MY NEW LOVE IN THE HEART OF BUCHAREST

•August 6, 2019 • 1 Comment

In Bucharest, the capital of Romania, you can find more than 140 4- and 5-star hotels. But, excepting those part of international chains – big boys like Marriott, Hilton, Sheraton or Intercontinental – finding a real high-quality accommodation can be a hit miss because “return business” and “consistency” are lessons needed to be learned by the Romanian hoteliers.

Couple weeks ago, due to a unexpected changes in my travel plans, I book for one night a basic room in one of the newest hotel in Bucharest: Lido by Phoenicia. The experience of those less than 12 hours was far above all my expectations. And therefor on my next trip I decided to upgrade my experience to an Executive Suite and since then I discovered a new love in the heart of Bucharest.

The Lido, opened on June 1930, brandishing a luxurious architecture and the first pool with waves in Europe, complete with underwater spotlights that lured and fascinated Bucharest’s beau monde, was one of the landmarks of interwar Bucharest — a city that back then bore the nickname “Little Paris”. It was characteristic for the lifestyle of those crazy years. European beauties such as Miss Austria, Miss Serbia, Miss Turkey or Miss Bucharest were paid to bathe in the waves of the Lido and delight the sunbathers with their Jentzen bathing suits as live jazz music played and fiery dancers gave their best on the same stage that at night showcased a roll-down movie screen. It was a meeting place for local celebrities, members of the royal family and the nobility and of the most important foreign visitors to the Romanian capital. This jewel in the crown of Bucharest was designed by French architect Ernest Doneaud on a land that belonged to Doctor Constantin Angelescu, former senator and prime minister of Romania.

The Lido complex was nationalised in 1949 and was reopened to the public in 1957, under the same name — much to the displeasure of then Prime Minister Dr. Petru Groza, who pointed out that it was unacceptable that the pool bore the name of a place where in the interwar period “business people had lunch on the terrace while looking at various beauties bathing”, and instead suggested that it be called “the Carpathians”. It was managed by the Bucharest Hotels and Restaurants Tourism Enterprise and was one of the hotels preferred by tourists and the members of the Communist party, even though at the time the atmosphere was a lot more austere and less luxurious than in the heyday of the Lido.

After 1990, the ownership of the hotel changed hands several times, until it was at last granted to the Romania Intercontinental Hotel Company in 1999 but their ownership was being threatened by the heirs of Doctor Angelescu. They had sued the Romanian state and were asking to have the Lido complex returned to them. In 2009 the waves of the Lido went to a standstill: Alexander Adamescu sold his own family €10 million stolen from shareholders for 200 RON and impressive building located on one of the most important Bucharest boulevards started to be a sad ruin for more than 10 years.

Fortunately for the hotelier market of Bucharest and all the international tourists visiting the Romanian capital, Lido reopened in January 2019, under the label of Phoenicia group (Lido by Phoenicia) after a EUR 5 million upgrade. Mohammad Murad, one of the biggest hotel owners in Romania, leased it from the owners for a period of 15 years, refurbished it and brought the unique Phoenicia’s approach of hospitality in the centre of Bucharest – the power of understanding each guest, the desire to share happiness with the loved ones.

Staying at Lido by Phoenicia gave me the chance to experience the scent of the interwar period, combined with the modernity and comfort requested by modern traveller. Some original items have been preserved, such as the elevator, the ceiling in some rooms and the stairs. Nothing is too much and whoever thought the interior design was extremely inspired bringing a lot of atmospheric elements in the lobby without being too crowded, over the top, mixing a lot of “dust collectors” like in the other “boutique” hotels experienced in Bucharest in my previous stays.

But for sure the biggest value of the “first contact” with the hotel is the Front Desk team. A genuine smile, a “nothing is too much” attitude, an impressive service excellence attitude are all strong points in starting a stay at the hotel with the right foot. Everybody at the reception is always ready to help, friendly but very professional at the same time. I still didn’t get used to the fact that while I was doing the check-in somebody already took care of my luggage and was waiting to escort me to the room. And to be honest I don’t remember last time when in Bucharest, somebody, in a hotel, gave me a short briefing about the room, services and facilities at my arrival.

The entire ambience is a stylish mixture between luxury, functionality, elegance creating the feeling of an old-fashioned boutique hotel cloned with a contemporaneous hospitality: the lobby, the staircase, the corridors, the elevator.

My choice this time was an Executive Suite. Spacious and decorated in a way that combines the comfort of our days  with the elegance and luxury of interwar Bucharest, the 40m² , brings together a spacious lounge – the perfect combination of comfort, functionality and style, a comfortable bedroom with an extra-large double bed, a, believe or not, a cosy but spacious walking in dressing and a spacious bathroom with a walking in shower. An excellent choice for stylish and modern city breaks in the heart of Bucharest. The only thing missing was a proper working space with a desk and a chair, but who wants to work when you stay in such a lovely room?

In my travels around the world I learned to discover in each hotel small details which show if the hotelier builds its concept around profit or quality of the guest experience. And in my room at Lido by Phoenicia those details were easy to spot. Call me nitpicky but I will accept the risk:

  • I hate in a hotel, especially, the 4- or 5-star ones, to have a list of TV channels which, when you check your screen you need 30 minutes to discover them in the menu and most of them are coded or not tuned. At Lido the story is completely different: the channels on your 2 TVs are tuned in a logical order and the choice is amazing: news, sport, entertainment, movies. And guess what the in-room premium movie package is a reality not just a promise.
  • The amenities in the bathroom are another indicator of the level of guest experience. in the Executive Suite, the quality and quantity of the bathroom’s amenities are a strong proof that “cutting corners” is not part of the hotel’s vision and “replaced daily” is a rule not just an on-line marketing line.
  • The Turn-down service, the well-stocked minibar with decent prices, the excellent internet WIFI and an amazing pillow menu transform a stay at Lido by Phoenicia in a memorable experience.
  • Each room offers complimentary tea and coffee making facilities but big surprise: on each floor, next to the elevator, a fridge with still and sparkling water and a coffee machine add a special touch to your stay.
  • Do you remember the nightmare of the hotel’s bathrobes when one size doesn’t fit all or the slippers with a size forcing you to adopt a “geisha walk”? At Lido 2 different sizes for bathrobes and slippers was the perfect solution found by my host. Another example of putting guests at the heart of your daily business
  • The hotel is located on one of the busiest and nosiest streets of Bucharest and the views from the two balconies are amazing, day and night. An open window brigs in the room the buzz of the Romanian capital, but the excellent phonic isolation of the room make possible to lock all the city’s vibes outside and have a quiet and comfy sleep.

And I can carry on but is better to stop here and let yourself to discover all these little touches.

In a hotel with so many architectural and design elements cleanliness can be a challenge. But, believe me, each corner, public spaces or rooms, is sparkling clean and doesn’t matter how hard you try you can not fail the hotel housekeeping. Believe me I check everything during my stay, and everything was PP: Perfect & Professional. And another important detail:  during my stay I had the chance to meet on the corridor members of the housekeeping team and once again the passion for customer service was obvious. A little friendly genuine chat, a subliminal checking of the previous night sleep and service quality made me feel like home away from home!

The breakfast is an important stay in any hotels. At Lido, where the breakfast is included for the stay in an Executive Suite, is another memorable moment. Tailored to the different nationality using the hotel, the breakfast is served every morning in Lido’s Brasserie. The place itself is fabulous: quite large, with the L-shaped salon, and glass walls – and it is very good so – to see the great boulevard and the centre of Bucharest. An excellent breakfast with a view

And the breakfast menu was another pleasant surprise: from a continental version to full English one, healthy options and Middle east touches everything was delicious, permanently refilled on the buffet and elegant presented. Add to all these elements a smooth, friendly and efficient service to have the accurate image of a perfect start of the day. And to don’t forget: the coffee is EXCELLENT!

I was always looking at the sad closed building of the old luxurious hotel trying to discover the hidden glory, and when I had a chance to book a room in the newly opened hotel my expectations were very high. I am now overwhelmed and in love with this place. Mohammad Murad, the owner of Lido by Phoenicia, wanted to restore the hotel to the interwar environment. Which made me very happy, because it would irritate me, without a doubt, to find there an industrial ceiling or who knows what depressing minimalisms. He managed in a genius way to combine tradition with modern luxury and the hotel is with no doubts a big success.  And this also fits with the inclination towards the Eastern luxury that I have observed in many places that Mohammad Murad prides himself on, such as the Phenicia Hotel in Baneasa, or the colorful Mandaloun restaurant. And on top of that the high standards of the services round in a very inspired and professional way the entire experience.

Bottom line: I’ve had 3 bookings from the beginning o the year, another 5 until the end of 2019 and I can’t wait to come to LIDO, Bucharest!

A PIECE OF PARADISE BETWEEN OCEAN AND VOLCANOES

•July 25, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Booking a last-minute holiday can be a very difficult task and I always avoided a “the day before” decision. But at the mid-June due to some cancellation in my agenda 7 days window suddenly appeared and, due to a grey wet weather back home I decided to book a one week run to a nice beach, a comfy hotel and a 150% relaxed week.  Tenerife was my first choice as I never spent on the island more than couple of hours during some cruises. When was the moment to chooses the hotel Gran Melia Palacio de Isora was an easy decision four couple for couple of reasons: my previous memorable experience with the Level product at other Melia hotels, the fantastic memories from other Grand Melia stays and of course the impressive number of accolades that the RedLevel at Palacio de Isora won during the last couple of years.

And here I am on a holiday booked Tuesday night, with a flight on Thursday afternoon and one week spent in a room with breathing views in RedLevel at Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora. How shall I summarise my experience? Let me see: “a long line of “WOW” s with couple of “MEH”s.

