Luxury to London

 

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Etihad Apartment on the A380

Abu Dhabi to London is neither a quick nor easy flight by most people’s standards with about 8 hours in flight time from runway to runway.  It certainly seems out of the way to go for an extended weekend break. Thanks to the world of airlines miles and points traveling, though,  this route can be a once in a lifetime experience on its own even without experiencing the destination. Having just returned from 4 nights in London, I can easily say that this trip served as a wonderful reminder of why we started earning miles and points and got into this travel hacking game in the first place.

For 40,000 American Airlines miles each way and about $350 in taxes I was able to find availability to experience the most luxurious and private cabin in air travel booking the Etihad A380 “apartment” in the sky en route to London to watch Chelsea take on Stoke City on March 5.  My trip began Thursday morning with a 9:00 am departure and finished on Monday night with an 8:30 pm arrival back into Abu Dhabi from Heathrow.  In between I was able to explore London, get a taste of a real winter, take in a Chelsea match, and take a day trip to Birmingham to visit some friends.

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Etihad Lounge Abu Dhabi 1st Class Section

 

The travel expereince began early on Thursday morning as I was greeted with a chauffeur at my apartment, picking me up in an Audi A4 — this pick up service is complimentary for all premium cabin passengers traveling aboard Etihad.  After a quick 10-minute ride to the airport, I was greeted curb side with a luggage porter who quickly grabbed my bags and escorted me to the private business/first class check in in Etihad’s dedicated Abu Dhabi Terminal.  At the first class check-in counter there was at least a dozen agents in the lobby and I was the only guest.  I was quickly greeted, offered a new boarding pass, and then escorted the 25 steps to a dedicated passport control agent.  Before I knew it, I was past security and on my way to the Etihad premium lounge.

The lounge itself was large and fairly crowded, but there was plenty of space to stretch out, relax, and order an omlette.  First class passengers were given a roped off area in the lounge offering more privacy and were also offered a complimentary treatment at the lounge’s Six Senses Massage facility — including the option of a haircut or shave in the barber shop.  At 8:00 am, I made my way to enjoy a wet shave prior to boarding — I had a wonderfully close shave with a straight razor — and then headed a few hundred meters down to Gate 10 where passengers were already boarding.

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Barber Services @ Shave
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View of the A380 from the jet-way in Abu Dhabi

Boarding the A380 was an unusual experience since it is a double decker plane; the premium cabin is on the upper deck and had a separate boarding gate from economy passengers.  Aboard the plane there are 8 private apartments and one 3 room “residence” which comes with a personal butler.  Of the 8 available apartments,  5 were occupied on my flight in addition to two passengers in the residence up front.  Upon arriving in my booked apartment 3K, I was blown away at the amount of space and the beauty of the cabin.  The color tone and designs worked perfectly together. The entire cabin was inspired by many of the design elements of Islamic architecture and the middle east that emphasize symmetry, patterns, and creative lighting.  The apartment is designed to have a seating area, that faces a long bench which can be folded out into a bed (made up upon request).  Additionally, there was a mini-fridge, a lit vanity, drawer for personal storage, personal coat closet, and 24” TV screen that rotates so it can be viewed while laying in bed or stays flush with the cabin wall for viewing while seated.

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One of 8 apartments aboard the A380
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Etihad A380 Apartment from the aisle
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My home for 8 hours, Apartment 3K
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Plenty of room

After taking in the beauty and luxury of the cabin, the flight crew came over one by one to introduce themselves and offer me a pre-flight drink.  I ordered a cappuccino that came on a beautiful silver tray complete with dates, a hot towel, and a hand written welcome note from the crew leader on board.  Shortly after I had my drink, the on board chef came by and went over the “on-demand” dining menu and I ordered an omlette to be served after takeoff along with a sparkling water.  I was also given my choice of timings for taking a shower during the flight and booked an appointment for an hour before landing.   As we reached cruising altitude I was served some tea, along with a dish of warmed almonds, cashews, and a few olives.  My omlette was delivered to my apartment about 30 minutes after we reached cruising altitude and the dining experience was nothing short of five stars with a table cloth, fine china, and Etihad branded designer flatware.

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Bench and Blanket
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Seat Control/Storage/Entertainment remote

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Wonderful Personalized Welcome

After breakfast the table was cleared and I scrolled through the in flight entertainment which featured live TV and radio stations in addition to hundreds of on demand movies and television shows for streaming.  The “E-box” selection was extensive and it included many new releases; during this flight I watched The Big Short and Apollo in addition to streaming BBC news and CNN international live.  About 4 hours into the flight, I had the bed made up and decided to get in a little nap and test out the bed. The crew made up the bed ,outfitting the bench with a mattress pad, sheets and an additional pillow for sleeping.  While they made up the bed I changed into my Etihad sleepwear which was handed out at the start of the flight.  When I returned the bed was made up and I got a quick hour of sleep.  I didn’t want to sleep too long since it was the middle of the day, but if this were a red-eye flight it would be easy to get hours of uninterrupted rest as I found the bed quite comfortable;  it was on the firm side which is perfect for me.

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Etihad Apartment in Bed Mode
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A lovely Rose
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Fried Tomato 

After my brief nap, I ordered the salmon lunch which was delicious.  Along with the Salmon I had a glass of Duval Leroy Brut Rose along with a glass of sparkling water.  The salmon was phenomenal and the entire presentation was amazing again.  After the salmon, I had a cheese tray along with a glass of 12 year Glenlivet.  Shortly after lunch, I was given a towel and taken to the shower suite as it was time for my designated appointment.  Last summer on our Amtrak trip from LA to Seattle, we had a shower in our train cabin, and while this shower was larger than the Amtrak option, it was not large by any means.  The shower was a bit of a novelty but it was also quite refreshing to arrive in London showered and ready to explore the city.  Though not large, the shower’s water pressure was good, the body wash and shampoo were terrific, the water was hot and the experience was memorable.  After heading back to my apartment, I ordered a gin and tonic (of course) and settled in for the last 45 minutes or so of the flight.

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Cheese & Scotch

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A380 Shower
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Shower View
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Arrival into London
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Chaueffer at Heathrow 
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Ride into Town

The flight arrived in London early and by the time we were at the jet way it was about 12:15. All premium passengers were given fast track cards for passport control and this allowed me to breeze through the airport stopping only briefly at the passport counter and then waiting an additional 5 minutes for my checked bag to arrive.  At Heathrow there was an Etihad counter with the chaffier driver’s ready to take passenger’s to their final destination and this was complimentary up to 100-mile radius of the airport (an additional charge for anything past 100 miles).  My chauffer met me and escorted me to a beautiful BMW 7 series and we headed into London to my Airbnb in the Victoria neighborhood.  It was about a 45 minutes ride with traffic and it was great to head straight to my destination without having to bother with the Heathrow Express into town.

By 1:00 pm I was at my destination and ready to begin the next leg of my weekend adventure in the UK.  Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with every aspect of the flight and transfer in both Abu Dhabi and London. Etihad has really spared no expense or detail when it comes to their premium 1st class product.  It was a memorable experience and it made me excited to try again in a few days time upon my return from London.

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Ras Al Khaimah

Last week the three of us made the drive up to the northern most emirate, Ras Al Khaimah, for a weekend away. We left quite quickly after Tony returned home from work on Thursday afternoon, hoping that by leaving early in the afternoon we could avoid the worst of the rush hour traffic near Dubai. We still encountered a fair amount of traffic getting through Dubai, but the rest of the drive was smooth sailing.

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The purpose of the trip to RAK was for Tony to participate in his first official half marathon. I say first official half marathon because it is not unheard of for Tony to run this distance on one of his longer runs on weekends. The man is a strong runner! This race is known as “the fastest half marathon in the world” due to the flat course and typically ideal conditions. I’ll let Tony speak more about the race in a later post.

