So hopefully everyone’s finally figured out the irony of the title of this trip report, in that I didn’t really ever make an effort to see or do anything particularly Middle Earth-ish on this trip. Next time, I guess. But anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed everything thus far. This part has been a joy to write, because everything was simply fantastic. Thanks for your patience and your wonderful comments.
As a quick review (explained more thoroughly in the preview for this trip report), I built this trip around First Class availability on the Qantas A380 for the long-haul between Sydney and Los Angeles. The cost was 72,500 AAdvantage miles and a relatively small amount of fees (American doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on Qantas flights). In order to maximize the value of the ticket, I booked my return flight starting in Christchurch with a one-night layover in Sydney, followed by the long flight back to the City of Angels, then onward back to Dallas for a whopping 3 days rest until I left again for a work trip.
Getting out of Christchurch
I had a restless night of sleep after being followed and passed slowly by the same SUV full of guys yelling at me while walking down a mostly unlit street in a so-so area of Christchurch. I’m a big and relatively strong guy, and it takes a lot to make me feel threatened, but this was full-on fight/flight feelings. I always joke about my two-step process for avoiding a street fight: 1) open-hand slap and 2) run like heck, because by the time whoever you slapped recovers emotionally from being slapped by a grown man, you’ve probably put some distance between you and them; but this time I was honestly preparing to fight and/or run for my life. Right at the moment I sensed them about to drive by again, I saw my hostel, for which I made a beeline and rushed behind their secured gate, safe for the night. To this day I’m not 100% sure how much danger I was actually in, but I’ve learned to trust your gut in situations like that, and to this day my gut tells me I made the right decision. Christchurch isn’t statistically a dangerous city, I guess those guys were intimidated by my airline status or something. Oh well. I’m safe and thankful. Back to the happy and fun part of the report…
Qantas surprised me from the beginning. For their First Class customers, they provide a complimentary chauffeur service to the airport from your origin and then another chauffeur once you arrive at your destination. I had assumed that this was offered only before their long-haul services, but when I logged in to Qantas a few weeks before my trip to manage my booking and grab a seat for my flight from Christchurch to Sydney, I saw that their Chauffeur Drive service was available in Christchurch as well! I eagerly made my reservation for 3.5 hours before my flight time, to enjoy the lounge in Christchurch’s airport. The driver showed up exactly 1 minute ahead of schedule in a Ford Fairlane, ensured that I was actually who he was here to pick up (my beard had grown out and I dressed down for the flight, so I looked mostly homeless again, a throwback to my FCT visit earlier this year), and we were off for the airport. He was a very nice and professional gentleman with a great story of how he met his Russian wife and his struggles bringing her back to New Zealand once they decided to marry. The ride to the airport was pretty short with little traffic, and he deposited me at the international departures door and wished me a safe journey.
Check-in was a breeze and I made it through security to the small section of international gates just in time for the lounge (shared with Emirates) to open.
The lounge was a fairly standard business class international lounge, with a nice selection of bites and booze to enjoy while you waited. The exception to most other lounges is that the Manaia Lounge on this day had one of the nicest lounge attendants I’ve ever met. She treated everyone with a joyous concern and made everyone’s visit special. It wasn’t anything specific that she did, she was just so nice you couldn’t help but smile whenever she was in the vicinity.
I nibbled on the finger foods and imbibed a little (one international constant among people who fly often: there’s no culture that embraces morning drinking more). I walked around the terminal for a bit and returned to the lounge to await our aircraft’s arrival.
Eventually boarding was called and we took our seats in the Business Class section of the two-class cabin. The cabin actually reminded me of Virgin’s look and feel, but there was a robust red leather chair waiting for me, so I robusted myself into it and started playing with the IFE system (which was active on the ground, something I wish every airline would do).
They made short work of the boarding process and we luckily were first in line for takeoff (out of somewhere around one aircraft waiting to depart).
We immediately turned west and made our way across the South Island and pointed ourselves towards Sydney. I was very sad to see the last bits of New Zealand disappear from my window, but it didn’t feel like a goodbye, just a see you later. I then realized I was talking to an island and worried about myself. But then the coffee came, and I regained the ability to think like a normal person. Well, maybe not normal, but shut up.
The lunch service began with our trays distributed to us, followed by NINETEEN POUNDS (approx. 72 kiloliters) OF CUTLERY.
I enjoyed the food that came out, a nice starter with beef and pumpkin bits, but they absolutely drowned it in this whiteish sauce, which ruined it a bit.
In between courses, I did some arm workouts with all of my cutlery (new one-rep max bicep curl…ladies) and then grabbed a picture of the main course.
The food was delicious (I was nervously thinking it’d be vegemite) and I scarfed it down. I was then presented with a block of frozen ice cream that was harder than mythril. I tried every trick I could: brute force, withheld love, taunting, but I could only manage to eat about 20% of it before giving up and passing out from the exhaustion.
As we got closer to Sydney, I awoke and made my prep, which, as always, includes watching Where The Hell Is Matt videos and taking a picture of him in the place I’m heading.
We started our final approach into Sydney, and I caught my first look at the Big Two.
We landed smoothly and I hurried through customs, which was fast and efficient (it helped being the third off the plane). I met my driver (as my Chauffeur Service applied on my arrival into Sydney, which was great) and he guided me outside to his Audi A8L.
I loved the ride, which gave me a very small glimpse of a very massive city. We quickly made our way after some brief traffic squabbles into The Rocks part of Sydney (basically just above Circular Quay) and arrived at the Shangri-La Sydney. I made a booking through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, access to which I had from my Platinum card. I like the program because it includes lots of fringe benefits like room upgrades and food/beverage credits for pretty much the same price you’d pay through an OTA like Hotels.com or Travelocity. The rate was reasonable, and even though I had already gone over budget for the trip, sometimes in life you just have to pay for the room with the nice view. It was worth it.
