In some ways it is hard to believe that a simply finished room with nothing particularly fancy to be seen is the best. Usually it is hard to accept that a Best Western-flagged property is best. But in Sevastopol, Ukraine that’s just the way it is. Our Ukraine guide book mentioned the Best Western Sevastopol Hotel as "the most beautiful thing Stalin ever built" and, while that is likely an exaggeration, The property was quite nice.
The lobby and the stairs leading up to the rooms were quite grand in design, if not a bit run down in décor. Wide stairways and even sitting areas in the smaller lobby on each floor. Definitely showing signs of the architectural era in which it was built.
The room we had was not particularly special and, at around $100/night, it was the most expensive we had during our time in Ukraine. But it did have a few amenities which were unmatched over the rest of our trip. The desk area was actually comfortable to sit at, for instance, and didn’t encroach on the beds. And the free wifi – something all our rooms had – was actually stable enough that I was able to use for a couple calls and they were actually decent quality.
Most significant for me, however, was that the air conditioning was incredibly good. Like actually too cold some times good. After a week of tramping around Ukraine and sweating through every piece of clothing I brought it was absolutely glorious.
Also of value was the hotel location. It is right in the heart of the downtown area, with views of the water from some rooms. Walking to any of the shops, restaurants, museums (like the Museum of Naval History) or parks was no more than 10-15 minutes; that’s particularly useful after a night of drinking Ukrainian vodka at the bars. It is also one of the main transit stops for buses and trolleys. Getting to or from the train station or other sites was incredibly easy (once we figured out how the system actually worked). The public bus we took to the secret Soviet submarine base in Balaclava left from right in front of the hotel.
And, at the end of our stay when we decided to extend our visit one night and have the hotel arrange a car to the airport in Simferopol (~75 minutes away) they were more than happy and capable. It worked out quite nicely.
The hotel has a few restaurants attached, including a breakfast buffet for guests. The breakfast spread was pretty impressive while offering typical European-style choices. We didn’t eat at any of the other restaurants so I cannot comment to the quality but they seem to be representative of several local chain options so I’m sure they were fine.
The Best Western Sevastopol not, to be certain, anything resembling luxury by most Western standards. But it was quite comfortable, has a great location and a great value at the price point. And, while Gold Crown Club points aren’t my thing, the hotel does participate in that program. It also is bookable via hotels.com, including 5% back if you use my booking rebates site.
Read more from this Trip Report under the Ukraine2012 tag here.
The lounge options in Honolulu are, for the most part, pretty sad. Sure, it is a US airport and most lounges in those are comparably bad, but with most passengers taking reasonably long flights to get home from Honolulu I feel like things should be better there. Alas, it seems I don’t get to make that decision.
Recently I’ve spent most of my time in the United Club in Honolulu and, quite frankly, it isn’t all that impressive. I love the big picture window views but the rest of the lounge is just a regular United Club, and that’s not a particularly great vote of confidence. On this most recent trip, however, I ended up in the JAL Sakura Lounge. It isn’t incredible by any stretch, but I definitely like it better than the United Club.
The JAL lounge is quite spacious and split up into a few different rooms. There are a variety of seating options available, making it easy to find the appropriate arrangement for different sized groups. I chose a a work carrel by the windows but there are chairs and couches available, too.
On the food & drink front, everything is self-service, including the booze, at the two stations they have set up. They could stand to improve the beer selection a bit, but overall quite reasonable. There is also soup & bread available for snacking. It isn’t enough for a full meal, really but way better than the snack mix options which seem to otherwise be the norm.
There is also a massage chair to relax and a kids play area to keep the little ones occupied.
I got in using the Priority Pass membership which came with my American Express Platinum card. One of the few benefits of that card I still enjoy.
This is hardly the best lounge ever. Overall it is probably just a mid-level option. But compared to the other choices in Honolulu, this just might be my new hangout of choice. Read more about the JAL Sakura Lounge at HNL and other lounges over at the Airport Lounge Guide.
