Oceania Riviera: Miami to somewhere near Cuba: Sunday and Monday 15 and 16 March 2015

25 03 2015

After we’d had some lunch at the Terrace Café (the buffet restaurant), we were allowed into our staterooms some two hours after boarding. And what a stateroom it was!!! A full 424 square feet of space, including a large balcony, and massive walk-in-wardrobe, a living area, and HEAPS of storage space, which only revealed itself as we opened more doors and drawers.



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We departed Miami about 30 minutes later than the scheduled time, I expect because of a lack of tug boats. There was a big container ship coming into port and two tugs were pushing it into its berth. When they’d nearly finished, one of the tugs beetled over to our ship and helped us move out. And we were off by 6:30pm.

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We had dinner reservations for the first night at the Polo Grill (steakhouse). We had opted for shared seating, so we had others at our table. Of the seven meant to be there, only two had turned up on time, so we had our meal with them (Alan and Betsy from Worcester, Mass.). The service and food was impeccable, as I’d been told when this ship was recommended to us.

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After a very comfy night’s sleep (little noise and vibration from the ship and no swell to speak of), we awoke to a free day at sea. Much of it was spent exploring the ship, checking out things, relaxing on the balcony, relaxing on the spa deck, etc. Somewhere in there was a culinary demonstration by two of the head chefs, who introduced all the other head chefs on board. Of the 800 staff on board, 200 are involved in food preparation – 160 chefs (of various levels, descriptions, and specialties), and 40 helpers.

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We had lunch at the Terrace Café and sat out on the deck at the stern of the ship to enjoy it.

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Late in the afternoon, canapes were served in our room by our butler, Jemeesh.

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I did some sketching on the balcony in the balmy late afternoon (we passed several freighters), and watched the sun go down over the ocean.

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Dinner that night was also in the Terrace Café, and it was MUCH quieter than the lunch. Again, the food and service was impeccable.

More photos from these two days:





San Antonio to Miami to the cruise ship

25 03 2015

I flew from San Antonio to DFW, waited awhile in the American Airlines Admirals’ Club in Terminal D (the international terminal), noting how poor these clubs are to what Qantas offers even in their Domestic lounges. The next flight was from DFW to Miami, arriving at 9:30pm. Baggage took an age to come out (and I found out later that TSA had left me yet another ‘love note’ – my third on this trip. Wasn’t that nice of them? They left me one in each bag on the flight from DFW to San Antonio too.) Sue had organised a driver and town car to meet me at baggage claim, so once I had my bags getting to the hotel was a breeze.

Next morning, we had the buffet breakfast in the café at the hotel, and then were taken by another town car and driver to the Port of Miami to join our cruise ship, the Oceania Riviera.

There were already lots of people at check in and it’s a fairly long process to hand over passports, pick up stateroom key cards, etc. The mix of ages in the check in lines ranged from elderly (some on walkers and in wheelchairs) to young (the youngest we’ve seen on board is about 3 years old, with only a few children [this ship doesn’t have ANY activities for children], ranging in age from about 7 to about 15). I would think the average age of the guests was over 60, but not much higher as there were quite a number who appeared to be in their 40s to 50s.

Once we’d finished checking in, we went on board. We couldn’t get into our stateroom for an hour or so, so we wandered the ship, trying to orient ourselves and check out where the various restaurants and other facilities were.

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Qantas First Class – the second (and third) time!

25 03 2015

I was notified about 24 to 48 hours before my flight to Sydney that I’d received my points upgrade request to First Class on the long haul from Sydney to Dallas Fort Worth. Woohoo! I’ve travelled First Class between Australia and the US just once before (last March ), but that notification only came at the gate as I was boarding. This time I knew in advance, so was able to take advantage of the Qantas First Class Lounge–and all it had to offer–at Sydney International Airport.

What an experience that was!

As a First Class passenger, I could check in at any time on the day of departure. The flight left at 3:30pm, but I’d stayed overnight at the hotel at Rydges at the Sydney International Airport terminal (just 50 m from hotel reception to the departures check-in area), so I decided to check in early and take advantage of the First Class Lounge.

The day before, I’d booked a spa appointment (back massage) in the Lounge, so I knew that was going to happen. The rest of the day was mine to enjoy! And enjoy I did.

Check in for First is a whole new level of experience. In addition to extra luggage and very personalised service, you have a private area to fill in any immigration forms etc. as well as express passage through to immigration and security screening. Once airside you have access to the Qantas First Class Lounge.

That’s another level of experience altogether! There are the free spa treatments, restaurant-style meals served by wait staff at proper dining tables and chairs (none of this balancing food and drink on a tiny low table as you have to often do in the Business/Qantas Club lounges), fabulous food, sublimely quiet atmosphere, attentive service, and super comfy chairs. I’m sure there are other things too (like business meeting rooms) but I can only report on the things I tried/experienced.

My back massage was wonderful, the food was fabulous, and the entire experience was memorable.

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Spa treatment room

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Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon

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Steak with chips

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Mini pavlova in a glass, with pashmak!

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Spicy salt and pepper squid

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Heirloom tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella

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Marble bathroom/shower in First Class lounge

Eventually it was time to board the flight to Dallas Fort Worth (that SYD to DFW flight is the longest commercial flight in the world, I believe, at an average of about 16 hours, though head or tail winds can add or subtract about 90 minutes either side of that estimated time).

As I had experienced First Class once before I knew pretty much what to expect—an area of only 14 individual and roomy ‘suites’, with fabulous food, lambswool mattresses, crisp cotton bed linen, plenty of space to store your stuff, etc.

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Only 14 ‘suites’ in the First Class cabin

Despite all these accoutrements, I upheld my usual pattern of not sleeping on the flight. My best effort is very light cat napping. And so it was for this flight. There was NO turbulence at all (a first), which was a bonus, and we landed in Dallas after 14.5 hours flying time.

First Class gets no more or less privileges than anyone else on arrival into the US. However, we are first off the plane and thus to Customs and Border Protection. DFW has the automated kiosks for Visa Waiver countries and they were a breeze to operate. It took me 30 seconds to cross the border into the US!! First and Business Class bags come out on a different baggage carousel, and after collecting my bags, and getting through Customs (also super quick) I was in my hotel at the airport in less than 15 minutes after getting off the plane. That was a record for me!

Update: I got a First Class upgrade on the DFW to SYD flight home too! How lucky is that????

More photos:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rhondamadeit/sets/72157651169904907/ 





A380 compared to a 747

25 03 2015

The ladies at Quilting Adventures who saw the pictures I’d taken at Sydney Airport of an A380 were amazed at its size. Here’s one of those photos (note the size of the truck in the foreground).

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The second photo I took from the SkyLink at DFW Airport, showing an A380 (Qantas) parked next to a Jumbo (747; British Airways livery) to give you some idea of the size of these aircraft.

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Quilting Adventures 2015: Day 5

25 03 2015

Last day at Quilting adventures (QA today). We did a bit more stuff on marking fabrics, this time with oil- and water-based crayons. And then it was time to say goodbye for another year to old friends and new.

I stayed overnight in New Braunfels (Gruene, actually) with Kim and her Mom–the QA organisers. Kim showed me some of the Hill Country around New Braunfels, which I had never seen before despite this being my third trip to the town. What a pretty place! I can see why tourists keep coming back. We also walked some of the old area of Gruene, including the Gruene Hall, where many a famous act has played. Check out the line-up for April:

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More photos:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rhondamadeit/sets/72157651635839385/