFP by Visa for about 2 small roller suitcases worth of stuff roundtrip. I wondered if BOB would even weigh the bags, or if I could have gotten away saving money and just paying one-way? Given my experience on the return, I highly doubt I would have been asked to pay excess baggage charges on the way back. In fact, they didn’t even look at the receipt I was told to hold onto and present on the return checkin.

Carryons were limited to 3kg, they didn’t weigh ours which was good because they too would have been overweigh.

Checkin took no more than 5 minutes. Now I had about 2 hours to kill. We walked through the shops, grabbed a coke in the cafeteria, and sat down. I realized I was right next to a little girl with chicken pox – which I’ve never had! – so we moved and I started worrying about a ruined trip. Well, I didn’t catch it from a few minutes and the little girl probably wasn’t contagious any longer anyway.

We went through security and into the terminal. There are three gates which are really just separate lines/exit doors a la a domestic express carrier. Small snack shop inside security along with bathrooms, and flatscreen TVs above the gates showing promo videos of the islands.

The plane was an ATR 72 with 68 seats. Service consisted of pineapple juice of some kind. I was certain to be sure we sat on the left side of the plane – an important thing, actually, for the phenomenal view of Bora Bora on approach (here and here).

We get off the plane and enter the terminal and each major hotel has a desk. Bora Bora Nui is the first on the left. The woman asked if I was mr. gleff as I approached. Apparently we were the only Bora Bora Nui guests arriving on that flight, they had come to the airport just to get us. (When making reservations, you’re asked to email your flight information ahead of time.)


Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa

The woman from the Nui handed me luggage tags that were pre-filled out with my name and room number on them. As I picked up a bag, a porter took it from me and made sure I just pointed to whatever was mine. (No other resort seemed to have a porter to handle baggage.) When they had all 4 bags we went to a boat that took us to the resort. We didn’t see our bags until we made it to our bungalow.

We arrived at the overwater checkin and they already knew who were were. We were greeted by Tahitian music and we were seated and were each given a small chocolate cake shaped like a heart and chilled rosewater as I filled out their paperwork which was primarily asking to confirm our departure flight (so they could ensure proper transport back to the airport).

After returning the check-in paperwork we were taken by golf cart out to our bungalow. We pulled up to #109 which I had mentioned in advance as my first choice (followed by 108 and then 104-106). I figured I must have misread the luggage tags at the airport which I thought said 105, but the woman from the hotel couldn’t open the door with the key, checked her paperwork, and backed up to Bungalow 105.

109 is known as private for being at the very edge of the resort and facing out at the water without really being seen by any of the other bungalows (108 is equally private, perhaps more so, but gets less sunlight). However, the resort’s boats cross in front of it all day long it would seem, so I’m not sure how much I would have enjoyed it.

It turns out that I was very happy with #105. The two common criticisms of the resort are that it isn’t very Tahitian (more opulence and American-style luxury, which for this trip I rather appreciated) and that it’s on the ‘wrong side’ of the motu facing away from the main island, thus having no view of Mt. Otemanu. To my surprise, #105 is unique in having a direct view of Mt. Otemanu! It has a nice sunrise view, not much of sunset, and in fact much of the day’s light is gone by noon. It isn’t a place to lay out tanning in the afternoon, but that was perfect for us – it was a refuge from the sun, and we were able to lay around coolly and comfortable for the afternoon, especially after spending time in the sun at the beach. In the end I wouldn’t have wanted any other bungalow (well, maybe Royal Suite 107, but even that would have been only the most marginal of improvements).

I was glad to have received one of the specific bungalows I had requested, especially since the reservation process wasn’t all that smooth. Awards at the Nui can’t be reserved online, since they’re all suite awards and two levels of suite awards are offered at that. I don’t imagine CSRs are that familiar with the property. I booked an overwater bungalow, the proper number of points were deducted, but it turns out that two rooms were reserved rather than one! This only came out by chance in an email exchange with the Front Office Manager. I sensed something was amiss so I asked Starwood Lurker to look into it (and then to correct it). I didn’t trust anyone I would get on the phone to touch the reservation, frankly.

