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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE 2016: Day #22 --The End of Starwood

In my early days of travel, I used Hyatts and Hiltons more than Sheratons, with a few Marriotts.  For the past decade I've stuck with Starwood, which now oversees Sheraton, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W, Westin, Le Meridien, Tribute Portfolio, Four Points, Aloft, Element and Design Hotels.  There are 1,300 properties in 100 countries.  Why, because for a number of years I've been a Platinum member, and the benefits define where I stay.

Well, the stockholders of both companies this past spring approved the takeover of Starwood by Marriott, which has 4,400 properties in 87 countries.  As is the tradition with these buyouts, the members of the seized company generally suffer.  I've been waiting to see how bad it would become, but now have a sense that the process will take into 2017, if not 2018.  The $12 billion to $14 billion purchase price (keeps getting adjusted) will make Marriott the largest hotel chain in the world, with more than a million rooms.  

Competition is certainly shifting with the new online peer-to-peer Airbnb  (for Air Bed and Breakfast) service making giant strides, already with 1.5 listings in 34,000 cities and 191 countries.  Now, you can also gain access to castles, boats and private islands.

In the meantime, part of the reason for this trip, in addition to finalizing research for three of my upcoming books, and accruing more than 100,000 Star Alliance miles, was to enjoy my Platinum status one last time, and coincidentally build up enough stays to remain at this level for  another year.  I've largely been placed in suites during this adventure, and the breakfasts have been spectacular...but only in the Orient.  Here is one I had at the Westin Bangkok:

Note that the green juice is guava and the red, watermelon.  This buffet featured Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Singaporean dishes.  Westins are mixed in amenities, with the San Francisco Airport property providing nothing.  I wonder what the Westin St Francis will have on one of my final stays before returning home to Honolulu.
Incredibly enough, Starwood has 14 hotels just in Dubai, with 14 more close to completion!  It can get confusing, because there are four separate Sheratons and four distinct Meridiens.  Good luck when the seven Alofts all open in 2018.

Meanwhile, Marriott has 19 different brands, including: Ritz-Carlton, BVLGARI, Edition, JW Marriott, Autograph Collection, Renaissance, Marriott, Delta, Marriott Executive Apartments, Marriott Vacation Club, Gaylord, AC, Courthouse, Residence Inn, Springhill Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites, TownePlace Suites, Protea and Moxy.   Well, the Ritz-Carlton in Tokyo is now my most favorite hotel anyway, but only on the Club Level.  Thus a shifting to Marriott won't be all that much of an inconvenience.  In any case, my traveling days are coming to a close.

But, whoopee, in my final 4 Points Sheraton on this trip at the SFO Airport, I got room that had a large jacuzzi:

Hurricanes Madeline at 75 MPH and Lester at 135 MPH are still headed for Hawaii.  My worry is that I land in Honolulu from San Francisco on Friday.  By then Madeline should be reasonably south and about as far west as Kauai:

However, if Lester just shifts a tad south, he will make landfall over Oahu on Saturday:

One computer model shows this:

Look how far Lester is yet from Hawaii:

Anything can yet happen.

There are now eight ocean storms:

The Atlantic storms are all not of concern to the USA.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE 2016: Day #21--The Dreamliner from Sydney to San Francisco

The Boeing Dreamliner, the 787, had a checkered early career, mostly related to a defective lithium battery system.  Originally conceived in the late 1990's, after 9/11, designers created a more efficient and environmentally friendly mid-sized airliner to largely replace Boeing's 767.  In 2003 there were 500,000 entrants, from which Dreamliner was selected.  

This is the first plane to use so much fiber composite, supplemented by titanium and aluminum.  The manufacturing has been largely international, with Japan, South Korea, Sweden, France, India, Australia, Canada and the UK supplying parts and components.  The cabin pressure is the equivalent of 6,000 feet elevation,  improving cabin comfort, whereas other planes provide 8,000 foot altitude conditions.

I have avoided this model because it originally only had two-classes.  The plane roughly costs $250 million, and, thus far, Boeing has lost something like $32 billion on the 445 delivered.  However, profits are expected soon from the 1161 on order.  Above is what Super Business Class looks like, and below, economy.

Passenger surveys have been favorable, and I enjoyed my flight.  However, United has a problem with respect to their audio system on all their airplanes.  Oh, and watch out for some of their flights where you will need to download unto your smart phone or iPad an application or you will not be able watch or hear anything.

