Around the World in 80 Hours: Part 2 (A day in Singapore, then a lot of flying)

Around the World in 80 Hours: Part 2 (A day in Singapore, then a lot of flying)

Prior to planning this trip, I knew virtually nothing about Singapore. It was pretty high on my list-that-doesn’t-really-exist of places that I wanted to visit, but I didn’t really know why or what I’d do when I got there. I suspect that the allure of the legendary Singapore Airlines First Class experience put it in my head that Singapore was a place that I wanted to visit, but I can’t think of anything more specific than that. After spending 22 hours there, I’m very happy that it made my list.

This is the second post of three about the trip:

 The Mandarin Oriental Singapore

My bathroom at the Mandarin Oriental Singapore

I have a pretty awkward relationship with spending money on hotels. I feel like given that I’m into luxury (on a budget) flying, I should also be into the same for hotels. I booked the Mandarin Oriental Singapore because it is one of the top hotels in Singapore (according to Trip Advisor), and I was able to book it at a very reasonable rate that included a number of nice complementary amenities thanks to my affiliation as a Virtuoso travel agent. And the truth is, the hotel delivered on every one of its promises–the facilities were beautiful, the room was spacious, the location was wonderful, the staff was attentive, and the complementary breakfast was tasty. Having said that, I left the hotel disappointed. Despite getting a great deal, I could have probably stayed at a Holiday Inn for about half the price and been just as happy. My trips tend to be short so I don’t spend much time in my hotel room–give me a comfortable bed for the night and a decent location so I can get around, and I’m perfectly happy. I don’t feel like I really gained much by  spending the extra cash. Oh well.

A day in Singapore

The Singapore Flyer

My total time in Singapore was about 22 hours, and after sleeping and considering transit time to and from the airport, that boiled down to about 12 hours of actual touristy time, or around 8 AM to 8 PM. I didn’t really have a solid plan–I had heard that the Singapore Zoo was fun, I wanted to visit the Marina Bay Sands because it is a big and pretty building, and I wanted to meet a fellow FlyerTalk forum member (Simon) at some point for either lunch or dinner. Equipped with my iPhone (and Google Maps), and a clear view of the Marina Bay Sands, just started walking in that direction.

A short distance from my hotel was the Singapore Flyer, which at 541 feet tall (42 stories), is the tallest ferris wheel in the world. It was an easy way to start the day, and it gave me a spectacular view which I could actually use to help plan the rest of the day.

From there, I noticed a easy path to the Marina May Sands, so I started in that direction. As I was getting closer I started seeing advertisements for “Harry Potter: The Exhibition” at the ArtScience Museum at the Marina Bay Sands. That seemed like a fun diversion, so I wandered off in that direction (and thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition — it was well done and included tons of props and costumes from the movies). There was also an Andy Warhol exhibit at the same time.

After finishing up there, I continued through the mall and onto the casino floor at the Marina Bay Sands. The entire complex was a typical Vegas-ish hotel/casino, with luxury shops and a large casino floor. I found it a little bit interesting that, to combat habitual gambling, the government requires that local residents pay SGD$100 just to even enter. (Tourists get in free.)

This is a toddler feeding two giraffes. It is sickeningly cute.

After a few minutes on the smoky casino floor I had my fill and decided to check out the zoo. The Singapore Zoo is on the outskirts of town, so I grabbed a cab, which was surprisingly cheap … I think I paid about the equivalent of US$10 for a 20 minute cab ride out of town. I only had about two hours at the zoo before I had to meet Simon from FlyerTalk, but it was probably the highlight of my time there. Singapore was built on rainforest, so it’s pretty much the ideal place to showcase any number of tropical animal species. The habitats are beautiful and well done, plus for SGD$5 (about $4 US), you can feed almost anything.

After the zoo I took public transit back to the city (as the cab line was easily an hour long), had cheap dim sum with Simon at a restaurant in an upscale mall in downtown Singapore, then hopped on a cab to the airport.