We were shown the room and were very impressed. It’s my favorite hotel room ever by a wide margin. The bedroom, the bed, the living room, and couch were all great. But it was no understatement when the woman who brought us to our room described the bathroom as the best part of the room (complete with separate shower room and room for toilet and bidet. Bath products were Aveda and Ashford & Hall. Paolo, the Front Office Manager, called a day later to make sure I was happy with my choice – I was!

We were left alone briefly to unpack and there was a knock on the door, complimentary welcome fruit and champagne. The half-bottle of champagne was Pommery and was on the room service menu for 5360 CFP. Eleanor, the assistant front office manager, called wanting to arrange a surprise for later as well and asked whether we’d be staying in for dinner or going out. We found out later that evening that the surprise was a large plate of canapés and a large bottle of Evian, a nice treat for spending some late evening time on the deck our first night.

Some items to note. At checkin we were given a copy of the boat schedule to and from Vaitape, the main town on Bora Bora. The boat is complimentary during the day but there’s a 500 CFP charge per person each way for boat rides after 6:15pm. I imagine this is to encourage people to stay at the resort and spend money on dinner, but it’s such a nominal charge that it isn’t much of a discouragement. It’s not hard to avoid the fee, though. It seems that you’re charged only if the hotel knows in advance that you’re going to town and puts you on the schedule (for instance, if they make dinner reservations for you). But there’s no checking your voucher/receipt on the way back and no attempt to discern who is on board. So if you make your reservations yourself, and depart the hotel on the 6:15pm boat (which is free) I imagine you’d return free on, say, the 9:45pm boat which would otherwise come at a cost. It wasn’t worth it to me to test the theory.

Golf carts are available whenever you want them, though there may be a short wait. Just call the front desk and someone will pick you up and take you wherever you want to go at the resort. This wasn’t ever necessary except for the spa at the top of hill (we walked down, but honestly didn’t want to walk up). I imagine that guests in any of the 300-numbered bungalows might use the carts quite often though.

I had heard that the airport transfer, which has been free in the past, was now being billed. It isn’t, at least until this point that was just a rumor (on the Tahiti-explorer forums).

There was also some question in the past about the cost of the breakfast buffet. The guidebooks list a price, but reports in the past here were that guests weren’t charged, and speculation was the complimentary breakfast was being provided to platinums. The hotel doesn’t tell you this in its literature or at checkin, but full American breakfast buffet is indeed complimentary for all guests at the Tamure Grill, the hotel’s beachfront restaurant. Out of curiosity I confirmed this in advance with the hotel by email.

The odd thing is that each morning I was asked for my room number, so I wondered if there was going to be a charge even though I never was given a bill. Best I can figure they’re just checking to see whether we’re in fact guests to know whether we should be charged or not. (One could come over on the hotel’s free boat shuttle from another resort and have a breakfast for free, I imagine…)

We made a morning routine out of breakfast. Since we woke up early each morning, we ambled on over to the Tamure Grille and had coffee and sat and talked and looked at the ocean for a couple of hours, and then got around to eating breakfast. Coffee by default comes with some kind of 2% or fat free milk, but they managed to find cream for me each morning. Once I was told they were out of cream, but Stephan – the maitre d’hotel who is outstanding – found some for me.

When we arrived the stereo was tuned to 88.8 FM, which has commercial free music much of which is in English. A very pleasant station, and we never changed the channel. I brought a few CDs but never used the CD player. We did watch a movie on DVD the day it rained. The TV had both CNN International and Turner Classic Movies in English, but we really didn’t watch either.

Around 11am each morning complimentary fruit was brought to everyone laying out on the beach. I was never there at the time, but I understand refreshments (cookies?) are brought around in the afternoon as well. Past reports on the beach suggested that there was a paddle with “I’m thirsty” in English and French, and that guests need only raise the paddle and someone would come take a drink order. The paddle wasn’t there, but receiving service on the beach was never a problem. Frankly, I never did see very many people at the resort. It’s the largest property in French Polynesia, the bungalows are wonderful so people spend lots of time in them, and there are plenty of activities, etc. And the service we received was good – unlike most resorts where once you finally chase someone down to help you, you’re offered something off a limited cocktail menu, when mrs. gleff said she wanted “something mango and frozen but not alcoholic” they returned minutes later with a mango slushy.

