My Flight: JetBlue Mint cabin (new business class service) from LAX to JFK

A review of JetBlue Mint Cabin (Business Class)

Yes, you read it right. USA-based airline JetBlue now has business class. Named Mint (in true JetBlue fashion), it is available on routes between New York’s JFK and Los Angeles and just has been introduced on selected flights between JFK and San Francisco. On a recent trip to California, I had to connect via JFK so I really had to try it. And priced from just $599 each way, I was very intrigued to see how it would compare with other ‘transcontinental’ services which have been recently introduced by other airlines (which can cost 3-4 times more each way).

Here’s how My Flight with JetBlue went.

Pre-flight correspondence and experience

We made our booking online using JetBlue’s website and it was pretty straightforward. We had pre-selected our seats (1A and 1C) and expected a smooth ride. In the months that preceded our trip, we were surprised by a barrage of promotional emails (I had clearly opted-in without realising) which were totally inappropriate to us as a) we do not live in the USA and b) not one single email was about Mint class, so totally irrelevant.

On this trip, I was connecting in NYC and flying with British Airways to London. I was due to land in NYC at 5am and have a whole day in the city and then depart for London at 9.30pm. Since both airlines had recently announced some sort of collaboration, I was hoping I would get some luggage assistance as the flights arrived and departed for different terminals (and we *only* had 5 suitcases) and we really did not need our luggage.

I tweeted both airlines who said that not much could be done, which surprised me, as I was flying Mint and BA First and because they announced a partnership making things easier for passengers of both airlines. I was told by JetBlue’s team that my option would be to leave the bags with them at Terminal 5, which would mean I would have to go to NYC, come back to one terminal, get the luggage and miraculously find a cab which would take me to BA‘s Terminal 8. Getting 5 suitcases on the Air Train would obviously not be an option, so I took the luggage with me to the hotel and then checked in with BA at 10am and spent the day in NYC with no bags. I honestly think there is room for improvement here – seriously what is the point of that announcement? To be fair, JetBlue responded to me on twitter in real-time.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 10.07.28

Check-in 

We had checked-in online and I was curious about the number of check-bags we would be allowed. We knew we were over (and paying would not be the issue), but were surprised not to find any information. I checked the small print on our ticket and there was no mention, checked the website and ‘nada’, so they I tweeted JetBlue. The response came quickly, as always and we knew we had 2 bags each and would have to pay for 1 extra suitcase. Not an issue at all, but still found it weird… why isn’t it on the website?

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 10.13.56

At LAX, we found the JetBlue area and saw that there was a separate check-in line for Mint and Mosaic (frequent flyers) passengers, with no queue. There was hardly any queue for coach passengers either. When we checked in, we were told that we had to pay $75 for the extra bag, which we thought it was interesting as the first ‘extra’ bag is priced at $50. If you fly economy, your first bag is free, the second bag is $50 and the third or more bags are $75. As our allowance was 2 bags, one would assume that ‘our first extra bag’ would be charged at $50, but we were told that it counted as a third bag. I did not say a word for the sake of $25, but believe this could be made clearer going forward.

Smooth check-in for all passengers, to be fair.

Smooth check-in for all passengers, to be fair.

Security

As Mint passengers, we were able to use the Fast Track security lanes, which were not particularly busy and we went through under 8 minutes, which is not bad.

 

The Lounge

There was no lounge at LAX, sadly, so we found a bar and had a pre-flight Gin & Tonic. Getting a seat wasn’t easy and it was different from our normal flying experiences, but I understand that there is a lounge in NYC and there could be one on the way to LAX, soon. The terminal isn’t particularly exciting, with limited shopping and dining.

The Flight

I cannot tell you how excited I was about getting on the plane – the website did promise a very special flight experience with lots of curated touches, which I was keen to experience.

The very smart JetBlue mint cabin

The very smart JetBlue mint cabin

–          Welcome

We boarded and were very quickly directed to our seats, which were 1A and 1C. The cabin looked über smart, with great lighting and the crew were very friendly. Throughout the flight, I was surprised to see everyone always being addressed by name, which was a nice touch.

–          Amenities

On our seats, we found a snooze pack, a blanket and a pillow and later on, we got our his and hers Birchboxes. I love the concept (it is a subscription service whereby every month you get a box full of wonderful beauty products at home) and I thought it was a very clever brand association.

The contents and brands change each month on Birchbox which will make for interesting surprises.

The contents and brands change each month on Birchbox which will make for interesting surprises.

–          Drinks service 

Before take off, we were offered a Mint welcome cocktail – which was Minty, of course. How sweet. We were asked if we wanted it with or without vodka, so in the name of research, I said yes. They were yummy.

Mint cocktails for me, please.

Mint cocktails for me, please.

For the meal, we had 2 choices of American red and white wine, very appropriate, and a US-produced sparkling wine. There was also a bar and beer service with plenty of options as well as soft drinks. I tried the Sauvignon Blanc, which was good.

–          In-flight dining

I was looking forward to trying the food, as it isn’t your regular horrible airplane food (or so the marketing materials promised). In a partnership with Saxon & Parole (a very cool NYC restaurant which I had actually been to before), JetBlue hopes to revolutionise the food served on American skies, which can only be a good thing and much-needed.

The menus were also interesting and very well presented, as you can see.

The Mint Menu

The Mint Menu

The tray arrived and I have to say, it looked pretty good. The soup was delicious and the 3 tapas-style courses were not unpleasant to the eye. From the 3 options, I wasn’t so keen on the lentils, but the shrimps were good. The dessert was actually fantastic and the sorbet worked very well up in the air.

The dining experience

The dining experience

I wasn’t so keen on the breakfast sandwich, but I thought the concept was very interesting and JetBlue may be on to something here. It was, without a doubt, better than any other domestic USA flight I had ever taken.      

–          The seat

Best seats in the house - even numbers!

Best seats in the house – even numbers!

The seats and the cabin itself looked extremely smart – they were very comfortable and had lots of very interesting details. Storage was extremely well thought out, with room for a water bottle (which was there from the beginning), an actual place to put your phone so you don’t lose it (very clever), and lots of space overall.

Rows 1, 3, 5 have 2 seats on each aisle, but rows 2, 4, 6 have just the 1… with a door! Obviously I had no idea (but we were 2 people flying), and if you can, absolutely book these seats as you have a little mini suite and are more secluded from the rest of the cabin.

The seats supposedly become flat beds and have a massaging feature, but ours sadly did not work. The crew tried hard to change them, and were able to get them almost flat, or in landing position. It was a real shame as we were keen to test the seats (and sleep properly).

A fellow passenger let us take a photo as ours were never like this

A fellow passenger let us take a photo as ours were never like this

We were promised a $100 voucher per passenger, which never materialised. It would be nice to get them at some point. (Note: within 1 hour of this article being published, JetBlue’s twitter team has gotten in touch and provided me and my husband with the credit towards future travel. Impressive or what?)

There were proper power and USB plugs on each seat, which worked very well.

Lots of clever details and plenty of room

Lots of clever details and plenty of room

–  In-flight entertainment 

I had flown JetBlue once before in my life (a good 15 years ago) and was mesmerised when they had live TV on board. On this flight, they still offered the same, with many channels to choose from, and there were also feature films. I was surprised to find out that the films were not on demand, so they just kept going. This meant we missed quite a bit as obviously we had to interact with the crew during the meal service – don’t get me wrong, I always do this and think it is very rude to not to, but being a brand new plane, I wasn’t sure why this wasn’t featured.

We also had wifi (which is still a novelty for us in Europe) and I used it for 10 minutes just to test it for fun, and worked very well.

The In-Flight Entertainment

The In-Flight Entertainment

The headphones were OK and cancelled some of the noise and the in-flight entertainment was easy to use. The screen was large and worked very well.

Final thoughts

Despite some mishaps, I thought that the flight was very good and JetBlue is certainly innovating and created a very interesting business class product. Service was good, but you could tell it was a new concept and the crew were finding their way around, and doing a good job. At $599 each way, I thought it was extremely well priced and it delivered on the promise (assuming your seats work as advertised). Our bags were the first ones to get out on arrival and we were also ahead of schedule which is always good news.

Would I fly again? I would – even knowing that I would forfeit my beloved OneWorld points. Would I recommend it? Without a doubt.

To find our more about JetBlue’s Mint Cabin, visit its website.

