I feel the need for full disclosure. We have earned high status on Star Alliance and with Starwood Hotels. So, some of the experiences were certainly impacted by that. Assume all flights were Star Alliance and I will point out hotels and their affiliations.
Hotel reviews- Central and Eastern Europe
Prague- Sheraton Prague Charles Square Hotel- This is a Starwood property. We paid for this room with points and were given a nice upgrade. They were in a great location, a 5 minute walk to the great foods of Prague and its center, we also felt totally safe. The hotel had a small, but well-appointed SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) lounge. Pink champagne in the evening, more than adequate breakfast every morning. Our suite was on the top floor, which was great for privacy and lack of street noise. But, since we were on the top, our ceiling was really the peak of the roof, so our windows faced up, not out. We didn’t have a nice view at all. We had a nice living room, two full bathrooms and a second story with the bedroom and a workspace. My biggest complaint here was the cost of parking, 1000 koruna per night, about $50. But, since the hotel was free with points, it didn’t bother me as much. I would go back, but would want to see if there were rooms with a better view that had similar amenities and would consider public transport instead of rental car. We did just park it and not drive around at all.
Budapest- Le Meridien Budapest- This is a Starwood property. Holy upgrade Batman. I have been to a lot of fancy hotels, this has to be in the top five for sure. And the suite they gave us, we got lost! This too was with points, parking was reasonable, breakfast in the restaurant was free based on status and it was good. Fresh squeezed orange juice and an omelet chef (chef is a strong word, she really needed a lesson in slower cooking, eggs burned on outside, runny on inside) Location was good, we only stayed one night so we took a double-decker tour bus around town, then ventured out after dark to the Citadella in our car. The room had a foyer, long hallways between rooms, dressing room/closets, two bathrooms with heated marble floors, a living room, large bedroom and a balcony bigger than any of our hotel rooms in Norway. I did peak at the rack rate for this suite and it was posted at almost 4000Euro a night, we paid $0. Certainly an example of loyalty paying off! Would totally go back, but only on points, I can’t afford this place.
Zadar- Hotel Pinija- Not a Starwood, we found this on Expedia. The location was great, from one perspective. It was on the coast of Croatia, panoramic views of the Adriatic, beaches, and so on. But then the location was tough, far from other things and not adequate food at the “resort”, so eating was challenging. They did sell yummy wine by the bottle at the bar, was about $20 for a bottle. The food was included in the cost, but it felt like I was on a conveyer belt or a Carnival Cruise to get meals. I felt 20 years too young to be there. It was likely a happening place in 1973, but other than a fresh coat of paint, it hadn’t been updated since. Our room was tiny, the bathroom smaller. We did have a balcony with a “view”, but only if you tilted your head, wrapped around the edge of the balcony and squinted. The balcony was great for drying the laundry I washed in the tiny sink in the bathroom. I’m on the fence if I’d go back here or not. If I did it couldn’t be for more than maybe three days.
Venice- Westin Europa & Regina- This is a Starwood property. Mixed reviews here. The hotel was in a great place (once we found it, there’s a whole blog post on that here. We stared in an upgraded room, one of their smaller suites. Yes, I know how that sounds, but compared to our other upgrades, it was smallish. It was stunning. But it was smaller. We had a sitting area/living room, bathroom, large closet/dressing room and a good size bathroom. The view was of the Grand Canal and pretty darn good. We were paying for part of this, we used the cash/points offered by Starwood. Because of our changed plans (read the above referenced blog post), we had to change rooms after a night. We were relocated to a nice, but “regular” room. It was just fine, plush but not over the top. The staff still left something to be desired.
Neuschweinstein- Hotel Schwanstein, Schwangau. Not a Starwood property, no affiliation really with any other hotel, we found it via Expedia. Ok, this may sound like a bad review, but it’s not. This was a adorable family-run place. Seriously, mom, dad, grown daughters, all worked here. It was older, the rooms were small, the bathrooms leaky, but it has such charm that didn’t matter. The whole place smelled of sauerkraut, but dinner was yummy. Breakfast was included and tiny. But again, would totally go back, would probably max out at a three night stay.
Stuttgart- We stayed with friends. It was great.
Munich- Westin Grand Munich- This is a Starwood property. No upgrade here, it’s Oktoberfest. Its location was perfect, quiet, close to u-bahn, easy to get to without traffic. The SPG lounge was gorgeous but had very little in the way of breakfast, but for no additional cost, not a complaint. We were able to get some work done, and sneak out for a few beer tent stops at Oktoberfest.
Istanbul- Sheraton Istanbul Atakoy Hotel- This is a Starwood property. This stay is also cash and points. I *think* we got upgraded, the room is big-ish, but not a suite. It’s modern and fun, the TV raises up out of a cabinet at the foot of the bed. The dude at the entrance was super nice when he checked my bags with some sort of device meant to be a security screen (didn’t ask what he was looking for). The SPG lounge offers breakfast, snacks and evening adult beverages.
Airline reviews part 1. Most of our flights were purchased with miles, but on the around the world ticket, it’s all Business Class or higher.
United- I really believe that for the big US carriers, it doesn’t matter which you choose, as long as you earn status on them. This was a little plane, but we were upgraded, the flight was COS-IAD and uneventful.
Lufthansa- We did our first long haul on Lufthansa, IAD- FRA. We were in Business Class, the food was fine (not more not less). Wine was good. Seats were odd. Advertised as lay-flat, they didn’t feel flat. It was an odd angle that made you feel like you were sliding. Hard to sleep. They had a cute little cubby for my glasses while I tried to sleep. Entertainment choices were good. The international amenities kit was typical, but the bag it came in nice and worth keeping.
Lufthansa regional- We flew this from FRA-OSL and OSL-MUC. The first flight we were “Business Class” but that simply means the seats and spacing are the same, but they don’t sell the middle seats. We got a snack and the flight was fine. Our next flight we were coach and even then we got fed on a 2-hour flight.
SAS- very budget-minded. Soda and water and anything else were for sale. Seats were all the same and rather uncomfortable. I am pretty sure this was a regional-only plane, but all coach, nothing else offered. I got a short nap and read a book for a little while. Meh.
Turkish Air- The Business Class here is much like the first Lufthansa regional flight we took, the seats/spacing the same, but they don’t sell the middle seats. Then we got food. Wow. I would totally pay for the food. There were a couple of unruly passengers around take-off time and our head flight attendant was having none of it, she was kicking ass and taking names. I loved it. In Business Class there were seven passengers and we had one flight attendant assigned to us and two chefs (!!!). We started with drinks on takeoff, I had the fresh squeezed lemonade (yum). Then we got a snack of a Turkish sweet pistachio- something-or-other. Think jelly meets gummy bear, coated in powdered sugar. When my dinner began to be delivered I knew it was going to be good, I had THREE FORKS! On an airplane! First course came…fresh Mediterranean salad (with lemon infused olive oil), warm bread with real butter, some fish something (I don’t eat fish, but others liked it), a cheese bowl and fresh olives. Then the main course, I picked the chicken. It was this heavenly pan-fried chicken with lemon-butter, basmati rice and sautéed onions and tomatoes. Desert was (yummy) apple strudel with whipped cream (not cool whip). Finished with a cup of Turkish coffee (aka jet fuel jelly, I tried it, couldn’t do it, a texture thing). I am sitting on the plane now, and can’t hardly wait for the next Turkish Air flight Friday night.