Oktoberfest: Planning Tips for Partying with the World

In a world that often seems divided,  whether by country, politics, religion, or otherwise, Munich’s Oktoberfest stands in stark contrast. Every year,  millions of patrons from around the world descend on the 16-day annual festival,  which has run since 1810 when it originated in celebration of the marriage of King Louis I (then crown prince of Bavaria)  to Princess Therese.   Today, the festival celebrates Bavarian culture including food,  dress, music, and of course, BEER! 

 

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Inside the Paulaner tent

A few fun statistics from Oktoberfest 2019 (courtesy of https://www.oktoberfesttours.travel/2019/10/10/oktoberfest-2019-beer-consumption/) 

  • 6.3 million patrons consumed 7.3 million liters of beer
  • Attendees hailed from at least 55 nations
  • Lost and Found items included 660 wallets,  420 mobile phones, and a set of dentures (oops!)  

A lot of early planning went into making our visit a success.  Here are a few tips and a review of our experience:

LODGING: Because Oktoberfest attracts so many visitors,  central Munich lodging must be booked well in advance or we would have ended up staying well outside the city.   I had booked the Platzl Hotel (https://www.platzl.de/en/) way back in January,  to ensure we would have a comfortable room in a great location walkable to the Fest. It wasn’t cheap, but the rooms were comfortable, very near Marienplatz in Munich’s Old Town and the famous Hofbraeuhaus,  and I thought it would be a reasonably close walk to the festival grounds. It was,  but just barely –  more on that below.

LOCATION AND TRANSPORTATION: Here’s a tip from my experience:   When figuring out the distance to Oktoberfest from your lodging, note that a simple Google Map routing to Thereisenweise,  the name of the park where Oktoberfest is held, will not necessarily tell you how far you are from the grounds:  Add at least 1/2 a mile.  Due to security, there are only a couple of entrances to the actual festival.  It’s easy enough to follow the crowd toward the grounds (I promise, you won’t miss it!), but once you reach the perimeter you may have to walk quite a ways,  sometimes away form the grounds through crowd barrier chutes,  to enter the park.   While our hotel was only 1.4 miles (as “the crow flies”),  we walked over 2 miles in addition to a lot of walking within the festival.   On our first day, when we also walked to Bavarian Outfitters (see below),  I clocked over 11 miles on my Apple watch!  After our second evening outing, we caved and got a cab for our tired feet.

CLOTHING: I also pre-reserved rented Trachten (his & hers traditional Bavarian clothing) from Bavarian Outfitters.   The pickup location for the clothing was on the southern edge of Old Town, and reminded me of the pop-up Halloween costume stores that seem to multiply each year at home.  It was an undecorated, rented space with racks and racks of clothing.  I also later realized that there are many similar stores around Munich during the Fest;  pre-reserving probably wasn’t necessary as we were just guessing at sizes anyway, and ended up taking something different than we had reserved.  The results,  however were worth every penny!   Whether you reserve ahead or not,  do rent or buy the clothing, you won’t be sorry!

 

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Husband and I in our Trachten

ATTEND WITH FRIENDS: Another key to the fun was meeting up with friends in Munich.  Oktoberfest is definitely a “more the merrier” type of place, and it seemed the majority of attendees were part of a larger group.  One couple joined us for our entire stay in Munich,  and we also joined forces with family friends to reserve a whole table at the Marstall tent our first night in town. 

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BEER TENT RESERVATIONS: Regarding tent table reservations:  it’s a little crazy.   Many tables are not available to the public;  think of it like season tickets for a popular sports team  – they only go to people who already have a reservation from prior years. Forget about making a reservation on Friday or Saturday, unless you choose to use a service that charges you extra.   And you can’t reserve just a few spots, you need to reserve and pay for the whole table which is 8 – 12 people.  While the tents don’t actually charge for the reservation itself,  you do need to prepay a minimum spend on the food and drink;  in our case for Marstall it was about $50/per person.   In our case,  I was able to snag a Sunday night reservation thanks to alerts from Weisnkini,  which I highly recommend subscribing to if you plan to attend Oktoberfest. I received emails regularly when table reservations became available, and we reserved literally the last table in the Marstall tent for that evening.