Turndown service each night included a bottle of water at each nightstand, which is a wonderful touch in this warm climate.

Early on in our stay we lost power a few times, but only for a few seconds and everything came right back on. I did have to reset the bedside clock each time, though.

Bugs – you really do need to bring bugspray. I googled “vanilla with deet” and found bugspray.com which had some that was good and quite reasonable. We probably only used 4 ounces of the stuff, but it was invaluable. There are bugs everywhere – including mrs. gleff’s welcome cake (she ate mine instead) and at the Tamure Grille (beachside restaurant) they would be on some tables too (we’d just switch tables) and occasionally wind up in the juice (we’d ask the waitstaff to switch our glasses). We got bitten in the mid-afternoon sitting in front of the library when we hadn’t put on any of the spray. Incidentally, the library was near the business center which has two computers with complimentary internet access and US-style keyboards.

Sunscreen. You need more than you think. My first day on Tahiti, laying out at the Beachcomber, I missed a spot on my stomach and had a pretty bad burn in that one spot. We each used at least an ounce of SPF45 each day, more when we were out in the sun for longer periods of time.

Service. This isn’t a Four Seasons, a Ritz-Carlton, or even a St. Regis. There are two conflicting stories over how this hotel is flagged. There were some Sheraton items around, such as napkins, and I understand when it first opened it was often referred to as a Sheraton. It was supposed to become a St. Regis. Someone in this forum mentioned that the owner of the hotel visited the St. Regis in NYC and the St. Regis Monarch Beach and was horrified and refused to put the name on his hotel. The other story, which I find more likely after my stay, was that the hotel simply didn’t meet the service standards and amenities that are specific to the St. Regis brand. In any case, it’s part of the Luxury Collection and not any of the other brands.

People forget requests, apologize, and smile. One day a bathrobe was taken by housekeeping but not replaced. A requested replacement wasn’t sent, but the second call took care of it. One of two sinks in the bathroom didn’t drain properly. After my first mention didn’t elicit any response, I just took out the stopper and it worked fine. The real disservice happened with the spa.

One morning after breakfast we walked to reception rather than back to our room. They called the spa at 9:30am but no one was available to take an appointment. Sarah suggested we call back in an hour. At 10:45 we were heading back to our bungalow and Sarah saw us, stopped her golf cart, and asked if the spa had called me (addressing me by name, as most everyone from the front office did throughout our stay). I got back to my room, they hadn’t, so I called at 11. No spa appointments were left for the day. There are only 3 treatment bungalows, so I imagine slots do fill up. I made an appointment for the next day at 1pm.

At 11:30 the next morning I called to confirm the appointment, and also to confirm our pickup. (The spa has its own van, separate from the front desk’s golf carts.) Everything was set, and they were picking us up at 12:30. I was glad I called, as I had remembered them telling me we’d be picked up at 12:45. 12:30 came and went, and at 12:45 I called. They told me, “Sorry, we don’t have a van at the moment, there’s nothing we can do.” If they had called to let me know they couldn’t pick us up (nevermind that they had just confirmed the pickup an hour earlier) we could have just walked. But at this point it was getting late, and they advise you to be 15 minutes early and that being late will reduce treatment times.

I called the front desk and asked for a pickup (why couldn’t the spa have just called the desk?). It was 1:10pm before the cart turned up. We were 15 minutes late for our appointment, and it took firm insistence and help from the desk to insure that we received our full treatment time, though the pre-session rituals were more than a bit rushed.

Still, the ve’a ve’a (hot stones) massage was wonderful and I quickly forgot all of my cares.

The view from the spa is of the whole resort and is incredible. There are three treatment bungalows, I believe each is set up to accommodate two people for treatments. It was nice, mrs gleff and I could each have our massages together. (Incidentally, they were 19000 apiece.)

The culinary highlight of French Polynesia was a trip to Vaitape for a relatively new small restaurant called Villa Mahana (see here and here. It has only six tables inside and two more outside upstairs, so several days’ advance reservation are a must. I emailed the chef a couple weeks ahead of time and got my preferred booking. We took the resort’s 6:15pm shuttle which arrives at Vaitape around 6:30pm and the restaurant had a cab waiting for us at the dock (they added 300 CFP each way to our bill for the cab). This was the best shuttle for us – for some of the other restaurants the 7:15pm boat would be better (in fact very few people took the 6:15pm boat), but either way we were going to wind up coming back on the 9:45pm and Villa Mahana is a meal worth savoring. In fact, at the end we were even a bit rushed.

