Monday, January 31, 2011

Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong 2010: Public Spaces + Check-In

Island Shangri-La

So, what was the destination after the long plane flight from Los Angeles? Island Shangri-La, the other "twin" building to the Conrad in terms of the building's shape. If you have read my Tripadvisor review from before, you'll know that my companion stayed at Shangri-La quite frequently in the past, which has also allowed to me stay at quite a number of Shangri-La's over Asia. Coming back to Island Shangri-La certainly felt quite like the right welcome to Hong Kong- familiar but still special.

Before finally planning on Island Shangri-La, I had planned on staying at some other places for a change, like the Upper House. But such hotels were even more expensive, and plus we would not get the benefits of our mid-tier Golden Circle Membership. Might as well enjoy the luxuries of several welcome amenities and breakfast for a few more times in case if we drop to the lowest level next year, right?

Island Shangri-La Entrance Doors

This time, the welcome I received from Shangri-La was the best I've ever seen before. It was probably due to the fact that it was early morning. We were the only ones rolling into the porte cochere and right away as the taxi stopped, the bellman lifted the trunk (boot) lid and started to place our luggage onto a gold colored cart. Since the hotel was decked out in holiday decor, I decided to take some group pictures, in which the Shangri-La employees were very helpful with. Bellman Jay took my camera and instantly started to think of good compositions of group shots in the hotel! How fantastic. I can't blame him, after all, as we talked to him further, we learned that he also had a D90.

Island Shangri-La Lobby Lounge

Inside, we were calmed further by the light, easy-listening pieces of music flowing through the speakers as well as the little foot traffic. That indeed was a reason why Jay decided to work the Island Shangri-La. Unlike some other hotels in Hong Kong where their location is on a busy street, Island Shangri-La is located in a much calmer area with less traffic. So, better for the customers (it's still convenient, as you can walk through Pacific Place to go to multiple other connected shopping areas, the Admiralty MTR (aka subway- this is ultra convenient), the ding-ding tram, or walk out into Wan Chai) and the employee's well-being.

Island Shangri-La Lobby Lounge

Being early morning, the Lobby Lounge was preparing for the day's work. Cafe Too, the buffet/casual dining option had just opened too.

Island Shangri-La Lobby Details

Standing at the door to talk with Jay, I noticed there was a piano upstairs. A piano!!! (look at the railing and the black object) How fun would this be. Unfortunately, this instrument was not available for guests to play. Of course, why would they, since the music would fill the entire lobby! A careful analysis later showed that it was probably a Yamaha piano...something I would see else where in the hotel too! However, this piano also seemed to be just for show; throughout my stay I saw nobody playing this piano.

Island Shangri-La Chandelier

If you haven't noticed already by some of the photos, Island Shangri-La conveys quite a sense of grandeur in the lobby. There are multiple giant chandeliers, and even on the walls where you may not notice, there are elegant crown moldings. I did not notice either until I edited these photos!

Island Shangri-La Check In

Not paying any attention to the check-in area since my companion was checking in, I did not take any pictures of it at all. So here you have an old picture of the check-in area from when this blog did not even exist! The classic luxury feeling was definitely felt in this area.

/*EDIT April 6, 2011: I actually did take a picture of the check-in area!

Island Shangri-La: Check In Area

*/

Talking about old visits, my past visits to Island Shangri-La varied in success. Some visits, especially about ten years ago, were fabulous- the room rates were cheaper, the service was very dedicated. However, in the my past two visits demonstrated some lagging points to the hotel. I could commend them for some unusual gifts like flower bud tea, but then I would then notice that the rooms were in great wear or that the service was unfriendly. And to hurt that more, the room rates went up to the point it seemed like it was not worth spending money here at all. Especially with the opening of Guangzhou Shangri-La, that hotel demonstrated that you could receive better rooms and better service for one-fifth of the cost at Island Shangri-La. It made no sense what so ever. Additionally was also the fact that this hotel was sort of designed to follow the notes of Lost Horizon, which Shangri-La bases some of their specialties from. For example, they strive to have the "lovely" feeling that the book describes, and the library that is described about in Lost Horizon seems to be replicated here at the Island Shangri-La! That is for a later post...

In comparison to my previous visits, my first impression of ISL was fabulous. I was able to find a better deal through the Advance Purchase program that Shangri-La has, and so far in what I have described to you, all the service had been great. Even more surprising was the fact that my companion was holding a large, fat gift already when he told us to go to our rooms. What was the gift? It was a nice plush cotton robe that the rooms have, but this one was new. (I sense a trend of offering robes/pajamas at higher end Shangri-Las- China World Hotel in Beijing handed out pajamas when we visited before) Typically, the employees would also send you to your rooms to talk to you about the features or try to recommend that you upgrade to a nicer room by showing you the room, but this time we declined them to send them up to our rooms. After all, we were quite familiar with the hotel from the past! After all these years, just being minimally renovated/redesigned throughout, Island Shangri-La still had the beauty of its past being wonderfully well-kept throughout the years. No wonder why they can still charge high prices even when the property and the rooms mostly have their old designs intact still!