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Outside the Marstall tent

 

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View from the very last available table at Marstall

Google Translate was invaluable with the reservations.  While most of the tents have an English page,  the reservation confirmation and “terms and conditions” are all in German –  yikes!  Here’s my confirmation:

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WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE A TENT RESERVATION:  It would be unlikely (and expensive) to get a reservation for more than one night at the Fest.  If you plan to attend more than once, as we did,  just be prepared to go with the flow.  You won’t get a beer if you aren’t seated. Here are the best options without a reservation:

  • Go during the daytime – before 4pm
  • Avoid weekends, especially weekend evenings
  • Look for seating in the outdoor biergartens adjacent to each tent
  • Go in small groups or be prepared to split up –  there is a much better chance to squeeze into a table with 2 or 4 people than with 8 or 10
  • Be patient;  a little seat-hawking can be worth while –  when you see a group with mostly empty beer glasses, just bide your time nearby as they may be preparing to move on.  There’s still plenty of excellent people-watching activity until you get your beer!
  • Pop into a tent near the end of the night;  within an hour or so of closing,  tents start to empty and you will be able to enter and find a spot at a table

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    Biergarten fun

 

YOUTUBE THE SONG, “EIN PROZIT”.  So you don’t think they are saying “I’m frozen, I’m frozen…” like I did.   #misheardlyrics

DRINK RESPONSIBLY:  Or not.  It’s up to you.  You will be in good company if you choose to overindulge –  the medics are kept busy at Oktoberfest! But the beers are large –  not only do you want to minimize bathroom trips,  (especially for the ladies –  lines and ewwww), but you want to be able to make it home in one piece. On our walk back to the hotel, we saw a group gathered around one of their fallen compatriots –  just completely passed out on the curb.  The police were summoned,  determine he was still breathing, and moved on –  this is just not an emergency in Munich at Oktoberfest.  Another fellow was passed out inside an ATM lobby. Here are a couple of fellow partiers who didn’t quite finish the night:

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MAKE FRIENDS FROM AROUND THE WORLD:  We met people from France, Canada, Australia, Germany, the UK, and Dubai in addition to other Americans.  Whether sharing your table, or at adjacent tables, or on the dance floor,  find your inner extrovert and enjoy meeting people from all over the world!

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Our new friend, “Dubai Guy” was traveling alone.  Ready to head home in his G6

If you’re lucky,  your friend will enjoy enough beer to buy a chicken hat (press a button, and the legs move to the “chicken dance” song),  which will help you make friends!

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A 6’4″ American wearing a chicken hat is a sure hit at Oktoberfest…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tourism: Can too much be a good thing? Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

The next leg of our trip took Husband and I to Rothenburg ob Der Tauber, a well known stop on Bavaria’s “Romantic Road”. We booked a one night stay, as a stopover on the roughly 6 hour drive between the Rhine Gorge and Munich.

I had read that “RODT”, as it’s often referred to, has become overrun with tourists since being heavily featured by European travel guru Rick Steves, along with other travel sites. https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/germanys-fairytale-dream-town-rothenburg. I mean, “FAIRY TALE DREAM TOWN” is quite a superlative, isn’t it? No wonder everyone wants to visit. Our late September visit may not have been during peak summer season, but the city was certainly full of tourists; my guess is that many, like us, were on their way to or from Oktoberfest in Munich, which is a little over 2 hours away by car.

RODT lives up to its billing, largely because of a very well preserved medieval center, complete with intact walls that surround the inner city. We entered by driving through one of these walls onto charming cobblestone streets:

Entering Rothenburg by car

Our hotel, the Burghotel Rothenburg, is built into one of these town walls, making for interesting architecture. https://burghotel.eu/index.php?id=8&L=1 This hotel is a great example of the small, independent European inn I prefer when traveling.

Burghotel main entrance

Our suite, room 2, was conveniently located on the ground floor, and included an external door onto a patio / town wall. The only negative about this large, comfortable room was that it was right below the breakfast serving area, resulting in a lot of sliding chair noise around 7 am.

Town wall, right outside our room
Hotel gardens, as seen through the wall

Here I must highlight one of the precious experiences that define why I love travel. As usual, it involved a person rather than a tourist attraction.

