British Airways organised a memorable junket to London, treating media representatives to its impeccable service and the legendary hospitality of Shangri-La. Sophia Raman shares her experience…
Life is both the destination and the journey…
That’s our conclusion after the dream junket to Shangri-La at The Shard in London, aboard the British Airways.
While the journey was no less a dream with the British Airways staff taking pampering to a new level, it was The Shard that ensured the destination was as important for all the right reasons.
It was early May, and summer was yet to get bold. We were met at the airport by British Airways representative, who ensured our quick check-in and got us heading to the Plaza Premium Lounge. At the scheduled time, we made our way to the gate to board BA080 that departs from Muscat International Airport for London Heathrow at 0805 hours.
That is when the magic of the journey began…the magic of ‘Club World’.
The Club World or the Business Class cabin of British Airways is designed to cater to passengers’ every comfort, with the stress on impeccable service. It combines premium levels of comfort and service with freedom and flexibility to make every journey unique and unforgettable. We had a taste of this elite Club with scrumptious food, choice of drinks, tailor-made entertainment and attention to detail that is meant to make every passenger feel special.
And we did feel special – from the time we were ushered in with the warm ‘Welcome’ greeting to the ‘Thank you’ adieu on landing. The seat, padded with a pillow, a duvet and noise cancelling headphones, was the perfect start to a journey that promised a large dose of relaxation and pampering; the latter began the minute we plonked ourselves on the cosy seat. First came the welcome drink along with the amenity kit, packed with Elemis skincare products and accessories, and what-have-you to make the trip pleasant. Interestingly, the bag is a keepsake that can double up as your carry bag.
Meal times are a delight as the menu, packed with local and international flavours, lets you know what is in store and the options available to suit your taste. The three-course lunch was a feast in the sky, with the smooth flight making it seem as if it was a dream after all. As Club World passengers, we had access to the ‘Club Kitchen’, which is a snack zone to meet all hunger cravings. It is designed to meet the needs of passengers seeking in-between meals during the flight. With a scrumptious meal and the traditional afternoon tea, we weren’t really hankering for any snacks, but the availability of salads, fruits, wraps, ice creams and drinks makes it a regular kitchen for most requirements.
In-flight entertainment in the Club World, with personal 10.4” flat screen and noise-cancelling headphones, does seem like it is tailor-made to suit the tastes of film buffs. With so many choices, sleep was the last thing on our minds. But well, the seats, designed to recline to a flat bed with the help of a footstool, is difficult to resist for a little snooze. The Club World seat is a complete blend of armchair, bed, dining table and office, making it adjust and adapt to your need, whether you want to catch up on your office work, nap or simply watch your favourite film. The entertainment package includes hundreds of latest films, documentaries, television shows, music, audiobooks and games.
The world of calm and tranquility that envelops the aircraft can make you wonder if you are really zooming through the skies. The smooth flight, the constant flow of food and drinks and the option to simply recline and relax… We couldn’t be blamed for wanting the journey to continue forever.
But well, the magic of the trip was just beginning.
On landing, we were quickly ‘fastracked’ through immigration process as we were the privileged ‘Club World’ travellers.
We were picked up by a chauffeur who seemed visibly pleased to see us. That was an indication of the way things would unfold in the next three days of our trip in London. All smiles…
Shangri-La at The Shard
The drive from the Heathrow Airport, along the busy London roads with popular tourist attractions flashing by, was a treat; it was a quick snapshot of all the regular sightseeing spots… But we knew we were here for more than the usual fare. We were here to ‘experience’ London the unconventional way – whether it was a visit to the Wimbledon, a shopping experience at Borough Market or the scheduled trip to Jo Malone on Sloane Street, which, however, couldn’t take place owing to time constraints. To make up for our loss, Jo Malone went out of their way to treat us with gift hampers.
An hour later, we reached the foothills of The Shard that houses the Shangri-La, our destination, just above the London Bridge Station. We were escorted in by Ruwaida Abela, Senior Public Relations Manager, Middle East, Sharngi-La Hotels and Resorts, who’d joined us from Dubai. She was our attentive escort, who ensured that comfort was never compromised.
The Shard is a jaw-dropping structure with its vertical elevation redefining the aesthetics of luxury. At a height of over 309 metres, it is Western Europe’s tallest building, housing offices, restaurants, London’s highest viewing platform and the Shangri-La Hotel.
After two nights at this plush hotel, we can only state that it is the place to be if you truly want to indulge your senses. Its décor conjures up a sense of oriental elegance that comes right to you the minute you enter the foyer; its rich ambience is perfectly infused with a welcoming warmth. The suites beckon you to unwind and relax with its strikingly quaint décor elements adding a subtle touch of warmth amidst the celebration of luxury. The legendary hospitality of Shangri-La is well captured in every guestroom and suite.
