May 17th, 2023
It’s been a long cold winter! After our last trip to celebrate Halloween on the West Coast and then over to Hawaii for 2 glorious weeks on Maui, we have been wintering in the cold wet shores of the United Kingdom. Pretty much just waiting for our next trip, which is finally here…well we did manage a quick trip to Cyprus, but that was to see Family so doesn’t count!
Last year was so crazy and we traveled more than we ever have before in an attempt to catch up on Covid years where our traveling was largely curtailed. We did so much in 2022 that it’s pretty hard to believe. We hit New York as soon as the borders opened, then Las Vegas, followed by Oahu and L.A. Then in the Summer we celebrated the 4th of July in New York, before an epic road trip down the east coast in the scorching summer months. Finally, we did Halloween BIG time on the west coast, with Disneyland, Knotts Scary Farm, and SeaWorld Halloween Events. After all that we need a break so took two weeks out in our spiritual home, Maui.
That is some special memories banked right there.
But the intensity of the year, took a toll on the finances and energy levels so we slowed down a little and took some time to recoup, and try and catch up on a huge amount of content that the trips produced! 6 Months on we are all packed and ready to strike out on our next trip!
Sequels are never as good and you should never revisit past glories, but this trip is all about heading back and visiting some of the first places we visited in the States. Starting off, as our first road trip did in San Franciso.
Virgin Atlantic – Upper Class 787 Dreamliner – London Heathrow to San Francisco.
Due in part to last year’s travels and a Generous bonus on Our AMEX Platinum Card we had accrued quite an impressive points balance with Virgin Atlantic, so we decided to splurge these on a real treat and upgrade to Upper Class on the Outward Leg of the flight. We would be Premium on the return leg, and in total his had cost £700 per person in Fees and Taxes, along with a hefty chunk of points, not bad for flying in the LAP of luxury.
We drove down to Heathrow the day before and had a room booked at the Sheraton Heathrow, a hotel we have not stayed in before, but came up as the cheapest on Holiday Extras and included 23 Days of Hotel Parking. We are still not getting any good availability of flights into the states from Manchester so carry on making the trip to Heathrow. Of Course, as we are upper class this is the best Airport to fly from anyway as we get access to the Clubhouse.
Our room was nice enough and very spacious, there was nothing in the way of views however which is a shame as we love watching the planes in and out of the Airport. We had a really nice Steak Dinner in the hotel Restaurant and headed to bed ready for the Travel Day.
Virgin Atlantic Heathrow Terminal 3
We rose super early partly as we were pretty excited and partly as we just wanted to get started on the Upper-Class experience. This all begins upon your arrival at the Terminal. Virgin has its own Upper-Class Wing, a separate arrival area that operates more like a Fancy Hotel than an Airport. You pull up at the “Lobby” entrance as the “concierge” greet you and carry your bags indoors. A Crew Member then guides you through check-in. There was no queue at all, but even if there is you are directed to a waiting area with couches and drinks rather than standing in a queue.
After the speedy check-in, your bags are not weighed and taken through by hand. You then head to the Private Security queue. This is a real revelation and one of the most stressful things about flying is dispensed with. Here the polite and friendly security staff, are waiting for you to empty your pockets and take out your large items. There is no screaming and shouting and no herding like cattle. Straight through with no issues, but even the fear of your bag getting “pinged” is removed as the staff are so polite and un-busy it would be no problem to get extra checks.
All this took less than 10 minutes. From hitting the curb to entering the Terminal. And most importantly NO stress. We had a few dollars to pick up from Travelex ( pre-booked at a good rate) and grabbed a few Duty-Free items before heading off for the ClubHouse.
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse Heathrow
We absolutely love the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Heathrow. It’s not the fanciest of lounges in the world but it has such a cool and modern vibe, it’s laid back cool, like most of the Virgin Atlantic Brand, but still very high-end.
We were lucky enough to bag a spot in our favorite little spot, by the windows in the comfy seats in the partitioned-off spot. Before we had got settled, our server appeared and almost forced champagne into our hands, and despite being only 8:15 am, very didn’t want to be rude. This same Server continued to look after us and never let our glasses run dry of anything.
We enjoyed a peaceful and relaxing morning, exploring the Clubhouse, trying out the Breakfast Menu, and grabbing a few cocktails such as the Breakfast Martini, a Cosmo, and finishing with a really good Old Fashioned. It is such a great space and amazing service. However we are Travel Bloggers and have to do some work, so we needed to head over to the AMEX Centurion Lounge to check that one out as well. We were really comfy and didn’t want to move, but another cocktail on another lounge beckoned.
After this is was time for boarding. We were flying on the Older 787 Dreamliner. As much as it pains us to call this plane old, the Upper-Class Cabin is decidedly different from the newer A350 and A330-Neo cabins. And at first glance, it’s nowhere near as good.