I seemed to confuse the agent working at the front desk when I checked in at the Aqua Aloha Surf & Spa this past week. It seems that presenting myself and telling them that they won’t see me in their systems yet is a sure-fire way to evoke such a reaction. Perhaps I should start making my reservations more than 5 minutes before I walk in to the lobby. Or not.
The good news, as I settled in to the lobby area to wait while hotels.com got the information over to the property, was that it was a Tuesday and it was around 5pm. That meant free drinks in the lobby. I certainly won’t say no to that plan. It turns out that every Tuesday they run a Manager’s Reception in the lobby, with some concoction involving vodka, blue curacao, pineapple juice and coconut milk, free for guests. It was a sort of bright blue-green libation and it took the edge off after the 10ish hour flight to the islands. Lots of promo photos online don’t accurately reflect the reality of the product offered. The drinks did look an awful lot like these from the hotel site.
Unlike many similarly named events, in this case it was actually the GM of the property playing bartender. I was impressed. We chatted a bit – him noting that I should book directly rather than through the OTA and me countering that for the same price the benefits of booking with the OTA were better. He agreed that for the second night they’d beat the OTA price to convince me to book direct. That was actually also rather impressive, and smart business. I booked the second night and saved some money while he got more revenue than he would have otherwise.
The hotel is located on the inland-edge of Waikiki beach, just behind the Hyatt Regency. I generally prefer to be towards that end of Waikiki when I’m in town so that was appealing to me. And the 5 minute walk to the beach didn’t bother me at all, especially considering how low the rate was.
The Aqua brand is a collection of mostly 2-3 star hotels in Oahu; they have 15 under management. And while they also have a couple nicer properties in their roster I’ve found over the years that their mid-range options are quite reasonable for my needs and the prices are hard to beat. I’ve stayed at their Park Shore Waikiki property a few times in the past but it was ~$40/night more than the Aloha Surf so I decided to try the new one. I read a few reviews that warned of noise issues and small rooms. I’ve dealt with worse in the past so figured it was worth the try. I was not disappointed.
The lobby area of the hotel is nice enough, with plenty of room to spread out and take advantage of the free wifi (internet in the rooms is also free, but only via a wired connection). There’s also a small pool area and a few exercise machines for those so inclined.
There are three levels of rooms available. I chose the smallest and cheapest. It was most definitely small. Barely 300 square feet, including the bathroom. That made it all the more awkward when I lost my shoes one night but that’s a different story. The room had the basic necessities – bed, dresser, TV – and also a few other nice bits, including a microwave and fridge. Were I staying longer I would have definitely taken advantage of the fridge for my beer supply. Instead I just bought singles at the ABC down the block when I wanted one.
Much like the room, the bathroom was small but functional. No tub, just a shower with mediocre water pressure, but good enough to get me clean after a day lounging on the beach.
As to the concerns about the noise that I read in other reviews, I can definitely understand where those come from. My room was on the second floor and the glass slat windows don’t really close with any useful seal. So when an ambulance rolled by during the night I was roused from my slumber. For a bout 10 seconds. I was quickly back asleep without much issue. I also had the fan running on the a/c unit in the room to provide white noise so that may have helped in my case. Then again, if you like the a/c to be quiet then these window units were definitely not the right choice for you.
The hotel seemed to cater more towards groups and package tours. While those aren’t my thing when it comes to overall travel patterns, apparently the hotels they choose seem to mesh pretty well, so long as the groups don’t completely overwhelm the property; for this stay they didn’t. I’m also not so sure where the "spa" portion of the name comes from. Or the suggestions on the website that they have "boutique" features. I didn’t see any evidence of either, but I also wasn’t looking incredibly hard.
This isn’t going to be your luxury beach hotel with grand views and a decadent lobby bar. But that’s not what you’re paying for. Besides, it is just a couple minutes to walk to the Surfrider or one of the other luxe hotels, and their bars are open to the public anyways.