When we arrived we were offered cocktails and the waitress recommended a special champagne fruit drink they offer, which we accepted. It tasted like grenadine and we didn’t enjoy it. I was rather surprised to see that we were charged 1900 CFP apiece for it. Otherwise everything was perfect.

The chef comes out after you arrive to discuss the menu. Since we were the first diners of the evening (though in the end, hardly the first to leave), he had a bit of extra time to chat with us.

We ordered the five-course ‘degustation menu’ which they call the Menu Royal. It was 10500 CFP apiece, but well worth it.
Sea Food Salad and Caviar

Foie Gras in Sweet Spices Crust

King Rock Lobster with Exotical Flavor

Roasted Beef Tenderloin, Red Wine Vanilla Sauce, Creamy Gnocchi

Warm and Creamy Chocolate Cake with Tiare Flower Ice Cream
Mrs gleff substituted smoked mahi mahi for the beef tenderloin.

The foie gras crusted in spices was the absolute best foie I’ve ever had. The chef asked how the meal was after our second course, and I told him the foie was wonderful. He sent out seconds (the initial serving was in a copper pot).

Everything else was good, but I didn’t finish the gnocchi that accompanied the beef tenderloin – a bit too rich after more than one serving of foie gras.

One table near us did just two courses, I thought what a waste as the lady ordered the chicken – something the chef didn’t even mention as he discussed the menu with us. Another table asked what foie gras was and didn’t like the sound of it. My goodness, they missed out.

The décor of the restaurant is nice local artwork (though I’m not personally a fan), though lots of it and it strikes me as a bit kitsch. Frankly I was there for the food and it didn’t disappoint. Our best meal of the trip so far.

Less wonderful for food was Iritai, Bora Bora Nui’s formal dining ‘panoramic’ restaurant. (Formal dining in French Polynesia means a clean pair of shorts and perhaps a short sleeve shirt with a collar.)

Iritai is a beautiful restaurant with rather nice service, more attentive than we had in most of French Polynesia. The view is amazing. There’s a piano player. The food, though, is worse than mediocre. Someone needs to introduce the chef to salt. They conserve on ingredients by using the same things over and over throughout the menu – their amuse was very similar to one of the appetizers, which mrs. gleff unfortunately ordered without caution from our waitress. The sauce from my shrimp and crab soufflé appetizer was the soup in mrs. gleff’s bouillabaisse (!). The fish in her dish had scales left on and some bones were in her soup. She choked on one. My tuna was overcooked and dry, despite ordering it mid-rare, probably as a consequence of the thin slices of fish. As an apology they brought a complimentary dessert. We didn’t really want to stay, so they sent it to our room.

Here’s the walkway from the 100-numbered bungalows to the rest of the resort.

Here are some hillside bungalows.

This is the resort’s pool.

Facing the Tamure Grille from the Beach and looking out from the Tamure Grille in the evening.

The public restroom by the pool.

Some photos of the sunset:
http://host231.ipowerweb.com/~garyan...bbn_sunset.JPG
http://host231.ipowerweb.com/~garyan...bn_sunset3.JPG
http://host231.ipowerweb.com/~garyan...n_sunset_2.JPG
http://host231.ipowerweb.com/~garyan...n_sunset_4.JPG

Some more fabulous photos:
http://host231.ipowerweb.com/~garyan...i/bbn_owbs.JPG
http://host231.ipowerweb.com/~garyan...bn_walkway.JPG

Honestly, this is the most beautiful physical property I’ve ever seen. There are some occasional service limitations, this is common in French Polynesia. It did grate at me a bit at times but then I’d just gaze out at the magnificent water. My pictures don’t capture it, but it’s just awe-inspiring. In person it looks airbrushed, it doesn’t even look real.
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Old Jun 18, 05, 9:19 pm
  #5  
 
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First congratulations hope your marriage will be longer and happier than mine(will celebrate our 25th next April)
Loved your reort and enjoyed your pictures.
Keep it up will wait for the rest shortly i hope ^
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Old Jun 18, 05, 10:32 pm
  #6  
 
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what a lovely report. Makes me want to hop a plane.
I'm glad you got one of your choices of bungalows. I wonder if those that are alongside the walkway feel the vibration of people walking past their bunglows.