Island Shangri-La Lobby Stairs

Typically by this point I would have told you to read my post on the rooms, but that won't happen just yet- there are over 100 pictures to sort, organize, and choose! Plus, I took lots of other pictures of the public spaces in the lobby area and the fitness center (centre) so I'll show you those first.

Usually, walking into Island Shangri-La from the front doors, there is no need for you to even walk right at all- walking left brings you to the check-in area and the elevator (lift) lobby. But since one day we decided to make dining reservations, we walked to the right side of the lobby area and I noticed some different parts to the lobby area. Here you can take notice of the various paintings displayed all over the lobby area as well as the grand staircase bringing you eventually into the business center (centre) or Cafe Too.

Island Shangri-La Lobby

On the top of the staircase provides a very different view of the lobby area. You can see the Lobby Lounge in its entirety and let the chandeliers wow you even further. And if you've noticed in the photo, there is yet another piano. What?

Island Shangri-La Hamburg Steinway and Sons Piano @ Lobby Lounge

Unlike some of the other pianos in the ISL (Island Shangri-La), this one is not a Yamaha, if my eyes saw it correctly. Instead this is a Hamburg Steinway & Sons grand piano, and it is definitely much longer compared to the other pianos in the hotel. Yes, the Hamburg Steinway & Sons pianos are different compared to the ones manufactured in New York, which I saw during a visit a few months ago.

You may also be wondering why the lid isn't propped up to full-height. Maybe it's because ISL staff decided this piano was too loud, but I also noticed the prop stick seemed to be shorter than most other prop sticks.

Island Shangri-La Lobby Lounge Musicians

Anyways, the best thing about this piano is that it actually does get some play by some musicians in the evening- it is not just a piece of furniture for just looks or a instrument left out in the middle of a space. The musicians played quite a lot of famous pieces, such as the instrumental version of "Close To You" by Carpenters. The flutes provided a sweet tone that filled the entire lobby and the grand proved its size well, also filling the entire the lobby with classical sounds. Together, the music added quite a lot of appeal to the hotel- not only was it enjoyable, it was a step up from just music from the speakers. Other days during our stay, guitarists also played pieces as well as violinists and cellists. It's great to know that music is an integral part of many good hotels!

Island Shangri-La Business Traveller Awards Asia Pacific 2009

Maybe one of the reasons why the Island Shangri-La won a Business Traveller Award for the Asia Pacific in 2009 is the music. ISL does offer quite a lot of other services too; even in the rooms there is a fax/printer. Like how LAX put their LEED award, this award was also set in a corner spot with little foot traffic or special mention.

Island Shangri-La Lobby Christmas Tree

A special part of staying during the holidays was the abundance of Christmas trees at the Shangri-La. It was not only just the hotel- Pacific Place, the large shopping center (centre)/mall downstairs also had many real decorated trees on display. However, all the hotels that I visited in Hong Kong put their largest tree in the lobby. Very grand.

Island Shangri-La Lobby Christmas Tree

Here's the same tree, but in the evening.

Island Shangri-La Christmass Tree

Downstairs, there was yet another tree.

Island Shangri-La Christmass Tree @ Fitness Centre

And there was another one at the Fitness Center (centre) too! 

Island Shangri-La Christmas Gifts to Children

The best part of all staying at Christmas time was that they also decided to gift children walking through the hotel. They decided to give me a gift as well, which had a small box of school supplies.

Island Shangri-La Christmas Gift Children- Stationery

No, it was not anything expensive, but the touch and meaning is definitely there! Besides, pencils and school supplies tell kids to study and learn. The spirit of giving was certainly felt.

Island Shangri-La Swimming Pool/View

Island Shangri-La Pool

Anyways, since I mentioned to you about the fitness center before already, I might as well show you some pictures that I took! After eating breakfast one morning we decided to visit the fitness center and I was quite amazed with the pretty view the swimming pool had. Island Shangri-La uses it as a selling point- you can see a picture of the pool and the towers on their website. Speaking of which, they need to update their photo, as the chairs have changed quite a bit from before.

Island Shangri-La Swimming Pool Loungers

The chairs they put out during our stay were not only prettier but also probably nicer and more comfortable than the ones shown on their website! With the smooth pool waters, the entire scenery of the pool area was quite a sight to behold. Just like what I saw at Pelican Hill during 2009.

Island Shangri-La Pool Area

The area back of the pool was not left neglected either. There were more spots to lounge, and the tiles were also set in a nice pattern. You can definitely relax here, and with every passing hour after arriving at the Island Shangri-La I certainly felt much more relaxed.

