Introduction: The Flight Of A Lifetime
Review: Turkish Airlines Lounge Washington Dulles Airport
Review: Etihad Lounge Washington Dulles Airport
Review: Etihad Business Class 787 Washington To Abu Dhabi
Review: Shangri-La Abu Dhabi
Review: Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi
Review: Etihad Residence Lounge Abu Dhabi Airport
Review: Etihad Residence A380 Abu Dhabi To Sydney
Review: Hyatt Regency Sydney
Review: Virgin Australia Lounge Sydney Airport
Review: Virgin Australia Business Class 737 Sydney To Melbourne
Review: Etihad Lounge Melbourne Airport
Review: Virgin Australia Business Class 777 Melbourne To Los Angeles
My two days in Abu Dhabi were mostly sleepless, as I kept a horrible time schedule. While I still love any type of flying, it’s not often anymore that I get excited to the point that I can’t sleep the night before my trip, though this was one of those cases. While my flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney was only at 9:50PM, I requested to be picked up from the Emirates Palace at 3PM. The night before I couldn’t really sleep, so I was already tired when it was time to leave to the airport.
At around 2:50PM I got a call from the Etihad Residence concierge team, and they informed me that my driver was waiting outside. Sure enough, there was an Audi A8 waiting for me, which is better than the cars they typically use for first & business class passengers.
The ride to the airport took about 30 minutes, so I arrived shortly before 3:30PM. Typically when you’re flying you have to make your own way to check-in, but in this case there were two people standing outside waiting for me — a Residence representative and a porter. The porter took my bags, while the Residence representative welcomed me and informed me that she had already printed my boarding pass, and that we should proceed straight to the lounge (when you first make your booking they request a copy of your passport and visa, so they already have the data on file when you arrive).
We walked straight through the check-in area, through immigration and security, and to the lounge. While I had to take myself through security, the porter took care of having my bags screened.
The new Etihad First Class Lounge is located immediately past security, so about a minute after pulling up to the airport I was already in the lounge.
I’ve reviewed Etihad’s First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi before, so won’t be doing so again in this installment. Instead I’ll be focusing on the lounge within a lounge, available exclusively to passengers in the Residence.
There are two Residence lounges, one being the primary lounge, and the second being an overflow lounge. The intent is that these lounges never have to be shared, so they’re fully private spaces.
After taking the elevator up to the second level, we walked down the hallway where two sets of sliding doors led into what’s probably the world’s most exclusive airline lounge. You need a key card to even open these doors, so that nobody accidentally walks into them.
Behold the Etihad Residence Lounge, my private space for the next six hours — WOW!!!! Not only is the lounge stunning, but it was all mine. The lounge has seating for 12, even though it’s meant to accommodate at most two people (since that’s the maximum number of people that can travel in the Residence).
The main area of the lounge was a comfortable living room with two gorgeous leather couches, as well as two other seats. Apparently they use the same leather for these couches as they use for the actual onboard Residence.
There’s a wall-mounted TV, and of course they’ll gladly put on whatever you’d like (though I asked for it to be turned off).
Then there was a dining table with seating for four. Again, at most you’d have two people, so it’s hilarious that they have table settings for four.
The lounge also has a cool ceiling that’s similar to the one you’ll find at the main entrance to the lounge.
There’s a small food service area in the lounge, though most of the food and drinks you order will come from the kitchen, which is in the main lounge.
Already waiting on the table for me was some Arabic coffee, sweets, and fresh fruit.
The lounge also has a private bathroom and shower.
The shower was beautiful, and had Acqua Di Parma toiletries.
There were also two bathrobes, which had the Etihad Residence logo on them. I love the attention to detail Etihad uses with the Residence, as I was so impressed by how often they managed to integrate the subtle Residence logo into aspects of the experience.
There was also a private prayer room inside the Residence Lounge.
In addition to having a private lounge when traveling in the Residence, you also get a personal butler. Yes, in the Residence you get a butler both in the air and on the ground. When the doors to the Residence Lounge opened I was thrilled to see Amal standing there. I’ve known Amal for years — he used to be one of the managers at the Etihad Premium Lounge, and over the years I’ve gotten to know him just from my layovers there.
He was recently moved to the First Class Lounge, and today would be my butler. Amal is not only an incredible professional, but also a really nice guy, so I was thrilled to see that I’d get to spend the evening with him. For what it’s worth, the butlers in the Residence Lounge (there are about six of them) are also the lounge duty managers, so they switch between roles depending on whether or not there are any Residence passengers that day (and as you might guess, they have two different uniforms depending on which duty they’re performing).
