Today (December 25, 2017): my 10 most memorable travel experiences of 2017.
First, I want to wish all of you a sincere Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays with loads of joy and festive cheer.
As the year 2017 is drawing to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the headlines and stories that shaped the past year. IMHO, there’s no doubt that 2017 will be remembered as one of the most confusing years in modern history. Amid rising tensions, the world reacted to the new strong man in the White House, Donald Trump, who lived a tumultuous first year in office. People from east Africa to Yemen went hungry in the world’s worst (and least talked about) humanitarian crisis since World War II. Terror and lone wolf attacks were carried out in Manchester, London, Barcelona, New York, Las Vegas, and other cities across the globe. North Korea dominated the news with repeated missile tests. And the USA – or at least its current administration – decided to pull out of the landmark Paris climate agreement. But the news wasn’t all bad and a lot of good things happened in 2017. Peace finally gained a foothold in Colombia, world economies continued to grow, the terror group Islamic State was defeated and destroyed in Iraq, Australia became the 25th country to achieve marriage equality, and women who had been harassed and assaulted in the workplace stood up and spoke up.
2017 was a rather uneventful year for travelers. Of course, there were disturbing events such as President Trump’s travel ban, the temporary laptop ban on airlines, the ever present terror threat, and the major hurricanes Harvey and Irma that destroyed large parts of the Caribbean. But all in all, the travel industry boomed, with record bookings and income. Since this is a travel blog that tries to give you a daily moment of travel inspiration with a focus on my personal stories, I hereby share with you my own travel highlights of 2017.
There is more information (with trip reports & Youtube clips) below the slideshow. You can share your own 2017 travel highlights in the comments section below.
Last January, I flew First Class in an Airbus A380 – the world’s largest and heaviest passenger aircraft – of British Airways from Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo Airport in South Africa to London’s Heathrow Airport in the UK. The UK’s national carrier has currently 12 of these megaplanes in its fleet, deploying them on routes between London and Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami (seasonal), Vancouver (seasonal), Singapore, Boston and Washington DC. The ride was enjoyable, but I was not really impressed by the First Class product offered by British Airways on its A380 flagship aircraft. Although the look of the First Class cabin is very sleek and beautiful, the experience pales in comparison to the one offered by other airlines on their A380 planes, such as Emirates, Qantas, Qatar Airways, and Etihad Airways. On a positive note: the First Class of British Airways feels like the best Business Class products in the world (albeit with a First Class price tag).
- Read here my trip report of my First Class experience aboard a British Airways A380.
With lava-spewing volcanoes, lush valleys, glorious waterfalls, towering coastal cliffs, and palm-fringed beaches, Hawaii boasts some of the most spectacular scenery on earth and has inspired many Hollywood movies looking to capitalize on those magnificent landscapes and surroundings. Despite their isolation 2000 miles (or 3000 km) out in the Pacific Ocean, the islands belong to America: the archipelago – a kingdom until 1893 – was the 50th and most recent state to join the USA. Last summer, I spent a sublime vacation in the legendary islands with my best friends, not so much because of the resorts, but rather because of the breathtaking scenery and totally relaxing ambience. That said, hotels were not bad either, although they definitely don’t rank among the best in the world. My favorite hotel in the archipelago is not the St Regis (Kauai) or one of the five Four Seasons resort, but the swanky and low-profile Andaz Maui at Wailea resort, which is perched along a crescent-shaped bay on Maui’s sunny southwestern side. Not only does the Andaz feature a modern and beautiful decor, airy rooms, great restaurants, terrific pools, and a lovely beach, but it also retains a tranquil atmosphere despite its massive size (something that is not the case with most other Hawaiian resorts).