Until the next flight…

xo

Mrs. O

Loving Gold in Istanbul, Turkey #lovegold

This post has been brought to you by the World Gold Council

As a good Portuguese wife, my wedding ring is a solid yellow gold band, and my husband’s matches mine. This is not to say that any other choices are wrong (of course they are not), but my choice was conditioned by my cultural heritage and tradition, and one I was always very keen to continue and will do so.

While researching places to visit in preparation for my recent trip to Istanbul, I came across these gorgeous Gold Jewellery Shopping Guides on LoveGold.com and I was really quite intrigued. I was also gutted that my discovery took place the day after I had returned from Los Angeles and New York. Why?

The displays were truly unique...

The displays were truly unique…

Well, because New York and Los Angeles are two of the 9 cities who are part of the LoveGold Shopping Guides. The others are Istanbul (Turkey), Sao Paulo (Brazil), London (UK), Paris (France), Mumbai, Delhi and Jaipur (India). My next trip was to Istanbul and Mumbai and Jaipur are also on the horizon – so some stories are just meant to be told.

The concept behind LoveGold’s jewellery guides is simple – there are extraordinary jewellery designers around the world, and many up and coming ones, especially in cities where gold is traded as a commodity and you are never really sure what you are buying. Needless to say, if you want to buy gold in Istanbul’s grand bazaar, you are doing so at own risk.

By using the LoveGold guides, you will not only find unique jewellery designers in the 9 cities, but also buy with confidence. The website is very sexy and makes for an interesting read, I promise!

In Istanbul, Turkey, I chose to visit the Melié by Melike showroom, located in the über trendy Nişantaşı district. I honestly did not know what to expect – I obviously knew that it would be lovely! And oh my God.

Such a pretty space...

Such a pretty space…

To say that the showroom was stunning, would be an understatement – you knew you were walking into someone’s personal space, and someone with impeccable taste. Melike, the designer, was also there and was as lovely and pretty – it kind of all felt like a fairy tale!

The very talented Melie

The very talented Melike

But what I loved? The pieces – very unassuming, discrete, and using real high carat yellow or rose gold and a variety of precious stones.

I wear jewellery quite a bit – but only very small and discrete pieces. A ring, very small earrings and a small pendant. I am not one for bracelets, for example.

So at Melié, I was spoiled for choice. I enjoying looking at pieces which were very different to what I would normally wear (like the rings you can see below), but I was also delighted to find not 1, but 27 things I truly loved.

I loved the rose gold pendant with a black stone (which changed colour according to what I wear), and I had to buy it (i.e. not a gift, it is mine mine mine!).

I actually did want them all!

I actually did want them all!

We were also treated to impeccable Turkish hospitality and I have to say, the Turkish delights and chocolates were outstanding. It was a very personal shopping experience and I truly enjoyed every minute of it.

Best Turkish delights I had on the trip.

Best Turkish delights I had on the trip.

Without the LoveGold Shopping Guides, I would have not actually discovered this great part of town, and certainly not come across Melié by Melike. I know what I bought was of the highest quality, and the design had my name written all over it.

Next time, I shall take my LoveGold adventure around London, which is something I have never done, outside Old Bond Street, where most of my jewellery comes from.

Who's a happy girl? Me!

Who’s a happy girl? Me!

Do you also #LoveGold? What do you think of this concept?

Xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by LoveGold. Needless to say, and as you will know if you read my blog regularly, it reflects my personal opinion about the shop and the designer, whose creations I purchased on the same occasion, and were not a gift.

A journey on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express train

A journey on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train was something I have always wanted to do – it is one of those true luxury travel experiences that are on everyone’s bucket list. After a taster journey on the Belmond British Pullman, the sister train of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, earlier this summer, where we were treated to ‘The Dinner’ with 2-star Michelin celebrity chef Tom Kerridge, we knew good things were coming our way. Very good things indeed.

Welcome on-board the most iconic train in the world, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express

Welcome on-board the most iconic train in the world, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express

On this journey, we were travelling from Venice to London, departing at 11am from Santa Lucia station, and arriving at around 6pm the following day to London’s Victoria station. Seventeen hours of 1920s luxury, impeccable service, incredible scenery (as we travelled through Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France and the United Kingdom) and fine dining. And a glass of champagne or three.

The Check-in procedure at the Belmond Venice-Simplon Orient Express train, in Venice.

The Check-in procedure at the Belmond Venice-Simplon Orient Express train, in Venice.

We made our way to Venice’s main train station and had a little bit of trouble finding where we were supposed to get to – not sure if I was expecting more signage, but in the end, it was a matter of following well-dressed people, as they kind of stood out.

One of the things I loved when I got my travel documentation, was to read carefully about the dress code. It stated: ‘In keeping with the spirit of the occasion, you can never be overdressed on board‘. Needless to say jeans, shorts and trainers are not allowed on board, but in all honesty, there were some people almost breaking the code, and that made me sad. It is a special occasion and Mr. O and I were determined to, well, be ourselves, and dress the part. It is never a chore, believe me.

I must confess to one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. You know that moment. Everyone had that moment. I had it once 14 years ago as I was trying to board a plane – and did not have my passport with me. I saw the passports in the morning before we left our hotel, and I can swear to God that I put them in my handbag. But, when we were asked for them, they were nowhere to be found. BUT, for some bizarre reason, and as the lovely hostess was calling our hotel, and calling a water taxi, I decided to check our suitcases and found them inside my bag. I was blushing and Mr. O was very silent. No words were needed. You would think I had done this before.

Our boarding passes - no iPhone apps needed, thank you very much.

Our boarding passes – no iPhone apps needed, thank you very much.

At this stage, you let go of your luggage and you can check-in items that you will only see when you arrive at your destination (in this case, Paris or London), and you are allowed a carry-on bag (and a garment bag) per passenger which will be delivered to your cabin. The idea is that you have as little with you as you can, as you can imagine, space is limited.

Mr. O and I, together with other passengers, were then escorted to what we thought was the lounge, similar to the one we had visited at Victoria Station – but there is not a dedicated lounge at Venice, and instead, all VSOE passengers use a very nice coffee shop, where a spacious area has been pre-booked and you can have tea, coffee and biscuits.

And all of a sudden, it was 10.30am and the train was arriving at the platform. I have to say, this was and will always be one of the most treasured travel memories of my life. Everyone, without exception was so excited to be about to embark on such an experience, everyone looked like children at a candy store. And that was lovely – no one was ‘too cool’, every person (we had 120+ passengers on board on this date) looked truly happy.

Oh yes, it was about to become very real.

Oh yes, it was about to become very real.

The train was a beauty – and I have to say, the staff had the best uniforms ever. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train was quite long, but the walk was one to be enjoyed slowly, but surely. There were no queues, no rushing, and a lot of photographs being taken. And so many smiles, it was infectious.

Almost ready to board... but not quite!

Almost ready to board… but not quite!

And, I am not quite sure how to put this, the recruitment process at the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express follows very strict procedures, which surely you will understand if you look at every photograph.

The lovely gentlemen who looked after us very well during our meals onboard the VSOE.

The lovely gentlemen who looked after us very well during our meals onboard the VSOE.

We made our way towards our carriage (J) which was almost at the end of the train – for reference, the passenger sleeper carriages are at each end of the train, and the restaurants, piano bar, service and kitchen carriages are in the middle. Walking from one end of the train can take a good 15 minutes, and that depends on good you are walking in motion.

When we got to our carriage, we were met by Vincent, who was our Cabin Steward. A true Frenchman, with a great sense of humour, we knew we had nothing to worry about from the moment we first met.

There are 3 types of cabins on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train – single cabins, double cabins, and suite cabins. 90% of the cabins are double cabins and on each carriage you will find a single cabin and a suite cabin, which is basically two interconnecting rooms.

Our first view of the train - and where you can clearly see the cabins.

Our first view of the train – and where you can clearly see the cabins.

As luck would have it, we were actually assigned a suite cabin, which meant we had twice the space. There is no first class or second class on this train – everyone has paid exactly the same and has the same level of service. The double cabins sleep up to 4 passengers, are increasingly being used by families (with very well-behaved children, I have been told).

The lovely cabin

The lovely cabin

We were escorted to our cabin, where we found our luggage stowed away, and the first thing we did was just unpack our garment carriers so that our evening attire would be in tip-top shape for the festivities to come. All of a sudden, we felt the train move and we were on our way to Verona. Everything was simple and so different from an airplane.

