This was the third in a series of circumnavigations to kick off the year – following an eastbound one in January and a westbound one in February – and definitely ranks up there among the most luxury-laden trips I’ve taken thus far.
As many of you know by now, it was all done for a very special purpose, but let’s start at the very beginning with…
A Day in Brooklyn
Over the years, a fair chunk of my international trips have involved spending a day or two in New York before departing on the next leg, and after so many trips to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, Jessy and I decided to spend a day in Brooklyn this time around.
While the US$305 room rate was by no means cheap, we made full use of the US$100 food and beverage credit with some ccocktails up at Westlight, the hotel’s top-floor restaurant with sweeping views of Manhattan, as well as the complimentary breakfast the following morning.
We spent the day enjoying a long walk through Brooklyn, before briefly heading into Manhattan to hit up one of my favourite noodle joints and scour the Targets for hand sanitizer.
Then, it was back to our hotel to pick up our bags, and onwards to JFK for some dining.
American Airlines Flagship First Dining: An Excellent Concept
Why dining? Well, passengers departing JFK on Cathay Pacific First Class enjoy access to the American Airlines Flagship First Lounge, and in particular Flagship First Dining, a private dining room within the lounge.
Jessy and I sat down for some à la carte appetizers, entrées, and dessert, all served alongside an impressive drink selection that even included Krug Grande Cuvée champagne.
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Altogether it was a very well-executed pre-flight dining experience, especially for an airline that doesn’t always have the best reputation. I’d rank it a step higher than the sit-down dining options in the United Polaris Lounges, since Flagship First Dining is geared towards First Class travellers, rather than business class, after all.
Cathay Pacific First Class: Still Got It!
I was dazzled and delighted by my maiden flight in Cathay Pacific First Class, but my second flight with them – the outbound segment of the Cathay First mistake fares – had left quite a bit to be desired.
I therefore went into this flight – the return segment of said mistake fare – feeling very curious as to how the product was holding up, especially since Cathay had recently refreshed the soft product on First Class, introducing brand-new decor, service flows, pajamas, and amenity kits.
Well, I’m happy to report that this flight marked a return to Cathay First’s normally scheduled programming: the new soft product scored very high marks in my books, with the little touches, like sparkling jasmine tea before takeoff or a small bottle of botanic pillow mist being left on your bedsheets before bedtime, showing off Cathay’s incredible attention to detail.
Meanwhile, after a poor showing last time out, the service on this flight was flawless, and I was especially impressed by how well the flight attendants served up the meal for myself and Jessy as we broke bread together.
I’ve gotta say, there are many airlines that allow you to dine face-to-face with a companion in First Class, but I’ll always associate it with Cathay Pacific in my mind – it’s just one of those quintessential parts of the Cathay First experience that never gets old.
A Long Travel Day En Route to the Maldives
After landing in Hong Kong (and having our temperatures checked repeatedly by those thermometer guns), Jessy and I still had a very long day ahead of us.
First was the matter of hitting up the indulgent “cabanas” – the private shower rooms, complete with a bathtub and a daybed – of Cathay Pacific’s The Wing First Class Lounge.
Next was the matter of making a daring escape from the lounge, since our Cathay Pacific tickets were actually booked to Hanoi, and the airline staff were calling our names for boarding even though we intended to pull a hidden-city trick here.
Our actual subsequent flight would be on Singapore Airlines, so we took refuge in the Singapore KrisFlyer Lounge, before lounge-hopping our way across to the Plaza Premium, Thai Royal Orchid, and Amex Centurion Lounges. Lounge-hopping definitely helps the time go by, especially when you’re sitting in a coronavirus-stricken Hong Kong International Airport that was empty like I had never seen it before.
Soon, it was time to catch Singapore Airlines business class to Singapore and then onwards to Malé. Jet lag had set in by this point in the day, and we dozed off for most of these flights in-between a few Book the Cook-inspired meals.
JW Marriott Maldives: WOW!
Following a late-night arrival in Malé, we stayed the night at the Hulhule Island Hotel on the main island before catching our seaplane to the JW Marriott Maldives bright and early the next day.
I’ll keep this part of the Impressions brief, because there’s so much to cover that I couldn’t possibly do it justice in one little section of this post. As I’ve done a couple of times before, I’ll be skipping the usual chronological order to publish the full review of this place as soon as possible, and you can expect it sometime next week.
For now, I’ll mention that we stayed in a gorgeous Sunset Overwater Villa for the first three nights, before being upgraded to the Duplex Overwater Villa for the remaining two. Both rooms, of course, featured a private deck with a pool and direct access to the ocean below, which was nothing less than a dream come true as someone who’s had the overwater villas at the top of my bucket list since I was a young boy.
