Saturday, August 26, 2023

50 Hours Journey from Malaysia to US - Qatar Qsuite

After spending 4 weeks home in Malaysia, it was time to begin my long 50-hours journey back to the US. The long journey was mainly because I intentionally built in a 19-hours overnight transit in Doha, to take advantage of the transit tour and visit one more new country. I am quite used to long flights and transits at this point, but this experience was certainly a much more pleasant one traveling in business class and having lounge access. Thankful to be able to travel in Qatar Qsuite again. :)

19 May 2023 (Fri): Penang - KL - Doha

Thanks mom for waking up early to take me to the airport at 4.30am for my 6.35am flight. My route for this trip was Penang - KL - Doha - Atlanta, all booked as a single itinerary via Qatar Airways. The MAS check-in agent was only able to issue the tickets for my first 2 flights and asked me to collect my Doha - Atlanta ticket in Doha. 

 Check-in was quick and I got access to Plaza Premium Lounge with my business class ticket. This domestic lounge was small and had some food. I wasn't hungry so I only had light refreshment.

My first flight from Penang to KL was operated by Malaysia Airlines (Qatar codeshare). This was my first time flying business class on MAS. It was only a 1-hour flight so there wasn't much difference from economy. Just more leg space, wider seats, and less people (nobody beside me)...

...and a nicely presented breakfast. Caught a beautiful sunrise from the flight as well.

Landed KLIA on time at 7.35am and got the invitation pass for Plaza Premium First lounge at the Qatar transfer desk. Plaza Premium First was just opened in March 2023, so I was glad to be able to check it out. Plaza Premium Lounge and Plaza Premium First was located just next to each other but the 'First' was much smaller (and exclusive I guess).

Apart from the size of the lounge, the main difference between both lounges is the food offerings. Plaza Premium First has an à la carte menu via the app while Plaza Premium Lounge offers a buffet. I had some congee as I was too lazy to order anything and wanted to save space for airplane food. 

After spending about 1.5 hours in the lounge, it was time for boarding. I usually board last but boarded early at 9.10am for this 9.55am flight coz I wanted to maximize my time in business class. =)

Qatar has 3 flights daily from KL - Doha, and I chose this morning flight as it was the only one operated by Qatar. The other 2 flights are operated by MAS. I also got lucky with this flight coz it was  originally the old 2-2-2 layout when I made the booking, but was swapped to a Qsuite flight. =) Certainly glad to have my 'anti-social' suite with door and a champagne to start off this 7-hour flight.

This was my 2nd time traveling in Qsuite but I was as excited as the 1st time. Definitely thankful for the opportunity to travel in one of the world's best business class again. Unlike the last time when I wasn't able to select my seat coz I booked it via American Airlines, I was able to pre-select my seats this time and chose the backward-facing seat 10A as the sitting area was closer to the window. Btw, business class for this flight was 100% full.

Qatar's busines class dining is awesome because it's A la carte, and I could order anything from the menu and dine at any time. Learning from my last experience, I looked through the menu quickly and placed my order with the flight attendant before take-off.

I requested for my meal to be served after take-off, as I wanted nap for the rest of the flight. I ordered the Classic Arabic mezze with pita bread, spiced grouper with frarant rice and pineapple relish, gourmet ice-cream, crisps, and more champange. 

This was a day-time flight so they didn't provide a pyjamas. However, I asked the flight attendant if I could get one, and he gladly brought me one. =) I had a long way to go so I wanted to keep my clothes clean as long as possible. On a side note, the flight attendant, Jian, was super nice. Found out that he is also a Penangite, and was home to visit his dad before working on this flight. 

Woke up after napping for 4-hours, and landed in Doha at 12.30pm.

Even though I've transitted through Doha airport 4 times prior to this, I've only been to the 'Teddy Bear' terminal and this was my first time in the new 'Orchard' terminal, which was just opened in November 2022. The indoor garden made me feel like I was in Changi airport. 

With 19 hours to spend in Doha (my next flight wasn't until 7am the next morning), I decided to sign up for the 3-hour Doha Transit Tour at 3pm. 

I had about 30 minutes before the tour meeting time so I went to check out the Al Mourjan Business Lounge at the main terminal. I've seen videos about this lounge and it was indeed huge! That big 'pool' was kinda useless but I guess it made the lounge looked fancier?

The lounge was huge and very empty when I was there around 1pm.

Went upstairs to the dining area to grab lunch before the tour. There are a la carte options as well but I didn't have much time so I just grabbed some food from the buffet.

   Discover Qatar - Doha Transit Tour
Returned to the airport at 6pm after the transit tour and went to the Al Mourjan Business Lounge - The Garden, which was located at the 'Orchard' terminal. This lounge was just recently opened in April 2023 so I was excited to check it out. The lounge was located at the 2nd floor and the elevator to the lounge is behind the Louis Vuitton store, where the LV sign is. There is a huge customer service desk once you exit the elevator and straight ahead is the LV lounge.

To the left of the lounge is the main part of the lounge with plenty of seating options. There were charging ports, including wireless charging, at all seats. There is another water thingy in the middle of the lounge, but at least it wasn't as huge as the 'pool' in the other lounge. The entire lounge overlooks the indoor garden and felt very open with natural light coming from the glass windows. There lounge was so huge with so much space so it never felt crowded.

There is also a drink station with light refreshments on this side of the lounge, which made it convenient to grab a drink, including champagnes, wines, beers, coffee, etc.

I desperately needed a shower after a sweaty afternoon touring around Doha so I went to shower area to register for a shower suite. There were plenty of shower rooms so there was no wait at all. Each shower suite has a walk-in shower and a sink, but no toilet. The toilets were located in a separate area. I guess they didn't want to install a toilet in the shower probably to avoid people from spending too much time 'sitting' on the toilet. There was a towel and Dyptique amenities (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion) in each shower suite. Water pressure was decent.

After a refreshing shower at 7pm, it was time for dinner so I walked over to the dining and bar area, which was located to right of the lounge. There are also plenty of seating options including individual dining tables, communal tables, and high-top seats.

The lounge has an extensive selection of food and drinks, with both a la carte and buffet options. I opted for the a la carte options and ordered a variety of sushi for dinner using the app.

There are also quiet rooms on the left side of the lounge, which are available on a first come, first served basis. I was informed that all the rooms were fully occupied when I asked about it at 8pm. I asked the staff when the next one would be available and she said to come back around 9pm. I decided to sit right in front of the desk to wait (and watch)...and got the next room available at 9pm. Each guest is allowed to stay in the room for a maximum of 6 hours so I was able to use the room from 9pm - 3am to get some rest. The quiet room was private and had a lounge chair and blanket. The chair wasn't super comfortable to sleep on but it was still nice to have a quiet place to rest.

I left the quiet room at 3am and continued hanging out for a few hours in the main sitting area.

 The lounge was so empty in the middle of the night so I decided to do a video tour of the lounge.

After chilling for about 13 hours in the lounge, I took another shower to freshen up at 5.30am and had some light breakfast at the dining area before leaving the lounge at 6.35am.

The airport was busy early in the morning and the boarding area for the flight to Atlanta was packed.

Boarded my 7.55am flight from Doha to Atlanta. Contrary to the earlier flight, business class for this flight was originally Qsuite when I made the booking but was swapped to the old 2-2-2 layout, which is probably one of the worst business class Qatar has. Even though it looked more spacious, it was definitely a huge downgrade from Qsuite coz there was no privacy at all. I was surprised Qatar still used this old layout for a 15-hours transatlantic flight. Qatar did send an email to inform about the change from Qsuite and offered the option to change our flight but there weren't any other good alternatives so I didn't bother changing. Business class for this flight was also 100% full and I chose the middle seat 7F as I wanted aisle access. The amenity kit is a leather pouch instead of a paper box.

Ordered the Thai chicken khao soi with egg noodle from the 'Light options' to start off the flight.

The cabin lights were dimmed after breakfast. I changed into my pajamas and asked the flight attendant to set up the bedding. My plan was to sleep as much as possible on this long flight but only slept for 4 hours throughout the entire flight as I ended up editing video the whole time.

Requested for some crisps and beer to enjoy as I was editing videos. I successfully finished editing an entire video on this flight, and requested the flight attendant to serve the Grilled fillet of salmon and Broccoli miso soup for my next meal. 

The seat was on this flight was ok but the storage space was certainly limited, with only a small compartment next to the seat to keep and charge my phones. Our flight landed in Atlanta at 3.46pm and I got through immigration pretty quickly, thanks to Global Entry.

Unfortunately, it took quite awhile for my bags to be unloaded even though I had the 'priority' tag on it. When I finally got my bags at 4.35pm, I found out that the airport train was down so everyone had to wait in a long line for the shuttle bus to the rental car center. After waiting for about an hour in line, I finally made it to the rental car center at 6.15pm (2.5 hours after arrival) to pick up my rental car to drive for another 3.5 hours...and finally made it home at 9pm after a very long journey.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Qatar 2023 ✈ Doha Transit Tour

Before Covid, I have never been or traveled through Doha airport before. However, since 2021, I've traveled through Doha airport multiple times (7 times to be exact), and it's probably one of my most 'transitted' airport over the past 3 years. Even though I've had long transits in this airport previously, they had always been in the middle of the night so I've never gotten out of the airport. During my recent trip in May, I intentionally scheduled my flight with a 19-hour transit in Doha and finally had the opportunity to visit Doha with the Discover Doha Transit Tour.

