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Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the desert

Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the desert
via Eithad First Class
February 2017
Mrs. SFO777 and I are off this afternoon for a long weekend in the UAE.  We've kicked the pre-devaluation AA award can down the road just about as far as we could, and are using the last of our old pre-devaluation 90K mile AA awards.  Excited to dine at Jean-Georges at the Four Seasons and then two nights in the desert at Al Maha.
 
Despite a schedule change and ticket rewrite after the cutoff date, our Etihad chauffeur booking was honored today as I got a call from Empire CLS confirming an 11:50am pick-up.  With no traffic on the 405, our excellent driver dropped us off at TBIT just after 1pm.
 

Pleasant First Class check in agent came out from the behind the counter to greet us and escort us back to her counter.

Aw shucks.

And the same old annoying TBIT security where despite TSA PRECHECK on our boarding passes, there is no dedicated PreCheck lane and we had to wait behind dozens of kettles.   I still think that the refundable AA ticket and T4 PreCheck is the best way to bypass this nonsense.

OK, not sure what this is all about unless these states are issuing IDs to illegals.  Then why isn't California on the list??

The Etihad Lounge is upstairs on Level 6, to the right of the Star Alliance Lounges.

The lounge has a few nice features, but overall was pretty disappointing.  Also considerably smaller than the gorgeous Dulles lounge.  

Although the lounge is advertised as a First and Business Class lounge, there is really nothing First Class about it.  And the serve yourself food is dreadful.

There is menu offering made to order dishes, but the old recyled and soiled menu is a major turn off.

Looks like this sucker had been crumpled up and then run over a few times.

The menu was still the original summer menu from last summer when it opened.  It's February and it features summer pea soup and summer greens. Come to think of it, both of our menus looked like they'd been in use since last summer as well.  LOL.

As bad as the food was, the bar was even sorrier.   They had no champagne and no white wine and according to the bartender, haven't had any for "a few days".  They also no longer served specialty cocktails that they offered after they first opened.   OMG, what have I done?  Is this an omen of our upcoming flight?

Then there was this room just behind the check in desk, apparently for VIPs and royalty.

Next up:  Nearly 16 hours of Etihad mostly First Class.

 

At around T-60, we headed downstairs to buy a book and an iphone accessory and then off to the end of the South Concourse and Gate 157.

Los Angeles-Abu Dhabi
Etihad 170
777-200 (77L)
3:50p-7:50p +1
February 14, 2017
Departed 8/8
Suites 2D and 2G
 

With a couple of stops along the way, boarding had already commenced.

Nice to see 1L reserved only for First Class.

 

A happy Mrs. SFO777

Chef Niki taking dinners orders.

Today's menu...

And wine list, with some nice selections...

Etihad's IFE is pretty good, although not in the same league as EK and SQ.  On the other hand, Wifi worked reasonably well probably because they charge passengers ($21.95 for the entire flight) unike Emirates which offers it essentially free, rendering it useless for everyone.

Nice looking amenity kit, at least on the outside...

But on the inside, a hodge-podge of meh...

After take-off, we both opted for the lovely Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé.

We had requested that we wait a couple of hours after take off to eat.  As it turned out, everyone waited as the first 2 hours featured some pretty severe turbulence... at times bad enough for the captain to ask the crew to suspend service and take their seats.   Nearly 3 hours after take-off, showtime.

The 2013 Bouchard Mersault Les Clous is spectacular.

Tonight's delicious amuse-bouche.

Mrs. SFO777 enjoyed her chicken and fries.

The Butternut Squash soup was very good.

And another bout of turbulence.  Can you tell??

I went with the Lamb Biryani.

... which was delicious.

Apple Cinnamon Frangipane.

After dinner and another movie, I popped an Ambien and slept like a baby for 6 hours.

Another 90 minutes to landing.

We arrived on time but not at a real gate, banished to a remote stand.  Really?  Ugh,

Yeah, that's really First Class.  Come one Etihad.  Jeez.

Yeah, that's great design.  Gate lice clog the route to Customs.

We headed to the Chauffuer dispatch desk...

... and after a long and winding path, the exit to the Chauffeur queue.

We arrived at The Four Seasons just before 10pm, about 70 minutes after we departed Abu Dhabi International.  Only about 2 years old, the hotel is what you would expect from a Four Seasons... elegant, luxurious and a wonderful service-oriented staff.  Our lovely room 318, overlooking the courtyard and pool and with a partial Sea view.

We settled in and then headed downstairs for a late dinner at Jean-Georges' JG Kitchen.

Mrs. SFO777 started with the Tuna Tartare, Avocado and Radish, Ginger Marinade and Chili Oil

While I had my usual Jean-George Crispy Calamari with Yuzu Emulsion, Pickled Chilies.  Spectacular.

For our main, Mrs. SFO777 enjoyed the Grilled Salmon with habanero-lime sauce, with Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Thyme.

My Veal Milanese with escarole and lemon was amazing.

