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Thanksgiving in Maldives

Thanksgiving in Maldives
via Etihad & Malaysia A380 First Class
December 2013
I love turkey but Mrs. SFO hates turkey, mostly because it takes two days of prep and work, all for a 15 minutes speed meal. So this year we compromised. I agreed to no turkey and she agreed to go on her first Mileage Run. Yes, we all have our price.
 
I had originally thought about New Years in the Maldives but nixed that idea when it became apparent that most high end resorts double or triple prices and require a 14 day minimum. Seriously? I love the ocean and the beach but 14 days?? We'd go stark-raving crazy. Not going to happen. But four nights for the price of three with free transfers, breakfasts and dinners? Sign me up.  Lots of exciting firsts this trip... three news airlines including Etihad, SriLankan and Malaysia, and back-to-back A380s on Malaysia and BA.
 
-United Airlines "First Class" DEN-IAD
-Etihad First and Business Class Lounge at IAD
-Etihad First
-Etihad First Class Washington to Abu Dhabi 
-Etihad First Class Lounge at AUH
-Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort and Spa
-Etihad Business Class Abu Dhabi to Malé
-Private Boat Transfer from Malé to Reethi Rah 
-One&Only Reethi Rah
-Private Boat Transfer from Reethi Rah to Malé
-Priority Lounge at MLE
-SriLankan Business Class Malé to Colombo 
-Colombo International Airport and the CMB Transit Hotel
-SriLankan Serendib Lounge at CMB
-SriLankan Business Class Colombo to Kuala Lumpur
-Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA)
-Malaysia Airlines Temporary Lounge at KUL
-Cathay Pacific First and Business Class Lounge at KUL
-Malaysia AIrlines A380 FIrst Class Kuala Lumpur to London 
-Corinthia Hotel London
-British Airways Concorde Room at LHR
-British Airways A380 First Class LHR-LAX... Not
-British Airways Galleries B Lounge
-British Airways A380 First Class LHR-LAX
-United Airlines First Class LAX-DEN
 
We arrived at DIA at T-70 and were thru PreCheck in less than a minute as we were the only pax using PreCheck. The train system had apparently already started the Thanksgiving holiday as we sat pack to the gills for 5 minutes before it departed. With a United lunch fight ahead, we headed at Elway's for something edible.
 
 
 
 
Despite my warnings, Mrs. SFO had a protein shake at home and wasn't hungry. I warned you sweetie. Yes, this was much better than United's pathetic shrimp salad/chipotle wrap options.
 
 
But first up, the only negative about Denver, a positioning flight with North America's worst airline... using 25K LifeMiles.
 
United 1504
DEN-IAD
737-900
11:32A-4:40P
November 26, 2013
Seats 3AB

Not a lot of leg room in F on this sucker. The Y exit row has more room.

Friendly crew, PD water. And naturally the $misek ego trip video.

After take-off, my first G&T of the day.

Surprise, surprise, choice of shrimp salad or chipotle wrap. Does this ever change. I passed but Mrs. SFO was "hungry" and chose the shrimp salad.

A far cry from my AA shrimp salad last week, on a 2 hour DEN-LAX RJ Eagle

Chocolate chip cookie was good despite the "classy" UA presentation.

Yo Jeff, here's how they should be served.

Despite the miserable rainy weather today, we arrive only 10 minutes late at the C concourse. Long unattractive walk to the train.

It's Washington, so why am I not surprised that the first stop after C was A.

Another long walk from the train and we are in the A concourse.

And the elegant Etihad Lounge

EY contracts out the lounge to Saudia for their earlier flight and we arrived at around 5:15PM, just before boarding commenced. Nevertheless, we were warmly greeted by a lovely EY agent, who took our passports and returned them a half hour later with our boarding passes.  Very attractive and elegant two level lounge. Only the downstairs was open today as tonight's load was very light.

A nice selection of serve yourself food.

Tasty hummus.

Bathroom area.

At around T-3, one of the lounge attendants presented us with tonight's pre-flight menu.

Four hours to dinner, this looks too good to pass up.

The Thai red curry with shrimp was sensational!

Next up:
Etihad First Class IAD-AUH

Etihad 130
Washington Dulles (IAD) to Abu Dhabi (AUH)
A340-600
9:30P-7:45P +1
November 26, 2013
Suites 2DG and Suites 2AK and any other Suites we wanted

Our Private Charter to Abu Dhabi!