Want to be prepared for your next flight on Lufthansa‘s brand new Boeing 747-8i? Here’s your chance to practice with the safety information card and videos in both German and English.
Yes, this is easily one of the silliest posts I’ve ever made, but I’ve got the content so why not…
My celebration of the new JFK-HNL service on Hawaiian Airlines wasn’t limited to just hanging out at the pre-flight festivities at T5. I also booked myself a seat on board and enjoyed the inaugural flight experience. This was my first long-haul experience with Hawaiian and also my first trip on one of their wide-body aircraft. Even without it being an inaugural there was plenty different about it from the inter-island hops.
Considering the excitement and activity associated with the send-off party in the terminal the boarding process was actually reasonably smooth. Not a ton of in-cabin baggage certainly helped with that, as did the large overhead bins on the A330. I quickly stowed my bag and settled in to seat 14J, a bulkhead window seat.
There is a surcharge for the bulkhead seats on board. I was shocked during the check-in process to find that the charge was only $35. I would say they could charge 3-4x that rate and still sell the seats without too much trouble. In talking with one of the flight attendants it turns out that this actually is a new, higher price. Didn’t bother me to get it so cheap, however. The $3.50/hour of no one reclined into me and a bit of extra legroom was well worth it.
The seat was reasonably comfortable, though also a bit firm. I like that for the most part; I know some others prefer softer seats. In chatting with one of the FAs about the situation she suggested that the cushions might all be getting replaced imminently because of their firmness. So it goes.
The headrests are also adjustable. I found that the "wings" on them didn’t really support my head very well, but at least the option is there. Everyone got a pillow and blanket for the flight.
Food & Drink
The service started with a beverage and snack mix. Beer and wine are a paid option, but there are actually options to choose from. This includes half-bottles of wine for folks who don’t think that the minis are sufficient.
About 90 minutes into the flight a meal was offered. There are still complimentary meals available for Hawaiian flights to and from the mainland so I was able to try that out. On this flight it was a breakfast wrap which was, well, interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever had edamamme in a breakfast wrap before so that was interesting. The muffin wasn’t bad, either. That said, they were pretty small and it is a pretty long flight.
There are also meals for purchase. on this flight we had a choice of a chicken caesar salad or a cheeseburger. I also gave the cheeseburger a try. The presentation was much more involved but the taste wasn’t all that much different. My seatmate had the salad and it actually looked pretty good.
Around two hours prior to arrival in Honolulu there was a second meal served. The offering was a turkey sandwich and brownie. I’m pretty sure it was turkey, though the volume bread did make it a bit difficult to know for sure. Tasty enough to get me through the last couple hours until arrival in Honolulu.
In-flight entertainment on the A330 comes in the form of 9" personal, on-demand video screens. There are roughly 20 movies to choose from in the new releases section which isn’t bad at all. Of course, the fact that there is an $8 charge to watch each of them is less cool. There are also a number of TV episodes available for which the charge is normally $7; on this flight it was free to celebrate the inaugural. There are 100+ CDs to listen to, music loops and games, too. And, of course, the ever-present moving map. The system was reasonable overall, both in terms of content selection and performance (it did lag a bit). That said, Charging the full price for each movie watched is not so passenger-friendly. There is free content available but not much to make it a very useful system unless you plan to pay. Or unless (like me) the moving map is enough to keep you amused for several hours. IFE is free in the first class cabin.
Every seat also has a USB plug at it. This can be used to charge a device and also to feed in to the IFE system. I didn’t play with it too much as I didn’t have the correct cable with me, but the option is there.
The cabin has mood lighting, though the effect isn’t really all that amazing during a daylight flight.
The flight crew was wonderfully friendly, though I’d expect nothing less from the promo team assigned to events like this. I also have to say that I really like their uniforms.
