Where to Find the Best Deals on Airfare

Probably the most common question that people ask me is, “how do you find such good deals?  Where do you look for these cheap fares?”

There is not a quick, simple answer to that question.  There are several different avenues that I monitor on a regular basis for good fares.  I’ll detail those later in this post, but #1 reason why I’m able to travel on such good deals is that I’m flexible.

By “flexible”, I mean that when seeking out deals, I am generally  looking for neither a specific destination, nor  date.  All I want is for the fare to preferably be leaving the DC area (DCA, IAD, or BWI), though I certainly make exceptions to that requirement, as I frequently “fly” from the Philadelphia 30th Street train station via the United / Amtrak code-share.  I’ll also consider flying from New York – especially for good international deals.  Once I see a fare to a cool place (hopefully far, far away), I check availability to make sure it fits into my schedule.  This generally means I’m looking for a weekend.  If those two criteria are met, I’ll pretty much go anywhere.

A ridiculously cheap airfare sent me to Istanbul for a weekend in February!

A ridiculously cheap airfare sent me to Istanbul for a weekend in February!

I know this is not necessarily the answer people want to hear, but it’s the truth.  If you’re looking to travel on specific dates to any destination, you have a good chance of getting “lucky” when a good fare comes about.  However, if you are looking for a certain destination at a certain time, things get substantially tougher – you’ll actually have to search for fares, and they will most likely not be one of the crazy deals that you want.

In reality, I travel so often due to both finding great deals, and by using miles that are earned at least in part by flying far distances for cheap by acquiring airfares that I find using several of the below flights:

Below are a list of resources that I use to check for both deals, and for specific flights:

Where to hunt “deals”

  • TheFlightDeal.com – This website is an awesome resource for those who are casually browsing for deals.  It is a blog that calls out fantasic deals.  It evaluates fares on  a CPM (cents per mile) basis to show the value of the fare.  Follow this site on Twitter to stay on top of the deals.  Notice that the site has a menu option where you can select a specific US city.
  • FareMagnet.com – Similar to The Flight Deal, FareMagnet is also a fantastic resource that alerts folks to abnormally awesome airfares.  You should also follow this site on Twitter if you’re looking for deals.
  • Travelzoo “Today’s Best Fare” Airfare specials – These are not always accurate, but they do provide a nice, at a glance view of lowest airfares out of specific US gateways to various domestic and international destinations, sorted by price.  This is a good starting point for finding good fares.

    Today's Best Fares from Travelzoo

    Today’s Best Fares from Travelzoo

  • ITA Matrix —  For hardcore searching, I run searches from WAS to a list of places on the west coast on a semi-normal basis.  This tool tells me when and where there’s space, and how much it is listed for.  This is more of an advanced search tool, but it allows searching to multiple cities and returns the cheapest airfares — for that reason, it’s an invaluable resource for airfare hunting.  This site requires a bit of direction, and I will detail how to search for cities in another post.
  • Flyertalk mileage Run message boards — Though these fares are sought specifically by and for mileage runners, they certainly can be used by anyone.  It is Flyertalk etiquette to evaluate a fare on a cents-per-mile (CPM) basis.  On this site, CPM is calculated referring to Premier Qualifying Miles (generally the actual mileage flown), and not redeemable miles.  The goal is to fly as far as possible, for as cheap as possible.  Generally speaking, a “good” mileage run deal comes in at less than 5 cents-per-mile.  A very-good mileage run is less than 4 CPM, and an amazing mileage run would be less than 3 CPM.  This can be overwhelming if you’re new to it, but some threads started here regularly feature some really great deals.  Learn your airport codes if you plan on using this site!

These five resources are great, but it does take a bit of time to stay “up to date” on the fares disclosed on these sites.  Since most of these deals are so good, they rarely last more than a day or two.

The best resources to search for specific flights

  • ITA Matrix — Again, this is the most thorough search engine for finding fares between defined city pairs.  The only downside is that you cannot book directly on the website – you must go to the airline’s website, or another booking site in order to make a reservation.  There are a series of codes to return exactly what you may be looking for, and I will detail these in a later post.

    ITA Matrix Search and Syntax for hints on searching

    ITA Matrix Search and Syntax for hints on searching

  • Kayak.com – This is a very popular and very useful metasearch engine for flights.  It searches over 120 websites to find the best price.  It’s usually pretty accurate and gives great results.  Definitely a good site if you know what you want and need to book today.

You can search all you want for fares.  There are a few tricks of the trade, but many times it just comes down to luck.

A mistake fare put me in this seat from Seoul to LA for less than $250!

A mistake fare put me in this first class seat from Seoul to LA for less than $250!

Below are a few tips:

  • Be flexible.  As I indicated earlier, this is probably the best way to get in on an airfare deal.  The more you limit your options, the less likely it is that you’ll find a great fare.  I routinely fly from BWI or IAD instead of my preferred DCA – simply because I can get fares that are sometimes hundreds of dollars cheaper.
  • Be alert.  Use all the avenues above to their fullest.  The more you monitor fares, the more likely you are to benefit from them.  This can be crazily time-consuming, but if cheap and frequent travel is your goal, this is just a fact of life.  Use Twitter, RSS readers, and online forums to better your chances at finding deals.
  • Fares tend to be re-filed by the major airlines on Tuesdays around Noon, Eastern time.  This is often a time where you can find some of the better pricing out there.  Contrarily, fares can also raise at this time, so if you’re debating a trip with what you deem to be a reasonable price, book it, don’t wait!
  • If you see a mistake fare, BOOK NOW and THINK LATER.  When I see something too good to be true, it may be.  But lots of times, the airlines let them slide because they’re a headache to deal with.  Just book the mistake fare and work out the details later.  If it doesn’t get canceled by the airline, you’ll likely have plenty of time to work out the hows and whys of the trip.
  • Make friends who seek out deals.  What’s better than monitoring fares on the reg?  Having friends who monitor fares and then alert you of them!  Since I’ve been doing this for a while and have friends who share the same interest, I’m often alerted of awesome deals that I may have missed, or that I just didn’t see.

