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My flight on Austrian Airlines landed a little late, but since I couldn’t be guaranteed check-in at the hotel until 15h00, I didn’t mind. I hopped on the City Airport Train (CAT) and made my way from the Airport through Wien Mitte to Oper/Karlsplatz U-Bahn Station. Last time I visited, I left the underground from the wrong exit and wandered aimlessly trying to find the hotel. This time I followed the signs to the Opera House and emerged exactly where I needed to be.
I’ve stayed at the Hotel Bristol before and really enjoyed it. I knew I wanted to stay again and I found that the price was a bit more than I wanted to pay, so I used Starwood Preferred Guest Cash+Points for the two nights – which cost 110USD+6,000 points each night. The value was there for me on this stay. I also used two Platinum Suite Night Upgrades to move us from a standard room to an Opera Suite – the same room type I had last time.
I walk into the hotel lobby at around 10h15 and was greeted with a cheery “Good Morning.” After my relative success on the Austrian Airlines flight, I attempted to continue my German language practice. I was tired and it fell apart pretty quickly. The folks working at reception did try to play along, but my mind just wasn’t in it. We finished the check-in process in English.
I was surprised that my room was ready for me immediately. So often, when landing early in the morning in Europe your room isn’t ready for hours – which just makes that first day a struggle. I want a shower, I want to take a quick nap – I don’t want to sit in the lobby and wait and I don’t want to go exploring while feeling all dingy. I was escorted to my room by the bellman and the receptionist. I didn’t need two staffers helping me – I had just a briefcase and a roller bag, but the service was a nice touch.
Our Opera Suite was on the fourth floor of the hotel, looking directly out onto the beautiful Opera building. The huge suite is perfectly appointed to entertain before the opera. As you walk in, you encounter various hallways, leading to the bedroom or the salon.
The salon is large with multiple seating areas, including a small dining area, perfect for a morning breakfast or an afternoon tea. The fireplaces were all faux, but still gave the warmth (both because they hid a radiator and the style) of a bygone era.
When we entered the salon, a Mozart CD was playing. A fitting accompaniment to the room, the view and the overall vibe of the hotel.
The salon has a small, but full bathroom attached (sans bathtub, but with a full shower). This is excellent design when hosting a pre-Opera party, no need for your guests to traipse through your bedroom. It is truly a luxury to have a hotel room with two bathrooms – I love it.
Moving back through the salon to the bedroom, you immediately see how grand the sleeping quarters are. The king sized bed does not dwarf the room itself. An additional sitting area, writing desk and huge closet system also fill this room – but with ample space to maneuver – and to try on various outfits before the opera.
The main bathroom, off the sleeping area, was quite large with double vanities, a walk-in shower, a large separate tub and the requisite toilet and bidet.
There was also another hallway and closet area – you can never have enough closet space when you are hosting a pre-opera party, I guess.
The Hotel Bristol is truly a five-star luxury hotel and one of my favorite Starwood properties in the world. I sure wouldn’t want my home decorated like these amazing Opera Suites, but I do love the opulence and splendor whilst on vacation. The Hotel has quite the history too – as it was first constructed at the end of the 19th Century and hosted many of the world’s most famous people, including Teddy Roosevelt and George Gershwin – who was working on “An American in Paris” while staying here. Most famously the Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson stayed in 1936 during their affair.
It wasn’t always sunshine and luxury at the Bristol though. In the early 20th century, Samuel Schallinger, a Jewish businessman, owned a stake in the hotel, but was forced to sell in 1938. He was then deported from Austria to Germany where he died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. A horribly dark part of the rich history of this magnificent hotel.
Vienna is an incredibly easy city to get around – with so many things within walking distance, and a really great transit system – this hotel couldn’t be situated in a better spot. Being just meters from the Vienna State Opera, the U-Bahn, Streetcars, the City Park and countless museums, you’d be hard pressed to find a better hotel.
When I return to Vienna – I don’t know when that will happen, but I know it will soon – I will definitely stay at the Hotel Bristol again. The space is beautiful, the service team is truly stellar and it feels like my home in Vienna.
