Sunday, April 23, 2017

Reviews: two Cancun area hotels

Beachscape Kin Ha Villas & Suites 


Located in the hotel zone of Cancún, Mexico, this is an unpleasant hotel with poor service, a generally hostile staff and a massive rip-off operation at its beachfront "restaurant".  From check-in to check out, no attempt was ever made to make us feel welcome after travelling for 24 hours to get here - not even a "thank you for coming" on check-out.  

We were given what was probably the worst room in the hotel, furthest away from the beach and right next to a construction site - not a lot of fun when you have construction workers looking into your room when you open the curtains or sit on the balcony. The Pool restaurant has terrible food and watered down cocktails and a staff attitude of serving rubbish food and drinks to 'Yankee 'tourists and then overcharge them.  Hostile security guards at beach entrance to the hotel made one feel uncomfortable. Stay away from this dump until they learn some manners, and understand what customer service and the word 'hospitality' actually mean. Photos above are of the lovely beach in from of the hotel and from the veranda of the room., facing a brick wall and a construction site.   


Hotel Playa La Media Luna 


An interesting hotel in a nice, peaceful corner of Isla Mujeres in Mexico.  

Even though not on an all-inclusive stay, we were still forced to wear a pathetic little wristband for  four days. We paid for breakfast for the 1st of the 4 days, but were told that it was not included (I have the bookings.com proof).  Our room was not cleaned for three days - a cleaning person came in reluctantly on day 3 after repeated requests, but I told her it was too late and not to bother as we were leaving the next morning. Our family room was on ground floor which was OK, but it meant we could not open the doors at night as we warned not to - too dangerous, is my guess.

There was very limited wifi in the room, and it was only available within a radius of about 12 feet from the router. How difficult can if be to cover the whole hotel with decent wifi, especially as if does not come cheap at US$220 plus taxes per night for a suite - almost every hotel in the world manage to do wifi properly nowadays. 

The biggest disappointment part was that we were not allowed to swim at a beautiful beach in front and to the side of the hotel and were chased out of the water several times by some thuggish-looking life-guard, because he claimed it was 'too dangerous"  - this was absolute nonsense, as it is as safe as a pool and the few rocks in the water were no problem whatsoever.  I cannot really blame the hotel for this but I think prospective guests should know about it. In addition, the derelict structure next to our hotel was manned by leering security staff day and night, making it impossible to lie on the beach without being under 24 hour 'surveylance'. 

In spite of all the negative aspects, the hotel had some charm, largelt due to the fact that it was the exact opposite of the brash and noisy resorts in Cancun and adjacent areas.  

Monday, December 5, 2016

Top 10 airline cabins for first, business and economy class revealed http://dailym.ai/2gFZjvN via @travelmail.

Strange that Air France is not rated in the Premier Economy category, and Lufthansa 8th? AF's premier economy (left) is superior to that of LH (above right) in many ways - better seats, a private cabin and priority check-in counters and fast-track customs access in Paris.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Ethiopian Airlines Business Class

Route: Dubai-Addis Ababa-Cape Town, return
Aircraft: Boeing 777, Boeing 767, Airbus 350
Class: The Business class is called "Cloud Nine". I booked in "P" business class, which cost roughly the same as an economy ticket on Emirates within this booking period and on the same route (Can$1,700). While part of the Star Alliance, you receive no Miles and More on Lufthansa with this class ticket -  you can earn Ethiopian's ShebaMiles, though.

Flight time: 4 hours from Dubai to Addis Ababa and 6 hours to Cape Town.
When: Oct 2016.
The Airline: Ethiopian is Africa's largest airline and fastest-growing airline and has got a fleet of over 30 mostly-modern large Boeing and Airbus aircraft (Boeing767s, 787s and 777s, and the Airbus 350) and many smaller 737-type planes. Many of their pilots appear to be European and South African. The airline clearly is trying to emulate the Emirates model, using Addis Ababa as a transit hub to serve routes across the world, including Europe, Asia and the west coast of North America.

