After having such an enjoyable time last year on our AMA Waterways Africa cruise/tour, Steve (DOS) and I are returning to South Africa once again, this time on our own. Including travel, our nearly three week trip, unlike last year’s vacation, will be so South Africa only, specifically Johannesburg, Makanyi Lodge, Capetown, and the wine regions north of Capetown. We had stayed at Makanyi Lodge last year and absolutely loved it, so we’re excited to be returning there for several nights, as well as Capetown. We did a short day tour last year with AMA to the wine region north of Capetown, however this time we will be staying in the actual wine region for several nights, ending up in Capetown before flying home.
There’s an old saying ‘Half the fun is getting there’, which might not be said by most people, but we actually enjoy the long trip, and try to spread it out a bit so it’s more relaxing and fun. (We’ll both admit, going Business or First Class definitely makes the trip much more enjoyable!) Unlike last year where we flew through London to South Africa, this time we’re flying thru Sao Paulo, and then nonstop to Johannesburg, although we will be flying home thru London.
We began our trip last night (Friday evening) with our town car pick up at 4:30pm for our ride to the Orlando airport. We checked three bags to Miami (where we are spending the night) while we each carried on a bad and a knapsack. We would like to have checked our luggage all the way thru to Johannesburg, but our layover Miami is more than 24 hours (it’s actually two different tickets as well), so we had to reclaim our bags in Miami until our next flight the following night. After going thru security, took the monorail-looking shuttle train to the gate (technically not a monorail as it has two rails), and had a quick bite to eat at Ruby Tuesday’s in terminal B.
We then headed down to the Admiral’s club for a few minutes before heading across the hall to gate 55 for our flight to Miami.
Our short flight to Miami was on a 737-800 series with the individual TV screens and nice seats. No time to watch a movie though on such as a short flight as we arrived early, in less than an hour. It was nice though watching our flight progress on the TV screen – I love watching the altitude, outside temperature, ground speed etc.
While we could have continued on our international flight to Sao Paolo which left at 10:30pm, we intentionally did not take that flight (due to prior planning), as the summer Florida weather almost guarantees daily late afternoon thunderstorms which can cause significant delays and/or missed connections. Instead of continuing on to Sao Paolo we stayed overnight at the Hilton Miami Airport, which we had booked for 2 nights, just in case of bad weather, and also to make the trip a bit more relaxing. Even though we’re only staying one night, we booked it for two as our flight doesn’t tonight doesn’t leave until 10:30pm, so we can have full use of the room until we head to the airport later tonight.
Upon arrival in Miami, we gathered out luggage, and the luggage carousel was surprisingly quite empty of luggage and fellow passengers waiting for their bags; perhaps a dozen people total. We surmised most of our fellow passengers had international connections to South America or perhaps the cruise lines were holding the luggage for the passengers cruising the next day. Anyway, the luggage delivery was quick (much quicker than in Orlando!) and by luck the Hilton shuttle van arrived at curbside just as we walked outside – that never happens – there is always a wait!
We got checked into our room at the Hilton Miami Airport, which was a nice one bedroom suite on the 11th floor with a large balcony, offering a panoramic view of the airport, planes, and runways across the street, the Blue Lagoon surrounding the hotel, and downtown Miami in the far distance. As it was nearly 9:30pm once we got settled in, we headed down to the lobby lounge for a brewski (for me) and appetizer. We ended up each having a flat bread pizza, and had a nice chat with the couple at the adjoining table who were going on a 9 night Celebrity Equinox Caribbean cruise in the morning. They had just flown in from Buffalo, and like us (even though we just came from Orlando) were a bit tired, but excited about their trip. We wished them a Bon Voyage as they headed up to bed while we finished our drinks and pizza.
Today (Saturday) we had a late 10:30am buffet breakfast in the hotel. We were here in late May and they are still doing major renovations in the lobby, adding a new mini-mart type shopping area, so the you have a slight detour to get to the restaurant. Not a big deal; just pointing it out for next time we’re here, we can note the progress.
After breakfast we walked around the nature trail of the property, arriving back to our room, just in time for the daily Florida showers. We didn’t see any iguanas this time; DOS figured they’re only out when it’s hot and sunny, and it’s been quite overcast today.
Back at the room, I caught up on this blog and took a few photos from the balcony of the rainy and stormy conditions.
In the evening, we Ubered to the 94th Squadron Restaurant just shy of a mile down the road. While on a sunny day it’s a nice and leisurely walk, on a stormy day such as this, not so much so. We usually have dinner at the Squadron when we stay here, and did so on our last trip in June.
The Squadron is literally across the highway from the airport and you can watch planes taking off and landing while you eat. There are also headsets there you can put on and listen to the control tower, while the waiters dress in army type – squadron- uniforms. The Squadron has great food and drink, and we love the aeronautical atmosphere there.
After our early 5:30pm dinner, we walked back to the Hilton as the weather had cleared up. About half-way on the mile long walk, the Hilton shuttle driver saw us walking and stopped and picked us up and dropped us back at the hotel! He had dropped us off at the hotel yesterday and remembered us – great customer service! After getting our bags and checking out, we again took the airport shuttle to the Miami airport, and checked in for our international 10:30pm flight to Sao Paolo. While we were flying in Business Class on this flight, as Executive Platinum members we could use the exclusive Flagship First checkin line, which was quick and offered a fast trek thru security. That was worth a photo, even though you can’t quite make-out Flagship First sign. LOL!
American Airlines has really beefed up their Business and First Class product and lounges in the last couple of years, not to mention ordering many new airplanes. We then went to the Flagship International Lounge, which opened earlier this year, and unlike the regular Admiral’s Club, is available only to those flying Business or First Class on American internationally. The lounge is huge, and has a great selection of food, wines, beers, and other adult beverages. They also offer Textbook Cabernet Sauvignon, which is one of our favorites. We relaxed here for a couple hours, before heading to our ‘D’ gate around 9:45pm for our 10:30pm flight.
Boarding was very efficient, and we were quickly aboard the newly renovated Boeing 777-300ER plane that will soon whisk us to Sao Paolo in eight hours or so. While we’re not flying First on this segment (we are on the return from London to Miami), the Business Class on this is nearly as nice as First (which we did last year) and in both cabins the seats are completely lie flat. First has only 8 seats, and while Business has 45 seats, it’s divided into two sections, and we are in the smaller section, which like First has only 8 seats in this mini-cabin, which makes it feel much more exclusive as well as quieter.
Most of American’s fleet as well as other airlines are doing away with traditional First Class, as the Business Product today is so far superior to the legacy First Class of several years ago, and most companies will pay for Business, but not First on international flights. The main difference on this aircraft from Business and First is only slightly better service with an extra soup course, two lavatories exclusive to First, slightly wider seat and ‘bed’, nicer amenity kit and free pajamas. In fact on the last flight to London when we were in First Class, I actually asked if I could have the beef meal from Business Class as in First there were no beef dishes on the menu! I’ll compare this Business Class flight to our First Class flight when we fly back home from the London to Miami segment at the end of our trip.
Anyway, like First Class we were served our pre-departure Champagne, OJ, or water, and we will be leaving shortly. This should be a really fun trip, and as they say ‘Half the fun is getting there’! Next stop . . .São Paulo . . .