45. Sheraton Resort Port Douglas

45. Sheraton Resort Port Douglas

Sheraton Mirage

Port Douglas, Australia

4 nights points redemption

Standard Room

It was about an hour drive in our Hyundai i30 from Cairns airport to the Mirage Resort.  We arrived at around 4PM.  When we got there the hotel seemed pretty busy.  This suspicion was confirmed at check-in.  The Front-Desk Manager greeted us at the check-in desk and checked-us in.  He said that there were multiple conventions going on at the hotel as well as the peak of Australian Spring Holidays so the hotel was full.  Consequently, he apologetically informed us no upgrades were available from a standard room.  He offered us the breakfast as our Platinum Check-in amenity and free Wi-Fi.

We thanked him and headed to our room.  Overall this is a very family oriented resort.  The beach itself is pretty, it is right on 4 mile beach in Port Douglas, however it was empty.  It turns out that there is a high jellyfish risk here this time of year and so they turned the pool area into a “beach” with sand and the chairs and umbrellas you would expect to see right on the ocean.

The room itself was of pretty big size and plenty comfortable.  It did feel a bit on the old side but was fine for our purposes over the next 4 days.  There was a decent sized fridge which we later stocked with beer and wine from the local package store.  The internet was fast.  There was a back terrace with a garden fee which was pleasant for sitting out and listening to the birds.

We used our rental car to explore the surrounding area so we didn’t spend much time at the Sheraton.

I have just requalified with Starwood for Platinum status in 2014.  As a Platinum qualification gift, Starwood sent me an e-mail and offered me 35% off a points award.  So we applied to to this stay.  So what is normally 10,000 SPG per night we got at 6500 SPG per night.  What a great savings of 14,000 Starpoints!  Also if you turned down housekeeping service the hotel offered you a $15 food and beverage credit per day.  We took them up on this across our entire stay and enjoyed $45 off our $48 mojito and chocolate dessert nightcap on our last night.

The breakfast buffet was over above average quality but not outstanding.  There was a great amount of selection and for a full family oriented dining room the staff kept up with replishment and cleaning pretty well.  It was also about 60USD per person normally so across 4 nights we saved almost $250 for having this as our Platinum check-in amenity.

On the morning of our check-out day I awoke at 5:30AM to watch the University of Georgia vs. Tennessee football game by hooking up my laptop to the room’s big-screen TV with a HDMI cable I brought.  It was a thriller of a game and lasted up until the minute we had to leave at about 9:45AM when Georgia won the game in overtime (I hustled down some breakfast buffet during haltime).  We zipped out of the hotel and headed back to Cairns airport for our 12:10PM flight to Sydney.  It was an uneventful, beautiful hour’s drive and we were back at the Hertz returns lot in Cairns and on our way to check-in.

 

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Lobby of the Sheraton Mirage
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More view of the Sheraton Mirage
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The hallways heading towards our room.
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Room 1112, a standard garden-view king sized room
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The room felt like 1992 but was clean and comfortable
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The TV seemed bigger in person but was great for watching the football game
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The back garden which had plenty of exotic birds to oggle in the trees
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The bathroom was comfortable
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Here is the physical plant of the hotel – there were pools lined with sand everywhere
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We used the self-service washing and drying at 4AUD per load.  This was great for us and was our final laundry service required on our big trip.
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More views of the pool and physical plant
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Four mile beach as taken from the hotel grounds
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The breakfast buffet spread
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The grains
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There were two hot sections like this and an omelet chef
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The iron chef of omlets
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The juice zone
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Of course I had to get after the cheese platter.  Cheddar, Brie, and sliced Provolone were on offer.

This hotel is family oriented but I could certainly recommend it to couples.  It is good value for money.  Is it 5 star?  No.  But it is a great launchpad for exploring Port Douglas, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Daintree rainforest.

44. MEL-CNS on QF in J

44. MEL-CNS on QF in J

Melbourne – Cairns

QF 702

Departure Time: 9:35AM (Actual Departure 10:05AM)

Boeing 737

Business Class Seat 3C

Duration 3.5 hours

 

Promptly at our pick-up time the ChaufferDrive ride pulled up to the Park Hyatt in Melbourne.  Today we had an awesome Audi A8 extended.  The interior definitely felt like a limousine with our own backseat air and heat controls and very comfortable spacious seats.  The right to Melbourne airport took about 45 minutes and we were there a bit before 8AM.