Checking us into the Burghotel was an older gentleman, by my guess at least 75 years old. I later learned that he is Otto, patriarch of this independent, family-owned hotel. Tripadvisor reviews are full of mentions of Herr Otto, who clearly takes great personal pride in providing a good experience for the hotel’s guests. He was well-dressed in a proper suit and tie. We were the only guests checking in, and the process took at least 15 minutes – which was, in this case, NOT a bad thing. Slow Travel, indeed! I cannot recall the last time such attention was paid in a customer-service situation. He wasn’t staring at a screen, and he took the time to s-l-o-w-l-y handwrite a card with breakfast and checkout times. He s-l-o-w-l-y walked outside to check our car’s parking spot – the hotel offers free parking, which is key within the walls of Rothenburg. Then, even though our room was on the ground floor and only about 50 feet from the check-in desk, he offered to carry our bags. Needless to say Husband wasn’t going to let this gentleman carry them, but Otto was very insistent so I let him roll my bag down the hall. Thank you, Otto!

After settling in to the room, we set off to explore Rothenburg. It’s not a large city, but we managed to stay busy for several hours walking along the top of the medieval walls, enjoying cappuccino and a pretzel at a bustling cafe, and shopping, particularly in the rambling Kathe Wolfhart Christmas store. Here are a few photos of our afternoon expedition:

Arches and cobblestones and me, oh my!
A boutique fashion show was about to take place on this lively street
On the wall… don’t be tall
view from the wall… it’s hard to argue with the “FAIRY TALE DREAM TOWN” moniker
yum break

Christmas store = thousands of ornaments. I’m amazed we spent less than $100 here…. A few photos below:

After our walk, we grabbed a light dinner at the hotel’s restaurant across the street. After the rich food at the Castle in Oberwesel, I was ready for some schnitzel:

and schnitzel I had! along with the best fries of the trip

At 8:00pm, we walked to the main town square, and joined about 1000 other tourists for Rothenburg’s Night’s Watchman tour.

Waiting for the tour to begin

The tour is presented in English, and I thought I had read that it was free. However, the guide did request an 8€ pp payment at the end of the tour. It may have been free if you wandered away before the end, as I believe more than a few patrons did … The “Watchman” who gave the tour carried a lantern, was dressed in classic medieval garb, and spoke with what I thought of as a Monty Python-esque lisp. I didn’t get great photos in the dark, but here’s one:

As you can see, we were joined by many other visitors (although I was exaggerating about 1000), which made it a little hard to hear at times. I guess “free” has a way of attracting the masses!

Nonetheless, the guide was entertaining we learned some very interesting details about Rothenburg and medieval life in general:

  • The role of the night watchman during medieval times was not for security, but to shout “fire!” if necessary, since fire was the most destructive and dangerous threat to community life.
  • We knew that the plague that reduced Europe’s population by 60% in the 1500’s came from rats … but I didn’t realize that the rats didn’t arrive in Europe until ships carried them from China. Globalization certainly comes with its pros and cons…
  • We learned that as a merchant center, Rothenburg was one of the world’s top 20 cities during medieval times, and boasted a population of over 6000.
  • In 1640, the city was sacked by Catholic forces and never really recovered. The people of the city couldn’t afford to modernize or update their homes in the succeeding 3 centuries. This led to an unusual number of original buildings still standing in the 1890s…
  • … when, due to industrialization and improved passenger ship travel, tourists discovered Rothenburg. The advent of tourism brought enough money to enable the town to preserve the buildings and town wall against their advancing age and weather.
  • In 1945, as Allied forces marched across Germany at the end of WWII, the town was again saved from destruction due to tourism: the American general who led the charge had memories of a painting of Rothenburg in his home – because his own mother had travelled there during the early 1900s and had fond memories of the city. So, he convinced the forces not to destroy Rothenburg.

All in all, one night in Rothenburg was sufficient for us, but the town could also be used as a base to discover other nearby towns on Bavaria’s Romantic Road. FAIRY TALE DREAMS may lead to lots of tourists, but that’s not all bad.

Evening photo of Rothenburg

Fairy Tale Germany is not a Fairy Tale

So you may be familiar with those Viking River Cruise commercials, with swooping drone views of a gorgeous river surrounded by foliage, pretty towns, and castles on nearby peaks? Well, I can confirm that they didn’t fake that footage. It’s real, and it’s the “Rhine Gorge” / aka Upper Middle Rhine Valley in Germany. This picturesque area runs from Koblenz in the north to Bingen in the south, and is less than an hour from Frankfurt.