Let me tell you why…

ARRIVAL & CHECK-IN

My arrival at Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora was the first big WOW moment. Before even my taxi stopped in front of the RedLevel entrance, separated from the hotel main entrance, I was greeted with a genuine big smile from a member of the Concierge team while the luggage disappeared from the car straight in to my room. The check-in process was more a friendly conversation with the Concierge staff with a brief introduction of the facilities and suggestions for dinner plus all what was included in my holiday package over a glass of Cava on the beautiful terrace of the RedLevel lounge.

One of the butlers, Pablo, escorted me in the room and, once again, the high standards of the hotel surprised me when Pablo, looking at my 3 suitcases for a one-week holiday asked me if I need more Clothes hangers in my room. That is what I understand by thoughtfulness and anticipating customer needs in a 5-star hotel!

ACCOMODATION

My RED LEVEL DELUXE ROOM FRONTAL OCEAN VIEW was simply … perfect. The bright 49m² space was stylish and functional, with plenty of storage spaces and elegant details. Fully equipped with a coffee maker, king-size bed, sofa-bed and a full bathroom, it was exactly what I needed for a one week of full pampering.

The panoramic sea views from the large, private, fully furnished terrace were stunning especially for sunrise and sunset. The private hydromassage bathtub was another amazing touch especially when you ask your butler to prepare an out of this world session with candles and Clarins amenities.

Everything was created with the image of a perfect stay in mind: the in-room aromatherapy menu, the free of charge ironing service of two garments per day, the extensive pillow menu, the fully stocked minibar and the turn down service done with an incredible attention to details.

A special mention to the housekeeping team. I never saw them (proving a perfect team management, service flow and excellent timings) but the results were impossible to ignore: the room was sparkling clean, the attention to details was amazing and the standards were indeed at the level of a 5-star hotel. Absolutely brilliant!

The bathroom was another sign of indubitably luxury with its bathtub, double sink and European Spa-style jet shower. While in other hotels “cutting corners” policy affects most of the time bathroom amenities, at RedLevel Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora, the world famous Clarins products were generously replaced whenever needed and the towels, bathrobes and slippers – changed daily – never showed a sign of overused (something that I absolutely hate in a hotel). Maybe all this are small details, but those are the elements which create normally that “luxury feeling” of any holiday.

THE RECEPTION & CONCIERGE

At Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora this team were an important part of my amazing experience. With their hearts in the right place, with a passion for creating memories and a obvious pride in their job, the entire team was 24 hours available to help you designing a perfect holiday.

Indeed, is space for improvement at the level of Front desk team. Couple of times I was trying to book some activities (restaurants, spa, etc) through Concierge and spend good minutes giving all the details regarding my intentions. I was quite surprised to receive phone calls, letter or messages from other members of the team asking, more or less, the same question as at the first point of contact.  It can be quite annoying and frustrating to answer to the same question again and again and to realise that actually nobody listens to you first time, or second, …, or third. My impression of an inefficient communication system was created by the fact that, once, I saw one of the receptionists making notes regarding my requests, notes which got lost or forgotten. But, ignoring this little hic-ups, the entire experience was incredible, especially when you realised, as a holidaymaker, that you are not a number / room but a real person, a guest, with a schedule and plans. That’s what I call a “personalised experience”

THE POOL

For sure if you are a fan of resorts pools, Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora is the place to be, with its 7,500m² of pools for all ages, with 5 outdoor pools for unique experiences and an indoor pool in the spa.

With 5,000m², The Infinity Pool is the biggest saltwater pool in a European hotel tempting the guests with 80 water beds in the pool and 2 integrated water rituals. And that’s not all: a family pool, a children’s pool with pirate ship, a baby pool and, of course, an adults-only pool transform the resort in a real luxurious water park.

For guest in RedLevel, the experience is taken to another dimension with the private adults-only pool surrounded by Bali beds and with a Pool Concierge service offering refreshing complimentary drinks and fruit snacks and even a sunglasses cleaning service. WOW! But, once again couple of “MEH”s, made me choose in some days the beautiful beach next door.

In the first day, after reading with hope the “no reserved sunbeds before 10.00AM” policy (what a great idea) and having breakfast a little bit later, around 10.15-10.30AM I realised that was no sunbeds available even though the Red Level wasn’t operating at full capacity. Later I found that a big percentage of the sunbeds were taken by the “smart guests” having a DAY PASS and therefore I decided to use the amazing beaches for the first part of the day. A little bit unfair to grant access and offer the same services for guests who paid full price to be in the Red Level and for those on a far much cheaper holiday who bought a daily access pass to the area. And the impact of guest experience was bigger during the weekend when was impossible to find a sunbed even at 9.00AM.

The Red Level pool has a lot of comfy Bali Beds (by the way the hotel has a real fetish for them, and you can find them everywhere) but unfortunately, you can’t use them without buying on of the “Bali Beds packages” advertised almost everywhere. The feeling was like flying with EasyJet: you can have only your seat, or your seat with a coffee and a panini or a seat, a G&T, a coffee and a panini … depends how much you are keen to spend. It is OK for EasyJet but is that matching the Red Level profile? And maybe was just a one-off occasion, but in a week, I saw only a couple of times the beds busy; most of the time they were beautiful decorated and … EMPTY. It is a golden rule in any selling process: it’s easier to up-sell than to sell: I would be interested to buy an add-on (a jar of Sangria or a bottle of Cava for example) if I got the bed included anyway!

The passion for excellent guest experience is present even around the pool. I enjoyed so much the little refreshing fruit treats, the smoothies and the cleaning the sunglasses service. Very thoughtful but … again some changes can be made. One day the pool boy started to clean sun glasses but after couple of guests somebody ask for a drink, the service stopped and was never resumed. Wasn’t a big deal but is better to don’t provide a service at all than only half of it.

BREAKFAST

Liquid Garden, providing a unique ambience next to the private pool and surrounded by aromatic trees, was the perfect set for an excellent breakfast. When your guests come from all over the world, having different gastronomic favourites and diverse eating behaviours it is a challenge to provide a “100% satisfaction” breakfast. But at RedLevel Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora, the success of mornings was) not only a delightful experience, but a daily WOW! An excellent buffet always fresh and following any international preferences (Continental, Spanish, English, name it) with the option of a la carte menu offering from Corral eggs (my favourite was the sublime Eggs Florentine and the delicious Scrambled a la Provencale), omelettes, pancakes and mouth-watering waffles. Was up to you if you wanted to be healthy or to leave the calories counting for your return home! A morning WOW repeated every day for an entire week.

The morning “MEH” was generated by a lack of leadership during breakfast time. Most of the time the breakfast was far a way to be the relaxing start of another holiday day. The staff was running, literally, around, giving a feeling of rush and lack of “what to do next” approach. Every morning the routine was the same: 10 minutes waiting time to order a coffee. For the next 10 minutes I had another 3 waiters asking if I want a coffee and finally when the coffee arrived the waiter didn’t know whose order was and walking around with a “getting cold cappuccino” shouting like in a train station coffee shop “who wanted a cappuccino?” And the history repeated when I ordered an orange juice or an omelette. With the omelette was more fun because the order was taking by a waiter, passed in front of me to the second one who run to the kitchen and finally the eggs were brought at the table by a third waiter after a long and loud “criminal investigation”: WHO WANTED THE BENEDICT’S? Because everybody was busy trying to find what to do next, many times the unused table were a paradise for the little birds enjoying the high quality of Red Level breakfast. After each breakfast I felt more tired than when I woke up and I can imagine how the staff were feeling after 4 hours of unplanned madness.

LIQUID GARDEN’s HAPPY HOURS

Without any hesitations the “Happy Hours” was the weakest link of my entire experience. Far, far away for the level expected from a RED LEVEL and a GRAN MELIA … very far …. on a completely different planet. The one hour “happy hours” made guests in Red Level to start taking tables 15-30 minutes before which gave a feeling worse than reserving the beds by the swimming pool by tourists in Benidorm at 6.00AM. When the bar was open, a queue of “thirsty for free drinks” was forming transforming the entire experience in a low-cost buffet one. Because of the 60 minutes windows couples were organising “drills” in taking as many drinks as possible in a limited time (transforming their tables in serving tables) and hiding bottles in their beach bags Despite the high quality of the drinks, food and service, nothing was making the experience an elevated one, a memorable one. As the guest attitude wasn’t enough, a service management failure made it worst. After the first drink was served in a proper glass, the second or the third started to be offered in very weird recipients: beer in cognac glasses, G&T in wine glasses and wine in flute glasses making me to wait for the moment of the debut of plastic ones! That’s not happy hours in a 5* resort is a buffet 3* ‘bun-fight’ experience.

DINNING EXPERIENCE

Booking a half-board formula for my stay at RedLevel Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora gave me the chance to discover a wide range of restaurants and take the advantage of an impressive list of dining options.