Read my hotels reviews of this Hawaiian holiday here:
- Review: The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Honolulu
- Review: Four Seasons Resort Lanai
- Review: Four Seasons Maui at Wailea (Maui)
- Review: Travaasa Hana (Maui)
- Review: Andaz Maui at Wailea
- Review: St Regis Princeville, Kauai (to be published next week)
This month, Emirates started operating its first Boeing 777 aircraft that features the newly designed and highly anticipated Business and First Class cabins. Brussels, my home airport, was the first destination in the Emirates network to welcome the brand new plane. A media event was hold to celebrate the occasion, and Emirates invited me for the occasion (my first ever press meeting!). After a small reception and a few obligatory speeches by representatives from both the airport and Emirates, I was offered a tour aboard the B777 aircraft (before its scheduled departure to Dubai). While I was not impressed by the new Business Class cabin and its suboptimal 2-3-2 layout), I have to admit that the new First Class product blew me off my feet. Each suite is fully enclosed with floor to ceiling sliding doors, a first in the airline industry, and all passengers – even those in the middle aisle suites – enjoy views thanks to the industry’s first virtual windows that project the view from outside the aircraft using real-time camera technology. I cannot wait to try out this product in 2018 (and of course make a trip report and Youtube clip about the experience).
- Read here my review of a static tour aboard the Emirates B777’s new First Class.
South Africa has always had a special place in my heart since I performed part of my medical studies in the country in the 1990s. There’s something about the rainbow nation that just grabs hold and won’t let go, and I was thrilled to go back. I spent about one week in private game reserves, including a stay at South Africa’s most exclusive lodge, Royal Malewane. This ultra-luxe lodge with only 7 one- to six-bedroom villas has Bill Gates, Bono, Oprah and Elton John among its repeat guests and exudes the romance and beauty of a bygone age while offering every modern comfort and convenience. The classic safari experience was sublime with unrivaled Big Five game viewing under supervision of the country’s most qualified guiding team. I also spent one week in my favorite city in the world, Cape Town, where a stay at 5-star Ellerman House ranked among my travel highlights. Blessed with amazing beaches, towering mountains, beautiful vineyards, and spectacular drives, it is hard to imagine a more picture perfect city destination than South Africa’s Mother city (and frankly, you won’t find a better one). I also traveled between Pretoria and Cape Town aboard the Rovos train, a two-day journey that is marketed as the word’s most luxurious train trip.
Read my hotels reviews of this South African holiday here:
- Review: Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, Johannesburg
- Review: River Lodge, Lion Sands Game Reserve
- Review: Royal Malewane, Thornybush Private Game Reserve
- Review: Kapama Karula, Kapama Private Game Reserve
- Review: Rovos train from Pretoria to Cape Town
- Review: 12 Apostles hotel, Cape Town
- Review: Cape Grace, Cape Town
- Review: Ellerman House, Cape Town
Last May, I traveled to the magnificent country of Vietnam, and getting there involved a trip aboard the new A350 Business Class cabins of Singapore Airlines (Düsseldorf to Singapore) and Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong to Düsseldorf). The A350 aircraft – which I prefer above the Boeing 787 Dreamliner – employs innovative technology and design, which improves not only passenger comfort (a more spacious and quieter cabin, panoramic windows, and LED mood lighting), but also the efficiency of the aircraft (25% less fuel burn as compared with older generation aircraft). With great service, delicious food, excellent inflight entertainment, and the always smiling Singapore Girl, the Singapore Airlines A350 experience lived up to my sky-high expectations although the experience would have been even better with the addition of an amenity kit, a tail camera, and a more comfortable flat-bed. With only 4 passengers in Business Class on this 11 hour 30 minute flight, the whole experience felt like a private flight! The new Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class cabin and seat is basically a refreshed design of the carrier’s ‘old’ Business Class product which you find on its B777 and A330 planes, with the main difference being the addition of extra storage space and onboard WiFi. The experience was also great, albeit not as good as on Singapore Airlines, although Cathay has by far the best flat-bed.
- Read here my review of my Business Class experience aboard Singapore Airlines’ A350.
- Read here my review of my Business Class experience aboard Cathay Pacific’s A350.
- Read here my in depth comparison of Cathay Pacific versus Singapore Airlines.
