The part covers our hotels in New York and Chicago as well as our Amtrak trip and our flight home to London.
For this trip we opted to stay at the Library Hotel in New York which is a boutique hotel (60 rooms) located on Madison Avenue.
The hotel uses the Dewey Decimal System to allocate over 6,000 books throughout the hotel, a quirky feature that we liked. It’s well located, 5 minutes from the Grand Central Terminal which is handy for accessing the subway.
We opted for a deluxe room queen which was compact (as most hotels are in NYC) but provided us with enough space for our 4 night stay in New York. Breakfast was inclusive which consisted of cereals, breads, pastries, fruit as well as tea/coffee which made use of 2 mornings out of the 4, the other two we ate out at some local restaurants. In addition, free tea and coffee was available throughout the day.
Whilst many would opt for a big chain hotel that will reward them with air miles or hotel points, in many instances I would as well, we quite like using smaller boutique hotels.
Would we go back? Possibly depending on the deal. There was nothing wrong with the hotel but we’re always open to trying new hotels and there a lots in New York.
Amtrak #49 – New York to Chicago
The last time I took an overnight train journey was in 2008 when flights to the South East were cancelled due to air traffic computer issues. As a result I ended up taking the Caledonian Sleeper from Glasgow to London… an interesting experience which hopefully this would not be like.
Our train was due to depart at 3.45pm and so we checked out of our hotel at 1pm and made our way to Union Station. The confirmation from Amtrak contained a bar-code which we had to scan at a self-service machine to obtain our tickets.
Union Station is most definitely not the most glamorous of stations - all underground, no natural light and certainly nothing like some of the stations you see in the UK, Glasgow Central as an example.
We quickly found a self check-in counter and were able, after several attempts, to print out our tickets. From there we proceeded to the checked luggage counter and dropped our large suitcases leaving us just with our carry-ons bags. Service at the counter was without a smile but efficient. A group of college girls had checked bags in and then had to get them back to retrieve personal belongings much to the displeasure of staff.
We made our way to the lounge. I wouldn’t go as far as to say much more than that. It was a windowless room with chairs and there were soft drinks and nuts available. It was really just somewhere quieter to sit and had a clean toilet. At 3.40pm there was an announcement that our train was delayed, but no time was given for departure.
During our time in the lounge we watched many businessmen come and go, largely for the Acela Express trains, which run to Boston in the East and Washington in the West, together with a number of ladies clearly in NYC to ‘shop’.
At 4.30pm out train was ready for boarding and so we proceeded to make our way outside to the queue. It reminded me largely of the BA queues you frequently see. No order to anything and you certainly didn’t get any priority boarding if you had accommodation booked.
We were soon down on the platform and whilst the masses went forward to coach we eventually discovered where we had to go to find out accommodation. The attendant told us which was our carriage but we initially ended up in the wrong room until our attendant showed us to our correct room - the tickets were not particularly clear.
The room was compact to say the least. It had two large seats and a desk we were able to pull out. There was storage up above for small bags and hangers for our jackets. Within the room was a sink and toilet. In the evening, the top bunk bed dropped down whilst the two seats slid down and converted into the lower bunk bed.
Shortly after we left New York the restaurant attendant and asked what time we would like to eat dinner at. It was now 5pm and we chose to eat at 7.30pm which would give us time to enjoy the rest of the daylight as we made our way up the side of the Hudson River.
Dinner was pleasant and given it was included in the price of our ticket we had no complaints. The steak was cooked as we had requested and we had a cold beer to wash it all down.
We returned to our room after dinner and at around 10pm the attendant came by to convert our seats into our beds for the night.
The beds were fairly comfy and we both had decent nights sleep. The big benefit in comparison to the UK Sleepers is that you are not side on which means you don't roll forward and back when the train slows down!
We rose in the morning to find that we were 3 hours behind schedule which for us wasn't an issue as it meant we would get to enjoy more of the midwest. The reason for the delay resulted in the original delay - as we were travelling along the main lines, we had to give way to trains who were running on time.
Anyway, I got up and had a shower at the end of the carriage which was perfectly adequate whilst my fiance got ready in the room.
We then went to the restaurant car for breakfast which when we got there were advised they had made last call 20 minutes ago. The staff took pity on us when we explained we thought they were open for another 20 minutes and offered us breakfast... french toast it was!
And it wasn't bad either! It certainly set us up for the day along with a couple of cups of strong tea... just the way I like it.
We eventually arrived in to Chicago and after a short wait our checked bags which soon arrived.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience although I'm not sure how much my other half did (I like to think she did!). If it was a longer trip, say 2 days (San Fran - Chicago,, etc) I would go for the bigger room which gives you more space as well as a separate toilet and shower in your room
W Lakeside – Chicago
We chose this hotel as my other half wanted a hotel overlooking Lake Michigan and this fitted the bill. When we booked we were able to get a good deal on a corner suite which gave us amazing views over the lake.