My flight from Sydney to San Francisco of 7432 miles took 13 hours.  In 2011 an early 787 went 10,710 miles from the state of Washington to Dhaka, Bangladesh, then on around the world in 42 hours, 27 minutes.  

At the Sydney airport, I had an option of the Singapore or Air New Zealand lounges.  I chose Singapore, where I had a small snack with a Bloody Mary and champagne:

However, I also went to the New Zealand lounge, and thought it was larger, spiffier and classier.

My Dreamliner:

There are only two classes, and I had seat 1L in something called Super Business Class.  The plane passed Sydney, here in sepia:

There were early small dishes, followed by my pasta dinner with red wine and beer:

There was a mid-meal of ham and cheese sandwich, and before we arrived in San Francisco:

I've noticed these cosmetics on United flights:

Cowshed?  Cowshed sounds like a stable, evoking cow pies and such.

The biggest surprise of all was that my flight flew right over the Hawaiian Islands.   I guess that makes sense in case of an emergency.

Watched three movies and tried to sleep...but couldn't.  However, the trip went by quickly, and the plane landed an hour early, which was bad, because at 6AM, even through customs and all I still reached the Four Points Sheraton SFO Airport by 8AM.  Thankfully, I got a room and went to sleep for a few hours.  I then later in the day returned to the airport and brought back the following take-out for  my dinner:

Note the Hellyer's Road Single Malt from Tasmania.  Here are my four most significant purchases on this trip:

First my $2 cane, which I still have not lost, although I had to go back and retrieve it at least three times.  (Hint:  if they see you with a cane, they tend to put you on the plane first with babies and their families.)  I ordered six more safari shirts from my tailor in Bangkok, Jackie.  This is generation #8, now with inside pockets and two with long sleeves.  That is an Emporio Armani watch, which I got for $23 on Sukhumvit.  In the department store close by, an identical version sold for $361.  Mine keeps good time and is typical of much you can buy in Bangkok.

About that Tasmanian Hellyer's Road 12-year old single malt, it is:

matured in American oak casks and vatted in timber. It is predominately a sweet malt with full-flavoured golden honey, oiliness, heavy citrus, vanilla and curious floral notes.  

I tried to get a Sullivan's Cove, named the best single malt in the world last year, but they only make a small quantity of this potion in Tasmania.  So, anyway, I paid $75 for the only "scotch" available in duty free from Australia.  The best in 2016?  Back to Scotland:  Old Pulteney.  You can still buy it, for $177.

Tomorrow, my San Francisco adventure, as I move on to the Westin St. Francis.

Both Hurricanes Madeline at 110 MPH and Lester at 140 MPH continue to head for Hawaii.  However, Madeline looks like she is veering a bit south, and, while still a hurricane on Thursday, the eye should be sufficiently south of Honolulu that my lanai plants should not be affected, if they're alive anyway, for I've been away for more than three weeks:

Yet, I saw Hurricane Iniki in 1992 suddenly make a sudden right turn, striking Kauai with 145 MPH winds.

Hurricane Lester, while dangerously powerful today, is expected to lose strength, and most probably move slightly north of Honolulu:

However, just look at the range of computer models.  Anyway, my United flight from San Francisco on Friday will squeeze into Honolulu just after Madeline and  right before Lester.


CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE 2016: Day #20--Sydney Sea Life Aquarium

As it was across the street I went to the Sydney Sea Life Aquarium.  If the entrance fee were A$10, okay, but the charge was A$40.  As the exchange rate is 76 cents to the Australian dollar, you would thing the conversion would be U.S.$30 or so.  However, when they subtract fees and whatever else, you only get about a rate of 0.9.  Thus you can almost equate one with the other.

Here is some of the sea life:

I've never seen blue starfish before.

The stars of the show are two dugongs. which are mostly only left in Australia, although the Red Sea has 5,000, but dying off.  There are two supposedly two here:

Each eats 250 pounds of lettuce daily.

While totally different species, the manatee is only found in the Atlantic, and the dugong in the Pacific.  At one time there was the sea cow, a cousin of the two, but much larger--up to 30 feet long. Found in the North Pacific in the mid-1700's, it was hunted to extinction in 27 years.

Tomorrow I'll catch the Dreamliner to San Francisco.

There is a strong hurricane in Atlantic, Gaston at 120 MPH.  However, he is moving away from the USA:

In the West Pacific Typhoon Lionrock is at 95 MPH, will weaken into a tropical storm, and make landfall near Sendai:

However, two hurricanes, Madeline and Lester, are heading for Hawaii, and both will be in the vicinity of the islands when I return from San Francisco on Friday: