Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.
Today (December 31, 2018): my 10 best travel experiences of 2018.
As the year 2018 is drawing to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the headlines and stories that shaped the past year. At first, it seems that a lot of bad news dominated the headlines in 2018, with global trade wars, increasing tensions in the Middle East, and the damaging effects of climate change. But there were a lot of good things happening out there too: North and South Korea vowed to formally end the Korean War; Cuba announced a new president, ending the 59-year Castro leadership; Iraq had its first parliamentary elections since the defeat of ISIS in the country; India’s Supreme Court decriminalized consensual gay sex; and in Saudi Arabia, women are finally able to drive.
2018 was a rather uneventful year for travelers. Of course, there were disturbing events such as the financial difficulties of several low cost carriers, the ever present terror threat, and the major disasters that affected parts of Indonesia. 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 travel highlights of 2018. Next week, I’ll share what to expect from me in 2019.
There is more information (with trip reports & Youtube clips) below the slideshow. You can share your own 2018 travel highlights in the comments section below.
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10. FLYING FIRST CLASS IN A THAI AIRWAYS BOEING 747
Last February, I enjoyed a wonderful break in Bangkok, where I stayed at the Park Hyatt and the Banyan Tree, both terrific hotels with a stunning rooftop. On my way home, I flew First Class in a Thai Airways Boeing 747-400 from Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), also known unofficially as Bangkok Airport, to Munich Airport (MUC) in Germany. Thai Airways calls its First Class ‘Royal First’, a reference to the country’s constitutional monarchy (founded in 1238). Originally, I was booked on a flight from Bangkok to Paris onboard one of Thai Airways’ six Airbus A380 planes, but things did not go as planned since a technical failure delayed the Paris bound flight for 8 hours (from midnight till 8 am). Oddly, the delay was announced last minute on a sheet of paper at the gate. I was offered the choice between waiting at the airport in a small bedroom (since the Thai Airways First Class lounge closes during the night) or being rebooked on a Thai Airways B747 to Munich that departed one hour later than the Paris bound flight, with a connecting flight to Paris operated by Lufthansa. I choose the latter since I was tired and just wanted to get back home as soon as possible. In the end, the Lufthansa flight to Paris was delayed as well, and I arrived in Paris with a 7 hour delay. I regret not having waited since I had especially booked this ticket with miles to fly Thai Airways’ First Class cabin on the A380. That said, I don’t want to complain too much since flying the Queen of the sky was still a treat (although I was not impressed by Thai’s onboard product).
Read here my Bangkok trip reports:
- Review: Park Hyatt Hotel Bangkok
- Review: Banyan Tree Hotel Bangkok
- Review: Thai Airways Boeing B747 First Class from Bangkok to Munich
9. AMAN JOURNEY IN BEAUTIFUL SRI LANKA
Since the end of the civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers in 2009, Sri Lanka has been ascending the must-go-now lists. The island – often nicknamed the Teardrop of India or Pearl of the Indian Ocean – lures travelers with miles of tropical coastline and a jungle-clad interior. Home to remarkable ancient ruins, attractive tea estates, wildlife-rich national parks, and world-class hotels, it’s the ideal place to combine a cultural tour with an exciting safari and a bit of downtime at the beach. Sri Lanka is also home to two Aman resorts – one of the world’s most luxurious hotel brands – where I spent a few nights last March, after I visited the Maldives (Sri Lanka and the Maldives are connected by numerous direct flights and can be easily combined on the same itinerary). Amangalla is located in the 200-year-old gardens of vibrant Galle Fort, a Unesco World Heritage Site with a cosmopolitan history, while Amanwella is located a short drive away on an iconic crescent-shaped golden beach coast amid coconut palms. Besides both Aman resorts, I spent a night at the capital’s new Shangri-La Colombo hotel as well as enjoyed a stay at Resplendent Ceylon’s latest creation, the luxurious Wild Coast Tented Lodge which is set adjacent to the world-famous Yala National Park, renowned for its dense leopard population.
