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Right, so we flew from New Zealand which was pretty much of a paradise to a big city in Australia on purpose. That’s how it goes sometimes! Fortunately, Sydney turns out to be a great place for a look around.

We must say that the so-called “partnership” between United Airlines and Air New Zealand is utterly useless. No star alliance perqs here. Just middle seats in economy. Not impressed at all with the Air New Zealand experience. Global services my ass.

Anyway, we arrived and cabbed basically across town to the Sydney Hilton.

Any loyal reader of NPS knows that these kinds of big, industrial hotel chains are not our cup of tea. But we’re here on business and the hotel choice is out of our control. The Hilton is a nice property and it is centrally locaded, so that’s all good.

On arrival, our room category (which I believe turned out to be the “crappy” category) was not available, so we went and got some ramen. The front desk staff was helpful and friendly about the delay. Thanks SooYeon.

Ramen at Yasaka Ramen was authentic and delicious, but super heavy. Be forewarned.

Ramen in Sydney

When we returned about an hour later (after coffee at Doppio which we highly recommend), our room was ready. We were assigned hamster cage 2203.

Lets just be cheerful about the whole thing and call it “cramped.” We have so much stuff in tow on our 25 day trip, that there was not even room to stash our luggage.

No room for walking in 2203

This is as far away from the bed as the camera can get. LOL.

The bathroom is likewise very tiny.

But the shower was at least glass!

If you are a hamster or some other kind of tiny rodent, this is the room category for you. Sure it’s free. Yup.

Two showerheads for the “crappy” room category at the Sydney Hilton. Just don’t.

Fortunately, after a walk around the botanical gardens, we ambled right back into the lobby and switched ourselves up to a Relaxation Suite. Apparently there are 16 such rooms available on this property. For more, see part two!

Leaving the South Island for Aukland

Sadly, Air New Zealand has a pathetic (almost non-existent) partnership with United Airlines. Global Services? Whatevs. NPS got to experience a coveted middle seat in the back of the plane on the hop between Queenstown and Aukland.

Were we pleased? HA!

But we did get to Aukland eventually (and late). We do highly recommend the professional and courteous Blacklane car service to get around from the airport.

By the time we got to the Aukland Sofitel, we were running slightly late for our 8:30 dinner reservation at Lava (which as it turns out is in the hotel).

Sofitel lobby is modern and stylish

We were assigned 608, a very small room with a very nice view of the harbor. Just don’t try walking around. Stuffy is the right word.

The bed dominates 608 which seems higher than it is wide

The view can’t be beat

Boats

The bathroom is well appointed and nicely sized, though nothing special. The shower itself had seen better days inside. More attention to detail is in order so that everything is in order.

Lava is a nice place to eat, especially if you are in your 70’s. Old school, slightly stuffy with an undertrained and not very attentive staff. The food was creative and good but well overpriced for the experience itself. Seems that the pastry chef is the best person on the staff at the moment. Just go for dessert.

But about that view.

One way

Or another

Three showerheads and less stuffiness in terms of architecture. Very corporate and old school in all the wrong ways.

Two years ago, we experienced some four showerhead luxury on Amelia Island off the coast of Florida. We’re back for another corporate event (the BSIMM Community Conference), once again with no spare time.

This time United upgraded both legs in and out. Global Services privileges are a good thing.

Great news about the Ritz-Carlton is that they’ve added a much better bar since we were here last. Better selection, and more importantly, bartenders who know what they’re doing.

Sadly, NPS was demoted from 832 (the huge Presidential Suite) to 432 for this visit. The 2018 room had a nice ocean balcony and was a very nice room in its own right. It just was not palacial.

432 has a long double balcony overlooking the Atlantic

Bedroom

Sitting room

Like last time, we were greeted on arrival on the property (in the hotel car service) by the staff. Really fun! Champagne and treats. Woo hoo!

Honey from the very local hives

Goodies included a cocktail book and a jigger made of salt

Sparkling water because someone pays attention

The 432 suite has two bathrooms.

Entrance hallway with a small bathroom

The bathroom itself is nicely appointed. Showers are not plastic.

The anteway entrance to the main bathroom has plenty of room

This is very likely the last Amelia Island corporate visit for NPS. Four showerheads again, and kudos for the bar upgrade. If you are into the luxurious big giant conference hotel thing, this is a strong iteration.

The flight to Buenos Aires from Newark is 11 hours and 5 minutes. The great news about such a long flight is that there is actually time enough to watch a movie, have a real sleep, and eat a good breakfast before you land. As has been the case for multiple trips in a row, United’s Polaris service (international) is second to none. Best pods. Best crew. Most flight options. Well done United. Please bring some of that goodness home to domestic flying!

Customs is now efficient in Argentina, and there is no visa tax for walking across the boarder. To be on the safe side, we set up our flight to JuJuy later in the day to give us plenty of time to be late, get stuck at customs, and otherwise be afflicted by travel woes. Of course, none of that happened.

Plan B was to take a taxi in to our hotel in Buenos Aires where we plan to check in on Monday. This was our attempt to shower in an unoccupied room, consolidate luggage, and then have lunch in the city. Thanks to the very kind people at the Fierro Hotel, we did it all and had a glass of wine in the lobby to boot. Awesome.

Room 42 is a standard issue Fierro room according to the map on the door. Modern appointment and amenities are all in abundance.

42 sitting area

From the windows in

The shower, though on the small side and a bit cramped in the bathroom, is not plastic. And boy does it feel good after being trapped in a plane for 12 hours!

ahhhhh

So a quick shower and a rearrangement of luggage (we’ll store two pieces in Buenos Aires) had us out the door before noon. That was plenty of time to find a cooperating ATM and a bistrot.