In 2013, Aman – one of the world’s most exclusive hotel brands – brought the brand’s signature sleekness to its debut resort in Vietnam, a contemporary beachside resort alongside a full-service Aman Spa overlooking spectacular Vinh Hy Bay in Nui Chua National Park, northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. I was finally able to visit the property – called Amanoi – last spring when I traveled from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. The luxury hotel’s polished, slate pagodas peek out from a lush green landscape; its infinity pool segues into the sea; and its spa rests by a lotus-blossom-dotted lake. Amanoi offers total privacy in beautifully designed accommodations that are located in 31 pavilions, a number with private swimming pools, and five Aman residences, all positioned on the hillside with impressive views. The off-the-grid property designed by world-famous architect Jean-Michel Gathy positively encourages calm contemplation, whether lounging by the cliffside pool or at the elegant beach club, or surrendering to the tranquillity of the Aman Spa – set by a lotus-filled lake with a floating yoga pavilion. The property blew me off my feet and is my favorite Aman resort in the world. That said, if you travel to Vietnam, make sure to combine a stay at Amanoi with a vacation at one of the Six Senses properties that also rank among the most fabulous resorts in Vietnam.
Read my hotel reviews of this Vietnamese holiday here:
- Review: The Reverie Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
- Review: Anantara Mui Ne Resort & Spa
- Review: Vietnam Airlines ATR-72 from Ho Chi Minh City to Con Dao
- Review: Six Senses Con Dao
- Review: Evason Ana Mandara, Nha Trang
- Review: Six Senses Ninh Van Bay
- Review: Amanoi, the best resort in Vietnam
- Review: Avani Quy Nhon Resort & Spa
- Review: Anantara Hoi An Resort
- Review: Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, Hoi An
- Review: Banyan Tree Lang Co
- Review: Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
This year, I flew several times in Qatar Airways’ Business Class to several destinations across the globe. IMHO, Qatar Airways offers one of the best Business Class products in the world: the design of the cabin is ultrastylish, the flatbed seats are very comfortable, inflight entertainment is topnotch (except for the expensive WiFi) and the (presentation and taste of) meals are restaurant quality. Hence, it should not come as a surprise why I list Qatar Airways in my top 10 lists of the best airlines for longhaul Business Class, the most delicious airline food, the world’s most luxurious First Class cabins, and the best Business Class amenity kits. However, the airline was badly affected by the biggest political crisis to hit the Middle East in years, following the severing of diplomatic ties with Qatar by several Arab countries. The events have a major and unprecedented impact on Qatar Airways since Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrein closed their airspace for Qatari aircraft, resulting in cancellations of flights and triggering fears for future of Gulf aviation. The good news is that passengers are still flying Qatar Airways, especially now that the airline has taken its Business Class product to a new, unprecedented level. The so-called ‘QSuite’ features the industry’s first-ever double bed available in Business Class, with privacy panels that stow away, allowing passengers in adjoining seats to create their own private room. I will publish a trip report about the QSuite soon.
- Read here my review of my Business Class experience aboard a Qatar Airways Dreamliner.
- Read here my review of my Business Class experience aboard a Qatar Airways A330.
- Read here my blogspot why it’s still safe to fly Qatar Airways.
The Amalfi Coast on Italy’s Sorrentine peninsula, south of Naples, is widely considered to be Europe’s most scenic stretch of coastline. It represents a landscape of towering, green-swathed mountains, pastel-hued villages with cobblestoned streets, palatial renaissance mansions, and expansive vistas over the turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. In 1997, the coastal landscape was rightfully awarded a coveted spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The scenic Amalfi drive (formally Strada Statale 163) winds for about 80 km (50 miles) along the shoreline and cliffs of the Sorrento Peninsula, with plenty of viewpoints along the way to take in the spectacular coastal views. Last October, I traveled to this area of stunning natural and cultural beauty, and was tremendously impressed, not only by the scenery but also by two mindblowing hotels that should be on the bucketlist of every discerning traveler: Belmond Caruso and Monastero Santa Rosa. Perched on a cliff’s edge, Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel & Spa is housed in a 17th-century monastery near Amalfi and stands alone in majestic solitude, its rock base evoking the robe of a king. It’s an intimate ultraluxe property with a vanished-edge infinity pool that ranks among the most spectacular hotel pools in the world. Belmond Hotel Caruso occupies a former medieval palace at the highest, quietest point of the village Ravello, overlooking the rocks and cliffs of the Amalfi Coast and the Mediterranean Sea.