Soon after exiting the highway onto winding B9, also known as “Mainzerstrasse” in many of the German towns along the west side of the Rhine, we began to see the half-timbered buildings so prevalent in fairy tales. Our first stop was for lunch in Bacharach.

Lunch was delicious – we were the only ones in the restaurant, as it was a rainy day and not many tourists were wandering the streets of Bacharach. We didn’t mind, the staff was attentive without smothering us.

Next, we made our way to the smaller town of Oberwesel, about 20 minutes further up the B9, to our lodging for two nights: Castle Hotel Schoenburg. https://www.hotel-schoenburg.com/en/ This was a small splurge, with dinner included in our stay both nights. I’ve never stayed in a castle, and when over the summer I was sadly reminded that our days on Earth are limited, I reacted by booking one. It’s time.

This was really a WOW experience.

“I’m on my way, driving at 90 down old country lanes” – Ed Sheeran

The Castle Hotel Schoenburg doesn’t have a street address. Directions are, in essence… Drive to Oberwesel, look up, follow the road. Not good for an uptight planner like me, but we made it.

We stayed in room 20, which, like many of the hotel’s rooms, boasted river views and a small balcony.

View from Room 20
Room 20

The hotel’s public areas certainly felt authentic, even though only the original castle was burned down in 1689 and the castle was not recreated until the 19th century.

Our hotel booking included a sumptuous, 4 course tasting menu style dinner. Dishes over the 2 nights included beef carpaccio, venison pate, wild boar, lobster soup, and Black Forest cake. Very rich and very delicious.

With 2 nights in Oberwesel, we were able to spend the full day in between exploring the river on a KD Rhine hop on, hop off day cruise.

Our northbound transportation:

The day started dark and gloomy, but as we headed north by boat, we found the sun!

Scenes like this one floated by…

We passed the Lorelei, a steep rocky outcropping that has inspired its own fairy tale: the beautiful Lore Lay, betrayed by her sweetheart, is accused of bewitching men and causing their death. Rather than sentence her to death, the bishop consigns her to a nunnery. On the way thereto, accompanied by three knights, she comes to the Lorelei rock. She asks permission to climb it and view the Rhine once again. She does so and thinking that she sees her love in the Rhine, falls to her death; the rock still retained an echo of her name afterwards. (courtesy – Wikipedia). Cool story, bro!

We chose to debark in Boppard, a beautiful riverside town, about an hour from Oberwesel by water. We were in luck: the town’s annual 4-day Wine Festival was starting that very day, so the town was buzzing with local vintners and festival attendees. We wandered and shopped, and eventually settled into a table in the main town square, embarking on a beloved European activity: drinking and people watching.

Husband says Prost!
A live band!
St Severus Church looms over the wine festival tents

As the day turned to evening, the wine festival began to fill up. We ended up talking to a lovely family with two young daughters, who hailed from Colorado, for quite awhile. I admired their bravery in traveling to Europe with young children – most of my trips as the parent of young kids involved Disney or a beach. As it turned out, I had actually taken a photo of their daughter, earlier in the afternoon, as she danced and sniffed flowers in the town square. Hopefully if they read this, they don’t think I was stalking them!

It’s ALWAYS good to stop and smell the flowers.

The wine festival was just getting started, but we took a train back to Oberwesel . The river runs north, so the southbound boat trip would have been lengthy – we couldn’t miss our second castle dinner! We look forward to returning to the area and particularly Boppard, which was charming but not overrun with tourists.

A fairy tale, indeed.

Just waiting for Rapunzel….

Driving the German Autobahn: Where are the potholes?

Hooray!  Husband and I have arrived in Frankfurt, Germany at the start of a new 12 day trip that will take us to several destinations:  the Rhine Valley region,  a short stop on the Romantic Road,  Munich for Oktoberfest, a daytrip to Salzburg, Austria, and the Alsace region of France.  We rented a car for the entire trip.

We rented through a US company called Gemut.com, which specializes in  European and particularly German vehicle rentals for US citizens.  I liked the idea of having a US 1-800 number to call in an emergency, with the promise of an English speaker on the other end of the line.  Plus,  the price was good –  really good. Gamut books German rentals through a consolidator called Auto Europe, for a car rental with Europcar. The price was 10-20% less than booking directly to either of those websites.  I also priced out Sixt and Hertz,  two other big providers.  Gemut was also very responsive when I had questions prior to the trip. 