We found a chilled bottle of champagne and nuts waiting for us, and we couldn’t resist it – it would be rude to. So champagne glass in hand, it has time to explore the our cabin.

The washing facilities on each cabin.

The washing facilities on each cabin.

In each cabin, you will find a basin and a vanity unit (with very interesting storage). I knew that there would be no showers, but I also knew it was kind of half the fun. I obviously took baby wipes, but I was very keen to see what was offered in terms of washing products – and possibly, the best wash bag in the world. Ever.

There were also branded tissues, many many bottles of Acqua Panna around the cabin (replaced throughout the journey), and wonderful Fragonard goodies. But the ‘dry-shower’ Temple Spa range was truly unique (and very effective, for the record). I tried pretty much every product and they were very good.

The prettiest vanity case ever.... ever...

The prettiest vanity case ever…. ever…

There are no loos in each cabin – but there are two per carriage. They were always impeccable and I never had to queue, so no issues there either.

The loos (which were always impeccable)

The loos (which were always impeccable)

At first, Vincent came to say hello to us, but also to explain how everything worked – we also handed over our passports, which were kept throughout the journey as we were obviously crossing various borders, including non-Schengen countries. We were also visited by the Maitre d’Hotel who came to explain how each meal worked and we were given the option between two seatings for lunch and dinner.

As it was 11.30am, we weren’t quite ready for the 12pm seating, so we chose the 2pm seating, which gave us time to just sit down and enjoy the ride. There was no rush.

Under an hour after Venice, we made a stop in Verona. Throughout the journey there are quite a few technical stops – very handy for smokers, as you cannot obviously smoke on the train – which allowed everyone to stretch their legs every now and then. Some stops were too short, but others were 20-30 minutes and it was good to be ‘in Innsbruck for 2o minutes’, for example.

On this photo, you can see 'the second' cabin and how they were joined together.

On this photo, you can see ‘the second’ cabin and how they were joined together.

Before we knew it, it was time for lunch – and we were starving! With the train fare, ‘Table d’Hote’ meals are included. This means that there is a set menu for each meal, and if you want to order off-menu, you pay extra, as you do for any drinks. Needless to say, that the team will be extra careful with any allergies or dietary restrictions, but you need to do this at the time of booking.

We were starving! But not for long!

We were starving! But not for long! I had crazy hair during my journey because of the serious downpour in Venice. But it was still acceptable, but the curls went a bit funny.

For lunch, we had duck foie gras which was wonderful. Those babies did not die in vain, is all I can say. This beauty was followed by pan-fried John Dory with butter beans and the best most exquisite mashed potatoes: it was made of white potatoes and violet. To finish, we had pineapple roasted in brown sugar and ‘its sorbet’, with yummy salted caramel mousse. Obviously, this is not the time to diet or even think about it. As we were always moving, the calories were almost negative. Trust me.

Lunch was very good indeed.

Lunch was very good indeed.

You are assigned a table and dining car, and during the journey, you will get to try a few of them – only the decor differs (and its distance from the bar), but gives you a little change of scenery.

Before retiring to our cabin, we actually walked around the train just to see everything in day light, before we headed back. We politely declined afternoon tea at around 5pm as we seriously could not eat, and I am not ashamed to say we managed a little nap in between writing postcards for our friends and family and also readers who had requested a postcard. Each cabin comes with 4 (and it is a free, but not express service, but then again, who cares if a letter takes a week or two?), and I had so many requests coming through Twitter, that I asked for quite a few more, and just wrote away.

How cool were the postcards?

How cool were the postcards?

We woke up when the train stopped – which I found quite interesting. I was a bit worried if I would sleep ok, but I assure you – no issues there. The motion worked wonders and the ‘problem’ was when the train stopped.

This time around, we were in Innsbruck for a longer stop as we had to change engines. What? Well, it was actually quite interesting. The train (and there is only one Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train, for the record, which goes on different journeys each time around Europe), is pulled by an engine, and each time you cross a border into a new country, you need to get a new one. The process was quite quick, but it was something I had never thought about, so it was interesting to see.

A bit of clicking and unblocking and voila!

A bit of clicking and unblocking and voila!

At this time, it was almost 6pm and perfect to see some of the scenery – I loved glancing out of the window and seeing how dramatically different the scenery was. And stunning.

Somewhere in Austria, I think!

Somewhere in Austria, I think!

Somewhere in Switzerland... potentially...

Somewhere in Switzerland… potentially…

We were visited again in our cabin to select our dining time (obviously it had to be the 9pm sitting) and it was time to get ready, as cocktails in the bar awaited. That meant a DJ (tuxedo) for Mr. O and a long evening dress for yours truly.

I had heard many many stories about the legendary bar cart and seriously could not wait. It was also where the whole train come together and you could see a many passengers at the same time in the same place.

The bar was cozy and very lively!

The bar was cozy and very lively!

We had a pre-dinner Gin & Tonic (very good to see different varieties, with Monkey 47 and Fever Tree being our clear favourite) and also canapés. Regarding the passengers, I often wondered if the average age was over 70, but I have to say – it was not. More than half the guests were in their 40s and 50s, with many 30-somethings like me, and obviously people who have enjoyed longer lives and it was a fantastic mix. Everyone was keen to chat and we did get to hear some fantastic stories.

Dinner was superb. All meals we had were true fine dining and I don’t know to this date how they prepare such dishes on a moving train. Walking around in heels wasn’t easy, taking photos was challenging, and I will always be in awe of the skill demonstrated by the team. No one ever spilled anything (I did, worry not).

Absolutely ready for Meal #2.

Absolutely ready for Meal #2.

For dinner, we started with a crab claw and avocado tartare, followed by veal, white truffle puree and sautéed potatoes. We spent a very significant part of the meal perusing and experiencing the cheese selection and I don’t know how, but we even got to try the lovely (and light) lemon cake and vanilla panna cotta. We paired this with a nice bottle of Barolo.

Beautiful dishes and do not get me started on the bread.

Beautiful dishes and do not get me started on the bread.

For the record, no espresso coffee is served on board, apparently due to the pressure necessary, which the train engine cannot take somehow – our lovely waiter even said ‘imagine how hard it is for me, I am Italian’. Too true.

After dinner, we needed a walk, which was perfectly timed with a longer train stop, and obviously went back to the bar. For a drink, or three.

A great night in, so to speak!

A great night in, so to speak!

I really want to say that I went to bed at 3am, like many many others did (the bar closes when the last passenger goes to bed), but by 1am we were so sleepy, I cannot tell you. Something to do with the motion. So we went back to our cabin, to find it had been transformed into a bedroom. There were lovely details like mints and I loved the blankets.

Our cabin made into a bed.

Our cabin made into a bedroom.

We could have chosen to sleep on the same side of the cabin, whereby the back of the seat would have come up and made up a bunk bed, which is the normal sleeping arrangement, but on this occasion, and because I had the choice, we chose to sleep on each cabin (at a lower level).

And if some of you may think, ‘oh, that is small/weird’, my answer will be, ‘this is 20 times better than any airplane flat bed in the world, and costs the same as a one-way business class ticket from London to New York, or half a first class seat’. And it lasts 17 hours.

We slept like babies, babies, babies, and woke up when the train stopped in Paris, where half the passengers were to leave the train. I actually had planned to sleep until 8am, so I stayed in bed until after we left Paris. It was ‘weird’ to open the curtains and see a normal train station with people everywhere, so I decided not to.

As we got up, we let Vincent know that we were ‘ready for breakfast’ and that meant that we went to use the facilities (a dry shower, quite interesting) and get dressed and when we got back, the cabin was pristine again and a delicious continental breakfast had been served. I loved not having to get up and just enjoy a quiet breakfast (I do not talk a lot in the mornings, ask anyone who knows me) and enjoy the last bit of French scenery.

Simple is best - and nothing beats a French continental breakfast, in my opinion.

Simple is best – and nothing beats a French continental breakfast, in my opinion.

I thought the choice of products and brands on the train was very interesting – the staff was mostly French and Italian (and so is most of the route), but there were a lot of interesting choices, clearly appealing to the various European nationalities. I am sure that Italians would find scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for brunch weird, but there were other carefully selected options, like proper tea! I loved the variety and just thought it was a very nice touch.

We were on the second seating for brunch, and I was actually very sad. I knew that shortly after that meal, we would be arriving in Calais and switch trains. More on that later. But before, it was time for one last meal. One last very good meal. Brunch!

Le brunch was fantastique...

