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United Polaris Global First is a good thing. There is nothing to complain about at all, really. In fact, as we’ll see here, the pods in Polaris First beat the pods in Polaris BusinessFirst hands down. The real question is, is the price delta (on the order of $5000 to $10,000 for some routes) worth the plus up in service?

Lets find out.

Here is what a Polaris BusinessFirst pod looks like

And by comparison, here is what a Polaris Global First pod looks like

There are 8 First pods on the 777, and two sections of Business pods lined 6 across (versus 4).

Seat layout on the United 777 version 1

The first class pod is much roomier. It is both longer and wider, and it is easier to sleep in. Of course, sleep does not come easy on these flights!

The first pod also has lots of compartments for stashing your stuff. This appeals to my anal sensibilities. I like consolidating and stashing stuff.

The food is exactly the same. I mean exactly. Hint: get the thai chicken udon noodles and the garlic bread.

The service is also pretty much the same. Maybe one notch more attentive in Global First, which can at times be a bit over the top.

Bathroom access is, surprisingly, better in Business. That’s because on the 777 at least, you share the bathroom with the flight crew.

Oh, and the wifi is the same. It doesn’t work.

Bottom line? Polaris BusinessFirst is definitely worth the cash outlay, but Polaris Global First, being mostly the same is something to cross your fingers for and hope for that upgrade.

Is NPS spoiled? Yes. Does that make life harder for hotels and airlines when it comes to expectations? Yes. Welcome to the world of high end travel.

2018 started with a trip across the country on the NPS “trip across the country” airline—Virgin America. Or what’s left of it anyway. Virgin America is becoming more and more like Alaska. And frankly, that sucks. Sure, we’re MVP Gold on Alaska by default. But who cares? Going from the Nordstrom’s world to JC Penny is not gonna cut it.

Here’s an example of what is happening to Virgin America. The checkin process at Dulles was always super friendly, efficient, and FAST. Now there is a line and it is a line of Alaska flyers.

The flight across the country was just fine after using cash money to upgrade to First. So there’s that.

Next came the wrong room problem at the Buchanan in San Francisco (216 versus 316 or 416). Sadly this happens almost every time we stay here. Sure, NPS helped to establish the Kimpton InTouch program years ago (now known as Karma and soon to be known as IHG Rewards Club (blech)), but super elite Kimpton/IHG status does nothing to add to the number of available Kimpton rooms we like in San Francisco. The staff at the Buchanan does all they can to accommodate demand. But demand is just outstripping supply. And as a demander, well the market is about to speak.

Time’s up you guys, only two OK quality San Francisco Kimpton properties still?? IHG needs to step it up in this city. Really.

View from the Buchanan San Francisco (Japantown)

Of course, Emily Glick and her people get all the blowback in public, but really it is corporate that is at fault by this stage. Hopefully Emily will forgive us for making clear what we expect!

Amenity. Thanks to the Buchanan team

216 has a few of problems from the NPS perspective. Number one is that the shower needs a better shower head. Water pressure is not sufficient. At least it’s a glass cube! Number two, the room is ADA sanctioned and we are not special needs campers. That means the closet is not usable, and the tub is a mess of machines. Number three, the second floor is too close to the street and it is noisy.

So no more 216 for us. We’ll just have to stay elsewhere next visit.

Shower? Glass is good.

The tub has served as a closet for hanging clothes this trip

Or maybe you can hang your coats on this thing in the hall

Of course, Japantown is great and the Buchanan is hip and well located. Staying here is always a good thing.

Green tree view

216 does not suck. But pretty not bad is not good enough.

Yeah, we brought the violin and even managed to play some music with our friends in Oakland.

Some data from San Francisco. Sweet Maple is a great place for breakfast and so is The Grove. For a real Japantown meal, try to find Kui Shin Bo.

Dinner at Flour+Water is just as fantastic as ever. The Progress is, likewise, a very good place to eat (and unlike its sister next door, you can walk in).

The Dando from The Progress
1 oz rye
.75 oz amaro angelino
.5 aperol
1 oz meyer lemon juice
.5 oz pear shrub
shake. up. large cube.

Cocktails at Wildhawk are highly recommended.

This time three showerheads for the Buchanan’s failed Tetris game. No more games of chance for NPS. 2018 is gonna be interesting.

This California in December thing seems to be a trend now that NPS works for a silicon valley company. What that means is a week-long delay in the start of our annual no fly nöel thing.

So how did 2018 stack up? Well the tripometer was up year over year after many years. And most of the travel was international. This year we visited:

  • London (twice)
  • Inverness
  • Stuttgart
  • Neuremberg
  • Tokyo
  • Kyoto
  • Oslo
  • Sardegna
  • Malta

Lots of time outside the confines of the broken United States and its Orange Caligula of a “President.”

