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 Regional Business Class – Tokyo-Narita to Hong Kong

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 in the late morning, I had several hours to kill at Narita due to my re-scheduled inbound flight.  As mentioned earlier, I hopped the inter-terminal bus to Terminal 2 and decided to spend the day in the Cathay Pacific Lounge.  There was nothing special about this lounge, but it did have functioning internet, a decent food and drink selection, and sadly no showers.

Cathay Pacific Lounge at Narita

Cathay Pacific Lounge at Narita

Self-Serve Bar at Cathay Lounge NRT

Self-Serve Bar at Cathay Lounge NRT

Self-Service at NRT Cathay Lounge

Self-Service at NRT Cathay Lounge

I proceeded to my gate to see a massive boarding scrum, but because I was flying in business, I got to hop ahead in line of all that nonsense.

Ready to go back to Hong Kong

Ready to go back to Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific (CX) 505
Tokyo-Narita (NRT) – Hong Kong (HKG)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300
Seat: 17A (Regional Business Class)
Thursday, June 20
6:20PM – 10:10PM
Duration: 3:45

 

Boarding my ride, a B777-300

Boarding my ride, a B777-300

A few weeks prior to this flight, Cathay Pacific subbed in a B777-300 with the regional business product instead of the lie-flat business seat that they’re known for.  This, of course was a disappointment.  Instead of a 1-2-1 configuration with a fully flat bed, I found myself in a 2-3-2 configuration with decent recline, but nowhere near lie-flat.

Cathay Pacific's New Regional Business Class Seat

Cathay Pacific’s New Regional Business Class Seat

Good IFE and decent leg room

Good IFE and decent leg room

Seat Controls

Seat Controls

For a regional business product, it was pretty good, and it was obviously tolerable considering the flight was only about 3.5 hours.

The flight attendant offered some pre-flight champagne, which I happily accepted.

Pre-departure glass of champagne

Pre-departure glass of champagne

About 30 minutes into the flight, the meal service commenced.  With this being regional business, the appetizers and salad came out together.  The salad was paltry, and barely had any lettuce.  The soba noodles with shrimp was not my favorite, and the ham appetizer tasted pretty funky.

Small salad, soba noodles with shrimp, and a parma ham and melon appetizer

Small salad, soba noodles with shrimp, and a parma ham and melon appetizer

Grilled beef tenderloin with mushroom wine sauce, pumpkin potato mash and sauteed squash with bacon

Grilled beef tenderloin with mushroom wine sauce, pumpkin potato mash and sauteed squash with bacon

For the entrée, I selected the grilled beef tenderloin.  It was tasty enough, but grossly overcooked.  The pumpkin potatoes were great, but it was not a very visually appealing meal in the least.  The steaks I’d enjoyed on United on the flights to Japan were far superior.  Dessert consisted of a small serving of Haagen Daaz ice cream, which is pretty hard to mess up. It was a relatively disappointing meal, but then again, it was only regional business class.

After dinner, I nodded off for a couple hours, and woke up  upon our decent into Hong Kong.  It was quite choppy on our decent, but we landed and arrived at our gate, leaving me with about 3 hours until my connecting flight to Dubai.

Overall, this flight was perfectly fine, but I was expecting more since this was my first flight on Cathay Pacific.  The service was fine, but certainly nothing special or memorable.  My first impression was that the flight attendants, while efficient and kind, appeared quite robotic.  But this was, again only regional business class.  Surely Cathay’s international business would be better.

 

 

Six Observations from My 15-day Adventure

First of all, I’m back!   After fifteen days and 38,650 miles of travel, I’ve made it back home.

My Trip

My Trip

With that said, I want to apologize for the delay in my trip reports.  Since I arrived in Tokyo, I’ve been going non-stop.  I slept most of time during my flights back to DC yesterday, so I didn’t get too much time to work on anything.  The trip reports will be published, post by post in the coming days.