Rita
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Old Jun 18, 05, 10:52 pm
  #7  
Tak
 
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Congratulations!
It was one of the best trip report.
(as everyone expected from you)
We had the room 104 a few years ago, and I knew what you saw from your room.
Between the Motu and small island, you could see the main island from your lanai.
Personally, I liked the room because you see islands, mountain on your left and horizen ocean on your right.
My friends had a room at another side of the walkway and they had nice sunset view, but somehow boring during day time (just ocean, ocean and ocean view).

For bugs, I didn't notice much except Spa area on the hill ( We went there in Oct).

The resort was so quiet.
In the morning and evening at restaurants, we saw many people there, but during day time, all disappeared.

Also, Bora Bora airport was one of the most beautiful airport in the world.
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Old Jun 18, 05, 11:01 pm
  #8  
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Originally Posted by SMART51
First congratulations hope your marriage will be longer and happier than mine(will celebrate our 25th next April)
Loved your reort and enjoyed your pictures.
Keep it up will wait for the rest shortly i hope ^
Thank you so much.

I've kept the report about the trip, since I'm usually a pretty private person, but I truly love mrs gleff and look forward to the next 50+ years together with wonderful anticipation.
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Old Jun 18, 05, 11:04 pm
  #9  
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Thanks for the kudos! ^

Originally Posted by Tak
For bugs, I didn't notice much except Spa area on the hill ( We went there in Oct).
I noticed the bugs mostly in the late afternoon and evening, though in retrospect I was properly overly sensitized to them because they were pretty prevalent at the Intercontinental on Tahiti so I was constantly spraying myself.

Also, Bora Bora airport was one of the most beautiful airport in the world.
It's quite something, and I'll get to that in the next segment of my report when I talk about the return to PPT!
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Old Jun 18, 05, 11:50 pm
  #10  
 
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Congrats Gleff!!!

This made me decide to add up the points I spent on my son and daughter in laws honeymoon May 22-June 12

2 J round trip tickets to Europe - * Alliance - 160K
6 Nites at the Rome Cavaleri 240K ( couldnt use a GLONP - long story)
Venice and Florence - they paid
2 Nites at the Hilton Milan 50K ( courtesy of their cousins)
2 Nites at Hilton Zurich 50K
3 Nites at the Heidelburg Marriot 83K ( courtesy of my now husband)
1 Nite at the Scandic FRA 10K

Total points cost 593K

2 Round trip WN tickets to LA to originate trip $300 USD
2 PL hotel nites in LA ( Got the Radission one nite and the Marriot at the end)
$100 USD

I think this was probably the best use of 593K I will ever make

They were given exec level at all hotels - saved a fortune on meals in the lounges and got SPOILED
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Old Jun 19, 05, 10:09 am
  #11  
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Congratulations and thanks for the report.
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Old Jun 19, 05, 10:21 am
  #12  
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Okay, still to come...

Sheraton Tahiti
Intercontinental Sydney
Westin Sydney
Westin Melbourne
Westin Seattle

Air Tahiti, BOB-PPT
Air Tahiti Nui F, PPT-AKL
Qantas J, AKL-SYD
Qantas Y, SYD-MEL
Qantas F, MEL-LAX
Alaska F, LAX-SEA / SEA-DCA

Dinner at Tetsuya's
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Old Jun 19, 05, 10:22 am
  #13  
 
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Thanks so much for the effort. I've only read 1/4 of it...save the rest for later. It is great.

I will be sure to make a reservation at the resturant you recommend at BBN

Steve
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Old Jun 19, 05, 10:39 am
  #14  
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Originally Posted by SteveinA2
I will be sure to make a reservation at the resturant you recommend at BBN
Villa Mahana is outstanding. The other restaurant on Bora Bora worth eating at is Top Dive.