The enigma of the Hotel is resplendent in the floor-to-ceiling windows that are affixed in every room, presenting stunning city views. The panoramic view of the London Bridge is what greeted us as we made our way to The Deluxe City View Room, silently admiring the contemporary design and the Oriental motifs around the Hotel. We were in for some visual treat of London’s most famous landmarks, including the City of London, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Canary Wharf, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and Tate Modern.
Interestingly, the Hotel has made available binoculars in every room for guests to have a closer look of these landmarks. It was just perfect for us, as our itinerary was packed and the days too few to go on a sightseeing trip. Guests can also enjoy complimentary high-speed internet, Acqua Di Parma bathroom amenities and more. Besides, high-end technology sits comfortably alongside subtle luxury with features including automatic climate control that complements the building’s integrated sun-shielding and the patented, body-contouring Shangri-La Bed.
After freshening up for the evening, we headed to the lobby on the 35th floor, for a tour of the impressive Hotel. We checked out the Signature Suites, the event spaces – Ren, Li, Yi, the restaurants, bars and the health club and pool. The Signature Suites include the Shangri-La Suite, the London Suite and the Westminster Suite, all of which boast luxury of another kind, with the Shangri-La Suite earning the distinction of being the one-bedroom jewel in the Hotel’s crown. Guests here have access to a private lift, 24-hour personal butler service, private chauffeur service, sumptuous living areas with entirely custom-designed furniture and 180-degree views of London’s iconic landmarks from one of the capital’s most rare addresses.
And just when we thought we had seen the best of luxury for the day, we were escorted to the Ting restaurant for a sumptuous three-course dinner. A perfect finish to a perfect day that started at the Oman International Airport in the early morning.
The following day was dedicated to Wimbledon. After breakfast, we headed towards Wimbledon, which took us on a lovely countryside ride through London, bringing us to Church Road Gate No. 5 of Wimbledon. For a tennis fan, who has followed the Wimbledon championships, it was a dream come true to walk to the centre court and inhale the crisp sporty air of the stadium. We were met by Eric White of AELTC (All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club) who took us on a personal tour of Wimbledon.
What is interesting about a visit to Wimbledon is the chance to actually play tennis. While our interest in the game only extends to watching, the ones who like to give it a go can indulge in the sport at the LTA’s (Lawn Tennis Association) Play Tennis Zone near Court 12. Visitors can partake in activities, including interactive tennis games and competitions to win prizes, or simply chat to LTA representatives about how to get more involved in British Tennis.
If you are lucky you could also get an opportunity to meet your favourite players in person at the Fanzone located just outside Aorangi Pavilion in the north of the Grounds. Every day one or two players visit the booth to meet fans and sign autographs. While you are in the north of the Grounds you can view players practicing on the Aorangi Park courts. The area is awash with players hitting balls, stretching or just hanging out. This hidden gem allows you to get up close to players in a more relaxed setting.
At the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, you could experience the history and traditions of ‘the Fortnight’, get up close to the Championships Trophies, feel the fabrics of tennis fashions from the Victorian period, test your skills on the Batak wall and learn about how The Championships has developed since 1877. With clothing and equipment donated by tennis’ top stars, you are certain to see something from your favourite player. The Museum also runs several special exhibitions over the years, including one dedicated to tennis at the Olympic Games, another charting the evolution of the racket from the 1870s to present day, and a showcase of the spectacular tennis posters in the Museum’s collection. The current exhibition, ‘On Air: Wimbledon and the BBC 1927-2017’, celebrates Wimbledon’s relationship with the BBC.
Museum ticket holders may also visit Centre Court with one of the Tour Assistants. Besides, there is also the opportunity to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Grounds to see this world-famous site.
If shopping is on your agenda, you could check out the Wimbledon Shop which carries many of the products sold during The Championships. Favourites include the Championships towels (as seen on the court) and other towelling products; rackets, balls and bags; a wide selection of clothing for adults and children; jewellery, key rings, home ware, gifting, crystal, throws, ties, souvenirs and tennis accessories.
There is also the Wingfield Café, which is open 10am-5.30pm serving delicious hot and cold meals and snacks. Pizzas, sandwiches and salad are available every day, with a tasty hot special available each day.
Following an outstanding tour of the Wimbledon, we returned to our magnificent Hotel to freshen up for the evening out with the friendly British Airways team. Our venue for the evening was Kensington Garden and were we in for a surprise… To welcome us to the The Roof Gardens & Babylon Restaurant was Charlotte Dollin, the PR Manager of Virgin Limited Edition and Amanda Allan of British Airways.
The Roof Gardens & Babylon Restaurant
With three themed gardens spread over 1.5 acres on the 6th floor of a building in Kensington, west London, The Roof Gardens has long been one of London’s most spectacular landmarks. The Roof Gardens operates as an event space, a private members Club on Friday and Saturday evenings and a restaurant, Babylon. Up on the 7th floor with amazing views over London’s skyline, Babylon restaurant is open every day of the week for both lunch and dinner. No other location in London offers beautiful rooftop gardens with fully grown oaks and fruit trees, a flowing stream stocked with fish and wildlife and resident flamingos.