Right now the Hawaiian service competes more or less directly with United Airlines‘ daily flight from Newark to Honolulu. I’ve done that trip a few times and if I were running the show at United I’d be reasonably concerned about the new competition. The in-flight experience was better on Hawaiian, at least in coach. The Hawaiian first class product doesn’t compete well, especially with the seat, but coach is notably better on HA.
The timing of the Hawaiian flights is also much more convenient than the United option. Hawaiian’s flight arrives in Honolulu, as their CEO said, "so that [passengers] can be watching the sun set from your hotel room, either in Oahu or a neighbor island, hopefully with a Mai Tai in your hand." Similarly, the eastbound flight arrives early enough that getting in to the office for a full day of work is completely possible. My seat-mate noted that he was able to go straight from the airport to pick up his kids at school. Not too shabby.
The timing of the United flights is a couple hours later and it is much harder to connect or get downtown and settled in before dinner time. Between that and the more comfortable seats and better IFE systems, it would be hard to recommend that a customer take the United flight assuming all else is equal. Oh, and with the JetBlue feed at JFK there are a number of cities on the east coast where the 10am departure time still allows for great connections.
Oh, and because it was an inaugural we all got little gifts, too.
Having spent a decent amount of time on Lufthansa‘s 747-8i during the press events last week and also on the inaugural flight from Frankfurt to Dulles I’ve put together a quick guide on which seats are good and bad on board the aircraft. I’m sure others will disagree with me on some of the suggestions I’ve got, but I’m OK with that. The seat map images are taken from the published guide at Lufthansa.com.
There isn’t really a bad seat in the nose of the 747-8i, but I’m quite partial to 1 A/K because of the nose curve. The D/G seat pair is a good option as a couple traveling together, though I’d still try for 1A/K.
Seat 3K, set up for the press demo:
The First Class Cabin area:
86 92 (apparently I cannot count) Business Class seats on the plane there are plenty to choose from, at least in theory. That said, there are definitely some which are more comfortable and spacious than others.
On the upper deck I like row 84 for the extra bit of space in front of the seats. There is still a hard bulkhead there, but if you stand up and are climbing out of the window you’re not actually grabbing another passenger’s seat for balance. Also on the upper deck there are decent sized overhead bins, though smaller than those on the main deck, and the side wall storage bins are available for window seat passengers. The seats are the same as those in the window pairs downstairs, slightly narrower an angle than the center pair downstairs, making it a bit more cozy with your seatmate. Finally, the upper deck is a tiny bit louder than the main deck. Not a ton and not enough to bother me at all, but it is.
On the main deck the center pairs are my preferred seats. The slightly wider angle provides a more spacious feeling and more space on the shared foot area. Plus, no climbing over neighbors. The proximity of rows 4, 9, 10 and 14 to lavs and galleys makes them rather less appealing overall. Row 14, in particular, is where the economy cabin lavs are so there is more traffic back there. The pasenger to lav ratio on the main deck is pretty rough, especially compared to upstairs. I didn’t see queuing when on the flight but I wasn’t sitting there the whole time so that’s not really a great measure.
Overall my choice would be upstairs, especially if you want a window seat anyways. If you’re going for an aisle the center column downstairs offers the benefits of slightly quieter and no climbing neighbor, at the expense of a worse lav ratio and slightly busier crew serving that area.
Upstairs in business:
The center pair downstairs:
There are, by my count, only six very good seats in economy on the plane. The are the four seats in row 21 and 22 A/K. They have unlimited legroom and 22 A/K have a window with a decent view and can get in and out without bothering the folks also in their row. The drawback of these seats is typical of other bulkhead seats: tray/IFE in the arm rest and no underseat storage. Those are trade-offs I’m willing to make in exchange for the legroom. The downside of sitting in this area, particularly row 22, is the proximity to the lavs. Expect to see a lot of foot traffic in the area.