Another great AAdvantage partner is Etihad. IAD-AUH-MLE was 90,000 miles per person one way, booked with an EXP agent. Availability is much better than EK, as EY and AA don't play games with award seats like EK/AS. Any time I've checked, there was amazing F availability from both JFK and IAD (ORD is only a 2 class).

Ever since I booked this flight some six months ago, we were the only 2 pax in First and indeed Mrs. SFO and I were the only ones in First Class tonight. Boarding was painless and direct from the lounge to the jet bridge and 1L.

We were warmly welcomed by one of our two First Class FAs Lenka (from the Czech Republic) and Personal Chef CiCi (from Bali).
Beautiful cabin with soothing colors and a lot less bling than Bling Air.

Mrs. SFO and I agreed that the EY suite feels more spacious than the EK suite... "less crap" as she noted... the lamp, the snack basket, the mattress rolled up beside the seat, etc... LOL. I do agree with others that this is a pretty useless feature of the suite. Why drink a warm water when something cold is a call button away.

Suites D and G when the divider is up.

And our pre-departure champagne, Jacquart. Another "we can't break out the good stuff on the ground due to regulations" sob story.

Not quite the personalized note like CX but a nice touch nonetheless.

The EY amenity kit, with the most impressive part being the bags especially the Swarovski studded one, a keeper in Mrs. SFO's book.

The biggest disappointment was the terrible IFE system. This was Mrs. SFO's biggest complaint, especially three weeks after SQ, which she now rates the best for quality and variety. Other than the logo and the index/list of movies, poor "one step above black and white" video quality. And the selection of movies was pretty weak. The poor entertainment guide apparently an afterthought. And old analog type controller.

The best I could find that I hadn't already seen. Having lived in Canada during the 1972 Super Series it was very interesting, although Russian film-making is just a tad behind the times.

The good news is that they have noise canceling headsets.

The bad news is that someone decided to save money and not buy Bose. I passed and just plugged in my Bose NCH.

Touch screen seat controls would have been better with more flexible controls.

Both our menus and beverage/wine lists were in our suites, we were able to review our choices before push.

Nice selection of liquor including SFOJr's and many others' favorite, Johnny Walker Blue.

Other than the champagne (2000 Billecart-Salmon and Henriot Brut Rosé), the wine list was the most disappointing list and worst selection of cheap swill of all the major international carriers I've flown in years.

On the other hand, one of the best menus I've seen in a while, even without caviar.  Amazing to think that they had to cater all of this for just the two of us. Even Short hair Francis would have trouble cleaning out the galley tonight.

Shortly after take-off, the good stuff. The first of many glasses of the Billecart.

Showtime!

Mrs. SFO started with the Pea and Mint soup which she said was delicious.

I went for the excellent Mezzes.

Raspberry sorbet palate cleanser. Nice presentation with a little dry ice.

Mrs. SFO had the grilled (Scottish) salmon which she loved.

My Lamb ghouzi was very good, the fried rice amazing.

With each course, a new set of wrapped silverware.

Billecart si, Tempranillo no.

My first dessert of the night, was a fabulous dessert taster.

Time to finish the movie.

And move over to 2K to sleep, Mrs. SFO moving to 2A.

After 4-5 hours sleep, I moved back to 2G and downloaded and edited pics.  While EY does have Wifi on some planes, tonight's A346 was not one of them

But first a stop in the only good sized lav up front. We had trouble accessing it later when a couple of J pax decided to sneak up. Can't imagine how this would possibly be adequate with a full F cabin.

With Mrs. SFO still fast asleep, great crew kept checking on me offering food and drink. OK, let's have some tea and another dessert.

The Arabian Mint Tea with honey was wonderful.

And the warm sticky toffee pudding was to die for.

Into the home stretch, we've missed most of Wednesday. But a beautiful sunset.

At around T-75, Mrs. SFO joined me back in the our center suite for breakfast.

I had lusted over the rib-eye earlier and Cici remembered. One of the best steak and eggs I've had. The rib-eye was amazingly flavorful, even though a shade over done.

And Mrs. SFO's omelet with some of my rib-eye.

The last of the sunset over Saudi Arabia.

Blue is my favorite color and this mood lighting on our descent was great!

Our approach over Abu Dhabi.

Overall a great flight with one of the best cabin crews we've experienced.  I love the Etihad menu and the on board chef concept. That we were the only two in the cabin no doubt contributed to our satisfaction. Not sure we'd be quite as happy in a full cabin. Overall, I'd rate it an A- with the IFE, wine list and only one full bathroom holding it back.

It was too dark and stormy at Dulles so we never had a chance to see our cool plane...