Where do you stay while visiting Vienna? Which Starwood Property is your favorite in the world?
We decided to take a few days and explore Belgium this spring. We’ve been to Brussels for a layover on our way to Spain a few years ago. We had about 8 hours on the ground and we got out of the airport and explored the City for a few hours – eating waffles, drinking beer, wandering the streets, checking out the pissing statues…you know, a normal day in Brussels.
This time, we are getting out of Brussels straight away, but we aren’t totally sold on where we are going. We figure Bruges is high on the list – it’s one of the dozens of cities called the Venice of the North. I’m also contemplating Ypres, which has some amazing WWI memorials.
Can you help me answer the following questions:
- What cities would you visit?
- Where should we dine / which restaurants?
- Which hotels should make our list?
- Do you have any recommendations on bike tours?
- What areas should we skip entirely?
Looking forward to hearing about your trips and recommendations!
After being disappointed by both the United Polaris Lounge and the Swiss Lounge at O’hare, I was really looking forward to my time aboard Austrian Airlines flight from Chicago to Vienna. I find Austrian has a truly wonderful Business Class product, with fully flat seats, top notch food and a nicely curated selection of Austrian wines – along with options from other regions as well.
A few weeks before, I had called Austrian Airlines to reserve the exact seats I wanted. Austrian’s Business Class is in a 1-2-1 seating configuration. These seats are staggered and when your seat is reclined into a bed, your feet actual have slid under the side table of the seat in front of you. This means the seats alternate where the side table is – either right next to the aisle or next to the window. If you select properly, you can have a much more private seat and if not, you’ll be sitting directly on the aisle, likely getting bumped by passengers and crew as they pass your seat. I’ve been fortunate enough to have selected the single seats closest to the window and farthest from the aisle each time I’ve flow with Austrian.
Boarding began about 20 minutes late at 16h55 through door 1L. Once onboard, I immediately turned right down the first aisle, as I was seated in 5A.
Flight: Austrian Airlines OS66 (Business Class)
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300
Departure: 17h20 (17h30)
Arrival: 08h35 (09h01)
I quickly found my seat, unpacked my tablet and power cables and stowed my briefcase. I ended up checking my roller bag – Austrian (well, their contract employees at O’hare) are real sticklers for the rules and often will not let you (or at least try) bring your bigger carryon bags on board – even though there is ample space in the overhead bins – especially in business class. I decided to skip the drama and just check the bag initially.
As I was getting settled, the flight attendant came by with a tray with cups of water, orange juice and apple juice. Alcoholic beverages were not available – a fellow passenger was quite upset about this, so the flight service manager came over and explained it was because Cook County has high taxes on booze opened on the ground, so she’d have to wait until we were airborne. That’s another thing I like about Austrian Airlines – they are polite, but very direct. They are not going to bend the rules, but they will explain why the rules are there and give you an alternate.
I opted for a water. I had also decided that I would endeavor to speak German this entire flight. I took about 2 years of German in college, but haven’t had much of an opportunity to practice – this was the perfect time.
About 10 minutes after I sat down, the menus were delivered by the chef, who introduced herself and said she’d be back to answer any questions about the menu and to take our final orders.
At this time, the Business Class Amenity kit was delivered – and unlike previous versions of this kit, which is billed as a carrying case for a tablet (a tiny tablet, I guess), this kit was reusable as a shoe bag. I don’t think you can ever have too many shoe bags when you travel, they are critical for keeping dirt from your shoes from getting on your clothes.
The kit contained the standard items including socks, an eye shade, toothbrush and paste, lip balm, hand cream and ear plugs.
The chef came back by to finalize dinner selections and to collect our breakfast choices as well – I opted not to be woken up – I’d rather just get a few extra minutes of sleep and grab a bite in the City.