Side Note: I’m a Hertz Gold Club member through ownership of a Marriott Vacation Club property, and their prices are just never, ever competitive.  Why is that?

We found the Europcar desk and because we had arrived early,  the car I had reserved, a 4 door sedan with automatic transmission in the Premium category (BMW, Mercedes, or Audi) wasn’t available yet.  I’m not sure I believe that one would have suddenly become available in the next 45 minutes, but whatever.  The major difference in what we got was that it was not a sedan, but a station wagon.  Maybe not as “sexy” from an American point of view, but as the Europcar agent noted,  Germans looooove their station wagons.  This proved true –  there aren’t many SUVs on the roads here, but a plethora of high-end wagons.  My guess is they are more aerodynamic than a behemoth SUV. Also, the agent waived the usual charge for a second authorized driver –  we knew we both wanted to drive here. So,  no harm no foul.  5 doors instead of 4. All good.  I neglected to take a good photo of our actual car, but here is the general idea (credit bmw.com):

I declined the CDW insurance,  after reading and rereading the terms and benefits of my Sapphire card –  we were clearly covered as primary insurance,  this saved us hundreds of dollars.  Always read the fine print though :  there are exclusions,  such as not having the primary cardholder as the renter, super high-end exotic cars,  and tires and windshields. In contrast to experiences I’ve had renting cars in the US, the German Europcar agent did not press us to buy any insurance.

We spent a good 15 minutes in the rental car garage, figuring out the car’s menu, setting up bluetooth, and getting the navigation, etc. to work in English rather than German:

Eventually we got it set up and entered our first destination,  tiny Oberwesel on the Rhine River, about an hour from the airport. I don’t like to plan a long drive after a sleep-deprived overnight flight,  so I always try to keep the first destination within an hour. 

The car ended up having a “pop-up display”,  visible to the driver only, displaying the vehucle’s speed, speed limits, and navigational information including directions onto the lower windshield.  This ended up being very useful.  We drove over 1800 kilometers on this trip – about 800 miles – and experienced road closures,  border crossings, lots of construction, small cities with narrow cobblestone streets, and widely varying speed limits. 

I was impressed with the car’s technology. In addition to the pop up display,  parking sensors, and lane deviation/ correction capability, we were frequently rerouted around traffic,  and the car seemed to know where every speed limit change occurred.  On the highway,  speed limit changes were numerous and frequent, and it wouldn’t have been easy for the driver to notice every sign.  This car not only  displayed the limit,  but on both the dashboard and the pop up window,  our speed would display as red if we were over the limit, white if under it.   

Things you see on German highways, part 1

I was also impressed with German highways – the “Autobahn” in general.  Here, an important side note/ question:  am I the only American who thought there was ONE Autobahn? If so,  feel free to laugh at me.  “The German Autobahn” turns out to be any major highway starting with “A”.    And many, many miles of these “A” roads indeed have speed limits,  especially through construction zones and congested city areas. But –  then you see a speed limit with a line through it,  usually in a wide open, rural area –  and there it is – the limitless Autobahn of lore. *tingle*

Things you see on German highways, Part 2

We did experience a fair amount of traffic,  especially around Munich (Oktoberfest brings in 6,000,000+ visitors so this was hardly surprising)  and often there were brief slowdowns caused by construction.  It seems as though every 10-20 miles,  lanes were closed.  Bridges, tunnels, open stretches.  Germany is spending heavily on road infrastructure.  The result, over our 800-plus-mile journey ?  NO potholes.  And NO accidents.  The highways are correctly graded,  with minimal intersections and wide exit and entrance lanes.  We dealt with a lot of rain, but no ponding of water on the road. These roads are well maintained. 

Things you see on German highways, Part 3

So, want to hear about our little bit of adventure in the limitless Autobahn?
Both Husband and I kind of like to drive fast. We are from New Jersey, after all. But,  we also consider ourselves to be safe drivers,  never tailgating ,  minimizing lane changes, and keeping with the flow of traffic.   We’re just unlikely to be driving in the right lane,  content behind a tractor trailer. 