Here’s the graph.

The annual tripometer. Trips are up for NPS.

Because of all of the international travel, we had some interesting impact on loyalty programs. It’s not even clear we’ll make inner circle this year at Kimpton (horrors)!

Other than the “not really Virgin America” we have no loyalty anymore for any airlines. Treat them all the same and let the chips fall where they will. Use money to “upgrade” by starting out upgraded. My my how things have changed.

A direct comparison of international business class shows United has the best service. Here are two examples.
Delta
United

Anyway, time to stay home by the fire for a while.

The group we host on an annual basis is getting big (well over 200 now) and that means finding an appropriate venue is getting harder. Fortunately the Omni Montelucia was a great choice for this year’s conference. Gorgeous setting. Updated property. Top notch food and drinks. Well trained and attentive staff. Awesome!

About the only wrinkle with the Omni Montelucia is getting there from the east coast. Flying to/from Pheonix is not the best or the most efficient, but that can be a plus too if you want to get a bunch of very busy people “off the grid” for a couple of days of concentrated work. (BTW, American Air just sucks. My favorite thing was a twitter suggestion from American customer service to remove stuff from the seat ahead for more room. Fuck right on off!)

The conference organizers lined up suite 129 for NPS. It was “pretty not bad” as our friend Sammy says. In fact, it was just as nice as any suite we’ve ever had.

Suite 129

Greeted with a cocktail and a personal note. Very nice. Thanks! (Oh and sparkly water too.)

The bathroom was spectacular with a NPS approved glass shower also incorporating stone and multiple showerheads.

Wait for it

This shower is perfect

Are we spoiled? Should we not be spoiled?

All showers like this always come with an unused side of bathtub

But by far the best part of 129 was the large porch. Each night we entertained on the porch with candles and Liberals (Amer Picon brought from home).

129 porch

View of the porch

View from the porch

View from the porch

One minor quibble about the porch. The weather was so perfect that NPS wanted to keep the huge sliding glass triple door open all night. Sadly the resort musak also played all night in the courtyard of the restaurant. So the doors had to close at 3am.

The bar was also prepped by advance troops (in the form of Noelie) who informed them that they would need more absinthe STAT for CR#2s. That was a very good call. The barkeeps were all greatly accommodating and eager to learn.

And the resort food for 200? Very very well done. Could not really ask for improvement there.

After the conference, we left in an afternoon for play. A hike in the desert. A dip in the pool. And one of the best meals of my life at Sel in Scottsdale.

Camelback Mountain

Five showerheads and nothing to add. Heck six showerheads for the Omni Monelucia. Wishing for a quick return on any other airline than American.

 

NPS has heard plenty of good things about Grand Hyatt Tokyo, but until just recently everything was just rumor and innuendo. The good news is that the rumors were all true. Grand Hyatt Tokyo is a great base of operations for exploring Tokyo.

NPS lives in Virginia. Getting to Tokyo (and to the Grand Hyatt) from Virginia takes about 18 hours. Lets review. First there is the car ride to IAD, then there is the 12.5 hour United flight (Polaris of course), then there is the N’ex from Narita into town.

One or two pieces of advice. We were assigned a deluxe king room 648. The club level is worth paying for (we found this out once we were comp’ed in by a friend). Pay more and get a corner room. Or heck, blow your wad and get a suite. Since this was an NPS first visit to Japan, we relied on friends to make our reservation when we probably should have checked things out more carefully and upped a level or two.

That said, 648 is “pretty not bad.” The sixth floor is a particularly great floor to be on since it also is the restaurant and shopping center (way upscale) connection floor.

Entrance hall 648

Every room needs green tea and a tea set because Japan

The bed does take up pretty much the whole room 648

Fortunately, the shower is WAY not plastic with a built in tub, multiple nozzles, and a very cool slit drain. This shower meets and exceeds NPS requirements on all fronts.

Of course the toilet tech involves many buttons, automatic lid lifting, and other mysteries.

Toilet with an advanced degree

The best part of the Grand Hyatt is the super-professional staff whose attention to detail and courtesy can’t be matched.

Some Tokto recommendations. Get ramen at Afuri (there are many) and also try some tsukemen at Fuunji. The sushi at the restaurant in the Grand Hyatt is quite delicious.

 

Watch out for Pat. He will stretch your Saturday night until 6:30am Sunday. A couple of great bars include Wodka Tonic and Bar Arashi. Vynil bars are over-rated. Watch live music (but use ear plugs if you are over 50).

