...constantly searching to find the best travel deals and places to visit. A never-ending quest for adventure!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Maldives: Arrival

Our arrival to Male was an adventure (although we knew that coming in having done a bit of research).  To get to the Park Hyatt atoll, your journey includes the flight to Male, a connector flight on Maldivian Air to Kooddoo, and then a speedboat transfer to the Gaafu Alifu Atoll about 40 minutes away.  The Hyatt arranges the transfers in total before you arrive so you don't have to worry about it when you get there.

I was curious how this would all go - and as I suspected we had an adventure!

Our arrival to Male was ontime and upon landing we met our greeter who took us to the arrivals lounge to wait for our connection flight.  Due to low clouds and rain we were delayed about 1.5 hours.  So...we got to experience the very 'purple' lounge (which also didn't smell the best):

Food and wifi were available as well as drinks so the time passed by though we were very ready to get going after such a long flight from Sydney.

Soon our greeter came to take us to the plane - a small Q200 turboprop.  Boarding was fast and our hand luggage was able to fit under the seat behind us as the plane was not full. Soon we were off - a fairly quick 1 hr flight.  

Landing to Kooddoo we saw that it was raining and encountered a pretty stiff wind while being driven to the boat landing from the terminal.  We were the only two on the cart for the transfer, which also happened to be covered tight with plastic to keep the rain out.  

Our boat ride from Kooddoo to the Atoll was not as smooth. 

It took almost 50 minutes at high engine speed in what I can only describe as the roughest sea I've ever been on.  In my estimation the waves had to be 6-10' since we were constantly going up and slamming down in the low part of the swells.  The attendants tried to make this a typical transfer, offering us a cocktail drink and parfait before we left but that was soon spilled and not consumed once we felt what we were in.  I must admit I made a small prayer while we were going though I knew we must be ok since the Maldivians driving weren't even hanging on to anything.  If they're not worried, I shouldn't be!

We arrived to the Park Hyatt in the rough sea and since the boat was still in such swells at the landing we had to wait until upswells for three guys to launch us out of the boat onto the deck where three other guys caught us and our luggage.  They had a cart waiting for us which took us to our room and we had a modified checkin since we were the last to arrive that evening.  No upgrades possible since the property was full but our room was amazing.  Sleep came quickly - we made it!

Some arrival pics as we made it to Male:

Friday, December 16, 2016

AKL-SYD-AUH-MLE: Departing the island for the Island

This was the one part of the trip that I was curious about from a logistics perspective.  Since there wasn't a direct Auckland to Maldives flight, I chose to book a short connector on Emirates between Auckland and Sydney before connecting to the Etihad flight option (using miles) through Abu Dhabi to Male.  When trying to checkin online ahead of time, however, Emirates would not complete the process.  We found out that this was due to the system thinking Sydney was our end-point and we did not have an Australian visa purchased.  The Emirates agents in Auckland were great and figured out what needed to be done to include our Etihad connection information on the ticket to print our boarding passes.  (whew) 10 minutes of frowning faces made me wonder what would happen - no problem.

To recap, we booked Sydney-Abu Dhabi-Male on Etihad A380 Business Class using American Miles pre-devaluation for a cost of 90,000 miles total.  For 45,000 miles per person in business, this was an exceptional redemption that I'm sure I'll have a hard time finding again.

With a flight time of 14.5 hours to Abu Dhabi, we found it to be a wise decision!

Monday, December 12, 2016

In Auckland: The Sites (and Wineries)

We were blessed to have relatively good weather throughout the trip and our time in New Zealand was no exception.  Just a short walk down from our rain forest chalet was an inlet on the coast that during low tide was a coral dream:

Downtown Auckland was fun to walk and we were able to visit the Art Gallery, the SKYCITY Center, and St Matthew in the City. The Maori exhibit at the art gallery was a highlight and it was nice to visit a number of shops along the way:

The wineries we visited in the Kumeu region were also excellent...once we found them.  Our #1 choice was to visit Kim Crawford wines, and sadly when we arrived everything was closed.  A worker came out to talk to us that they were moving locations - and we were surprised when he came back out with a bottle of wine as an apology!  Our second try, Kiwi Estate wines, was also closed.  Finally we found success at Coopers Creek, West Brook, and Soljon.  The West Brook winery had especially beautiful grounds and is well worth the trek!  Tasting there was the best experience we had and we shipped a few varieties back home as well:

