#938350 by honey lamb
12 Sep 2017, 21:07
During the planning stages of our Melbourne trip I asked Aer John for suggestions as to what we should do while we were there. He immediately replied with a suggestion of a side trip to New Zealand. My interest was immediately piqued! Why not? I was unlikely to go to the Antipodes again so “Carpe diem!” And as my years were now rapidly advancing there were becoming fewer “dies” for me to “carpe” It would be my x0th birthday present to myself - just as the trip to Easter Island and the Atacama Desert had been similar gifts! It was time to spoil myself! Expedia was consulted for ideas and obliged with a very reasonably priced fare in economy out on Virgin Australia and back as a codeshare on Air New Zealand metal. Result! The only drawbacks were that these were early morning flights (and although Aer John was now edging towards his 30s, in my mind he was still the stroppy teenager who had to be dragged out of bed each day) and that they had been booked at the same time of the VS website debacle so that neither of us could access our new FC numbers to enter in our bookings. Nonetheless the bookings were made as well as the hotel reservations and we were good to go.

After our few days in Melbourne we booked a taxi to take us to the airport and given our seamless journey through the airport on our arrival, Aer John’s body language suggested we were leaving miles too early. Indeed, it seemed to be true given that the trip to the airport took only 25 minutes as opposed to the 40 minutes indicated by the hotel staff. However when we got inside we were treated to a scene of absolute mayhem! We had been unable to do OLCI so we had to go to the check-in lane where it would seem that half the population of Melbourne was ahead of us. The line that we needed to join was for Auckland and Nadi (which I later found out was in Fiji) and it seemed that families with huge numbers of members and equally huge amounts of luggage were ahead of us. However, just as we got near the head of the queue (some 40 minutes of arriving) we were called over to the Priority/Crew check-in area and swiftly checked in. By this time we had managed to access our new FC numbers and these were added to our booking. We were told our gate number was gate 20 and warned that it was the furthest gate and we would need time to get there.

We headed off to Security and again the queues were humongous and at this stage, time was ticking away. Slowly, slowly we edged along. Occasionally a family might be called out for a pre-screening akin to a secondary screening but then they were directed to the head of the queue - which didn’t go down too well when the said family was behind us! Fortunately just as we got to the head of the queue another security line opened and we high-tailed it down there as fast as our legs could carry us. After that it was to passport control using e-gates. However both our passports stalled and we were sent to agents - probably because we had EU passports. The agents were pleasant and gave us cards we were required to complete before dropping them into a box. I often wonder how many of these cards are ever read by Immigration/Customs!

We headed off to the gate which, as the check-in agent had warned us, was a long walk. Aer John made a detour for water as he knew that food and drink was Buy on Board and I fetched up at the gate just as a pre-boarding announcement was made. Phew! We needed every minute of our trip from the hotel! Once pre-boarding was complete, boarding was done by rows from the back and was rigorously enforced. Aer John arrived just as our section was called and we made our way to 19 A/B. The first thing we noticed was no seat-back entertainment! The system was that you downloaded the app and watched on your device. The crew announced this and informed us that there was still time to download the app but try as I might I could not connect to it and neither could Aer John. We both had reading matter but it might have been nice to have watched something. (As an aside, I later looked at what would have been available and the choice was extremely limited!)

Apart from that, the flight was fairly bog standard (but no G&T). Service was Buy on Board but neither of us was interested in anything. The crew were pleasant and friendly but really there was nothing worth reporting other than it took off and it landed. It was a vastly different experience from our first experience in Australia on Virgin Blue which was not too dissimilar to Virgin America