Check out all of the pictures from Singapore in the gallery below:

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Singapore Business Class, and two versions of Emirates First Class

Old business class on Singapore Airlines

The next leg of my journey was Singapore (SIN) to Colombo, Sri Lanka (CMB) in Singapore Airlines regional business class. While Singapore’s long-haul experience is extraordinary, they still run their old premium cabin products on intra-Asia flights, which are pretty dated and unexciting. Having said that, I didn’t care too much–between pushing myself hard and the inevitable jet lag, I fell asleep pretty much the second that my butt hit the seat. Before I knew it, we were landing in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Colombo isn’t a city I’ve ever felt the urge to visit; I only transited Colombo because first class tickets originating in Colombo are quite reasonably priced, and I’ve always wanted to fly on some of these planes in first class. Don’t get me wrong–I’m sure it is a beautiful country with a lot to see, but I saw none of it. I left the airport for five minutes just to get the stamp on my passport, and after being ambushed by the by the heat and humidity, I promptly made my way back into the air conditioned airport … a journey which involved stepping through three different metal detectors, all of which alarmed because they told me not to bother taking stuff out of my pockets, but none of the alarms seemed to cause anyone to look twice (I’m guessing I didn’t match the profile they were concerned about).

Hey look … it’s the plane I’m about to board.

After two hours in the Emirates lounge at Colombo (where I caught up on email and other internet-y things), I stepped on to an Emirates 777 with their “old style” first class. Calling it “old” is kind of ridiculous because it’s only a few years old, has a lie-flat seat, and is tremendously comfortable … but in a world where Emirates went batshit insane on their first class product, I guess it’s more on-par with their new business class than first class. Once again, however, I didn’t really experience any of (except for the comfortable lie-flat part) it because I promptly fell asleep.

On approach to Dubai (DXB), I was quietly reminded of how lucky we are to have a modern, efficient, and completely integrated air traffic control system in the United States. You see, it was a beautiful and clear day, and we were put in a holding pattern outside of the airport. This basically meant that the controller or the airport was too busy to accommodate us, so we flew in circles for about 10 minutes before continuing our journey. This almost never happens in the US anymore except for during short-lived bad weather events because, for example, if the computers or controllers detect that SFO will become backed up in, say, two hours, they’ll delay the planes before they take off, or ask them to fly slower on the way. (This is called flow control.) I suspect that this happens a lot more outside the US because air traffic control systems are less integrated between countries and there is far less space to play with. (I hit another hold inbound to London.)

Upon entering the Dubai Airport, I was immediately struck by one thing: how frigging huge it is. Or at least how huge the terminal is. Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport is the largest airport terminal in the world, with a total of 21,300,000 square feet. It’s huge. Not only that, it’s also really really busy–despite being used exclusively by passengers on Emirates airlines, it was absolutely packed to the gills, and I felt like I was fighting my way through traffic the entire time … until I found the Emirates Airlines first class lounge.

Entrance of the Emirates First Class Lounge at Dubai

The Emirates first class lounge is designed to be an oasis in the chaos. You enter to a expansive set of fountains which exist just to augment the atmosphere. Like the terminal itself, the first class lounge is massive. In fact, almost the entire upper floor of Terminal 3 is made up of lounges–half is the business class lounge, and half is the first class lounge. The first class lounge has a full-service sit-down restaurant, a spa, a children’s play room, private sleeping rooms, showers, and more, all of which is complementary to first class customers. I desperately needed a haircut, so I decided to schedule one at the spa after ordering some pancakes at the restaurant (which were delicious). After my complementary haircut and some additional rest, it was time for my flight to board. Fortunately, though, that didn’t mean having to rejoin the scrum in the main part of the terminal.

My next flight was in first class on the Emirates Airbus A380, which is considered one of the most extravagant (if not the single most extravagant) first class products offered by scheduled air carriers. One of the nice things about the A380 is that the two-floor plane can be boarded directly to both floors. (The other two-floor plane, the Boeing 747, doesn’t have a normal boarding door on the second floor.) Emirates has taken advantage of this by allowing first and business class customers (who occupy the upper deck of the A380) to board from a separate gate area on the upper floor of the terminal right next to the lounges. So, after a short walk, I was on the plane and approaching my first class suite.

The Emirates A380 suite is everything one might dream it would be and more. Everything in the suite from the seat to the window shades to the sliding door is electronically controlled via a wireless controller. Plus, at some point during the trip, you get to take a frigging shower. At 38,000 feet above the ground. While traveling at mach 0.85. It’s the only product of its kind. This video has been circulating through many channels, and it shows it off better than I can describe:

After a few movies, a short nap, and a shower, I arrived in Paris. Here are some photos from the flights:

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There’s more to come in Part 3!