To whet your appetites until then, I’ll share six observations from my trip:

1.  I thought I’d had good sushi before — that is until yesterday

Now, I wouldn’t consider myself a sushi snob by any means, but I was pretty sure that I’d had some decent sushi before.  Granted, the sushi I have had up until yesterday was probably pretty good, but after my trip to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish market and subsequent breakfast at Daiwa-Zushi Thursday morning, my opinion of “what is good sushi” has drastically shifted.  After a set menu of everything sushi-related you could imagine, my mind was effectively blown.

My Thursday morning breakfast

My Thursday morning breakfast

I've never had a better piece of Tuna

I’ve never had a better piece of Tuna

More to come in my upcoming trip reports…

2.  The Park Hyatt Tokyo is simply stunning

Simply put, this is nicest hotel that I’ve ever been to — by far.  And I’ve been to many great hotels, including Park Hyatt properties in Dubai and Zurich, numerous Ritz Carltons, Conrads, and Intercontinentals.  But this place was just over the top.

My room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

My room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

From the incredible level of service (they did the check-in procedure in my room after being escorted by two people up there) to the beautiful hotel facilities to the amazing breakfasts at Girandole and drinks and steak at the iconic New York Bar & Grill.  The setting for the 2003 Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray film, Lost in Translation definitely lived  up to the hype.

The New York Bar, from "Lost in Translation" fame

The New York Bar, from “Lost in Translation” fame

3.  Now I now know what it’s like being a goldfish — and it’s weird

SCUBA diving.  In an aquarium.  In the middle of  a mall.  With sharks!

Yup, only in Dubai.

The Dubai Mall Aquarium offers an interesting experience where one can dive with sharks in their massive aquarium smack, dab in the middle of the Dubai Mall.

Only in Dubai... an aquarium inside a mall

Only in Dubai… an aquarium inside a mall

I’ve dived with sharks before, so the novelty of this dive was the fact that was the attraction in the aquarium.  It was quite strange having a crowd of people watching you dive and waving.

Chilin' with the fishies

Chilin’ with the fishies

4.  Two days is not enough in most cities,  but three days is fine

My short stay in Santiago was about a day short of ideal.

My short stay in Dubai was caused by a Dreamliner malfunctions on United Airlines.

Each of these stays left me wanting another day in each city.  I didn’t get to see all of Santiago, and I missed out on some events in Dubai such as tea at Burj Al Arab and dune bashing.

Jetting out of Dubai a day too soon

Jetting out of Dubai a day too soon

But I did have a full three days in Tokyo, and it was fine.  Tokyo is so huge, you couldn’t possibly see it all in a week or two.  It’s one of those cities that you must keep going back to and exploring.

The never-ending cityscape of Tokyo

The never-ending cityscape of Tokyo

But three days continues to be  my standard for adequate time to see a city.

5.  When in Tokyo, you must go to a Japanese baseball game, if possible

The game is the same, but it’s quite an experience.  Their fans are insane and out-of-control whacky.

Whacky fans...

Whacky fans…

And their beer distribution techniques are quite… interesting.

Yes, that's a mini keg... on her back.  And that's Kirin she's pouring.

Yes, that’s a mini keg… on her back. And that’s Kirin she’s pouring.

6.  When the crew is on its game, United BusinessFirst just may be better than Cathay Pacific Business Class

When a United crew is as its best, as it was on my DEN-SEA and SEA-NRT 787 flights, United BusinessFirst is hard to beat.  The hard product is phenomenal, but the food and service really shined.  My four flights on Cathay Pacific in business class were all fine.  In fact, their international business seat cannot be beat.

Cathay Pacific's New Business Class seat

Cathay Pacific’s New Business Class seat

BusinessFirst cabin on United's 787 Dreamliner

BusinessFirst cabin on United’s 787 Dreamliner

But the food and service were just not up to par with United’s.

Cathay Beef Tenderloin

Cathay Beef Tenderloin

United Beef Tenderloin

United Beef Tenderloin

United Seabass

United Seabass

Cathay Halibut

Cathay Halibut

There, I said it.

And I know this defies all industry perceptions and subsequent accolades.

And yes, this shocked me too, but that was my experience.

Again, I’ll be making several more posts about this trip, including detailed accounts of what to do in Dubai and Tokyo.  So stay tuned!

