Rio Mini-Trip Report Part 2, the Sheraton Grande Rio, Sunshine, and AA GIG-MIA-DCA

For my third night in Rio, I switched hotels because my friend was staying at the Sheraton Grande Rio his second night. Prices were a little less than the Caesar Park, so I decided why not. The property is in Leblon, about 10 minutes from Ipanema – a bit west of the main beach and shopping/hotels/restaurants area of Leblon. The hotel is more resort-like than those on the main drag, with its own beaches, pools, tennis courts, etc. It’s also a huge hotel, with 26 stories.

The Sheraton from Leblon

The Sheraton from Leblon

As an SPG Gold member, I had gotten an email two days prior to my stay asking me my arrival time, and inviting me to check in at the “Club Reception” on the 26th Floor. I had hoped this would mean I’d have club access, as its pretty tacky to tell people to check in at the club, and then banish them.

The lobby of the hotel was a flurry of activity, much more hectic than the Caesar Park, reflecting a mix of conference guests, tourists, businesspeople, and airline crew. I took the elevator up to the 26thFloor, where there was a long reception desk between two glass rooms, a club lounge and a restaurant. The desk clerk was friendly, and told me I’d been “upgraded” to an Ipanema view room on the 23rd floor, and that they’d also given me club access, which included breakfast, “tea” from 3 to 5, and happy hour from 6 to 8.

Club Lounge , Sheraton Rio Grande

Club Lounge , Sheraton Rio Grande

The room was decently-sized, and more recently renovated than the Caesar Park. One nice detail was a lot more power outlets, as well as wall USB outlets. There were two full size bottles of water marked complimentary, and more bathroom amenities than at the Sofitel. There was also a sliding door to a small balcony with a great view of Ipanema. In reality, though, these Ipanema-facing rooms were the worst in the hotel. Why? Well, when booking, there was a notice that the main swimming pool would be closed for construction, but the beach and oceanfront pool would still be available. What it didn’t say was that the entire grounds would be filled with the noise of jackhammering nonstop, which made relaxing in the room – 23 floors up – impossible. It also made relaxing at the adjoining beach quite difficult. I did end up getting 5,000 SPG points for this in response to my mentioning it in my response to the survey the hotel mailed out after my stay.

View from the room

View from the room

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Room, Sheraton Grande Rio

Room, Sheraton Grande Rio

I hadn’t had lunch, as I had mistakenly thought the walk over to Leblon from the hotel would be short. It was overcast in Leblon, though sunny in Ipanema, so my friends decided to go back over to Ipanema – which I was not in the mood to do. Since it was already 2:30, I headed to the lounge with my laptop, and figured I’d wait for the “tea service,” which in my experience has been some sort of savory snacks. At 2:30, there were some half-filled trays of breakfast pastries which pretty clearly had been out all day, and I had one or two with a Coke zero while I waited for the tea service. At 3:25, nothing had been brought out, so I asked the woman at the reception desk if I was wrong about the time or location. She responded, “Oh yes, he is just setting it up, it is at 3.” Another 10 minutes later, and it was “set up” – i.e., the pastries that had been sitting out in baskets were then transferred to ceramic plates. Oh, and he brought out two pitchers of juice. Very confusing, since the hotel’s website advertises “snacks all day” and then tea as a distinct service.20160514_153245

If you can figure out which of these is "all day snacks" and which is "tea" (two different days), gold star.

If you can figure out which of these is “all day snacks” and which is “tea” (two different days), gold star.

So I went in search of actual food. The restaurant by the pool was closed, so I ended up at the Lobby Bar, which had a small overpriced menu, and I got a Caipirinha and not-very-good tiny “panini” for about $20. The view was nice, though.

Sheraton views

Sheraton views

After a nap, I had a workout; the gym was pretty decent, with a range of cardio and weight equipment.

