Qantas First host Martina and a porter greet you at the curb as you arrive at Sydney’s international airport.
Pleasantly, efficiently, Martina escorts you through check-in, security and express immigration.
Never before have you moved through these departure formalities so quickly. Then, suddenly, you are walking into the new $20-million Qantas first-class lounge.
“I’ve booked your massage for 11 a.m.,” Martina says. “That should give you time for a drink and nice snack before your flight leaves.”
You could have had a facial, manicure or pedicure. But you thought the 50-minute massage — complimentary like everything else in the lounge — would be a good way to start your taste of “how the other 0.1 per cent” of the population lives.
A couple of nights at the renown Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, a two-week cruise on the luxury Seabourn Spirit … but all that still lies ahead of you as Gerry gives your feet a special “flutter rub” to start one of the most amazing massage treatments you have ever experienced.
Later, totally relaxed, you savour that drink and snack in the lounge’s quietly modern elegance.
Your flight is called; Martina has arranged for Caroline, another Qantas First host, to escort you to the gate where you bypass the lineup as she slips your boarding card through the machine.
Once again you are welcomed by name as you board the aircraft and turn left into the 14-seat first-class passenger haven in the nose of the 747-400.
You change into the day lounging pajamas provided so your clothes can be hung up to stay fresh during the flight.
A glass of champagne is waiting as you return to your seat — 1-A, at the front left. The only other seat at the front is 1-K, across the aisle.
After take-off, and after the four-course lunch (menu designed by award-winning chef Neil Perry) with a selection of fine wines, you ask to have the seat fully reclined and the resulting flat bed made up so you can have a snooze.
A movie or two later and you land in Hong Kong, to be greeted at the sky bridge as you get off the plane by a representative of the Peninsula Hotel.
She walks you through arrival formalities to where one of the hotel’s fleet of 14 hand-built, extended base Rolls Royce Phantoms is waiting to take you into town. (You decided this time not to fly on the Peninsula’s China Clipper helicopter to the rooftop-landing pad — the only such service offered by a hotel in Hong Kong.)
Of course, your suite overlooks the harbour to the famous Hong Kong Island skyline, which features a laser light show every evening.
The Private Spa for One and the Private Spa for Two, with their own steam rooms and whirlpool baths, also overlook the harbour, as do the relaxation lounges and large Roman style swimming pool.
After swimmers have come out of the pool, an attendant carefully dries their wet footprints on the tiled floor.
All too soon it’s time to check out and make the short trip (again in one of the hotel’s Rolls Royce Phantoms) to the harbour front to board the Seabourn Spirit.
Complimentary champagne and two other bottles you chose before embarking greet you in your suite. The fruit bowl is refreshed daily; a plate of snacks awaits your return when you go on an excursion. There’s nightly turndown service; bedding is changed every two days.
With a crew of 164 to look after the 199 passengers, you can expect first-class treatment all the way — and you are not to be disappointed.
“Allow me to carry that for you,” says Tim after you have made a selection at the breakfast or lunch buffet. “Can I order you anything from the menu?”
Gourmet meal time is any time you are hungry — with 24-hour room service in the cabin to supplement early riser’s breakfast, regular breakfast on deck or in the dining room, morning tea, lunch on deck or in the dining room, afternoon tea and then dinner either in the more formal dining room on Deck 3 or the casual “2” at the back of Deck 7.
There are no early and late sittings, no assigned tables. And if what you feel like isn’t on the menu — whether you want a grilled cheese sandwich or frog’s legs — just ask and the kitchen will provide.
Your room attendant, the food and bar waiters, spa staff and other personal service crewmembers must pass a “know-the-passengers’-names” test within 48 hours of embarkation. So don’t be surprised if most of them start addressing you by name after the first few days.
You receive similar personalized attention — along with bottles of water — on excursions like exploring Halong Bay in your own motorized junk. This includes an hour of kayaking among the misty isles (it’s worth reading Lonely Planet’s new Hanoi & Halong Bay Encounter Guide before you go), a day tour of life along the waterways of the Mekong River Delta, or flying from Bangkok to Siem Reap in Cambodia to visit the World Heritage site of 1,000-year-old Angkor Wat and surrounding temples — including Ta Prohm, where the Tomb Raider movies were filmed.
After all this touring, you need a day ashore Seabourn’s private beach on tropical Ko Kood Island, off the northeast coast of Thailand. The ship’s kitchen, bar and dining room staff set up shop under the palms while passengers relax along the beach.
“Caviar will be served shortly in the surf,” says Marcel, the maitre d’, and while — luckily for the wading waiters — there isn’t much surf, there is unlimited Russian Malossol caviar and all the trimmings set out on a surfboard, along with champagne being served nearby from a tray balanced on a floating lifebuoy.
All too soon it’s time to head back to the ship for the final part of the two-week cruise, which ends in Singapore.
“Tipping is neither required nor expected,” says the brochure, a change from the original, “Tipping is prohibited.” As usual, it’s a matter of individual choice.
Then it’s off to Singapore’s airport where you are welcomed at a special check-in oasis for those flying first class. The Qantas lounge here, shared with other airlines, isn’t quite as fancy as the one in Sydney.
Nevertheless, attendants bring food around as you wait for your flight to be called.
Now you are back on board the 747, again in seat 1-A. After dinner, the attendant practically tucks you in so you can stretch out to sleep the overnight flight away, dreaming about life in the first-class lane and wishing you never had to wake up.
(What does it all cost? First-class airfare Sydney-Hong Kong/Singapore-Sydney is about $7,000; a harbour-view room at The Peninsula Hotel about $750; the all-inclusive cruise with excursions: if you book early about $10,000 a person based on double occupancy.)
Travel writer Mike Grenby teaches journalism at Bond University on Australia’s Gold Coast — firstname.lastname@example.org