Le brunch was fantastique…

For brunch, we started with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, followed by broiled lobster. It ended with nougat ice cream and we decided that champagne was the only drink that would do this meal justice. We were not wrong.

But I was so so so so sad, I cannot tell you. An hour later, we were to arrive to Calais. In the meantime, our luggage was taken from our cabin (it would make a separate journey from ours to London Victoria), our passports were returned to us and the end was very near.

Time to say goodbye to Vincent and the VSOE

Time to say goodbye to Vincent and the VSOE

As we approached Calais, the skies opened and we got soaked, as we made our way to the 3 buses which were waiting for us. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train does not cross the channel into the UK, but worry not, there was something to this journey.

Au revoir...

Au revoir…

As we all got on the bus, we made our way to the Channel Tunnel, were we were to cross the channel by getting onto a train. I had done this twice before and it is fantastic as it takes only 30 minutes or so. But before, we all had to clear UK immigration before we left France, which meant we had to get out of the train, go through passport control and then back on the bus. Which, by the way, had the best driver in the world as I can assure you he got the bus inside the train in 3 movements or three. Very impressive.

I kid you not, we got into this train.

I kid you not, we got into this train.

As we arrived into the UK, we were dropped off at Folkestone West, where the lovely lovely lovely sister of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express was waiting for us – the Belmond British Pullman would be our fab ride into London (you can read about my previous experience here).

We waited in a little lounge while the train arrived, and we had the loveliest welcome by a local band. You can see the video right here.

It was almost time...

It was almost time…

Our journey to London took under two hours and it went so quickly, I cannot tell you. We were welcomed with a glass of sparkling rose (British, of course!!) and treated to our final Belmond meal – a very tasty afternoon tea, which is one of my favourite meals.

What a journey!

What a journey!

And before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye. I loved our 17 hours on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and its sister train the Belmond British Pullman. I had an idea (or many ideas) on how this trip would go, and how wonderful it would be, but I have to be honest, it was even more than I ever expected. The train was incredible, the staff were out of this world (and so personable), the food was outstanding and the memories will be with us forever.

If you would like to see a promotional video which was actually shot on the journey I was in, just sit back and enjoy.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and fact box: I was a guest of Belmond, which is the new brand name of Orient Express Hotels, Cruises & Trains, on this journey from Venice to London, which lasts 36 hours and costs £1,990 per person, including set meals and excluding all drinks. To find out more about the various journeys planned for 2015 and beyond on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, and to book your next journey visit this website.

My hOtel: The Arch, London

myhotel

The Arch London hotel, in London (!!!), is the perfect example that great things can come in small packages. A boutique hotel located behind the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, just around the corner from Marylebone – in other words, perfect for my London life. I love Marylebone and have to say, this hotel, who is part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, really surprised me.

The Arch, London (photo courtesy of hotel)

The Arch London (photo courtesy of hotel)

Pre-Arrival

–          Was there any pre-arrival communication by the hotel with myself via email or social media?

My stay was organised months in advance via email, and everything was pretty clear. There was no direct contact with the hotel as such.

–          Did I try to engage the hotel via Twitter? Did the hotel interact with me and made me feel welcome/special?

I did sent a tweet out before I arrived at the hotel, and I got a response.

–          Has the hotel tried to gather any personal information (e.g. preferences) prior to my stay?

I made no special requests, as per usual.

Arrival

The modern reception area

The modern reception area

–          The wow factor! What was the hotel decor style?

As I walked in, I was immediately escorted by the doorman, who walked me to the reception area. I was seriously impressed with the decor and look and feel of the place. And to think I know the area so well and never heard of this hidden gem.

–          How quick and efficient was the hotel check-in?

I love sit down check-ins and this was very good. Very efficient and the service was fantastic.

–          Was I addressed by name once reservation has been located? (it is all about the small details, some others are outstanding with this, and I love it, like I do when I board an airplane)

Absolutely.

–          Did I get an upgrade from my confirmed pre-booked room type?

I wasn’t sure what room I was going to get, so I was delighted to be told I was going to stay at the Abbey Suite.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

I thought the staff were absolutely fantastic – and honestly it was at par with the best hotels I ever stayed at. And when I met Michael, the fantastic GM and learned he came from the Four Seasons, everything made perfect sense.

–          Luggage – how many people did I have to tip before the luggage made it safely to my room? This is cultural, I know

I was escorted by the gentleman who checked me in, and taken to my room, which was, unusually, in the lower ground floor. I thought it could be interesting – but I wasn’t disappointed! It meant we had a private patio, which is lovely, especially in London.

–          Wi-fi – was I told anything about it? Was there a charge?

Wifi was complementary throughout the hotel.

Room Experience

Our stunning room (photo courtesy of the hotel)

Our stunning room (photo courtesy of the hotel)

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room was stunning. Stunning. Stunning. It was very spacious and very well designed. The whole hotel was incredibly tasteful and felt very inviting and warm. Besides a very large room with a small outdoor area, we also had a mini kitchen and a fab bathroom.

–          Welcome amenity

I had three lovely macarons and a note from the GM.

My welcome amenity

My welcome amenity

–          The bed

Was amazing and very comfortable. So comfortable, that on the last night we decided to go back to the room early after dinner and watch TV in bed, which we never do. At the end of the bed, there was a pop up TV!

–          Closet/Wardrobe – proper hangers or those annoying ones where you need a PhD to get them out one by one? This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand them.

Impeccable and plenty of storage space for me and Mr. O.

I loved loved loved our Abbey suite

I loved loved loved our Abbey suite

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

There was a dock for an iPhone 4, which we did not use.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Of course and for once I used the bathrobe. It was lovely and soft.

–          Coffee and Tea

Our mini kitchen came with a nespresso and a great collection of glasses.

–          Free bottled water

Not your average minibar, and included in all room rates (soft drinks only)

Not your average minibar, and included in all room rates (soft drinks only)

Yes of course, but even better, the all soft-drinks at the very well stocked mini bar were free of charge.

–          Magazine selection – had some nice surprises and doesn’t happen often enough!

It was actually quite nice!

The magazine selection

The magazine selection

–          Power sockets in useful places – we have more and more devices and we know where we want them! By the bed, by the working area.

I had plenty of sockets on my side of the bed, but none on Mr. O’s side – but he was closer to the desk and had plenty of outlets there. Worth noting that there were also European and US adapters.

Bathroom

I love a sexy bathroom!

I love a sexy bathroom!

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom was huge and fantastic.

–          Bath, shower and taps – I am looking for Duravits and Hansgrohes (or other fab brands) around the world. How fab was the shower? And a little pet peeve.. was I able to operate the shower without asking Mr. O for help?

All top-notch! We had a bath tub (with built-in TV, which we did not use) and a fantastic shower room. I was also able to figure the shower on my own, which doesn’t always happen.

Can you see the TV?

Can you see the TV?

–          Towels – yes, please! How many and how soft and lovely?

Very soft and large.

–          Toiletries – own brand, super brand, baby ones or proper ones? I shall find out!

The toiletries were from Malin+Goetz, a brand you do not see very often! Originally from NYC, the products are lovely and I may have taken an extra set home. Or not.

Fantastic toiletries...

Fantastic toiletries…

–          Amenity kit – I don’t want more sewing kits thank you very much, but I will need a shower cap.

We had everything we needed.

–          Hairdryer – is it a human one, or just something stuck to a wall that only makes noise?

I did not use it, but it seemed proper.

Restaurant

Hunter 486

Hunter 486

The restaurant has a restaurant and bar called Hunter486. It looked lovely and we enjoyed using it for breakfast, dinner and as a bar. It may seem weird, but it actually wasn’t – it has separate areas and they feel very different. On one of the nights, it was very busy, the other wasn’t so much. We had a great dinner (very English – Dover sole and steak!), but the highlight was the seasonal dessert: ice cream cocktails! OMG, they were so good, it was almost unbelievable!

The best dessert - EVER!The best dessert - EVER!

The best dessert – EVER!

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

It worked well around the hotel, but not brilliant in the bedroom. I let the hotel know and they promised to look into it.

–          Did the hotel interact with me via Twitter during my stay?

I did get a response back from my original tweet.

The digital ‘Maid Service’ and ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs - were a great idea, but I found that the DND turned itself off if you left the room.

The digital ‘Maid Service’ and ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs – were a great idea, but I found that the DND turned itself off if you left the room. No other way to take the photo, sorry you can see me!