All in all, cheap fares are out there.  It’s just a question of how much time you’re willing to put in to find them.  There’s no “magic bullet” to finding the cheapest fares all the time, but by visiting some of the sites suggested in this post, and by adhering to some of my hints, your odds are much better!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Review: United BusinessFirst: Tokyo – Denver

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1 (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo, Day 1 (Park Hyatt arrival, Roppongi)
Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)
Park Hyatt Tokyo
United BusinessFirst Tokyo – Denver


Boarding the Dreamliner for a long flight over the Pacific

Boarding the Dreamliner for a long flight over the Pacific

It took almost an hour and 45 minutes to get from the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku to Narita Airport.  This airport is really nowhere close to Tokyo, as we ventured far from the city center, all the way out to Narita.  Narita is Tokyo’s primary international gateway, but Haneda is definitely the closer of the two airports.  In the future, if I’m staying in Tokyo, I will try to get on a flight into Haneda if at all possible.  The drive out of Tokyo was nice since I got to see some areas of Tokyo that I had not seen before.

Eventually, we pulled first into the city of Narita, and then into the departures area of the airport.  I grabbed my bag and headed to check-in, where there was no line at all.  I quickly went through security and immigration and headed to the United Club since it was only about 90 minutes prior to departure at that point.  The United Club was absolutely slam packed, so I did not take any pictures.  I did; however, have a few beers from the automatic beer machine — I definitely need one of those in my kitchen!  After about 45 minutes in the lounge, boarding for the Denver flight was announced, and I headed down to the gate to embark on a sparkling new United 787 Dreamliner (ship# 3901).

United Airlines (UA) 138
Tokyo-Narita (NRT) – Denver (DEN)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 1E (BusinessFirst)
Thursday, June 27
5:00 PM – 12:50 PM
Duration: 10:50

Seat 1E

Seat 1E

It’s a pretty awesome thing whenever one is seated in row 1 on an international flight, as this almost certainly means that your flight will probably not suck.  We boarded the aircraft through door 1L and the flight attendant showed me to my seat — seat 1E in the front BusinessFirst cabin.

On this flight, the BusinessFirst cabin was completely full, but I still had plenty of room in my seat.  Since I was traveling by myself, I prefer the middle pair of seats so I wouldn’t have to climb over anybody to get to by belongings during the flight, and so I wouldn’t have anyone climbing over me when I was asleep.  This turned out to be a good idea, because my seat-mate was pretty intoxicated — I mean, flat-out drunk.  Luckily, he passed before we even took off, but he did receive a warning from the flight attendant when he woke up a few hours out of Denver.  We departed Tokyo on time, and rolled out past what seemed like dozens of JAL 787 Dreamliners before we rolled down the runway en route for Denver.

After about an hour in flight, the dinner service started.  It was very similar to the menu on the flight over with one Japanese entrée and three Western entrees to choose from.  Since I’d eaten the beef tenderloin on the flights over, I chose the Hawaiian Sea Bass for my main on this flight.  It was excellent, though the sushi, ironically was not quite as good as it was on the flights over (go figure!).  Overall, dinner was very, very good.  Though it was not quite as good as the dinners on the outbound flights, it was definitely tasty and cooked correctly.

IMG_3977 IMG_3979 IMG_3981 IMG_3983 IMG_3985 IMG_3987 IMG_3989

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After I finished my sundae for dessert, I had a few drinks and watched several episodes of House of Cards on the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system.  The IFE on the new and newly renovated United (ex-Continental) planes is fantastic with a multitude of movies, tv shows, and other entertainment to choose from.  It is certainly enough to entertain someone for a ten-hour transpacific flight.

IFE and legroom in seat 1E

IFE and leg room in seat 1E

After a few episodes of House of Cards, I reclined my seat to the lie-flat position and dozed off for about 5-6 hours of shut-eye.  The bed was extremely comfortable, and I slept right up until the flight attendants started the breakfast service.  As I’ve mentioned before, the bulkhead rows on United’s BusinessFirst cabins provide much more leg-room in the foot well, providing for a much more comfortable ride.

Anyway, breakfast was served — I ordered the omelet.  It was pretty good — certainly an improvement over United’s domestic first class breakfasts.  Overall, this was a fantastic flight with a great, attentive crew, awesome IFE, good food, and a comfy seat — definitely not a bad way to cross the Pacific!

We arrived in Denver almost 90 minutes early.  Since I was seated in the first row, I was off the plane in a hurry.  After a long walk to Denver International Airport’s immigration area, I broke to the right to proceed through Global Entry.  After about 30 seconds, I was cleared and headed out into the main terminal.  Global Entry is absolutely fantastic, and in my mind is definitely worth the $100 fee for five years.

Because of my early arrival in Denver, I went ahead and changed to an earlier flight back to Washington-Dulles.  By doing this, I gave up my first class upgrade back to IAD, but I did nab and exit row.  The major win here was that it got me back home almost 3.5 hours earlier.  After a relatively short, non-eventful flight back to Dulles, I hopped the Washington Flyer bus back to West Falls Church Metro Station and took the train back home.  WIth that, my 15 day adventure all over the world was over!

Mid-Year Report: My 2013 Travel So Far

As the mid-way point of 2013 has come and gone, I’ve been meaning to assess how much I have actually traveled so far this year.  It feels like the entire month of June I was out of the country, and I know I’ve spent plenty of weekends on the left coast, or in another country all together.  So, I went ahead and updated my flight history at Flight Diary.net, and my 2013 map looks a little like this:

Red / Organe = Traveled in 2013 White = Scheduled in 2013

Red / Orange = Traveled in 2013
White = Scheduled in 2013

Well, as it turns out, I’ve traveled a whole, whole bunch.  Though I’ve taken four different international trips, a good bulk of my flying has been transcontinental, domestic trips to the West Coast.  While this may seem miserable, life ain’t bad considering that I was upgraded to first class on a relatively high percentage of my flights.  I’ve also enjoyed meeting friends for lunch in San Francisco, for beer tours in Portland, or for weekends full of shenanigans in San Diego or Vegas.