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


Following an unplanned night in Seattle, I slept in a bit at the Hilton SeaTac before heading to the airport about two hours prior to my flight.  TSA Pre-Check was open, so security was a breeze.  I then proceeded to the brand new United Club to check my e-mail and kill about 30 minutes before boarding.  I noticed that the flight was to be operated by another physical airplane (#3904 instead of #3906).  This was re-assuring, as I didn’t exactly have confidence in the airplane that caused all the drama the day before.

United Airlines (UA) 1749
Seattle (SEA) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT) 
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 4A (BusinessFirst)
Wednesday, June 19
9:30AM – 10:41AM (+1 day)
Duration: 9:01

This flight was the continuation of the previous day’s attempt at Denver to Tokyo on United flight 139.  I chose to take this flight instead of the other two options, for a number of reasons detailed in my previous post.  Upon boarding, I was welcomed back onboard by the same fantastic crew that we had the day before.  It was a very light load in the BusinessFirst cabin, as it was only booked half full.  I changed my seat to a window seat, 4A so I could play with the electrochromatic windows that are found on the 787.   For those who are unfamiliar with these windows, the dimness of the window is controlled with a button, and there is no physical window shade to pull down.

Window with no tinting

Window with no tinting

Window half tinted

Window half tinted

Window fully tinted

Window fully tinted

As a result, even at the darkest setting, one is still able to see outside — it’s pretty cool, though I wonder what will happen when this nifty feature inevitably breaks.  I imagine it would be pretty obnoxious to have a broken window dimmer during a 12 hour Transpacific flight in the daytime.

Flight Path SEA-NRT

Flight Path SEA-NRT

Row 4 is the bulkhead row in the second cabin of BusinessFirst.  Due to being a bulkhead, row 4 (as well as row 1) sports a larger foot well, and are probably the most spacious seats up front for that reason.

Bulkhead seat 4A

Bulkhead seat 4A

This aft BusinessFirst cabin was only had three of us, so it felt almost like a private jet for this flight across the Pacific Ocean.

I practically had the BusinessFirst cabin to myself!

I practically had the BusinessFirst cabin to myself!

Awaiting breakfast service

Awaiting breakfast service

I cannot say enough about this crew, led by Denny, the inflight service manager.  From start to finish of this flight, they provided exceptional service by any airline’s standard — even more so for United.  They were friendly, engaging, and really couldn’t do enough for me.  I surely hope this is where service is going onboard United, because they were simply fantastic.

After numerous apologies from the ground staff at Seattle and the flight crew, we pushed back about 45 minutes late due to a catering delay, as this was an unplanned, second departure for Tokyo that day.  There were some small hiccups, such as the catering forgetting to produce menus for the flight (bad), and the lack of BusinessFirst amenity kits that resulted in passengers receiving United GlobalFirst amenity kits (good).

Climbing out of Seattle

Climbing out of Seattle

After about 30 minutes, lunch service began featuring the same menu as the day before.  I selected the beef tenderloin again as my main course since it was excellent on the DEN-SEA flight.  This time, it wasn’t quite as good, and was a bit too well-done.  The sushi appetizer again was excellent, as was the salad.  They offered pretzel rolls (awesome) and garlic bread, which highlighted a selection of five or six breads.  Dessert, as usual was tasty with the ice cream sundae.

Sushi selection

Sushi selection

Sushi appetizer

Sushi appetizer

Salad

Salad

Beef tenderloin with gnocchi and asparagus

Beef tenderloin with gnocchi and asparagus

Ice Cream Sundae!

Ice Cream Sundae!

Lunch service lasted a good hour.  I finished watching a movie (“Jack Reacher“) that I started the previous day before it was so rudely interrupted by a fuel dump and emergency landing.  After the movie, I settled in to catch up on some rest, as the previous 24 hours had been relatively stressful.  

Crossing the Pacific

Crossing the Pacific

I slept a good 5 hours, and awoke about two hours outside of Narita.  I watched a documentary before breakfast was served.  It consisted of an omelet and potatoes — it was a definite step down from the lunch provided several hours earlier.

Breakfast before arrival in Tokyo

Breakfast before arrival in Tokyo

As I finished up breakfast, the flight attendants finished preparing the cabin for landing in Tokyo.