Two calls to EY before we left and on both occasions I was told that, Etihad Guest Gold notwithstanding, chauffeur service during our transit was not available and that I would have to call AA to "change the ticket". No idea what that meant or why transfer service for Golds was not available on this ticket. I declined to pursue it figuring we'd just take a taxi. But on the way to the taxi, I figured I'd give it one last shot. Strike three and we head for the taxi line.


 

After a 20 minute 52 AED ride in a beautiful late model Mercedes van, we were at our hotel.

Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort and Spa
Abu Dhabi, UAE

Still needing 3 more nights for my 50 Starwood nights, I booked an inexpensive room at the closest SPG hotel to the airport. Very attractive new facility on the Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Modest Platinum upgrade to a golf course (or more like driving range) view room. All for less than $160 including buffet breakfast which we didn't have.

The view from our room.

And in the morning before we left, a tour of the lower level.

Impressive buffet spread.

Very nice hotel. We would definitely stay here again.

We had pre-arranged a taxi pickup for 7:00A and our taxi was waiting for us. Not quite as relaxed or polished as our driver the night before, this morning's driver was determined to set a new personal speed record both to the airport and between speed bumps. I'm thinking new brakes every 10,000 kms. 12 minutes and 30.25 AED later, we arrived at T3.

Very nice facility with separate F and J check in counters/desks. This and some of the lounge pics courtesy of Short hair Francis who has many more pics of the EY First Class Lounge in his recent excellent TR.


Courtesy SHF

Since we already had our boarding passes, we headed directly for passport control and (what passes for) security here. It is essentally PreCheck for all, nothing out and everything on. Makes you wonder why the farce in US.


Courtesy SHF

Although we were flying J this morning, my "we are connecting from F" was good enough for entrance to the promise land. The Etihad FCL is located just beyond the main lounge entrance. Small but very attractive lounge with direct access to a Six Senses Spa.


Courtesy SHF


Courtesy SHF

Since we passed on the Westin breakfast, we headed to the beautiful dining room.


Courtesy SHF

And a looked at the menu over a glass of Billecart.

Since everything on the menu was available and since we had "breakfast" about 13 hours earlier, we opted for non-breakfast starting with the delicious mushroom soup.

Mrs. SFO had chicken.

While I went with the amazing grilled salmon. Absolutely delicious.

After our leisurely "breakfast" and a pit stop, we headed for Gate 41, which was a lower level bus gate. We arrived just as Business Class boarding had started. And a bus gate first for me at least... a separate uncrowded bus just for premium pax.

Etihad EY 318
Abu Dhabi AUH to Male MLE
Airbus A320
9:30A-2:50P
November 28, 2013
Business Class
Seats 2DF

A short 5 minute drive to the tarmac/apron plane area

And to our A320.

Very pleasant cabin for a short 4 hour regional flight.

Great pre-departure service.

Adequate IFE for regional service including live camera.

The very latest in movies. LOL.

Loved the language choices, especially coming from Montreal. Not just French but Parisian French.

After take-off our wonderful crew of two lovely FAs worked nonstop for the full cabin of 16. OK, I'm impressed. Full salt and pepper shakers to accompany my Bloody Mary.

And in another distinction between a great airline and mediocre NA airlines, a substantial curtain blocking the galley from the main cabin.

Today's menu.

And the wine list. Meh.

Today's meal, starting with the crab.

The red snapper tasted better than it looked.

Time to fill out Maldives arrival form.

Including the forbidden checklist.

Our first glimpse of Maldives.

Male, Maldives

Fortunately, we arrived 10 minutes early and beat the EK flight. And being up front, we were the first to arrive at customs and quickly processed without the need for a visa. A One&Only representative greeted us a soon as we exited customs and handed us off to another O&O rep for the short walk to our boat.

Lot of booths for a variety of tours and transportation.

Outside the terminal.

And across street.

To our waiting yacht.

As we waited for two other couples who were on the same plane, but checked luggage.

And we're off for our 55 minute ride to One&Only.

And another arrival at Male International, SriLankan from Colombo. Amazing they could find enough land for a runway.

To Reethi Rah island and the One&Only.

One&Only Reethi Rah
Reethi Rah, Maldives

After our welcome at the pier, we were checked in at a lovely sitting area and offered a cold drink and towel.

Next our Resort Concierge Paul drive us by buggy to our Beach Villa with Pool.

And our villa.