Domestic Flying 2013

Domestic Flying 2013 (Red/Orange = flown; White = scheduled)

Yup, it appears I’ve already flown over 100,000 miles on 55 flights, so far this year — 100,793, to be exact!  Thus far, I’ve visited:

  • 29 cities
  • 8 countries (5 new — Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and UAE)
  • 4 continents (North America, South America, Europe, and Asia)

With all this flying, most of which has been focused on United or one of its Star Alliance Partners, I have just about hit Premier 1K Status with United, which is United’s top achievable status.  Only about 4,500 premier qualification miles left until I do so!

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 10.52.36 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-23 at 10.52.52 PM

Though I’m taking a break from travel for the next few weeks, I have a full slate of travel scheduled for this fall and winter, including scheduled trips this year to:

  • Rio De Janeiro, Brazil for Labor Day Weekend
  • Europe (Oslo, Copenhagen, Munich) for a Frequent Flyer event with Star Alliance and SAS, and Opening Day of Oktoberfest
  • Europe (Munich, London, Edinburgh) for Closing Weekend of Oktoberfest and my annual EuroTrip with friends
  • Sydney and Cairns, Australia (Sydney for New Years and Cairns to dive the Great Barrier Reef)

I’ll also be taking several weekend, domestic trips to:

  • Auburn, Alabama (twice for football — War Eagle!)
  • Atlanta for a wedding
  • Tampa, FL
  • Houston and College Station, TX for football
  • Raleigh, NC

All in all, this year will mark the most travel I’ve ever done in one year… and I’m loving every bit of it!  In some of my upcoming posts, I’ll detail how I’m able to travel so much, and how I find the deals, so stay tuned!

 

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Review: Park Hyatt Tokyo

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1 (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo, Day 1 (Park Hyatt arrival, Roppongi)
Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)
Park Hyatt Tokyo


I’m not going to make it a habit to regularly review hotels unless the stay is extraordinary — and this stay at the Park Hyatt Tokyo was exactly that.

As previously mentioned, I arrived from Tokyo’s Haneda airport and was whisked away to the 41st floor lobby, where I was escorted to my room by two people where they performed the check-in procedure in my room.  This alone was impressive to me.  As stated before, I had an Park Deluxe Twin room on the 44th floor.  It was very good-sized with all the amenities one could want.

Executive Twin Room

Executive Twin Room

My room

My room

Bathroom

Bathroom

There were so many details that were not missed in the room, and little surprises awaited me in every drawer, nook, and cranny of the room.  The room included a pretty spectacular walk-in closet, along with a large bathroom with twin sinks, a full-sized tub, walk-in shower, and toilet.  I had a wonderful view South from my room towards the Shibuya area.

View from my room

View from my room

The service at the Park Hyatt Tokyo was phenomenal wherever I went.  From the check-in procedure, to the breakfast service at Girandole, to the bar and dinner service at the New York Grill — everything was top-notch.

The 41st floor features The Peak Bar and Lounge, which features high, glass ceilings and spectacular views of Tokyo.

The Peak Bar and Lounge

The Peak Bar and Lounge

IMG_3957 IMG_3955 IMG_3953 IMG_3952As you walk towards the lobby, you pass Girandole, the restaurant where breakfast is served.  I enjoyed two spectacular breakfasts here, both times ordering the eggs Benedict.

Girandole

Girandole

Eggs Benedict at Girandole

Eggs Benedict at Girandole

There is also a Japanese restaurant, Kozue that I did not try, which gets high marks.   Up top is the iconic New York Grill, from Lost in Translation fame.  The 2003 film featuring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray used the Park Hyatt and specifically the New York Bar and Grill as the setting. It did not fail to disappoint, as both the food and service were excellent both times I went there.

Happy Hour at the New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo

Happy Hour at the New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo

The Park Hyatt Tokyo's famous New York Grill and Bar

The Park Hyatt Tokyo’s famous New York Grill and Bar

I’ve stayed at some very nice hotels in my life, but this one took the cake — this was without a doubt the most over-the-top and nice hotel in which I’ve ever stayed.

How I managed to stay here…

I was able to stay at the Park Hyatt Tokyo for three nights.  For two of the nights, I used two free nights which I received after applying for the Chase Hyatt Visa Card.  The third night, I used 22,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points that I have accumulated over time.  For reference, a normal night at the Park Hyatt Tokyo is typically over $550 per night, so this would qualify as a pretty good use of points if you ask me!Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 7.20.48 PM

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Four Days in Tokyo: Day 4

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1 (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo, Day 1 (Park Hyatt arrival, Roppongi)
Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)
Park Hyatt Tokyo


…Continued from Day 3 

Tsukiji Market

Since this was to be my last day in Tokyo, I wanted to make it to the famous Tsukiji  Market.  This is probably one of the most famous seafood markets anywhere in the world.  Every morning, the tuna boats unload their fresh catches, and they are sold at auction.  One can witness the auction by showing up early (think 4am), but I have a hard enough time being up by 7am.  So after arriving at Tsukijishijo station (a straight shot from Shinjuku), I walked around the market a bit, and then went in search of some fresh, off-the-boat sushi!  I read the top two sushi places in Tsukiji (and in Tokyo, for that matter) were Sushi Dai and Daiwazushi.   After it was apparent that I wasn’t getting into Sushi Dai without waiting for hours, I went to Dawiazushi, which had a smaller, but still substantial line.

Tsukiji Market

Tsukiji Market

The line at Daiwazushi at Tsukiji Market

The line at Daiwazushi at Tsukiji Market

I got into the line, about 25 people back and the “host / line-control / bouncer” asked how many people were in my party.  I replied that it was only me, and that resulted in me being seated immediately.  I ordered the set menu for 3500 yen, the “Omakase Chef Choice”, as anyone should, and what came out was nothing short of amazing.  It was easily the best sushi I have ever had.  I’m certainly not a sushi snob, but after eating this, I maybe ruined for life when eating “lesser” quality sushi.  I can’t describe how fresh it was — I mean, it came off the boat just hours prior to me putting it in my belly.  A trip here is a MUST-DO experience when you’re in Tokyo.  You seriously cannot skip at trip here.  If you’re a sushi fan, this is pretty much as good as it gets — probably the best sushi in the world.

Daiwazushi

Daiwazushi

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Tai (Red Snapper) nigiri, Uni (sea urcin) nigiri, and Ikura (salmon roe) and magura (tuna) maki roll

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Toro (fatty tuna) nigiri

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Shrimp and Fatty Tuna Nigiri

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Tomago yaki (egg) and Saba (makeral) nigiri

After Tsukiji, I went back to the hotel to pack my suitcase in preparation for my trip to Narita airport later that afternoon.  Later in the morning, I enjoyed breakfast at Grirandole in the lobby of the Park Hyatt Tokyo.  After finishing breakfast, I gathered my things, and headed downstairs to catch my limousine bus to Tokyo-Narita airport.  This was pre-arranged with the concierge for 3000 yen.  The drive out to the airport took over 90 minutes, as Narita is nowhere near downtown Tokyo.

 Tokyo Subway / Getting Around

Tokyo is home to the world’s largest and most extensive subway system.  It is extremely easy to use and to get around.  There are two main lines, Tokyo Metro and the Toei Subway.  Together, this system is composed of 13 lines to 290 stations, with a daily ridership of over 8.9 million passengers.  The subway system is extremely orderly, though a bit overwhelming and crowded.

Orderly chaos of the Tokyo Subway

Gates at the Tokyo Subway — DC sure could use these!

Luckily, there are subway stations seemingly everywhere, and they are pretty cheap (120 – 4o0 yen, each way).  Given the astronomical taxi cab rates in Tokyo, the subway was my primary and preferred means of transportation throughout the city.  If you’re out late, its importatnt to note that the last train is around 1am, so if you miss that, an expensive cab becomes necessary.  A great refrence for getting around on the Tokyo Subway can be found on this wikihow page.

 Airport Transfers

As mentioned before, I used the Airport Limousine Bus Service for both my arrival at Haneda Airport to the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, and for my departure from the Park Hyatt to Narita Airport.  This is an extremely easy option, since the bus picks up and drops off from the hotel door.  This service is available at a number of Tokyo hotels and subway stations.  From Shinjuku, Haneda airport is about 45 minutes away, and Narita airport is 90-120 minutes — a much longer ride.

Overall Thoughts about Tokyo

Tokyo stole the show on this trip — it was without a doubt my favorite city that I visited during this fifteen day adventure.  Tokyo is the definition of a megalopolis, and there are so many different neighborhoods in the city.   I was in Tokyo for about 3-4 days, but I could have stayed for much longer.  With that said, I feel that I spent enough time here, unlike some of the other destinations on this trip.  The simple fact it is — Tokyo is so large, so expansive, and has so much to offer– that one could easily just focus on a few neighborhoods each time they visit.  There is no way you can see all of Tokyo in a week, or maybe even two.

The relatively concentrated areas I visited in Tokyo

The relatively concentrated areas I visited in Tokyo

To demonstrate this, above is a map with the geo-location tags for the pictures that I took while in Tokyo.  As you can see, I focused almost all of this trip in the west / southwest neighborhoods of Tokyo.  It’s the largest city (population-wise) in the world, and after four days here, Tokyo is certainly one of my favorite.

I will certainly be back!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Four Days in Tokyo: Day 3

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1 (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo, Day 1 (Park Hyatt arrival, Roppongi)
Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)
Park Hyatt Tokyo


…Continued from Day 2 

Harajuku and a Ramen Lunch

I slept in the following morning due to a pretty late night out.  My two friends departed in the morning to begin their trip back to Dubai via Kyoto and Hong Kong.  It was a dreary day in Tokyo, and I was hungry.  At that point, I had yet to try some decent ramen, and I planned to visit the Harajuku neighborhood and Meiji Shrine that afternoon, so I easily pin-pointed a top-rated ramen shop called Kyusu Jangara, which is right near the Harajuku station.   Apparently, it is one of the more famous ramen shops in Toyko, and the ramen was definitely delicious.

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Kyusu Jangara Ramen in Harajuku

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The “zembu-ire” Ramen at Kyusu Jangara

I ordered the specialty, “zembu-ire” or “with-everything” and it included Kyusu-style ramen noodles, egg, salted roe, and several large pieces of pork fat, which were amazing.   This was some of the best ramen I’ve ever enjoyed, though my favorite ramen place is still Toki Underground in Washington, DC.  If you’re ever in the District, go!

Anyway, after eating, I took a stroll through Harajuku.  The main strip in Harajuku is Takeshita Street – a pedestrian-only alleyway lined with some unique fashion boutiques, restaurants, and other shops.  The entrance to the street is located directly across from the JR East exit of Harajuku Station.  This area is the teenage fashion center of Tokyo, and it is definitely a sight to see.  This strip is a never-ending barrage of neon, anime, and oddly dressed, but supposedly fashionable Japanese teenagers and young adults.

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A rainy day on Takeshita Street in Harajuku

Ummm... Japanese fashion?

Ummm… Japanese fashion?

It’s worth it just to stroll down the street and take in the sights and sounds.  One of the crazier things you’ll see are lingerie-advertisement trucks blasting pop-music driving through the streets of Harajuku — truly bizarre!

Meiji Shrine

Located on the opposite side of Harajuku Station is the Meiji Shrine.  The Meiji Shrine is located in a 700,00 acre forest right in the middle of the Harajuku / Shibuya area of Tokyo.  I took a quick stroll through the forest and made the 3/4 mile walk to the actual shrine.  It was definitely impressive, and was pretty much exactly what I had expected.  The weather was pretty awful, so I went through the area pretty fast to “check it off my list.”  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Entrance to the Park

Entrance to the Park

Long walk to the shrine

Long walk to the shrine

Sake barrels

Sake barrels

Entrance to Meiji Shrine

Entrance to Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine

Me at the Meiji Shrine

Me at the Meiji Shrine

 Tokyo Dome

After my visit to the Meiji Shrine, I went back to the Park Hyatt to rendevouz with another friend who happened to be in Tokyo the same time as me.  We met up, hit up the metro, and headed to the Kasuga station for a trip to the Tokyo Dome!  That evening, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters were taking on the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in a Japanese baseball game!  I am a huge baseball fan, so a Japanese baseball game was high on my list of things to do in Tokyo.  And wow, what a different experience.  Though the game is the same, the crowd is quite a spectacle.

The famous Tokyo Dome!

The famous Tokyo Dome!

Panoramic of the Tokyo Dome

Panoramic of the Tokyo Dome

We sat in the outfield with all the crazy fans — they were constantly on their feet, screaming and belting out cheers.  The environment of the almost sold-out Tokyo Dome was more similar to that of an American college football game than a baseball game.  Overall, this was an amazing experience.  Oh, and the beer girls operate at another level of Japanese efficiency!

Insane Fans!

Insane Fans!

Yup, that's a keg.  On her back!  Kirin on tap?  Yes, please!

Yup, that’s a keg. On her back! Kirin on tap? Yes, please!

Dinner at the Park Hyatt’s  New York Grill

After the game, we were pretty tired, and wanted something pretty convenient.  Becauser of the late hour that we returned from the ballgame, we decided to try out the Park Hyatt’s iconic New York Grill for dinner.

The Park Hyatt Tokyo's famous New York Grill and Bar

The Park Hyatt Tokyo’s famous New York Grill and Bar

Famous from its starring role as the setting of the 2003 Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson film, Lost in Translation, the Park Hyatt, and particularly the New York Bar & Grill feature some of the best vistas in all of Tokyo.    For dinner, I had a mixed salad and the Hokkaido Ribeye, which was excellent!

Hokkaido RIbeye at New York Grill

Hokkaido Ribeye at New York Grill

The dinner was pretty pricey, but then again, it was the New York Grill — at the Park Hyatt— in Tokyo.  So a cheap meal was not really expected.  After the meal, I was stuffed and decided to call it a night.

 To be continued with an installment for each day I spent in Tokyo…

Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)

 

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Four Days in Tokyo: Day 2

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1 (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo, Day 1 (Park Hyatt arrival, Roppongi)
Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)
Park Hyatt Tokyo


…Continued from Day 1

Imperial Palace

The next morning, we took the Tokyo Metro to the Tokyo station and made a short walk from the northeast entrance to the Imperial Palace.

Imperial Palace in the heart of Tokyo

Imperial Palace in the heart of Tokyo

Imperial Palace on a moat

Imperial Palace on a moat

Guardhouse

Guardhouse

The Imperial Palace is located in a massive park in the middle of the city.  We primarily walked through the East Garden of the Imperial Palace complex.  The Garden was beautifully landscaped and is a true oasis in the  middle of the biggest city in the World.

East Garden of Imperial Palace

East Garden of Imperial Palace

East Garden

East Garden

After about an hour of walking around the Imperial Palace grounds, we decided to leave and head over to Shibuya to hit up Shibuya Crossing during the lunchtime rush.

Shibuya Crossing

After a short metro ride to Shibuya station, we emerged just a block or so away from the famed Shibuya Crossing.  This is supposedly the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world.  Unfortunately, on this particular afternoon it started to rain pretty hard.  Surely that thinned out the crowd a bit.  We zapped a few pictures and then headed up to the Starbucks for an aerial view of the crossing.

Shibuya Crossing from Starbucks

Shibuya Crossing from Starbucks

This Starbucks is the highest-grossing Starbucks in the world, and it provides an awesome aerial view of all the people crossing the street.  We hungout at Starbucks for a little while until the rain subsided, and then started weighing our options for lunch.

Me in rainy Shibuya

Me in rainy Shibuya

Ebisu and lunch at Blacows

After we asked about a place to find an awesome Wagyu beef burger in Tokyo, the concierge at the Tokyo Hilton highly recommended Blacows in the Ebisu neighborhood, just south of Shibuya.  We decided to head there for lunch.  It took about thirty minutes to walk from Shibuya Crossing to Ebisu, but we took a leisurely pace as we stepped into a handful of vintage stores on the walk.  Upon arriving into the Ebisu neighborhood, I immediately liked it.  Ebisu is an upscale neighborhood lined with restaurants, bars, patiserries, boutiques, and vintage stores.  I much preferred this neighborhood to the hustle and bustle of Shibuya and Roppongi.  With minimal effort, we located Blacows, tucked away on a side street in Ebisu, a few blocks from the Ebisu station.

Blacows

Blacows

Blacows literally translates to “black cow”– referring to the legendary black Wagyu beef, which is used exclusively in the burgers made here.  This place has been proclaimed by several websites and periodicals to have “the greatest burger in the world.”  While I’m not ready to proclaim this as the best burger I’ve ever eaten, it certainly was in the top five.  After being immediately seated, I ordered the bacon, egg, and cheeseburger for 15oo yen.  Oh, man this thing was good.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Bacon, egg, and cheeseburger at Blacows

Bacon, egg, and cheeseburger at Blacows

Blacows... Nom Nom!

Blacows… Nom Nom!

If you’re a fan of burgers, definitely check this place out while you’re in Tokyo.

After lunch, we strolled around Ebisu to the Ebisu Garden Place and the area Sapporo Beer Headquarters before taking the JL train back to Shinjuku.

Japanese Kendo Fighting

After a quick nap, I hit up the Manager’s Happy Hour at famed New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. The view from the New York Bar offers some of the best views of Tokyo and the immediate Shinjuku area.

Happy Hour at the New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo

Happy Hour at the New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo

Late afternoon from the Park Hyatt Tokyo

Late afternoon from the Park Hyatt Tokyo

I then proceeded to the Tokyo Hilton where I met my friends to embark on a visit to the Shinjuku Cosmic Sports Center where we arranged to sit in on  Kendo practice.  Kendo, or “way of the sword”  is a Japanese martial art based on sword-fighting.   This form of kendo features bamboo swords, or “shinai” and lightweight armor called “bogu.”  Formal competitions are judged with points, and the goal is to strike the opponent on the throat, the top of the head, the side of the head, the sides of the body, or forearms.  The kendo instructor was extremely happy to have us sit in on their practice, and it was an extremely cool experience.  For an hour, we watched dozens of Japanese kendo fighters basically whack the hell out of each other with fake samurai swords.

Kendo!

Kendo!

Fight!

Fight!

It.  Was.  Awesome!

