Thursday, December 12, 2013

Celebrity Equinox – Ultimate Mediterranean / Transatlantic Back to Back Cruises – November 13, 2013; November 25, 2013

November 10, 2013 – Travel Day

We are scheduled on UA944 to Frankfurt departing ORD at 2:15 PM.  We have two passes to the United Club so we plan to leave at 11:00 AM giving us plenty of time in the Club before boarding.  The cab ride now takes only 15 minutes and we are in the security line after using the kiosk to check in and tag our bags.  The lead time wasn’t enough as the security lines are very long and only two scanning machines are in play. 

It took 45 minutes to get through security and then another five minutes to get over to Concourse C.  We wound up with just over an hour in the Club before we had to get to our gate.  Still, this was enough time to eat plenty of salty snacks, mini-cheese squares, and chocolate covered raisins.  I ordered a Bloody Mary but it was too “hot” (I found out later they add horseradish to the BM).  I had a milder one made and it was good – I chased it with a Diet Coke. 

United put in a new system for boarding – Group numbers have their own lines and groups board through both doors.  We are in Economy Plus seats (31JK) – there are only two rows in E Plus that have twin seats – I chose not to get the bulkhead version because the tray comes out of the seat and it narrows the width of the seat.  We don’t have anyone behind us and the washrooms are right around the corner.  The seats are nice with plenty of leg room – worth the extra price considering how squished the folks appear to be in Economy.

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At the United Club – The Planes are so close

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Ellen snacking at the United Club

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UA944 Ready to Go

Our aircraft is a B-777-200 and it appears to be brand new including a new in-flight entertainment system – the touch screen is much more responsive than I remember it being.  But the best part is the movie offerings – all my favorites including “The Man of Steel” (not due on DVD until tomorrow). 

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That’s Entertainment

A few weeks ago, the FAA relaxed restrictions on electronic devices (large devices such as computers and DVD players must be stowed but Kindles and phones on airplane mode can be held and used).  For the first time in years, I was able to legally take a picture of the takeoff and climb out.

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Take off ORD

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“The Big Turn”

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Passing over the Lake Shore

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On our way – 45 minutes out

The climb out was smooth and soon we were at cruising altitude (37,000 heading for an eventual 39,000 feet).  Skies were predicted to be smooth.  There was intermittent chop and the captain was quick to flip on the “light”.  Overall, it was smooth.

We got our Kosher meals – beef slices in a mashed potato and peas combination – not bad really and from a different vendor. 

Once the meals were taken away, I started watching “The Man of Steel” – the new system afforded crystal clear video and my Sony headphones provided good sound.  I got an hour into the movie when the Captain came on with this announcement: “We are having some difficulty with the A/C pressurization system – we have been working to reset it but it will not – we are going to divert since we cannot cross the ocean with this mechanical issue.  We are going to return to Chicago – it will take us 1 hour and 45 min to get back to Chicago”.

My first thought is “at least it’s not a critical mechanical issue” and my second thought is “we are going to miss our connection”.  The flight attendant came on and indicate that UA would be working on solutions to both of those concerns and that there would be an agent waiting at O’Hare to discuss rebooking options.  Fortunately, we decided to go into Barcelona two days early so we had some flexibility to work with.

The plane did a 180 and headed back to Chicago and I went back to my movie.

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Flight UA944 Heading back to ORD

As we got closer to Chicago, the Captain indicated that the plane was to too heavy and would be dumping fuel for landing.  From our seats, we could see the plume of fuel exiting the wing tip.

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Venting Jet Fuel

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Final Approach to O’Hare

After touchdown, I texted the kids and also noticed that UA had sent several e-mails on our plane’s status including our new gate and departure time.  We would be leaving from C20 just two gates down from where we pulled in.  The new departure time was a half hour away and the flight attendants told everyone to head over to the new gate.  When we got to the new gate, they announced that the new plane (exactly the same type of aircraft) would need to be readied (all of the luggage had to be transferred) so it would be a while until we would be able to board.  That made more sense.

