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Seat mystery with Thai

I will never forget the travel agent in Vancouver, Canada, who had a small sign on her desk which said: “If you can afford to fly first class and you don’t, your relatives will.”

That advice holds true today, even if many travel agents have been put out of business by the internet.

But many good ones survive, usually because they know the business. Such as the one who advised me when I wanted to fly from Bangkok to Brussels. I knew that Thai Airways had a non-stop service with its Boeing 777, but was concerned about the business class seat.

Was it a flat bed, or the dreaded angle-flat? The airline’s website suggested the former, and I was all set to shuttle to Singapore to take the SQ (Singapore Airlines) flight to Paris, then the train to Brussels.

Then a travel agent told me that on certain flights, maybe twice a week, the aircraft on the route was a Boeing 777-300ER, and that aircraft’s business class was configured with a flat bed, in fact the same bed as the A380. Yet there was no information to this effect on the airline’s website, and when I phoned Thai’s reservation department there was no clarity on the matter.

So it was with some foreboding that we boarded the aircraft, but sure enough, we had two beds that were perfectly flat and comfortable, and a very good night’s sleep was had.

FYI — these flights leave around midnight, so passengers have a choice of dinner beforehand or a meal on the plane. Fact is that Thai’s business class lounge at Bangkok offers plenty of tasty food, and French wine, while you are waiting, although the lounge does get very busy.Image

Singapore Airlines does the business

It’s goodness knows how long since British Airways raised the bar in business class travel with its flat bed. Since then other airlines have redesigned their business class cabins, but some major airlines are still offering angle-flat beds, which slope downwards rather than lie flat.

This means that you spend the night sliding down, usually staying awake in anticipation of a downward motion.

Singapore Airlines has not made that mistake. For some time now it has offered a proper business class bed, and its product on the A380 is as good as it gets.

I tried it out on a flight from Paris to Singapore, a 12-hour haul usually done overnight. Boarding early, I checked out the cabin and noted there was an economy section at the rear, and took the opportunity to try the economy seat. Not bad, I can tell you — plenty of pitch, a foot rest, and a good recline. If push came to shove, I could handle that.

By comparison, however, my business class seat was palatial. It was fully equipped for working or relaxing, with a big screen and endless movies, games and audio programs.

Champagne, sir? I hate to see it go to waste, and from that moment on a smiling, smart flight attendant rarely left my side. The food and wines were excellent, after which I slept well — on a fully flat bed of course — and awoke just in bed for a hand-made breakfast.

The A380 is as quiet as a glider, a magnificent aircraft that delivered me to Singapore right on time. Ten out of ten!Image

Scenic does Amsterdam to Budapest in style

My first river cruise was in France on a barge built in 1926 as a mule-drawn freight vessel but transformed 40 years ago into a peniche, or hotel boat, with 10 bedrooms, one bath, two showers and two toilets. The captain was an engaging young Englishman who was also barman and tour guide. His girlfriend was the waitress and made the beds, while the chef doubled as the boatman which allowed him opportunities to pick up escargots strolling on shore.

As for the entertainment, it was “more wine, mon ami” although one captain, who was later to become a professor of botany, liked getting everybody up for the hokey-cokey.

Things have changed.

River cruising in Europe has grown into the hottest thing in cruising, itself the fastest-growing part of modern travel, with Read more…

When in Rome — avoid August!

Rome is the gateway city for many travelers on Mediterranean cruises, and while some cruise lines make all the hotel and connection arrangements, some do not. Smart travelers prefer to linger, such as someone from Honolulu, who is unlikely to be in Rome very often.

Last time I was in Rome I paid a king’s ransom for a trendy hotel in a very good area, but it was a small room and the concierge was not helpful.

This time I chose the well-located and moderately-priced Hotel Mediterraneo on Via Cavour, whose grand, marble entry and Art Deco design gave me a lift. So did the spacious room, and the balcony with the kind of view you would expect from the hotel being located on the Esquiline Hill, the highest of Rome’s seven hills.

The Mediterraneo has nice touches such as free slippers and a bed mat which is part of the turn-down. There is a bath and a good shower, and the mini-bar, Read more…

Hapag-Lloyd goes for younger, international market with stunning new Europa2

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, operators of the Europa which has been best ship in the world * for all 13 years it has been afloat, showed off its elegant, and trendy, newbuild in a shakedown cruise that was full of surprises other than the name – Europa2.

The 43,000-tonner, with 516 passengers a little bigger than its renowned sister, is the roomiest vessel afloat in terms of passenger space ratio, and every cabin comes with balconies bigger than competitors.

Its stunning design is light and outward-looking with huge windows, Read more…

Caribbean attacks might bring a sea change to cruising

The dream of a Caribbean cruise is becoming a nightmare to be avoided after two more attacks on tourists. And could it lead to cruises becoming just that, with no ports of call?

In the most recent incident a busload of more than 50 passengers from a Celebrity vessel was robbed on St Lucia. This came shortly after a couple, P & O passengers, were shot and robbed on Barbados, supposedly a relatively safe destination.

And just before these attacks, I had an unpleasant experience on St Thomas. I had been playing golf at Mahogany Run and was returning to my Disney cruise ship.

I asked a taxi driver waiting outside the golf club Read more…

Stars come out for new Douro riverboats

River cruising in Europe is on a roll, mostly on the Rhine and Danube with convoys of large vessels sailing Amsterdam to Budapest and beyond. But there are other routes, such as the River Douro in Portugal, and a charismatic shipowner there has just introduced three beautiful vessels using movie stars Sharon Stone and Andie MacDowell to get worldwide attention.

The Douro, famous for its port wine, flows into the Atlantic Ocean at Porto, about three hours north of Lisbon, and Read more…

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