Sunday, December 25, 2011

HOTEL REVIEW - Miners Lodge Motor Inn Mackay

I have stayed at this motel previously and was quite impressed with the appearance of the place and its facilities, but I was especially impressed with the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff.

The Miners Lodge is an independently run motel located towards the Northern end of Nebo Road - the main location for Mackay’s motels. This motel is located on the corner of Lloyd Street and offers two drive way entrances from this street and Nebo Road. The Miners Lodge Motel is situated in close proximity to the Mackay city heart, Canelands Shopping Centre, Mackay Airport, and industrial hubs.

In fact, the motel is located right underneath the Mackay Airport flightpath, and aircraft on late finals on Runway 14 pass over the motel at low altitude making it a great motel for an aircraft enthusiast. Obviously, aircraft noise can be an issue, although most jet traffic at the airport is usually over by 9pm. The Motel also features an attractive pool area and barbeque facilities.

During my previous stay I shared with a colleague in a two bedroom suite. The suite was quite large and featured two rooms with a queen-sized bed in each, as well as a television. The televisions have the full range of commercial channels as well as a selection of free cable television channels. This room also featured a large bathroom and a kitchenette in the room that I slept in. There was also a connecting door to the next room, allowing these two rooms to be used by a family.

During my recent stay I was in a single bedroom suite towards the front of the motel that had one queen-sized bed. Again, the room was well appointed with television (again with free cable TV channels), air conditioning, table and chairs, fridge, and tea and coffee making facilities. The Motel also has free WI-FI throughout the complex, as well as full undercover parking spaces.

The room had the bathroom basin on the outside of the bathroom tucked in the back of the main room. The bathroom was small and was basically a toilet and shower.

The bathroom gave away signs of the motel’s age. While the sleeping area looked reasonably nice and modern, the bathroom featured tired looking decor.

There is a nice restaurant on site – Ripples Bistro and Bar – and during both stays, the quality of the food and of the service was outstanding.

Moreover, the friendliness and helpfulness of all of the staff at The Miners Lodge Motel have made it a place that I can highly recommend to stay whenever you are in Mackay.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

TRIP REPORT - Rockhampton to Townsville to Brisbane to Rockhampton - Virgin Australia Airlines - Premium Economy Class

TRIP REPORT – Rockhampton to Townsville – Friday 14 October – Virgin Australia Airlines – DJ1901 – Embraer E-190 – VH-ZPE.

This was a last minute decision to fly from Rockhampton to Townsville for cricket. I had looked at QantasLink flights from Emerald and Moranbah (with connections through Brisbane) but settled on Rockhampton for departure as Virgin Australia actually offered direct flights, and reasonable connection times.

To my surprise there was plenty of reasonably priced economy class seats available on the direct flights that virgin operate daily on a Sydney-Rockhampton-Townsville and return rotation. The main problem for me was the timing of the Townsville to Rockhampton flight being late in the afternoon.

Eventually, I decided to look at redeeming some Velocity Frequent Flyer points as a flight to Rockhampton via Brisbane was a little more expensive. What a fantastic surprise I had! For around 8000 points I could get all flights - Rockhampton to Townsville return via Brisbane - in the economy cabin. For around 20000 points again I could get all flights Rockhampton to Townsville return via Brisbane all in Virgin Australia’s premium economy class! So having just enough points, I decided to fly premium economy!

I arrived at Rockhampton airport reasonably early and parked the car in the partly undercover user-pays carpark - after some spotting some of the Singapore Armed Forces helicopters that were in town!

I proceeded to the empty check-in desk in the departures area which is at the Northern end of the terminal. I was assigned seat 1A, and had my bag checked in without drama.

The Rockhampton Airport terminal underwent some refurbishments about 5 or so years ago. Unfortunately the superb viewing deck was removed and replaced with office space, but the remaining work made the terminal a lot more spacious and gave it a modern feel for the 21st century. From the check-in area, a short stroll to the food outlets and newsagent in the centre of the terminal building – at one stage there were two newsagents however the old original one was controversially forced to close a couple of years ago. Hire car desks are also nearby.

I grabbed a bite of lunch and took a seat at the Southern end of the terminal where there are two baggage collection carousels and also an area of the terminal building that can be sectioned off and becomes the international terminal for the large jet charters that arrive into Rockhampton throughout the year.

There is also a new viewing area outside of the central section of terminal building, near the aircraft parking apron. The views from this area are somewhat hampered by glass walkways and plants, and for the plane spotter and photographer, there are better locations just outside of the terminal that offer much better views of aircraft both parked and on the taxiways and runways.

After having something to eat and drink, I proceeded throughout the single security checkpoint - two lines can operate during busy times - and took a seat in the sectioned-off sitting area to wait for the flight. There are no shops in this area, and only one toilet – the idea is passengers proceed immediately before their flight is called. The photo below shows one of three available gates being used to board an Alliance Airlines Fokker F-100 that was operating for QantasLink.

Our flight to Townsville would be operated by one of Virgin Australia’s Embraer E-190 aircraft that was flying from Sydney. VH-ZPE arrived about 40 minutes late and parked on Gate 2 where Virgin Australia usually park at Rockhampton. The aircraft was turned about quickly and soon after we were boarding via the tarmac and past the new control tower being constructed.

Seat 1A is in the front row of the plane, behind a bulkhead, although the amount of legroom I had for my large frame was quite good. Moreover I had no one next to me in the Embraer’s 2X2 layout. There was a complimentary bottle of water waiting for me on the seat too!