When we hit the limitless areas,  we typically enjoyed driving along with most of the other left lane vehicles at 150-170 kilometers per hour ( in the 80-90 mph range). It was rare, however that we could go much faster than this –  due to rain, wet roads, and congestion, we hesitated to really test out the BMW’s potential.  But , over the course of the trip,  each of us got the golden opportunity we were looking for –  a wide,  3 lane road ,  dry conditions, no cars in front of us, and a straightaway with long forward views.  When we got that chance …. yep, we punched the gas pedal. 

It should be noted that drivers in Germany are much more vigilant about the ‘keep right, pass left” laws that also exist in the States, but are rarely followed, at least where I live.  Trucks are almost never seen out of the right lane.  And when in the left lane,  if a driver sees a faster approaching car in the review mirror,  they move to the right.  How refreshing !!  

Our  top speeds were only maintained for a few seconds each, and then we returned to the safer, slightly slower speeds.  

Wheeeeee!

The display in kph added to the rush we experienced –  seeing “200” on the gauge.  Yikes!  Husband won the top speed award, hitting 219 kph (136mph!). We were both more than thrilled by the experience. 

One final note for those who might be considering driving in Germany, but traveling across country borders. In either Switzerland or Austria, a vignette (toll sticker) is required, and must be purchased either before entering the country, or immediately thereafter in the case of Austria / at the border in the case of Switzerland.

Austrian vignette on top; Swiss vignette on bottom

Vignettes are available at most gas stations and convenience stores near the border. The Austrian sticker cost about $10 for a 10-day pass; the Swiss sticker was only available for the year, and cost about $40. It will be a lucky day for any future drivers who rent the same car and want to drive into Switzerland in 2019, I guess… We were glad we purchased our vignette before crossing the Swiss border, because there was a long line for cars waiting to purchase their stickers.

Our German/Austrian/Swiss/French driving experience was, at times, all of the following:

  • Enlightening
  • Exhilarating
  • Rainy
  • Scenic
  • Fun
  • Exhausting?
It’s a good thing Husband trusts my driving…

Singapore Air Business Class: Expectations = Sky High

Hi friends!  It’s been awhile since I’ve posted – life intervenes! – and I have so many things to share with you.  In addition to our spring 2019 trip to Costa Rica,  Husband and I recently  returned from Germany and France,  achieving  a lifelong goal of attending  Oktoberfest!  I’ve also spent time with Oldest in Chicago and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and with family and friends at our new home in nearby Lewes. Delaware. We managed to squeezed in a work-related extended trip to San Diego as well.

In the interest of getting back into the writing habit as quickly as possible,  I’m going to start with our most recent trip to Europe first, before sharing highlights from prior trips such as Costa Rica (she says hopefully). 

This post will detail our departure experience on Singapore Airlines flight # SQ25 from JFK to Frankfurt, Germany in Business Class. 

Although JFK is not our most convenient airport, often the best value-for-points flights to Europe originate there.  As I’ve noted previously,  I really REALLY prefer a lie-flat seat on an overnight flight.     For me, actual sleep is important, and  I’m saving a whole day of vacation by landing with at least some semblance of my consciousness intact on that first morning.    So,  we bit the bullet, paid the $100+ Uber fare, and headed across Manhattan at rush hour to catch the 8:55pm flight. By the way, the late time of this flight is what I usually look for when traveling to Europe – the later the flight, the more chance I’ll be tired enough to sleep shortly after takeoff.

My very first trip over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge!


It may seem odd to have a flight on Singapore Airlines that has neither an origin nor destination anywhere near Singapore.  It turns out,  this is a rather unique itinerary known as a “Fifth Freedom” route, allowing Singapore to pick up and drop off passengers on what is essentially a stopover in JFK. You can read more about Fifth Freedom flights here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/geoffwhitmore/2018/05/30/what-you-need-to-know-about-fifth-freedom-flights/#2270a7b63c85

I booked the flight using Chase Sapphire Reserve points, transferred to Singapore’s KrisFlyer program.  Singapore has a vaunted reputation for service,  and it’s easy to get excited about their beautiful suites when you click around on their website.  So much space!  So comfortable!  See, here’s the thing –  the suites are only available for First Class, not Business Class.  They would have cost a sizeable amount of additional points. So, nice,  but no.  More trips > one trip , amirite? 