At the check-in area we could not find any signs indicating business class check-in, so we just went to the kiosks which accepted our check-in based on our last name.

We then proceeded quickly through security and into the Qantas Lounge.

I didn’t realize that the Qantas Business Lounge at Melbourne is a slightly nicer lounge that is wholly within the Qantas Lounge.  So we entered the Qantas Lounge and sat down.  While I was exploring and snapping photos I saw the entrance to the Qantas Business Lounge.  I popped in to check it out.  As far as I could tell it was slightly quieter and hit sausage on the buffet spread which the regular lounge did not.  That was it.

Right before our boarding time we were alerted in the gate area that our flight to Cairns would be delayed by about 30 minutes due to the late incoming arrival.  No big deal for us as we had no connections to catch and would be in Cairns (really Port Douglas) for a full 4 nights.

The flight was full.  It was a 737 with an older seat configuration from the 737 we enjoyed from Sydney to Melbourne.  There were no in-seat TVs, just overhead LCD TVs shared by the entire cabin.  The seats were older and a bit shabbier but the service was excellent.  So far all of our Qantas flights have featured flight attendants who were genuinely nice and seemed to like their job.  Across the board we have had professional service, smiles, and felt very comfortable.  The crew on this flight was no different.

They served a lunch on the flight.  No menu was presented, just a choice between pasta and a chicken salad.  I gnoshed on the pasta while I cranked out blog posts.  Lady Tocqueville also had the pasta.  We felt like it was alright.

The flight attendant was very generous with refilling Lady Tocqueville’s white wine.  She finally declined when offered for more towards the end of the flight.  However, a few minutes later the flight attendant arrived with a long Qantas gift bag.  Inside was a bottle of white that he opened in case she would have more but didn’t serve any of it.  So he gave it to us “to-go” as a gift.  What a treat!  That would probably break some arcane federal laws in the USA (and believe me, Australia too has arcane laws over social norming behaviors like alcohol consumption).  We really appreciated this thoughtful gesture.  The flight went by quickly and before we knew it we were descending into the Cairns area.

We had 4 nights in Port Douglas and some snorkeling the great barrier reef to look forward to.  The plane taxied quickly on arrival and we were at the gate, in the rental car, and on our way to Port Douglas in about 10 minutes.

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Audi A8 pick-up for free courtesy of Qantas ChaufferDrive
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Check-in Kiosks used in Melbourne since we couldn’t find the business class line to check-in
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Entry to priority security area which had no line.
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The interior of the Qantas Lounge in Melbourne
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Great views of the tarmac from the Qantas Lounge
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A view of the drink/buffet section of the Qantas lounge.
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The buffet of the Qantas Business Lounge.  We did not feel this was materially different from the Qantas Lounge other than it was quieter.
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All Qantas lounges have this scary machine which is a pancake-on-demand machine.  You push a button and out pops a pancake.  This kind of scares me so I didn’t partake but found it funny.
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Snacks before the meal service.
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Pasta was the meal on our flight.  I split the tray table between my laptop for trip report posts and the tray for chowing down.
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Lady Tocqueville’s Qantas gift bag with a full bottle of white wine to-go courtesy of the very friendly flight attendant.

43. Park Hyatt Melbourne

43. Park Hyatt Melbourne

Park Hyatt Melbourne

Melbourne, Australia

3 night points suite redemption

Confirmed Suite Redemption

We arrived at the Park Hyatt Melbourne just after dark.  We had transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt to make this redemption.  Standard room is 15,000 points per night although we paid the 3,000 points per night premium to be upgraded to a Suite.

Check-in was uneventful and we were given a suite on the top floor of one of the two hotel wings.  The lobby itself is on the ground level but is called the 7th floor, presumably because of the parking deck numbering system below ground.  So we were on floor 12, which was really like floor 7.  Diamond status was recognized and we were offered free (cold) breakfast in the restaurant for two as well as lounge access.  Most Park Hyatt’s don’t have a lounge so it was nice to be given both as Diamond benefits.