At Bora Bora Nui:
* Iritai (the formal dining restaurant, dinner only, reservations recommended but not necessary the night I went though you'd get a better table outside with reservations) is terrible
* Tamure Grille (beachside restaurant: complimentary breakfast buffet, lunch and food in the afternoon, dinner) is decent but certainly not gourmet
* Room service - very limited options, decent. There's one page for breakfast, one page for all-day dining, and then there are several elaborate options (tapas, barbecue, etc) that are expensive (more than 10000 CFP pp)

My own routine consisted of the breakfast buffet, not so much because it was complimentary but because it was so nice to linger in the restaurant with a sand floor looking out at the beach, bungalows, and water while having lots of coffee brought to me. We ate well there and generally had a mid-afternoon snack followed by dinner (although the mid-afternoon snack sometimes left us not too hungry for dinner, and one night we skipped it and just spent the whole evening on our deck).
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Old Jun 19, 05, 1:52 pm
  #15  
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Monday, June 6

1:50 pm Depart Bora Bora Motu Mute Airport
Air Tahiti Flight 459


The night before we received a ‘departure letter’ with a printout of our folio, a Starwood Luxury Collection survey, and a departure time. We were scheduled for 11:30am which would have left us with 2 hours at the BOB airport – way too long with nothing to do. I went to the front desk and had them change our departure until an hour later, which I think caused them to make an extra airport boat run as there were a couple of other folks from our resort on the plane and they didn’t come over on our boat.

After approaching the airport dock by boat, checkin at BOB took 2 minutes tops. There was no line and the airport was more or less deserted. No comment about overweight bags, they didn’t look at my receipt showing I had prepaid the overweight fees.

There was no ID check. There was no security at the airport whatsoever. Nothing stands between the entrance to the airport and the gates. Inside the airport is a refreshment stand and two small gift shops. Bathrooms are nice with flowers but signs say the water isn’t drinkable. This is the gate area.

There were only 12 on the flight to PPT. We boarded 15 minutes early and were in the air at 12:45pm – the scheduled boarding time. Service again was a plastic cup of juice, no choices.

Sheraton Tahiti

It took a whole 2 minutes for bags to arrive at baggage claim after landing, and we headed straight out of the airport to grab a cab. Turns out we had the same cab driver who took us to the Intercontinental upon first arriving in Tahiti a week earlier. Ride to the Sheraton was 1900 CFP (day rate).

It’s hard to get used to normalcy after the Nui, we got out of the cab and started bringing our own bags to the desk ourselves when the bellman came up to stop me, realizing that he should have been attempting to help.

That said, I did enjoy the nice familiarity of a Sheraton – checking in and being told about the Sheraton Service Promise. We were given an ocean view room above the pool. The hotel has a little strip of beach and a small infinity pool. Here’s another shot of the hotel.

The property itself felt a bit aged and dark, perhaps Four Points-ish especially due to the peeling wallpaper. The room was a bit spartan except the bathroom and shower which was nice (by normal standards, but I’d just been at the Bora Bora Nui and had a suite at the Ritz by LAX) – it’s one of the better Sheraton bathrooms to be sure. Nice balcony and a complimentary bottle of water. Here’s the entry to the room.

Shortly after our arrival an amenity was delivered of a nice pareo (wrap) and a Sheraton Tahiti t-shirt, along with a personalized note from the hotel G.M. and his business card.

Prices were so much lower than the Intercontinental and the Bora Bora Nui in the restaurant. Mrs. gleff and I ordered 3 main courses from the lunch menu at 3:30pm (after the restaurant technically was closed, I think, but they accommodated us) – a gourmet topping pizza, a burger, and pasta with mussels. The bill came to just 4800 CFP. Food wasn’t great but not horrible.

Our meal was cut short though and we felt the need to excuse ourselves. Birds were walking around the restaurant, not unfamiliar having spent time at the Tamure Grille at the Nui. However, one flew onto the table next to us and sat there pooping on a plate. Yuck!

Overall the grounds weren’t as nice and were much smaller than the Intercontinental, and the food had less of a gourmet pretension. This is much more of a hotel than a resort. And though I recall it appearing closer to the airport on the map than the Intercontinental, it took longer (though not much) by cab and was slightly more expensive of a ride.