The hotel itself was nice, the lobby appeared far fresher than the rooms which were good but you could tell it was an older property which had been refurbished.
Our room was large - plenty of space for the two of us, possibly to big, but both the bed and the bath products were excellent - I should know given the other half came away with more than a dozen bars of soap!
Location wise it was ok, a 10 minute walk to the Magnificant Mile and we used the buses regularly.
The breakfasts in the restaurant were good, a wide selection and good value for money when compared to the cost of eating elsewhere. Free wifi was available in the lobby it’s just a shame that they want to charge you for using it in your room.
I don’t think we would stay here again if we visited, nothing against it, would prefer to try a different area.
BA296 – Chicago to London Heathrow
We took a taxi to airport and on arrival found the check in area which was very quiet. I managed to get my bag checked through to Glasgow and boarding pass printed out. From past experience with US airports we asked and were advised there was essentially nothing beyond security - and to be honest there was barely anything before security either!
RJ check in was due to open as there was a large queue forming for the economy check in.
We got a quick milkshake/smoothie pre-security more to pass the time than anything - duty free was poor as were all the other shops. Rather pathetic for an ‘ International’ terminal.
The flight would be boarding from gate M11 and was late arriving and when we arrived at the gate there was a USA 300 sitting getting de-iced.
We made our way to the First lounge which is small, very small but given there was only one other person it was nice and peaceful for a quiet drink prior to some dinner pre-flight.
We stayed in the First lounge until 7pm when we moved across to the Terraces lounge and into the dining room for dinner. As I was planning on eating on board I opted for a stir-fry wrap whilst the better half opted for the clam chowder to start with followed by salmon, both of which she advised were very good
From research online I was well aware that whilst both ORD flights are operated by 777s, the earlier flight, BA294 is the one that is most likely to get BA’s new First product. I therefore did not expect to get to sample NF so you can imagine my surprise when upon re-entering the First lounge I saw the 777 parked at the gate with 3 blocked windows in the First cabin!
Boarding was announced just after 8.30pm and we proceeded to the gate where we were met by the usual scrum and carnage that BA appears to manage to create whenever they board an aircraft. As I’ve said before, other airlines are able to board all First and Business class passengers BEFORE economy, why can’t BA? This is a large area where BA let themselves down when it comes to their premium product, particularly First class.
We eventually got to door 2 and whilst at first no-one was available to show us forward a crew member did quickly appear to show my other half to her seat whilst I went to the far away aisle and found my seat.
This was our first flight on the 777 in First and so I had chosen 2E and 2F (on a 747 we opt for 2A and 2K). There were 11 of 14 seats taken in the cabin with only 1F, 1K and 4K free which the crew thought was unusual to be such a busy flight for a Saturday night.
Service began as soon as I found my seat and I was asked if I would like something to drink so whilst a glass of champagne was brought to me I hung my jacket in my personal wardrobe.
Once passengers were settled and drinks had been provided the crew handed out amenity kits together with First pyjamas which I wear once during the flight and then pass to my other half who uses them at home. The safety video was played on the nice new F screens and crew then cleared away the empties whilst we taxied and it wasn’t long before we were up in the sky.
So what was I most looking forward to? Well the new seat of course and here are my general thoughts:
- Wider - I felt it was considerably wider than old F, even more so when used as a bed.
- More comfortable - felt more padded and supportive.
- Controls - I liked the new seat controller which I found easy to use and responsive. I would have liked the option to raise the leg support without lowering the rest of the seat.
- The TV in my opinion it’s a perfect size for its location.
- Lighting good
- Cabinet good for coat but quite cramped after that.
- The middle seats are filled in giving more space for placing items
- Excellent sleep!
Whilst my other half had cookies and hot chocolate and then went to sleep I opted to watch a film and have a bit of a meal. The majority of the cabin went to sleep so service was quick and efficient - also very friendly.
I then asked the crew to make up my bed whilst I got changed in the toilet and hung my clothes in my wardrobe, a little bit of a squeeze to fit in boots, jeans, etc as well as my jacket. However, a handy location.
After a 4 hour sleep I awoke and was asked if I would like breakfast... how could I refuse!
After breakfast the crew began preparing the cabin for landing which didn't take long. We didn't have to circle around Heathrow for long and before we knew it we were touching down at Heathrow and making our way towards T5.
The cabin crew, as I later found out, were American based and very pro-active.
As we came up to stand the airbridge began it’s move to door 1 but then suddenly changed direction and ended at door 2. As the doors opened I saw the Club World crew holding back the passengers whilst passengers in First gathered their belongings and deplaned.
By this point we were chatting to all the cabin crew from First, discussing our trip, our LCY flight which they were most interested in, and our travel with BA over recent years. We’d been talking for well over a minute since the other First passengers had left and I turned around to see the CW passengers still being held back waiting for us to finish our conversation with the crew.
We left some minutes later after some of the CW cabin had departed but the crew still held them back as we approached the door to leave and thanked us for travelling. All in all a fantastic crew!