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Lobby of the Park Hyatt Melbourne was big and spacious.  The hotel is right next to the State of Victoria Parliament which appeared to not be in session as the hotel was pretty quiet.
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Room 1245.
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The entry room was a great living room complete with gas burning fireplace.  To get from the entry room to a bedroom you actually had to go down a long hallway for hotel standards, about 20 feet long.
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View of the hallway and the tub/shower room.  I love it when a hotel has a tub and shower combined into a nice big space.  This hotel certainly did with great marble to boot.  To the left and not pictured is the toilet which was in a separate room and had a separate sink.
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The view from our room looked directly on the St. Patrick’s church, the largest church in Australia.  It was built in the mid to late 19th century and was a beautiful holy space to explore.
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The bed was a very comfortable Park Hyatt bed.  No reservations about this sleeping spot.
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The complimentary Diamond breakfast was given in the hotel restaurant, radii.  For $8 a person more we could have upgraded to the hot breakfast.  But the cold breakfast spread here was already plenty to eat.
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View of the Radii restaurant.
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The grains and fruit compote section of the breakfast buffet.
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The fruit and juice zone.
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Sliced meats and fish were on offer.

We spent most of our time in Melbourne wandering around the great neighborhoods of this world class city.  The lounge on the 19th floor of the other wing of our hotel was a great place to cool our jets after our ramblings around the city.
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The lounge was only open from 6 – 8 PM for “afternoon tea” (again – awesome food and drinks and not just tea).  However all-day the fridge was accessible for a water or a coke.
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While out and about we ran into a Victoria government car that looked like it belonged in the movie Ghostbusters.
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The lounge afternoon tea spread was generous.  They had dim sum, some vegetable appetizer plates, some crustry pastries, and all sorts of desserts.  We passed on all except for dessert as we had just filled up on Fish and Chips in the Carlton neighborhood by the time we made it into the lounge.
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The drink spread at the Melbourne Park Hyatt lounge.
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More of the food, including the dim sum.
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The desserts had strawberry with some decadent dipping sauces and some mixed individual desserts pictured on the left.

We had a very comfortable 3 day stay at this hotel.  The location was impeccable, right in the heart of Melbourne.  The staff at the front desk were very professional and always helpful for a recommendation on what to do and see in town.  We had arranged our Qantas ChaufferDrive ride for a 7:05AM pick-up on our last day since our flight to Cairns at Melbourne airport was scheduled for 9:35AM.  So on our last morning we woke up, made it to breakfast as it opened at 6:30AM, and were in the lobby by 7:00AM.  Some windy and cold weather had blown into Melbourne over the last couple days and actually felled trees and branches in the area.  It was mostly cloudy during our time there so Cairns and specifically Port Douglas would be a welcome treat for us.

42. NOU-SYD-MEL on QF in J

42. NOU-SYD-MEL on QF in J

We arrived at Noumea airport at around 10:15AM for our 12:30PM flight to Sydney.

Noumea – Sydney

QF92

Departure Time: 12:30PM

Boeing 767

Business Class Seat 5J

Duration 3.5 hours

The Noumea airport is newly renovated and expanded.  It was quite crowded for a small airport given there was our flight to Sydney on a 767 plus an Air France flight to Tokyo leaving at about the same time.

Fortunately for us there was a business class check-in that was nearly empty.  Check-in was uneventful except for one thing.  We qualified for Qantas’s free “ChaufferDrive” airport pick-up service on our arrival in Melbourne.  I had signed up on the Qantas website a couple months back.  Since we were on separate record locators I had to register each of us individually.  And the phone number I gave them was my USA phone number.  Well needless to say I wasn’t able to answer calls to my USA phone number and I was worried there would be two chauffers waiting for us in Melbourne.  So I asked the Qantas check-in agent what we should do to confirm the ride as one vehicle.  She walked me over to a Qantas office in the upstairs part of the airport where I explained our situation to a Supervisor.  She assured me she would look into it and that I could proceed to the lounge.

We went through immigration and security with our boarding cards in hand and found ourselves at the AirCalin hibiscus lounge.  This lounge was run by the New Caledonia airline, AirCalin but contracted with other airlines like Qantas and AirFrance to use it for their passengers.

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View of the Qantas check-in line taken from the Business Class check-in line
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Entryway to the AirCalin Hibiscus lounge
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View of the clean, fresh feel of this lounge
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After being in a place as expensive as New Caledonia for 5 days, free food and drink were a sight for sore eyes.  These little sandwiches were ham and cheese and also pate and pickle.  I stuck with the ham and cheese.