More Kendo fighting

More Kendo fighting

A calm end to an intense Kendo session

A calm end to an intense Kendo session

I highly recommend trying to experience this while in Tokyo.  The best thing to do is to ask your hotel concierge to arrange a trip to a practice if there is not a formal fight while you’re there.  I suppose one could contact the Shinjuku Cosmic Sports Center itself, but there was not much English spoken there.

Shinjuku Dinner

After our kendo experience, we hopped a metro back to the main Shinjuku station in search of a dinner place.  We ended up seafood barbecue and Izakaya (bar)  place that came highly recommended by a few locals, called Marukou-Suisan in Shinjuku.

kj

Marukou-Suisan in Shinjuku

The place was packed, and we were the ONLY Westerners in the joint.  While the language barrier was a bit of a challenge, we managed to have a pretty good sampling of the menu brought to us.

Sake!

Sake!

Mussels and Squid

Mussels and Squid

Mussels

Mussels

Grilled Calamari

Grilled Calamari

Oysters

Oysters

Some dishes were good; some were pretty awful, but the overall experience was quite special.  Grilling raw seafood on the dinner table was certainly fun time.

Grilled Prawns

Grilled Prawns

Tempura fish (I think?)

Tempura fish (I think?)

Tempura peppers and veggies

Tempura peppers and veggies

We sat next to some locals who could not have been  nicer, and introduced us to a whole bunch of shochu — a Japanese distilled liquor.  We hit that pretty hard, actually…

Shinjuku Golden Gai District

Upon completing a huge dinner, we were ready to go out on the town.  This time, we decided to keep things relatively local, and headed to the famous Shinjuku “Goledn Gai” district.  This is a relatively small area of a few square blocks that features the highest concentration of bars in the world.  Most all of the bars are small, shanty-style bars with no more than 15 bar stools.

The bars of Golden Gai

The bars of Golden Gai — ha.. Baltimore!

Each bar is essentially a different dive bar that has a different theme – from jazz to karaoke to R&B to punk rock — , and we thoroughly enjoyed hopping to a number of different places throughout the night and into the early morning.  Apparently this is an area frequented by locals, and Westerners have had a hard time being welcomed, but we had no problem whatsoever (shocking, I know).

Shinjuku at night

Shinjuku at night

After a few hours in the Golden Gai district, we decided that it was time for some late-night noodles before we called it a night.  We stopped in a noodle shop in a back alley just north of  the north entrance to Shinjuku station in Nishi-Shinjuku.  This area is filled of narrow alleys that are lined with ramen and sushi shops — it’s a must see in the early evening hours, for sure.  We settled on a decent looking noodle shop, and were served a piping hot bowl of Soba noodles topped with tempura fish.  It was freakin’ awesome, and a perfect small meal to end the night.

Perfect late night meal

Perfect late night meal

 To be continued with an installment for each day I spent in Tokyo…

Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Four Days in Tokyo: Day 1

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1 (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo, Day 1 (Park Hyatt arrival, Roppongi)
Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)
Park Hyatt Tokyo


I arrived at Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport and headed to investigate the bus situation into town.  I had read that there was the Airport Limousine bus available to take guests directly to the Park Hyatt and other Shinjuku hotels from Haneda airport, and that I should look for the orange bus at the transportation desk.  Sure enough, this transportation desk stuck out easily.

Airport Limousine counter

Airport Limousine counter

I inquired about a bus to the Park Hyatt, and there was one leaving in 20 minutes.  Perfect.  The cost was 1200 yen (~USD$12).  These busses run between both Haneda and Narita airports and a number of Tokyo area hotels and metro stations.  It’s probably the cheapest way to transit directly between the airport and your hotel.  The important thing to remember is that it’s the orange bus that reads “Friendly Airport Limousine”.

Park Hyatt Arrival

The bus ride from Haneda took just under an hour during Monday afternoon rush hour traffic.  As I exited the bus at the Park Hyatt, I was greeted by name by a bellman.  I have no idea how they knew it was me – all I had indicated was that I was arriving mid-afternoon from Haneda — but they did.

Pulling up to the Park Hyatt Tokyo

Pulling up to the Park Hyatt Tokyo

I was escorted with my luggage up to the lobby on the 41st floor.  There, the bellman introduced me to very nice lady at the front desk for check-in.  Then, to my surprise, she escorted me, along with the bellman to my room – an “executive twin room” on the 44th floor.  There, she pointed out features of the room, setup my folio, and checked me in from the comfort of the desk in my room.

My room

My room

WOW.

This was a spectacular start to what would ultimately be the best hotel in which I have ever stayed.  I will write a separate post solely on this hotel at a later time.  But do know this – the Park Hyatt Tokyo blew away any and every expectation that I had.  The stay was simply phenomenal.

View from the Park Hyatt Tokyo lobby

View from the Park Hyatt Tokyo lobby

Roppongi

After checking in and unpacking, I was beat.  I got in touch with a friend from grad school (my old roommate) and arranged to meet him and his cousin out later that night.  I had missed them in Dubai (where they live) due to my flight issues on the way over to Asia, and instead they met me in Tokyo.  A short nap ensued, and then I walked a few blocks to the Tokyo Hilton, also located in Shinjuku, to meet the roommate.

His cousin had gone to dinner in Roppongi, so we decided to track him down — and this proved more difficult than we were anticipating.  After a brief metro ride to Roppongi, we set out looking for the restaurant where he dined called Omae XEX  to find him.  For what it’s worth, while I did not eat here, he raved about the place and proclaimed that he had the best steak of his life there.  Rated as the #10 restaurant in all of Tokyo, I don’t think he was lying.

We had limited navigation capabilities, but I used the data on my phone to navigate with Google Maps.  By the time we got to the restaurant, he was gone.  Luckily, he left some bread crumbs, as the hostess knew who we were and told us that he’d gone to a bar nearby for drinks.  We eventually made it to R2 Supperclub to meet him for drinks.  This place was very low-key and relaxing speakeasy-type establishment — an overall perfect place for drinks and conversation.