Read here my Sri Lanka trip reports:
- Review: Shangri-La Colombo Hotel (Sri Lanka)
- Review: Wild Coast Tented Lodge (Yala National Park, Sri Lanka)
- Review: Aman tour in Sri Lanka: Amangalla
- Review: Aman tour in Sri Lanka: Amanwella
8. FLYING BUSINESS CLASS ONBOARD AN AUSTRIAN AIRLINES BOEING 777
For my return flight from Sri Lanka, I flew Business Class in an Austrian Airlines Boeing 777-200ER from Colombo to Vienna International Airport (VIE) in Austria. Austria’s flag carrier – a subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group – only operates a once weekly flight to/from Sri Lanka in the winter months. Although its flatbed seats are not the best in the industry, Austrian Airlines is my favorite European airline for flying Business Class (much better than the Business Class installed on the planes of its mother company Lufthansa). Austrian Airlines’ small fleet of Boeing 777 and 767 airplanes underwent a revamp of their Business Class product a couple of years ago. The red-blue color scheme makes for a nice cabin, there are comfy blankets and a brilliant Viennese coffee menu on board, and the seats can be adjusted for softness and of course go fully lie-flat, which is great for sleeping (although I am not a fan of the seat’s enclosed foot cubicle). But what really sets Austrian Airlines apart – among all airlines – is its onboard catering. With the award-winning company DO&CO, Austrian has chosen a partner that creates airline foods using only fresh raw ingredients. DO & CO has succeeded in improving the reputation of in-flight meals by offering exclusively homemade food. On board Austrian’s long-haul Business Class, a qualified chef from Austrian’s catering partner DO & CO accompanies the crew, who takes the passengers’ orders and also serves freshly prepared meals which are currently – IMHO – the best you will have in the skies.
Read here my Austrian Airlines Business Class trip report:
7. A HOLIDAY ON THE ROMANTIC GREEK ISLANDS OF SANTORINI & MYKONOS
The Greek island of Santorini is arguably one of the world’s most idyllic islands and ranks among my favorite destinations on earth. Perched high above the deep blue Aegean Sea, Santorini’s whitewashed villages are clustered atop dramatic cliffs, with black sand beaches resting at the bottom. The island was shaped some 3,600 years ago by one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, which left a giant water-filled crater measuring about 12 by 7 km (7.5 by 4 mi) and surrounded by 300 m (980 ft) high cliffs on all sides. Steeped in history and culture, Santorini is a place of ultimate romance and tranquil serenity that tempts you to unwind and revive in its warm embrace. The popular island is also known for its unique and ultraluxe hotels, where rooms and suites are often carved into the rocks. I stayed at two terrific properties during my holiday: Canaves Oia Suites and Grace Santorini, both of them ranking among the best on the island. I also combined my Santorini holiday with a visit to Mykonos, that other famous Greek island, mainly known for its party lifestyle next to none, its LGBT welcoming ambience, and its many beautiful but crowded beaches. Here, I stayed at the Kivotos Mykonos property, which did have a few shortcomings as outlined in my review. Last but not least, I also spent a few days on the Greek mainland, where I stayed at the spectacular hilltop Amanzoe property, which blew me off my feet and ranks among my all time favorite hotels in the world.
Read here my trip reports of my holiday in Greece:
- Review: Canaves Oia Luxury Suites, Santorini
- Review: Grace Santorini
- Review: Kivotos Mykonos Hotel
- Review: Hotel Grande Bretagne, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Athens
- Review: PHENOMENAL Amanzoe, Peloponnese
6. FLYING FIRST CLASS ONBOARD A LUFTHANSA AIRBUS A380
Last winter, I flew First Class in a Lufthansa Airbus A380 from Frankfurt to Bangkok in Thailand. When combined with its subsidiaries Swiss Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and Germanwings, Lufthansa is the largest airline in Europe, both in terms of passengers carried and fleet size of 650 aircrafts. The latter comprises many aircraft subtypes, including 14 Airbus A380 planes – the largest number of A380s in a fleet of a European airline. Lufthansa’s A380 First Class cabins offer one of the most sought-after flight experiences among aviation and miles geeks, with 8 generously sized and individually adjustable seats. When you want to sit back and relax, the seat’s independently adjustable backrest and footrest and the moveable ottoman provide the greatest comfort. On request a flight attendant will transform the seat into a super-comfy bed with mattress topper and temperature-regulating duvet. Although there are now newer and visually more striking First Class products available, Lufthansa’s First Class remains one of the most enjoyable experiences in the skies, mainly because of the flawless service, delicious food, extremely comfortable bedding, and exceptional First Class lounges (when traveling via its hubs in Frankfurt and Münich).