  • “La Terrace”, an exclusive and elegant adult only restaurant started to be my favourite from the very first evening. Not easy to say why! Maybe the wonderful sunsets with views of the Atlantic Ocean and the island of La Gomera. Maybe the exquisite menu created to delight your taste buds with exclusive dishes inspired by Canary Island and international cuisine. Maybe the sophisticated atmosphere created by the resort elegant dress code and the stylish deco. Maybe the outstanding service of a team able to mix superb manners with a friendly approach and incredible standards. Or maybe all this together. After coming back to “La Terrace” again and again I still can not make my mind up regarding the my favourite dish: The delicate Canarian grouper with seafood reef or mouth-watering Roast pressed suckling pig. Talking about starters the winner was the innovative Squid and Coconut Ceviche and top of the class for deserts the explosion of flavours of the White Chocolate soup with passion fruit
  • “Nami Asian Bistro, was another dinner choice where the perfect service match the incredible menu. The restaurant offering 3 experiences adapted to the preference of every guest: sushi show-cooking, teppanyaki tables and Japanese bistro, took me one night on the crest of a wave towards an Asian fusion and sushi experience. The elegant and efficient team in Nami introduced me to an outstanding contemporary Asian fusion cuisine with exclusive and elaborate dishes: a mixed tempura with prawn, lotus root, asparagus and broccoli as a starter, Shumai and Gyoza Dim sum, the incredible Nami pasta made with rice noodles, beef sirloin stripes, pak choi, egg and brown sugar. I still wonder today where I found place that evening for the unusual but tasty mix of green tea and red bean ice cream.
  • “Teppanyaki” , bringing to Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora the famous hibachi cuisine style offered a menu with 3 starters (Nami mix salad, miso sup and Hibachi rice) one main course (my choice was Hibachi king prawns) and a desert (I opted for flambéed pancake with cream and palm honey). Having previous experiences with this type of cooking show, both on the cruise ship and hotels/resorts I was very excited to see your approach to a traditional cooking-tainment. The venue and the service were exceptional, the food was brilliant and the way how the Chef managed a bi-lingual demonstration was amazing. The only thing missing was the “teppanyaki” element. Was more a “cooking at the table” experience with some weird twists (using fried vegetables – stir fried style, instead of rice as a main side dish) with a not very well-planned timings for serving the dishes (some of the guests finished their main course when others were still waiting for their order while the vegetables were getting cold on plates). The essence of such a dinner is the joy of customers watching the skilled manoeuvres of the chefs preparing the food and basic elements (the snake omelette, flaming onion volcano and catch the food) are a must of this type of cooking experience. Nothing like that happened that evening and I understood that the Chef was still on his learning curve. Far enough, everybody has a starting point but why not do what others are doing in this type of restaurants? I still remember on board of NCL Epic or in Four Seasons in Budapest when passing buy during afternoon hours I saw the Chefs learning with their Master the manoeuvres, improving their skills and technique with no guests around the table. For me was OK as the restaurant was included in my half-board package, but I wonder what if I would have to pay for the experience?
  • “ OCEAN” – It was the least favourite from all restaurant offered as a guest in Red Level despite de fact that the location, ambience and decor were great. First, because of a very un-inspirational food. After eating there, I had the feeling that somebody, with no cooking experience using an Italian food recipes book published in a foreign language decided to open an Italian restaurant using Google Translate. Funny that the food looked like the original but the over the top mix of flavours (the pasta were hard to digest being heavy with too many ingredients and strong flavours mixed in one plate) and self-interpretation of classic recipes (the classic tiramisu and cannoli which looked like the originals but taste like … something else) mad the dinner not the best experience. An Italian restaurant is everybody’s favourite and an easy to achieve success for a family dinner for example if you know the big secret: KEEP IT SIMPLE. The Italian dishes offered in such a restaurant need to target the resort market and not the Master Chef Jury, especially when sophisticated cooking wasn’t the strongest point of the kitchen team. The service flow had the right pace, not to rush bot to slow, but the entire attitude of the staff gave the place a feeling of a canteen in a cheap resort. No matter that the restaurant is open for “all-inclusive” guests, we are still in a Gran Melia and I couldn’t find the explanation for a Maître D so busy to chat and boss around the waiters and no time to realised that most of the menus are old and in pieces and with old fingerprints acting as photos illustrating what is served for dinner.

BEACH

I was telling you about how amazing the swimming pools are at Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora but on the 3rd day when finding a free sunbed was a too difficult task for my morning hangover, I decided to explore the beaches nearby.

Only 5 minutes’ walk from the hotel 3 natural coves with black sand beaches offer an excellent alternative to the concrete environment of the hotel’s pool. They are public beaches, everybody having access to them, but thy are in the administration of the hotel. I don’t remember last time when I saw such a clean, well maintained public beach. One morning I saw couple of staff member cleaning and tiding up the beach and even polishing the handrails. And everything done with keeping the natural environment as …natural as possible. If you are in RedLevel the Concierge will give you a card and you can use the sunbeds on the beach and keep in mind that in each of those 3 coves they were not more that 5-6 sunbeds…quiet, relaxing, simply WOW!

You are in the middle of the nature but the comfort of the RedLevel is following you. A discreet button will alert the nearby chiringuito, from where a very friendly staff will bring to your sunbed drinks & snacks whenever you need. And the entire service at the same high standard, like in the hotel. The only difference was the price: everything was half price than by the pool for the same order. Weird because I think is nicer to have a cold glass of Tinto de Verano or a Clara in the pleasant breeze of the Ocean, far much better than by the busy swimming pool.

But the gem of the beaches administrated by Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora was the natural swimming pool, 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel. What a magic place, what a WOW moment! Contained by the solidified walls of black lava the crystal-clear water was perfect for swimming, changing its level with the tide but always at a safe level, even for the little ones. Without affecting the natural environment, the hotel took seriously the safety of those choosing the place for a relaxing swim: a line of steps covered with anti-slippery rubber, handrails and ladders ensured a pleasant and safe use of the natural pool. It was amazing how keeping health & safety in mind Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora manage to protect the environment and offer an excellent alternative to the classical hotel’s pools.

Just later I discovered that Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora is EarthCheck certified. Sounds confusing? Let me explain that to you: EARTHCHECK is an international Certification program which provides a framework to achieve the desired outcomes for sustainable development in the hospitality industry. EarthCheck is certified by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). All hotels who display the EarthCheck Certified seal, can clearly demonstrate their environmental and social performance and provide confidence for consumers that they are walking the talk. And Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora is one of them.

THE HOTEL

With the Atlantic Ocean at its feet and the majestic Teide as a backdrop, Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora combines timeless luxury with an avant-garde flair, providing endless magical moments. The hotel has taken care of everything down to the very finest detail in each of its rooms, creating a personalised setting to ensure your total satisfaction. Imagine the experience of viewing the sun setting over the ocean from one of the magnificent suites in this fantastic resort, the best 5 star hotel in Tenerife.

The grounds and the indoor areas are fantastic with their sophisticated mixture of modern and traditional elements. And you can’t miss the superb fountains with a incredible versatility during the day or night.

Everything was planned here for a perfect holiday with choices for an adults-only experience in RedLevel, an exclusive boutique hotel within the resort providing the most exquisite attention, or a family experience in RedLevel for Families providing superior facilities and services for the little ones.

Believe or not you can bring your furry friend with you: dogs weighing up to 10kg are welcome in some rooms to share with you an unforgettable vacation. The welcome pack includes a bed, two toys, poop bags, food, water and biscuit dispenser and food throughout the stay. That’s what I call attention the details!

And I don’t want to forget the Clarins Spa. I was impressed with the bathroom amenities in RedLevel, all Clarins but a visit to the Spa projected me in a different dimension of pampering. A subtle alchemy uniting highly effective products created by Clarins Laboratories, 100% manual massage techniques and sensual surroundings to ensure a deep sense of well-being. Each Clarins treatment is an unforgettable experience…The Clarins treatments are designed as authentic rituals for all the senses. Delicate fragrances based on aromatherapy, personalised music, sumptuous textures, completely manual application, a selection of teas to finish the treatment … With body and spirit in perfect harmony, the effects of the treatment are enhanced further.

But of course, now is time for a “MEH” moment

In all public spaces where I’ve been (bars, terraces, lounges, restaurants) I identified the same issue: nobody care about clearing-in (cups, glasses, ashtrays) until the point when is no space available, no clean glassware or no space for new guests. In Nami restaurant I had an amazing dinner surrounded but dirty tables left by previous customers 20-30 minutes before and some of them even before my arrival. In Red Level terrace the two coffee cups and the ashtray used by me in the morning were my companions until late afternoon. During breakfast on Liquid terrace or lunch in Ocean grill the situation was identical: somebody will pick up the used crockery only on request when you don’t have space, literally, on the table for the new ones. And once again is not because of the staff forgetting or ignoring, they worked very hard running from one customer to another. I think that, my usual obsession, that a bad management didn’t give the right directions and include such a duty in the service flow.

ACTIVITIES

Normally I avoid the “daily activities” when I am in a resort, just because, most of the time, they are planned and organised more like a time filler. The reality at Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora was completely different. Whoever was in charge put a lot of thinking and planning in creating a packed schedule with something for everybody. If you are an activity addicted it was easy to choose from archery and French boules to aqua boarding and body combat. If your competitive spirit couldn’t take a break you could join the table tennis, football box circuit or paddle tennis competitions. And  if you like more sophisticated physical activities yoga, cycle spin, aqua aerobics, Pilates or Latin dance classes were available all day long.

And in the evening the live entertainment offer was extremely appealing with resident live musical bands and DJs, innovative shows in the theatre or a fantastic fountain show in the main lobby.

I decided  to take part in a wine tasting. Another WOW moment! Excellent and affordable choice for an afternoon when you want to run away from the sun. And to be honest I was very impressed by the balance between an great Somelliere with a charming personality and solid knowledge and average wines.

And only risk was that if you planned to be part of all of them you will need another holiday to enjoy the fabulous sun, the amazing swimming pools and the fantastic beaches next door.

REDLEVEL TEAM

It is hard to find the right words to describe the excellence of the RedLevel team. From housekeeping to pool attendants, from restaurant to concierge team, everybody adopted with visible enthusiasm the unique approach to hospitality promoted by Melia.

I didn’t need to much time to discover in every member of staff at Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora a sense of pride of being part of an environment which fosters the feeling of belonging to something special, to a great concept where durable memories are capital.  From the first coffee in the morning until the night cup in the bar the excellence and coherence, matching the high standards of staff professional behaviour and guest’s expectations gave me the comfort of a stylish proximity, experienced through the warmth of each and everyone’s behaviour.

RedLevel team, having their hearts in the right place, knows exactly how to build on the foundation of a fantastic hard product – an oasis of peace and elegance, a personalised service which creates durable memories.