–          Location

For me? Brilliant. I love Marylebone and believe it is a perfect base for London, whether you are visiting for leisure or business.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Standard rooms start from £205 per night, and suites from £1,005

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Absolutely.

–          Would I stay again?

Without a doubt.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of The Arch during this stay, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. For more information about the hotel, visit its official website.

A lux weekend around Napa Valley, California

After a 8-year hiatus, we made it back to one of California’s best known winemaking regions, where we enjoyed a fantastic weekend in Napa Valley. We weren’t quite sure if we would actually get there, as on the day before we were due to arrive, following our stay in San Francisco, there was an earthquake in the area, which caused some damage.

We were due to stay at the Westin Napa, but sadly, and as we found out earlier that morning, it was to be closed for a whole week, following burst pipes. That happened to many other hotels – and not to mention the fact that due to the time of the year, the region was booked 100%. So after a few unsuccessful calls, we struck gold: the last room available at the Sheraton Petaluma (a good 20-25 miles from Napa), but at this stage, beggars could not be choosers. It would be that, or nothing and thanks to our Starwood status, we even got upgraded to a suite. Small mercies.

Not the greatest fan of the 'world famous' expression... but... it was lovely!

Not the greatest fan of the ‘world famous’ expression… but… it was lovely!

We arrived and weren’t quite sure how to feel. Everyone was acting pretty normal and trying to get back to business. You have to admire the resilience of Americans. Just get up and go. And on they went. And so did we.

We actually had no plans that evening as the restaurant we had booked wasn’t open and as we were staying closer to Sonoma than Napa, we decided to head to this postcard pretty town, and find someplace to eat.

Sonoma is a very quiet place, but very pretty.

Sonoma is a very quiet place, but very pretty.

It was funny how after all these years, we remembered where everywhere was, and where we had gone for drinks and dinner all those years ago. We then decided that we would go back to La Salette restaurant, which we loved last time we were in town. And it did not disappoint. Everything was just as we remembered, and the menu, which was (wait for this) modern Portuguese (ha ha), was fantastic. I am not one to go to Portuguese restaurants when I am abroad, namely because there aren’t many, but have to recommend this place.

A taste of Portugal in California

A taste of Portugal in California

A meal for two was around $150 with fantastic Portuguese wine (Esporao reserva, of course). The tapas were yummy, as I had possibly the best gazpacho ever… which came with dungeness crab on top.

On the next day, we were due to go on the Napa Valley Wine Train (who coincidentally were the reason why we were in this part of California. Following my trip on the Belmond British Pullman earlier that summer, the team did not give up until I found some dates to visit this part of the world. You see, wine and trains go very well together, I promise). But because of the earthquake, the train was not running the following day, but was that a problem? Absolutely not. Their team rescheduled us for the day after (and we were happy to delay our departure from Napa), and in hours, organised 3 wine tasting sessions for us. And not just your average tasting sessions – we were to go to 2 of our favourite wineries and… wait for this… the US home of Taittinger champagne (obviously not called as not produced in La France).

We kept seeing these around and have to confess, were very curious!!

We kept seeing these around and have to confess, were very curious!!

So at 10.30am (a tad early for us Europeans to start tasting wine, but apparently very normal locally, where people must be up at 5am!), we made our way to Domaine Carneros, the US home of Taittinger (which as you may gather, is one of my favourite champagnes), who have been in the area since 1987. Sadly, this meant I had been missing out for almost all of my adult life. I came across Domaine Carneros when I visited Newport, in Rhode Island the year before, but not seen it ever since. That shall never happen again, I promise.

A chateau in California...

A chateau in California…

I thought the chateau was a bit chateauey for California, but it was quite nice. We were one of the first guests doing a tasting, and judging by the number of tables available, it would be fair to say it gets busy. But we were lucky! We chose the $30 sparkling wine sampler, and tried the estate cuvee, blanc de noir, brut rose and the demi-sec. It was actually quite interesting as they were completely different to the Taittinger versions that we are used to. Obviously the terroir, weather and everything else plays a part. We quite liked the Estate Cuvee ($30) and then asked to try the Ultra Brut ($35), which we thought was fantastic. But our favourite, by a mile, was the $100 Reve, which was sublime. We brought home a combination of these 3, and I am delighted to report that all bottles not consumed within the USA made it safely to Maison O’Reilly.

Who's a happy girl??

Who’s a happy girl??

From Domaine Carneros, we made our way to Grgich Hills, which is not pronounced in any way that one would think. I would say it sounds like ‘guerguish’. We know their Zinfandel quite well and have been trying their wines for the last 5 years every time we visit the USA. I am a great believer in wine miles and I always drink local wine whenever possible. In California, in 2014 (not 10 years ago, in my opinion), one is spoiled for choice.

It will be a good vintage, I promise...

It will be a good vintage, I promise…

We had a private tour of the winery, which was very nice (and being a family owned business, you can tell the difference) and a $40 tasting session. If you visit in pairs, I would highly recommend splitting a tasting between two. The pourings are generous and it is a lot of wine to go through in an hour. We had tried the Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc before, but really liked the Fume Blanc (which was a made up name by Mr. Grgich and Robert Mondavi, to come up with something to ‘rival’ France’s Pouilly Fume). Our favourite though, was the Yountville Selection 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. We also managed to buy 6 bottles, but sadly lost 2 on the flight back home.

At this stage, we were quite hungry and had had enough crackers, so it was time for lunch. We were recommended a restaurant called Mustard’s Grill, just a couple of miles away, and I have to say, it was good. Very good. Mr. O went for the Mongolian pork chop and I went for the slow smoked BBQ pork sandwich. Believe it or not, we passed on the wine. And dessert.

A great lunch choice!

A great lunch choice!

From here, we had our final wine visit, and one I had been looking forward to for years: I love Cakebread and its wines, and have been a devoted customer for the past 5 years, when my friend Amanda introduced us to it. We always make sure we bring some home, but when we are in the US, we always have it. I love their Sauvignon Blanc and it was the first American winemaker to make me drink Chardonnay.

I loved the winery and how everything was set up. We actually had a group tasting and mini tour as it was the only possibility with the change of plans (we were originally due to visit the following day and oh boy, they know of my love for them and were expecting Mrs. O). We had a ball and tried a little bit too much wine. It was fantastic and I now like Chardonnay a bit more – especially their Reserve limited edition one. We bought one of these special bottles and it was also broken on a plane. (I have to say in over 15 years travelling long haul, I never had a wine accident. This summer we had one bottle break on the way from Portugal, and 3 on the way from the US. Out of dozens (I will not admit to the exact number), it was not bad. But we missed out on that wine, which was a shame. But that only means one thing… I shall be going back for more.

I love love love Cakebread.

I love love love Cakebread.

After this visit, it was time to take a break from wine and meet lovely people! We first made our way to The Carneros Inn (where I am definitely staying next time) to meet Ana, who is a fellow Portuguese and a wine maker. We have been following each other on Instagram for almost two years and it was great!

We loved the bar area, called Farm.

We loved the bar area, called Farm.

We then made our way towards Napa, to meet Natalie (who is a loyal blog reader and with whom I chat a lot on Twitter) at Morimoto. It looked fantastic (and very trendy) and we almost stayed for dinner, but we honestly did not fancy sushi on that night.

I knew exactly what I wanted – I wanted cheese and charcuterie. And a glass of Zinfandel. And following Nat’s suggestion, we headed to The Thomas at Faggiani’s (which are like two restaurants in one). We loved the look and feel of the place, and were seriously impressed with what we ate. Mrs. O approved indeed.

All made locally... the charcuterie was also interesting.

All made locally… the charcuterie was also interesting.

After a lovely relaxed evening, we drove back to our hotel, which was 30 mins away and slept for 10 hours. We needed it!

The next morning, bright and early, we checked out and made our wine back to Napa for the last time. We easily found the starting point of The Wine Train – and I have to confess, I did not know what to expect. To be perfectly honest, the boarding area wasn’t the most inspiring – it was tired and does need a refurb. But once we saw the train, we had no worries at all.

When you go on the Wine Train, you basically pick from the various experiences – lunch, dinner, full day, etc. We were due to go on the Ambassador Winery Tour but as we changed the dates and could not go on the train for the whole day, we did the Lunch experience, on the Vista Dome cart.

Back on a train. And also very good wine and food.

Back on a train. And also very good wine and food.

