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THE BEST FLIGHTS, HOTELS AND TRIPS EVER
By Martin B. Deutsch
July 30, 2009 -- I recently traversed the past to find the best repasts I have enjoyed on the road these last 50 years. This week, we move to my best, most notable experiences on airlines, aboard cruises, on tour and at hotels.
My only real regret during the last 50 years? I don't have enough space to recount all of the great times. There will, however, be one more column in the coming weeks to cover miscellaneous travel events.
My best international flight (and this is a particularly tough call) was in the early 1990s, when my wife and I flew from Los Angeles to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific Airways. We were in first class and just about everything was perfect; there was no rigid time schedule for the main meals. Courses were served by a pleasant and professional in-flight crew and both the food and the wines were exemplary. During the entire flight, there were hot and cold dishes available in the galley. You could request that they be served at your seat or you could drift back to pick one up on your own. Although the seats did not convert into beds (de rigueur for premium-class travel today) the reclining chairs that Cathay was then flying were certainly comfortable. I remember thinking that this is how I would always travel by air if I ever won a lottery or hit the jackpot in Las Vegas.
The best cruise among the 85 or so I've taken over the decades was in the mid-1980s on the now-defunct Royal Cruise Line. It was a two-week affair on the Mediterranean and we called at about a dozen ports. Each of these daytime shore excursions topped the previous day's event. The itinerary began in Rome, made several stops south along the Italian boot, then continued to Sicily and Malta. It then called at several Greek islands and ended in Piraeus, the port of Athens. I've had better cuisine, and even better staterooms, on a cruise, but everything seemed to click on this particular sea journey. The excellent onboard service, agreeable company, perfect weather and that wonderful itinerary all contributed to a memorable voyage.
The best domestic hotel suite I ever occupied was probably at the original Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California. It was called the Wrather Suite, named for the contractor who built the facility. Besides having a conference room, a dining room, a sitting room, a bedroom and a kitchen, there was also a utility room that literally moved around the suite. A remote control allowed you to rotate this unique space around the accommodations. Remember, this was Disneyland and such futuristic ideas and gadgets were part of the park's original charm.
The best international hotel suite I ever visited was at The Grand et De Milan in Milan near La Scala, the famed opera house. The suite was named after Giuseppe Verdi, one of Italy's grand master of opera, who lived, worked and died at the hotel. As late as the 1980s when I visited the Grand, the Verdi Suite housed Verdi's grand piano, surrounded by a chain and accompanied by a "do not touch" sign. These days, the piano and the furniture from Verdi's accommodations (Room 157) at the hotel reside at Villa Verdi, the country estate owned by the maestro.
My best tour ever was a 1966 Lindblad Wing Safari to Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. We traveled via single-engine and twin-engine aircraft, and, of course, Land Rovers on the Savannah. This fabulous three-week adventure saw us dropping in on almost every major game park in the region and flirting with the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya. We were virtually alone with the wild animals and the herds. By 1999, when we took a similar trip, the region was overrun by hordes of fellow tourists.
In terms of temperature and environment, the best trip I ever experienced, with dramatic climate contrasts and memorable scenery, was in the early 1970s on a visit to Nepal. We flew Thai Airways from Bangkok to the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu on a French-made Caravelle jet. It landed high up in the Himalayas and deployed a parachute from the tail as a landing aid. We fish-tailed down the runway to a precarious stop as I prayed that we wouldn't fall off the precipice and tumble into a valley about 4,500 feet below. Then we chartered a Royal Air Nepal DC-3 to go flitting about the thin, cold air of the Himalayan foothills. The theme for those days was frost and massive, incredibly impressive mountains, including Everest and K-2. We later flew down to the steamy jungles of Nepal to a place called Tiger Tops in Chitwan National Park. For several days, we mounted elephants and sat four to a howdah (sedan chair) while the driver sat on the elephant's head. We searched for tigers and actually did manage to flush one out of a field of high grass. If there was ever contrast on a single trip, the mountains and the jungles of Nepal was it.
My best transition from one aviation era to another occurred in 1958. On October 12, I was aboard the first nonstop transatlantic jet flight from New York's Idlewild Airport to London/Heathrow. The BOAC Comet IV made the run in 6 hours and 18 minutes, a remarkable achievement. I flew home four days later on a lumbering, double-decked Boeing Stratocruiser. The nearly 23-hour Pan Am flight made stops in Iceland and Labrador. Pam Am's new Boeing 707 jets didn't start flying transatlantic routes until several weeks later.
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ABOUT MARTIN B. DEUTSCH Martin B. Deutsch created Frequent Flyer magazine in 1980 and was editor-in-chief and publisher for 15 years. He also wrote a column called "Up Front" for Frequent Flyer during those years. In a 50-year career, he created, published and edited dozens of other travel publications. Deutsch is based in New York.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Martin B. Deutsch in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Mr. Deutsch. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of Mr. Deutsch.
This column is Copyright © 2009 by Martin B. Deutsch. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.