As we wait for boarding to finish, I polished off my still water (Wasser ohne Gas) and scrolled through the In-Flight Entertainment (IFE). I was surprised at the number of films I actually wanted to watch. I bookmarked (which is a fabulous feature on this system) six films, including The Shape of Water, Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Suburbicon, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and Murder on the Orient Express (which frustrated me, because I rented Murder through Amazon Prime – I could have just saved a few bucks, if I had checked the film options before renting). Despite having several films in the queue, I only watched Murder on the Orient Express, then put the Kingsmen on while I slept. There were a total of 61 films and 87 episodes of TV shows. The diversity of the TV programs was a bit disappointing, but for a nine hour overnight flight, it worked well for me.
The door closed at 17h25 and we pushed back from the gate at 17h30. After a relatively short taxi, we were in the air at 17h50. It was a smooth roll and right on queue the flight attendants jumped into action. The Flight Services Coordinator made her way through the Business Class Cabin, introducing herself, confirming our beverage choices and making it clear that if we needed anything, find her and she’d handle it.
I switched on the movie and enjoyed the nicely timed dinner service. I didn’t feel rushed in the slightest, but it moved along at a nice clip, so I wasn’t frustrated with losing quality sleep time onboard.
The final dinner service was collected at 19h55 and I was sufficiently tired that I actually fell into a pretty solid sleep at 21h15. I woke up several times throughout the flight, but was able to drift back asleep quickly. I didn’t wake up at all for the breakfast service – usually the clanging of plates and dishes wakes me up, but not today. I did get up about 50 minutes before we were landing and everyone else had already made a big dent in their breakfasts. Once the crew noticed I was awake the hurried over asking if I wanted juice – but said that I had slept too long and breakfast wasn’t available – fair enough. The omelet looked pretty good, to my surprise. Looks like I would indeed be grabbing breakfast in the City.
We landed about 25 minutes late. I made my way through immigrations and customs with nary a question. My checked bag was the second off the belt and I was off very quickly into the City Center.
I really do enjoy flying Austrian Airlines. For 70,000 United MileagePlus miles for a one way ticket to Vienna, you really can’t beat it. The service was quite nice – efficient, friendly, but not too friendly. The ultimate goal is for a pleasant flight, but with ample time to sleep as we land at a reasonable hour in Vienna – you’ve got things to do. I look forward to flying Austrian again – and I’m quite confident that I will again soon.
Have you flown Austrian Airlines before? What do you think about them – is my love irrational or are you in the same boat? What other products should I try when I’m off to Vienna again?
On my way to Vienna I stopped off at United’s Premium Lounge, Polaris. Chicago O’hare currently has the only Polaris Lounge in the world. This is my second visit. I was a bit disappointed during my first visit (en route to Rio) and was so excited to see it after the expansion. One of my biggest complaints the first visit was the overcrowding and how loud the space was.
I arrived 3.5 hours before my Austrian flight to Vienna. I arrived so early because Austrian flies out if the International Terminal (Terminal 5) and Polaris is in Terminal 1. I would have to leave the secured area and go back through security in a different terminal, so I needed lots of time to enjoy this space and make my flight.
I arrived and check in was smooth and painless. Everyone I encountered reminded me about the terminal change and the need to deal with security again – which I appreciated. It is not a quick and easy transfer from this lounge to T5.
I walked into the lounge and I was shocked at how crowded it was. I managed to find a single seat at a small dining table. I dropped anchor, grabbed a glass of champagne (they serve Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label, which is a perfectly acceptable wine that we drink and serve at home).
My first plan was to take a look at the expanded space (they took space from the old United Club in C Concourse to expand Polaris). This new area is the designated a la carte dining area. Before the seats near the bar (where I was sitting) were the designated dining area. Every table was full in the recently expanded area. People were either actively eating or they had dirty plates on their tables next to their laptops. I had no place to eat, nor could I order anything. I asked a United employee if I could be put on a reservation list and he looked confused and said it was just first come seating only. OK.
