Best of 2011: Favorite Airports, Airlines & Hotels

On the last day of the year, it’s traditional to look back over one’s travel itineraries and choose the year’s best airports, airlines and hotels.

Having experienced 21 airports, 10 airlines and 12 hotels this year, I made a cute “word cloud” of my itineraries at Tagxedo.com  (see left)

Of course, travel writers have different opinions about what constitutes the best of the best.

My good friend Mirva Lempiäinen, a Quality Hunter for Finnair, has already published her picks.  I especially liked her hotel ratings!

Hong Kong International Airport won the Skytrax World Airport Award for 2011, and Qatar Airways ran away with Best Airline.  I did not spend much time in Asia this year, so I have not yet experienced the joys of HKG or Qatar Airways.

My own travels focused more on Europe and North America. While luxury is important to any jet-setting diva, I also look for the best prices, and I place a lot of value on personality and flair.  So without further ado, here are the Globetrotting Soprano’s Most Outstanding Airports, Airlines & Hotels of 2011:

AIRPORTS

1. Vancouver International Airport: I was utterly charmed by the rustic British Columbian decor which I described in detail here.

2. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport: This snazzy Dutch airport is comfortable and convenient, featuring easy access to public transportation and an enthusiasm for giant television screens!

3. Long Beach Airport (Long Beach, California):  I usually prefer the big international airports, but there’s something special about Long Beach. I love its simplicity and 1950s style. You won’t have to wait in long lines here. It’s quiet airport with a hometown feeling, and yet there’s free WIFI!

AIRLINES

1. British Airways: this “4-star” airline continues to provide good seat comfort, great entertainment and high-quality tea!

2. Air Canada: this year’s surprise favorite offers transatlantic flights at an affordable price.  They also feature good classical music in the in-flight audio program!

3. Austrian Airlines: deserves kudos for friendliness and hospitality.

HOTELS

1. Penta Hotel Leipzig (Leipzig, Germany):  As a soprano, I have a weakness for sparkly things, so I went wild over the disco theme! If you like mirror balls in the lobby and glittering gold floors in the elevator, this is the hotel for you. You can enjoy the breakfast room, high-speed internet, fitness center, and indoor swimming pool without spending a lot of money.

Honorable mentions go to two other German hotels with bold personality: Artists and designers will love the surprising colors and shapes in Cologne’s unique Hotel Cristall. I also enjoyed the NH Düsseldorf City with its vast lobby, high ceilings and glass elevators.

2. Hotel Astor (Zurich, Switzerland): Clean, comfortable, and central.  It’s not the most exciting hotel from the outside, but Swiss hotels aren’t cheap, and it’s hard to find a better value for money in the very center of Zurich.

3. Hotel Milano (Modena, Italy): Quaint Italian style within walking distance of the train station and the Old Town.  I enjoyed a quiet, spacious room with a queen-sized bed and an oversized bathtub.  The thick wooden shutters opened onto a lovely view.

So what are your favorite airports, airlines and hotels? I’d love to know what you think. Please share!

O Air Canada!

It’s unusual to fly to Salzburg via Vancouver, but it’s not quite as crazy as it seems.

Air Canada is the new hot airline if you’re looking for affordable tickets to Europe from the West Coast of the U.S.  As a frequent flyer on a budget, I am constantly on the lookout for good deals. And this is already the second time this year that Air Canada has been able to offer me a better price from L.A. to London than any other airline.

(AC partners with Tyrolean Airways, but I have found the best deals to Austria by switching to Lufthansa when I reach London.)

The in-flight experience is quite pleasant, as all of the Air Canada planes I’ve flown have been in mint condition.  The food is nothing to blog home about, but the service is very efficient.  Individual entertainment screens offer a wide selection of films from Hollywood and Paris. There is also an extensive audio library; they do not have a dedicated opera radio channel, but they do include several classical albums, including a complete recording of Schubert’s Winterreise!  I wish other airlines would feature German Lieder. I’m not sure if “Der stürmische Morgen” is what you want to hear at 30,000 feet if you’re already experiencing turbulence, but it’s still nice to have the option.

What makes an airline “opera friendly?”  Its radio selections, or the fact that it offers affordable fares?  Air Canada scores well on both counts, making it a great choice for traveling singers on a budget.

* vancouver international airport

The international lounge at YVR is an oasis of blue and green.   They have done a nice job with the British Columbian theme: I enjoyed gazing at totem poles while I was on the people mover, and crossing a log bridge on my way to passport control.  I was pleasantly surprised to find an enormous fish tank near the Arrivals/Departures Monitor, and a pottery exhibit at my gate. These little details make a long layover a bit more fun.

The airport offers free public wi-fi and well-placed electrical outlets, so that you can check your email, recharge your phone or even update your blog!

Now if you’re sleep-deprived because you’ve been singing opera all weekend, and you didn’t actually start packing until shortly before midnight, you’re going to want to get some coffee. There’s a Starbucks if you’re craving that grande non-fat salted caramel mocha. But if you’re pinching your Canadian pennies, you can get caffeinated at Tim Hortons for a quarter of the price. French Vanilla Cappuccino: $1.61

Fast food is available, from Pizza Hut to Subway, and there’s Hanami for sushi-on-the-go.  But if you’re not in a big rush, I recommend Milestone’s — they have a flat bread plate with delicious goat cheese and cranberries and a short stack of fresh hot naan!

Duty free shoppers will enjoy the wide selection of perfume, makeup and gourmet chocolate. There are also some fun touristy shops to explore, even if you’re not in the market for a stuffed moose wearing a knit sweater.  And if you are, so much the better.