Going back to my “MEH” list, I was very surprised when I received the “post-stay” message from the Red Level Concierge. Normally all hotels, resorts or cruise lines use these questionnaires as a powerful tool to measure the quality of the service and performance. A series of well design questions will request scores which can be use as indicators in statistics related to achievements, failures and more important ways for improvements. Socking, the link received from red Level re-directed me to a Tripadvisor page. This type of reviews are very important for future guests in a managing expectations way, but from the business point of view the value is very close to 0. I had the feeling the Red Level manager is more interested to be praised or to find explanations for various critics than analysing the level of performance. A review is a subjective analysis of somebody experience in Red Level a proper questionnaire give the chance of an objective analysis, identifying the weakest point and suggest way for improvement. I still don’t know if this was a local decision or Melia changed the way how to approach a potential repeater after their stay in Red Level?

A small fine tuning is needed to transform RedLevel Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora in a perfect luxurious holiday resort. I had the privilege of a very interesting conversation with Ivan Messa, the Deputy manager of Gran Meliá Palacio de Isora, a professional who knows very well that every feedback is a gift. And to be honest after only couple of minutes I understood that this fine tuning is wanted, needed and possible.

I personally consider a misconception that “all inclusive” dilute a luxury product. Important players on the resort market (Sandals, Four Season, Ritz Carlton) following the trends on the cruise market (Oceana, Silver Star, Seaborn, Viking) have the “luxury all-inclusive” concept in their offers based on the idea that even the big spender holiday makers search for a good value for money. Having “all-inclusive” added to the Red Level product will increase the revenue (eliminating the temptation of spending less outside the resort) and at the same time will make the product stronger by giving customer a wider range of choices. A higher price for a better value for money all-inclusive option will filter the clientele and erase the risk of “bun-fighters for free drinks” type of guests. And you don’t’ need to wear an “all-inclusive” bracelet to identify the guests – here the “personalised service” can kick-in by recognising the top payers in different ways.

I know that a resort is a business and a successful business needs to generate a profit. This rule can be applied without restriction in the Palacio where the definition of “luxury holiday” is different. In Red Level the focus must be on the guest experience which ensure a repetitive business and stays longer than 3-4 days (long weekend). A “discrimination in services” between different types of room (an included Bali Bed for the high-end rooms for example), an “all-inclusive” option for higher grades, a real butler service or in-room breakfast option will make stronger the motivation of “paying more for more”.

DEPARTURE

The departure was another WOW moment. Showing an impressive flexibility tailored to the hotel availability a late check-out was possible (my flight was in the late afternoon) so I could enjoy the RedLevel until the very last moment. No hassle in checking out, no waiting for the final bill just a pleasant conversation at the reception desk over a cup of coffee. A smoot process and a conversation which made me feel not like a customer at the end of his stay, but like a valued guest planning already its return.

When I saw my luggage in the lobby and bid farewell to the amazing RedLevel team the only “MEH” moment was the fact that I have to leave But this can be corrected and I already planned my return at the end of November trying to escape the grey English weather in this  PIECE OF PARADISE BETWEEN OCEAN AND VOLCANOES!

 

WAS THAT THE WRONG ADDRESS? (one night at Melia Paris Champs Elysées)

•July 22, 2019 • Leave a Comment

When I travel, I always learn from my errors and I try, as much as possible, to don’t repeat the same mistake more than … twice. For example, I started, when booking a hotel, that is safer to choose a well-known chain instead of an independent service provider just because a hotel brand has always standards and service flows in place, respected no matter where the hotel is located on the map of my travels. And this way of thinking always work.

At least until my last “French adventure”.

Last weekend I decided to organise a surprise trip to Paris to celebrate my better half birthday. Everything was planned in detail and when I reach the point to choose the accommodation the location was capital. That’s how I found Melia Paris Champs Elysées – excellent location, easy access to the Parisian metro network and, more than everything else Melia brand a guarantee of high standards in customer experience.

Without thinking too much I booked the top end accommodation option: Grand Suite (370 euros/night), being sure, after checking their website and knowing how deeply Melia is committed to their guest’s experience, that my one night in Melia Paris Champs Elysées will be a memorable one.

Sadly the similarities between the promoted image on Melia website (https://www.melia.com/en/hotels/france/paris/melia-paris-champs-elysees/index.htm) and the reality of 102, Avenue Victor Hugo ended with the great location and the beautiful architecture of the hotel.

Indeed, Melia Paris Champs Elysées is located in the heart of the most elegant district in the city, on a quiet, discreet and safe street with a very convenient metro, bus and RER access just a few minutes from the hotel. But the sin of “overpromise and underdeliver” was the trademark of my experience there.

I was trying to contact the hotel couple of times before, via e-mail or phone, to organise for my partner a little surprise on our arrival – a bottle a champagne, maybe a b-day cake, of course at an extra cost, but all my efforts failed. I contacted @MeliaRewards but their helped resumed to a dry “contact the hotel they will be able to help you”. At the end I decided to have a bottle in my luggage, just being happy that I was able to get in to my room a little bit earlier than expected. Of course I called the reception/guest services asking for some champagne glasses and a icebox but after a good 40 minutes waiting I ended having our first “birthday in Paris” drink from some water glasses which needed a good wash before use!

Let’s see how the “on-line promise” match the reality check at Melia Paris Champs Elysées (https://www.melia.com/en/hotels/france/paris/melia-paris-champs-elysees/grand-suite.htm)

The Grand Suite 210 was located at the second floor looking towards the quite Victor Hugo avenue from a nice big balcony. Nice and big, but not very impressive when you find between pretty flowers a glass full of cigarettes buts left by the previous customer.

Spacious, quiet and bright, the room had a bedroom and a separate lounge with a sofa-bed. Perfectly sized, the Grand Suite had the potential to be a lovely “nest” for a night in Paris. Unfortunately, like other public spaces in the hotel, “l’aspirateur” (=vacuum cleaner) didn’t visit to often the room and never been under the bed or in some corners. I know that Paris is the perfect place to have a perfect croissant but, I would like that in a normal shape not served as breadcrumbs in the most expensive room of Melia Paris Champs Elysées.

Melia always surprised me with the way of mixing trendy furniture with original interiors. In my Grand Suite the promised “stylishly decorated in black and white with wooden furniture” room was a kitschy cocktail of old furniture and a mix of sofa&armchairs stolen from a dentist waiting room.

After searching for bathrobes, I discovered that only existing one in the room passed his retirement age, being from the same generation with the towels. After tow requests at the reception we received and second one and the missing slippers. Of course, I can survive in a hotel room without a bathrobe and slippers but, please, don’t make them part of you advertised 4-star service! Remember “overpromise and underdeliver”?

The bathroom was cosy and quite nice, and I was looking forward to finding my favourite “LOEWE bathroom amenities” mentioned on the website (together with Clarins another trademark of top end rooms at Melia hotels around the world). But at Melia Paris Champs Elysées they were replaced with some ¾ empty dispenser with shower gel and shampoo which dropped in the bathtub when I was trying to use them.

The other “missing promises” on the website were ignorable, despite the fact that were part of the 370 euros paid: a broken iron and ironing board, an nonexistent iPod base and pillow menu and a basic and not very clean (somebody forget their cheese and crackers inside) minibar (reminding of an airport hotel).

Shall I mention the “welcome gift”? … of course. For a one night stay the mentioned recognition of the room level and Melia Rewards status arrived after asking at the reception twice and before going out for dinner and seemed to be whatever was left in somebody drawer + a welcome letter. Once again, I don’t need such a gift but, guys, please don’t promise something if you are not able to do it properly. It’s Melia not Travel Lodge!

The “cherry on top” was the turn-down service, always excellent at Melia hotels. This time after returning to the room around 9.00PM and trying to go out again I discover that the turn down was not excellent but inexistent! First, I called the reception and a bossy voice told me next time to remove the “do not disturb sign” from the door. Which sign? Wasn’t one in the room. When I went downstairs and spoke with the receptionist, he looked surprised and show me that, whoever was in charge ticked the box of “service done” in my room. “Let’s find a solution!” I said trying to stop the “blame the others” cascade coming from the reception side of the front desk. And the solution made me feel, once again, in a 50£/night hotel next to the airport: a pile of overused towels dropped at my door. Classy … NOT! Funny (but not ha-ha-ha funny) was that the next morning when I mentioned the issue to the reception, with a genuine smile the manager informed me that they don’t provide a “turn down” service in the hotel and the website is not updated. Great! I love a good explanation.

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In the morning I decided to try the breakfast for which, if is not included in the price of your accommodation, you will have the pay 25 euros/person. My advice? – choose one the charming cafes in Victor Hugo square where you will find a better value for money. In the hotel the breakfast was very basic, both food and service wise and, to be honest when I’m having my coffee, I don’t like to face half empty trays (at least not in a 4-star hotel)

The garden, looking fantastic on the website, was just the perfect example of the discrepancy between “promised” and “delivered” ( and yes, you can call me , obsessed!)

Website:

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vs

Reality:

Bottom line: if I will stay in an independent hotel in a good location in Paris, I will have no expectations. Will be overpriced just because is Paris and they don’t relay on return business – they will always have “first time” customers at their door. But when you are part of a renewed chain with a reputation of excellence the situation is a little bit different. If Melia Paris Champs Elysées will be my first experience with the Spanish chain for sure next time I will look somewhere else. Fortunately, I know that was an one-off failure and Melia will still stay on the list of my favourites but, I do hope that @MeliaRewards or somebody else will look in the way how the Parisian establishment is managed.

