Dana from Denver - Down Under in 2005
Once again the wonderful country of Australia was calling and I answered with another exciting journey. Flying standby has become quite an adventure for me, and watching the flight loads over the past three weeks has definitely increased my stress level ten fold.
As it got closer for me to depart all the flights were full so I decided to just fly to San Francisco and see which day I'd get over the pond. I left Wednesday afternoon for DIA and arrived at the airport with only minutes to spare since there was a bad accident on the freeway. Whatever, just made it.
Flew over to SFO and arrived six hours before the Sydney flight. I checked in and the agent thought she'd increase my stress level a little more by adding the flight was weight restricted due to extra cargo so even if there were seats I might not get on, thanks! I wandered around people watching in the international terminal for several hours, always an interesting experience. Has everyone seen "The Terminal" with Tom Hanks?
So thirty minutes before the flight, after all the paid passengers have boarded they call a standby name, not mine, yikes. Then one more... MINE!! I screamed and ran to the counter to pick up my boarding pass. I got this huge grin on my face as I approached since the pass was gold colored-BUSINESS CLASS!! Even better, exit row, so there was about five feet of room in front of my seat. Had a great flight over, it only seemed about 3 hours not 15. Woke up to breakfast being served as we were approaching Sydney 2 days later with the bright sunny skies outside.
I cruised through customs, chatting for a while with the cute young customs "bloke" who was interested in meeting young American "Yanks". Got some Aussie money and caught the hotel shuttle to the Holiday Inn at the airport, really nice for this chain of hotels. Upon checking in about 6 hours early the girls at the desk were so sorry they could not get me a king bed so I would have to settle for a queen on the top floor (10th) with a beautiful view of the entire airport, and a few other complimentary perks.
The Aussies certainly know service, the one reason this was my fifth trip down under. After a very long great shower and change of clothes into shorts I headed out to explore the city. I missed all the escorted tours for the day so took the train into the city to catch a ferry across the harbor. I ventured down the bay to Taronga Zoo. Spent about 3 hours taking pictures of all the cool Aussie animals and got up and close with some rare birds and seals.
Headed back on the ferry in the Sydney sun to Circular Quay and walked around the Rocks district to Darling Harbour. Took the train to a lovely restaurant called Edna's Table which served authentic Australian cuisine, so I indulged and had my favorite char-grilled fillet of Skippy. It was a little hard to eat their national animal but it's sooo good. The owner of the restaurant came over and sat with me for a while then her brother, the chef, autographed my menu.
By this time the jet leg had really set in so I took the train back to the hotel and got a free drink in the lounge and headed off to bed. I got up Saturday morning and realized I had been in Australia a day and already was sun burned, not even in the tropics yet! Went downstairs to a full buffet breakfast, they really do breakfast down there. Got the shuttle to the domestic airport and checked in for my JetStar Flight 710 to Hamilton Island, sound familiar? Australia trip 2003. JetStar is like Southwest Airlines, no frills, open seating. You even have to buy your own Diet Coke!
So I'm outside the gate area and getting a muffin at Starbucks and this girl with purple hair and her mom in front of me are being hounded by kids asking for autographs. I'm like whatever, strange people with an english accent blocking the line. So I said excuse me and stepped around them in line, well they turned out to the the Osbournes.
The whole Osbourne entourage and friends were on my flight to Hamilton and rented out the hotel I stayed at two years ago, Beach Club. JetStar made all the regular passengers sit in the back and at the last minute boarded the Osbourne group in the front, how nice for them.
Had a nice flight with a window seat up the east coast of Australia to Hamilton, cruised in real low over the reef, great view. Upon arriving in the tropics it was like being home again, I was like a regular knowing my way around the airport there transferring to the Club Med check in.
I was greeted by a G.O. (guest organizer) and escorted to my plane (the big 7 seater) to Lindeman Island. The 6 minute ride to Lindeman was really fun, especially viewing the tiny grassy dirt runway directly ahead of you, thinking, we're landing THERE???? Upon arrival there were more G.O.s waving at the plane greeting us. Whisked us away on the shuttle and the party had begun. I was escorted after arrival drinks and orientation to my third (top) floor room over the beach with views through the palm trees of the Whitsunday Islands.
Wandered around the island and hopped on the shuttle (the resort is on a very steep hill) to see what was going on. All the staff were easy to spot in their tropical shirts, and they also were first to say G'Day, Hi, or how goes it? That night I hit the buffet which took a little figuring out. For those of you that have been on a cruise and thought the buffet was big, that was nothing. First I looked for about 10 minutes, then got my first plate. I was excited it was Caribbean night and one of the dishes was a paella dish, a real treat.
At dinner you sit at a table with six chairs and each table has at least one G.O. A very social event. During dinner I realized I made my first mistake, not carrying my camera everywhere. The male G.O.s came walking through the dining hall in tuxedos, then, just wearing pants, then just bloomers, then... well it got pretty interesting.
After dinner was a celebrity air band competition done by the staff. It was so funny I was screaming and laughing so hard I lost my voice the first night. Freddy Mercury and Queen stole the show. The Blues Brothers got a close second. There were only about 100+ guests at the resort which holds over 400 so there was a real intimate feel during the day and night. The staff learned my name real quick. It felt like a really belonged from the first day. That night I returned to the ocean view room to enjoy about 15 minutes of "Ocean's 12" on TV before falling asleep.