For our weekend away, we chose to stay at a Hilton property, the Hilton Al Hamra Beach & Golf Resort. The property is very close to the architecturally lovely Waldorf Astoria, but rather than one large building full of rooms and suites, the Hilton Al Hamra has a series of smaller buildings housing rooms across the property. While we didn’t golf on this trip, there is an absolutely beautiful golf course surrounding the property. It seemed to be quite busy all day long and was clearly one of the biggest draws to this resort on this particular weekend.

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The grounds of the hotel property were absolutely beautiful! We had an upgraded room in a small building housing about 8 total rooms, right on the beach. The paths around the property easily led us to the other amenities that were there to take advantage of — a lovely pool, children’s playground, outdoor refreshment stands, beach rentals, as well as the main hotel building that housed three restaurants, a coffee shop, concierge, and the spa.

Matteo has been to the beach before, but the easy access to the beach from our room on this trip made this trip extra fun for him. He loved picking up seashells to throw back in to the surf, playing in the surf, and running away from the waves as they broke on the beach.

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The weather was cooler than what we’re used to, at highs in the low 70s, but the water wasn’t freezing so we were all comfortable wading in ankle deep and enjoying the sunshine. Evenings on the beach got quite cool (for desert acclimated people like ourselves) and the brisk wind was a change from the very warm winter we’ve been enjoying in Abu Dhabi.

Tony’s race was early on Friday morning (he crushed it) and he was back by late morning. Our preferred status with Hilton means that we enjoy a free breakfast at their properties, so when he returned the three of us went down to eat at the buffet breakfast in the main building. The breakfast selection was great, including a fresh egg station and even real pork bacon and sausage! Breakfast was packed at 10 am on Friday afternoon, but on Saturday we went early, at 8 am and enjoyed a largely empty dining room.

The hotel was in easy walking distance of a mall which meant that we could get a (less expensive) dinner just a walk away. We did indulge in room service for dinner on Friday night, which we both enjoyed as well.

On Friday afternoon, Tony surprised me by booking an appointment for me at the spa! I had a glorious massage and a manicure. The service at the spa was EXCELLENT. Perhaps the best spa experience I’ve ever had, or at least tied with my time at the Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi last year. It was an unexpected, and very appreciated, two hours of pampering spent all by myself in glorious quiet.

I was surprised at how lovely RAK was (I didn’t realize what a beautiful resort town it is), and at just over a two hour drive, I definitely think we will make a return trip in the future. If nothing else, we plan to be back next year for the half marathon again.

 

 

Salzburg for Christmas

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One More Breakfast at the PH Vienna “The Bank”

After a lovely three days in Vienna, we started our fourth day with one final big breakfast at the Park Hyatt before packing up our suite and making our way to the train station.  The three of us purchased our tickets in advance from the Hutteldorf station which was one stop west of the Hauptbahnhof in Vienna where everyone else in our group booked their departure.

We decided to take the Westbahnhof and booked our tickets a few months out; this was cheaper than booking directly with OBB (the main rail company in Austria). For our journey, the cost was 24.50 euro total for the journey to Salzburg.

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Waiting for the Train in Hutteldorf

The train ride across the Austrian countryside was quite pretty and it was enjoyable to get outside of the city and see some of the smaller villages and rural areas of the region. Because the train was quite full, and we had a lot of luggage, it wasn’t quite as comfortable as it could have been but overall it was by far the best option to travel the 300 KM journey.

We arrived in Salzburg around 3:00 pm and had a nice 15 minute walk to our hotel.  We choose the Crown Point Salzburg for 4 nights due to its good reviews, proximity to Salzburg’s “Old Town” area where most of the historic sites are located, and of course the great rates they were offering during our four night stay.

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Westbahn Train Vienna to Salzburg

The city of Salzburg is famous for its fortified Castle, towering churches, and for being the birthplace of Mozart.  It is a quant city along the Salz River and has a much more laid back feel and charm as compared to Vienna.  Fewer tourists and a slower pace made Salzburg an ideal destination to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas.  We spent our time meandering through the Christmas markets, town squares, cafes, churches, parks, and took a funicular ride up to the Salzburg Fortress.  The Fortress is one of the largest and best preserved castles in all of Europe and was originally constructed in 1066; it was last used regularly during WWI to house Italian prisoners.

