A cloudy day at an architectural marvel
After my 15 hour flight in V Australia Business Class from LAX to Sydney, I decided to spend some time in the fresh air rather than hopping on another flight right away. I was pretty well rested after my flight, but I wanted to spend some time enjoying a great city instead of spending that time in Cairns.
After a quick immigration and customs experience with no lines, I proceeded to the Virgin Australia transfer area, to get my bags retagged and to collect my boarding pass. Despite being on seperate tickets (I bought the SYD-CNS-SYD legs, and the rest was booked with Delta miles), the agent happily checked my bags through and provided me a ticket for the transfer shuttle to the domestic terminal.
Once there, I got my first (recent) experience with the ease of clearing security for domestic flights in Australia. I took my laptop out of my bag, but shoes and belt stayed on. I seemed to get chosen for 'random' screening occasionally, but even that was easy, a quick swab of my hands and or my bags to check for explosives residue. My ID was never checked, although they do so at the gates when boarding.
I had decided to go airside so I could explore the Virgin Australia lounge, and take a shower before heading into Sydney. I was granted access the lounge with my domestic boarding pass and my Delta Platinum card. When compared with a typical domestic premium lounge in the US, the Virgin lounge in Sydney (I also visited one in Melbourne) blows them away.
I was there in the morning, so there was a selection of breads with toasters available. There was also a selection of cold cereals, fruit, yogurt (or yoghurt) and bircher muesli. I'm not a coffee drinker, but I noticed a full service expresso machine staffed with a barista making various coffee drinks upon request. I unfortunately didn't get any good photos of the food options.
Shower room in Sydney Virgin lounge
There are also a few shower rooms available. I asked at the service desk for a towel, and then headed to an open shower room.
The lounges I visited were quite spacious, with lots of seating areas available. Even in what appeared to be peak times based on traffic in and out, there was always available seating.
Lounge seating area, with shower rooms and reception desk in background.
After getting cleaned up, I decided to store my excess baggage rather than lug it around. Unfortunately the lounge personnel did not allow me to store luggage there, but pointed me to a held luggage area near baggage claim. I put my bag there and paid AU$10 for the day. I then followed signs to ground transportation, and walked to the adjacent train station, and bought a ticket for the AirportLink. While its certainly convenient, and much less than a taxi, AU$15 for a one way ticket is a bit steep for a ride that was less than 15 minutes. I have been to Sydney before, so I was at least somewhat familiar with the central business district, I disembarked at St. James station. From there I walked around the area, eventually getting to Circular Quay and the famous Opera House.
I also viewed the Harbour Bridge and checked on the progress of the renovations at the Park Hyatt Sydney. When I was planning this trip, I had hoped to spend a night at this hotel, but it was closed due to renovations. Originally, plans were to resume business in November 2011, but that goal was not reached, it is now scheduled for reopening in February 2012. I ended up spending a night on my return in Melbourne, and booked the Park Hyatt Melbourne which I will review soon.
I explored a few other areas of the city within walking distance before eventually catching the train back to the airport. I retraced my steps back to the lounge, and eventually headed to the gate for my flight to Cairns.
After international Business Class, an economy seat behind the wing was a bit of a letdown. The flight itself was fine, but jetlag was catching up with me, and I was ready to just sleep in a real bed for a while. Virgin Australia boards their planes from both front and rear doors, even on the E-190s, which was the aircraft used for this flight. There is no inflight entertainment, so the 3 hour or so flight passed pretty slowly.
Virgin Australia's E190 configuration from their website
(NOTE: they have updated these planes with 2 rows of 2 business class seats, making the configuration I flew obsolete, and they removed the seat map from the website)
I was going to Cairns to catch a liveaboard dive boat for 4 days Scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef. The scuba diving was wonderful, and I have countless pictures, and since a few people seemed interested, here is a brief review of my scuba experience on Spirit of Freedom. After the boat returned to port in Cairns, I flew back to Sydney, and spent the night at the Westin Sydney before my flights onward to New Zealand.