It was weird how, after my return home and after watching again the videos on their website, I had the feeling that I gave the taxi driver the wrong address and I spent one night in Paris in a pale copy-cat of the real Melia Paris Champs Elysées

MIROSUL DE SANGE TREZESTE HIENELE

•June 25, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Zilele trecute o foarte buna si draga prietena mi-a trimis ca mesaj privat un articol publicat recent, pe care citindu-l mi-au dat lacrimile. Nu va spun motivul ca daca o sa cititi articolul o sa intelegeti. Vorba reclamei “Prietenii stiu de ce…” Am vrut initial sa-mi pun in cuvinte reactia dar m-am lasat pagubas,  nu de alta dar aveam ceva mai bun de facut cu timpul meu liber.

De cateva zile incoace insa, linistea din spatial virtual al Facebook-ului mi-a fost zgaltaita de o serie de mesaje, toate cu acelasi subiect: situatia din Televiziunea Romana. Si brusc, inchizand ochii am revazut o imagine dintr-un documentar National Geographic: doi lei care atacau frontal si curajos prada, iar pe langa ei vreo 10 hiene hamesite si lase, asteptand ca mirosul sangelui sa vesteasca ca se pot da viteze si ataca ceea ce leii au pus deja la pamant.

Citind in stanga, in dreapta si pe diagonala am realizat ca exact asa se intampla in savana din Dorobantilor 191: mirosul sangelui din circul politici s-a facut simtit si in cusca TVR, iar hienele cu coada intre picioare s-au trezit eroine si au inceput sa atace.

Departe de mine dorinta acerba de a fi avocatul din oficiu al Presedintelui TVR. Am fost norocos sa nu o cunosc niciodata. Asa cum niciodata, de la numirea Domniei sale nu m-am asteptat ca ex-Admin-ul ProTV sa faca ceva bun, ceva viabil, ceva profesionist sau macar sa lase in pace TVR-ul. Niciodata. Si la fiecare reintoarcere a mea in Romania si check-ul de rigoare al programelor TV am inceput sa cred ca Doamna in cauza are un doctorat in pompe funebre, obtinut cu lucrarea de licenta – “Cum sa ingropi TVR-ul”. Si asta cu ajutorul cator va animalute fidele din preajma, unele transformate azi in indignati virtuali. Vedeam, citeam, auzeam cum emisiuni excelente semnate de colegi pe care-i admir si respect erau date disparute in ceata programelor TVR, cum oameni care au ca singura calitate faptul ca sunt “a lu’” sau “cu lu’” incepeau sa populeze timpii de emisie, cum invitati deveniti nu permanenti ci inradacinati stiu totul despre tot. Doamna resuscitata de la ProTV se batea cu pumnii in pieptii mediatici ca recastiga audienta…uitand ca ar trebui mai intai sa recastige credibilitatea TVR pierduta de la Valentin Nicolau incoace. Dar asta e treaba ei … e ceva sa devii varianta feminine a sinistrului Saftoiu. Chiar asa, acum Televiziunea Nationala se poate lauda ca are Sinistrul si Sinistra ei.

Dar la urma urmei nu asta conteaza. Duduia ex-secretara, ex-PA, ex-producator va deveni si ex-TVR dupa ce isi va fi umplut buzunarele si dupa ce isi va fi indeplinit misiunea. Ea o sa plece, altcineva ii va lua locul si asa cum toti ne-am obisnuit, si cei din gradina Dorbantilor 191 si cei din afara, povestea se va repeta asa, de parca, institutia e lipita pe banda lui Möbius. Trist dar adevarat!

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Ceea ce nu se vede sau ne vrea sa se vada, este insa si mai uimitor. Leii din documentarul National Geographic sunt colegii din TVR pe care-I admir, respect si iubesc. Si ii cunosc de ani de zile. Strigatul lor de disperare e unul real, este racnetul de atac al leului caruia nu-I pasa de dimensiunea celui pe care-l ataca cu orice risc. Ei sunt cei care pot recastiga nu numai audienta dar si credibilitatea Televiziunii Publice.

Le stiu si pe hiene….si nu de ieri de azi ci de ani de zile. Au un uimitor talent de a cadea mereu in picioare, de a anticipa care-I urmatoarea clanta de pupat inainte de formarea cozii, care au invatat ca cea mai buna aparare este atacul. Hienele spun: “am o experienta de 20 de ani in savana asta”  de atatea ori ca cei din jur au devenit alergici. Ceea ce nu realizeaza ele este ca au numai o experienta de 1 an…restul de 19 au repetat cee ace au facut in primul an inca o data si inca o data si inca o data. Prietenele mele hienele au stat ascunse in tufisuri iar cand au simitit mirosul de sange au inceput sa adulmece, sa se apropie metru cu metru si sa latre … nu de alta, dar nu sunt capabile sa atace frontal sau sa raga precum leii cei curajosi. La final leii isi vor linge ranile si isi vor continua existenta lor de regi, iar hienele, neavnd rani sa-si linga vor continua sa adulmece urmatoare oportunitate, urmatorul miros de sange, ca niciodata nu se stie ce poate iesi, poate data viitoare ciolanul apucat las si pe furis va fi mai mare si mai zemos.

Hienele stiu cum sa supravietuiasca in savana din Dorobantilor neranite. Pentru ca au un talent teribil sa stea cu coada intre picioare , pentru ca schelalalitul lor nu este niciodata mai tare decat ragetul leului, pentru ca se satura cu o ciosvarta stiind ca maine poate o sa fie mai norocoase si insfasca un ciolan.

Auzind maraielile lor virtuale mi-a fost imposibil sa nu-mi reamintesc 1001 momente cand respectivele hiene faceau pe fioroasele bucarandu-se de avantajele pupatului partilor esentiale ale celor “in charge”. Tare m-as bucura daca cineva s-ar uita in perioada imediat urmatoare numirii Presedintelui TVR sa vada cam care erau reactiile hienelor si a leilor de care va vorbesc. Si diferenta este de la un racnet in sus. Dar nimeni nu-si mai aminteste…acum e simplu sa ne victimizam, lamentam, amenintam, ca doar suntem siguri ca, asa cum am mai spus, mirosul de sange din circul politic a ajuns si cusca TVR. Desi nu sunt cinic, m-as bucura sa nu fie miros real  de sange ci doar un tester ieftin vandut pe sub mana. Leii vor supravietui pentru ca se vor bate, asa cum au facut-o mereu. Mi-e insa frica de hiene ce vor face ele saracutele daca pentru prima oara in viata au gresit momentul in care sa se dea “barbate”? Sau poate printr-un miracol genetic se vor transforma in muste atat de obisnuite sa manance de acolo de unde au scuipat ceva mai devreme. Ca doar au mai facut-o si inainte. Si in haita lor si in savana.

Doamna, al carei scaun se zgaltie (si sa fiu sincer o merita cu varf si indesat) pupata ieri-alaltaieri si blamata azi (ca intr-un scenariu ieftina, o linsare comandata parca, ca prea i-a apucat pe toti o data) va pleca de voie, de nevoie sau cu voie. Si aici ma apuca tristetea “déjà vu”-ului. In documentarul de la National Geographic hiena va diparea cu coada intre picioare si schelalaind neputincios in tufisul de unde a venit, proiectata de o laba viguroasa a leului. In productia TVR hienele noastre vor continua sa infulece din ciolanul public pentru ca se poate, pentru ca Ii se da voie, pentru ca leii sunt prea ocupati sa fie ceea ce sunt de o viata, sa faca ceea ce fac de o viata. Iar ciolanul televiziunii publice va hrani si in anotimpul/mandatul urmator hienele si pui lor si cartitele si mai toti parazitii din savanna. Ca doar mai sunt lei sufficient de prosti, onesti si cu convingerea ca trebuie sa alerge pentru o bucata de carne cinstita.

Asta e diferenta dintre TVR si National Geographic.

Trist dar adevarat!

 

STRONG ESSENCES ARE KEPT IN SMALL BOTTLES

•May 12, 2019 • 1 Comment

A flight with Air Dolomiti from Munich to Palermo

Recently I was flying from London to Palermo via Munich with Lufthansa and the last sector was operated by Air Dolomiti, an airline which, at the moment of booking, didn’t tell me too much. Of course, I did my homework and research the virtual world of jet-setter, but the information founded didn’t describe the real on-board experience.

The Italian regional airline is a wholly owned subsidiary of Lufthansa which operates a network of routes from several Italian destinations to and from Munich. It was interesting to find that although most Lufthansa Regional subsidiaries operate under their parent’s name and colours, Air Dolomiti retains its own identity.

As I had never flown, or even hear about, Air Dolomiti before I was a little bit sceptical about this new flying experience. But never judge a book by its cover, as they said, even at 39 000ft…

Air Dolomiti prides itself on coupling “German efficiency with Italian style” and the short flight (just under two hours between Munich and Palermo) was outstanding, both in terms of the hospitality and the food and beverage service available on this short-haul flight.

The boarding in Munich was quick and with the expected priority for Business Class passengers despite the fact that after boarding the bus I had to wait another 10 minutes until the rest of the Economy passengers boarded the transfer coach. It was quite funny that after we arrived at the remote stand where our plane was waiting for us, the ground staff discovered that no steps were in place, so we had to wait another 10 minutes before the boarding started.

Air Dolomiti uses 14 pre-owned Embraer 190 and 195 aircraft transferred from sister company Lufthansa CityLine and therefore the aircraft looked a bit dated but once inside I found the Embraer sparkling clean and functional.

Seating on-board this ERJ-195 is 2-2 in both cabins. In business class, every other seat is blocked, so each passenger has a row of two with legroom in business class more than enough for a short flight. Every seat includes a coat hook. Given that intra-Europe business class just consists of economy seats with a blocked middle, you can’t beat a modern Embraer jet, where you get both an aisle and window seat when in business class. There are no power outlets available in the seats and the literature rack above the tray table includes a Lufthansa magazine and Air Dolomiti’s own magazine. According to the setback headrest cover, wi-fi was available on-board. There was indeed Wi-Fi available on-board but I didn’t manage to connect my phone, and to be honest the entire experience was so pleasant that I didn’t need to use my laptop during the short flight.