With the vast Indian Ocean simply existing in all its splendour right in front of our balcony doors, neither of us really believed what we were seeing before our eyes the whole time. I can totally see why people bear the costs of splurging on a trip to the Maldives, and why they keep going back as well – and with the W, St. Regis, and Waldorf Astoria still unexplored, I dare say this visit won’t be my last.
Of course, even if we do patronize all those resorts in the future, the JW Marriott will always be a special place in our hearts, because Jessy and I got engaged under the pink Maldivian sunset after a beachside dinner.
Honestly, I’m pretty happy with how the entire thing went down, and I must say a heartfelt thank-you to all of the resort’s staff – and especially our butler, Sajja – for making our stay an absolutely perfect one.
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Etihad Airways First Class: WOW, Again!
The fiancée and I were feeling pretty depressed on our sixth day at the resort, knowing that we’d have to leave soon. The one silver lining? Etihad Airways First Class still awaited.
First up was the Etihad Airways 787 from Malé to Abu Dhabi, which was quite a nice treat, as there aren’t many airlines out there that would opt to include a First Class cabin on the rather space-limited Dreamliner.
We had the whole cabin to ourselves, and the four hours passed by all too quickly as we mulled over wedding ideas for the first time over another face-to-face dinner in the sky.
In Abu Dhabi, it was straight to the Etihad Airways First Class Lounge for our three-hour stay, where there was a gorgeous bar, yet more sit-down dining, and – get this – a gym in the lounge! If only I had more time to go for a proper workout, because lord knows I needed one after all the food I consumed on this trip.
Instead, Jessy and I polished off a few more glasses of Charles Heidsieck rosé at the bar, and headed off to board the star attraction of this itinerary: the Etihad Airways A380 First Class Apartments, bound for London.
My oh my, this is an unbelievable First Class product, and no amount of gawking at reviews and pictures beforehand could’ve prepared me for seeing the Apartments in the flesh.
The sheer amount of space available to each passenger is simply obscene, with a separate chair and bench available for your enjoyment, the latter converting into a lie-flat bed when it’s time to sleep.
What’s more, when you’re travelling as a couple, a portion of the wall between two adjacent seats can be brought down entirely, leaving you to sleep side-by-side in a pseudo-double bed in the sky!
Even though I’ll forever cherish my flights on Emirates First Class (both new and old) last year, I must say that the Etihad Apartments takes the luxury to a whole new level when you’re travelling as a couple.
I was also blown away by the quality of the food on Etihad First, which I thought was clearly a cut above its Emirati rival – and Jessy was very much in agreement as she dined in the seat opposite me for the third time on this trip.
The one complaint? An eight-hour redeye flight to London, with a departure time of 2:50am, was by no means the ideal way to experience the Etihad Apartments, and even though I still made every effort to enjoy the onboard shower and lounge, I was so groggy the entire time that my memories are definitely a little hazy.
A repeat journey on the Apartments, on a schedule that’s more in line with my circadian rhythms, is definitely on the cards sometime soon.
Air Canada Business Class: A Nice & Reliable Journey Home
Up next, another few hours of lounge-hopping, this time in the Queen’s Terminal at London Heathrow among the multi-faceted ground offerings by Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, United, and Air Canada.
Our national carrier would be bringing me back home, and I must say, having flown Air Canada business class a few times now, I like to think of it as the “Mr. Reliable” of premium cabins.
There’s something nice about knowing exactly what the dinner and drink menu will look like, and being in tune with all of the flight attendants’ quirky humour and Canadian warmth, even if the overall product doesn’t reach quite the same luxurious heights as, say, the Etihad flight I had just disembarked from.
This particular flight from London to Toronto was made even more enjoyable by the fact that the onboard service manager was a dedicated reader of mine, and regaled me with a few extra Want Les Essentiels amenity kits having read from my earlier reviews that I find the glass cloths inside the kits really useful. Thanks again, Louis-Philippe!
Cathay Pacific First Class, the Maldives, the Etihad Apartments, and a ring on my lady’s finger – I really couldn’t have hoped for this trip to turn out any better than it did. I look forward to sharing the review from a very special stay at the JW Marriott Maldives very soon, followed by the other installments over the coming months.
Looking back, I’m just grateful that we got to go on this trip before the global pandemic really took hold, although as Jessy and I agreed in the midst of our post-trip withdrawal, it wouldn’t be too bad to be self-isolating back in the Maldives either. 😉