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Locks of Love Bridge over the Salz River
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Salzburg Castle/Fortress
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Looking up at the Castle
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View from the Castle over Salzburg

Walking through Salzburg’s Old Town is interesting as you stroll through winding, narrow paths housing restaurants, cafes, quaint shops, and also high end designer stores all along the same streets.  There is a mix of local stores/touristy shops, and high end brand stores that make for great window shopping and people watching.  The Old Town is separated by a series of bridges that cross the Salz River and one of these is the locks of love bridge which features thousands of padlocks along the chain link fence.

The river has great cycling paths and walking/jogging paths that stretch along a nice 12 km loop.  In addition to the typical tourist areas and shops there are some great playgrounds, gardens, and parks located throughout the city.  We spent a few hours on Christmas morning at a small playground that had a slide that was way too fast (and would never fly in the US in 2015) but incredibly fun for kids (and adults). The 7 of us had a great time watching Matteo meet some new playground buddies and soaked up the sunshine until it was time for lunch.

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Salzburg Christmas Market at Mozartplatz
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Surf & Turf for Xmas Dinner at Sky Bar 🙂 
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Xmas Day Playground Fun
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If you are in Salzburg GO HERE, and you’re welcome

4 Days was a great amount of time to see Salzburg and though we could have tried to fit more attractions in (Salt Mine tour, Casino Salzburg, nearby skiing), we really enjoyed being able to spend time catching up with family and moving at a slower pace.  Salzburg was a great place to stay over Christmas and we would definitely recommend a visit even if you can only manage a quick day trip from nearby Munich or Vienna.  We checked out on Boxing Day and as the AZ Galietti’s headed Munich to fly home, we continued our trip to Innsbruck where we had no idea what was in store for us.

Maximizing AA Award Travel

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The Holiday season represents one the busiest and craziest travel seasons of the year as people around the world look to visit family or go on holiday during school and work breaks.  Attempting to book award travel over the holiday season can prove very challenging especially the longer you wait to book, as award seat availability is usually very limited with such high demand for airline travel.  The three of us booked a trip to Europe this holiday season back in September and I was happy to find economy availability for three of us so close to Christmas especially to and from popular European Christmas destinations.  Our only real option back in September leaving from Abu Dhabi was to fly in to Vienna and out of Munich on Air Berlin economy with our American Airlines miles.  We booked two separate one-way award reservations with American Airlines miles as Air Berlin is partner in the Oneworld Alliance.

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Current AA Partner Award Chart
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AA Partner Award Chart from March 22, 2016 on (Devalued) 

Last month American Airlines announced a devaluation for their award chart which is effective as of March 22, 2016.  In short, this means that most routes (but not all) booked after this date will require more miles effectively making AA miles worth less money than they were on March 21.  With this upcoming devaluation in mind, many in the miles and points game are looking to maximize their stash of AA miles prior to March 22.  One of the “sweet spots” in the Onewold award chart is a relatively low 30K business class redemption for one-way travel between the Middle East and Europe as these flights are typically 6-9 hours each way.  Economy class is 20K miles, so for an extra 10K miles you can stretch out in lie flat business class cabins if you know where to book and which  partners have these cabins.  Consider that after the devaluation in March the same business class flight will cost 42.5K miles and you can see why many are scrambling to book these routes prior to March 22.

One great aspect of using American Airlines miles is that they allow free award changes as long as your departure and arrival airport remains the same.  This means that your dates can change and even your airline can change if you are able to find a better flight or airline that better meets your needs.  Last week I started to poke around British Airways and American Airlines websites attempting to find routes that were better suited for our travel over break.  I was hoping to find some business class space now that the devaluation was coming so that we could take advantage of the current redemption options to Europe from the Middle East.

