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Christmas in New Zealand

Christmas in New Zealand
via Qantas and Singapore A380 First Class
December 2015

Mrs. SFO and I are off today to New Zealand for Christmas with our SoCal travel buddies. And we're back on Qantas for our first time in three years, tonight flying DFW-SYD and the longest commercial flight in the world 8,577 miles.

• American First Class DEN-DFW
• The Centurion Lounge at DFW
• The Qantas Business and First Class Lounge at DFW
• The American Flagship Dining Room
• Qantas A380 First Class Suites DFW-SYD and the world's longest commercial flight 
• Qantas First Class Lounge at SYD
• Qantas Business Class SYD-ZQN
• Azur Lodge - Queenstown
• Queenstown
• Private Helicopter Tour of Milford Sound
• Lord of the Rings Tour
• Air New Zealand Queenstown-Christchurch-Napier
• The Farm at Cape Kidnappers - Hawke's Bay
• Napier and Hawke's Bay
• Wine Country Touring
• Air New Zealand Napier-Auckland
• The Sofitel Auckland
• Auckland
• Air New Zealand Business Class Lounge
• Singapore A380 First Class Suites Auckland-Singapore
• The Fullerton Singapore
• New Years in Singapore
• Singapore Airlines The Private Room at Changi
• Singapore A380 First Class Suites SIN-NRT-LAX
• American First Class LAX-DEN.

And we're off..

For the first time in a long time, Mrs. SFO decided that she wanted to check a bag. Ugh. So we stop at the AA counter and presented the AAgent with our three separate and unlinked tickets. Fifteen minutes later, we think we have her bag checked all the way to ZQN.  

First stop is the DEN Admirals Club aka "The Crap Lounge" as Mrs. SFO affectionately calls it. A half an hour later at T-30 before the delayed departure time, we headed down to they gate, where naturally our plane hadn't even arrived. As usual, AA departure times on delayed flights are meaningless.

American 372
Denver DEN-Dallas DFW
MD-80
12:39p-3:40p (sked)
1:35p-4:20p (actual)
December 23, 2015
First Class
Departed 16/16
Seats 6EF

Weather issues in DFW had caused the late inbound so we wound up running about 40 minutes before. No worries since we had a 4.5 hour connection.
I love the old AA Mad Dogs which features the last of the comfortable domestic airplane seats, before airline suits decided to deemphasize comfort in the generation seats. Even Mrs. SFO spontaneously raved about the seat comfort… "Why can't they have seats this comfortable in new planes?" An excellent question indeed.

On board, the usual AA service. Even though we had boarded and sat for another 20 minutes for bags to be loaded, no pre departure beverage offerings of any kind. In the air, drinks and nuts (including almonds at last).

And then a choice of spinach artichoke dip or a cheese and fruit plate.

Yeah, I guess it's old when the reading lights start rolling around in the sockets.

We arrived at C31 and took the SkyTrain...

... to the D Terminal and The Amex Centurion Lounge for a late lunch. Pretty crowded but the food was good although Mrs. SFO didn't agree.

Then over to the Qantas Lounge which was one of five pleasant, generic DFW lounges, which are rented to airlines for the part day for their flights.

The QF Lounge dragon was waiting for us as there was some confusion in our records as a result of the DEN check-in agent trying to be override the system to get all three PNR to talk to each other. Guess he made a dummy booking which then had to be reconcilied. As we were chatting about the electronic visa, he mentioned that almost every day he get pax that have forgotten to do them. He asked one couple if they have a visa to which the wife apparently responded, "No but I have Master Card." It was much calmer and with surprisingly interesting Business Class food options.

The First Class room was nothing more than an extension of the lounge with no addition features. We didn't do in as there was a family of Business pax taking up most for the outer room.

Exploring the rest of the Airline Club level with Etihad using an adjacent lounge.

While Mrs. SFO relaxed, I headed over to the Admirals Club to check out the much vaunted temporary First Class Dining room.

OK, I realize that it's just temporary but what's the point? AA took the old smokers lounge and added a bunch of cheap tables and chairs. The dinner spread is not even dinner. Just a bunch of salads and other snacks. OK, it's better that the regular Admirals Club, but it's not even close to non-NA airline business class lounge food offerings. Why even try?

Qantas 8
Dallas-Sydney
A380-800
8:10p-6:00a +2
December 23, 2015
First Class
Departed 5/14
Suites 2A and 3A
 
At around T-50, we headed downstairs for the short walk to Gate D15, where boarded had just started.
 

A nice start tonight as First Class had it's own separate and private jet bridge. We were welcomed on board by a very personable group of cabin crew members.

To a very pleasant First Class cabin with 14 suites on the A380's more spacious lower deck. Yes the suites are a little dated and not the most luxurious in the sky, but quite comfortable, amazingly spacious and very private. Even better if you are on the A suite side and with only a few other passengers, like tonight.

Champagne and canapés… tonight featuring Osetra caviar tartlet with crème fraiche and Crostini of thyme goats curd and marinated artichokes. Meh.

While we were still boarding, I headed upstairs to take a look at the Business Class cabin.

And the dopey Business lounge, a far cry from Jennifer Aniston's favorite on board lounge on Emirates.

And a weak snack offering from a later walk about.

The amenity kit was so-so although Mrs. SFO liked the creams.

The entertainment system was adequate, not fabulous like EK or SQ.  Clunky, heavy and dated control was not always responsive. Another more modern control was only useful for some of the functions.  Strange.

Tonight's menu was a Supper menu which is apparently the standard ex-USA menu despite the 8pm DFW departure. Seems pretty weak to treat this flight exactly like an 11pm west coast departure.

Our FA took drink, food and wine orders although the wine list was not the correct one.   But first, my usual G&T.

I ordered the Yarra Chardonnay but was served a Tasmanian Chardonnay which was awful. OK, lets try the 2013 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling from West Australia. Much better.

Showtime.

But what about those cheap, ugly utensils??

Service seem a little rushed perhaps because that's what the supper directive is. Not like we're going anywhere fast. My soup was delivered right after the bread.

The soup itself was excellent… Cream of spiced cauliflower with coriander yoghurt and grilled flat bread.

For my main, I chose the delicious Roast pork belly with ginger noodles and kimchi. And a glass of 2013 Yabby Lake Single Vineyard Pinot Noir.

For dessert, I had the delicious Cinnamon Churros with warm salted butterscotch and grilled plums.

After dinner, I finished my movie.

And a little late, our FA made our beds, 1A for Mrs. SFO and 2D for me. Between the Sheepskin mattress, comfy duvet and a little Ambien, I slept amazingly well for 7 hours straight. Just over 5 hours to go.

After another walk around the plane, upper deck, J, PE, E and downstairs to Y and back home, I worked on pics and watched another movie. About 4 hours out, I asked for a mid-flight snack, the delicious Signature steak sandwich with grilled plums.

A couple of hours later at around T-90, I passed on breakfast while Mrs. SFO had the fruit plate.

At around T-30 we started our descent into SYD.

We touched down at around 6:15a on Christmas morning and pulled into our gate a few minutes later... more than 17 hours after we boarded in DFW.   But it sure didn't seem that long.  Between the great crew, light load and a very nice hard product, this was a wonderful flight.   Can't imagine why anyone would fly any other airline from North America to Australia.   Bravo Qantas.

 

After the long way from the plane to transit security and up to departures, we arrived at the beautiful Qantas First Class Lounge, one of the best in the world.

The elaborate living plant wall.

Attractive lounge with its unique design.

 

​The lounge feature great plane watching and one of the best city skyline views of any lounge.

 

Time for breakfast.

My Croque Monsieur was delicious.

At around T-50, we headed out thru the construction to find Gate 63 and our flight to Queenstown.

Qantas 121
Sydney SYD - Queenstown ZQN
737-800
9:30a-2:30p
December 25, 2015
Lunch
Departed 12/12
Seats 1AC 

Dated and reasonable comfortable cabin, although I wouldn't want to fly a lot on this plane. I chose the bulkhead based on recommendation from the QF forum and it was fine. Any one taller than 6' would probably would have an issue.

One of our FAs decked out for Christmas.

PDB in real glass.

Today's menu.

More of the Business Cabin.

After take-off, drinks and a tasty pretzel/Brazil nut mix.

While Mrs. SFO declined lunch, of course I did not... mostly for the photo op. OK, where is the tray liner? Yeah, I'm sure that this reusable tray is clean.  

I hope this tray is clean. OMG, can we use any bigger utensils. They filled half of the tray.

For my main, I went with the Prawn and Soba noodle salad which was really good, assuming I didn't contract a disease from my utensils resting on the tray.

Yes, barefoot to the lav is always a brilliant idea.

And ice cream for dessert.

Beginning our descent to Queenstown and our first glimpses of beautiful New Zealand.

No jet bridges at ZQN so we disembarked by stairs and headed for the terminal trying to beat pax from the MEL-ZQN NZ flight.

Fortunately, the international arrivals areas is void of direction signs and dozens of NZ pax were standing around cluelessly as we walked thru the strangely located duty-free shop on our way to customs. We were thru in no time but and to wait 15 minutes for bags to be delivered as apparently there is only one set of ground crew today. And amazingly, Mrs. SFO's bag popped out on the carousel, with a complete new baggage tag from the one attached in DEN.

Our Azur driver Lakh met us outside of arrivals and loaded our bags into one of the lodge's SUV and we headed into Queenstown to our home for the next three nights.  A stop for pics of stunning Queenstown.

About 20 minutes later we arrived at the beautiful Azur Lodge, a former residence turned into a 9 villa hotel.  Stunning view from the main house and each villa.  Although the lodge was fully booked, we never saw another guest.  It was like our own private retreat. 

http://azur.co.nz

The main lodge.

And our Villa #3.  Spectacular.

Since it was Christmas Day, we had a limited choice of restaurants.  No. 5 Church Lane was one that was recommended after we said "no game".  Perhaps on a regular day, but this set Christmas menu was forgettable.

And of course having specified no game, we get the set Wild Game Terrine.  LOL.

What view the next morning from our villa deck.

Just before heading out on our helicopter tour, in villa dining with a view!!

 

What a glorious day for a helicopter tour... brilliant blue sky, no wind and +16C temps on the way to +26C today.   We met our personal pilot Alfie who does a lot of movie work including aerial shots for all of the Lord of the Rings movies.

One of the highlights of our travels anywhere, landing on top of a glacier on a spectacular calm and sunny day.

After 10 minutes on the glacier, we lifted off and headed towards Milford Sound.

And our final stop, this time for a gourmet lunch that our pilot Alfie unwrapped for us.

And then the final leg, 15 minutes or so back to Queenstown.

 

What an amazing helicopter tour.

From the helicopter tour, we headed into Queenstown and Skyline Queenstown, the gondola ride to the top of Bob's Peak, with a great view of the city, Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains. 

 

Back to Azur to rest up before drinks and pupus at the Lodge.

Before heading out to dinner at the best restaurant of the trip, Fishbone.

The best fish and chips. Period.

What a delicious meal with more amazing Otago wines.   After a great night's sleep, another great in villa breakfast. 

Before heading out on possibly the worst tour ever with the most annoying guide ever.   I have no interest in The Lord of the Rings but the girls decided they wanted to do it.  Ugh.  Let's drive to a couple of locaton where the sets were but are no longer there because they removed and the land restored to its original state.  LOL.  

Our driver/guide Sally.  The most annoying guide ever.   Someone told her to never had more than 5 seconds of dead air and the speak very loudly so even the back row can here.  I made the mistake of sitting in the front for the first leg before retreating to the far back row and opening the window to drown out her voice.  Yikes.

This is where the hobbit homes were before they were removed and the land restored.  Seriously???  We paid money for this?

We bagged the last couple of stops and told Sally to just drop us off back in town.   Where we decided to try the steamer cruise.  

But first, let's explore the waterfront and get lunch.

Lunch at Madam Woo which had been recommended by one of the Lodge staff.  Website says "Madam Woo takes inspiration from traditional Malaysian Hawker food and serves up big, fresh flavours in a vibrant, fun and modern setting."  Meh, not so much. 

Back to the pier.

Who needs a room when you have a park?

And the TSS Earnslaw, now over 100 years old.  

Dinner that evening at pier-side seafood resto Finz.  Good but not like Fishbone.

One final breakfast with a view before we head for the airport.