Hotel was fine for a night, but I felt a little closed in. If I had it to do over, while I’d only spend one night at the Intercontinental on the way in I might choose that hotel on the way back for a night (if necessary) as well. Then again, my lack of enthusiasm for the Sheraton may be more a function of arriving after my stay at Bora Bora Nui.

Tuesday, June 7

8:05 am Depart Papeete (PPT)
AIR TAHITI NUI Flight 101
First Class Seats 1K, 1L


We left the Sheraton at 5:45am and were at the airport just shy of 6am. I recall the ride back to the airport was 2500 CFP (rates are higher before 6am, though my memory could be off by 100 or so CFP).

The first step upon arriving for an international departure is screening of luggage, just inside the terminal from curbside. Tickets are inspected and carryon bags are tagged. Interesting that security actually tagged the carryons by class of service, at least interesting to someone so used to the TSA and domestic flying.

My carryon was flagged for extra screening. The agent removed several items but couldn’t figure out how to get everything back in properly. She was very apologetic and finally gave up (which I wish she’d done several minutes earlier, just leaving it to me to repack as I wished).

There was one person ahead of us in the business/first class checkin line. We got our boarding passes and baggage checked all the way to SYD without difficulty (QF interlining is not a problem for TN), then we passed through passport control and finally security. At security the plastic bin holding items from my pocket got stuck and the screener told me just to reach into the machine and get it. In the states I’d be put in prison for that!

We went upstairs to the lounge (we walked up the short staircase, the elevator didn’t seem to be working properly, at least it was taking awhile). Lounge is shared with JAL, Air New Zealand, etc… everyone except Hawaiian as I understand it, which won’t pay for its premium customers to have access.

There were pastries, coffee, a self-serve bar, and a television. Lounge was small, decorated with Tahitian artwork, with a nice view of airport operations (such as they are).

We boarded at 7:30am. TN was using gate 60 for coach and gate 61 for J/F. Premium cabins boarded from the front of the plane and Y boarded from behind the biz cabin. Given tiare flowers upon boarding, drinks, newspapers (day old USA Today and Los Angeles Times) and magazines, followed by amenity kits.

First had only one other passenger, so it was loaded 3/6. J wasn’t full. Coach seemed heavily packed based on the hordes at gate 60 during boarding, but I didn’t look back at the cabin once onboard. I believe the Australian soccer team was on our flight. They stayed at our hotel the night before as well, and had just bested New Zealand – or so I had been told at checkin at the Sheraton.

Flowers were removed from the front display for takeoff and then returned once we were in the air (on the LAX-PPT flight they were left in place), so procedures aren’t all that regimented and regularized I suppose. There were no complaints from the FAs when the other F pax used the lav while taxiing back from the gate. The restroom had linen on the table next to the sink with flowers and Evian soap and lotion.

We are airborne at 8:20am after a long takeoff roll using every last inch of runway. FA passed out pajamas for this six hour morning flight, something curiously missing from my evening LAX-PPT segment. Flight time was actually announced to be just 5 hours 20 minutes.

Flight attendants changes into Tahitian garb, a bit odd for this crew actually because they were predominantly French rather than Polynesian. Then they passed out headsets. TN gives sealed headphones that have white covers to go over the earpieces, which are also sealed in a plastic package inside the headphone package, presumable for sanitary reasons. I had a bit of a struggle getting them on the earpieces each time.

Hot towels were passed out, but they weren’t even warm and weren’t wet.

Menus were passed out at 9:05am, and offered one of the best breakfasts I’ve had on a plane (at least for my peculiar tastes). The meal wasn’t as good as the wonderful dinner served on the way to Tahiti, but I’ve always found breakfast to be the hardest and most disappointing plane fare.

BRUNCH

Stuffed beef olive with tarragon, smoked salmon quiche and foie gras canapé, or
Mahi mahi fillet with mushroom duxelle and tomato coulis

--

Cheese and mushroom crepes and veal sausage, or
Cheese omelete, chicken nugget and grilled tomato, or
Chestnut and pineapple crepes

--

Vegetable frittata

--

Salad of fresh tropical fruit

--

Fruit juice, coffee, tea, chocolate and herb teas

--

Butter, jam, selection of bakeries, fresh bread roll, yoghurt and cereal


WINE SELECTION
Chateau prieure Lichine, Margaux, 1997
Chassagne Montrachet, Bourgogne blanc, 2002
Domaine du Tariquet Sauvignon, Cotes de Gascogne, 2003
Clos Des Menuts, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, 2000
Champagne Moet et Chandon, Brut-Millesime blanc, 1999
Champagne Nicolas Feuillette, Brut-Reserve particuliere
(Note these were the same wines as PPT-LAX)

Here’s the place setting. I had the stuffed beef and foie canapé, the crepes and the frittata, and the fruit.