And what about the rest of the fitness center? The area has a salon as well as multiple machines and gym equipment, and you have a great view of Wan Chai also while exercising. Fruit as well as flavored waters, water bottles, and chilled towels were also available as complimentary items, with some other beverages for sale.

Island Shangri-La Island Gourmet Display

Below the lobby, since I already mentioned about a Christmas tree there, are also some restaurants. There is the Island Gourmet, which is a pastry shop and a restaurant where you can try caviar or dim sum, as well as the Michelin Starred Summer Place where apparently Mango and Pomelo with Sago was invented.

Doors @ Island Shangri-La

A pretty detail to take note in the area was the extravagantly decorated doors, as well as the intricate marble floors. It is not easy to form any of these decorations at all and requires lots of skill and precision!

Island Shangri-La Entrance from Pacific Place

Downstairs also provides a route to Pacific Place. There are actually two simple routes; you can either go downstairs indoors to enter the middle of Pacific Place, or you can go outdoors and go down two sets of escalators to reach the end where Queensway Plaza, Admiralty Centre, and United Centre can be reached (you can find lots of dining options in these three malls- these are all much cheaper compared to the more upscale Pacific Place) as well as the Ding-Ding tram which can bring you to many places across Hong Kong Island for only 2 HKD for adults or 1 HKD for children/seniors. For entering the MTR or going to the JW Marriott however, going downstairs inside Island Shangri-La is better. 

Walkway Connection between Island Shangri-La and Conrad Hong Kong, Pacific Place

You can also connect to Conrad from this walkway, which is also a good thing since their buffet is located right there. Additionally, a set of elevators there can also bring you down to Pacific Place. If the bubble lifts/elevators are not open for use yet (they were not during our visit), walking to Conrad and going down from there can save you from walking down a flight of stairs instead. Take your pick! I used all three different methods of reaching Pacific Place during our stay.

Rolls-Royce Ghost

Island Shangri-La is a luxurious hotel and that being said, they also have a fleet of luxury cars as well. However, some guests also have fabulous cars too. For example, this Rolls-Royce Ghost was painted in yellow and white- even the rims are painted in such fashion! Such a sight.

Island Shangri-La Rolls Royce Stretched Phantom Limo

Here is a badly composed photo of the ISL's custom made Rolls-Royce Phantom, of which I learned that they are actually stretched versions of the Phantom (I had so many days to take pictures of it but I didn't until much later....which is why procrastination is not key!). Maybe if you have a airport transfer you may be able to ride on this beautiful vehicle, but if not they still have a fleet of Mercedes and Audis to pamper you. Once we were seated on a van due to our copious amounts of luggage, but the most recent time we were drove efficiently to the ISL via an Mercedes S-Class. The driver welcomed us with some bottles of Bonaqua water- supplied in plentiful amounts throughout Island Shangri-La which is a plus!

Conrad/Island Shangri-La

Speaking of pretty and amazing things, the Island Shangri-La is also a great piece of architecture along with the similarly eye shaped Conrad. The photographers decided to highlight the smooth pointed glass section of the Island Shangri-La, for those wondering what section of the building was shot in the professional photos of the place.

Island Shangri-La, December 2010

For the first picture of the review I had wanted to show the pointy part of the building, but with the Shangri-La logo. But that plan failed, as Shangri-La was renovating their sign! And to cover up, they put a large poster which wrote "Shang" on it. How funny.

Island Shangri-La, August 2008

A older photo that I took before (cropped) shows how the sign looked like before. I would have used this, but who knows what the designers are planning for the new sign? After all, Conrad changed their sign before from a hard to read from afar "Conrad International" to a larger, bolder sign that simply read "Conrad." I wonder what the designers have at freshening up Shangri-La's sign.

Nighttime view of Pacific Place

Thus, during the nighttime, it does feel like the Shangri-La has no sign. It is also nighttime when you can tell that not all of the building where Island Shangri-La is housed in is just for a hotel- a office area is located in the lower parts of the building, with the rooms section of Island Shangri-La taking the top 10 or so floors only. Conrad in contrast has apartments owned by Swire in the lower section which you can also rent out for a month if you plan on staying longer in Hong Kong.

Island Shangri-La from Hong Kong Park

Being renovated or not (the signage), Shangri-La's building looks pretty from the other side where there is no signage at all. I took this picture from Hong Kong Park which is located just across from the ISL and the simple curve was certainly quite pretty.

Shangri-La Logo @ Night

And for now, you don't need to miss out on a large Shangri-La logo until the building's signage is renovated, as the porte-cochere has a giant one! The bad composition comes from the fact that I noticed this when I was on a vehicle going outside the hotel during the last day of our stay. Great!