After reading many horror stories about Ethiopian Airlines' flight delays and poor service, I was a bit reluctant to book on Ethiopian, but the amazingly cheap fare convinced me to make the slight detour via Addis Ababa.  The flying time between Dubai and Cape Town was a little longer than the direct flight on Emirates, as there was a stopover of two and four hours respectively in Addis Ababa.

The departure at 4 am from Dubai was not without its own problems. The check-in counters only opened three hours before departure, meaning that even business passengers could not check in and go to the lounges - considering that I arrived at the airport at 8 pm, it was a very uncomfortable five hour wait. The line-ups were long and most fellow-passengers were pushing trolleys laden with huge
oversized containers filled with obviously commercial good meant for resale - clearly these weighed probably about 50-100 kg, making me wonder how my plane could ever take off with all that extra weight.

The business lounge in Dubai was jointly shared by Ethiopian and a few other airlines. Even at 2 am the lounge was fully stocked and plentiful hot dishes were just being replaced by hot breakfast items. There also were a great selection of wines and a cold buffet.

The first leg of my trip to Cape Town was on a  newish Boeing 777, with only three other business class passengers. The business class seating layout was 2-2-2, with full flat-beds, large screen monitors and a huge number of movies and TV shows.

Champagne was served before take-off at 4 am and breakfast was served. Each passenger received a well-stocked vanity bag and I eventually collected three a different coloured bags on my four flights - these matched the dominating red colour scheme on the Ethiopian business cabins that I flew in. The flight was as smooth as one could hope for and the arrival in Addis Ababa was uneventful, with a separate bus waiting exclusively for the four of us.

The Bole International airport is a bit of an adventure by itself. Depending on your luck, you could go through the security gates in either an hour or two, or in 10 minutes. On my first visit the security area had three officials, with the one checking the x-ray machine while also getting up from her
station to search items that she decided to flag - the line then came to a complete standstill while she meticulously searched by hand through a bag or a jacket of a less-than-amused 80-year old pensioner. This circus continued for about 90 minutes, without a supervisor in sight. On the second visit three weeks later, I walked through within minutes. There are a few restaurants and shops that only accept local currency and no credit cards.

The second and third flights to and from Cape Town were on a much older Boeing 767 and unfortunately, it looked like a scene frozen from a 1980 movie. The business cabin layout was 2-2-2 and the seats were dilapidated and came with a rudimentary fold-out monitor with about three movies - mine did not work anyway. The food selection was good and I had a taste of the slightly spicy and delicious Ethiopian national dish called "Injera bǝ wot", with other hot entrees and starters such as prawns and salmon. A wide selection of wines included French, South African and a good Ethiopian wine made from honey. The service friendly and attentive, a fact appreciated by myself and the three other passengers in the business cabin.





On my way back from Cape Town, we stopped in Johannesburg, but stayed on board for the hour's stop. A few more passengers got on board, but the cabin was still only about 20% full. The flight to Addis took six hours and on arrival I could access the Cloud Nine Lounge 2, which looked better than the Star Alliance lounge - food was OK, there were computers and newspapers, but the bathrooms need some serious upgrades. 







The last leg from Addis Ababa to Dubai was on an ultra-modern Airbus 350, the world newest passenger plane. Once again the Cloud Nine cabin was about 5% full, the service was truly friendly and food and beverage selection was great.





The A350 has the biggest engines and entertainment monitors that I have ever seen on an  airplane. The seats became fully-flat beds and were easy to extend and retract.


The four-hour flight went smoothly, with stunning views of the Red Sea and the Arabian peninsula, and one almost wished it would last longer.