Read here my hotel reviews of this Italian holiday:
- Review: Belmond Caruso, Ravello
- Review: Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel & Spa
- Review: J.K. Place Capri Hotel (to be published in 2018)
- Review: Hotel Caesar Augustus, Capri (to be published in 2018)
- Review: Mezzatorre Resort & Spa (to be published in 2018)
Last August, I flew domestic First Class in a United Airlines Boeing 777-200 from San Francisco to Honolulu. The product itself was quiet good since the flight was operated by one of United’s domestic Boeing 777s, which features lie flat seats similar to United’s old intercontinental Business Class seats. Lie flat seats on flights to Hawaii are only offered on wide body aircraft, hence why these planes are always preferable over narrow bodies which have angled First Class seats. However, the reason this trip makes my top 10 is that this particular flight was operated by a very special airframe, a B777-200 with registration number N777UA. This grand lady of the United Airlines Boeing 777 fleet was the first B777 to enter commercial service. On one hand, I was very glad that this bird is still flying around 22 years after her maiden voyage in 1995. On the other hand, flying on this old plane to Hawaii for five hours overwater did not help to ease my nerves (although I know that United has a perfect maintenance record). Followers of my blog know that I am terrified of flying, especially when I have to fly across large bodies of ocean, so this particular flight was a real challenge for me. Despite the fact that I realize very well that twin-engine jetliners are certified for extended overwater operations (ETOPS), I cannot stop thinking of (extremely unlikely) worst case scenarios when I am cruising at 40,000 feet, such as a double engine flame out or – even worse – an onboard fire. The flight itself was uneventful and I was happy and proud that I did not submit to one of my worst fears.
- Read here my review of my domestic First Class experience aboard United’s B777.
- Read here which airlines offer lie flat-bed seats from the USA mainland to Hawaii.
- Read here my tips for dealing with fear of flying over large bodies of water.
Every year, I book a holiday in the Maldives, and this year brought me to several new resorts in the stunning archipelago, including the jawdroppingly beautiful Soneva Jani resort. It simply doesn’t get better than this at the newest resort to join Soneva’s portfolio of ultraluxe hotels. Inspired by a word that means wisdom in Sanskrit, Soneva Jani is located on Medhufaru island, which is part of an uninhabited five-island cluster in the Noonu Atoll. The Maldives’ most exclusive hotel, and my absolutely favorite hotel in the world, is fringed by pristine beaches, blanketed with lush tropical greenery, and surrounded by a 5.6 km (3,4 mi) lagoon of crystal clear waters with uninterrupted 360° views of the Indian Ocean. Currently, Soneva Jani features 24 water villas and one beach villa, although additional beach villas are planned at a later stage. Each one of the 24 water villas is superbly designed and has a private pool and opens to its own stretch of lagoon, with some villas featuring slides going directly from the top deck into the lagoon below. The highlight of the villas is the retractable roof in the master bedroom, which slides back at the touch of a button so that you can lie in bed and stargaze.
Read here my hotel reviews of this Maldivian holiday:
- Review: Dhevanafushi Maldives Luxury Resort
- Review: Trans Maldivian Airways sea plane transfer to the St Regis resort
- Review: The St Regis Maldives Vommuli
- Review: Largest overwater villa in the Maldives
- Review: Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa
- Review: Transfer from the Park Hyatt resort to Male airport
- Review: Soneva Jani