The Roof Gardens: There are three distinct gardens – The Spanish, Tudor and English Woodland, all arranged around the central Clubhouse. The Spanish Garden was inspired by the Alhambra in Granada, and is characterised by manicured lawns, fountains and colourful seasonal bedding plants, all arranged around a central courtyard. The Woodland Garden features almost 100 different species of trees, some of which were planted over 70 years ago. This garden stretches all the way along the length of the roof, with full grown oak, lime and fruit trees growing in just 1.5m of soil. This is the garden where the resident flamingos live; it also has a stream, a play area for the ducks and a fish pond harbouring a number of different species. The Tudor Garden is a delightful combination of Tudor-style archways and walls punctuated by secret corners, hanging wisteria and a beautiful display of flowers in spring. Evergreen shrubs are surrounded by fragrant lilies, roses and lavender during the summer months.
Babylon Restaurant: Set high up on the seventh floor of The Roof Gardens, offering amazing views of London’s skyline, Babylon really is a cut above the rest. The award-winning food at Babylon is best described as contemporary British and the menus change regularly to ensure only the freshest seasonal ingredients are used. There are Table d’Hote lunch menus available for two and three courses (Monday to Saturday) as well as a delicious Sunday Roast offering. Guests looking to dine al fresco can cosy up throughout the winter on our heated terrace to indulge in baked cheeses and fresh breads or enjoy a delicious fresh seafood menu in the summer. The restaurant can accommodate everything from an intimate dinner to lunch with friends. The private dining room is ideal for parties or meetings of up to 12 guests, with its own terrace overlooking the resident flamingos. For larger groups of up to 30 guests, a stylish, semiprivate area can be booked and Babylon can also be hired exclusively for dinner and cocktail receptions for up to 120 guests.
Borough Market…that was our destination on the last day of our stay in London. Following a large breakfast, we went for a walk to the historic Borough Market, accompanied by Executive Chef Gareth Bowen and Chef de Cuisine Tom Kurth.
The Borough Market is one of London’s oldest and largest food markets; it serves as an integral source of the most exceptional British and international produce for the city’s restaurateurs as well as locals and tourists looking for delectable delights.
It was an interesting market day, as we got to pick local ingredients with the Chef, who was supposed to incorporate into our lunch that day. It is a part of the Hotel’s interactive stay, where guests can take advantage of the ‘At the Market with Chef’ offer, which includes a bespoke shopping trip to Borough Market. This is followed by a personalised five-course dinner, prepared with ingredients chosen at the market stalls.
Our shopping spree at the Borough Market was a delight, as we were spoilt for choice with fresh local produce greeting us everywhere. Soon after we returned to the Hotel to savour Chef Bowen’s culinary skills. He presented us with a seasonal three-course menu at the Chef’s Market Table at the Hotel’s TĪNG Restaurant on Level 35.
Chef’s Market Table is available for lunch or dinner with a personalised seasonal menu, including welcome drinks and canapés plus four courses hosted by one of TĪNG’s culinary artisans. The host will provide diners (groups of up to eight) with insider knowledge on ingredients, methods and recipes throughout each course.
The Chef’s Market Table lunch, a highpoint of our trip, culminated our sweet trip to London.
As we bid our goodbyes to Shangri-La, and made our way to the airport, we couldn’t shake away the feelings of awe and excitement of being a part of the Hotel, albeit briefly. We are sure the images will linger with us for a long while.
Back at the airport, we were fast tracked through immigration as Club World travellers, before we got set to relive the magic at the exclusive Galleries Lounge, which emanates calmness and tranquillity. It is here that we could relish some quiet time before the flight.
The Galleries Lounge has on offer light meals or snacks, which are specially prepared for guests. It has an exclusive work and entertainment zone, which is a perfect place to catch up on last minute emails; there is also an option to watch live sport or selected entertainment in the 20-seat cinema.
Passengers flying through London Heathrow Terminals 3 and 5 and New York JFK Terminal 7 can indulge in a luxury facial treatment or relaxing massage from acclaimed British spa and skincare brand Elemis. The airlines is also working with Elemis, the acclaimed British spa and skincare brand, to offer exclusive treatments and skin-therapies. Developed by the world-renowned Noella Gabriel, Elemis brings you a new concept in travel spa and skin-therapies to awaken your senses and refresh you during your journey.
Interestingly, the airport, which boasts a large duty-free shopping zone, also has on offer a complimentary Heathrow Personal Shopping service and we were assigned with our own personal shopper. However, time was a luxury and we couldn’t avail the service of the shopper to do our shopping. These assistants help passengers purchase items from across the airports’ wide variety of over 140 international brands across luxury, fashion, beauty and technology. If you have the time and the inclination, you could even book online for a consultation with one of the stylists.
Soon we were back on the BA flight to Oman, enjoying the comfort and luxury of Club World.
We returned back home completely refreshed…
As we relive the experience, we cannot but help salute the staff of British Airways and the Shangri-La for helping us create memories that will last a very long time.