Since the villas are well separated from each other and most of the facilities, each villa comes with bicycles. Great for burning off calories or just exploring the island. Alternatively, golf cart buggy service is available on demand, and you can also rent your own cart.

Nice try, but no, you are staying outside 


One&Only assigns a villa concierge to each villa to explain resort services and assist with dinner reservations, buggy pick-up, activities and anything else one might need. Our concierge Nazeer was simply wonderful. Our first dinner was at Chef's Garden, a wonderful outdoor restaurant featuring "garden to table" organic food from the island and other producers within Maldives. Our Maldivian Lobster was out of this world.

Day 1
Breakfast
Reethi Restaurant

OMG. Where to begin. The most incredible breakfast buffet spread I have ever seen. Multiple stations featuring Asian, SriLankan, Indian and western cuisine, all in a gorgeous facility and setting.

In the air conditioned room.

And outside.

Tough decisions so I decided to sample a few things this morning. Everything was simply wonderful.

After breakfast, we explored the grounds and the adjacent pool/beach area OK, looks a great place to set up for the day.

Books at the beach? LOL. Everyone has a smartphone. And the resort recognizes this with free Wifi with great coverage everywhere on the island, whether its in your villa, at the pool in the restaurants or on the beach. Not the fastest but more than adequate.

For lunch, we ate at the adjacent Rah Bar and enjoyed an amazing lunch. World tennis #1 Novak Djokovic and his fiancée were two tables over.

After lunch, back to our villa to relax and a little later, I got some exercise with a bicycle tour of island.

Told Mrs. SFO I'd scout out Fanditha (Mediterranean and Middle Eastern) for a possible dinner.

Tapesake where we'll be eating later tonight.

Beach One, we'll be here tomorrow.

Employees' cricket game.

Back to villa for a dip in the pool.

Before heading out to Tapesake, the resort's excellent Japanese tapa-style restaurant.

And the show just below.

Day 2 started with another amazing breakfast at the Reethi Restaurant.

And then over to Beach One, we're in Cabana 107, Novak in Cabana 105 playing kissie face with his fiancée. Mrs. SFO said "don't even think about taking pics". Damn, I could have made some good paparazzi coin today. LOL.

Ah yes, relaxing at the beach.

Ha... $24 for a Margarita.

Lunch at the beach restaurant.

And riding our bikes back to the villa.

Tonight we're back at Tapasake but the special 7 course tasting menu outdoor Teppanyaki.

Tonight we had our own private Teppanyaki chef, Chef Bhim. What a delight to talk to this Nepalese native, who just moved to Maldives after 9 years with Jumeirah in Dubai. Truly fascinating to learn about Nepal and to watch him create a delicious meal.

Amazing calamari salad.

Chilean sea bass.

OK, a couple of sprinkles. Nothing that an umbrella can't handle. The shower only lasted a couple of minutes.

Prawn tempura.

Fried rice.

Maldivian lobster

Absolutely incredible.

Awww.

Uh-oh.

And then the skies opened in a torrential downpour that soaked everything and everyone. Even umbrellas weren't much good.

We ran inside and toweled off sharing the experience with staff and other guests. The rain passed a few minutes later but we were so wet that we decided to skip the bento box dessert and took a buggy back to the villa. All in all, one of those wonderful memorable evenings.

Day 3 and another great breakfast.

And back to Beach One and Cabana 106 today.

And a great DJ setting up and playing club music for the Sunday brunch at the beach.

For lunch, we headed back to the Rah Bar for another grilled salmon lunch.

Jeez, this guy keeps stalking us. Get a life Novak.

Our last dinner was an wonderful Indian meal back at the Reethi Restaurant.

Time for the long trek home...
4 days was just perfect for us. Our 4th and last morning. One more breakfast and a leisurely morning relaxing in our villa.

Promptly at 1:15P our buggy arrived to take us to the reception, the pier and our 50 minute ride to Male. At 1:30P we departed in a rather utilitarian boat not quite the beautiful air conditioned yacht we arrived in. OK, I get it. And our arrival later at the Male pier reinforced it.

53
54

Now there's a real yacht or two or three!

55

56

The yacht for guests checking in today...

And lots of O&O staff to assist...

57

And the staff waiting departing guests. LOL.

And the requisite Girls of Maldives.  Slim pickings but a little Russian eye candy. :)

Across the street to the terminal.

Easy check in...

...and we headed upstairs thru security and into the departures area.

The Priority Lounge is the only game in town. Comfortable for a short stay.

Plane watching from the lounge.

And our plane. Looks like Ryanair boarding/deplaning

Time to head to the gate.