Day 2 on Lindeman was an early start thanks to the squawking black crows at 0600. After the early walkabout I had breakfast #1, then had a tennis lesson, then breakfast #2. Sat on the balcony listening to the ocean tide washing up on the shore in front of the room with the wind whipping through the palm leaves and watching the rainbow colored lorikeet birds eating berries in the trees. It was truly amazing. The temperature never dropped below 70 and a few clouds blew by during the afternoon.
12:50 after lunch and an ice cream cone I got on the Reef Runner boat to the neighboring island for a snorkel trip. Didn't find Nemo but we did see Crush and he was 150 years old! Didn't see Squirt but did see a giant skinny gray fish (cod?) that snuck up on me and I thought it was a shark, got my heart rate up. The coral was awesome, plate, brain, and the cactus looking stuff with all colors from blue, purple, red, and yellow.
After snorkeling I was pretty tired so I headed off to Club Spa for my first massage. Another group of staff I got to know real well, the spa girls. 1830 was trivia time at the bar, I had a lot of help from a G.O who was a total movie buff so we won the competition. Dinner at 1900 at Nicholson's Restaurant. The only other place to eat that's not buffet. I invited a G.O. to eat there since they are only allowed there if invited by a G.M. (gracious member-me).
I had my second favorite dinner, fillet mignon and for desert were were surprised to receive a large share of a guest's 25th wedding anniversary cake. After dinner was a terrific outdoor trapeze show by the circus school studs. WOW was the expression of the evening.
Monday morning started with a full massage, then off to windsurfing class with Chloe , the GO I took to dinner. It unfortunately was a very windy day but that made the challenge of learning even better. I got up right away but turning in the wind became a problem, needless to say I drank a lot of salt water that morning. After totally wiping myself out I went to the pool and relaxed before lunch.
At noon there was a show by the pool with a "Hollywood Production", several characters trying to rescue the princess from Jaws in the pool, rather entertaining. At 1400 was a Ping Pong tournament, I entered with a G.O.- Meg, we both could have used a few more years of practice, got whipped by a 10 year old. 1500, another spa treatment, see a trend here?? 1530 circus school. I never thought I'd really do this but hey, I traveled 36 hours to fly high on the trapeze. It took a lot of work from the circus boys but they really got me up three stories on a tiny ladder flying through the air.
Coming back from circus school I had to make a long stop at the pool bar, then an hour later it was happy hour piñata party at the bar. Hey, I had a very stressful day. Besides there was a special on Mai Tais. After dinner the circus school boys did a juggling show that was pretty cool. I was not about to try juggling anything after my long day.
Tuesday morning I decided to try being Robin Hood and took an archery lesson from Michelle, another Aussie G.O.. Hats off to her for teaching me so well, hit a bull's eye! With all the work from using the big bow I had to go relax by the pool for a few hours. In the afternoon was the archery tournament but I quickly learned that one lesson did not make me nearly qualified to play against some professional archers. Whoops. Well it was fun trying.
That night was another trivia night at the bar where I was convinced to try the special Blue Hawaiian drink, yum. After dinner was the dive in movie at the pool- "Wimbledon" where I joined my new friends Jared and Phillipa who were on honeymoon from New Zealand, Kiwi's! I had not seen a rain cloud the whole trip until half way into the movie it began to pour for an hour so we went inside to finish the movie on the couches.
Wednesday morning, my last day, started with- big surprise, massage at the spa. Then off to the "adult pool", very quiet and serene with beautiful views of the golf course. Went for a walk around the island after lunch. Back to the spa for a quick tune up on my neck, then back to the pool. Rough day.
The show after dinner that night was a fantastic performance of GMs and GOs doing amazing circus stunts. If anyone's been to Cirque du Soleil, it was pretty close. At the end there was lots of dancing and singing to the famous Club Med's crazy songs. It's funny how my first night I looked like a typical new arrival, standing in the back while everyone else did the dances and sang silly songs. Then on the last night I was in the center of the floor leading everyone else, while the new arrivals were hiding in the corner. I feel like a Club Med veteran now ready to hit the next tropical destination.
Thursday morning was pretty sad. I was not ready to leave. I was all checked out and ready for my flight back to Hamilton. Took one final stroll around the beach and snapped more pictures. The little plane came to pick me up and one of the reception G.O.'s- Christie came to the airstrip to bid me farewell.
My pilot was great and apologized for the lack of inflight service on the two seater plane but said I could do the job with my flight attendant skills. We hopped over to Hamilton where I joined my friends Jared and Phillipa who took the boat earlier that morning. We all boarded our JetStar Airbus 320 back to Sydney. The highlight of the flight was their friend who was the first officer of the flight and announced over the PA about the honeymooners, everyone cheered.
We took the bus at Sydney airport from domestic to international where I bid my friends farewell and headed off to play the standby game with United Airlines. I finally got called and ended up in the back, but at least of 5" extra room in economy plus and an empty seat next to me.
Getting home from SFO-DEN was a disaster. Apparently weather in Chicago messed everything up, no big surprise here. I missed 7 flights and after 10 hours finally got the last seat by a bit of luck. My friend picked me up and got me to my mom's house around midnight where I crashed. I knew driving home after the journey would not be a safe idea. The trip home sealed the deal that returning to UAL will probably not be happening, dealing with standby just isn't worth the stress. Being a civilian will be hard, actually having to pay for a ticket, but at least I'll get on.
This trip was another amazing experience that met my expectations all the way. Australia is truly a fantastic country. After my first couple trips there I convinced my brother and my mom to go, they were not at all disappointed. The people of the South Pacific genuinely want to make sure that you have the time of your life while on holiday. It's a really long trip but totally worth it. G'Day to all my new mates and hope you have a great day. Pictures will be on the internet soon, stay tuned.