Priced at $149+tax, I thought it was outstanding value for money. There are other less expensive options, but the difference in the experience is considerable (but the price difference is not). We had a lovely 3-course meal, with a welcome grass of Mumm (American sparkling) included. We then chose to pair each course with an appropriate wine, suggested by the team, and had an outstanding meal. Our train journey took 3 hours, and thanks to it I even got on USA TV that day. If you want to watch the 30′ clip, just click here.

On this journey, there are no real stops – you go from Napa to St. Helena and come back, but there are plenty of other options, with vineyard visits included, so worth having a look.

In my element!! I loved the Wine Train.

In my element!! I loved the Wine Train.

And before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye to Napa and continue our California road trip . I really enjoyed my time there – it was better than I ever remembered. I loved the two days we spent there and everyone we met. And everything we ate. And all we drank.

Until the next time!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Napa Valley Wine Train, who also kindly organised the wine tasting sessions at Domaine Carneros, Grgich Hills and Cakebread Cellars. Opinions, as always, are my own. And I loved every minute of it.

Top 5 Autumn beauty essentials for 2014

Summer has come and gone, sadly, but there is something comforting about colder evenings and shorter days. I know it is wishful thinking, but it is what it is. But there will be jam, and more tea, and scones. And a slightly different beauty routine. Here are my Top 5 Autumn beauty essentials for 2014.

 Always smell lovely

I love love love this perfume.

I am making summer last as long as possible, as I am obsessed with Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino Eau de Parfum. It made me change perfume, which says a lot! From John Lewis, £142 (50ml)

For your pretty face

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I have been using Liz Earle’s products for a couple of years now and from the whole range, this is my favourite. It is very much a all-in-one product and also great value. You can now buy, for a limited amount of time, the  Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser Starter Kit (with the cloth included) for a discounted price. From John Lewis from £14.75 (100ml)

For your body

I love ESPA products and was introduced to its home range when I stayed at the Corinthia Hotel in London. I visited their spa and left with a very impressive selection, which I bought from their shop, as it was wonderful. The ESPA Zesty Lemon, Ylang Ylang & Crushed Tonka Beans Body Wash is fantastic and my favourite. From John Lewis from £16 (250ml)

For your uber healthy hair

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I must admit that the fact that Jennifer Aniston is one of the backers of this brand did make me try it, but I was not disappointed. I stocked up on Living Proof No Frizz Shampoo when I was in the USA, but delighted now that I can also buy it in Europe. From John Lewis from £9 (60ml)

For a good night’s sleep

support-breathe-essence

I am a huge fan of Aromatherapy associates and this is a new discovery for me. I have been using the  Support Breathe Essence both at home and when I travel, which is quite often, and I have to say, things are better. I love the smell, it is very calming, and I do feel that I sleep better. Coincidence? May be not! From Aromatherapy Associates , from £18 (10ml)

What products can’t you live without? Tell me more!

xo

Mrs. O

Top 5 destinations for Autumn 2014

Summer has come and gone – and I have to say, mine was fantastic. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it is time to start thinking about cooler weather, and of course a whole different wardrobe. Not bad things indeed!

So this Autumn, I shall be travelling to 5 places – 2 new, 3 not so new. What can I say? I am a repeater, and I love it.

‘Where I am going next?’, I hear you ask…. well.. here you go!

Istanbul, Turkey

Stunning Istanbul...

Stunning Istanbul…

Istanbul is a very special place for me, as I worked for around a year in this part of the world (not lived, but travelled very often) and I have not been back since 2008, before I was even Mrs. O (but Mr. O was there with me, worry not!). It will be fantastic to see how the city has changed in the last 6 years. As the Four Seasons has not one, but two incredible hotels in this part of the world, I decided to be greedy and try both. We are going for a very long weekend, so it will not be a problem, at all.

Mallorca, Spain

I really miss Mallorca and you can guess why!

I really miss Mallorca and you can guess why!

I need a bit of sun before it gets dark at 3.30pm in England, which will happen before the end of October, so I am heading to Mallorca, an island I love. I went back last year (after a long hiatus) and promised I wouldn’t wait years until I went back, so I am keeping my promise. On this occasion, I will be staying at one of Mallorca Farmhouses‘ signature properties in Pollenca, which looks lovely. It is the only property which happened not to be fully booked on these dates, and a little preview of the fantastic villa I will be visiting in June. Never too much Mallorca, believe me.

Copenhagen, Denmark

I am praying for a bit of sun in Copenhagen - can you imagine seeing this live?

I am praying for a bit of sun in Copenhagen – can you imagine seeing this live?

A city I have always wanted to visit, it will be the perfect place to kickstart Mr. O’s birthday festivities. I was keen to visit a Christmas market, and following your suggestions on Facebook, Copenhagen was very high on many people’s list. I will be staying at the Hotel D’Anglaterre, one of Copenhagen’s landmarks and I cannot wait to see what was one of the most awaited hotel refurbishments in recent hotel history. It looks amazing and I also know I am in for a culinary treat in town. And keeping everything crossed for a cancellation at Noma.

Northern Ireland, UK

This seems perfect for the Os..

This seems perfect for the Os..

This will be my first trip to Northern Ireland, and I cannot tell you how excited I am. I know very little about this part of the UK, and very keen to discover more (and see how good Mr. O’s Northern Irish accent really is!). On this trip, I will be staying at two hotels, which will offer very different experiences. We will start at the Culloden Estate and Spa, not far from Belfast and then explore a bit more of the stunning countryside at the Ballygally Castle, in Co. Antrim.

Cannes, France

A bit more France, oui oui

A bit more France, oui oui

Who needs another French fix? Well, I do! I will be heading to Cannes to attend ILTM – International Luxury Travel Market, which is the event to attend in the luxury travel industry. I attended last year for the first time, and thought it was brilliant.

What do you think of my destinations? I won’t be going very far as I have a lot of London-based work, but I am very excited. Do let me know if you have any suggestions for each place, as they will come in handy!

Happy Autumn!

xo

Mrs. O

My hOtel: Mandarin Oriental San Francisco

myhotel

Located in San Francisco’s financial district, within walking distance of Union Square shopping and the Pier, the Mandarin Oriental was a fantastic choice for us when we recently visited this great city.

Being one of the city’s tallest buildings, it provided us with possibly the best photos of the San Francisco, better than any postcard I have ever seen.

This is what I call a 'Room with a View'

This is what I call a ‘Room with a View’

Pre-Arrival

–          Was there any pre-arrival communication by the hotel with myself via email or social media?

My stay was organised via email months before and everything was very straightforward.

–          Did I try to engage the hotel via Twitter? Did the hotel interact with me and made me feel welcome/special?

Not during my stay, as it fell outside office hours. I did get some tweets the day before and after I left.

–          Has the hotel tried to gather any personal information (e.g. preferences) prior to my stay?

Yes, but as usual, I had no special requests (but was keeping everything crossed for a view!).

Arrival

Arriving at the MO. Photo by Mandarin Oriental.

Arriving at the MO. Photo by Mandarin Oriental.

–          The wow factor! What was the hotel decor style?

We landed quite late in San Francisco and were delighted to arrive. I was expecting quite a large hall, but was surprised with a very cozy lobby and hotel in general. Despite being in a very tall building, the hotel only occupies the top floors and I felt it was quite a small hotel. In fact, with only 158 rooms it felt quite special. Everything was uber understated and calm, and I loved it.

–          How quick and efficient was the hotel check-in?

It took a mere 4 minutes as obviously not many people check in at 10pm!

–          Was I addressed by name once reservation has been located? (it is all about the small details, some others are outstanding with this, and I love it, like I do when I board an airplane)

Absolutely and throughout our stay.

The reception area. Photo by Mandarin Oriental.

The reception area. Photo by Mandarin Oriental.

–          Did I get an upgrade from my confirmed pre-booked room type?

I wasn’t sure which room I was going to get and was delighted with our Bay View King.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

We thought the staff were brilliant.

–          Luggage – how many people did I have to tip before the luggage made it safely to my room? This is cultural, I know

We had our many bags taken from the car to the room and didn’t have to worry about anything. The same person brought them over.

–          Wi-fi – was I told anything about it? Was there a charge?  

Yes, at $12 per day.

Room Experience

A very spacious and well designed room

A very spacious and well designed room

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Located on the 44th floor, our room (4405) was very spacious. I liked how simple the decor was – it was also very well designed and adequate for either a leisure or business stay.

–          Welcome amenity

We had some sweet treats and water.