Due to the unusually early morning departure and subsequent arrival, we were the first United flight of the day to arrive at the normally very busy Narita International airport.  I thanked the crew, deplaned and quickly went through transit security.  I made my way to the inter-terminal bus, as I needed to transfer to Terminal 2 for my flight later in the day on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and then Dubai.

NRT inter-terminal bus

NRT inter-terminal bus

The bus leaves from gates 28 and 59 in Terminal 1 every 30 minutes.  I would NOT recommend booking a close connection between airlines in separate terminals at Narita.  In my case, I had about 7 hours, so I was fine.

Overall, this flight was fantastic.  It really shined on every front — the service, the food, and the seat.  It was a great performance by the United crew, and was easily the best overall flight I’ve ever taken with United.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Emergency Landing: United 787 Dreamliner, Denver to Tokyo… I mean Seattle

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


United Airlines (UA) 139
Denver (DEN) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT)  Seattle (SEA)

Aircraft: Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner
Seat: 4E(BusinessFirst)

Tuesday, June 18
12:35PM – 3:30PM (+1 day) 4:05pm
Duration: 11:55 ~4:30

Well… that was different.

So I’ve been looking forward to my Denver – Tokyo flight on United’s brand new 787 Dreamliner for quite some time, and was hoping it would be a memorable flight.

United 787 Dreamliner in Denver

United 787 Dreamliner in Denver

Dreamliner in Denver

Dreamliner in Denver

The intended destination

The intended destination

Well, United sure did deliver.

I’m writing this blog entry neither from Denver, nor from Tokyo.  As it turns out, I’m in Seattle.

About three hours into the flight today, just after dinner service, I noticed an unusual, hard right turn and a significant decent in altitude.  I paused the movie I was watching to check out the flight map, and sure enough — we had just made a 180-degree turn just north of Vancouver Island, BC.

Flight map moments after we turned back

Flight map moments after we turned back

I inquired to a passing flight attendant, and she responded that they had just been requested to prepare the cabin for arrival, as we may be diverting to Seattle.

Sure enough, about five minutes later, the Captain came on to inform us that we were, indeed diverting to Seattle due to a concern with the oil pump in one of the engines.  Soon after that, he advised us that we would be dumping fuel to lighten the load for landing in Seattle.  Well, this provided some awesome pictures.

Dumping fuel over the Pacific from a United B787-8

Dumping fuel over the Pacific from a United B787-8

Fuel dumping

Fuel dumping

The next 45 minutes were pretty typical for a plane getting ready to land — sure, people were frustrated that they wouldn’t be making Tokyo as scheduled, but things were remarkably… normal.  Then about five minutes before landing, the Captain came back on to inform us that emergency vehicles would be meeting the plan upon landing, and that he would try to get us to the gate, but he had concerns about our brakes, which we had some overheating issues with after takeoff from Denver.

I’ve flown a lot.  I mean, a whole bunch.

I’ve never had an emergency landing until now.  I also know that when the Captain expresses concern to the cabin about the brakes, that’s not necessarily a good thing.  So I gathered my important things (passport and such) and put them in my pockets in the event that we’d have to evacuate the plane upon landing via slide.

We touched down in an extremely “normal” landing, and as we exited the runway, a flotilla of fire trucks and emergency vehicles flanked us.  I tried to get some good pictures, but sitting in the middle section of Business class limited my view.

One of the many firetrucks escorting us to the gate

One of the many firetrucks escorting us to the gate

Then, we proceeded to the gate like nothing happened.

After twenty minutes at the gate, we were informed that we would not be continuing on to Tokyo, and that we would need to deplane.  United officials then directed us to the check-in counters at SeaTac where they had an army of agents to assist us with figuring out how the hell we were getting to Tokyo.

I had a unique problem.

I’d planned to connect to Cathay Pacific in Tokyo about five hours after we landed.  This flight was to take me to Dubai via Hong Kong.  Well, since United and Cathay are in different alliances, and are in no way partners, I figured I was pretty screwed.  I called the United Premier Desk as I was walking to the ticketing line, and was informed three times that United could not “take over” my ticket since it was an award ticket purchased through American Airlines for travel on Cathay Pacific (complicated, I know).