Our return flight home originally was scheduled via Air Berlin in economy from Munich to Abu Dhabi with a 9 hour layover in Dusseldorf on New Years Eve.  I was hoping to cut down on the layover in between flights and get us home sooner.  I managed to find a Qatar Airways flight (also oneworld alliance) which flew the same route with a two hour stopover in Doha rather than 9 hours in Dusseldorf.  This meant a shorter flight instead of heading north to Dusseldorf and also a much better layover.  All in all this would reduce our travel time by close to 9 hours  so I called up American Airlines to request the change.  The change worked out great and it actually led to a refund of about $30 since the taxes on award flights were cheaper through Qatar than in Germany.   We were now booked on a better product (by most accounts Qatar is a superior product to Air Berlin) for the same mileage with no other change fees.

A few days later I was looking at other options (again hoping to find a business class option) and came across a direct flight from Munich to Abu Dhabi in business class on Etihad Airways.  Etihad is not technically a Oneworld alliance member, but does have an agreement as a codeshare partner with American. As a result you can book Etihad flights with American miles.  Etihad is the national airline of the UAE and consequently they are based out of Abu Dhabi; this is great for us since Etihad is amongst the top rated airlines in the world and they are known for their lavish products, lounges, and outstanding service in the industry not to mention the Etihad terminal is a mere 5 km from our apartment.  We have flown Etihad 4 times over the past year (all in economy) and are always impressed with the experience.  I was able to find their “Guest Seat” award space in business class on the Etihad website and I called up American to change the reservation again (same airports), but American Airlines was not able to see the award space on Etihad (I called a second time to make sure it wasn’t just an inexperienced CS Rep but to not avail).

After a bit of research online I discovered that this was believed to be a problem in American Airline’s IT system in the U.S. office and that the work around was to call the Australian or UK office.  I found the number, dialed AA Australia and was fortunate to talk to a wonderful CS Rep who saw the space on Etihad.  In the end I booked the three of us home direct to Abu Dhabi from Munich in Etihad business class for a total of 90K (30K per person) American miles.  This allows us a direct 6 hour flight to Abu Dhabi and comes with a top notch business class cabin and seat to boot, since this is an overnight flight with a 9:45 PM departure we will hopefully all sleep on the lie-flat business class seats and wake up close to the UAE.

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Etihad Pearl Business Class on their A340-600 

This trip represents great value to our family and being able to change dates and airlines makes it much easier to lock in a good award and then look for better options.  We are hoping to book one more trip using our American miles before their devaluation in March.

It is important to note that you can book the trip prior to March 22 for future travel, even if the travel is after this deadline, the booking date is what matters. This trip will most likely be to Europe next Christmas and my stagey will be to book prior to March 22 and lock in the low (current) business class redemption rates.  We can then tinker with the exact dates and flights later when we want to secure our detailed travel plans.  This again will allow us to maximize the value of our American miles before the devaluation while still allowing us to change the details of the trip (except origin and destination).

The Grand Hyatt Istanbul

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View of the pool

For our time in Istanbul, we stayed at the Grand Hyatt Istanbul. The hotel is located right outside Taskim Square, with lots of restaurants and shops nearby and easy access to the city’s public transportation.  We had a choice between this Grand Hyatt and the Park Hyatt which was about 1 km away from Taksim Square.  Both hotels had excellent reviews and the Grand Hyatt was $100 per night cheaper than the PH, additionally it was closer to most of the attractions we wanted to visit so it made for an easy decision.

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Diamond status = fruit, candy, and wine upon arrival

The hotel was great. Thanks to our diamond member status, we received priority check in on the 8th floor lounge area, the Grand Club Lounge. The staff at the Hyatt was professional, courteous, and accommodating. I always appreciate when staff at a 5 star hotel don’t cringe when they see that you’re traveling with a toddler, and that was certainly the case at the Grand Hyatt. The staff spoke to Matteo, asked him questions, and made him feel special.

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The sitting room/dining room/Matteo’s room

Once we were all checked in, we made our way to our 7th floor room suite. The room was fabulous. It was split into two large areas — the first a sitting room/living room with a roll away bed already set up for Matteo, a desk, TV area, table and chairs, closet and half bath. The bedroom area was large with a chaise lounge, TV, large walk in closet, as well as a huge bathroom with separate soaking tub and large shower stall.

