Trip Report – Dubai and Italy, with Emirates, American, and Cathay Pacific

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  1. Introduction
  2. Review | Emirates Business Class | Seattle to Dubai | 777-200LR
  3. Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
  4. Dubai | Afternoon Tea in the Atmosphere Lounge Burj Khalifa | Desert Safari
  5. Review | Emirates Business Class | Dubai to Rome | A380
  6. Rome – Adventures and Landmarks in 3 Days
  7. Venice – Murano and Burano Island Photos
  8. Top 5 Best Views of Florence
  9. Cinque Terre Ferry Day Tour
  10. Review | American Airlines Business Class | London to New York | 777-200

Note: The full trip report will span a series of posts.  This post serves as the outline for the report.

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Background

This past May, Peterson and I took a 2-week long trip to the United Arab Emirates and Italy, and it was perhaps the biggest trip we’ve been on so far, for several reasons.  It was the first time we were able to book every segment of our flights in business class.  It was our first time flying Emirates.  It was also our first time flying on the Airbus A380, which is the only fully double-decker plane, and the largest passenger jet currently in service.  Having been total Emirates fanboys for the past year, it’s no surprise we were both really excited for this trip.

 

The Plan

The flights for our trip were booked with a combination of Alaska Mileage Plan and American AAdvantage. These two programs are probably our favourite frequent flyer programs.  I won’t get into how we booked it yet, as it’s a complex topic that should be left for a separate post.

Using Alaska miles, we were able to book a Business Class ticket on Emirates from Vancouver to Rome, transferring in Seattle, with a stopover in Dubai.

Using American Aadvantage miles, we then booked a return Business Class fare originating from Milan, transferring in London and New York, back to Vancouver.

Here’s a visual breakdown of our itinerary.

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The Flights

Vancouver to Seattle

Airline: Alaska Airlines
Aircraft: Bombardier Q400

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Alaska Q400 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

The first segment of our trip was a short hop from Vancouver to Seattle to catch our Emirates flight.  I’ve actually never flown on a prop, so I didn’t know what to expect. It was an interesting perspective looking out my window to see the underside of the wing, the propeller, and the landing gear.

Seattle to Dubai

Airline: Emirates
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200LR

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Emirates 777-200LR at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

At just under 14 hours, this flight was a true long haul.  Fortunately, the in-flight entertainment selection was excellent, and the service was attentive.  While this flight only offered the older generation business class seats, they were actually quite decent.  However, we did feel there was a lack of space to put things, especially around the arm rest area.  I found myself having to place my headset, water, or camera right on my seat, which was inconvenient and slightly uncomfortable.  – Full review

Dubai to Rome

Airline: Emirates
Aircraft: Airbus A380

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Emirates a380 business class seat

Flying on the A380 in Emirates business class was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.  Partly because both Peterson and I had not flown on an A380 prior to this trip, but also because we had heard a lot of good things about what Emirates has to offer in their business class product.  We were particularly excited to to hang out at the on-board bar, located at the back of the plane, exclusively for business and first class passengers.  Even though I seldomly drink, it’s a really cool place to be when you’re 30,000 ft in the sky.  To top off the experience, the bartender even let us snap a couple pictures standing inside the bar!  – Full review

Milan to London

Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: Airbus A320

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British Airways club meal

Our British Airways flight was a simple hop over to London to catch our flight to JFK.  The club world seating in the A320 featured the same seats as the economy section, but with the middle seat blocked off to provide more room and for a makeshift armrest.  Club world passengers were also offered a light meal for the 1.5 hour journey.

London to New York

Airline: American
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200

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Great view of the engine

Our flight from London to New York was operated by a Boeing 777-200, which featured alternating front/rear-facing business class seats. I opted to try one of the rear-facing seats, while Peterson took the seat behind mine, which was front-facing.  I wasn’t sure how I’d feel facing the opposite direction of travel, but I ended up LOVING them.  They seemed to provide more privacy, and also offered a great view of the engine and the wing throughout the flight.  The cabin felt clean and modern, and the flight attendants serving us were wonderful.  – Full review

New York to Vancouver

Airline: Cathay Pacific
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER

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Cathay 777-300ER business seats

After a full day of flying and transiting through airports, we wanted to make sure our last flight of the trip was relaxing and comfortable.  We knew we couldn’t really go wrong by booking with Cathay Pacific.  It was a late flight, and we were both super tired after two weeks of travelling, but the crew were so nice and made the entire trip feel very at home.