Island Shangri-La
Pacific Place
Supreme Court Road
Central, Hong Kong
T: (852) 2877 3838
F: (852) 2521 8742

Find the rest of the posts in this series at this trip's TRIP INDEX. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cathay Pacific Flight CX883: LAX-HKG

Hall B- TBIT, LAX Sign

Having not actually flown on a plane for two years this trip was definitely an exciting one, from the plane ride to everything else. The layout of this post is kind of split up, similar to my hotel reviews for your easy reading. It's a long one- 53 photos and 5+megabytes of photos to load! So sit back, relax, and enjoy.

For your reference if you wish: a past trip on flying on Cathay to Hong Kong from Los Angeles and back with less details can be reached by clicking HERE. Photos will tell you the change from then to now! I will reference that post occasionally throughout this one.

Cathay Pacific Flight CX883
December 17, 2010
Service from Los Angeles (LAX) nonstop to Hong Kong (HKG)
Flight time approx. 15 hours.

Tom Bradley International Terminal, LAX Entrance

Before Flight/Arrival at LAX:
It just so happened to be that this was the best travel day for many people. Traffic on the freeway was heavier than normal, as if it was rush hour. Maybe it was the fact that the K-12 public schools were released as well as it was Friday! With the people who wanted to go to Vegas + LAX, there was a good amount of traffic. Then there was the rain, which was pouring! Good thing for us, we did not need to play in the rain after a week of mild rain. It would only get worse as we left.

Tickets for this flight were very fully booked, and this thus demonstrates that for bargain hunters that they should book early with their travel agent for good deals during the high season. The same travel agent who scored us a good deal to Hong Kong two years ago when we ordered them a day before we left this time made us pay double when we booked two months in advanced- of course, the reason was that the cheaper fare classes were fully booked. Business even was in the higher fare classes when we booked.

And after a rainy drive, we thanked our friend for driving us (Thank you very much!) and we were off at LAX. Stress had left, somewhat. That was a grateful feeling. Immediately inside, I started to take pictures of what called my eye and the camera stood up for it self, working full time for this trip!

Cathay Pacific Check In @ TBIT, LAX

Check In:
We were greeted nicely at the Business Class check in line, thanks to the fact that some of my group were traveling in business (not me). Actually, the Economy line was not bad either, unlike August where the wait was longer. It was definitely nice to see the TBIT renovations! Everything was much improved compared to two years ago- the renovations were complete this time, and the effect was very nice and fresh. Still...some wear and tear could be seen, especially with the LCD displays, as you can see in the above photo. If you haven't noticed, CX uses the B hall of Tom Bradley International Terminal.

The person who greeted us while waiting in line thought I was a tourist to Los Angeles thanks to my camera, of which I had to correct her. Of course there was the usual bantering of, "Oh, you like to take pictures of airports! Can I see some?" among the employees. A nicely added personal touch.

Cathay Pacific Check In @ TBIT, LAX
(This caught my eye. Doesn't the wavy wood, then the CX signs look like Cathay's logo?)

It was also a very nice coincidence to see my companion’s classmate when we reached the counter! She actually was working behind the counter, and treated us very nicely. She worked particularly in the evening as she had school during the daytime. Not being biased, her service was very professional as well as very friendly. Everything was done smoothly and in no time we had our boarding passes and were off to do some shopping! Good job Cathay Ground Crew!

Departure Information @ TBIT @ LAX

With check in done it was time to enjoy other parts of the airport. Here's the departure board, still retaining its original look after the renovation. I'd stick with it; after all, it is famous and has appeared in various commercials!

Check In @ LAX- Qantas

Upstairs, we looked back at where we had checked in. Cathay's check in area is in the farther background of the picture, Qantas closer in front, and the All Gates sign gives the feeling that yes, you are definitely at an airport!

Pinks Hot Dogs @ LAX

Upstairs, we met the famous Pink's Hot Dogs. There were no people waiting this time, but we did not buy anything. After all, there would be food shortly!

Elevator with Leed Silver Award @ LAX, TBIT

It was interesting downstairs to meet an elevator, but with some sign or decoration above it. What was it? It was not a down/ up sign!

Leed Silver Award @ LAX, TBIT

Instead it was the LEED Silver award! (Read more about LEED at their website) I find it interesting that they would put such an outstanding award in such a hidden place. Not many people notice it. Well, at least you can or will next time when you visit TBIT at LAX.

After some shopping and looking around, we decided to head for Customs. Customs this time also went smoothly, we were moved towards a family line which shortened the wait quite a bit. Otherwise, for regular economy passengers the line would have been probably five times longer! There was also a business class/first class line but we were not put into that one. The family line was as long as the business line, and the employees alternated selecting people from each line for the security check.

Gates

Seeing this sign made me only happier about the trip. We were one step closer to being on the plane. 