To conclude: Ethiopian Arline Business Class offered a very good product and was an absolute steal at the fare that I paid for it. It was vastly superior to Emirates economy for the same price and compared very well with Lufthansa's business class which I happened to fly  the following day (thanks to an upgrade). The service and food were great, I could access adequate business lounges, they use mostly-modern aircraft, and the fares were more than competitive fares on this routes and on these dates.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Premier Economy: Air France vs Lufthansa



I traveled on both airlines from Vancouver to Cape Town via Paris and Frankfurt over the past 12 months in premier economy class. The bottom line is that Air France's product is a considerable step-up from the very modest presentation offered by Lufthansa.


First and foremost - Air France makes you feel like an business-class passenger in so many ways, while Lufthansa feels that it must protect its business class from being encroached by premier economy class and they make no pretense about this. Let s start at check-in: Air France offers its premier economy passengers Sky Priority status - that means that such passengers can check in at the business class counters, take the shorter line at airport security, board the plane first, and take the shorter line at passport controls in Paris. Lufthansa offers none of these considerable benefits.

Secondly, the premier economy seat of Air France looks and feels like the old business class seats - its a fixed structure, which means that the passenger in front cannot impede on the personal space of the passenger behind. The seat has a cozy, cocoon-like feel, with its own reading light above the the passenger's shoulder. Lufthansa's seat claims to offer 50% more personal space, but once the seat in front reclines, you are as cramped as in economy class and it is only with great difficulty than you can get out of your seat.

Air France offers it premier economy passengers their own cabin, completely separated from economy class. Lufthansa only has a separate cabin in its Airbus 380 planes, while in its 747s and Airbus 340s, premier economy is stuck between two economy sections and barely divided by a flimsy plastic separation.



The food on both Air France and Lufthansa was basically standard economy fare, served with better cutlery, wine glasses and with a menu. TV screens on both were quite a big bigger that economy class (11 or 12 inches) and in both cases, premier economy passengers can take two bags each weighing 23 kgs. Both offer a travel kit with socks, a tooth brush etc.




Both airlines allow you to enter their business class lounges for a payment of Euro25 to Euro35, but in the case of Lufthansa, this is only allowed in Frankfurt and at U.S. airports where Lufthansa has a base.

Conclusion: while I have no love for Paris and Charles de Gaulle Airport and much  prefer Frankfurt Airport, I would choose AF over LH when it comes to premier economy class, if the prices are the same. As it happened, in 2015 AF was considerably cheaper than LH during the month on which I departed, while the opposite was true during 2016.    

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The World's most liveable cities 2016

The 2016 survey of the 230 top cities in the world in which to live, has just been released. Liveability is based on a combination of political stability, crime, currency exchange, recreational facilities, housing and climate.
Vienna has been billed the world's most liveable city now for seven years, which makes you wonder if the authors are perhaps Austrians based in Vienna.
Vancouver
Vancouver is the only Canadian city among the top 10, but three Canadian cities are among the top 20. There are two Swiss cities, three German cities, Copenhagen and Auckland among the top 10.

Only one Australian city - Sydney at tenth. Singapore at 26th is ranked the highest in Asia, while beautiful, but dangerous Cape Town comes in at 92nd. 
Cape Town
DSC00362
London
img549


UK cities do not fare well: London is  ranked 39th, Edinburgh 46th, Birmingham 53rd and Glasgow 55th.  No U.S. cities made it among the top 20, but  San Francisco came 28th, Boston 34th and Honolulu 35th.

Here is the top 20 cities:
2015-06-23 09.07.36
Vancouver

1. Vienna
2. Zurich
3. Auckland
4. Munich

5. Vancouver
20130416_124705
6. Dusseldorf
7. Frankfurt
8. Geneva
9. Copenhagen
10. Sydney
11. Amsterdam
12. Wellington 
20151011_191905
Berlin
13. Berlin
14. Bern
15. Toronto
15. Melbourne
17. Ottawa
18. Hamburg
19. Luxembourg
20. Stockholm (actually joined 19th)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The 50 most dangerous cities in the world



According to a study by Mexico's Citizens' Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, Caracas is first among the 50 most dangerous cities in the world, with a murder rate of 120 per 100,000 people. The study looked at murder rates worldwide and 21 are in Brazil. Apart from several U.S. cities such as Detroit, St Louis and New Orleans, most others are in Central America, especially Venezuela. South Africa  also features prominently, with Cape Town at 9th place, Durban 41st, the former Port Elizabeth 42nd and Johannesburg 47th. All numbers below are murders per 100,000 population.