And for dessert, OMG.  The Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sundae with Candied Peanuts and Popcorn, was to die for.

What a wonderful dinner!  And the usual window shopping on the way back to our room.

Next morning, time for a proper introduction to the Four Seasons Dubai at Jumeirah Beach.

And the view from our terrace.

We'd never been to Burj Khalifa so decided that this was the trip and today was the day, despite the overcast skies.   

After I discussed the options with our Concierge and his confirming a 3pm pickup for our private helicopter tour, we decided to combine lunch and sightseeing and do the lunch or "Afternoon Tea" at At.mospere on the 123rd or rather 122nd floor.  Major gaffe this morning as I told our taxi driver Burj Khalifa instead of the Armani Hotel which left us a mile away at the far side of the Dubai Mall.  I then compounded the problem by not uing the Dubai Mall entrance and thinking we could just walk across the plaza.

Twenty minutes later we finally made progress.

Talk about security.  No fewer than 3 people stopped us to make sure we had a reservation.

Then down elevator to At.mosphere check in...

... and then another elevator for the less than 60 second ride up 123 floors.

Whoa.  OK, this is pretty cool.

To the Lounge side of the 122nd floor and At.mosphere Lounge.

Quite elegant.

And with astonishing views.

Our starter and champagne were excellent.

But it was downhill from there starting with spotty service and a downright dreadful menu.  

Luxurious??  LOL.

The finger sandwiches were largely inedible.

And the chicken not much better.  

With the place now full, service went from slow to terrible.    We'd had enough and asked for the bill before dessert as we had to get back to the Four Seasons for our 3pm helicopter shuttle pickup.

While the meal was terrible, the view was spectacular and it was a relatively painless alternative to see the view  from (near) the top of the Burj,   And the champagne was excellent.

 

Fortunately there was an available taxi as we exited the lobby of the Armani Hotel at the base of Burj Khalifa, as we made the slow trek back to The Four Seasons.  Amazing amount of construction as Dubai preps for Expo 2020.  But they need a plan to deal already ridiculous traffic. 

Our Dubai Helicopter shuttle driver was waiting for us as we arrived at The Four Seasons and 30 minutes later, we were at their heliport adjacent to Atlantis The Palm

Our amiable pilot Robby as we settled in for our 30 minutes sightseeing tour.

Burj Al Arab.

Then over to The World, a man made archipelago of 300 islands formed in a shape to represent the world.   Many wealthy investors purchased "countries" but few have built, with the 2008 financial crisis and logistics the main problem.  An great article in Business Insider for those interested... http://www.businessinsider.com/dubai-the-world-islands-are-slowly-coming...

One of the few residences built, this one owned by retired F1 driver Michael Schumacher.

The Four Seasons Dubai at Jumeirah Beach.

 

The retired QE2 now in Dubai for nearly 10 years was supposed to be renovated, but sits with an unknown future. 

The Four Seasons again.

And more construction... the new Bulgari Hotel and Residences complex at Jumeirah Beach, reportedly to offer be Dubai's most expensive hotel.  

Back at the hotel, we rested for a bit and then headed downstairs for dinner at Peruvian restaurant Coya.  OMG, everything about this place was spectacular, amazing food, outstanding and personal service.  But the most impressive part was the 7 gorgeous blonde leggy women that greeted as we entered.  I told Mrs. SFO777 that it looked like a casting call for the newest Fox News anchorette.  She opined and I quote "they were lined up like call girls where you get to take your pick"   

Our quinoa salad starter.  Ensalada de Quinua, coriander, mint, pomegrante.  Delicious.

Marinated skewers fired on charcoal grill...  Chicken, aji amarillo, garlic.  Wow.

Tiger prawns, aji panca, chives.

Both main were simply out of this world.  Arroz Nikkei.  Chilean sea bass, rice, lime, chilli.  

Incredible.

Solomillo de Res.  Spicy beef fillet, crispy, shallots, garlic.    

We finished with the Sundae de Maíz.  Corn sundae, sweet corn ice cream, popcorn.  Crazy good.

What an amazing meal with terrific service from the entire staff but especially from Floor Supervisor Vladimir, who recommended most of our dishes, and convinced us to visit his home country of Serbia.

 

We woke this morning to what appeared be very hazy skies but turned out to be sand, or as my iphone weather app noted "Dust".   We met our driver in the Four Seasons lobby and headed out for the 90 minute drive to Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa inside the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.   This was cool as we'd never experienced or been in a sand storm.

Is really seemed pretty much like blowing snow in colder climates.

Can you say blizzard?

More cool blowing sand.

The trees offered a bit of a wind break as we arrived at resort.

The resort lobby.

Rather than head to our suite right away, we decided to have lunch, starting with gazpacho.

My butter chicken was really good.

After lunch, off to settle into our Bedouin Suite #10.

Outside, the aftermath of the sand storm.

Our own sandy beach pool.

