Review of Amtrak’s California Zephyr and Coast Starlight: The cross-country train ride of a lifetime

Amtrak’s California Zephyr and Coast Starlight Superliner Roomette offer some of the most breathtaking scenery America has to offer in the comfort of your own private cabin. In this trip report, I travel cross-country from Chicago to Seattle via Sacramento on the California Zephyr (50 hours) followed by the Coast Starlight (20 hours), both in the Superliner Roomette First class cabin. Cabin amenities include two chairs, two convertible beds, full meals, and showers. Where else can you have the luxury of eating dinner with the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains or waking up to the sunrise over the Sierra Nevadas? Amtrak Guest Rewards is one of the hidden gems of Ultimate Rewards transfer partners. While mainstream travel hacking is all about flying international First Class, slow travel can be quite rewarding as well.

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Review of Cathay Pacific’s The Pier First Class Lounge

I had the opportunity to visit Cathay Pacific’s newest First Class Lounge, the Pier, which recently opened at Hong Kong International Airport. Like Cathay’s other First Class lounge, the Wing, the Pier offers travelers all the luxurious comforts they have come to expect from Cathay: from an exceptional dining experience to relaxation suites, all with world class hospitality. It’s located near Gate 63, which is about a 15 minute walk away from the immigration. Since my flight to Singapore was out of Gate 67, I couldn’t pass up the chance to check out the new lounge.

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Chasing Club Carlson Hotels Around the World

The Club Carlson hotel loyalty program has a wide array of 5-star properties in some of the best locations around the world. This is especially true in Europe where Radisson Blu is the strongest. Unfortunately, they announced on April 3rd that they were removing the free night for every award stay benefit from their co-branded credit card, taking into effect June 1st. And to add further insult to injury, they announced category changes also taking effect at the same time. With roughly 300,000 points on hand, we knew that we had to spend them quickly. We decided to chase Club Carlson redemptions around the world, staying at some of the fanciest hotels for free.

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Review of the Radisson Blu Plaza Bangkok

The Radisson Blu Plaza Bangkok is an excellent brand new hotel centrally located in the Sukhumvit district of Bangkok, near the Sukhumvit MRT and Asok BTS metro stations. We were able to get to hot spots like Chinatown and Silom very easily. There are plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops as it is the main expat area. The hotel was exceptional value and definitely one that I will consider during my next trip to Bangkok.

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Review of the Radisson Blu Tala Bay Resort Aqaba

The Radisson Blu Tala Bay Resort in Aqaba, Jordan is built on the coast of the Red Sea on an isolated strip of land 20 minutes drive south from downtown. It’s a new hotel located in a development project called Tala Bay and is part of an Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority development project intended to attract foreign tourists and investment. Unfortunately, there weren’t many tourists at the time due to cyclical factors and the looming threat of ISIS in the region.
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Review of the Park Plaza Orchid Hotel Tel Aviv

The Park Plaza Orchid Hotel Tel Aviv is centrally located next to the Tel Aviv beach. After arriving from TLV airport in the afternoon we wanted a place to stage ourselves before heading to Jerusalem and so we chose the Park Plaza. It also gave us an opportunity to burn 44,000 Club Carlson points for two nights instead of the nightly rate of $200. An extensive buffet style breakfast was included.

This hotel is actually an Orchid Hotel, an Israeli chain, that simply co-branded as a Park Plaza to gain more guests. There was no obvious branding other than a small sign in the lobby, and virtually no branding in the room. The representative at the counter seemed offended that I asked if we had been upgraded. Given that this hotel was co-branded I should have known better to not have asked.
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Review of the Radisson Blu Style Hotel Vienna

Vienna, the City of Music, was the next stop after Salzburg. The Radisson Blu is incredibly centrally located within Vienna’s Ringstrasse making it an excellent base for touring around. Luckily the Radisson Blu Vienna had award availability since it could be tenuous at times. Instead of a nightly rate of $300, we paid 44,000 Club Carlson points for two nights.

As a Club Carlson Gold member, you can usually expect an upgrade to the Business room, which is a bit larger than the standard room. In our case we were very lucky and were upgraded two categories to the Junior Suite, which is a room that has a separate living room and bedroom. It also has the added luxury of two sinks, a shower, and a bath tub. There was also heated tile flooring in the bathroom, something I’ve never seen at another Radisson Blu property.

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Review of the Radisson Blu Hotel Altstadt Salzburg

The Radisson Blu Hotel Altstadt Salzburg was the first stop on our around the world trip chasing Club Carlson properties. Salzburg, known for the birthplace of Mozart and the setting for The Sound of Music, is an incredibly expensive hotel market with average nightly rates around $200. I’ve always wanted to visit the city and so we decided that burning 44,000 Club Carlson points for two nights made a lot of sense.
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Sampling some classic Viennese food: Schnitzel & Käsekrainer

Over the course of a few days in Vienna, I had the opportunity to try several classic cheap eats including Weiner Schnitzel, Cabbage soup, and Käsekrainer (cheese filled sausages). Käsekrainer are so much better than they sound – I had to go back for seconds. Got them at Bitzinger, across the street from the Opera house in Albertina platz.

Vienna Central Cemetery, seeing Beethoven and Mozart

Vienna, known as the City of Music, has many has many musicians who call it their eternal home. I took a day trip to Vienna’s Central Cemetery and saw Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, Brahms, and Mozart’s memorial (he was buried in an unmarked mass grave). Admission is free and it’s a short tram ride from the Ringstrasse. It’s a very large cemetery and you should allow at least two hours once you’re there.

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