Gate 119, TBIT @ LAX

I was pleasantly surprised with the result of the LAX renovations. Finally, Tom Bradley International Terminal felt much more pleasant with the pops of color and the warm lighting instead of the harsh, old style fluorescent lighting from the past.

LAX Display Screens @ TBIT Gate

The gate layout was still simple as before- plenty of charging stations, now modernized with plenty of color throughout the gate. The new LCD displays showed the Cathay Pacific logo, whose color is off in this photo, as well as boarding information. As time passed, the boarding time was pushed further back, but the flight still left on time!

Cathay Pacific B-KPA 777-300ER @ LAX

Outside, B-KPA of Cathay's fleet of Boeing 777-300ER's was preparing for the flight with lots of vehicles moving. It was interesting to notice that one person was trying to see the registration number of the plane, but he could not see it and called his friend to find out. Actually, I could not see it either, but thanks to the camera and its high ISO abilities I was able to find out the registration! I said out the letters, but he didn't hear.

I also tried to switch seats then, like I had done last time, but unfortunately this time it did not work out. This flight was a full flight apparently, and thus we could not switch seats. We were already at the end of the plane to begin with! No wonder why Cathay was selling these tickets at such a high cost; after we had just booked, the plane tickets cost 3000 dollars. We were very glad we had booked earlier.

CX883 to Hong Kong

Soon enough, it was time to board, and after waiting for most of the people to board first, we went up to board. My shaky hands presents you a welcome sign to the plane. I had originally also planned to take a picture of the doors to the plane, but then a LAX ground staff member said, "No pictures!" No pictures indeed.

On the plane:

The first thing I noticed was that business class did not feel as claustrophobic as it had last time on the 747. Maybe it was the lighting, it was not as the stark fluorescent but rather a warm fluorescent, and additionally the cabin was brighter than what we had seen on the 747.

Cathay Pacific Economy Cabin before Takeoff
(The first of many cabin pictures to come! Wrong white balance setting was applied, the lights were whitish with a yellowish tint)

Economy was similar to the 747 two years ago. However, this had the new revisions as stated on Tripadvisor with the storage space now in front of the seat below the table and not below the seat, as well as some other small revisions. First thing I noticed about freebies was that there was no amenity kit to be found. Cost cutting measure, I see. For those wondering though, headsets, blankets, and pillows are complimentary still. If you feel that the cushioning of the seat is too thin on your flight, feel free to ask for more pillows; I did two years ago and it made the travel experience all the better.

Cathay Pacific Menu Economy Class

Sitting down, the flight attendants handed us menus and immigration cards.

CX Economy Class Display/Remote

About the seat, there were some modified details. The entertainment system had been upgraded to show the new Airshow, and if you look at an image I took in 2008, these seats had also had the side "holders" probably for glasses removed. The remotes had been well used- the enter button had part of its paint rubbed off.

CX Economy Class Table closed

The table was still the same- it still had the awkward push/pull down latch with the cupholder also included. Below that was the magazine net was quite helpful in de-cluttering the large amounts of stuff I had brought in.

CX Economy Class Table open

With the table open you'll find a power port. However, laptops were not very convenient to use. It seemed like either the legroom was tighter than before, as when using a small 12 inch laptop, I felt squeezed and my hands did not rest on the table naturally; it felt very awkward. This is yet another reason why to attempt to get a seat blocked off so you have more room to move in the cramped economy corners. However, that said, I still felt legroom was adequate.

Power ports worked on some of the seats- mine did (and I typed some of this up on the flight, which is why this post has plenty of detail) while my companion’s did not. Actually, later on the flight mine worked from working to sometimes not working. My companion’s power port was not able to be fixed at all though. CX Engineering department, make sure you work on this soon! Row 67 requires your attention. :) When the flight attendant found out I was going to write about the flight (when she saw me taking pictures of the cabin AFTER the flight), she got a bit embarrassed. Oops!  She was like, "Oh no! The cabin doesn't even look pretty right now!" And when they knew that the power port was not working, they gave us full apologies. See CX Engineering department, you do need to fix this soon.

Actually, this flight's seats were OK, the returning flight's seat had major wear and tear which made the flight quite uncomfortable. 

Cathay Pacific Economy Cabin before Takeoff

Overall about the seats, they were showing early signs of normal wear and tear. The foam for the seats had softened up, and the remote control showed some wear (again the Enter button was washed out, and also the airbag seatbelt was starting to fray a bit). No wonder why CX is moving these seats to their short haul planes eventually!

Nosecam on CX B-KPA

Soon the flight was beginning to leave the gate, but having a middle row seat we had no view. What was the other option? The individual LCD displays of course, where you could pick from either the airshow (with commercials in between) or the nose camera.

