Upon arrival at Dubai, despite being in first on Lufthansa, I was absolutely exhausted. Didn’t want to deal with getting any local currency and getting a cab, so took a black car from the airport since they accept credit cards. Was about a 30-35 minute drive to the hotel, and the small premium for air conditioned comfort and not needing to deal with local currency was more than worth it.
For a normal stay in Dubai I’ve been staying at the Sheraton Mall of the Emirates which is a great property with excellent SPG platinum recognition, but this time I was trying to complete an SPG promo by staying of all 11 of their brands in a year. Since the Grosvenor House was a member of the Luxury Collection, which I hadn’t yet stayed in had a very reasonable rate I figured it was a good place for an overnight.
Arrival was great – they had upgraded me to a nice suite which was way more space than I needed for a short overnight. Got to the room, cranked down the AC which struggled to get cool but was just barely acceptable, had a shower, and quickly passed out. Body clock was way off, but I managed a solid five hours or so of sleep before giving up and going down for an early breakfast.
The breakfast at the hotel was a huge impressive spread and one of the more impressive offerings I’ve seen from an SPG property. Friends Daniel and Rianda who live in Dubai were nice enough to come by the hotel for coffee before I had to head to the airport early – was great to see them and thanks to them for making the early trek out to the hotel!
Got ready to go to the airport, and that’s where the drama started. One of the benefits of suites at this property is it includes complimentary airport transfers. SPG policy is that when upgraded to a room, you are entitled to all the benefits of the room. The hotel refused to honour this, and insisted on charging me something approaching $100 for the transfer. I told them fine, go ahead put it on the bill, and I’ll make sure to take it up with SPG later. They made a “one time exception” and did it complementary, but supposedly this hotel has a history of this. They need to make up their mind: either stop upgrading people to suites, or provide the benefits.
That said, the transfer was extremely comfortable, and made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare before my flight. That, of course, also meant time for Starbucks! Since it was Ramadan, I had to have my coffee behind the screens of shame so nobody fasting had to watch me consume it:
FlyDubai has a small lounge now in Dubai T2 and I spent maybe five minutes there to grab some water before the flight. The best part, however, is that there is a separate boarding gate for business class passengers and you get a private bus to the plane. Anyone who’s ever dealt with the chaos of T2 will certainly appreciate this. It was a nice touch!
FlyDubai flight 731
Dubai, UAE (DXB) to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (ASB)
Depart 11:00, Arrive 14:30, Flight Time: 2:30
Boeing 737-800, Registration A6-FEL, Manufactured 2014, Seat 3A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 114,917
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,305,054
PDB was offered: water, water, or….water!
I love FlyDubai’s safety video, I find the animated characters and their expressions to be hysterical. This guy looks absolutely terrified to be flying:
These ladies look equally terrified:
…maybe they knew the oxygen masks were about to fall down:
Wow, not only business class but also a menu on a low cost carrier? FlyDubai was doing better than domestic airlines in the US by far!
FOUR choices of meal? Wow, impressive!
I went with the chicken which was decent, but far from memorable. But, then again, they not only knew what a mimosa was, and were happy to provide as many refills as I wanted:
Soon, we were on approach to Ashgabat. Note the green roofs on all the buildings:
Passing the centre of the new city on approach…Ashgabat is known as the “City of White Marble” for a reason apparently:
I had arranged for visa on arrival, and the process was a bit confusing…..since the office marked “Wisa” in the arrivals hall was dark when I arrived I assumed that you just got it from the guy at the immigration counter. Wrong. By the time he’d sent me back to the (now open) visa booth there was a bit of a line. No big deal. Handed over the visa on arrival fee of $86 plus the registration tax of $15, and quick and easy got the very nice and unique visa sticker.
After the long wait for the visa and finally immigration stamp, by the time I got into the arrivals hall my driver was already waiting for me. We were off to the hotel so I could rest up before Ian arrived on a redeye from the recently-attacked Istanbul Airport at 7a and we set off for touring. I was very thankful to have a night to recover!
The standard hotel proposed with the tour looked “adequate” but when I heard there was a “North Korean style over the top supposed five star hotel” I insisted we pay to upgrade. First approach to the Yyldz Hotel, which is supposed to be shaped like a teardrop, and was built by the major French construction firm Bouygues to be highly seismic resistant. See, in 1948 most of Ashgabat was leveled by one of the largest earthquakes ever on record outside the pacific rim, with a magnitude of 7.3 and estimates are that over 100,000 people were killed. The Yyldz Hotel from outside:
The extremely understated lobby:
Checked in to my room, which was absolutely palatial for a “standard” room. There were only like 8 rooms per floor, and the entire place seemed rather deserted. It was overall a really surreal experience, and very similar to my experience in North Korea in that the whole place just seemed kind of empty. Had dinner in the top floor sports bar, where I was the only person eat…and watching the Euro football championships. (Sorry, Poland.) Had dinner and a couple of very overpriced (at the official exchange rate) $10 beers and crashed early. Next day was going to be the tour of Ashgabat city!