Amal familiarized me with all aspects of the lounge, and then went over our “itinerary” for the evening. Amal knows I love to maximize stuff, and was a great sport about helping me do just that with my roughly five hours in the lounge. He also asked me whether I wanted to be the first or last to board my flight to Sydney (and they take that quite literally — you will actually be the very first or very last person to board). Since I’m always happy to get pictures of empty cabins, I asked to board first.
Amal explained that I could get some treatments from the Six Senses Spa and Style & Shave Salon, I could do a wine tasting, and then I could have a custom meal. Amal said in a bit he’d bring over the chef, so he could go over the night’s selection for me.
But first I asked Amal if I could get a tour of Etihad’s second Residence Lounge. As I mentioned above, Etihad has two Residence Lounges at Abu Dhabi Airport. The one I was in was the main one, while the second one is used as an overflow lounge (though there were no other Residence passengers on this day). Very rarely do you have two Residence passengers in the airport departing around the same time. Amal also explained that this is occasionally used for VVIPs (we’re not talking commercially important people, but rather more along the lines of the royal family).
The second Etihad Residence Lounge was a bit smaller, but still very nicely appointed. It had darker finishes, and almost felt a bit like a cigar bar. The lounge also had a dining table with seating for four, two couches, and then a private bathroom and prayer room. While it was a bit smaller than the other lounge, it was still plenty spacious.
Once back in the Residence Lounge, I started with some Arabic coffee.
I was also offered dates, sweets, and a glass of sparkling water.
Amal presented me with the dining menu, wine list, and spa menu for the evening.
While first class passengers usually get one complimentary spa and salon treatment, Amal explained that they’re happy to offer a bit more to those in the Residence. I intentionally didn’t shave for a few days leading up to this trip, since I figured I might as well get a wet shave in the Etihad Style & Shave Salon.
I’m terrified of sharp edges/blades, so really I love getting wet shaves just so I can get over my fear a bit. I figure that these guys do shaves all day, so my chances of dying are pretty low. Boy did I have smooth skin after my shave.
After that I figured I should get a spa treatment. I’ve had treatments in the Six Senses Spa before, though Amal said “if you’d like, you could get a treatment in your lounge.” Okay, now that’s an opportunity I couldn’t turn down, for the novelty if nothing else. I figured a hand massage would be easiest to do outside the spa, so a few minutes later the lovely therapist showed up and gave me a great massage.
For what it’s worth, I was told I could have another treatment later if I wanted, though I didn’t have time, unfortunately. Time flies when you’re having fun!
After that, Amal introduced me to Chef Steve, the lounge’s executive chef, who is from Germany. While he’s behind all the great food in the lounge, they offer an incredible customized menu if you’re traveling in the Residence.
Earlier Amal had presented me with the menu for the lounge, which looked pretty good, though Chef Steve explained that the menu was merely a backup plan, and that he likes to get creative. He asked me to tell him about what I like most, so that he could create a custom menu for me.
I figured it was best to flip the question on him, so I asked what he likes most, since I figure that’s what’s most likely to be exceptional. He explained that he loves seafood of all types. I do as well, so I asked him to surprise me. Boy, did he ever. I asked to eat at around 6PM, so I still had about an hour until dinner would be served.
For what it’s worth, the menu read as follows:
The drink list read as follows:
In the meantime I was starting to feel a bit tired, so I ordered a cappuccino with a double shot of espresso. The cappuccino was great, and I especially loved the cup and saucer in which it was served. Etihad has special tableware for the Residence, and that applies both on the ground and in the air.
After that Amal familiarized me with the drink selection in the lounge. The champagne on offer was the Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs 2004, which is the same one they serve onboard in the Residence. That’s not a cheap bottle of champagne — it retails for ~180USD at a minimum.
They also had a Ruinart Rose — lovely!
Amal also proposed a wine tasting, and brought out several red and white wines. His knowledge of the wines was impressive, though I quickly realized I needed to be realistic in terms of how much I was drinking — after all, I probably wouldn’t have a great flight if I had too much before even boarding. 😉
So I decided to pass on the wine tasting idea, and instead went with a glass of the champagne.
That was served with olives, nuts, and dried fruit.
Finally at around 6PM the meal service began.