CX B-KPA Economy Cabin

It was not long before the plane took off, of which the take off on this particular day was spectacular. It was smooth and not very racket-y, although the powerful GE-90 engines did make plenty of sound. It was not long until dinner was released, and for this meal they served the back of the plane first (after the special requested food for other people).

-----------
Supper:
Marinated prawns with orzo pasta salad

Chicken with soy sauce, steamed rice, shiitake mushrooms and spring onion
or
Baked salmon with tapenade sauce, spinach mashed potatoes, carrots, green peas, and lima beans
or 
Gemelli pasta with white wine cream sauce, spinach, butternut squash, and red peppers

Raspberry cheese cake

Tea & Coffee
-----------

A shout out right here. Have you noticed a difference in the pictures? Well, this post has the work from two different cameras and one photographer. :) My usual Nikon D90 + 18-105mm kit lens and my companion’s Canon S95. It was really a life saver for this post! Especially on this full flight, we had basically no room to work around to take any pictures, and the Canon S95, thanks to its great macro capabilities, was able to help me take somewhat decent pictures of the food. Of course it all would have looked better if we had plenty of room e.g. take a row. :) Additionally, all this picture taking probably annoyed the silent girl sitting next to me.

Cathay Pacific Dinner- Layout
(Entree Closed)

Cathay Pacific Dinner- Layout w/ Entree open
(Entree Open)

Above are the simple meal settings. Yes, it is quite compact and small, but it certainly has some nice touches to it. The green cup is left empty for hot beverages later, and below the entree is another plastic dish so that you can hold your entree easily with the dish when you are eating it.  On all the standard meal settings were the marinated prawns with orzo pasta salad, the raspberry cheese cake, and a hot roll with some Land o Lakes Butter. 

Cathay Pacific Dinner- Orzo Salad

All the sides to the menu were quite palatable. In case of the prawn and orzo salad, the prawn was fresh and crisp, and the salad was flavorful with lots of cubed veggies and olives. 

Cathay Pacific Dinner- Raspberry Cheesecake

The (raspberry) cheese cake was better than last two years ago, with a denser cheese filling (not as dense as American style cheesecake though) and a fragrant cake bottom. The hot roll was also a nice touch- there is no cold bread served on Cathay, unless you are having a cold sandwich.

Cathay Pacific Dinner-Soy Sauce Chicken and Rice

As for the entrees, I had the chicken with soy sauce, steamed rice, shiitake mushrooms and spring onion. This was kind of like May Mei or any Cantonese course served in clay pots, only that it was served on plastic. That being said, the food was not as flavorful, probably as we were in the air and thus taste buds change. The chicken pieces were meaty (NOT smooth tender which means they added some tenderizer- good job CX!) and they were all lightly flavored with the soy sauce combo. However, what really brought the most flavor were the mushrooms. They were probably dried, which concentrated the flavor of the mushroom and the sauce while at it. So, with the rice, which was a bit on the drier side, everything worked well- the rice was moistened by the sauce and was flavored with the mushroom and aromatic green onions. It would have been great  if the serving size was even greater. But we all know, price cuts these days...

Cathay Pacific Dinner- Salmon

My companion had the baked salmon with tapenade sauce, spinach mashed potatoes, carrots, green peas, and lima beans, This was OK. My companion stated that the fish was a bit on the dry side. My sample also showed a bit of a fishy flavor which seems to be normal in CX’s food catering. Otherwise, he stated that the rest of the dish in terms of the veggies and potatoes was pretty good.

StudioCX Welcome Screen

Entertainment:
StudioCX is Cathay's version of AVOD (Audio Video On Demand), and compared to two years ago there have not been much changes other than updated movies/tv shows to suit the current times. Another change was the NEW airshow (3D graphics) and a new StudioCX intro (I liked the old one better, this one showcases HK in 3D). There was plenty of choice: tons of classical music and other types of music (Bach, Chopin, Vivaldi, etc. all featured, and Lang Lang and Yundi Li also had several albums available to listen), plenty of TV shows("Glee", "TopGear", etc. as well as Cantonese TV shows), a wide selection of movies, and lots of games! All this was hampered by the so-so headphones. I decided to not use them after noticing that I would have to put the volume gauge at almost completely full in order to hear the sounds nicely. I’m sure my companions in business class had a better time with the free noise-canceling headphones. I fully suggest you bring your own *GOOD* pair of noise-canceling headphones! With such a long flight, it definitely WILL improve your experience. My companion who did bring his own pair of Sony noise canceling headphones, unlike me, had an easier time to enjoy the entertainment as well as sleeping. The loud whirling sounds became a quiet, low whirling sound. A whole lot better.

Snacks on Cathay Pacific

Snacks:
After the passengers had eaten their supper, the flight attendants set up several snack baskets in the galleys for enjoying.One basket had two types of sandwiches, while another had apples. The last basket housed various cookies and sweets, including Garden’s Pop Pan, Arnotts cookies (two types in each pack- one was a bit more crumby while the other one was more sweet and firm), Nestle Kit Kat (instead of Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate from 2008), and roasted peanuts.