As before, proper silver service was provided. Each course brought a replacement of silverware with just what I would need for the coming course.

Service expectations are fairly high for TN crews, apparently. When the FA struggled to climb around the papers and books strewn at my feet, magnified by the position of my footrest, she insisted that I not move at all when I offered and was very apologetic (sincerely) about her failure. Mrs. gleff reported going to the lave and finding the curtain to the FA rest area not fully pulled shut. The FA was extremely apologetic for being seen eating.

Still, service disappointed for awhile and another FA from J took my water glass without offering another or a refill. I could see the FAs reading and chatting through the galley (I imagine they didn’t realize they could be seen, or the embarrassment was limited to the one FA assigned to F). I simply got my own drink from the center cabin display. This was a real contrast to the incredibly hardworking FA on my flight to PPT, where she seemed not to stop working the entire flight in spite of having lost a pearl earings during the boarding process. She wouldn’t even look for her earing until she was done with meal service!

After brunch I played a few games. The ones on offer were solitaire, slots, poker, chess, backgammon, trivia. This time chess but not trivia allowed playing against another passenger.

We arrived in Auckland on time. Having crossed the international dateline it was now Wednesday just past noon.


Wednesday, June 8

1:25 pm Depart Auckland, New Zealand (AKL)
Qantas Flight 190
Business Class Seats 2J, 2K


After landing in Auckland we headed over to the Qantas Club at the far end of the terminal. We had come into gate 7 and would be departing next door at gate 8, so the club was a bit of a schlep in both directions. We had some snacks and killed half an hour before heading back over to board. The club offered 4 salads, cheese and crackers, trail mix, and mushroom soup.

Limited drink service was offered and newspapers were passed out. Jackets were hung. Seeing jackets was a bit of a shock after French Polynesia, as mrs gleff and I were still in island mode. Hot towels were passed out.

The cabin was a bit dated but far better than I expected. I flew a similar length flight (SYD-CNS) on the same plane type, a Boeing 767, on Ansett 4 or 5 years ago and this was much much better. Ten directional controls on the seat, reasonable pitch for a short flight – I don’t know precisely but would guess 42”. Configuration was 1-2-2, definitely better than US domestic first. Coach was standard 2-3-2. Load in J was 17/25.

I did notice some variation where I prefer US flights – announcement was no electronic devices for a full 20 minutes after takeoff, and that cell phones couldn’t be used until actually inside the terminal.

In taking drink orders, FA addressed us by name without the manifest in front of her. Very nice touch. Some have denigrated Aussie short-haul on these boards but as someone used to riding UA it seems quite nice. Printed menus for a 3 hour flight left UA a long time ago…


Entrée
Antipasto of Prosciutto, Semi Dried Tomato, Artichoke and Bocconcini

Main Course
Butter Chicken with Basmati Rice
Beef Fillet with Roast Vegetables and Thyme Jus
Salad of Smoked Salmon with Green Mango and Citrus Dressing
Seasonal Salad with Herb Vinaigrette

Dessert
Cheese selection, dried fruit and water crackers
Ice cream with Almond biscuits


The meal was served on a tray without china, but still in proper courses rather than all at once. Ice cream was accompanied by a choice of chocolates. Coffee and tea service was presented from a French press. Personal video screen was about 5”, perhaps half the size of the screen on the TN flight.

Sydney arrival was a few minutes early. I was intrigued by the huge promotion for the duty free shops on the way out, all promoting a new increased limit for bringing in alcohol. Line was short at immigration, there really aren’t that many international flights coming in just shy of 3pm, and our bags were on the carousel when we made it through. It seems QF fully recognized TN’s priority baggage tags and honored them.
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