Sweet treats awaited

Sweet treats awaited

–          The bed

Was absolutely fantastic. The mattress and pillows were great and the sheets were heavenly – with a touch of silk (or a silky feeling, which became my new obsession).

–          Closet/Wardrobe – proper hangers or those annoying ones where you need a PhD to get them out one by one? This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand them.

Great and with plenty of hangers.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

We had an iphone4 dock but did not use.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

I usually don’t use hotel robes, but couldn’t help noticing these ones. For once, they weren’t matching and I thought they were fantastic. I obviously chose the one on the left and did wear it.

I loved the non matching robes

I loved the non matching robes

–          Coffee and Tea

We had no facilities in the room, but again, it is something I never use. Surely if we wanted a cup of tea or coffee, it would be brought quickly to us.

–          Free bottled water

Yes, and replaced every day.

–          Magazine selection – had some nice surprises and doesn’t happen often enough!

We had a few magazines which were OK, but we had something even better, which I only noticed on the second day. There was an app to download free of charge, where we could choose which magazines (from a huge selection) to download. It was the first time I saw this at a hotel and believe it is a fantastic idea.

One of the best ideas ever.

One of the best ideas ever.

–          Power sockets in useful places – we have more and more devices and we know where we want them! By the bed, by the working area.

Oh yes, I thought they were very clever as they were incorporated in the furniture by each side of the bed.

Small details but oh so important

Small details but oh so important

Bathroom

A smart classic bathroom

A smart classic bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom was very classic and smart – spacious and had everything we needed.

–          Bath, shower and taps – I am looking for Duravits and Hansgrohes (or other fab brands) around the world. How fab was the shower? And a little pet peeve.. was I able to operate the shower without asking Mr. O for help?

We had a bath tub, which we did not use, and a fantastic walk-in shower, which I was able to operate without third-party help. It is not always the case.

–          Towels – yes, please! How many and how soft and lovely?

Yes, plenty and very good.

–          Toiletries – own brand, super brand, baby ones or proper ones? I shall find out!

Toiletries and vanity kit

Toiletries and vanity kit

We had MO’s signature range in small size. The shower gel was nice, but not so keen on the conditioner, to be honest. I thought the packaging was also lacking. Room for improvement here.

–          Amenity kit – I don’t want more sewing kits thank you very much, but I will need a shower cap.

We had a shower cap and cotton pads/buds and did not need anything else.

–          Hairdryer – is it a human one, or just something stuck to a wall that only makes noise?

Yes, but I did not use it.

Breakfast

Yummy French Toast

Yummy French Toast

We had a delicious a la carte breakfast with great choices. Mine was the baguette french toast ($16), with a green juice ($9) which was delicious. Breakfast takes place at the brasserie on the ground floor, next to the bar.

The breakfast and restaurant areas were nice and always quite busy.

The breakfast and restaurant areas were nice and always quite busy.

Bar

I tried the bar on two evenings and really liked our cocktails. I also thought the ipad menu was a nice touch.

A lychee martini for me, and a local small batch gin for Mr. O

A lychee martini for me, and a local small batch gin for Mr. O

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

It wasn’t fantastic, and it ended being removed from our bill.

–          Did the hotel interact with me via Twitter during my stay?

Not during my stay, but before and after.

–          Location

The hotel is located on Sansome Street, very close to Market St, the Piers and Union Square. Being in the financial district, it was very quiet during the weekend.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

A Superior Bay View Room starts at USD 445 plus tax and a Deluxe Bay View King Room (our room) starts from USD 565 plus tax

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

I would.

–          Would I stay again?

Absolutely. We felt very at home at this hotel – it felt quite boutiquey, which we were not expecting. Everything was very understated, and calm, and there wasn’t a lot of noise for a city hotel (despite being almost full) and it was just what we needed.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Mandarin Oriental during this stay, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. For more information about the hotel, visit its official website.

Best of Summer 2014 in 14 photos

My plans for Summer 2014 were nothing short of epic – I was really looking forward to the 5 fantastic trips I had planned for this season. But what I loved the most? The incredible memories that I made, alongside family and fabulous friends around the world. We stayed mainly in Europe, but our 2-week annual pilgrimage to California was one of our best ever. Needless to say, I am about to book the flights for next Summer…

Here are 14 moments to remember the Summer of 2014 (in no order, of course!)

1 – Priceless sister time at Herdade do Vau, Alentejo, Portugal

The most peaceful location in one of Portugal’s top wine regions. A little oasis.

Nothing beats some proper sister time.

Nothing beats some proper sister time.

2- The best sushi ever at Finca Cortesin, Andalucia, Spain

Once you have been cortesined, like I was last year for the first time, there is no going back. I adore this hotel and cannot wait to go back.

I was lost for words. It was incredible.

I was lost for words. It was incredible.

3 – The sweetest hotel welcome ever? Only at the Four Seasons Los Angeles in Beverly Hills, California, USA

More than just attention to detail…

And gin cocktails, I kid you not.

And gin cocktails, I kid you not.

4- There are no beaches as civilised as in Portugal.

Yes, I am Portuguese and totally biased, but ask my British husband… decent space between chairs and outstanding beach restaurants with fresh fish and white wine sangria. Lovely indeed.

Oh Portugal, you can be so special...

Oh Portugal, you can be so special…

5 – A 5-hour dinner on board the Belmond British Pullman

On a train to nowhere. It was an unforgettable experience.

Possibly one of the best 'day-out' excursions one can do if visiting England.

Possibly one of the best ‘day-out’ excursions one can do if visiting England.

6 – A long walk to the beach at the Quinta do Lago, Algarve, Portugal

But possibly one of the prettiest ever.

One of my favourite beach walks ever...

One of my favourite beach walks ever…

7 – Finding a gin bottle the size of my head in Palm Desert, California

I am totally in favour of America super sizing gin bottles. This was a first for me.

If you look to my right, you will see that the Tanqueray bottle has a handle. God bless America. Our normal bottles look like mini bar ones. I wished I had space to bring them with me.

If you look to my right, you will see that the Tanqueray bottle has a handle. God bless America. Our normal bottles look like mini bar ones. I wished I had space to bring them with me.

8 – Never travel light. Ever.

Even with 6 suitcases between us (4 of which were empty on our way out), we did not have room for the gin. But Christmas shopping has been taken care of.

Needless to say no one batted an eyelid at our ridiculous amount of luggage at the Four Seasons LA. It is totally normal.

Needless to say no one batted an eyelid at our ridiculous amount of luggage at the Four Seasons LA. It is totally normal.

9 – One of the prettiest hotel rooms ever at Rosewood Cordevalle, in San Martin, California

Due to the nature of our road trip, our visit was short but very very sweet. I adored this hotel and shall go back for more. A lot more. It was that good.

It wasn't the jacuzzi or the champagne that made it special - this hotel was nothing short of perfection. And I loved how comfortable it felt. Only 40-something rooms...

It wasn’t the jacuzzi or the champagne that made it special – this hotel was nothing short of perfection. And I loved how comfortable it felt. Only 40-something rooms…

10 – The awkward moment you realise your husband has an auto-parts empire and never told you..

We couldn't resist this photo.

We couldn’t resist this photo.

11 – A train with a difference. A wine train!

And possibly the best organised trip ever. Even with an earthquake before our arrival, I have to say, I was very impressed with the Wine Train team.

A very nice surprise in Napa, California.

A very nice surprise in Napa, California.

12 – Going on BA001, the all business class flight from London to New York.

With under 40 passengers, it was a very good flight experience.

The most civilised flight ever, in my opinion.

The most civilised flight ever, in my opinion.

13 – Ending summer with the best tan ever in Palm Springs, California

Where we have been going year after year for the last 9. And already thinking of returning. We love it there.

The best tan ever...

The best tan ever…

14 – Seeing San Francisco without clouds or fog. 

It took us 5 visits and a few years, but it happened. Even if there was an earthquake the night before.

San Francisco on that clear day...

San Francisco on that clear day…

What were your favourite summer moments?

xo

Mrs. O

My Flight: British Airways BA1 business class service from London City to JFK

British Airways Business Class London City – New York JFK Review

For ages I had been wanting to try this flight with British Airways for quite a few reasons – it has the Concorde’s flight number (BA1), it is a single class service (40 something passengers in business class) and with its stopover in Shannon (Ireland), one gets to clear US immigration and customs procedures, which can save hours when you land in the USA (in this case, New York’s JFK airport). The fact that it departs from London City was also interesting (an airport which I never use as it is almost 2 hours from where in live, but perfect for those working in the City).