Garden Pop Pan

Don't know how Pop Pan looks like? They are crackers with a spring onion/chive flavor with some sesame seeds. Really pleasant and delicious.

There was not a lot of space to put drinks however; they put the drinks separately to solve the problem.Water on the other hand was dispensed from the aircraft's own water supply to a pitcher for easy handling.

And about drinks: Cathay does not offer much Ginger Ale, as I took the last half can of Ginger Ale less than half way through the flight.

Cathay Pacific Instant Noodles Chicken Flavour Layout
Cathay Pacific Instant Noodles Chicken Flavour with Water

Being on Cathay Pacific, I had to also try out their cup noodles! I was surprised this time to find out now Cathay Pacific had their own brand of chicken flavored noodles.With the noodles, the FA (flight attendant) also gave me a cup of water, which was nice to balance off the savory flavor of noodles.

Cathay Pacific Instant Noodles Chicken Flavour

These were actually quite good- the broth was lighter and not as salty, and the noodles were just like all good instant noodles are- bouncy with a nice chew. The additional vegetables were also pleasant to have.

B-KPA CX View, Flying over Japan

Flying over Japan, I managed to take some very blurry pictures of the lights of Japan at the window near the galley and restrooms. It was a pleasant sight!

B-KPA CX 777-300ER Back Galley

I also managed to take a picture of the galley...quite busy with lots of carts filled with food and drink! The water pitcher is half-shown on the left of the image.

B-KPA CX Infotainment Flying over Japan
(flying over Japan)

For a while I did sleep, but then after a few hours I was back up to do homework and enjoy the flight- there was Toy Story 3 and Glee, both of which I watched parts of. This time actually, there was no problems with StudioCX. No entire cabin reset was done on the flight, which was nice as each reboot takes at least five minutes or so.

Working on homework showed a flaw in the seats....of which I told you about earlier. Using a laptop and writing things were quite difficult on the seat. Your hands got stuck in a awkward position that just did not feel natural or comfortable. In fact, a passenger sitting next to me who filled out CX’s comment form by a request from the FA's wrote on the TV in front of her, and not on the table! She got a pen for filling out the form. I did not get a form to fill out though, but she bought duty free from the flight. Maybe that's how they choose.

B-KPA CX Economy Back Cabin In-Flight/ Breakfast

It was soon time for another meal- Breakfast! Cabin lights were turned on yet again- notice how now the screens in this picture were all showing different things compared to before where they were almost all the same.
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Breakfast:

Fresh seasonal fruit

Yoghurt

Chicken and black mushroom congee
or
Wild mushroom omelette with wild mushroom sauce, roasted potatoes, pork sausage, diced tomatoes with basil and parmesan cheese

Blueberry loaf

Tea & Coffee
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Serving Breakfast Drinks on CX

Unlike dinner, where the back was served first, this time the front was served first. There was a need for the FA's to grab more trays and bottles for beverages, so it took quite a while until they finally reached the end of the plane.

CX Breakfast- Layout

In this case, both my companion and I took the wild mushroom omelette with wild mushroom sauce, roasted potatoes, pork sausage, diced tomatoes with basil and Parmesan cheese. A interesting note about this meal set up was that there were two empty plastic containers.

CX Breakfast- Omelette

What is so silly about this course is that when we talked to our business class companions after the flight, we found out that they had a very similar option! Probably the change would be a larger serving size served on ceramic tableware. I did enjoy this omelette, it was not too oily and was quite light. The omelette was fluffy but firm, and the wild mushroom sauce provided some flavor to the eggs. The tomato and basil mixture with cheese also provided more flavor to the dish, and overall it was a good airplane meal. Much better than dinner, I would say in terms of flavor and serving size.

CX Breakfast- Fruit

The fruit was OK, a mix of grapefruit, grapes, and melon. Light and refreshing.

CX Breakfast-Blueberry Loaf

As for the blueberry loaf, it was like a blueberry muffin, but not too dense or sweet. I liked it! And the additional plus was that it was served warm. Good job Cathay!

Afterwards, it was time for landing, of which the captain did an AMAZING JOB. Actually, the take-off itself was spectacular too. Both were extremely smooth and I could not feel much stress/ force from the braking for the landing or pulling up for the departure. I don’t think the pilot even used the rear thrusters at all. He was able to slow out the plane enough with the flaps, and thus the landing was ultra smooth, just gliding over to the terminal- after all, the gate was on the other side of the runway. This was probably the best landing I’ve ever sat on with any airline.
 