The flight was barely half full so boarding was done quickly. We ended up taxiing away from the terminal about 35 minutes late via taxiway Juliette to take off from Runway 33. A couple of left turns after take off and we were heading North and a little more West of the usual track due to airspace restrictions over the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area.

Flying virgin Australia's premium economy class allows passengers to eat and drink anything off the inflight menu. I chose a gourmet sandwich plus chips and a beer as well as the free water. This lunch meal was very nice!

Rockhampton to Townsville is a fairly short sector and after about 45 minutes we were well and truly on descent. A couple of right turns had us established on a long final over Townsville for Runway 01 at the airport.

Quick exit off the runway and then taxi past the BAe maintenance hangars and the General Aviation aprons, before we were parking at the terminal.

Off the plane and downstairs through the terminal to the baggage collection area where much to my surprise, my bag was already doing the rounds!

Hire car collected from outside in the humidity and off to the Mercure Hotel (review HERE) before a full weekend of cricket!

TRIP REPORT – Townsville to Brisbane – Monday 17 October – Virgin Australia Airlines – DJ362 – Boeing B737-700 – VH-VBZ.

So cricket was all done and I had an early flight out of Townville to Brisbane with a connection then to Rockhampton.

Easy return of the hire car and then off to the Virgin Australia check in desk on the lower section of the Townsville terminal building. I received my two boarding passes and had my bag checked through to Rockhampton. We would be in a Boeing B737-700 to Brisbane and then another E-190 to Rockhampton.

Having checked in, I had a nice breakfast from the kiosk downstairs, and eventually proceeded through security and into the large waiting area. There are some shops in this section as well as a nice cafe. There is also an upstairs waiting area near the four gates that have aerobridges - there are around six gates altogether at Townsville - and this upstairs area also doubles as a nice viewing deck that overlooks the runway and further to the military aprons at Townsville which is essentially an Air Force operated airport.

Through the wet weather and the mist on the windows, I found VH-VBZ parked on the gate. VH-VBZ is Virgin’s newest B737-700, but it is still coming up on 3 years of age.

With departure for us around 6am, Townsville was quite busy. At this time on weekdays, there are usually a few fly-in fly-out (FIFO) charters operated by either Alliance Airlines or Regional Express (REX) to nearby mine sites, as well as other RPT flights also preparing for departure.

Boarding commenced about 5.45am, and soon after I took my seat in row 2. I had a window seat and was surprised a little to find the legroom was about the same as when seated in the economy section of a Virgin Australia plane. The main difference in the premium economy section however, was the seat in between myself and the passenger next to me was blocked off with a stowable tray – so there was enough room for my large frame. The complimentary bottle of water was handed out shortly after we took our seats.

The flight was reasonably full with the premium economy section full of business people. We pushed back pretty much on time and headed past one of the military aprons to the holding point for Runway 01.

Take off towards the north with a series of right turns back over Townsville soon had us above the clouds and heading south towards Brisbane.

Again a full selection from the menu had me choosing a coffee and M&M chocolates. Again, a very nice snack.

Virgin Australia’s Live-to-Air was available on this plane – and is now seemingly free for all passengers on those flights where it is available! The views outside improved as well!

In all, a pretty uneventfully hour and a half flight that had us touching down at a wet Brisbane on Runway 19, pretty much on schedule. Parking next to one of Virgin’s new ATRs which was preparing for departure.

TRIP REPORT – Brisbane to Rockhampton – Monday 17 October – Virgin Australia Airlines – DJ1235 – Embraer E-190 – VH-ZPQ.

A little bit of plane spotting was able to be done, although soon after, I decided to head for the satellite part of the Virgin Australia terminal and to gate 47 where E-190 VH-ZPQ - which still wore it's AFL promotional stickers – was waiting to take us up to Rockhampton.

The Virgin terminal had undergone a little bit of a makeover since I was last here - looking a little more modern with new waiting seats and a little more use of the still fairy new Virgin Australia colour palate of red, white, and purple.

For this flight I was in seat 2A and the flight was pretty much full with a lot of business and mining workers on board. The gate happened to be a stand-off gate so boarding for everyone was via the Tarmac – and next to VH-YFC which was wearing Virgin’s new colours – nice!

Our pushback was slightly delayed by some connecting passengers who arrived a little late into Brisbane. Once they were on board, we pushed back and headed to Runway 19 at Brisbane. We taxied past the construction zone next to the Qantas terminal - new tarmac and parking aprons going in here apparently – and then past the Acacia Street view area and the General Aviation parking apron.

Take off pretty quickly, and at 7 miles from the Airport, we made the sweeping right-hand turn on the CORAL SID, and were heading North towards the Sunshine Coast.

With the inclement weather, there were plenty of clouds outside, and thus not much of a view of the ground. At one point, there was a nice contrail that came into view, although I did not see what made it!

After the complementary food and drink off the cart – coffee and chips and M&Ms this time – the rubbish was collected and we were descending into Rockhampton.

We flew a right base and landed on Runway 15, and soon after parked at Rockhampton next to a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Lockheed C-130 Hercules.

Off quickly and into the terminal to wait for bags which appeared about 10 or so minutes later.

On the whole, I actually found travelling in the premium economy section of Virgin Australia a bit of a letdown. Being seated in row 2 meant I didn't have that much ‘additional’ leg room - I guess the extra space comes by having the centre seat of three blocked off. The only little ‘extra’ that is received by not travelling in economy is the free food and drink. I certainly couldn't justify paying around 2-4 times the economy ticket price for a flight where I can buy extra legroom and a meal off the food and drink trolley for a lot less money than what these all inclusive tickets cost.