 

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The Master Bedroom
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Master bedroom

The room was tastefully decorated with sepia toned photos of Istanbul from decades past, matted in large frames. The furniture was comfortable and clean. The carpets were a little worn, but nothing terrible.

When you’re traveling with a toddler, having two separate spaces in your hotel accommodations makes everything more comfortable for everyone. When Matteo needed to rest, he could do so in “his room” while Tony and I could hang out in the bedroom without worrying about waking him. It was awesome to have a table and chairs set available, as even when we’re traveling we tend to eat out as little as possible. Speaking of food, the room service prices at the Grand Hyatt Istanbul were extremely reasonable (many options running between $10-$15), especially when you’re accustomed to room service prices in the states. The food and selections was excellent too!

A huge perk for us staying at a Hyatt property with our diamond status is taking advantage of the lounge available for diamond/platinum members (for free) and anyone who books a room on the Grand Club level. Instead of providing food at breakfast in the lounge, the hotel instead gave us breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant. That was a great deal, as we had hot food options (egg station) as well as an assortment of pastries, cheeses, nuts, cereals, etc. to choose from. We enjoyed large breakfasts every morning and then would have a large, late lunch/early dinner later on in the day.

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The Grand Lounge

The Grand Lounge always had small candies/cookies as well as beverages (coffee, soft drinks, water, etc.) available and we took advantage of them throughout the day. Then in the evening, beginning at 6 pm, hors d’oeuvre were set out — items like caprese salad, breads, cheeses, hummus, finger sandwiches, and desserts. The evening selections was lovely.

The hotel was lovely. The staff was always friendly and the epitome of hospitality. We are already dreaming of a return trip to Istanbul, and would not hesitate to stay at the Grand Hyatt Istanbul again.   Overall the service was first rate especially they way they treated Matteo and the location was near public transportation making it easy to explore the city.

An Overview of (amazing) Istanbul

After four glorious nights in the Turkish capital, one thing that both of us agreed on was that we will be back and hopefully sooner rather than later.  Our time in Istanbul far exceeded our expectations; it is a city that is exciting to visit and navigate with a beautiful blend of modern amenities combined with ancient treasures.  On top of the amazing sites, beautiful architecture, and rich history, Istanbul also had welcoming people who were quick to offer help to us if the need arose.

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A Pleasantly Uncrowded Hagia Sophia

Arriving at Istanbul’s airport on Tuesday evening ended up being good timing as the airport was not at all busy. Though we had read horror stories of long immigration queues we breezed right through passport control in about 5 minutes flat.  We quickly headed to the exit (side note, Ataturk airport is huge) and got in line for the Havataş bus which offered direct service to Taskim Square in the city center.  This is the most efficient and cost-effective method to get to city center as it costs 11 TL per person and takes about 30 minutes direct to Taksim depending on traffic.  Taxis will cost about 50 TL and the metro would be about 5 TL but takes about an hour and includes a station change.  As in most cities, children ride all forms of public transportation for free so we only had to worry about the two of us.  For the remainder of the trip we purchased a reloadable “Istanbulkart” which allows you to load money onto the card and scan it for each trip.  The card is good on the subway, bus system, ferries, streetcars, trams, and funicular and each time we used one of this route we scanned the card twice (once for each of us), no need to buy two cards and children ride free.

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Istanbul Funicular Cable Car

The public transportation system in Istanbul is fantastic and allowed us easy access to every part of the city.  Outside of our initial use of the Havatas bus from the airport, we used the public transportation system exclusively and found it to be efficient, clean, and pleasant the entire trip.  The maps are easy to figure out even though everything is labeled in Turkish.  The announcements on the train are in both Turkish and English, and every station, car, and tram we road was labeled with maps and sometimes digital maps which showed progress along your given line.  The other nice thing about public transportation is that it allows you to travel like the locals and save money over overpriced and sometimes shady Istanbul cab drivers.  We had no problems taking our stroller everywhere as there were elevators available everywhere to go up and down to the stations.  Our family of 3 rode public transportation for 4.5 days everywhere in the city and we spent a total of 50 Turkish Lira (approx $17 USD). This is a great deal — again, this would have been the fare for a one-way cab from the airport to our hotel.