After about 15 minutes, I finally got to the agent at the counter in Seattle.  He informed me that I could either take the 9:30pm Delta flight to Tokyo-Haneda, or I could take the 9:30 or 12:30 United flights the following morning to Tokyo-Narita — all in business class.  I let him know my situation, and he agreed to protect me on all those flights until I had details worked out with American and Cathay Pacific.

American was incredibly kind after I explained my situation to them, and they worked with Cathay to get me re-booked on my same flights a day later.  They were not able to accommodate me from Tokyo-Haneda without necessitating a 15 hour layover in Tokyo, so I opted out of that choice.

I informed Untied of my new flights, and they gladly booked me on the 9:30am flight for Wednesday morning to Tokyo-Narita, again on another 787 Dreamliner.  Just in case, I am also booked on the 12:30pm flight on a B777.  They then issued me a hotel voucher for the SeaTac Airport Hilton and several meal vouchers.

Given the situation, I think United handled the situation pretty well.  I will be missing a full day in Dubai, which is disappointing, but I’m sure that there will be further compensation coming from United because of this whole ordeal.

At the end of the day, it was certainly an experience.

Up until our problems, it truly was a wonderful flight.  In all seriousness, the flight up to the engine problems part was phenomenal.  The service was unbelievably good.  The BusinessFirst seat was great.

United 787 BusinessFirst cabin

United 787 BusinessFirst cabin

Plenty of room with all my goodies they gave me

Plenty of room in seat 4E.  The bulkhead rows 1 and 4 on the 787 have more room in footwell area

Dinner was fantastic.  I was very impressed:

Sushi Tray

Sushi Tray

 

Sushi appetizer

Sushi appetizer

Salad

Salad

Tenderloin with gnocchi and asparagus

Tenderloin with gnocchi and asparagus

Cheese Plate

Cheese Plate

Ice cream sundae tray

Ice cream sundae tray

My dessert -- just before the plane decided it wasn't going to Tokyo

My dessert — just before the plane decided it wasn’t going to Tokyo

Others around me were wondering if this was actually a United flight — it was seriously going that well.

And then everything fell apart:

  • Fuel Dump.
  • Emergency landing.
  • Unplanned night in Seattle.

Here’s to making it to Tokyo in the morning!  Time to give the Dreamliner another shot!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Planning

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


This monstrosity of a trip was actually the result of combining three different vacations.  I’ll split the planning out into three sections, outlying how I went about booking each portion, and the confluence of events that led to linking these trips together to create a 15-day, multi-continent adventure!

The original trip:  Denver to Tokyo on the 787 Dreamliner

In May 2012, on the day that United announced their first official international 787 Dreamliner route from Denver to Tokyo-Narita, they uploaded it into the schedule with an abnormally low price of ~$900 round-trip on their B-fare.  A United B-fare is a full-fare economy ticket, which would normally cost several thousands of dollars.  This sort of fare earns 1.5X Premier Qualifying Miles, which help one build United status.   Additionally, this fare was available for what was supposed to be the inaugural flight for this route, and the inaugural international 787 flight for United.  Several friends on Milepoint booked this same flight, so it was to be a “party-flight.”  A sub-$1,000 fare to Tokyo is pretty good in general, but the fact that this was a B-fare, and that this was supposed to be the inaugural flight made it a must-have.

Denver to Tokyo-Narita

Denver to Tokyo-Narita

I originally planned this trip to be March 31 through April 6, and planned to spend the week in Japan.  As it turns out, the 787 had its share of problems after its initial release, and was subsequently grounded in January.   By the end of February, United finally made the official announcement that the inaugural would be postponed to a later date, so this inaugural was no longer a possibility.  I was left contemplating when I wanted to change this flight to…

Another unrelated trip:  TAM airfare deal from New York to Santiago

In November 2012, an extremely low round-trip fare of ~$330 appeared for flights from New York or Miami to both Buenos Aires and Santiago on TAM Airlines (of Brazil) through Orbitz.  After a late-night call from a friend, I decided to book a couple of these flights – a trip to Buenos Aires in March 2013 and one to Santiago in June.