1. Caracas, Venezuela – 119.87
2. San Pedro Sula, Honduras – 111.03
3. San Salvador, El Salvador – 108.54
4. Acapulco, Mexico – 104.73
5. Maturin, Venezuela – 86.45
6. Distrito Central, Honduras – 73.51
7. Valencia, Venezuela – 72.31
8. Palmira, Colombia – 70.88
9. Cape Town, South Africa – 65.53
10. Cali, Colombia – 64.27
11. Cuidad Guayana, Venezuela – 62.33
12. Fortaleza, Brazil – 60.77
13. Natal, Brazil – 60.66
14. Salvador, Brazil – 60.63
15. St Louis, Missouri, U.S. – 59.23
16. Joao Pessoa, Brazil – 58.40
17. Culiacan, Mexico – 56.09
18. Maceio, Brazil – 55.63
19. Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. – 54.98
20. Barquisimeto, Venezuela – 54.96
21. Sao Luis, Brazil – 53.05
22. Cuiaba, Brazil – 48.52
23. Manaus, Brazil – 47.87
24. Cumana, Venezuela – 47.77
25. Guatemala City, Guatemala – 47.17
26. Belem, Brazil – 45.83
27. Feira de Santana, Brazil – 45.5
28. Detroit, Michigan, U.S. – 43.89
29. Goiania, Brazil – 43.38
30. Teresina, Brazil – 42.64
31. Vitoria, Brazil – 41.99
32. New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. – 41.44
33. Kingston, Jamaica – 41.14
34. Gran Barcelona, Venezuela – 40.08
35. Tijuana, Mexico – 39.09
36. Vitoria da Conquista, Brazil – 38.46
37. Recife, Brazil – 38.12
38. Aracaju. Brazil – 37.7
39. Campos dos Goytacazes, Brazil – 36.16
40. Campina Grande, Brazil – 36.04
41. Durban, South Africa – 35.93
42. Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa – 35.85
43. Porto Alegre, Brazil – 34.73
44. Curitiba, Brazil – 34.71
45. Pereira, Colombia – 32.58
46. Victoria, Mexico – 30.50
47. Johannesburg, South Africa – 30.31
48. Macapa, Brazil – 30.25
49. Maracaibo, Venezuela – 28.85
50. Obregon, Mexico – 28.29


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Air France Premium Economy Review



 
Our routing on Air France was from Vancouver to Johannesburg and return from Cape Town, between September and November 2015. We chose premium economy because, at Can$1,700, it was only Can$500 more than the already very low economy fare of Can$1,200. The fare allowed us a free stop-over in Paris (which we used to complete a five-week journey through Greece and Germany), double the luggage allowance and about 4 times more miles (a total of 21,000,) compared to the lowest economy fare.


Check in at Vancouver Airport was a breeze - there was no line-up at the Sky Priority counter and boarding the Airbus 330 was as quick as we used the Sky Priority line. The premium economy cabin was cozy due to its small size, and quite luxurious, reminiscent of business class in the 1980s. Seating was 2-3-2, spread across a few rows, with more than ample legroom and considerably wider seats than economy class. 


The bucket seats offered 40% more space than economy and they reclined within a fixed area to ensure that personal space could not be encroached upon from the front or back seats. The backseat TV screens were 12 inches and there were plenty of relatively recent movies to while away the time if you can’t sleep. Food was standard economy fare although Air France claims the starter is ‘inspired by the Business Class menu’. Wine was from good French stock and plentiful, if one so desired.