Places to Visit

United Arab Emirates

In the UAE, we chose to stay in Dubai, a city known for its record-breaking landmarks.  For example, Dubai is home to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world; Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world; and the Dubai Fountain, which hosts the largest water and light show in the world.  One night we enjoyed an epic display of waterworks dancing to the tune of ‘Thriller’, with fancy patterns projected on the side of the Burj Khalifa, which was great.  It felt pretty surreal to walk among such grand architecture, while just outside the city center are miles and miles of desert.  One word of advice: try not to come here during the summer months, OR pick a hotel with direct metro access; On certain days it was reaching 50 degrees Celsius!  We couldn’t walk outside for more than a few minutes without sweating buckets.

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Dubai Skyline from our hotel window

With Abu Dhabi just over an hour away and being the capital of the UAE, we thought we’d spare a day to check it out.  We chose to book a day-tour which brought us to downtown Abu Dhabi, as well as the nearby Yas Marina racing circuit and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.  Peterson actually preferred Abu Dhabi over Dubai, as it didn’t feel as touristy, providing a more authentic Arabic culture.

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Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Italy

It was hard deciding between which cities to visit in Italy, with only 10 days there.  To really experience all of Italy, ideally you would have a full two or three weeks.

To start off our Italian portion of the trip, We decided to fly into Rome first for a couple of days, visiting the Trevi Fountains, Vatican City, and the Coliseum.  As expected, we had to endure huge crowds and long lines visiting the landmarks.  I had been warned about the untidiness of the city, but I was still disappointed to witness it in person.  Stepping out from the airport, the general state of disrepair was apparent.  Graffiti marked almost every metro train.  Apart from the famed world wonders that the city has, I wasn’t too impressed by Rome at all.

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The Coliseum, Rome

By booking early, we were able to secure relatively cheap tickets in Prima class on the Italo train to Venice.  There we explored the shops lining the narrow alleyways, and took a day trip to the nearby island of Murano, famous for its rows of brightly colored houses.

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Italo High Speed Trains
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Rows of bright colored houses in Murano

From Venice, we boarded another Italo train bound for Florence.  We took the many stairs up to the top of the Duomo at the Florence Cathedral, for spectacular views of the city. (Stairs are Peterson’s worst nightmare, so getting him to hike up with me was a real accomplishment)

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Top of the Duomo, Florence Cathedral

We decided to do a half day trip from Florence to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and we’re glad we only used half a day for this, as we were done with Pisa in an hour or so.  There really wasn’t much to see other than the tower, and even that didn’t seem that spectacular compared to other sights in Italy.

We wanted to see the more rural, peaceful side of Italy, so we took the train out to Cinque Terre, a region with five towns nestled along the western Italian coast.  We booked a B&B in the town of Riomaggiore, and spent a couple days there to relax and unwind.  Initially we wanted to do several scenic hikes that connected the towns, but at this point Peterson had caught a flu, so we decided to pass on that.  Instead we opted to use the ferry service, which connected the towns with scheduled departures every 30 mins or so.  There is also train service connecting the towns, which is cheaper, but does not offer the nice views you get of the towns from the ferry.

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Manarola, one of the five towns of Cinque Terre

We spent our last day in Milan, checking out the Milan Cathedral and the surrounding shopping district.  Milan felt the most internationalized out of all the Italian cities we visited, with a more diverse array of shops and restaurants.  At this point in the trip, both of us were growing tired of the typical Italian cuisine of pasta, pizza, ham and cheese, so it was a welcome sight to spot a decent-looking Japanese restaurant, where we ended up having dinner.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved the black truffle pasta in Italy, but my Asian genes were craving some Asian food at this point.

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Milan Cathedral

Summary

Peterson and I both had a blast on this trip.  Being able to try out different airlines on the same trip was fun, as they each had something different to offer.  I loved Emirates for their entertainment and on-board facilities, while I really enjoyed the privacy of the rear-facing seat in the American.  At the same time, it’s hard to beat Cathay Pacific’s service and attentiveness.

Aside from the flights, we were very intrigued by the unique mix of cultures in the UAE.  The sharp contrast between the mega-tall buildings and the rolling deserts felt like another world.  We got to visit some breathtaking landmarks and saw the beautiful Italian countryside throughout our intercity train rides.  The food in Italy was delicious, from the truffle pasta to the various flavours of sorbet.  I just wish there was a little more diversity in the food choices.

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