Immediately after boarding the flight attendant approached me and offered me a bottle of water and a moist towel (packaged). It was just the start of a very efficient, elegant and pleasant service which took me back in time when big airlines (like British Airways) were considering short-haul routes like an important part of the business and not only a feeder for their long-haul flights.

Due to the short duration of the flight, breakfast/brunch was served shortly after take-off. Air Dolomiti has its own green-coloured crockery that I like very much. The breakfast included cold cuts and cheese with warmed bread and the service was done by hand (a really nice, personal touch) with an extended beverage service including Prosecco, beers, wines and liquors, as well as juices, soft drinks, followed by hot drinks. The business class product it is branded “Settimocielo” (translated in English to “seventh heaven,” an apt name for the service). Everything was done in a very polite, elegant and efficient manner which made impossible to don’t make a comparison with the rushed, “low-cost” style of the service received in one of my recent BA flight from Vienna to London.

For sure one of the biggest assets of Air Dolomiti is the on-board crew with their styles, calm, polite and efficient style. After the main service, the one in charge of Business class didn’t vanish as most of their colleagues flying out of Heathrow or Gatwick and wow!!!! she could teach what service with a smile means to many out there: personal, attention to details and never leaving the business class passenger feeling forgotten on the aircraft. In fact, all cabin crew was professional, serving, smiling and taking care of you in every second of the flight.

During the final approach the gracious flight crew walked through the aisle with a large silver dish of Italian chocolates

While I did not expect too much from Air Dolomiti, on a flight between Germany, and Italy, I welcomed the experience which exceeded all my expectations showing, once again, that is better to under promise and over-deliver. I rate Air Dolomiti a cut above the competition in the Lufthansa Group, and even British Airways or KLM when it comes to intra-Europe travel.

What a pleasure it was to fly this little Italian Lufthansa subsidiary. I enjoyed the warm service and hearty brunch. Don’t hesitate to fly Air Dolomiti if you have the chance.

Click here to see a video report of the Air Dolomiti flight Munich to Palermo

#beautyatsea #inprogress

•March 18, 2019 • 3 Comments

After 8 cruises with MSC last year is not a secret anymore that I am a big fan of the Italian Cruise liner. This year I already booked 5 cruises and I was thinking to go on a back to back journey on their new ship MSC Bellissima.

Reading all the reviews online, checking photos on Instagram and messages on Twitter I got very excited. But suddenly I remember that couple months ago, Amazon deleted a lot of profiles of people writing reviews in exchange for products. Unfortunately, in the cruise industry is still trendy to write good reviews if you get a free cruise. So, I never trust, apart from www.cruisecritic.com, any reviews on-line or in the newspapers of “influencer” thirsty for free holidays. On the other hand, reading the first on-line reviews of passengers on different sites (the excellent Facebook forum page https://www.facebook.com/groups/MSCBellissima/) I saw plenty of ridiculous complaints and unnecessary moaning.

Therefore, I decided to book a mini cruise in Yacht Club and see with my own eyes the reality on board MSC Bellissima.

click here to see the teaser for my Bellissima mini-cruise

Because the virtual cruising space is full or general descriptions of different aspects of MSC Bellissima I will focused today only of a list of thumbs up and thumbs down of some of the features of the newest MSC ship which I have time to experience myself.

So, let’s take it step by step:

EMBARKATION

I embarked the ship in Barcelona and everybody knows already that is one of the most accessible ports if you travel within Europe. Using a private company ( I always use www.rideways with decent prices and very reliable, both in service and, if needed in service recovery) or one of the taxis (with fixed prices between airport and cruise port) in front of Barcelona–El Prat Airport.

681055_man_512x512 Embarkation for passengers in YC is always incredible with MSC. This time I needed only 7 minutes from the moment when I stepped out of my transfer car and until the moment when I enter my cabin. At my arrival the assistant head butler Jacky Solonirina and his team was waiting in a dedicated space for YC passengers. My luggage disappeared in a second and after that Jacky escorted me to a waiting lounge where the embarkation formalities were done before I managed to finish a glass with Prosecco. Under the attentive guidance of Jacky, I skipped the lines for check-in and security and I reach in no time the lift who took me straight to the deck were the YC Reception was located.

click here to see a video report of the embarkation on MSC Bellissima

When the elevator doors opened two familiar faces with genuine smiles were waiting for me: the YC Director Rosalia Scaldaferri and the Head Butler (a living legend on MSC world) Dani Agung Sri Prasetyo. And that professional warm and genuine smiles will be a constant companion for my entire mini-cruise. It is way you always have in the feeling in the Yacht Club that you are home away from home. And I didn’t believe that my luggage arrived in my room less than 30 minutes after I started the embarkation process.

thumbs-down-512  Now, to be objective, I saw the lines and the “organisation” for the embarkation of the rest of the ship and I think is something were MSC can pay a little bit of attention. Or the in-famous last words “YOUR EXPERIENCE MAY DIFFER” could be associated with an MSC cruise.

YACHT CLUB

681055_man_512x512  The Yacht Club is one of the best products in the cruise market at the moment, when you think about “a ship within a ship”. The level of attention to details, passenger’s focused service flows, genuine TLC, wow moments and personalised touches make Yacht Club the best, if not the only, way to travel. Maybe I am wrong, but Bellissima learnt some lesson from her sister ship Meraviglia and this time the Yacht Club seemed to be more spacious, more in line with the idea of luxury, paying more attention to passengers needs and expectations. The corridors, reception area, public spaces in general, didn’t give me the Meraviglia’s feeling that MSC are obsessed with more spaces (= more money) forgetting the comfort of passengers in YC.

thumbs-down-512  I still don’t understand the logic of MSC, building an exclusive elegant luxurious space with inside cabins (YIN) and leaving outside Yacht Club the fabulous Duplex Aurea Suite (D3)

TOP SAIL LOUNGE

681055_man_512x512  The TOP SAIL LOUNGE is still the heart of YC: an elegant and comfortable space for any moments of the day. The new cycle of snacks and nibbles is far much better than on the Fantasia class ships, addressing any gastronomic expectations and wishes. And once again the service is here at it’s best with an attentive and personalised service day and night. I loved the fact that the choice for live music change every evening and is an important part of the success of this public space.

click here to see a video report about the Top Sail Lounge

thumbs-down-512   Taking in the account the quite high number of passengers in YC, the lounge is quite small and can be sometimes crowded (during the evenings or special events organised for YC passengers).

YACHT CLUB RESTAURANT

681055_man_512x512  In so many previous MSC cruises, YC Restaurant was always the weakest link, with both hard and soft product in need for some serious improvements. On Bellissima the restaurant was an unexpected surprise.

click here to see a video report about the Yacht Club restaurant

For breakfast, lunch and dinner the menu was a culinary hit, and every meal was very close to what you expect in a high rated restaurant: excellent ingredients, fantastic mix of flavours with inspired gastronomic twists, state of art plating and, very important, something for everybody.

The Maître D’ Giovanni was leading in a perfect manner a very professional team of waiters, assistant waiters and sommeliers transforming every meal in an epicurean experience. Balancing perfectly the service between a white glove approach and a friendly “home like” meal Giovanni and our excellent waiters Konstantin and Giovanni never forget to mix the etiquette with personal recommendation and subtitle product knowledge and discreet wow moments for every meal in YC Restaurant. They know their passengers and after first few days they learn your preferences and always recommend you something new or different. And if you would like to try different dishes from the menu you could just ask to bring you half portion, also you could ask to add or not to add some ingredients and they do it for you. I had only one problem with food. So when some people write in their reviews that they were almost starving and that it was “impossible to find something to eat” I feel a bit sceptic. Please don’t forget that MSC is Italian company and food is mostly European and Mediterranean with Italian touch. But if you expect to eat burgers or steaks every meal you could be a bit disappointed.

I loved the design of the restaurant, now opened to the lounge downstairs creating a livelier atmosphere in both space but guarding the individuality of each of them.

YACHT CLUB GILL AND BAR

681055_man_512x512   Whoever had the idea of developing a private pool area in what is now YC Grill & Bar deserves a big accolade. I absolutely love this place which, when the weather is good, can be a serious competitor for the lounge downstairs. With fresh food served for every breakfast and lunch, with tasty all-day long snacks and with an excellent and extensive bar service the top deck dedicated exclusively to YC passengers is a place to be, to eat, to drink to chat or relax. Once again the staff here is always ready to transform with a genuine smile and high professionalism any wishes in your daily cruise routine.

click here for a video report of the Grill&Bar

YACHT CLUB CABIN (YC1)

681055_man_512x512Balanced living and sleeping areas, decent size balcony and bathroom, comfortable bed, modern decor, pretty good amenities and a lot of “make my cruise pleasant” gadgets =- this are the main coordinates of a YC1 cabin. I found the wardrobe and storage space a little bit more generous than on Meraviglia but I still need to find a solution for my 2 weeks cruise in December(and extra interior cabin seems to be a good idea). Maybe, for future buildings, MSC will take in the account that not all of passengers are travelling with low cost airlines where “hand luggage only” is the main rule and, maybe like me, some find dressing up as a sign of respect for the impeccable staff on board.

click here to see a video report of the cabin 18018 YC1

681055_man_512x512   Will not be fair to talk about my cabin without mentioning the excellent service of my butler Edwin Garcia and his ability to wear many hats in one day being a perfect personal assistant, greeter, event planner, etiquette expert and household leader and with a genuine smile and approach always focused on highly personalized service. Edwin and the head butler Dani Agung Sri Prasetyo mastered an incredible attention to detail and, most importantly, an incredible ability to bond with guests and make them feel comfortable, all while maintaining a professional distance.

thumbs-down-512   MSC needs to stop calling their YC1 cabin: “suites”. According to any hotelier’s dictionary a suite is “an accommodation with connected rooms under one room number, typical with one or multiple connected spaces and bathrooms” (see NCL, RC or Cunard suites). YC1 is, let’s say a “junior suite”, especially if you think about the bathtub being replaces with a shower on MSC Bellissima. For somebody with a lot of cruise experience, travelling for the first time with MSC this misleading information can be quite a disappointment.