One problem was that premium economy passengers did not quite know which toilets to use, as
curtains were used to cordon off the business toilet on the left, but not the right, and vice versa. Another set of curtains strangely cordoned off the access to the economy cabin. This happened intermittently on all four legs of this journey, including the Airbus 380 to Johannesburg and the flight back to Vancouver.

Landing in Paris, we all had to face unbearably long lines with a few thousand other passengers, but once again, there was a Sky Priority option which reduced the wait to about an hour, as opposed to probably 90 minutes.


After checking in at Paris Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2E, we were allowed, as premier economy passengers, to purchase access to the business class lounge for Euro30. It was worthwhile as we had a six hour wait and it is one of the best business class lounges in Europe – outstanding showers, good food and a wide selection of wines and spirits.

The flight on the Airbus 380 to Johannesburg was smooth and it remains my favourite aircraft due to its size, spaciousness and because it is so quiet. The premium economy cabin is located on the upstairs deck. The layout was 2-3-2 and we had the two seats on the side, with lots of storage and head space above the window. Food and service were good, in line with expectations.








On our return from Cape Town, the first leg to Johannesburg was on South African Airlines on an Air France ticket in economy class, but we managed to check our luggage all the way to Vancouver. As we had another 5 hours to wait in Johannesburg, we decided to use the business lounge, paying with miles, which was within the rules governing lounge access to premium economy passengers (at least on Air France’s website). 

This brazen attempt to incur a little luxury clearly caught the Air France front-desk staff at by surprise and they made it very clear that we could not enter the lounge as premium economy passengers using our miles. I promptly opened my computer and showed them that this was permitted, but to no avail. In fact, one or two of the personnel decided it was a great time to mock our entry-level Flying Blue status and proclaimed loudly that we had some nerve trying to enter the lounge as mere mortals. 





Eventually, we were allowed to enter after paying Euro25, only to discover what must be rank among the worst business class lounges in the world – unmotivated staff, unappetizing and mostly empty food trays, and dirty plates and utensils left unchecked all over the lounge. After about two hours of eating crackers and cheese remnants, I firmly made a request to a disinterested lounge staff member to arrange for the food to be replenished.
  

The Airbus 380 flight back to Paris was fine, but by now we had seen most of the new releases and I watched Trainwreck for the fifth time (it gets less funny after the second time) - the movie selection on Air France flights between September and November were not updated much. However, the food and service were good and the flight uneventful.  Arriving in Paris, we had to again face the inevitable chaos that seems to be part of Charles de Gaulle Airport, with poor signposting, overcrowding and a layout devoid any logic.

However, this was not Air France’s fault, but the aggravation caused by petulant and confused front-desk personnel at the business class lounge, certainly was. It took four staff members at the front-desk to trying to figure out whether we can use our miles to access the lounge.  I pointed out that Air France’s website clearly states that we could. After studying their computers intensely, they suggested that it was neither possible, nor impossible (something similar to the famous French shoulder shrug) . Eventually we were allowed to enter "as an exception". We paid our 6,000 miles dutifully, enjoyed very long hot showers and several breakfasts and boarded the long 10 hour uneventful leg back to Vancouver on a Boeing 777. 

I wrote a letter of complaint about our shoddy treatment in Johannesburg and the difficulty that we experienced in Paris as well, using miles in exchange for business lounge access. I posted my complaint  it on Air France’s Facebook page. Within three days I received a n apology and 5,000 miles credited back to my account. However, there were still no guidance with respect to ivory members using miles to enter the lounge in the future when flying premier economy.

All in all, apart from the irritations concerning lounge access, Air France still delivered a prime product on this route and in this class. The planes were in great condition, service on board was above average and the value for money unbeatable. The flight between Vancouver and Paris was only introduced in the Spring of 2015 and provides Vancouver with a welcome link to France.