R2 Supperclub Picture from EON Holdings

R2 Supperclub
Picture from EON Holdings

After sipping on a couple Suntory Yamazaki 18 single-malts, we decided to take a walk around the lights of Rappongi to find another place.  After about ten minutes of walking around to the never-ending harassment of soliciting club promoters, we decided to go back to R2 Supperclub.

Monday night in Roppongi

Monday night in Roppongi

Eventually, we called it a night and cabbed back to the Shinjuku to get some rest.  Maybe it was the fact that it was a Monday night, and there weren’t all that many people out, but I was not impressed with Roppongi, other than the gem of a lounge that we found.

 To be continued with an installment for each day I spent in Tokyo…

Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Review: Cathay Pacific Business Class – Dubai to Hong Kong to Tokyo-Haneda

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


I arrived at Dubai International Airport about two hours before my departure.  After clearing security and immigration, I made the long walk to the T2 gates at DXB and proceeded to British Airways Galleries Lounge.  This place had decent tarmac views and small spread with a couple fried appetizers and some cold plates.  I used my time in here to catch up on e-mail and charge the laptop, but the lounge was nothing special.  After a brief stop at the duty free shop to buy some postcards, I made my way to the gate where by flight to Hong Kong awaited.

Cathay Pacific (CX) 746
Dubai (DXB) – Hong Kong (HKG)
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
Seat: 17A (Business Class)
Sunday, June 23
5:10PM – 5:00AM
Duration: 7:50

I once again found myself on a Cathay Pacific A330-300, just as I had on my inbound flight to Dubai.    I settled into my seat, a solo seat on the port side of the airplane.

Back to the great Cathay Business Class Seat

Back to the great Cathay Business Class Seat

Me in the seat

Me in the seat

Stretching out prior to departure with a glass of champagne

Stretching out prior to departure with a glass of champagne

The flight attendant came by immediately and offered a pre-departure glass of champagne, which I happily accepted.  Boarding concluded pretty quickly, and we were pushing back from the gate in what seemed like no time.  As we made our ascent, I was treated to some pretty awesome views of Dubai below.  Though it was hazy, this was just about as clear as it had been the entire time I was in Dubai.

Dubai below

Dubai Creek area below

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

En route to Hong Kong!

En route to Hong Kong!

Since I wanted to hit the ground running when I eventually got to Tokyo, my primary goal for this flight was to get some good sleep.  Luckily, dinner service started pretty soon after we reached cruising altitude.  I had a vodka tonic along with the mixed nuts mix to start out.

Relaxing with a V&T and some wasabi nuts

Relaxing with a V&T and some wasabi nuts

The salad and appetizer was brought out together.  I’d never had a “chicken terrine”, but it wasn’t half bad.

Green peppercorn chicken terrine with fig chutney

Green peppercorn chicken terrine with fig chutney

For my entree, I went with the Kung Po chicken, which was decent, but nothing too special.

Kung po chicken with steamed jasmine rice and pok choy

Kung po chicken with steamed jasmine rice and pok choy

A light blueberry cake, which went well with the Hong Kong style milk tea for desert.  The milk tea is a must when traveling on Cathay.

Blueberry layered cake with vanilla sauce

Blueberry layered cake with vanilla sauce

After dinner, I immediately fell asleep, as I was exhausted from a few long nights in Dubai.  I slept a good five hours and was woken up as the flight attendants were starting breakfast service, about 45 minutes outside of Hong Kong.  I had the poached eggs, and found the dish to be excellent. Usually breakfast onboard is pretty bad, but I found the breakfasts on Cathay Pacific to be much better than the dinners.

Poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce, chicken sausage, roesti potatoes and grilled tomato

Poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce, chicken sausage, roesti potatoes and grilled tomato

We landed in Hong Kong from the east in the middle of a nasty thunderstorm with torrid rain.  We were right on time, so I had about 3.5 hours to kill.  I proceeded through transit security and went right back to The Wing.  I covered this extensively in a previous post, so I won’t go into too much detail other than mentioning that I couldn’t turn down some dim sum and BBQ pork bao at the noodle bar!

Dim sum, noodles, and BBQ Pork Bao at "The Wing" Noodle Bar

Dim sum, noodles, and BBQ Pork Bao at “The Wing” Noodle Bar

As luck would have it, my flight was at gate 50 — which is pretty much the furthest gate possible from The Wing.  I allowed myself plenty of time to get to the gate, and after about a 15 minute walk, I arrived at the gate in plenty of time, as boarding was delayed while we awaited the flight crew.

Ready to go to Tokyo!

Ready to go to Tokyo!

My B777-300ER to Tokyo-Haneda

My B777-300ER to Tokyo-Haneda

Cathay Pacific (CX) 548
Hong Kong (HKG) – Tokyo Haneda (HND)
Aircraft:  Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 19A (Business Class)
Monday, June 24
8:45AM – 1:55PM
Duration: 4:10

Cathay Pacific’s B777-300ER is an internationally configured, three-class airplane.  This actually made a ton of difference.  Everything about this flight was a step above my other Cathay flights on this trip, since those were either regional or only two-class airplanes.  I didn’t think this would make such a difference, but it certainly did.  The hard product (the seat) is pretty much identical.  The cabin in situated in a 1-2-1 configuration, which is as good as it gets for business class.

Once again, the wonderful Cathay business class seat

Once again, the wonderful Cathay business class seat

Stretching out!

Stretching out!

Since this was another morning flight, I would be having another breakfast.  I was pretty stuffed from my previous two meals, but since this flight left from Hong Kong, dim sum was on the menu, and I couldn’t resist.  The most noticeable difference on this flight was the fact that every course was brought out individually instead of a tray being brought out with everything.  I guess this is what you get on a 3-class, internationally configured plane.

Fresh fruit and croissant

Fresh fruit and croissant

Yogurt

Yogurt

Dim sum

Dim sum

The service on this particular flight was spectacular.  I was sorry that it was only a four hour flight, as I would have loved to have this crew on a longer flight.  They were most certainly some of the best that Cathay has.  One particular flight attendant, Cherry, was especially attentive and friendly the entire flight…. she didn’t miss a beat.  I passed time by watching some Anthony Bourdain episodes about Tokyo, and before I knew it, we were starting our descent into the Tokyo area.