Gym, Sheraton Grande Rio

Gym, Sheraton Grande Rio

I showered and headed up to the lounge for happy hour cocktails. There was champagne and decent alcoholic drinks. In terms of food, it was very strange. There were the same pastries that had been out all day, but also cheeses and vegetables and corn chips and sandwiches, and a random assortment of other food. For all of that food, there would be one plate of a dish, but once it ran out, a completely different plate came out. I had a good piece of Spanish tortilla, but I never saw it again. My friend had gotten a quesadilla but I never saw it out there.

We headed down to the martini bar on the ground floor, which is nothing to write home about (though we met the AA crew for our next day’s flight there), and then Ubered over to Leblon, which was super happening on a Saturday night. The initial place we wanted to eat was spilling into the street, and we ended up putting our names in for Sawasdee, a well-reviewed Thai place. The wait wasn’t bad, but the food was delicious and plentiful. I highly recommend the spare ribs. After a raucous meal, my friends continued to bars and clubs. It was already midnight, though, and I was done. Particularly, I wanted to take advantage of the one good beach day that was likely for the next day.

At some point in the evening, my SPG Gold welcome amenity arrived — too late for me to make use of it, as it was all cut up fruit and chocolate that didn’t keep well.

SPG Gold Welcome Amenity, Sheraton Grande Rio

SPG Gold Welcome Amenity, Sheraton Grande Rio

I woke up at 9am and the sun was bright and shining for my last day in Rio. I headed to the 26th Floor, where breakfast was served for guests with lounge access in the separate restaurant area. There was a range of hot food to be ordered off a menu, as well as a cold buffet. The cold food all looked familiar, as it was the croissants, cheeses, meats, and vegetables that would be recycled all day and night in the Club Lounge. There was also cereal, some yogurt parfaits, champagne and juice, with waiter-served coffee.  The view was lovely and I liked the idea of a menu for the hot food.  I had a small cold plate while I waited for my omelet, which was pretty tasty.20160515_095554 20160515_095837

Club Breakfast, Sheraton Grande Rio

Club Breakfast, Sheraton Grande Rio

Then it was down to the beach, which was crowded already, but the lifeguard found me a chair. The beach isn’t private, but it is in a little cove which is thus much emptier than the main stretch of beach. Unforunately, it also gets very shady in the afternoon while the sun is still going strong over the main beach. I sat for a few hours and read under an umbrella, which was nice. The crowd was largely South American, very different than the Caesar Park.20160515_104159

Sheraton Grande Rio beach

Sheraton Grande Rio beach

After packing up and taking a power nap, I headed into Leblon. The plan had been to go right to work from the airport when I got back to DC, but I realized I hadn’t packed a work shirt. So I took a taxi over to Shopping Leblon, which turned out to be quite the high-end mall. Given my timing and the prices, the best I could do was a polo from Zara for around $30. From there, I grabbed a delicious lunch at Laffa, a small Israeli-owned quick-service chain in Rio, where I got a shawarma-like wrap.

I walked back in the sunshine to the Sheraton, walking along the beach. The street along the beach was closed in one direction to vehicular traffic, and the beach and streets were packed with insanely beautiful people – everyone was out after several days of clouds.20160515_144530

Crowds at Leblon

Crowds at Leblon

I went back to the hotel, and did some laps and read by the pool, though the sun had already left both the beach and pool. I had 4pm late checkout, which was great. I checked out on the Club level, and check out took a long time as they initially charged me for the room charge even though it had been prepaid. The Manager came to talk to me about the Club “Tea Time” issue I had tweeted about, but she clearly didn’t understand the issue or see why it was bad that they just recycle breakfast all day, and then put it on different plates and call it tea, so I just smiled and said okay.20160515_103853

Constructiony pool area

Constructiony pool area

My friend, a SPG Platinum, had gotten 5pm check out, so I waited in the Club Lounge til he checked out, and then we took an Uber over to GIG for our evening flight back to Miami.