You still get a lie-flat bed in a personal pod, but the layout is the much-maligned herringbone format. Realy this is a super clever way of packing more people into a smaller space, while still providing a large amount of personal space. But the reality is you lose a lot of privacy. We are putting together a full review, but as we settled into our pods, the lack of privacy was pretty noticeable.
The Service started perfectly with a welcome drink and our in-cruise drinks order being taken before take-off. There was a very short delay on the tarmac, but we were skyward in no time. The day was gorgeous with some light clouds but buckets of blue-skies and sun, sad to be leaving it behind after such a horrible winter.
Once in the air the captain announced our flight would be on the shorter side and just over 10 hours, that’s 10 hours to enjoy the wonderful Virgin Service. This started with our drinks order, more champagne and Gin and Tonic. Before a personal chat with a Cabin Crew Member about what we would like for lunch and how our pods worked.
Lunch was served pretty soon after take-off. Salmon Gravalax to start which was really fresh and was a large serving of perfectly cured Salmon. For mains, we had Roasten Chciken and a Cod Dish. The Chicken was good but a bit basic, the safe option, and the Cod was pretty spectacular. It was fancy fish and chips but came with a light curry-spiced sauce and a huge piece of fish, the “chip” was pretty awful, however.
The dessert was not great, the Much hyped Pimms-O-Clock summer pudding was pretty horrid, tasted of Cucumber Jelly, and the Almond tart was nice but again a safe option. This was washed down with a nice glass or two of Wine. We had an excellent Califirninon Pinot Noir and a Whispering Falls Rose to accompany the meal. Finally, we managed to beg a Cheese board from the Crew, with port to finish off the meal. The Menu lists dessert AND a cheese plate, but the crew treats it as an either-or, which is strange.
After this, we fired up the IFE, Kate managed around 5 mins before giving up and trying out the Lay-Flat bed instead. I powered through and got about 30mins into my film before passing out. The Cabin lights had been dimmed and the morning of food and drink had taken its toll. A few hours of perfect sound sleep followed before we rose, nicely refreshed after our nap.
Naturally, we headed to the bar, to try out the service there. This is the one part of the 787 upper-class cabin we prefer. We tried to stick to Oragne Juive but the CAbin Crew ensured we were given something a bit spicier. A nice Single Malt Whiskey, and GreyGoose and Cranberry.
We then settled in for some Movie watching and relaxing while we soared across the vast American Continent.
With around 2 hours to go the Crew began the light bite, service. Here we ordered a Cream Tea which was fantastic with soft warm scones and real clotted cream, and a Chicken Slider that was anything but a slider. It consisted of a pretty much Full chicken breast wrapped in spicy breadcrumbs, I got real order envy as I had gone for the Cream Tea remembering the Sliders last time were tiny.
Finally, after being treated like royalty all day, we approached the end of the flight and began the descent into San Francisco. Once on the ground, the Upper-Class perks really run out and it’s back to being hearded like cattle. We timed our arrival very badly as we landed just behind a massive Emerites A380 meaning immigration was filed to the rafters and most of the arrivals were from non-esta destinations meaning long and complicated chats with the border officials were needed.
It took around an hour from doors-open to leaving the terminal, and we jumped on the air-train to the Car Rental Center. We have a small SUV booked with AVIS and as preferred members had been getting really lucky in getting upgrades, but these are often highly fuel in-efficient and we have a lot of miles to cover, so were happy to get what we ordered, and nice Kia Sportage, a bit basic but would suit us perfectly for this trip.
With all the delays we were now heading into San Fran at rush hour and Google, really threw a fit, with all the traffic. The 10-mile trip was scheduled to take 55mins and as we got into it that only got worse.
Well over an hour later and after navigating some of San Franciscos most exciting streets! we arrived at the Wharf Inn, We really were just looking for a bed in San Fran, we have some really nice accommodations later in the trip, but in San Fran, we wanted location and Cheap. And the free parking sold us. Right in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf the Inn was perfect if a little (a lot) rustic.
We unloaded and resisted the temptation of heading straight to bed. Instead heading out to explore the wharf and grab a bite to eat. We strolled down the seafront, taking in the views of Goldengate (when it poked out the fog) and Alcatraz and exploring Pier 39, saying hi to the Sealions, and then hitting the Boudin Bakery, for Clam Chowder in Bread Bowls, one of San Frans finest claims to Fame!
It was around 7:30 pm but for us sometime in the wee hours of the morning so we headed back to the hotel. We watched a little tv for as long as possible before both passing out and waiting to see how early we would wake up the next day.
Walking Total – 12,590 Steps – 5.2 Miles
Day 2 – San Francisco – Alcatraz – >>>