Trip Reports

Review: Pentahotel Hong Kong

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The MTR is an 8-10 minute walk from the Pentahotel in Kowloon, though taxis are better for shorter journeys since their starting price is so low.

The entrance is on the ground floor, while individual check-in is one floor up. The lowest floor is used to check in tourist groups. Every evening the entrance was packed with Chinese, Korean and Japanese tour groups waiting to be escorted to their rooms. There was also a pizza bar on the entrance level, which had some fascinating pizzas.

A quick escalator or elevator ride takes you up one level to the main lobby. This area is slightly more calm with spread out seating and a pool table.

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Review: Emirates Lounge San Francisco Airport

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Our connecting flight arrived in San Francisco about three and a half hours before our flight to Dubai. As we had plenty of time, and my husband still didn’t feel great, we popped into the Delta SkyClub for some soup and downtime before heading over to the international terminal.

The Emirates check-in desk opens three hours before departure, and online check-in isn’t possible from San Francisco. Fortunately, there wasn’t a queue for First Class passengers, so we had our boarding passes in minutes.

Then began the most ridiculous “TSA” experience of my life.

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Introduction: Road-Trip Through Jordan

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Yay! It’s Jordan-trip-report time! I’m so far behind on trip reports (they take me forever), but I’m really excited to finally share this one with y’all. Jordan was a fantastic destination for us, and I know a lot of people have expressed interest in visiting as well, so this should be a fun series.

In addition to being full of great activities, this was also the first actual “vacation” trip where neither my husband or I had to work in over four years.

I still made lots of notes and took pictures so I could write this report, of course, but not having to carve out time to be online or in meetings was wonderful, and made the trip extra special.

So off we go!

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Review: United Polaris Lounge Chicago

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We arrived on our United “Polaris” flight from London and had a four hour layover in Chicago before our connecting flight. This gave us plenty of time to check out the brand new Polaris Lounge which we were rather excited about. Unfortunately, it was a few days before they began serving restaurant-style order-off-the-menu meals so those won’t be part of this review. A day late and a dollar short. Or something like that.

We cleared security and headed over to Terminal C through the psychedelic tunnel.

As you come up the escalator, the United customer service counter is straight ahead. And the Polaris Lounge is just to the left of it.

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Review: Etihad First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi

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A couple of days ago I finally had the chance to visit Etihad’s new first class lounge in Abu Dhabi. The lounge opened in May 2016, after substantial delays. While I used to fly Etihad all the time, I’ve been making an effort to review more new airlines lately, so this was my first time passing through Abu Dhabi in first class since the lounge opened.

Prior to that I visited Etihad’s Premium Lounge Abu Dhabi, which can be accessed by business class passengers. For a business class lounge it’s solid.

Etihad’s Abu Dhabi first class lounge is open 24 hours a day, and is located just past the security checkpoint at Terminal 3. So if you’re originating in Abu Dhabi you’ll find the lounge as soon as you clear the security checkpoint. Meanwhile if you’re connecting, clear transit security at Terminal 3, and then follow the signage to the first class lounge.

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Review: United Club London Heathrow

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This was the first time that we had passed through London since the new Queen’s Terminal opened and we were curious to see it. I don’t remember that much of my last visit to London Heathrow other than the Star Alliance airlines were sharing a common, mostly nondescript lounge that seemed to have few if any windows.

With the opening of Terminal 2, there are now so many choices for Star Alliance flyers at London Heathrow that it’s almost overwhelming. Ben has recently reviewed all of them — Lufthansa, Singapore, Air Canada, and United. That meant there was no need for me to take one for the team and we could just head to the best. Which is considered to be the United Club. That’s not a misprint.

Not only was the United Club rated the best but it was also undeniably the most convenient as it turned out to be right next to our gate. We headed over, though got sidetracked for a long time at the kids play structure as you approach the pier. It’s an impressive space filled with kids, and is even staffed by a Heathrow employee. Judging by the no photography signs posted in the vicinity, the Brits are camera shy, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

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Review: SAS Plus Oslo To London Heathrow On A 737

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We left the lounge and quickly headed over to the gate for our 7:50 AM flight down to London Heathrow. Boarding was already underway, which isn’t too uncommon for us.

Since this was a business class itinerary, we were booked in SAS Plus. I had known that SAS eliminated their business class cabin on intra-European flights, but I’d forgotten they replaced it with something else. I guess you could say my expectations were sufficiently managed such that anything more than economy was going to sound pretty good.

It turns out that SAS Plus has a few features that separate it from SAS Go, which is regular economy.

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Review: W Hotel Punta De Mita Mexico

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Prior to this trip I had never visited Mexico as an adult. As a kid we took a couple of cruises there (though 12 hours at a Cozumel cruise port probably doesn’t give you a fair representation of a place), and I remember once vacationing there when I was really young, but that’s about it. I also connected at Mexico City Airport last year, but that doesn’t really count.

Given that I fly halfway around the world to relax at a resort, I figured I might as well try somewhere closer to “home.” The new W Punta de Mita opened just last year, and looked like a fun place for a getaway.