GALLERIA BELLISIMA

   681055_man_512x512The two-deck walkway with its giant 480-square-meter LED screen, shops, restaurants and cafes is indeed breath-taking. Managing to mix two other original ideas: the RC’s dome covered wide space and NCL’s open space restaurants/bars/lounges concept, Bellissima, like Meraviglia transformed this area in the heart of the ship. Love the idea of a wide range of optional dinning spots and for sure on my back to back cruise in December I will try all of them)

thumbs-down-512  Despite the deco and choice of venues (dinning spaces, bars, lounges, shops) Bellissima lost the contact with the sea in the Galleria. Walking around, day or night I didn’t have the feeling that I was on a ship…was more like a shopping centre…a big and elegant one but, still a shopping mall. Couple of times I felt sorry for the great classical trio performing on end of the walkway in an ambience which remind me of an uninspired “flash-mob” in a shopping centre.

click here to see a video about Bellissima Galleria

AUREA SPA

681055_man_512x512  Excellent venue and facilities with a wide range of treatments and packages created to satisfy any taste or wish. And I love the idea of exclusivity and free access for YC passengers. At the end of the day you pay a premium price for a premium service. Price wise, I don’t agree with passengers complaining that is to expensive; at the end of the day is all about pampering and making your holiday memorable. Or put it like that: it is you choice if you want to pay and fly to New York in a reclining seat or in a flat bed…

thumbs-down-512 The obsession of up-selling and cross-selling in the Spa is very annoying. I can’t imagine anything more distressing at the end of an excellent massage or a pampering session in the Barber shop than being literally bullied in buying one of the over-priced products. The spa manager needs to re-think the balance between revenues and customer satisfaction. I need at least couple of weeks to forget the unpleasant selling session at the end of my hair-cut and step in again in the Spa … and who’s missing the opportunity taking in the account that I will board MSC Divina next month? Not me, for sure!

NEW ON-BOARD GADGETS

681055_man_512x512  MSC Bellissima offers a stunning array of features to rival those of her sister ship, MSC Meraviglia. Some of them excellent, others hilarious. All of them expensive!

C Innovative MSC for Me technology connects you to your fellow guests, the crew and the ship itself. The app is amazing and extremely reliable making you life on board easier and more tech with a huge impact on guest experience. From check-in to bookings, from maps to chats this app is one of the best on the market and it is worth to download before you step on board.

thumbs-down-512  The big news on board MSC Bellissima is Zoe, a kind of smart speaker or voice assistant developed by Harman. Zoe is described as a personal cruise assistant personal cruise assistant. It is “the most costly employee we have ever had” said Gianni Onorato, CEO of MSC Cruises at a press conference. It is the most annoying MSC employee MSC ever had said me after 4 days “unhappy marriage” with Zoe. When I came on-board the ship I didn’t know much more than that it seemed to resemble my lovely ALEXA back home: you talk to her and ask a question that you – hopefully – then get an answer to. Zoe stands on the table in the cabin, clearly visible when you enter. She “woke up” immediately when I started talking and said “OK Zoe”. I had a little trouble understanding if I should ask my question before or after the beep that followed, that is, did the signal say that I was too late to speak or that I should wait for the tone before I started talking(the instructions in the room were not very clear). “I will start with something easy, like my cabin number” I thought to myself, but before I even had finished my sentence Zoe replied “You may refer this question to a cruise member or guest services”. Hm. New try with the same result. No help. When I asked about which show that was on for the evening, she responded by informing about drink packages and cocktails. Finally, I used some standard examples in the brochure that are next to the device and follow the questions there, for example, about where I can have dinner. Again, Zoe refers me to ask someone in the staff on board. Another attempt failed when I ask about the weather. Initially Zoe gave me the weather in Valencia (a stop in another cruise maybe) and at the second attempt she wonders if she can put on the TV for me, which I answer yes to. The TV is turned on and the weather forecast is displayed. Great! Although Zoe has been trained by 400 different people who have asked 2,2 million questions, has been programmed with 800 common questions, speaks 7 languages ​​and has been trained in 30 different accents – she doesn’t impress me, I don’t think Zoe she works very well. None of the people I asked on board had got Zoe to work satisfying. After Zoe’s experience I promised myself that I will never cheat my Alexa with another cyber-woman.

ANIMATION TEAM

thumbs-down-512   I was trying to find a reason for a thumb up when taking about the animation team and the activities on board but was kind of impossible. The day time and evening activities were like a flat line on a cardiac monitor with couple of participants which didn’t find another place to go and the famous MSC parties were an uninspired mixture of the same songs with the same dance routine. Even the signature White Party didn’t bring the usual vibe on board. You need more than some old songs, childish dance movements and second-hand props to create a good party. The funny thing is that I recognised couple of faces from the amazing parties on Seaview or Preziosa and I started wondering if the fault stays not with the team but the leader. Unlike the other +30 cruises with MSC I didn’t see the Cruise Director leading his team during parties and various activities in the right direction. And therefore, the animation team was like a giant octopus with strong tentacles but without a head. On the same not is funny how I remember the name of the Cruise Directors in the last years but I don’t remember the name, or even the face, of the one on Bellissima last week.

click here to see a video report of a MSC Bellissima party

thumbs-down-512  I didn’t have time for any shows on-board or Cirque du Soleil production but for sure talking about animation team and their activities, MSC need to re-consider the target: we are not in a kids club or in a cheap sea-side resort full of drunkies with no taste in music or fun

click here to see a video report of the White Party

THE CREW

681055_man_512x512  The Hotel Manager Giuseppe Maresca lead in all departments an excellent team who place the guest in the centre of daily routine. The excellence is part of the entire MSC experience and, despite the fact that acknowledgement the loyalty (for black card holders for example) and the YC guests still needs a bit of work, the MSC crew is the one making the cruise line unique. From the Sky Lounge to Top Sail Lounge, from the buffet team to YC Grill & Bar, everybody knows how to create great memories. And after a short chat with Pipo Maresca I realised how true is quote “It takes someone strong to make someone strong”

click here to see a video THANK YOU to MSC Bellissima crew

PUBLIC AREAS

681055_man_512x512 The Sky Lounge and the Champagne bar were my favourite spots when I decided to leave Yacht Club. Trendy designs and deco, inspired location on the ship made these two places excellent spots to sip a good cocktail before dinner. For sure I will have more to discover in December, but this time around the ship hosted too many corporate team’s events and most of the lounges were booked for private events.

thumbs-down-512 MSC needs to re-think very seriously the drinks package system. I know that in the current market revenues have a capital importance, but other cruise lines created a more user-friendly system with less tiers. On Bellissima, the run for making money created so much confusion not only for passengers but for the crew too. And once again the up-selling ruined some excellent venues. Took longer to order a drink in Sky Lounge just because you have to wait for fellow passengers to understand what is included or not and the question “Is this included in my package?” was the over-heard motto day&night. Was impossible couple of times to enjoy a glass with good champagne and delicious oysters in the Champagne bar because the place was full of beer drinkers taking the advantage of their restrictive drinking package.

thumbs-down-512  On other ships YC cabin gives you the possibility to drink whatever you want whenever you want wherever you want. Again, a premium service for a premium price. On Bellissima the rule changed overnight. You can have a Hendrick’s & tonic in YC as part of your Premium plus (or whatever the name is) package but if you go to Edge Cocktail Bar you are downgrade to a Gordon’s. It is a false economy of scale which will bring to MSC only the frustration of somebody paying more and getting less

Time for some conclusions

Of course, everybody experience is different, and consistency is not one of the strongest points of MSC. From my point of view, Bellissima is a great ship but the hashtag “beautyatsea” is a little bit too much; I think #oneofthebeautiesatsea” is more appropriate. MSC still needs to learn that is better to under-promise and over-deliver.

My recent experience was a great proof of the fact that when you check reviews of cruise lines you need to place yourself somewhere between the hype of “professional” reviewers fishing for freebees and the “professional” moaning so trendy now on-line.

click here for a PS of my cruise

Far from being perfect as a hard product, almost excellent from the soft product point of view Bellissima wow-ish me in this short cruise. Of course, she has space for improvement and I can’t wait to meet her again for two weeks in December. Or maybe sooner if I will decide for MSC cruise no. 6 this year. And changing a bit the final questions in the “0 to 10” MSC post-cruise survey:

Would you recommend MSC to your friends and family? – 9

Would you recommend Bellissima to your European friends? – 9

Would you recommend Bellissima to your UK friends? – 5

Would you book an MSC cruise in the future? 10+

logo-bellissima-white

FINNAIR – A GENUINE EXCELLENT BUSINESS CLASS FLIGHT

•January 12, 2019 • 1 Comment

As you remember at the end of last summer I fall in love with Finnair and it’s short-haul product (https://leonardmiron.com/2018/08/14/ay-a-possible-new-love-in-the-air/). In December trying to organise my New Year cruise starting from Dubai I came across some incredible fares offered by Finnair for the route Helsinki-Dubai-Helsinki. Sounds a little bit of a hassle to fly to Dubai from London via Helsinki but believe me that using AVIOS for the LHR-HEL-LHR flight and 2 nights at the Hilton Airport Hotel in Helsinki the final price was almost half that the extorsion requested by British Airways. And this was nothing if you take in the account the excellent product and on-board service which place well behind their British partner from One World.