I ended up selecting a routing from New York-JFK to Santiago.  After a litany of schedule changes by TAM, and after dealing with a series of hour-long phone calls to Orbitz, I ultimately ended up with a trip from New York to Santiago, via Rio de Janeiro on the outbound and via Sao Paulo on the return.

New York-JFK to Santiago (SCL) via Rio de Janeiro (GIG) on outbound and Sao Paulo (GRU) on the return

New York-JFK to Santiago (SCL) via Rio de Janeiro (GIG) on outbound and Sao Paulo (GRU) on the return

Joining the gang in Dubai

As I pondered when I should take my DEN-NRT flight on the 787, I decided that I wanted to spend some time in Japan, but at the same time try to somehow get over to Dubai to meet a group of ten friends who would be there, and to see my old roommate who moved to Dubai last year.  They would all be in Dubai during the heat of the summer, from June 20th-23rd.  I checked award availability and found an absolute gem on the American Airlines award flight

American OneWorld Award Chart from AA.com

American OneWorld Award Chart from AA.com

This particular award allows for a trip from Asia Zone 1 (Japan, etc) to India and the Middle East for only 22.5k miles each way in economy, 30k AA miles each way in business class, or 45k in First.  Compare that to the Star Alliance options of United (45k/67.5k/87.5k) and US Airways (40k/60k/90k), as well as Delta (40k/60k), and you can see that this is an absolute steal!

Tokyo to Dubai Award Comparison

Tokyo to Dubai Award Comparison

Luckily, I had a decent sized stash of American AAdvantage miles stored up after a couple of credit card signing bonuses and a few flights to Europe from a couple years back, so I decided to redeem an award in business class.

With this award in mind, I needed to find availability for one of American’s OneWorld partners on the route.  I ‘ll make no bones about it – I wanted to try Cathay Pacific.  Ideally, I would have flown in first class, but since Cathay operates its HKG-DXB route with a two-class A330-300 aircraft, this would not be possible.  So instead, I settled on business class – a pretty sweet consolation price considering that this plane features arguably the best business class seat in the world.

Cathay Pacific's new Business Class. Picture:  Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific’s new Business Class. Picture: Cathay Pacific

So I headed over to the Qantas website to check award availability for Tokyo to Dubai.  I wanted to arrive on June 20th and depart the night of June 23rd.  I was pleased to see that the exact flights I wanted were available, so I jotted down the flight numbers and called them into American.  After a five minute phone call, I had secured a round-trip from Tokyo to Dubai via Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific business class for 60,000 AAdvantage miles and about $85 in taxes.

Tokyo to Dubai via Hong Kong

Tokyo to Dubai via Hong Kong

 Sewing it all together

So, now I had the Dubai portion booked.  Given that it was pretty close to the end of my previously planned Santiago trip, I decided to move the outbound DEN-NRT segment to arrive Tokyo the same day as my Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong and then Dubai.  I did want to spend about three days in Tokyo, so I added on several days in Tokyo after Dubai, and scheduled a return from NRT-DEN for June 27th.

I was able to adjust the dates of my Santiago flight due to the multitude of schedule changes to mesh nicely with the rest of my trip.  This left me getting into New York the morning of June 17th and a flight from Denver to Tokyo on June 18th.  So I looked for a flight from New York to Denver on the 17th.  I was able to find a very reasonable round-trip fare on United from NewYork-LaGuardia to Denver departing the late afternoon of the 17th and returning to Washington-Dulles the evening of June 27th.  Perfect.

After finding a very cheap Delta flight from Washington-Reagan (DCA) to JFK on the date of my outbound flight to Santiago on June 13th, I was all set.

Domestic flights -- the missing pieces to the puzzle

Domestic flights — the missing pieces to the puzzle

Adding to the sheer awesomeness of this trip, I was upgraded to United BusinessFirst on both the DEN-NRT and NRT-DEN flights on the 787!  That will equate to almost 24 hours in a lie-flat business seat, thanks to using a friend’s United Global Premier Upgrade (GPU) and a Mileage Upgrade (30,000 miles).