Next up in terms of decent seats are the bulkhead seats at 22 DEFG and 34. There is a bit of extra leg room but you cannot stretch your legs all the way forward. And, like the other bulkheads, fixed seat dividers. The bulkhead at row 34 is also the bassinet positions so there is a decent chance of babies there.
If you don’t mind being the last people off the plane and the last people to get meal service then the pairs at rows 45-47 have a lot of space on the fuselage side of the seats. That space isn’t supposed to be used during take-off and landing, but there is a lot of room there once in flight.
The IFE boxes sit at the outboard side of the seat mount brackets for the A, E and K columns. This slightly reduces foot space at those seats.
The other interesting foot space issue comes in the DEFG column of seats. There are four seats but still only two mount points to the floor. The vertical risers are roughly about a third of the way in to the E and F seats. This creates a situation where there are only three foot wells for the four passengers in that area. The E/F passengers will have to straddle the mounting riser and share partially with the D/G passengers. Because of the way the IFE box is mounted at the E seat that column ends up having the worst foot space of any of the coach seats.
There are a handful of overhead bin locations which have cabin equipment at them, making them unavailable for passenger use. The Sky Interior overheads mostly make that a non-issue in terms of accommodating all the cabin baggage, but still worth being aware of the following limited locations:
- 24 ABC/HJK has magazine storage.
- 33 ABC has safety equipment
- 35ABC overhead has bassinets
I sat in 31 D for most of the flight. I was quite fortunate that 31 E was unoccupied as that definitely helped things out. The four reasonably broad guys in the bulkhead at 22 didn’t look all that happy about their predicament, but they survived, too. More specific details of my in-flight experience on the Boeing 747-8i are here.
Economy is never a great seating experience and this is no exception, but it is definitely better than the old 744 setup and it was tolerable.
Seat 22A and unlimited legroom:
Storage space beside the pairs in the back:
The under seat view of the center 4 (note the location of the IFE box and vertical mounts relative to the seat cushions):
So, any questions???
Lufthansa is hosting two events today in Frankfurt for the launch of the 747-8i. The first, focused on the press, was this afternoon and saw a couple hundred guests roaming around Hangar 7 (a/k/a the A380 hangar) and inside the aircraft. There were also many senior executives on hand to talk about everything from pilot certification on the new type (super easy) to the A+ pier at FRA to in-flight connectivity.
Getting inside the aircraft was the most exciting part for me. We got to try out all three cabins (yes, I tested my seat for the flight tomorrow to make sure I’m going to survive) and roam the plane pretty much anywhere we wanted. It was awesome. And these are the photos.
I’ve got a bunch more, either on my FaceBook page or in the original gallery. More coming later after my next visit this evening.
My mileage run to Hawaii a couple weeks ago included 16 segments over five days and roughly 23,000 miles flown. It also included two nights on airplanes and a number of flights that had meal service. I showed some of the food from the longest segment – Newark to Honolulu – here but there were a few other United Airlines meals that offered up interesting dining options.
Three of my flights were during a traditional breakfast time. I had Phoenix to Houston, Dulles to Houston and San Francisco to Chicago and the choices on each were a bit different. I usually take the safe option at breakfast, opting for the cereal. I eat it dry which always seems to confuse the flight attendants but between that, the yogurt and the fruit I’m usually reasonably full for a few hours. On the Phoenix to Houston flight the cereal was served in a rather interesting way:
Tasted just fine and it was actually probably easier to eat this way, but I was still rather entertained with the service approach.
Meal number two, Dulles to Houston, was actually probably my favorite of the three. The offering was an egg sandwich. It was surprisingly similar to an Egg McMuffin. I’m not saying that it was delicious – airplane food rarely is – but it was definitely a different option from the usual I’ve had over the past few years.