And in a cold morning of December I was ready for my long-haul experience with Finnair. It is a little bit excessive to say “long-haul” as Finnair consider the flight to Dubai as a hybrid between their short and long-haul products. But the quality of the service and the comfort of the passengers are still the main goals for the flag carrier of Finland.

Finnair does still occasionally offer very good Business Class deals on its flights to Dubai (which operate during the northern hemisphere winter) but the issue has always been that, while the fares could be very good, the aircraft on offer were not. Finnair has traditionally operated narrow-body aircraft from the Airbus A320 family on its Helsinki – Dubai route which means that the Business Class cabin only offers short-haul style seating like in a configuration 3 – 3 with the middle seat kept empty – that’s not exactly the lap of luxury is it? The good news is that Finnair is adding its excellent wide-body Airbus A350 to its Helsinki – Dubai route for winter 2018/19 and that means that the Business Class offering goes directly to a proper flat bed. Using this larger aircraft allows for cargo to be carried in greater amounts, and the rotation of the aircraft allows this, so, why not taking the advantage of the European trade?

After a good search on the internet I finally secured my seats on an Airbus350 for both outbound and inbound flights.

The excellent experience with Finnair started with a breezy check-in and a dedicated security fast track at Helsinki’s Vantaa International Airport and carried on in the Non-Schengen Finnair Lounge. It’s quite a walk from the security area to the departure gate for non-Schengen flights plus a passport control (e-gates style) but as the flight was quite early (8.10AM) the lounge was quiet and almost empty (see my previous review https://leonardmiron.com/2018/08/13/3-airports-5-lounges-48-hours/) and the smoking area, lucky me, only 3 minutes away.

After spending some time in the Finnair Business Class Lounge I proceeded to the boarding gate. The Finnair ground experience, however, could use a little work. The gate area was crowded full of family with children and a free-for-all ensued when boarding was announced, despite priority lines indicators. Fortunately after the boarding gate the access in the aircraft was done by one door for Business Class (D1L) and another for Economy Comfort and Economy (D2L)

Finnair’s A350 was love at first sight: spacious seating, unique Finnish touches at every turn, signature cocktails, funky Nordic food and one of the best cabin crews I’ve ever experienced turned “just another flight” into absolute delight. It’s not exclusive to Finnair, but the Airbus A350 offers a phenomenal cabin experience. Humidity stays just about right, oversized windows let in lovely sun and noise is minimal. The Finnair A350 cabin offers a minimalist but sleek style, with grey blue seats, green Marimekko touches and nice, large entertainment systems. Of course, the mood lighting is off the charts as well. I absolutely love Finnair’s cabin design and finishes. I know some may say that it screams IKEA, but when the airline is based in Northern Europe, I think that’s perfect. And I also loved all the splashes of colour in the cabin, from the lime green pillow to the blue amenity kit and “folder.”

The configuration of my flight had business class is one cabin with eight rows (32 seats)

The business seats are spacious. The 1-2-1 configuration means everyone has direct access to the aisle, as well as more privacy since you don’t meet anyone’s eyes when sitting down. The design is elegant white with grey detailing and makes the interior seem airy, although some might say it lacks character. Splashes of colour come from the amenity bag and the pillow and bedding, in white and blue and white and green respectively.

The IFE screen comes out from the side of the seat in front and has a 16-inch screen which can be tilted in various ways, depending on the angle you are at when watching. The tray table is removed from the armrest and then folds out to a decent, if not generous, size. As you’d expect on a brand new aircraft, it was firm and I had no trouble using it to work on my laptop. There is in-seat power with capability for US, EU and UK plugs. In addition, you can charge your phone or other devices using the USB power.

Upon settling in, the foot well area is seemingly wider and larger than British Airways. This makes a huge difference in sleep quality, as you toss and turn in the night. The entertainment system is extremely intuitive, and for a welcomed change to in flight entertainment, seemed to be without bugs. There was never a blip, reset or screen lag in scrolling. Power ports are well placed up and out of the way of any elbows, as are headphone jacks. No one likes rolling over in the night and unplugging their phone. Rounding out the tech summary, Finnair offer solid Bose noise cancelling headsets and WIFI is available on all A350 aircraft.

Finnair got things just about right when it came down to bed mode on the A350. The seat is extremely comfortable in lounge position but is spacious and nicely padded in bed mode. Marimekko pillows and blankets give a fun feel to the setup and the duvet seems to be the perfect weight to offer nice heat and comfort, without overheating. The entertainment screen is virtually non viewable in fully flat mode, which is the only slight draw back for those who enjoy flat bed movie night. With the reduced cabin noise of the A350, it’s extremely easy to get a decent sleep.

I loved the IFE system, which not only contained a handful of great movies, TV shows, games, and music, but a nifty map highlighting in-flight service. Wi-Fi was complimentary for business class passengers and worked well. My favourite part of the IFE, however, was the two high-definition cams. It is one of my favourite features of the A350 especially for take-off and landing. I’m not sure if it’s just the distortion of the camera or if it’s because of the altitude at which we were flying, but you could see what looked like the curvature of the earth.

The toilet was bright and modern with hand sensor taps. I liked the plant in the holder and the large window…just for being different than the grey depressing toilets on BA planes. The amenity kit was sparingly stocked, with eyeshades, earplugs, hydrating cream and lip balm. Also waiting at my seat was a dotted-folder, which had a menu, wine list, breakfast card, and duty free card.

It was truly hard to fault Finnair on cabin service. As a BA Gold Card holder and taking in the account the lack of consistency in recognising any status on British Airways flights I was more than surprised by a welcome handshake and greeting by name before departure. It is something simple which goes a long way to establish positivity before the wheels leave the ground. This initial impression followed on by personal yet professional service, without having to chase anyone up for top ups or other needs. In a word, the crew was proactive, in the best of ways. Meal service was elegant, prompt and cleared with impressive speed and style at the same time.

As soon as I settled in, one of the business class flight attendants offered me a pre-departure beverage. I had the choice between champagne, water, and Blueberry juice – a Finnair specialty. I chose the champagne, which was Nicolas Feuillatte. I absolutely adore the the Iittala Ultima Thule glassware Finnair uses in business class. A hot towel was also offered. Just before take-off lunch orders was taken, and a second round of drinks were served as the plane was pushing back from the gate.

One unexpected twist: the cocktails. Though not overly complex or boozy, Finnair’s signature drinks hit the spot in the very best of ways. The cloud-berry and champagne aperitif went down way too easily, and the double berry with blueberry juice and blueberry spirit was a repeat order.

One hour after take-off the breakfast was served…maybe the only weakest link of the entire journey. The cold Ciabatta with Mozzarella and tomatoes   reminded me of something that you will grab in the airport before catching a low-cost flight. Fortunately, the drinks were served nonstop during the flight and the beverage menu focused on quality and not quantity, On the return flight one hour before landing in Helsinki ice-cream was served, which was a good idea instead of a cold snack as we landed sometimes around 10:30PM.

The service is the area I would have to say Finnair absolutely exceled in. The staff on board were very friendly, approachable, and responded to call requests like a fairy in a puff of smoke (seriously, it was so instant I could hardly believe it). The crew on both my flights were really accommodating with all guests and this made the Finnair experience a memorable one.

During the flight Duty Free was offered with two options: on-board and pre-order and as a nice touch you could order for the return flight in advance. I couldn’t resist and ordered 8 of the Iittala Ultima Thule glasses to take them with me home.

The entertainment system was brilliant. The content kept me busy with MamaMia2, The Greatest Showman and one episode of RuPaul Drag race but , the actual interface was my favourite of any airline ever:

  • It was the most responsive system I’ve ever used, as there was virtually no lag after selecting options
  • There were no ads before starting shows or movies
  • The entertainment system had an awesome flight overview, which showed a timeline of the flight, including when meals would be served, etc.
  • The airshow was possibly my favourite airshow system ever, as it was easy to use and showed so many cool angles

Less than 2 hours before landing the lunch was served with two choices for the main course plus a vegetarian option; the flavours were excellent, and I was happy that the portions were well judged to be relatively light Drinks were served with and during the meal with interesting names on the wine list – including French, Spanish, Portuguese and Australian vintages and of course challenging to order but extremely tasty Finish cocktails

From Dubai to Helsinki dinner was served less than two hours after take-off in the same formula like on the outbound flight: a starter, a salad, two choices for main plus the vegetarian choice, cheese platter and Godiva chocolates as dessert. About 90 minutes before arrival in Helsinki a muted pinging sound woke passengers gently and ice-cream was served, which was a good idea instead of a cold snack as we landed sometimes around 10.30PM.

The Airbus A350 is such a gorgeous, quiet, smooth plane. Even the take-off and landing rolls were extremely quiet; I barely realised we were taking off or touching down.

Click here to see a video report of the flight HEL-DBX

Click here to see a video report of the flight DBX-HEL

I’m so happy I had the opportunity to finally sample Finnair’s business class, especially on their brand new A350.I love the A350, and from a passenger comfort standpoint it’s a win. Between how quiet it is, the tail camera, and the general cabin ambiance, it’s one of my favourite planes to fly.

I also loved the attention to detail in Finnair’s service. From the colourful pillows and amenity kits, to the flight attendants wearing gloves during boarding, the product was extremely well thought out. Service shined on both flights…I wish to commend every single Finnair crew on the flight for providing genuinely friendly, caring service. They were chatty…I like that. But they were also service-oriented. Drinks were refilled, the cabin was monitored often with extra water bottles offered.

All things considered, Finnair’s A350 business class still ranks high. The reverse herringbone seat and wifi are what matter most to me, while the special touches and quirky design are what set Finnair apart for me. When we landed ahead of schedule in Helsinki and I was truly sorry the flight had ended. Finnair is now absolutely one of my favourite carriers in business class. With great service, a comfortable seat, tasty food, and free and functioning wi-fi, I’d call this a near flawless business class flight.

Fix the Ciabatta issue and it would have been flawless.