19 May 2023 (Friday): 3-hours Discover Doha Transit Tour
For passengers transitting through Qatar for 8 hours and more, Discover Qatar offers several transit tour options for tourists to make the most of the transit time to discover Qatar. Even though the transit tours are not free, it is a very convenient way to see a new country/city in a short amount of time without having to plan anything in advance. The website provides option to book the tours in advance, but it was quick and easy enough to sign up for it at the airport.

1.10pm: After my flight from KL landed Doha airport at 12.30pm, and I went to the Discover Qatar desk at the main terminal (in front of the teddy bear) to sign up for the next Discover Doha transit tour at 3pm. I paid QAR 99 (~$27) with my credit card and the staff asked me to meet at the same place at 1.45pm. I was then given a slip of paper to be used for immigration.

1.45pm: We met the Discover Qatar staff who led us through immigration. I was traveling in Business Class so the staff asked me to follow the Al Safwa First & Al Mourjan Business sign. I was confused initially and was very surprised when I found out that there is a very nice dedicated immigration area for Qatar Airways First and Business class!! It was like an 'immigration lounge' and there was no lines at all. The immigration officer looked at my passport and that slip, and I cleared immigration within 3 minutes...that was amazing! 

2.00pm: Since I cleared immigration so quickly, I waited for about 10 minutes for everyone else to clear immigration before the staff led us to the information counter, and asked us to come back to this information counter at 2.45pm. 

2.15pm: I had about 30 minutes to wait and spotted the Arrival Lounge near the information desk. As I was traveling Business Class, I was able to visit the Qatar Airways Arrival Lounge, which was very nice. Qatar certainly treats their First and Business Class passengers like VIP. The lounge was totally empty and I was the only guest!

There were quite a few food options in the lounge but  I wasn't feeling hungry so I just requested for a cup of cappucino and used the bathroom, which was super nice too. 

2.45pm: Our group met the staff at the information desk and the staff led us to the arrival area to board the bus.

2.45pm: The bus was air-conditioned and had a lavatory. Complimentary chilled bottled water was also provided in the bus. There were only 9 of us so we had ample space to spread out in the big bus.

3.00pm: The tour started on time and our tour guide briefed us on the route for the next 3 hours. He also introduced the sights as we drove by them, such as Stadium 974 which was constructed from shipping containers for FIFA World Cup 2022, and the Flag Plaza which is home to 119 national and coalition flags. We also saw a traditional dhow boats docked along Doha Corniche, and learnt that pearl diving was one of the country's main sources of income prior to the discovery of oil in Qatar.

3.15pm: Our first stop is at the Museum of Islamic Art. This iconic building on the Doha Corniche, designed by the famous architect I. M. Pei. We were also given about 10 minutes to take photos at Doha's iconic waterfront with the panoramic views of Doha’s impressive skyline.

3.50pm: Our next stop was Katara Cultural Village, a cultural and commercial complex with a lot of outdoor walking areas. 

The Katara Mosque (the 'Blue Mosque') and the Golden Masjid (the 'Gold Mosque') in Katara Cultural Village.

Katara Plaza, Galleries Lafayette, OliOli Doha Children's Museum. Those vent holes on the ground are actually air-conditioning vents to keep the outdoor areas cooler during the hot summer months.

4.15pm: Our last stop at Katara Cultural Village was the Katara Amphitheatre, a crafted balance between the classical Greek theatre concept and Islamic features.

4.30pm: Next stop was at the Camels Pen where we saw a camels getting a 'bath' and just hanging out. It was my first time seeing camels so I was glad to be able to get close enough for selfies. 

4.45pm: Another quick stop to see the national bird of Qatar - Falcon at Falcon Souq. There's even a Falcon hospital, which is one of the largest in the Middle East.

4.50pm: Final stop of the tour was at Souq Waqif, a marketplace (souq) that sells traditional garments, spices, handicrafts, and souvenirs. We were given about 30 minutes to walk around ourselves before meeting back at the bus at 5.30pm.

5.50pm: We made it back to the airport on time after a successful afternoon of sightseeing. The airport staff had to help me get approval to get back to airside as I had more than 12 hours to wait before my next flight but since I already have my boarding pass for my next flight, I was able to get back in after the staff obtained the approval.

All in all, this transit tour was good and well organized. Best of all, this was an easy and cheap ($27) way to add one more new country to my 'traveled to' list. =)