Greetings from a slightly sunny and cool Sunday morning in New York City. Spring is trying to arrive in fits and starts. I suppose one must be patient.
I know we’ve been away a long time. We’ve missed you, but we’ve had a very productive winter, attending lots of theatre and opera and the like, dining out at establishments both new and familiar.
But now it’s time to get out of town and our upcoming trip will take us to some fabulous places and, perhaps, just a bit out of our comfort zones.
The main event of this trip will be a 19-day cruise from Dubai to Piraeus (Athens). We’ll sail through the Middle East and the Suez Canal, to Israel and through the Greek Islands. It’s going to be quite the big deal, I think.
Our ship will be the 3 months old Seabourn Encore. As you know, we’re very loyal to Crystal Cruises, and this will be our first time aboard a Seabourn vessel, but everything we’ve heard augers well and we’re looking forward to trying something new.
The beautiful new Seabourn Encore
Spoiler Alert: If you look at the 2nd deck up from the jacuzzi at the front of the ship, the outdoor area on the right is the balcony for our cabin. We’re literally under the bridge.
More about the cruise later.
But first, we must get to Dubai to board the ship. And therein lies a tale and a bit of an adventure.
It’ll be no surprise to you that we like to travel well and, most importantly, we like to get the best bargains wherever we find them.
We also like to tick off our “bucket list” items, one of which is to fly on Etihad Airways in the first class Apartments.
Oh – and we want to do it on miles, ie., for cheap!
So, for the past year, I’ve been looking to score 2 award flights from JFK to AUH (a/k/a Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates). There are 2 flights daily but, in order to fly in the Apartments, you must fly the A-380, which service is currently offered only on 1 flight daily. Awards in first class on this aircraft are impossible to obtain. The other daily flight is on a smaller aircraft and, therefore, doesn’t offer the Apartment. It’s always something, right?
(Wouldn’t you know – starting on June 1st, Etihad will offer A380 service on both daily flights from New York and, at that point, it’s possible to find award availability if you can book about 3 months in advance. Sigh!)
To cover ourselves, we booked flights on British Airways through Heathrow (London) with a connecting flight to Dubai. We were able to do it all on miles, but BA charges hefty taxes on awards flights. Even so, for a few hundred dollars each, we booked first class for both segments. These flights were booked last May and, ever since, I checked and rechecked award availability on Etihad, just in case.
Our British Airways chariot from New York to London
BTW, we love taking the BA overnight flights to London Heathrow. If you’re lucky enough to be flying in first class, you’ll have access to the Concorde Room at JFK, which features a proper restaurant, so you can have dinner there (no charge for food and/or drinks) and, then, once your flight has taken off, you can climb under the covers and sleep for most of the light. Delovely!
The Concorde Room at JFK
You can enjoy a proper meal in the Concorde Room before your flight.
After months of frustration being unable to get that elusive Etihad award, I had – what Dorothy Kilgallen on What’s My Line used to call – a wienie! I remembered that Etihad has service to Abu Dhabi from London Heathrow. Would it be possible to find an award on that route?
The Etihad website has a very useful tool that allows you to find available awards and I hit the jackpot in finding exactly what I needed! Now, I wondered, would American Airlines allow me to rebook the 2nd segment (London – Dubai) over to Etihad (London – Abu Dhabi)? Only one way to find out.
The American AAdvantage rep couldn’t have been nicer: Not only was it possible, but we ended up saving several hundreds of dollars on the 2nd segment, because there were virtually no taxes! The whole thing took about 15 minutes and we were done! Woo-Hoo!
The Etihad A380 – a beautiful piece of engineering
Our Etihad “Apartments”: mine on the left and AAC CPA’s on the right
If you want to be social, drop by the bar at 36,000 feet!
There was one small glitch, however: Because the Etihad flight departs London at 9:30 AM, we will end up having a 22-hour layover in London. Well, folks, I certainly know how to put a layover to good use!
Within 30 minutes of booking the Etihad flight, I’d arranged for matinee tickets to see Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? at Theatre Royal Haymarket, and made an early dinner reservation at one of our favorite London restaurants, Hawksmoor in Air Street. In between, we’ll swan over to one of our favorite hotels, The Corinthia in Whitehall Place, where we’ll enjoy a cocktail at the lovely Bassoon Bar.
The historic Theatre Royal Haymarket
Hey – recognize the guy on the left? He was Brody on Homeland!
The trendy Bassoon Bar at the Corinthia
Great steakhouse and more: Hawksmoor in Air Street
Oh, and as we needed a place for the night, I booked accommodations at the Hilton London Heathrow. It was recommended to us by friends who know. And get this: the hotel is a 10-minute walk to Terminal 4/Heathrow, from which our Etihad flight will depart the next morning.
The Hilton is a 10-minute covered walk to Terminal 4 at Heathrow
Cool accommodations at the Hilton
Hotel to airport – quick walk – how great is that?
So, our layover will be filled with fun things to do: culture, liquid refreshment, grub.
Oh, and from Terminal 4/Heathrow to Piccadilly Circus in Central London, we can take the Piccadilly line in just about an hour. How great is that?
How to get from here to there.
The flight from London to Abu Dhabi take about 7½ hours (wish it were LONGER!), so we’ll arrive in Abu Dhabi at about 8:00 PM local time. For the transfer to Dubai (about a 90 minute drive), we’ve arranged for our hotel – Raffles Dubai – to pick us up at the airport.
Iconic Image – Dubai
Our digs in Dubai – cute, right?
We’ll have 3 nights and 2 full days in Dubai before boarding Encore on Monday, the 17th.
There, in a nutshell, is the first 5 days of our trip. Another preview on the cruise will follow in a couple of days.