So what DO you get in Business Class? Pre-flight lounge access. A short but wide, angled flatbed capable seat. Free alcoholic drinks.  Professional, courteous service. Dinner, and/or breakfast, and/or the right to be left alone and skip dining in favor of sleep (I chose the latter, Husband chose dinner only). 

We arrived well before the flight, and our tickets granted access to the King David lounge at JFK.  I was surprised,  because my research told me that the typical lounge for this flight is Swiss Airlines’ lounge, as part of the Global Alliance.  However,  the Swiss Lounge was under construction.  The King David Lounge, sponsored by El Al,  appears to seat about 85-100 people, and every seat was taken. People were sitting on the floor and window ledge.  The majority of the passengers were headed to Israel, so when that earlier flight boarded, the lounge felt much less crowded.  I’m fairly certain that the food was  Kosher, although I didn’t actually see any signage to this effect. The well-stocked buffet included mostly cold foods, such as lox and bagels,  tuna  and egg salads, and a Greek-style salad.  The wine was a very tasty red blend from Israel.  We were lucky to find an outlet to charge our devices – I would estimate there was one for every 10 or so passengers in the lounge.  I didn’t take photos in the lounge.  Lounge grade:  B-, due to being overcrowded initially with little hot food available.  

Now let’s get to the plane. Singapore flies a two-decker A 380 on this route. The Business Class seats are all on the upper deck; unlike the 747s of old, you don’t climb stairs on the plane, you simply embark on the upper level. The boxy style of the seats reminded me of the Commodore 64 computers that adorned my college computer lab.

Someone at Singapore Air really likes beige.

As to the seat itself:  I don’t claim to be the world’s most experienced overseas flatbed seat traveler,  but I’ve been on Aer Lingus, United, Virgin, and Lufthansa.   Singapore’s bed was easily the worst.   Husband and I were in middle seats (both aisles, the configuration is 1 – 2 – 1) so we could be next to each other;  seats next to the windows were singles.  They appeared to have the same dimensions as our center seats.  The seats are wide,  but the space available to lie flat is made for people 5’6” or less. 

Husband settles into the Business Class seat.

It’s not every day that my vertical challenges are an advantage, but today was that day.  The seats are in a pod style format ,  with a footwell in the seat in front – but angled toward the middle of the plane.  The “bed” is created by folding down the back of the seat toward the footwell –  you have to get out of the seat for it to become a bed.  I prefer the seats that simply recline all the way to a flat position –  it’s just easier.   A flight attendant is ready to assist, but I didn’t want to wait for that – I had taken my sleep aid and was ready to go down as soon as the plane was in the air –  so I struggled a bit but eventually figured it out by watching like-minded passengers set up their beds.

The bigger issue was the length of the bed. I am almost 5’3 and I just barely fit.  Taller people, including Husband, had really no choice but to lay in a fetal position – and due to the angled footwell,  they had to stay on one side.  I don’t know about you, but I usually move at least once or twice in a 6 hour period – middle age creeping in, after all.   I knew what to expect from reading other reviews, but I was still surprised by the discomfort.   In addition,  when upright (even when somewhat reclined) ,  my short legs barely reached the footwell –  because the seat doesn’t shift forward,  there’s nothing supporting your legs if your feet don’t  reach.  

stretching so my toes reach the footwell – not so comfortable


Husband reports that his filet mignon dinner was tasty enough, and he enjoyed a few cocktails as well.  He doesn’t need as much sleep as I do,  luckily,  because he didn’t get much. 

Also, the bed was very hard. And it would have been nice had the center console lifted up –  we both would have benefited from more space that way and could have better utilized the angles. Plus, a little snuggly time. Overall seat grade:  C+.  Only because flat was technically possible. 

The flight and service were timely, well-coordinated, and smooth,  we actually arrived in Frankfurt a full hour ahead of schedule –  a mixed blessing when jet lag looms.  Flight grade was an A.

Overall:  lest I sound like a whiner or unappreciative, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Singapore Business Class experience.  It was good. I’ve certainly suffered through more uncomfortable flights (and more uncomfortable situations, but that’s a story for another day….).  We arrived, early, in one piece and with a little sleep to boot. Germany, here we come!