Check in took a while as AA’s kiosks weren’t working, and the agents were a mess. There were three lines: priority, and two general boarding. The priority line was actually the longest. An agent was directing passengers to one line for JFK, and the other for MIA. Once I was on the MIA line, though, another agent told me that it was the JFK line and I had to get on the other one. I tried to get them to figure it out, but they ignored me. So we just went over to the Priority Line. Meanwhile, our friend who was flying to JFK and had been on the JFK-then MIA line breezed through much more quickly. One problem was one I’ve noticed before in Brazil – each passenger’s transaction takes forever, whether due to 800 questions, 17 large bags, or just general slowness.

We didn’t have a lot of time before boarding. I’ve reviewed the different Priority Pass lounges at GIG before, and went to the smaller Proair lounge, where I had some little pizza-like things and a glass of red wine, before doing a little shopping and heading to the gate. In true Brazilian fashion, 20 minutes before scheduled boarding time, there was already a line of about 100 people at the gate. Everyone over 50 insisted on boarding with the passengers needing special assistance. The concept of zones was foreign.

In terms of the flight itself, it was the same plane and I had the same Main Cabin Extra seat I had on the way down from JFK. The flight was fuller than the JFK flight had been, but still not completely full. Re: service, we had met the purser at the hotel bar the day before, and he was a sweetheart, and checked in on me a few times though he was working up front. It was a pretty senior crew, and some of the older FAs were curt, at best, if not surly.

The dinner meal was tiny, but tasty, a chicken and rice dish with a small salad. I had two glasses of red wine, but unfortunately woke every hour or so.

AA GIG-MIA Coach dinner

AA GIG-MIA Coach dinner

Prior to landing, a small croissant, fruit cup and juice box were passed out. I was surprised to see there was a few channels of live tv on the flight, and it was good to watch a little CNN international and catch up on the world.

Coach breakfast, AA GIG-MIA

Coach breakfast, AA GIG-MIA

We landed early, which is normally great – except it was before 4am, and I imagine due to customs/immigration, they couldn’t open the door until 4am. So we waited. Global Entry was easy, and though Precheck wasn’t open yet, there was no wait at regular security, and soon I was back in the main terminal.

Although MIA has a Centurion Lounge, not only does it not open til 5, but my experience last time I flew in from Brazil taught me that showering there isiimpossible due to one shower and the fact the cleaning staff doesn’t show until 6. Moreover, the breakfast isn’t set out until 6am. So I headed to the only Admirals Club that currently has shower facilities, and waited outside the door until it opened at 4:30am.

The facility is really a reminder of how much Admirals Clubs are in need of renovation. For one of AA’s biggest hubs, it was kind of disgusting. There was no water pressure in the shower, though it was still nice. The seats in the main area were torn, and the circular lounge is just laid out in a very nonfunctional way. We stayed a bit and I had a coffee and greek yogurt. My friend wanted booze, though, so we headed over to the Centurion Lounge. It was just 5:15, so there was still only a few bowls of yogurt and mini-muffins. So, yes, the Admirals Club has better free food than the Centurion Lounge, at least until 6 am (and we were boarding at 6:30).

Food came out at 6:05, and the line was immediately 10 deep. By the time the line went down, the only food left was potatoes. And although some of the dishes ended up being slowly replaced, there were no eggs by the time I left at 6:20. It’s insane that they aren’t ready standing by with the next dish of everything, since, this presumably happens every morning.

I had also hoped to go to the men’s room at the Centurion Lounge, but that line was also 4 deep, so I just went into the main terminal to do that.

The flight itself wasn’t very eventful, but as expected on the Monday 7am MIA-DCA, was very full. At boarding time, I was #19 on the upgrade list. I wasn’t even able to get Main Cabin Extra, since the 737 configuration we were on only has three rows of MCE.

In all, a nice long weekend, though Rio really needs to start having better weather when I’m there. After three trips to Brazil in 6 months, though, I’m probably done for awhile. I’ve been doing a lot of domestic travel, mostly for work, so the next trip you’ll be hearing about from me is a late July getaway to Spain. I’ll post an overview shortly.

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