Read here my trip reports:
- Review: Lufthansa First Class Terminal at Frankfurt Airport
- Review: Lufthansa Airbus A380 First Class from Frankfurt to Bangkok
5. A TOUR OF JAVA AND BALI IN INDONESIA
In summer 2018, I made a return visit to Bali, the idyllic Indonesian ‘Island of the Gods’, which takes a serious claim to be paradise on earth and is one of the world’s most scenic islands (although its popularity has taken its toll in certain areas). Varied landscape of hills and mountains, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches, lush rice terraces and barren volcanic hillsides all provide a picturesque backdrop to its colorful, deeply spiritual and unique culture. Bali’s five-star resorts rank amongst the most exclusive in the world and most of them are clustered in Nusa Dua, Seminyak and Ubud. Ubud’s hotels cater to those who prefer spas and cultural pursuits, while surfing and other beach activities can be found at the sophisticated beachfront communities of Nusa Dua and Seminyak. Besides Bali, I also visited the island of Java, the heart of Indonesia and its most culturally compelling island, featuring a dazzling array of magnificent vulcanic landscapes and also home to the world-famous temples of Borodur. I stayed at several properties during my Java and Bali vacation, including the ultrauxe Aman properties (Amanjiwo, Amankila, and Amandari), the new Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Ubud, both Four Seasons Bali resorts, the Banyan Tree Ungasan, the Bulgari Resort Bali, and Anantara Uluwatu. It’s so sad that the warm people of Indonesia encountered some horrible disasters in 2018 (e.g. the Lion Air B737 crash, the Lombok earthquake, and two deadly tsunamis).
Read here my trip reports of Java & Bali:
- Review: Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay
- Review: Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan
- Review: Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Ubud (Bali)
- Review: Amanjiwo, Borobudur (Java)
- Review: Amandari, Ubud (Bali)
- Review: Amankila (Bali)
- Review: Banyan Tree Ungasan, Uluwatu (Bali)
- Review: Bvlgari Bali Resort (to be published this week)
- Review: Anantara Uluwatu Bali (to be published next week)
4. A FLIGHT IN EMIRATES’ NEWEST BOEING 777 FIRST CLASS SUITE
Last autumn, I flew in an Emirates Boeing 777-300ER featuring the carrier’s newest and game-changing First Class product from Dubai (DXB) to Brussels (BRU). With floor to ceiling sliding doors and sleek design features inspired by the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Emirates’ new B777 suites takes luxury and privacy to the next level. The suite’s soft leather seat reclines into a fully flat-bed and can be placed in a ‘zero-gravity’ position inspired by NASA technology, giving a feeling of relaxation and weightlessness. The roomy suite also has ample space to change in the privacy of your suite even after the bed has been made. To ensure all First Class passengers have a view, Emirates also introduced the industry’s first virtual windows for suites located in the middle aisle. These virtual windows project the view from outside the aircraft using real-time camera technology. In the other suites, binoculars are available for those who want to explore the sky outside their windows. Passengers can easily communicate with the cabin crew, or request for room service using the video call function. The suites also come with a service window where you can be served drinks and canapes undisturbed. As of now Emirates’ new First Class is only available on newly delivered B777-300ER aircraft which operate flights between Dubai and Brussels, Geneva, Vienna, Munich and London Stansed. It’s unclear if Emirates plans to retrofit its existing B777 and A380 fleet with the new First Class suites due to exorbitant costs (upwards of $30 million USD per aircraft).
