In my old age, I have developed a theory about travel. Far too often, we treat the actual traveling part of our travel as an afterthought. We choose to bookend our vacations with experiences that, in most experiences, would be violations of the Geneva conventions. What good is spending two weeks lounging on a beach if you’re going to wipe it all away by being crammed into the middle seat on a 15-hour flight, unable to sleep, and eating garbage food–if you’re able to eat anything at all? If possible, it’s best to treat the travel as part of your vacation, rather than simply a mode of transit.
Now, I realize that I am fortunate enough to be able to test my theory in a way that many others are not. I do a LOT of travel hacking to get access to nice flights and nice hotels. I don’t have children for whom I have to save money to pay for college. Nor do I have a spouse to stop me from spending a lot of money of things I, perhaps, shouldn’t. Plus, I have always had a taste for the finer things in life…even when my life circumstances wouldn’t come close to allowing me to experience them.
That being said, my flight home was a part of the trip I was most excited to experience. I was, at long last, going to be flying on Emirates First Class!
I got to the airport a couple of hours early and spent a bit of time in the Emirates Lounge in Bangkok. It’s a decent lounge, but certainly not one of the nicer ones in which I’ve stayed. I didn’t eat a lot of the food or have much to drink (aside from coffee), because I knew I was going to get some pretty special food on the airplane. So, I kept it nice and light.
Eventually, it came time to board. The flight from Bangkok to Dubai was, again, on the mammoth Airbus A380. First class on the A380 is at the very front of the upper deck. First and business class passenger again had their own jetway for boarding. This time, however, instead of turning right upon boarding the plane, I turned left toward the front.
As nice as Business Class in Emirates was on the way over, it was rather put to shame by First Class. Business class is laid out in a 2-3-2 configuration. First class, on the other hand, is laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration. This gives every single seat direct aisle access. I was also in a window seat, so I had both Aisle and Window access, and a whole BUNCH of space.
Prior to taking off, you’re visited by the cabin crew and flight’s cabin manager, greeted by name, and offered complimentary juice or champagne. Then you’re visited again and offered Arabic coffee (coffee brewed with spices) and dates (I picked the dates stuffed with almonds.) You’re given an amenities kit filled with Bulgari-branded items, and a pair of slippers. The cabin steward also comes by and schedules your time to take a shower. (More on that in a second.) And lastly, they stop by with magazines and newspapers, and deliver you the menu for the flight.
The seat itself is massive. Each compartment has a sliding door that can be closed for privacy, as well as a lie-flat seat, storage, a giant television, a separate tablet, noise-cancelling headphones, a writing kit, and a complementary freakin’ mini-bar.
At last, the plane takes off and the real fun begins. Shortly after takeoff, you’re offered your choice of drinks…and these are seriously top-shelf items. On both flights, the featured champagne was Dom Perignon 2009, selling at a mere $200 per bottle. I’m not much of a champagne fan, but this was wonderful.
The quality of the service is unreal. Every 10-15 minutes, the staff would walk up and down the aisles. If your goblet was partially empty, they would refill it. They were attentive, but not intrusive. It was unparalleled.
When it comes to meals, everything on the airplane is made to order. They don’t preheat anything, so it’s all extremely fresh. It can mean that it takes 15-20 minutes for your order to be delivered. That’s fine, though, because on Emirates, dining is a real experience.
For lunch/dinner, I ordered a cold smoked duck and ginger mango salad. It was delicious, and beautifully presented, and was accompanied by a series of three fancy canapés and a basket of multiple types of warm bread. Even the butter was formed into cute little shapes and wasn’t rock hard.
The main course was a grilled beef tenderloin with orange pepper sauce, served with asparagus and sautéed snow peas. Finally, for dessert, I had chocolate profiteroles and some Godiva chocolates. Each course was delicious, the presentation was spectacular, and I had barely finished eating before the cabin crew would whisk away my dirty plates. Accompanying the entire meal was a yummy cocktail called a breakfast martini, made with gin, orange and lemon juice, Cointreau, and a bit of orange marmalade.
Sated, I began to set up my seat for a nice long nap when I was interrupted by the cabin crew, who offered to make the bed for me. Afterwards, I closed the sliding door on my partition, crawled under the down comforter, and went to sleep.
About an hour and a half before landing, the cabin crew woke me gently to inform me that one of the spas onboard was now available. I walked to the very front of the deck and was ushered into a massive bathroom. (Seriously, there was enough floor space for me to have done yoga if I was so inclined.) There were high-end toiletries and warm towels.
On first class in the A380, each passenger is allowed 30-minutes in the shower suite, which includes up to five minutes of water. So, barely able to believe it, I shucked off my clothes, climbed into the shower, and enjoyed a solid 5 minutes of bliss at 40,000 feet. Afterward\, I dried off, shaved, brushed my teeth, squirted on a bit of Bulgari cologne, and got dressed. As I exited the bathroom, the shower attendant offered me a cup of delicious green tea.
Following the shower, I ordered the cheese board from the menu, and it arrived with crackers, dried apricots, and five of the most delicious cheese I had ever eaten in my life. Another breakfast martini downed, I leaned back and continued my movie for the remainder of the flight. Oh yeah, and of course, there was yet another trip to the bar at the back of the business class cabin to mingle with the other passengers.