The third meal is what I consider the traditional alternative to the cereal breakfast. I tend to avoid it but I figured I’d give it a try once just to make sure I still don’t really like it. Eggs, meat and potatoes seems like a great breakfast, I know, but the flavors just don’t work for me on this one. It was fine, I suppose, but not something I’ll likely be ordering again.
Two of the flights – Houston to Pittsburgh and Houston to Phoenix – were at lunch time. Apparently one of them was actually only at snack time, not lunch time, so the meal was the cold chicken breast salad plate, but an actual salad, not the pasta. The flight attendant made sure to ask everyone if they wanted the chicken or not so that it could be served vegetarian; that was a nice touch. I had the chicken and it was decent. Consistent with the other times I’ve had the same plate and reasonably good.
The other flight offered a hot lunch. I ended up with the "chicken parmesan roll" or something like that. It was, umm, interesting. It definitely had some flavors like chicken, tomato sauce and cheese. That said, I wouldn’t recommend ordering it if there is another option. Not particularly impressive.
These were all short-haul flights so I’m never expecting fine dining. And some of them didn’t completely suck. Sadly that seems to be the standard by which in-flight domestic dining is measured these days.
Redeyes suck. When they’re less than six hours flying time they suck even more. And when they involve sitting in coach they suck even more. So maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but as part of this mileage run I was booked on a US Airways 757-200 from Honolulu to Phoenix, in coach. Ouch.
I was somewhat fortunate in that I got a window seat; that’s my preference anyways, especially on a redeye. When we boarded the plane I walked back to check out the other seating options and I was incredibly happy that I didn’t end up in the rear exit row. While the middle and aisle seats back there have tons of legroom the window seat has the slide housing which really gets in the way of a comfortable ride.
I headed back up to my row and settled in to 13A; triskaidekaphobia is apparently not an issue with US Air. That row has a misaligned window which is both good and bad. I found it nice for leaning against when I was sleeping but were I to want a view I’d probably be pretty disappointed with it.
As for the seats themselves, they are pretty tight. And pretty old. They actually still have ash trays in the arm rests.
I’m actually surprised they haven’t removed them to save on weight and cut the fuel costs a bit more than anything.
As for the in-flight experience, I slept the entire time. There might have been a drink service but I didn’t notice. I also have no idea if there was buy-on-board for food. I put in my ear plugs, donned my eye mask and was asleep before they made the announcement that personal electronic devices were permitted. I woke up when we landed in Phoenix.
I survived and it wasn’t incredibly awful. It also wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience. In other words, exactly what I expected.
There is only so much that can be done to make the airport gate experience enjoyable for customers. When you’re dealing with cramped old terminals like those at LaGuardia the options are even more limited. There’s not enough space to really make things nice and tearing down and rebuilding the facilities is not going to happen any time soon, either. These challenges haven’t stopped Delta from trying, however. The carrier has stepped up the experience in their terminal, working to make pre-flight actually enjoyable.
One of the aspects of the effort is replacing the typical gate area seating – rows of uncomfortable seats crammed too close together – with new seats, including tables and outlets, so people can work or eat more easily. The layout is definitely more comfortable and customer-friendly, so long as you can actually get a seat. The main problem with the setup is that the seating density is decreased, meaning there are a lot of folks left without seats. And at LaGuardia, with the crowds, that is definitely a challenge.
In addition to the booths for sitting there are also taller tables with bar stools set up in the area. Again, lots of power outlets available and a nice desk for working or eating. But the high tops have more than just power and space; they also provide pre-flight entertainment options.
There are iPads set up at the tables, offering a few pre-loaded apps (e.g. FaceBook) and also an ordering platform for the OTG concessions in the terminal. The OTG setup is similar to that which the company debuted in the JetBlue JFK T5 a couple years ago, allowing passengers to order meals to the gate area rather than having to walk over to one of the stands to get the food. And this version offers entertainment, too.
The setup is quite nice. It is definitely a big change from the traditional gate experience. Not quite perfect, but definitely a step in the right direction.