Read here my trip reports of my Dubai getaway:
- Review: Emirates Boeing 777-300ER new Business Class Brussels to Dubai
- Review: Armani Hotel Dubai
- Review: Six Senses Zighy Bay (Oman)
- Review: Emirates Boeing 777-300ER new First Class Dubai to Brussels
3. A STAY AT AFRICA’S MOST EXCLUSIVE BEACH RESORT, MNEMBA ISLAND (ZANZIBAR)
Early 2018, I spent a lovely, memorable holiday in Zanzibar, also known as the Spice Island. This beautiful island on Africa’s east coast – a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania – is bursting with history and culture, seemingly at odds with its spectacular powder white beaches where palm trees sway lazily in the mild sea breeze. Together, this makes Zanzibar a fabulous place to explore as well as a dream to relax and unwind. The capital Zanzibar City is famous for its historic centre Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is marked by small, winding streets and high, colonial townhouses. But most travelers come to Zanzibar for its gorgeous coastline which offers some of the best beaches in the world, with smooth, white sand making for dazzling days in the sun. The idyllic island also houses some brilliant hotels & resorts, and I stayed at some of them, including Park Hyatt Zanzibar, Essque Zalu Zanzibar, and the uber exclusive &Beyond Mnemba Island Lodge. The latter is one of the Indian Ocean’s most luxurious hideways, offering a romantic, ultra-private hideway for a maximum of 20 guests at a time in an award-winning barefoot beach paradise just off the northeast coast of Zanzibar.
Read here my trip reports of my holiday in Zanzibar:
- Review: Condor B767 Business Class from Frankfurt to Zanzibar
- Review: Park Hyatt Zanzibar
- Review: Essque Zalu Zanzibar
- Review: &Beyond Mnemba Island
- Review: KLM B777 Business Class from Dar Es Salaam to Amsterdam
2. A FLIGHT IN SINGAPORE AIRLINES’ NEWEST A380 FIRST CLASS
Last July, I flew First Class onboard a one-month old Singapore Airlines A380 from London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Singapore’s Changi Airport (SIN). Even though my expectations were sky-high, flying in this “hotel room above the clouds” completely blew me off my feet. There are six fully-enclosed suites tucked away in the front cabin of the upper deck. Each suite is furnished with a separate full-flat bed with adjustable recline and plush leather chair, so you can lounge comfortably in the chair or rest in bed without the need to convert the bed from a sitting position. For couples traveling together, the beds in the first two suites of each aisle can be converted to form a double bed. When not in use, the bed can be stowed completely, creating even more personal space within each suite. Each seat is upholstered in fine leather, and is fully adjustable using an electronic control side panel which can accommodate a variety of sitting and lounging positions. There’s also a full-sized personal wardrobe, customized handbag stowage compartment, amenity box lined with soft leather, specially designed carpet and a feature wall with mood lighting. Currently, the new product is installed on SQ’s newly delivered A380 aircraft (flying selected routes to London, Zürich, Sydney and Hong Kong). Retrofit work will also take place on 14 existing aircraft, to ensure product consistency across the airline’s entire A380 fleet by 2020.
Read here my Singapore Airline trip reports:
- Review: Singapore Airlines A380 new First Class suite London to Singapore
- Review: Singapore Airlines B787 Dreamliner Business Class Bali to Singapore
1. SONEVA GALORE (MALDIVES & THAILAND)
It’s no secret. Besides being an Aman junkie, I am a HUGE Soneva fan. The Soneva story started in 1995, when Sonu Shivdasani, an Indian-British hotelier, launched the now world-famous Soneva Fushi resort on the deserted Maldivian island of Kunfunadhoo. He also built his house there, together with his wife Eva Malmstrom, a Swedish fashion model, who developed the design and furnishing of the unique resort. They had no idea that their intensely personal vision of a locally crafted villa and environmentally responsible lifestyle would form the basis of a successful collection of world-class hotels, resorts and spas. But that’s exactly what happened. Soneva Fushi was the first ‘castaway’ resort in the Maldives, pioneering a trend for back-to-nature luxury holidays. In 2009, the Soneva Hotel group built a second, even more spectacular hotel – Soneva Kiri – on the unspoilt Thai island of Koh. And two years, they opened one of the most amazing resorts ever built, phenomenal Soneva Jani in the Maldives. In 2018, I brought a return visit with my best friends to all 3 Soneva resorts, not only to enjoy the terrific hotels and their dreamy surroundings, but also to make some new clips (with drone footage this time).
You can always follow in my footsteps and get a free upgrade (+ resort credit & personalized Soneva experience) at any of the 3 Soneva resorts, simply by contacting me before any booking is made, after which I will introduce you to my Soneva contacts.
Read here my Soneva trip reports:
- Review: Soneva Fushi, the Maldives’ original desert island hideaway
- Review: Soneva Jani, the Maldives’ most amazing resort
- Review: Soneva Kiri, my favorite hotel in the world
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