IMG_3682

Heading down into Tokyo

We landed into Tokyo’s Haneda International airport about an hour late due to our departure delay.  I transited through immigration and customs quickly and began my journey to the Park Hyatt Tokyo.  This flight was by far the best of my four flights on Cathay during this trip.  This was the Cathay Pacific that I had expected.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Two Days in Dubai, Day 2

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


…Continued from Day 1

I wokeup relatively late on Saturday morning, and opted against breakfast since in my infinite wisdom, I’d consumed a massive cheeseburger at about 3am the night before.  At that point, I met up with three friends in the lobby of the Park Hyatt where we caught a cab to the Dubai Mall. Today was the day I was most looking forward to:

We were scheduled to SCUBA dive.

In an aquarium.

An aquarium in a mall.

With sharks!!!

Dubai Mall has a very large aquarium smack-dab in the middle of it.  It features an absolutely massive glass panel, which is the world’s largest acrylic glass panel.  The aquarium is in plain view of all levels of the mall, so it truly serves as a centerpiece.

Aquarium in a mall

Aquarium in a mall

Dubai Mall Aquarium

Dubai Mall Aquarium

The World's largest acrylic glass panel at the Dubai Mall

The World’s largest acrylic glass panel at the Dubai Mall

Me at the aquarium before my dive

Me at the aquarium before my dive

In the weeks proceeding the trip, we had arranged to dive in the aquarium with Al Boom Diving — a diving operation that runs dives to many sites in the Persian Gulf, as well as the Dubai Aquarium.  We were asked to arrive at noon for an hour orientation and about a 45 minute dive to follow.  We went through a brief orientation that went over the nuances of aquarium diving, and highlighted how NOT to get bitten by a shark.  After the orientation and signing our lives away on waiver forms, we suited up and got in the water.

It was quite an experience.  The Dubai Aquarium has an extensive collection of fish, sharks, and rays.  In particular, this aquarium has the world’s largest collection of Sand Tiger sharks, a particularly ferocious looking, but relatively docile species.

A Sand Tiger shark

A Sand Tiger shark

While a couple other friends snorkeled above, we had another friend who took pictures of us from the outside the entire time.

Relaxing at the bottom of the fish tank

Relaxing at the bottom of the fish tank

Our group diving!

Our group diving!

Chilling on the reef as a Sand Tiger shark cruises above us

Chilling on the reef as a Sand Tiger shark cruises above us

Without a doubt, the most unique and memorable part of this dive was having an audience.  It felt like I was a goldfish in a fish tank, and the humans were all gathered looking at me.  Seriously though, it was pretty cool waiving back at the little kids who ran to the glass waiving with grins ear-to-ear.

Diving with an audience

Diving with an audience

The sharks were of no concern to me, and they really didn’t want much to do with the divers, as expected.

Me after the dive

Me after the dive

We finished up the dive, dried up, and then I headed for a dim-sum lunch with a friend while the rest of the group went to High Tea at the Burj Al Arab hotel – supposedly the world’s only 7-star hotel.  After lunch, we went to check-out the Burj Al-Arab from the outside and the Jumeirah Beach Resort.  It was entirely too hot outside, so we went back to our hotel to hangout at the pool.

Burj al Arab

Burj al Arab

Me in front of Burj al Arab

Me in front of Burj al Arab

Dusk over Dubai Creek with Burj Khalifa in the background

Dusk over Dubai Creek with Burj Khalifa in the background

I got a quick nap in after the pool, and then we headed to have a traditional Arabic dinner at Reem Al Bawadi.  This place did provide a good sampling of some Arabic foods, but there were also some highly Americanized selections – like fried mozzarella sticks. Unfortunately, the service was extremely slow, but it was nice to have dinner with a huge group of about 16 people.

 

Mezze at Reem al Bawadi

Mezze at Reem al Bawadi

Dinner at Reem al Bawadi

Dinner at Reem al Bawadi

Once dinner was complete, we hailed a few cabs and took them to the Jumeirah Beach Resport, where we went out to have drinks at 360, the club at the end of the Jumeirah Marina’s pier.  The views from out here of Burj Al Arab were phenomenal.

360

360

Burj al Arab from 360

Burj al Arab from 360

Burj al Arab

Burj al Arab

We had an awesome last night in Dubai out at 360 – the drinks were great, and the views of the area were just awesome.

We then called it a night and headed back to the hotel for some more fun.  It was a late night, so I slept in pretty late on Sunday.  I awoke to join some friends at the pool for a few hours before I headed back to the room to pack.  I said my goodbyes to my friends, and met my S-Series Mercedes for a lift back to Dubai International Airport, where I had a 5:25pm flight scheduled back to Hong Kong and then to Tokyo.

My sweet ride back to DXB

My sweet ride back to DXB

Overall, I really enjoyed Dubai.  It’s a shame that I didn’t get the three intended days here since I was planning to meet my former roommate and friend from Grad school in Dubai the first day before he left for Japan.  Alas, this was not in the cards due to the debacle with my outbound flights.  I also missed out on a trip to Abu Dhabi, but there’s always time for that in future trips.   The biggest takeaway from Dubai is that it’s an interesting place.  There’s obviously a ton of money here, and as a result you have some pretty phenomenal architectural marvels.  Folks over here are also pretty intent on making Dubai a true tourist destination, and they’re well on the way to accomplishing this.  I didn’t get a chance to go dune-bashing, which I really wanted to do.  I do regret sitting out the Royal Tea at the Burj Al Arab, but when planning it, I couldn’t justify paying the price for it.

Dubai from above

Dubai from above

Food and especially drinks are not cheap in Dubai.  However, cabs are dirt cheap.  Our hotel was a bit out of the way — by Dubai Creek, but this was not at all a problem since the cabs were so reasonable.  The city does have a metro system, but I never tried it.   Dubai is a city of what seems to be a never-ending number of malls, so there are retail shops from every high-end retailer you could imagine.  I’d love to come back to visit my roommate and knock some other things off my list, but honestly, there are many other places that I’d rather visit first.  With that said, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to spend a few days in Dubai, as it’s a place where I’ve wanted to go for quite some time.