I booked only a few days in advance using the Citi Prestige Card fourth night free benefit. For my stay the hotel had a rate of ~$350 per night, which was brought down to an average of ~$260 per night after applying that benefit. The rate was actually much higher further in advance, but this hotel seems to consistently lower rates closer to the actual stay date.

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Review: SAS Lounge Oslo Airport

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We had decided to spend our final night in Norway at the airport so we wouldn’t have to get up quite so early for our 7:50 AM flight to London Heathrow. The terminal is only a short distance from the Radisson Blu Oslo Airport, most of which is covered to protect you from the weather. The walk probably took no more than five minutes and was made easier by the luggage cart we had cached the night before.

On the way, we passed through a set of double revolving doors which gave me flashbacks to Super Mario Brothers. In fact, I stood there for a minute trying to time up my steps so I wouldn’t get squished in the middle.

Having made it to the next level, I mean, into the terminal, we quickly found the Star Gold counter for SAS. There was a bit of a line, but the agent was very efficient and we waited no more than a couple of minutes. She then had the five of us checked in and on our way. Even as SAS Plus passengers, we weren’t directed to Fast Track Security or advised about the location of the SAS lounge despite that being one of the few perks of SAS Plus. That was no big deal, just a little surprising.

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Review: Radisson Blu Oslo Airport

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Given our early departure the following morning, we decided to spend the last night of our trip at a hotel at the Oslo Airport.

Having stayed at the Park Inn by Radisson Oslo Airport on the first night of our trip, we decided to try the Radisson Blu Oslo Airport this time. In my experience, both of these hotels are comparable in price with the Radisson Blu maybe just a few dollars more.

We rode the NSB train from Oslo Central Station to the airport and then walked over to the hotel. The Radisson Blu is the closest hotel to the airport, but you still need to exit the terminal to get there. It’s an easy walk that takes only a few minutes.

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10 Things To Do With Kids In Oslo

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Like the rest of Scandinavia, Oslo is an incredibly kid-friendly place which made it pretty easy for us to get out and explore with our three kids aged 5, 4, and 1.

This is a culture of bundling the kids up and taking them out, regardless of the cold weather. The compact nature of the central area makes for good walking, and features like two-track ramps help make even steps accessible to strollers.

We’re an outdoorsy family so we packed our cold-weather gear so that we could get out and explore during the Norwegian winter.

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Review: Clarion Collection Hotel Bastion Oslo

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We spent part of our stay in Oslo at the Hotel Folketeateret, but decided we might as well give another Clarion Collection property a try. That’s not to say there was anything wrong with the Hotel Folketeateret per se, as it’s truly a wonderful property with excellent service. It’s just that their rooms were a little small for our family of five.

So we decided to see what was behind door #2 and headed over to the Clarion Collection Hotel Bastion for the reminder of our stay. I’m sure glad we did, as the Hotel Bastion is a real gem. We quickly fell in love with the old-world style of the hotel. I mean, who doesn’t want to come back from a long day of sledding and sit by a crackling fire?

Like the other Clarion Collection hotels in Oslo, the Hotel Bastion costs 16,000 Choice points per night. Assuming that you purchase those using the cash-and-points booking strategy, that equates to $120 per night which is an absolute steal considering that covers your room, breakfast, afternoon snack, and dinner. For our family of five, the food each day was worth at least half of that.

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How To Sled Oslo’s Korketrekkeren Like A Boss

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No trip to Oslo in the winter would be complete without playing in the snow. And there’s no better way to do that then to sled the Korketrekkeren, Oslo’s city-operated toboggan run.

But let’s be clear — this is not your leisurely ride down a gentle slope in the park. Korketrekkeren translates to “corkscrew” and that should give you an idea of what you’re in for. This is basically the bobsled run that was built for the 1952 Winter Olympics. It’s 1.25 miles long with over 800 feet of vertical. Depending on your skill and insanity, you might just hit speeds in excess of 25 MPH. On a sled with no brakes and minimal steering.

If you search on YouTube, you’ll find videos of the course with titles such as Death Sled and The Madness.

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Review: Clarion Collection Hotel Folketeateret Oslo

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We had a bit of trouble deciding where to stay in Oslo. The two most useful loyalty programs in this part of the world are probably Choice Hotels and Club Carlson, both of which have a slew of properties in Oslo. So many, in fact, that it can be hard to pick one.

Food in Norway can be pretty expensive so we decided that Choice’s Clarion Collection properties in Olso would be a good deal for our family of five as they include breakfast, afternoon snacks, and dinner in the room rate. That’s real savings. We narrowed the candidates to three Clarion Collections: Hotel Folketeateret, Hotel Bastion, and Hotel Savoy. I would probably have chosen the cheapest one, but they all cost 16,000 points so choosing based on price wasn’t going to work. I don’t usually put that much stock in TripAdvisor ratings, but I had to decide somehow, so we went with Hotel Folketeateret. At least for now.

We booked the Hotel Folketeateret using Choice points, some of which I outright purchased using the cash-and-points strategy. Based on that approach, the hotel costs $120 which is an incredible value considering that you’re getting two meals a day included.

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