After about an hour in the lounge we headed to the boarding gate.
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There were only two jetways at Noumea airport.  This one was for our flight to Sydney.
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Arrival of our airplane from Sydney.

We were excited about this flight as it was our first ever on Qantas.  We would be using Qantas from here on out on the Trip of a Million Lifetimes (except for our last leg from Dallas – Charlotte).  Boarding was called for business class and we were promptly on the plane.

This plane had a really unique seating configuration, a 1-2-2 seating configuration.
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View from our seats in row 5, notice the 1 – 2 – 2 seat configuration.
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The seats seemed pretty new and were very comfortable cradle-style seats.
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A pre-departure beverage was passed out.

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A menu was passed out.  We both went with the chicken in wine sauce.
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The chicken in wine sauce with green beans and a potato cake was a solid meal for this 3.5 hour flight.
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We had a great view of the Sydney skyline as we were preparing for landing in Sydney.

We landed in Sydney on-time.  We had 1 hour and 40 minutes to make a domestic connection from Sydney to Melbourne.  We found the domestic transfer harder than it felt like it should be.

Sydney – Melbourne

QF449

Departure Time: 4:30PM

Boeing 737

Business Class Seat 3A

Duration 1.5 hours

Once on the ground we headed to immigration and customs.  On the plane Qantas gave us an “immigration fast pass” for an expedited entry.  However, the lines were very short and so this was not particularly necessary.

It is interesting that I was randomly selected for an enhanced security screening by immigration including a behavioral interview.  The customs official was friendly and after 1-2 of his behavioral questions he let us go on our way.  He even stopped searching my bags right in his tracks when he decided we were not a threat to the safety of the people of Australia.

We made it into Australia and followed signs for our domestic connection.  To get to the domestic connection terminal we had to actually wait for a inter-terminal bus.  This was the only way to get from one terminal to the next in an airport as robust and traveled as Sydney!  We took the bus and were shortly dropped off in Terminal 3.

We headed straight for the Qantas Business lounge.
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While waiting in line for the inter-terminal bus I snapped a picture of the empty domestic transfers check-in area at Sydney airport.
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The entry to the Qantas Business Club in Terminal 3 of Sydney airport
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The coffee and snack selection inside the club.IMAG1573
A view of the club general seating area (haphazardly taken) from my phone
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The food selection was actually pretty solid.  They had these great pizza roll things that really hit the spot after being in New Caledonia for 5 days.  Overall we felt like the food, drink, and comfort of the Sydney Terminal 3 Qantas lounge to be superior to the Air New Zealand Sydney Koru Club we experienced the week before.

After about 30 minutes in the lounge we headed to our gate for our flight to Melbourne.
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A view of the boarding area for the Melbourne flight.  I like how Qantas has separate lines for those waiting to board in business versus economy.  Boarding was orderly and timely.
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The 737 seat was better than expected.  It had plenty of legroom and also felt new like the 767 seat we arrived on.  There were in-seat TVs.
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The Qantas in-seat TV personal entertainment system.

For a 1.5 hour domestic flight we were very well attended to.  We were served an afternoon tea on the flight.  Being the “Yanks” that we are, we thought that would mean we would get some hot tea and a cookie or a biscuit.  But what they really meant was an awesome hot snack and booze along with tea if you want.
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I was surprised to see the afternoon tea drink cart had wine on it
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A view of the Qantas 737 cabin.  There were 3 rows with a 2-2 configuration in each row.  The cabin as well as Economy class were full on this flight.
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The potato leek soup and cheese tray made for an awesome afternoon tea.  I stayed away from the wine and rather went with some sparkling water.

We landed on-time in Melbourne around 6PM.  When we got to the terminal, sure enough there was a Chauffeur with a sign with our name on it.  This free Qantas ChaufferDrive service was going to save us a lot of money.  Two free rides in Melbourne and two free rides in Sydney.  This alone is a savings of at least about 200 US dollars.  Qantas put two and two together and sent a massive Mercedes van for us in case we had a lot of luggage. Given that we only had hand luggage we had plenty of room in the van.  Our driver, Frank, was friendly and got us safely to our hotel, the Park Hyatt Melbourne in about 45 minutes.
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Frank lugging Lady Tocqueville’s bags to our Mercedes van at the Melbourne airport.