About 40 minutes later, we boarded our new plane and got into our same seats.  Our new scheduled arrival time would be around 10:30 AM local time (about 4.5 hours later than the original time).

New UA944 took off around 7:30 PM.

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Climb out – Take 2

On this flight, I started to watch “Wolverine” but it looked so silly I turned it off (perhaps Hugh Jackman is just a bit too old to keep playing this character).  Instead, I watched “Star Trek Into Darkness”.  A good movie but I just couldn’t get into Benedict Cumberbatch as Kahn (so different than Ricardo Montalban – including the lack of an accent and a foreign look and feel).  I do like Zachary Quinto as Spock – a winner.  JJ Abrams borrowed to much from the Wrath of Kahn for the ending of the film.  An homage, he would say.

Tried to get some sleep – no luck.

Monday, November 11, 2013 – Atlantic Ocean

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Sunrise over Ireland

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Over Germany – 40 minutes to touchdown

The EU hasn’t adopted the new FAA recommendations on electronic devices so no pictures of the landing at Frankfurt. 

We found a Lufthansa agent (the Frankfurt Airport is almost all Lufthansa) who told us to head to Gate A34 where we would need to rebook on LH1130.  The gate opened just as we got there and boarding was at 10:55 AM (about 30 minutes away).  The agent told us that she was logging in and that she would page us.  Less than five minutes later she did page us and she got us on, assured us that our bags would be transferred to this plane, and told us she would keep the middle seat open so we could have more room.  She was accurate on all accounts and friendly as one could be.  One more thing, I really liked the look of the LH boarding pass.

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LH1130 (AB A321) Ready to Go

The captain taxied the plane to the runway faster than any previous flight we had been on – he must have had a tight opening for takeoff.  Soon we were off.  I snuck some take off pictures from both sides of the plane.

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Climbout FRA (15 minutes out)

The flight attendants – all girls – were the youngest I had ever seen.  They looked like high school students – they were friendly and courteous.  They offered us a chicken sandwich for lunch (no veggie option) – bonus – the beer was free.

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Without a doubt, the most spectacular part of the flight was when the plan crossed the French Alps.  The snow was everywhere and the view was endless.

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Over the French Alps

The flight plan then took us over the Mediterranean and our initial approach to Barcelona.

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Barcelona in the distance

The visibility was so good that we could see two cruise ships docked at the Barcelona Cruise Terminal (below).

20131111_Cruise Terminal Barcelona (Small) 

We didn’t have to wait long for our bags to arrive and the “Aerobus” was right where it was supposed to be (in fact, it was loading when we walked up).  For 0.9 Euros per person, the bus would take us the Plaza Catalunya – the focal point of the City Center.

The ModernoBCN Hotel was about five or six blocks down La Rambla at Hospital Street. 

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We checked in and dropped the luggage at our room – 409 – top floor with a street view. 

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View from Juliet Balcony

I booked the hotel on for $136 per night including full breakfast buffet. 

Even though we were jet lagged and tired from our multi flight ordeal, we did set out to see a bit of La Rambla.  Even though it was late in the tourist season, La Rambla was still wall-to-wall people.  What was new were two kosher restaurants – one (Macabi) serving traditional Spanish fare and the other offering grilled items.  They were a bit pricey and we were not that eager for meat.  The two restaurants seemed to be doing OK.

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Candy Shop Central Market

 20131111_La Rambla Flower Store (Small)

Ellen and Flower Shop – La Rambla

Eventually. we had dinner at a nice place on La Rambla – Cesar Salad (that came with chicken even though it didn’t say so on the menu) and Eggplant Parmesan – both dishes were totally alien but we were hungry and ate – I actually liked the bread, olive oil,and parmesan the best.

We were able to stay up until about 9:30 PM.

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