Oui Oui cafe in Palermo is recommended, but brig ear plugs if you are sensitive to noise. If you are used to rock and roll in small places, everything will be fine.

Coffee at Birkin is taken very seriously, and to good effect. (All they have is a lame ass Facebook link, so here.)

Then it was off to the other airport to fly to JuJuy.

Worth noting is the fact that Aerolinea Argentina has better equipment than United does for domestic flights. Better food too. The two hour and 15 minute flight was smooth once we negotiated the typical Argentinean boarding scrum (which for some reason always involves some sort of confusion).

Everything is slower in Jujuy, and that is just fine. For the record, that includes baggage claim, car rental, and dinner. Time to slow down.

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.

If anything is true, this is: NPS votes with its money. Sure, we pile on the praise (and the snark) as necessary. We even take on hotel chains that think they have us irreversibly trapped in their loyalty program. (See, for example, this fun entry out of Los Angeles.) Well, the time has come to do some fund re-allocation.

You see, the Buchanan Hotel in San Francisco (a Kimpton) has been our San Francisco home for a couple of years. Sadly, due to too much demand, we are unable to get the room we want when we stay there. So how do we solve that problem? We remove demand. Last time we were in San Francisco we walked across the street to the Hotel Kabuki to check it out. As a result, we’re staying at Kabuki this time.

The lobby, common areas, and bar are all very upscale, nicely designed, and worth a visit. On our arrival, we dropped off the bag upstairs and headed straight to the bar. Sazarac? Yes please (with a little help from our friends).

We requested and were happy to occupy a corner room up high. Room 1402 is most likely indicative of the best room category on the property.

design sensibility 1402

The bedroom sector is the most up to date, with interesting design.

bedroom sector 1402

1402 offers a very good view of Japantown and even the Golden Gate in the distance. Two banks of windows provide a very wide view. Mornings were beautiful this week.

Luggage pod is exposed in the hallway to the door.

Luggage and refrigerator

An amenity (!!) on our first stay was very much welcome. Thanks Kabuki!! Champagne and fruit is very nice indeed.

wow, a welcome amenity and they barely know us

the window bank

Then there is the bathroom. Number one, the open design is a bit chilly. A door instead of a doorway would help. That bank of windows in 1402 (including two sliding doors installed in the ’70s) can keep things pretty chilly in February, even with two sets of curtains. Updating the glass would probably help too.

bathroom sector 1402

The shower area is huge. Too huge, as it turns out, mostly because the glass door (approved) does not shut tight and chilly air comes in to make a great shower less than great. Looks like nobody actually took a shower to test this design before implementing it.

glass shower…huge

The shower has both a drench head and a handheld shower head. But that cold air.

shower head 2

So, all is not yet well at the Hotel Kabuki, where some attention to detail is in order.

Did housekeeping remove your not quite empty bottle of sparkling water? Try calling down to get some more. No dice. And no creativity from the front desk. High end hotels solve problems.

Want espresso for breakfast in the morning? Nope.

Want to adjust the temperature? Good luck figuring out how the thermostat works (it appears not to do anything at all).

Did you open the sliding glass door to access the balcony? Getting it closed again may be an issue.

On the positive side again, Japantown is a great base of operations in San Francisco. There are exceptional restaurants and cocktail locations within striking distance, and the Filmore corridor up the hill is hopping.

We schlepped out to Haight-Ashbury for dinner at Black Sand. This local bistrot has great food and good cocktails.

We taught the bartenders how to make Bill’s Big Birthday Beverage:
1 oz Ancho Reyes
1 oz cardamaro
1 oz fresh orange juice
.25 oz hot pepper infusion (in this case, house made)
Shake. Strain. Serve up.

Anyway, with more attention to the details above, Hotel Kabuki will displace the Buchanan as San Francisco’s default location for NPS. Four showerheads for the Hotel Kabuki. Rise to the occasion please!

Ah, The Muse. Last time we were here it was too short and about as good as they come. This time was very similar.

Night view from The Muse room 1703

We figured out that 1703 is the room number of the room we like (because lucky dogs that we are, we snagged it again). What a shower! Sadly, we were all by ourselves this time. (Thanks Ray Mannon for your magic.)

1703 anteroom

Thanks for the amenity, especially the two LARGE san pellegrinos

After way too much korean food at Gayeon in Fort Lee, NJ, there was no room left for even one wafer thin slice of cheese. The sparkling water was perfect, however.

Gayeon was solid Korean in a suburban mall kind of upscale NJ space. Why is it that all of these restaurants in the ‘burbs feel the same? We had a blast watching the completely wasted couple one table away try to cope with reality.

desk nook 1703

bedroom 1703

looking thru the “takeout window” into the bathroom

SHOWER NIRVANA

NPS loves the shower in 1703. Yes on all fronts. Even has a bench. Sadly, the city of NY decided to turn off the water somewhat arbitrarily in the morning. We got a shower, but always under the threat of ending up all soapy. This is a bummer, and we must return.

This quick trip was so fast that there was no time for cocktails outside of the restaurant.

There is very good news about being Global Services on United! First class upgrade on the way out, and a free efficient switch to an earlier flight on the way back. We even managed to get a seat that did not suck. NPS approves of Global Services.

Uber on the other hand needs to get a map of NY and commit it to its computer’s memory.

Five showerheads and a fervent wish that NYC would get their utilities act together. Thanks to The Muse for a quick but nice stay.