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Riding the ferry across the Bosphorus

Istanbul in December can be very difficult weather wise but we were incredibly fortunate as we only had a few rain drops for about 30 minutes one morning.  The rest of the time it was cool but dry, and in no way did the weather interfere with our plans.  The temperature stayed between 42-52 degrees the whole time and it was perfect weather for exploring the city.  The other bonus was that since it was off-season the city was not at all crowded with tourists.  We did not have to wait in any lines or battle any groups at the popular tourist sites and locations.  Early December is not exactly an easy time for most people to take a trip with the holidays so close, we were fortunate that Tony’s school break allowed for the timing of this and we loved every part of our trip.

UK & Amsterdam via airbnb

Even though summer seems a long way off, when planning a trip to a popular destination domestic or abroad it is essential to secure lodging as soon as reasonably possible to ensure availability and avoid paying astronomical prices or staying in an area that is inconvenient or unsuitable for the occasion.   While booking our accommodations for the UK, we saw this firsthand — especially in London which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.  We were hoping to book one of the two Hyatt properties in London using Hyatt Gold Passport points at the Hyatt Regency Churchill or the Andaz Liverpool Street for four nights in early July.  Currently these properties are going for $560 and $340 per night respectively for there standard room, and neither property has award availability for all four nights of our booking (and we were trying to book 8.5 months out!).  Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 9.36.49 PMAfter a call to Hyatt Gold Passport I was able to secure three nights at the Andaz Liverpool Street using the points + cash option bringing the cost down to $150 plus 12,500 points per night.  We ended up booking the Holiday Inn London City for our first night in London since it was the only really good option under $200 per night that is close enough to both the Heathrow Express and the Andaz for an easy transfer after check out.  This will allow us to stay in London over a busy July weekend at a very reasonable rate and then make our way north.

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When we booked the UK we immediately knew that we wanted to visit both London and Edinburgh, but that still left us  enough time in our trip to choose a smaller, seaside location in between the two large cities.  After a bit of research we settled on the small seaside town of Whitby in the North Yorkshire region of England.  As the case with many smaller towns, there are not really a lot of traditional hotel options in this region, and as a result we opted to rent a private home via Airbnb for our two night stay that allows us to be in a great location that is walkable to all the goings on in town.  We are looking forward to staying in a house with local neighbors and being able to walk around town at a slower pace while having a full kitchen and enough space for us to spread out and relax in separate rooms for a few days (makes such a difference for Matteo!). Airbnb is a great alternative to a hotel for those looking to experience life more like a local than a tourist.

After booking our house in Whitby we decided to look for another rental property in Edinburgh for four nights which will allow us to stay in a prime location along the Royal Mile.  We found a lovely 2 bedroom apartment with a full kitchen located in a historic building that is a 1 minute walk from Edinburgh Castle.  The price for both airbnb properties was competitive with hotels in the area and we could have easily spent a bit more money or a bit less for other area properties; we were able to find rentals that fit our needs in terms of location, space, and amenities.

For our return back to Europe and Abu Dhabi we booked 3 nights in Amsterdam since it is served directly from Detroit and Dubai.  When we looked at Amsterdam we originally were hoping to stay at the Andaz Amsterdam which is a Hyatt property that we were hoping to book on points.  Unfortunately they were out of space for award travel and the paid rates were $350 per night so we decided to turn to Airbnb one more time.  We were able to find a fantastic city center apartment with two bedrooms in a quiet neighborhood that was under $150 per night in mid August.  Sweetening the deal, we were able to take advantage of an American Express offer with Airbnb that gives us a $50 statement credit for booking an Airbnb during November.

Now we can sit back, relax, and get excited about spending 10 days exploring the UK next July and a three day stopover in Amsterdam in August as we make the trek back to the UAE.