Every 10 minutes or so I would walk back to see if space had opened up. Nothing. After waiting for about 45 minutes, I see a table of four leave the dining area, so I grab my glass of bubbles and walk back to get a seat. The recently vacated table now had a “Reserved” sign and when I asked the server, he said that it was reserved for another guest – this was the same server who told me that I couldn’t reserve a space. He did confirm that it was just a single guest and I asked if I could share the four-top table – I just wanted to try out the menu. I was shot down. The server was pretty snippy too – I was obviously distracting him from his duties.
I slink back to my cafe table near the bar – and request a refill on my Veuve before heading over to the buffet. Both times I’ve been in Polaris there has been a louder, highly energetic woman staffing the buffet area. She loves the food and she loves her job. She greets the guests, offers (unsolicited) recommendations on the food items and will even come find you if something new comes out onto the buffet that she wants you to try. She’s not that polished, but she’s a hoot.
Back at my bar table, I sampled a couple of buffet items and was flipping through a magazine when a man came up to bus the table next to me. Talk about unpolished. This guy kept mumbling something to the man at the table next to me, who had no idea what he was saying. Eventually the United employee just started taking the plates and glasses away from the table – evidently he was asking if the table should be cleared. To properly clear this table, he set the tray of dirty dishes on my table – and about 10 seconds after I snapped this picture (and he told me not to take pictures in the lounge), the plates and glasses fell off his tray, spilling other people’s half eaten food on my table. Not to worry, this guy did a great job of cleaning up the mess – by using the soiled napkins he’d just collected from my neighbor’s table. It was gross. The people at both tables next to me (the one being bused and the one watching) were frustrated and angry. I was disappointed.
At this point, I just decided to leave. It wasn’t going to get any better. I still had more than two hours until my flight to Vienna left, but I just couldn’t sit here any longer. I say you can build a beautiful airline lounge, but if you train and supervise the employees poorly, what’s the point?
That being said, I did need assistance with another flight issue (I had some travel plans change and I needed help rebooking) and the customer service reps (who were doing actual airline business, not wait staff) were phenomenal. The woman I was working with pulled up at least half a dozen alternates for my travel issues and she was just so lovely to work with.
Will I go back to Polaris? Yes. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. The space is very nice and with the remodel, it is much less loud than it was before. The alcohol selection is quite nice and some of the staff are competent, some are even great, alas, most in my encounters were not. It sure isn’t a world class airline lounge. I find the American Express Centurion Lounges to be far superior – and extremely consistent – relative to Polaris. I guess us United flyers just can’t have nice things. I do hear American’s Flagship Lounges are pretty nice.
What do you think about Polaris? Am I just finding bad times to visit? Do I just have too high of standards? How do you get to enjoy the a la carte dining if the tables are full and your can’t reserve a seat?
Having no real travel in the first quarter of 2018 really started to wear on me. I decided to take a long weekend (Thursday through Sunday) and visit Vienna. I had been to Vienna once before, also for a long weekend and will undoubtedly have more opportunities to visit in the coming years – so I don’t feel obligated to hit it hard and see everything on one trip. The purpose of this trip was to escape from the daily winter work life in Chicago, cash-in some miles and points and get away.
If you follow me on Instagram, Twitter or Vero you’ve seen some of my time in Vienna (and if you don’t, you should). This trip was like almost all of my trips, centered around good food, exploring a city, experiencing it’s art, culture and history — and finding a nice glass of wine along the way.
Over the next few days/weeks, I’ll be posting about key parts of my trip, including:
- United Polaris Club (ORD)
- Swiss International Lounge – Terminal 5 O’hare
- Austrian Airlines ORD-VIE (OS66)
- Hotel Bristol Vienna – A Luxury Collection Hotel
- The Most Instagrammable Places in Vienna
- Steirereck – Fine Dining in Vienna
- Going to the Opera
- Bristol Lounge
- Austrian Airlines VIE-IAD (OS93)
I’d love to hear your thoughts on my trip and get suggestions from you all for my future trips to Vienna. What am I missing? What shocks you that I haven’t seen? Do you have a favorite dessert place you always go?