 

 

 

Homemade gin infusion

See some live Rock and Roll.  Read about The Dead Bambies and Jungles!!! here.

Records and booze

Getting Later

Visit mori tower

Visit the shrines

Meiji Jingu and Senso-ji

Import the Liberal to the Local

Five showerheads for the Grand Hyatt Tokyo.

It is gray and overcast in San Diego. I’m pretty sure this never happened before Donald Trump became President.

We’re back for a quick bit of business in San Diego on our multi-city tour. One of the best things about San Diego is the Salomar. Our buddy George has moved over to the Palomar these days and has been replaced by the capable and super nice Kayse Potter. Kayse made sure our welcome was warm and nice and that our shower was non-plastic. Thank you Kayse.

We arrived late due to Virgin America SNAFU apparently involving a crazy lady in an unrelated city. Things you overhear when the flight crews gossip. Anyway, we got our rental car and zoomed over to the Salomar just in time to drop off bags and skeedaddle for our reservation at Noble Experiment. A great time was had by all. Thanks Andrew and crew. The back bar shots of rum and tequila made for a damn fun time.

We slunk back around midnight. Room 834 is a great space but it is on the wrong side of the building for me. Too noisy when there is a game on at the stadium (after the game ends).

Party all night after the game right under my window

The bathroom is particularly nice with the gigantic tub/glass shower thing going strong. It’s time to replace the showerhead though.

NPS Approved

Glass Pod

Functional but out of date

A solid night’s sleep and a nice long shower was topped only by Swedish pancakes at Richard Walker’s.

Oh, one funny thing. The lobby music is driving Q nuts. He is the manager on duty in the front lobby and is forced to listen to an endless loop. We’ll see if we can’t get that fixed for him!

All around way too quick but super solid visit to San Diego. Five showerheads (one of which might need replacement) for the Solamar.

The plan was a bit intense and involved a taxi, a train, a plane, a car, and just over 25 hours. We did this to see the New Pornographers.

According to twitter, the day went something like this:

So all in all a long but great day ending at the Philadelphia Monaco in room 616. A room that we like so much we’ll severely overpay just to stay in it!

616 looks different by night and day.

616 by day

616 by night

A bed felt great after 5,000 miles

High style in the bathroom

But we’re here for the shower!

One of the top NPS approved showers on the entire planet

Plus look at this outstanding welcome. Personal note from Abby and a tiki-style beverage.

616 view by night

616 view by day

Anyway, the Monaco room 616 is fantastic. Great style, the best shower within hundreds of miles, a comfortable bed, and management that runs a pretty tight ship. Just avoid the NFL draft weekend crowds if you can! LOL.

Dinner before the show at Sazon was interesting and delicious. Make sure to BYOB or cider or case of cider (as the case may be).

Of course, NPS can’t go to Philly anymore without visiting Paul MacDonald and company at Friday Saturday Sunday. We enjoyed a Cloudbreak or two and a newly minted by as yet unnamed cocktail that we’re calling the Ombre Snowcap for the time being. Back bar Fernet was had by some and ignored by the uninitiated.

Friday Saturday Sunday may be the best bar in Philadelphia

The Cloudbreak

The Cloudbreak is such a good cocktail that it was instantly copied in Virginia at the NPS home bar. Paul makes the best version of course. We’re mere dabblers at NPS.

Paul intends to switch out the Cloudbreak for a summer drink that we call the Ombre Snowcap.

Ombre Snowcap (well we call it that for now anyway)

Ombre Snowcap
1.5 oz Fines Herbs infused Vodka (parsely, chive, tarragon 24-hours)
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz simple syrup
.5 oz meletti amaro
1/16 oz olive oil
.75 egg white
Dry shake, shake, strain into rocks glass (no ice). Season foam with pechauds and soda and drop on top

This cocktail does a magical separation thing that is hard to describe. Paul’s work is truly amazing. Try this at home if you dare!

Home to the Monaco 25 hours in! Honestly the Friday Saturday Sunday visit was more fun that the masterly but non-charismatic show put on by the New Pornographers. Get some charisma you guys!

Back to our story. If you’re out until 2am after 25 hours, you sleep through breakfast. Which is why they make room service to bring you espressoand a muffin for $45. LOL.

Around noon it is off to Nom Nom Ramen for a leisurely lunch.

Nom Nom

Followed by a coffee at Elixer, and a cocktail at Milkboy.

A steamy day on the sunny side of the sidewalk in Philadelphia

It was a quick hit to Philly, but a great time. Five showerheads for the Hotel Monaco in Philadelphia.