At the moment this weeks blog is posted I will have been in Uganda for around 36 hours, with some gentle acclimatization under my belt before we start to enjoy safari days, with the culmination being 2 days of gorilla trekking. I am mildly concerned about wifi reliability in Uganda and so this week focuses mostly on my actual journey and was written mainly in Doha. Next week will be a blog takeover by our wonderful cruise specialist, Kanise, and the following week when I will have reached Dubai, then the full trip report will be forthcoming.
Here's what long-haul international business class travel looks like currently.
Top 5 - Long-haul to Uganda
1. Centurion Lounges
I was very lucky in that American Express have been in a phased reopening of their Centurion Lounges only in the last few weeks. With an Aadvantage business class award routing of Charlotte to Houston to Doha to Entebbe, this meant I was able to enjoy both CLT (above) and IAH (below) in a Centurion Lounge. In case you didn't know, requirement for entry is to be a cardholder of an Amex Platinum card (or travel with someone who has one!), Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card holders and Centurion members. Both of these lounges are fairly new anyway and were shuttered just a brief few months after their official openings. It's particularly pleasing that I now have a great lounge access option at my home hub of CLT, and the experiences are far superior to the somewhat tired Admirals Club lounges of American Airways. Both were very quiet, extremely cognizant of social distancing, but also serving up an excellent full buffet that staff would deliver to you once chosen.
2. Qatar Airways safety
Qatar Airways are the airline that has kept on flying throughout 2020. Backed by the oil and gas rich government, from Day One of Covid they determined to keep their network open as long as country by country regulations allowed. They are definitely going to be gaining market share due to this policy!
They also possibly have the strictest on-board safety protocols of anyone. For the first few months cabin crew were dressed in full hazmat suits. That has been relaxed, but the rules are still in place for every passenger to wear both a mask and visor when boarding and deplaning. In economy you must keep these on for the entire flight unless eating and drinking. In the business class individual suites with doors you are free to choose.
3. Onboard experience
I calculated near the end of my Houston to Doha flight that only 13 of the 40 business class seats (above) were occupied. I was fully 15 feet from the nearest fellow passenger during this 15 hour flight. My last Q-Suites experience was just over a year ago, and apart from the mask-wearing and a menu roughly cut in half, the experience remains exemplary. Qatar Airways remains my go-to for any long-haul destinations where a connection in the Middle East makes sense such as Eastern and Southern Africa, India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Service levels remain incredibly high.
4. Al Mourjan Lounge, Doha
It's nearly the size of 2 football fields and I've written about it before, but honestly, it's just a pleasure to be able to experience an airport lounge as good as this to break up a 30-hour journey. It remains open 24 hours a day and the staff bend over backwards with any request you may have. The private bathrooms (below) for that refreshing shower are spotless and spacious. The food presentations and a la carte options are wide ranging and delicious. I reckon there was an average of 50 guests in here during the 7 hour layover. That meant it felt deserted (above) because the capacity is 1,000!
5. Lake Victoria
As you can see from my location on the map above, I've reached Entebbe and my hotel the Protea by Marriott is situated right on the edge of Lake Victoria, the second biggest lake in the world by surface area at 23,146 square miles. Only Lake Superior is larger.
Perhaps another slight surprise given that the River Nile is so closely associated with Egypt, is that the worlds longest river is the only draining outlet from Lake Victoria on its northern edge.
From my balcony (below) I thought for an instance I was on the French Riviera, and I hope that this will be the first of many surprises on this trip. Tomorrow most of the rest of our group arrive and the real experiences will begin.
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