Relaxed and then called for a buggy to drive us to the resort's Al Diwaan Restaurant for dinner.

Service at the hotel in the restaurant is extraordinary, with simply wonderful and charming service-oriented staff from a mix of countries but primarily India and Kenya.

My umm ali was absolutely delicious.

Mrs. SFO777 couldn't decide on which chocolate dessert to order, so our waiter brought her both.  LOL.

After dinner, a buggy was walting to drive us back to our suite. 

Today was much calmer as the winds and sand storm had subsided.  While Mrs. SFO777 relaxed in our suite, I headed up to the main lodge for 4x4 sand dune experience with our Al Maha guide Brett.  Nice early morning spread of coffee, juices, pastries and more.

And we're off from the lodge across the desert...

Past the gates of the old entrance to Al Maha.

Thru the gates to the sand preserve area.

Amazing scenery where the sand storm had rearranged the landscape with new dunes and covered tire tracks from previous days.  Kind of like fresh powder snow at a ski resort.

And more scenery.  I have absolutely no idea how she wandered into the pic.  

And on our drive back, a family of oryx.

Back at the resort, I retreived Mrs. SFO777 and we headed back up for breakfast.

My eggs benedict were delicious.

With clearer skies and a beautiful suite, we decided to stay in today and read, relax and catch up on jet lagged sleep.

Maintenance cleaned our pool vaccuming up all the sand that had blow in over the last day or so.

We ordered from in room dining and enjoyed lunch outside.

My lamb kofta was very good.

The chocolate fondant decadent.

At around 5pm we head up to the lodge for our camel ride.

The ride launch point was just beyond the spa building, a 5 minute walk from the lodge.

OK, this is pretty cool.

Mrs. SFO777 last rode a camel as 6 year old when she lived in Morocco while her dad served in the U.S. Air Force. 

Twenty-five minutes later we arrived at the reception area where champagne was served by the Al Maha staff.

After a pleasant stop and glass of champagne, we headed back to the resort.  What a cool experience.

Back at the lodge, time for a drink on the terrace overlooking the desert.

Later that evening we headed back to Al Diwaan and dinner.

I got up very early the next morning and head up to the lodge and our Falconry session.  Not quite as interactive as at Ashford Castle, but enjoyable nonetheless.   Al Maha guide Brett.

Doing tricks for food.  LOL.

Back to our suite to pack and get ready to leave for Abu Dhabi.

After breakfast of waffles and turkey bacon...

... we met our driver for the 2 hour drive to Abu Dhabi.

... and the gorgeous Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Hotel.

 

Our room with a view, #5108.

After we settled in, we headed out for a late lunch/early dinner.

In the distance, the impressive new UAE Presidential Palace.

 For lunch, Mrs. SFO777 chose Ray's Grill, the hotel's 63rd floor steakhouse.  Impressive modern decor with more impressive views.  Not a lot of other diners here at 2:30pm.

Our salad was delicious.

But the star of the meal and the week was the incredible shaved fois gras and lychee.  

SImply out of this world.

We split the Chateaubriand.  It was very good although not really the center cut.

We had talked about visiting the iconic Sheik Zayed Mosque but once Mrs. SFO777 discovered the in hotel shopping center, the mosque was tabled for next time.

Jumeirah's pool and beach.

By this time, it was 5pm and Happy Hour.  So we headed back upstair to the 62nd floor and Ray's Bar.

And then back to our room to relax and turn in early before our 5:30am pickup tomorrow morning.

Our Jumeirah driver was waiting for us when we arrived in the lobby just before 5:30am.  About 30 minutes later, we were at the airport.

Terminal 3 First Class entrance.

And Etihad First Class check-in...

Just inside security was the entrance to the First Class Lounge.

The lounge is very nice but I'm not sure why Etihad felt compelled to close it for 2 years and renovate.  The old FIrst Class Lounge seemed perfectly fine to me and not that different.

Since we had a really early dinner yesterday, we were both pretty hungry.

Excellent service as our glasses were consistently refilled and breakfast was served within 10 minutes of ordering.

My Eggs Florentine were delicious.

After breakfast, while Mrs. SFO777 relaxed, I explored the rest of the lounge including the new Cigar Lounge.

To someone with an Eithad First Class ticket and Global Entry, one of stupidest things that Etihad suits have ever done it to opt for and pay for a U.S. Preclearance facility at AUH.  This means one has to leave the comfort and trappings of the First Class Lounge at least 90 minutes before departure to schlep to the far end of the terminal, stand in line with the kettles, endure another security and then customs with its two, count 'em only two Global Entry kiosks... both of which were not working today.  Yeah, really smart.

The last time we were here a couple of years ago, we had to wait at the gate for 45 minutes.  At least there is now a "premium lounge" for Business and First Class passengers, although it's small, ugly and crowded, and not much better than just sitting at the gate.  

Indeed, it was so depressing that we decided to go to the gate before the flight was called if for nothing more than a change of scenery.