B-KPA, Economy Class Seat

Now that the flight was completed (with lots of "thank you's" from the FA's), I took some cabin pictures after most of the passengers had left. Here is the picture that made the FA quite embarrassed, as the seat was not very neat. Anyway, here you see the seat. Notice how the cushion is elevated slightly forward from the seatback- this is how they create the recline that does not interfere with the person behind. With the other flight, these seatbacks could practically be half removed by myself, which was really awkward. This flight was better. Also, here you can see the slot for earphones- it is a three prong, but if you have your own headphones and only have one or two prongs you can still use it from my tests.  Here you can also see the airbag seatbelt- this blocks some of space in the seat.

B-KPA, Economy Class Cabin
B-KPA, Economy Class Cabin
B-KPA, Economy Class Cabin 

Here are the last images I took of the economy class cabin. Thanks for a fine flight. Overall, the food and entertainment had improved a lot. Service was improved- a mix of English/Cantonese speakers, who stayed awake most of the flight serving customers and helping people, providing several water runs as well. The only things Cathay could work on would be seat maintenance and hopefully providing some more value for the price of the flight. I can definitely recommend Cathay if all of their flights were as good as this one (hint hint to my return flight's opinion). 

B-KPA, CX Business Class Cabin
B-KPA, CX Business Class Seat

My companions who were in business class felt their flight experience was not much better compared to economy. The main advantages with business class were the flat bed and the priority in check-in and customs, as well as the mini extra touches like the headphones and the larger television and the higher-quality pillows and blankets. However, the food my companions felt was not much better compared to economy, and the seat itself was not very impressive- it was hard to naturally steetch i the seat due to the high walls. In addition, the foot rest was/is quite tiny and not suitable for sitting on as this style of seat was designed for. At least in a few months Cathay's new business class will be introduced to long-haul flights, and I certainly hope that along with the entire service in business class will improve the overall experience.

Baggage Reclaim Information Display

With some more good-byes from the crew we left the plane. 15 hours later, we had left from a rainy California evening to the start of a new day in Hong Kong. How pleasant!

Baggage Reclaim #13, HKIA

Baggage reclaim at HKIA was quite efficent- by the time we arrived, all the luggage was there. Maybe it was  because we came out last, but the last time it was the same thing- we just picked our baggage and left through one more agricultural/duty inspection.

Airport Express- Trains to city

Finally outside the customs and baggage reclaim area, we were hoping to go on the Airport Express until a taxi driver came up to us and persuaded us to ride on his taxi to our hotel...for a set rate in which we bargained down a few more dollars out of- that makes traveling fun! At first we did not want to, but eventually we gave in- Airport Express would not be too convenient with the large amount of luggage we had and plus loading the baggage then onto a bus to the hotel and then unloading it would be quite a hassle.

On taxis versus Airport Express:
There are several ways to look at whether Airport Express or taxi is the better option. For off hours, taxis are quite convenient as there is little traffic and the taxi can get you directly to where you are going to. However, the Airport Express will usually cost less than the taxi- if you are traveling by yourself Airport Express definitely is cheaper, while when traveling in a group then the difference starts to creep closer. For example, a ride of four people to Hong Kong Island with the group ticket on Airport Express will cost 250 or so HKD, while the taxi will cost slightly more during off hours and much more during traffic rush. That extra money then is up to you in terms of "is it worth it" to be on a taxi, as the extra money saves you from carrying your luggage and needing to then transfer from the Airport express to a free bus to your hotel.

Morning View- HKIA

On the way to the taxi driver's car (he had to pick it up), we passed by ground crew for the airport who were happily chatting and walking to work- this was very common with many of the employees I saw in Hong Kong- they were content and did their job well. Outside, the view was a bit foggy, but far back in this picture we could see some apartment buildings.

Luggage Cart

For now, see you soon, Hong Kong International Airport!

Hong Kong Sunrise

As we passed by several bridges, the view from the taxi was marvelous. The sun was rising and the clouds were starting to clear out.

Taxi Scenery View: Kowloon/Hong Kong Island

It was not long until we saw Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Older readers of the blog may notice an old header that I had of Hong Kong which had a uncompleted building in it. Well, here you see it complete- it is the tallest building in the photo.

Hong Kong Island/Kowloon Taxi

Seeing the picture of Yao Ming on the taxi demonstrated a difference in cultural values in Asia versus the United States- in Asia 13 can be a good, positive number, while in the United States some are pessimistic on the number 13.

Conrad Hong Kong, Central

Crossing the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, we saw a large billboard showing a Canon 60D D-SLR camera, further demonstrating different cultural values- people in Hong Kong do enjoy photography quite a bit, and the amount of camera commercials reflected that. We knew we were about to arrive at our destination when the Conrad popped up. Guess where the location was! Hint hint, just check out the Lodging page with the Tripadvisor review links, you'll find it somewhere. :)

Find the rest of the posts in this series at this trip's TRIP INDEX.