The appetizer consisted of a chilled white tomato soup with buffalo mozzarella foam, tomato mousse, dehydrated olives, and ciabatta.
Seriously, look at that piece of art! The best part is that it tasted every bit as good as it looks.
I was also offered a selection of bread.
That was accompanied by some homemade salted butter with beetroot powder.
After that I was offered a palate cleansing sorbet.
For the main course I switched to a glass of the 2009 Louis Jadot Meursault, which was very nice.
Then I was served the main course, which consisted of caviar and lobster. My gosh, this wasn’t just any lobster, but easily the most gorgeously presented lobster dish I’ve ever seen.
Seriously, look at that!!
The plate was intended to look like a lobster in coral. I just couldn’t get over the presentation, to the point that I didn’t want to eat it.
The dish tasted every bit as good as it looks. To accompany it I was offered Abu Dhabi farmed caviar.
It comes as a surprise to many, but Abu Dhabi is home to the world’s largest caviar “factory,” so you’d think that you would see their caviar more readily available everywhere. I was excited to finally try it, and really enjoyed it. The Abu Dhabi caviar was definitely saltier than other varieties, but it also melted on your tongue more than any other caviar I’ve tried.
Then for dessert I was served a nougat dish, which was rich without being too sweet.
What a memorable meal. Between the quality of the food and Chef Steve’s creativity, I was blown away.
Around this time I decided to do a Facebook Live from the lounge, at which point it was almost time to board. I decided to order an iced Americano to get some energy before the onboard Residence experience.
At around 8:50PM my five plus hours in the lounge was sadly over. At this point I bid farewell to Amal and was introduced to Rochelle, who would be escorting me to the flight. There was also a porter to help with my bags, and a driver.
Abu Dhabi Airport has narrow hallways, so it’s incredibly awkward to take a golf cart through it, but hey, I guess that’s part of the experience. On the plus side, it meant I had more time to talk to Rochelle, who was such a sweet person.
The flight to Sydney departed from the far end of the terminal, where there was an additional security check. That was mostly taken care of by the porter. This is where the most fabulously awkward part of the experience happened. Johan, the butler who would be taking care of me onboard, was standing in the gate area waiting to greet me. So there were probably 400 people sitting there, and then I had my bags carried by the porter, was being escorted by Rochelle, and was introduced to Johan, who was wearing white gloves. At that point I was allowed to board right away.
How awesome and awkward, hah.
If this is what the ground experience was like, I couldn’t wait to see what the onboard experience would be like!!
To answer a few questions people may have about the ground experience when flying in the Residence:
- How early can you arrive to the airport? Anything within reason is fine, so as long as you’re arriving same day (or the evening before for an early morning flight) that should be fine.
- Can you bring guests into the Residence Lounge? Nope, only passengers booked in the Residence can use the special lounge.
- What happens if there are more than two sets of Residence passengers? This is a question I asked, since there are “only” two Residence Lounges, though I was told that this has never happened.
- Can you request your ground butler? Absolutely! Assuming they’re working, you should be able to request which butler you’d like taking care of you through the Etihad Residence concierge.
- Can you use the lounge if arriving in the Residence? Nope, this is only for departing Residence passengers, so those arriving in the Residence and connecting in anything other than the Residence wouldn’t have access to this lounge.
- Was it lonely being in a lounge alone for so long? I could see how it could seem that way, but I didn’t really think so, and that was perhaps largely because I had fun talking with Amal, etc.
- How attentive is the service in the Residence Lounge? This could potentially be an awkward aspect of the experience, as you don’t have much privacy when there’s a butler. However, Amal did a great job of striking a balance between being present and always available, without being overbearing. I’d say the butler is probably in the lounge with you about half the time, though you can just as easily tell them to be there more or less.
Etihad Residence Lounge bottom line
Going into this experience I didn’t have especially high expectations of the ground experience, so I was very pleasantly surprised. I think the physical aspect of the lounge speaks for itself, but I was impressed especially by the soft product — the customized menu was not only creative, but next-level in terms of quality. Amal was fantastic, and the attention to detail and attentiveness of the service was great. On top of that, the entire experience was seamless door-to-door. From the second I left my hotel in Abu Dhabi until the second I arrived at my hotel in Sydney, I wasn’t left alone for a moment, and didn’t have to carry my bags once.
While I think we all know the Residence is an impressive product, it’s the flawless execution that impressed me the most. Thanks to Amal, Chef Steve, Rochelle, etc., for making this such an unforgettable experience!