Couldn’t have made a better decision. It was worth every penny, in my opinion, especially with the $100 food/beverage credit included in the room, which paid for some great cocktails at their wonderful bar that night.
I made my way down from the hotel to see the Circular Quay (for those of you who don’t know, in Australia the word “quay” is pronounced “rooster”) and the Opera House. It was a really nice day which made for great picture taking.
I grabbed a bite at a streetside cafe as night fell, when the view from my hotel got wonderfully better.
I made my way up to the bar on the 36th floor, where their bartenders crafted some great cocktails for me. They didn’t show me a menu (although they had one available), they instead asked what I liked to drink and made stuff based on my responses, and there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch.
First Class Day
I slept incredibly soundly in my wonderful bed. I wasn’t scheduled to be picked up until 9am, so I had enough time to grab a quick workout at the gym and a light breakfast (included in my rate), although I knew I’d eat more at the airport. (The below is just a glimpse, there was a massive amount of food available).
I packed for the last time, playing tetris with the gifts I had bought, and was zipping up my suitcase when the phone rang, informing me my driver had arrived. I proceeded down to the lobby to check out and lo and behold it was the exact same car from the day before. The drive to the airport took a little longer this time due to traffic, but I built in plenty of time to spare so it wasn’t a big problem.
I was hand-delivered to the airport and made my way for Qantas’s separated First Class check-in area.
The airport was in the middle of its morning rush, so I took a seat in one of the nice chairs in the check-in area until an attendant was ready for me, at which I was ushered away from my checked bag and handed my boarding pass for my second First Class experience on an A380.
I made my way through security and a dizzying duty free area, and located the entry to one of the great lounges of the world: Qantas’s First Class Lounge in Sydney.
The entrance hall is large and bordered on the left-hand side by a massive living wall installation. It’s incredibly unique and I want to have one in my home someday. I don’t currently own a home, so that’s probably on the list first, but I digress. The actual lounge is up an escalator and provides some epic tarmac views, dining opportunities, and massage rooms. I had pre-reserved a massage time, so I went over to the desk and checked-in.
The massage rooms have the same flavour as the entry hall, with living walls in each. I had a 50-minute massage, which wasn’t incredibly deep but was relaxing nonetheless.
I didn’t have a big breakfast at the hotel, so once the massage was over I made my way to the restaurant area and was promptly greeted by my waiter, who took my order for breakfast.
And then, he took my order for second breakfast.
After breakfast(s), I found one of the nice relaxing chairs facing the tarmac and prepared for some planespotting with the full intent of falling asleep from a carb crash.
My time in the lounge passed very quickly. Before I knew it, I checked the old-school flipping departures board and found that it was time for me to proceed to my gate.
We came to the gate, made it through secondary boarding pass and passport inspection, and…waited. The flight next to us (SYD-DFW, which after this month will be the longest scheduled non-stop flight in the world) boarded and took off while we were waiting for some new software to download (put an iOS joke here). I walked around the gate area and snapped some pics before being told not to and acting like I was deleting the pictures I had just taken and am posting here.
After about a 90 minute delay, boarding finally commenced. I took that most lovely of left turns, for the dedicated First Class jetbridge, and walked into Qantas paradise.
Champagne and pajamas were promptly served. Not like at the same time, but close enough.
I liked Singapore’s pajamas better, but Comtes is right up there with Dom for taste and body for me. I told my flight attendants that I had ridden with Singapore Airlines in Suites Class and enjoyed it, they assured me my flight that day would be a better experience. Confident group!
We took to the skies for our quick flight to LAX (they always say that I bet). There’s nothing like taking off in an A380, the power is almost understated but somehow the big whale gets in the air. I watched, observantly, from the tail cam, thanking Australia for a wonderful brief visit.
After takeoff, an amuse bouche was served, basically it was a fish ball. Loved it.
The meal service began shortly thereafter.
I had the beef and spinach, which was great.
You might ask yourself the only thing that could make beef better. I present to you:
The main course was wonderful, followed up by an ice cream bar, which I thought was a little unique.
Something I immensely appreciated on Qantas’s A380: personal air vents!
After the meal service wrapped up, many converted their seats into beds, so I had mine turned down as well. While the attendant was changing everything around (it took about 10 minutes), I walked back through the plane to grab some pics.
When I returned, my bed was ready for me, and I took advantage of it, getting about 7 hours of sleep.
I awoke the next morning to the smell of coffee, so I had some coffee and a fruit juice smoothie, which preceded the breakfast service.
The flight landed softly at LAX, and it was over. I loved the flight. It’s tough to compare them to Singapore or Cathay, because those two airlines are so good at ALL the details, and I wasn’t expecting that from Qantas. The people were friendly, jovial, and would handle almost any request for you. It was a perfectly enjoyable experience.
Customs in LAX was just stupid like always. I ended up waiting about an hour until I was let through, despite the fact I was one of the first on the plane. It was rather uneventful from there, as I hung out in the Flagship Lounge for a bit, then took an earlier flight home.
Go to New Zealand. Linger there. Talk to strangers, as it seemed like most everyone I encountered didn’t treat me like a stranger, just a friend they hadn’t met yet. I loved Qantas’s service (I equated it closely with American’s international service levels). It was a fantastic trip and hopefully as good of a trip report.
Thanks for reading, and I might be seeing you rather soon!