Thursday, December 8, 2016

In Auckland: The Food

We had the opportunity to sample some fine cuisine while in the Auckland region.  Here are some of the highlights we had across our stay:

Depot: One of the top-ranked restaurants on Tripadvisor, Depot did not disappoint.  Freshly cooked food with fantastic service made this visit memorable.  The wine list was choice and we really enjoyed the ability to pass small plates and sample a variety of options.  Can't wait to visit here again on a future trip.

One Tree Grill:  More of a fine dining establishment, the food was very flavorful though a bit more pricey.  I really enjoyed being able to choose items via iPad where you could see the preparation and what options were in picture.  Parking was an adventure since it's in a busy neighborhood but I liked the atmosphere.

Hell:  Yes, we actually tried this place and it was excellent. The pizza menu alone was one of the more creative I've seen.  Check it out (and marvel at the flavors)!

Elliot Stables: Another notable location in downtown Auckland, Elliot Stables offers a variety of choices for dining with one central seating location.  You can hop from place to place depending on your preference and they deliver right to your table.  We tried Burg'z - no complaints!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Overhead bin access for a fee on United?

Earlier this week I saw a post about United starting to charge for overhead bin space, and I couldn't resist the urge to do some research to verify.  Turns out this is part of their new Basic Economy ticket structure that will soon be implemented (if not already in select markets).  From the United hub:

Basic Economy fares include:

  • Automated seat assignments will be given at check-in. Passengers will need to acknowledge when making a multi-seat purchase that seating together is not guaranteed.
  • Carry-on bags are limited to one personal item, unless the customer is a MileagePlus® Premier® member, primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card, or Star Alliance™ Gold member. Passengers with disabilities will be able to carry-on mobility aids and other assistive devices.
  • There will be no voluntary ticket changes except as stated in the United 24-hour flexible booking policy.
  • MileagePlus program members will earn redeemable award miles; however they will not earn Premier qualifying credit (miles, segments, or dollars), no lifetime miles, and no contribution to four segment minimum.
  • Customers will not be eligible for Economy Plus or premium cabin upgrades.
  • Customers will board in the last boarding group (currently Group 5) unless a MileagePlus Premier member, primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card, or Star Alliance Gold member.
  • Basic Economy fares can't be combined with regular economy fares or partner carriers.

What isn't changing with Basic Economy fares:

  • Economy seating: Customers with Basic Economy reservations will be seated in the United Economy® cabin, which remains unchanged.
  • Checked baggage: Checked baggage policies remain the same as for our regular United Economy fares, and baggage benefits for MileagePlus Premier members, and primary cardmembers of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card and Star Alliance Gold members still apply.
  • Inflight options: Onboard food, beverage and entertainment options remain unchanged.
  • Award miles: As a MileagePlus program member, customers will still earn redeemable award miles.

Friday, December 2, 2016

In Auckland: The Stay

I've decided to break up the time in Auckland into several posts covering the place we stayed, restaurants and food we ate, and other things we saw.  Normally I'd write this all in chronological order per day, but I figured it might be easier to try something different since we were onsite at each place for a few days.

To start, I just want to share how incredible the Airbnb location was for our stay.  I've really had nothing but great experiences using the site and highly encourage everyone to give it a try if you're looking to experience life beyond a typical hotel.  In this case we chose a place outside of the city limit, near the coast, and in part of the rainforest area of the north island.  We couldn't beat the low price and option to see a bit more of the country.

I'll let the pictures tell the tale:

We had absolutely no complaints - Dave and Kim were excellent hosts and available at any time to answer questions and make recommendations.  Included in the room were a small fridge, coffee/tea, utensils and plates, and access to a washer.  Since we had our rental car we could come and go as we pleased without interrupting them.  With the town of Titirangi nearby, we were able to get food and bring it back to eat at our place.

One feature of the room/cabin is the outdoor adjoining bathroom/shower.  With the weather in the 70s and 50s at night, it wasn't a problem to walk out onto the deck.