On arrival in Auckland we made our way to Immigration. There was a line for Australian, UK and I can’t remember if New Zealand was included or had its own line and what other countries were included. All that I remember was that we had to go to the Other Passports line, which was much shorter than the other but had a more intensive scrutiny (but certainly not to the extent of Homeland Security in the US). Aer John, the pup, had galloped on ahead of me and was three ahead of me in the line! As luck would have it, I fetched up at the same officer who was extremely pleasant. “Ma’am, there was a young man just through with the same surname and an Irish passport?” “Yes, he’s my son” “And he wouldn’t wait for you?” sez he disapprovingly. “No, he usually goes ahead to pick up the bags” He gave me a wry smile and let me on my way. I was quickly to discover the reason for the smile. Aer John had indeed picked up the bags and headed towards the exit sign. We rounded a corner and there were three lines, one for NZ and Oz citizens travelling domestically, one for NZ and Oz citizens travelling internationally and one for all other passports. This was to go through Bio-screening. All three lines were huge! They shuffled along slowly and our line seemed to progress slightly quicker. Eventually some 45 minutes later, we were presenting our customs form to an official, having our bags scanned and we were free to go.

We took a taxi to our hotel which was near the Sky Tower. I had booked it on Expedia on a price that seemed too good to be true for a 4* hotel. The taxi had to use satnav to locate it and indeed if I hadn’t seen a sandwich board on the side of the road with its name on it we may well have passed it. When we went in the lobby was a small area with a table and computer monitor and very little else. It looked half-finished. Someone else was being checked in and as we waited, I couldn’t help wondering what kind of place had I booked and no doubt Aer John was thinking the same. There were two people there and they seemed to be struggling with the PC but eventually they managed and that guest was sent on his way. Now it was our turn. The couple were extremely pleasant and welcoming and I really couldn’t fault them. We were quickly checked in and directed to our room on the sixth floor. When we got our of the lift the corridor stretched before us, wide and bleak. It reminded me of the corridor in Aer John’s first apartment in Dublin and no doubt he felt the same. With some (loads of) misgivings we opened the door. The place was enormous! So big that it looked quite bare at first but as we poked around we found that we were in a suite. Directly in front was a large space with a dining table at the end and to the right an island unit which separated the kitchen area from the living area. The island unit contained the sink and various cupboards and against the wall was a hob, oven, fridge freezer and various cupboards all containing the modernest of mod cons! There were Nespresso capsules, condiments and in the fridge, milk capsules (which I found after we had done a supermarket shop which included cream as at the time of night we were there they had sold out of milk!!) At the end of the room were the soft furnishings, a smart TV and french windows leading onto a balcony which stretched the width of the apartment. Leading from the living area was a bedroom complete with TV also and also leading onto the balcony, and from that was a corridor which led to the bathroom. The corridor was essentially a walk-in wardrobe complete with iron and ironing board. The bathroom, which could also be accessed from the living area had a shower and toilet and, joy of joys! A washing machine and dryer! All we needed was there. As well as toiletries and a hairdryer, there was also detergent and softener for laundry and at that stage we were beginning to run out of clean clothes so this was a blessing. In addition we found that the wifi was exclusive to our apartment and never let us down. We loved it! My only criticism was that there was only two of everything, two cups, two mugs, two knives, two forks etc.! So how had we come across this exclusive place for what were essentially 3* rates? It turns out that this was a new hotel which hadn’t yet officially opened and our booking was part of a “soft launch”. We just loved it and the highest accolade I got for choosing it was from Aer John who texted his girlfriend saying “Mam done good”
#938356 by buns
13 Sep 2017, 06:08

Thanks for the TR - will there ever be a flight where you do not have us all sitting on the edge of our seats? :-D

NZ is on our bucket list, but will have to wait until Mrs B is no longer tied to her work desk!

Thanks - BTW did you have to turn your clocks back 10 years upon arrival :-P

#938406 by RobL
14 Sep 2017, 10:53
Well look at that.
I booked the VA166 on Sunday and did a quick search for any trip reports but to no avail and then HL posts this. Thank you HL.

Although I am hoping for something a little less fraught than HL's city to gate experience - we are in business (thanks to VA Platinum status free upgrades) so many G&Ts will be had - it will be almost midday in NZ when the flight takes off!

A couple of days in Auckland visiting a friend and then, the now annual jaunt, returning on the booze bus that is the Emirates A380 First Class experience. Hic.

This is the one trip that the OH has no qualms about me booking.

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