Upon landing in Dubai, I went through the transfer security line to have my carry-ons re-scanned, and entered the B terminal of the airport for my 2/3 day layover. As an American, I needed a Visa to exit the airport, and I wasn’t really in the mood. So, instead, I had booked a room in the Dubai International Airport Hotel, a large hotel accessed directly from the terminal. The room was…fine…but featured the ugliest carpet I’ve ever seen in my life. (How I managed to miss taking a picture of that carpet is beyond me. But trust me. It was heinous.)
After checking in, I decided to engage in one of my favorite traveling activities: walking from one end of the airport to the other. Ever since I started getting lounge access at airports, this is something I rarely do anymore. (Especially airports I’m intimately familiar with, like those in Seattle and Salt Lake City.) Walking the entirety of the Dubai airport is a feat, however. It took me the better part of two hours.
My main mission was to find a great place for dinner. Our flight had arrived at around 5:30, and after two hours of walking, I was ravenous. (I had stopped along the way to have a delicious chocolate croissant, but that hardly counts.) I eventually stumbled across a Jack Daniels steakhouse and ordered a lovely filet mignon with parmesan-crusted potatoes and a couple of the house cocktails.
Finally, sated and tired, I headed back to the hotel room to sleep. My flight was leaving fairly early the next morning, and I had something else planned that would require an obscenely early wake-up time.
I didn’t sleep particularly well that night. The bed was hard, and my body clock was all kinds of screwed up. So, when the time arrived for me to awake at 4:30, I wasn’t particularly well-rested. Nevertheless, I had a mission. So I showered, dressed, re-packed my carry-ons, and headed down to my destination: the Emirates First Class lounge.
On my way to Thailand, I had the opportunity to visit the Business Class lounge, which was significantly nicer than any lounge I had used up to that point. The first class lounge, by comparison, put the business class to shame. The lounge, which ran along the other half of the length of the terminal not occupied by the business class lounge, was finely appointed, with a huge water feature right beyond the check-in desk. And, in addition to the buffet-style food that business class enjoyed, the First Class lounge had a full restaurant, all complimentary, with a fantastic wait staff.
I arrived just before the restaurant opened for orders, and was given a nice warm coffee while I waited. Once the kitchen opened, I ordered the waffles with fresh berries and whipped cream and the eggs scrambled with chevre cheese and chives. It was delicious and perfectly cooked. Afterward, I grabbed another latte and headed to a quiet part of the lounge by the water feature to work on these blog posts.
Eventually, it came time to board my final flight of the trip—a 14.5-hour flight on a Boeing 777-300ER back to Seattle.
The security requirements to enter the US from Dubai are pretty stringent, and I had to go through yet another, very thorough, security screening when we boarded the plane. Emirates is undergoing an overhaul of its 777 fleet right now, and unfortunately, I didn’t get one of the newly designed planes. Instead, my plane was a minor reconfiguration of the first class that can be found on the A380. There was still a 1-2-1 configuration, but there was a bit less storage, the screen was a bit smaller, and there was no bar and no shower. Aside from that, it was basically the same experience…especially with the service.
This time, I had the opportunity to have two meals on board. I made the choice to try and reset my body clock as much as possible on the way back. I knew I’d be arriving at 8:30 in the morning, and had already eaten breakfast, so I had some champagne and laid down for a bit of a nap.
When I awoke, I turned on a movie and ordered a lemongrass and chicken consomme with noodles, followed by a pan-roasted chicken breast and mashed potatoes, and ending with another cheeseboard. The remainder of the flight ended with a couple more movies, more sleeping, more alcohol, lather, rinse, repeat. And when it wall all over, after 14 hours, I landed in Seattle only two hours ahead of when I left Dubai. I returned to Seattle, found my car, drove home (not drunk, I promise!) and thus ended my vacation.
It’s very much in my nature to try to ascribe a certain level of significance to my life’s experiences. That is even more true in the case of this vacation than in many things. It seems silly, but this trip to Thailand ended up being a monumental step for me. I hadn’t traveled internationally for 19 years, and never once for personal, recreational reasons. I was fearful of it. And I needn’t have been.
The trip was, as most travel should be, life-changing. It introduced me to a new hobby that I suspect will follow me most of the rest of my life. I tried several new foods and activities. I met lots of new people. I learned that there is no reason for much of the fear I carry around with me; even when I do experience with which I am not equipped to deal, I usually figure out a way. Hell, even when things do go wrong, it turns out that I’m usually able to navigate my way through it. Who would have thought, right?
This was an incredible trip. It was relaxing, fun, scary, exciting, eye-opening, and exactly what my mid-life crisis needed. For 2018, I met my personal goal of both one domestic and one international destination I’ve never been before. I so enjoyed doing it that I’ve already booked my next vacation for March, when I’ll be traveling to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to get my Advanced Open Water certification.
Also, and more importantly, it reminded me that the world is much wider and more varied than I will ever be able to understand simply by staying within my usual, familiar sphere. It’s a reminder that things are both better and worse for people all over the world. It reminds me that the way we do things may be familiar, but may not always be the best. It gave me a sense of what the world thinks about the things I take for granted and reminded me how much more of the world I have yet to experience–and how much richer my life will be for doing so.
It also reminded me that I need to hurry up and find me a boyfriend/travel companion…but that’s another blog post.