My ride to Tokyo:  The United 787 BusinessFirst cabin (from my first trip on the 787)

My ride to Tokyo: The United 787 BusinessFirst cabin (from my first trip on the 787)

The Final Product

About 38,000 miles of flying...

About 38,000 miles of flying…

DCA-JFK-GIG-SCL // SCL-GRU-JFK, LGA-DEN // DEN-NRT-HKG-DXB // DXB-HKG-HND // NRT-DEN-IAD

All this craziness resulted in a fifteen night trip, visiting five cities and three continents.  The final product looks something like this:

June 13:  Washington-Reagan (DCA) – New York (JFK) on a Delta CRJ-900 in economy comfort

June 13:  JFK – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (GIG) on a TAM A330-200 in economy

June 14:  9-hour layover in Rio!

June 14:  GIG – Santiago, Chile (SCL) on a TAM A320 in economy

June 14-16:  Two nights in Santiago at a hostel.

June 16:  SCL-Sao Paulo (GRU) on a LAN B767-300 in economy

June 16:  GRU – JFK on a TAM B777-300ER in economy

June 17:  New York-LaGuardia (LGA) – Denver (DEN) on a United B757-200 in economy plus

June 17:  Overnight in Denver at the Aloft Denver Airport

June 18:  DEN – Tokyo-Narita (NRT) on a United B787-8 in BusinessFirst

June 19:  NRT – Hong Kong (HKG) on a Cathay Pacific B777-300 in Business

June 20:  HKG – Dubai (DXB) on a Cathay Pacific A330-300 in Business

June 20-23:  Three nights in Dubai at the Park Hyatt, Dubai

June 23:  DXB – HKG on a Cathay Pacific A330-300 in Business

June 24: HKG – Tokyo-Hanaeda (HND) on a Cathay Pacific B777-300ER in Business

June 24-27:  Three nights in Tokyo at the Park Hyatt, Tokyo

June 27:  NRT-DEN on a United B787-8 in BusinessFirst

June 27:  DEN – Washington-Dulles on a United B757-200 in economy plus

Whew!  That’s a lot of travel, but I actually enjoy flying on airplanes – especially in business class.  In all, this trip will consist of five nights on airplanes and ten in hotels.  It will cover 38,856 total miles.  Since TAM is a member of Star Alliance (for now), this total trip will earn me 31,789 United Premier Qualifying Miles and about 36,761 United Redeemable miles from just the TAM and United segments.

Well, let’s start this thing!  I’ll try to give some timely first impressions throughout the course of my trip, and will follow it up with a full-fledged trip report afterwards.

EDIT: Well, as it turns out, weather did not cooperate with me, so I’ve already deviated from the above plan by heading to NYC a night early.  I’ll make a separate post on that whole fiasco later on.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Introduction

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


If you read the title and found yourself wondering, “uhhh… what?”  Don’t worry, it’s not you.

It’s me.

Over the next few weeks, I will be chronicling my adventures through three different continents, over a dozen flights, and of course all the fun I have in the different cities I’ll be visiting.  This trip has ended up being a rather complex one to plan and organize, so I will  make  separate post that details how this thing ultimately came to fruition.  Planning for this trip has ultimately been in the works for well over a year thanks to the continual delays of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

United 787-8 Dreamliner

United’s 787-8 Dreamliner

I will detail parts of my trip that I find interesting — especially the international flights in premium cabins.  I’ll also highlight some of the other flights, possibly some hotels, and definitely my activities in the various destinations on this trip.  I may however, choose not to mention in detail the shorter, domestic flights — especially the one(s) in economy class  unless something unusual happens.

The path of my journey:  DCA-JFK-GIG-SCL-GRU-JFK, LGA-DEN-NRT-HKG-DXB-HND, NRT-DEN-IAD

The path of my journey: DCA-JFK-GIG-SCL-GRU-JFK, LGA-DEN-NRT-HKG-DXB-HND, NRT-DEN-IAD

This is my first trip report that will be covered on this blog, so please bear with me.  I’ll try to make the updates as timely as possible, but I also want to enjoy my vacation.  So content will be added, but I’m not sure at what pace I’ll be able to publish it.

Enjoy!