This flight departs from London City airport and makes a brief stop in Shannon, Ireland. Here, you clear US customs and immigration and then arrive into JFK as a domestic passenger.

This flight departs from London City airport and makes a brief stop in Shannon, Ireland. Here, you clear US customs and immigration and then arrive into JFK as a domestic passenger.

So on a recent trip to the USA (to San Francisco, to be precise), we decided that the potential cons (longer travel time to airport and a longer flight to NYC) would be lost in what would be a long travel day. And I have to say, it was worth every minute.

Check-in

Check in at London City airport

Check in at London City airport

To say it was a breeze, would be an understatement. BA operates more and more flights from London City Airport, but the JFK route has its own check-in desk. We had no one ahead of us and were done in exactly 4 minutes, I kid you not. The staff were chatty and asked if it was our first time on this service. When we said yes, he briefly explained what we should expect – a gate lounge from where we would board the plane (and not your normal BA lounge), and that after 1h from departing from London, we would be stopping over in Shannon (in Ireland), where we would leave the plane and clear US immigration and customs procedures, which would speed up our arrival at JFK as we would land as a domestic flight. Exciting stuff!

Security

Security was possibly one of the quickest we have ever experienced and I do not recall if there was a fast track lane or not (I think not). It was all over very quickly, and it wasn’t a problem at all.

I was very curious about this gate lounge!

I was very curious about this gate lounge!

 

The Lounge

We walked around the shops for a bit (not too long as there weren’t many) and made our way to the gate, where we expected to have breakfast. My love for BA breakfasts is well documented (they do possibly the best bacon sandwiches in the world) and I have to say, I was disappointed with the selection – I did not know that is was just a boarding lounge with a bit of food and for breakfast, you could only choose between pastries, muffins and cereal. There were no cooked items at all, I am afraid. The drinks selection was absolutely fine, but we were actually quite hungry and had I known, I would have had breakfast in other places at the airport.

The Gate Lounge at London City airport

The Gate Lounge at London City airport

Obviously everything was spotless, but I did feel I missed out on the usual BA Heathrow Lounge experience. I know I wasn’t at Heathrow, but…

From the lounge, the 40 something passengers (there weren’t seats for everyone) boarded the plane via bus (for a 1 minute ride as the plane was quite close by). This was the most democratic flight experience I ever had – everyone was flying in the same class, with the same privileges. Result: proper queuing, no noise, no rushing. It was pretty perfect.

Possibly one of the most civilised flights ever...

Possibly one of the most civilised flights ever…

The Flight

Not your usual cabin!

Not your usual cabin!

–          Welcome

We were welcomed by the purser with the usual ‘Welcome back Mr. and Mrs. O’Reilly. BA has recently stopped checking boarding passes on planes (in routes/places where there are at least 2 previous BA ID checks), and this will be one of the service aspects that will go. It is that brief moment where the cabin crew glances at your boarding pass which then allows them to greet you by name. A glance at the passenger status gets you the welcome back. We were very pleased we had it!

Boarding took about 15 minutes all in, it was so quick (and quiet!!)

On your seat, you will also find a very thorough guide that explains all that will happen on the flight, especially the stopover at Shannon Airport.

–          Amenities

Ahead of our seats, we all had a coat hanger, which I thought was a very good idea. Usually the crew comes around in business class to get your coats seat by seat, but this certainly made it easier.

We got the standard his and hers Elemis amenity kit (you can see more details about it on a previous flight review).

–          Drinks service 

We were not offered a pre-flight drink – because it wouldn’t make sense, to be perfectly honest. On this service, boarding takes next to nothing and surely we had to be entertained on our short hop to Shannon airport.

Taittinger makes me happy, what can I say!

Taittinger makes me happy, what can I say!

During our first flight, the crew took our orders for lunch (to be served after the Shannon stopover) and we also had canapés and the first drinks trolley visit, which offers champagne (Taittinger Brut and Castelnau Rose). Not sure about the new rose choice – but it was sad to see Taittinger rose disappear. You can also order from the full bar, which includes a selection of gin, vodka or whisky, liqueurs, beer, juices and soft drinks. From the gin selection, I honestly still think that the gins (Tanqueray and Gordons) should be different from those served in economy (on other flights). I can’t comment on the other spirits as I don’t drink them.

– The Shannon Airport experience

After a short hop from London, we landed at Shannon airport in Ireland. We had to leave the plane, take all our personal belongings with us (including passport and US customs form) and head to the airport terminal. Those with checked luggage were asked to have a seat in a pre-determined area, whereas those with hand luggage only could proceed through immigration. After a brief wait, we were told to proceed though security. There were no queues and it did not take long at all. We then went through US immigration, in the same style that we would in the USA, minus the queues.

Something interesting happened – our luggage tags were checked and we were asked to visually identify each of our suitcases via a computer screen. I am not quite sure how this was done so quickly (while we had that short wait).

All done within the hour, very efficient.

All done within the hour, very efficient.

We then made our way to the BA departure gate before we boarded our flight again. The airport has very limited shopping and something worth noting.. the flight will not have duty-free on board. I hadn’t figured this out until later on and it was a shame as I actually planned to buy some items! You know now!

–          In-flight dining

 After we got back on the plane, we were served lunch. My choice was grilled rack of lamb which was fantastic, whereas Mr. O went for the garganelli pasta with oxtail ragout, which was also very good.

Wine choices were also good – Chateau de Thayvenay, a lovely Sancerre from France or a Clos Pegasse Chardonnay from California as whites and a Barbera d’Asti superiore from Italy or Cartlidge & Brown Pinot Noir, also from California, as reds. I tried the sancerre and the pinot noir and they were very good.

Couldn't fault the food on board.

Couldn’t fault the food on board.

To end the meal in style, I had a selection of cheese, paired with Port, which included Lincolnshire blue and cheddar.

90 minutes before we landed, we had afternoon tea, which is possibly one of the simplest meals an airline can serve, but certainly one of my favourites. I always start with the scone (served with jam and clotted cream, of course!) and then have a couple of bites of the sandwiches. I cannot fault the food options in any way.

The Club Kitchen which I love, was also available, so you can help yourself to snacks, sandwiches, salads and fruit in between meals. I am afraid to report that I slept for the rest of the flight and forgot about the chocolate stash and did not make a visit on this occasion.

–  In-flight entertainment

The future of in flight entertainment? Possibly!

The future of in flight entertainment? Possibly!

On this flight, we didn’t have the usual TV screen. We were handed an iPad which was pre-loaded with various TV and Film choices. It worked really well, it was easy to place the device on the cocktail table and I really liked it. The selection of programmes was good, albeit limited (only 20 films, for example).

–          The seat

Fully reclinable (180 degrees) seats, which were roomier than normal Club World seats.

Fully reclinable (180 degrees) seats, which were roomier than normal Club World seats.

The cabin looked smart, and the seats were different from the usual Club World cabin. For once, they all faced forward – I personally do not mind either option. They obviously reclined to a fully flat bed, and we had a nice pillow and throw.

Useful details...

Useful details…

We also had a 3-in-1 plug which worked on UK, USA and European devices, which was quite clever, but no USB ports. I also have to mention as this was an Airbus A318, we had control of the ventilation system (like on a normal short haul flight), which I loved. On long haul planes (and I do not speak plane, so bear with me), you can never control the air, which I do not love.

Final thoughts

The most civilised flight ever, in my opinion.

The most civilised flight ever, in my opinion.

I have to say, it was one of the most civilised flights I ever had. There were never queues to the loos, everyone was smiley and quiet (very important) and the whole journey was a breeze. The stopover in Shannon adds a bit to the journey, but that is offset on arrival as you head straight to the baggage claim at JFK as a domestic passenger and that can save you hours. Service was friendly (we had a 3-strong crew on this flight, and they were quite busy!!), the food was good, and we landed early, which is always a bonus.

The only issue for me is the fact that the service departs from London City, which isn’t convenient at all – but then again, I have Heathrow 30 minutes from home, and I am not the target audience of this flight. For businesspeople based in the City, you can get in and out of the airport in 15 minutes and be at your office, which I am sure is priceless.

Until the next flight…

xo

Mrs. O

Factbox: A return flight from LCY to JFK costs from £2600 per person including taxes. To find out more about this service, click here.