It’s strange. When you don’t travel a lot, and you visit a place, you worry that you might never return. I used to feel that way. Every trip could be the last chance to see a place. Since getting into the miles game, and realizing that I basically have the freedom to travel anywhere on earth in first class for less than $300 whenever I have the time and inclination to do so, it makes it a lot easier to relax and know that if you like a place, you can always come back.
A few years ago, going to Australia would have seemed like a herculean task, requiring planning and lots of money. Not something that you would do probably more than once a decade, if there were ever a second trip at all.
This was my second trip to Australia in 2012. I had landed in Sydney in late January of ’12, and now in late December, I was back. This time I came with reinforcements.
I woke up refreshed in Sydney, since I had slept almost the entire way down from Bangkok. N2 and I found each other on the immigration queue. After being stamped into Australia, we found the luggage carousel and waited. N2 has checked a bag, like an amateur. Our other friend N, was on the United flight into SYD from SFO. He was due to land about 20 minutes after our scheduled arrival, so we figured we would just wait for him at baggage claim, then all go to the hotel together.
We found out which carousel the United flight was going to empty out on, and went to wait. Before long, he emerged from immigration, and we were all reunited. Bags in hand, we went out to the taxi stand and hopped a cab to Darling Harbor.
The traffic wasn’t bad, and the ride in only took around 20 minutes. I think the fare was 40 or 50 AUD which we split three ways. It was still before 10am so we were worried we wouldn’t be able to check in.
N2 had booked us at the Park Royal Darling Harbor. I didn’t know this in advance, but it is a member of the GHA Hotel Alliance. As a JP Morgan Palladium card holder, I am entitled to comped top tier status with GHA (black status). When I saw the GHA logo upon arrival at the Park Royal, I called the Palladium concierge and had them create a GHA account for me, and enroll me with black status.
With this done, I had N2 add my name to the booking, then I told the desk I was GHA Black and asked about an upgrade. This worked out great, and they were able to upgrade us to a decent suite, and they allowed us to check-in right away.
I was in favor of taking naps before heading out to do anything, but my vote did not carry the day. Good thing I got a lot of sleep on the flight down. We wandered around the Darling Harbor area for a bit, until it neared lunchtime. We all agreed we wanted a place with decent food and the option to drink outside.
Drinking rose in the sun is one of my favorite pastimes, bonus point if it’s done on a beach. I had never had a bad meal at North Bondi Italian before, and it ticked all of our other boxes, so I suggested we hop a cab over to Bondi Beach.
This suggestion received unanimous support, and soon we were on our way to the beach. North Bondi Italian was a little slow, since we got there on the early side, this worked out great for us. We were able to grab a table outside on the patio.
We split some small plates of starters while we got to work on the first two or three bottles of wine.
Once those were in the rear view, we figured it would be prudent to order lunch. I took the pasta with lamb ragout that I had ordered on my last visit to North Bondi Italian. N2 had the same, we both agreed that it was pretty damn good. N ordered a “house specialty” our surly waiter suggested and was very underwhelmed. It was served in a paper bag.
In the end, we bashed our way through somewhere between five and six bottles of rose before it was time to leave. Afterwards, we walked a bit up the beach to a bar I’d been to with my father in January. We had a few pints before realizing we really needed to get back to the Park Royal
I had arranged a dinner for us later that evening. Perhaps two years before, I met this lovely Australian girl S, when she was in New York. She was visiting one of my friends, and we all went out together to Avenue for S’ birthday. When I had been in Sydney in January and February, I had spent more time with S, and so in preparation for this trip, I told her to wrangle two of her girlfriends and have dinner with us.
N, N2 and I grabbed a cab and went back to the Park Royal to shower, change and sober up a bit before dinner.
Sydney isn’t as late starting a town as NYC, so we had agreed to meet S and her friends at The Sailors Club at a reasonable hour.
The girls were already there when we arrived. We had a few cocktails outside while waiting for our table to be ready, then once we were seated, we switched back to rose, since it was still light out and all.
The food at Sailors was absolute crap. Not only was it lousy, but it was overpriced. Typical style over substance place. The wine on the other hand was reasonably priced and continued to go down in superb fashion.
By the time we wrapped dinner, everyone was fairly drunk. The six of us required two cabs. We went next to Double Bay. The first stop was a bar called Mrs. Sippy. It wasn’t so great, so we moved to a place nearly across the street and slightly downstairs. I can’t recall the name, but it was much more fun.
As the night wore on, this bar started to get uncomfortably crowded. S and her friends could clearly not continue at this pace. N2 was also looking slightly worse for wear, as he was eating a handful of coffee beans the bartender gave him in an effort to stay awake. When S and the girls decided to call it a night and go home, the three of us set off for a rancid dive bar I’d been to before, called World Bar.
There was a huge line to get into World Bar, so we started walking up the street, but nothing seemed promising.
When I was last in town, I had written an article about The Ivy, and I knew it would be crowded on a Saturday. N was still worn out from his flight in from SFO, so he said he was going to call it a night.
N2 and I were drunk but unbowed, and we decided to soldier on. We bid adieu to N and hopped a cab to George St.
Pacha (best known as the club in Ibiza) was throwing pop-up parties at The Ivy pool bar throughout the summer on Saturdays. It was Saturday.
We got our tickets, went up in the elevator and hit the bar. N2 has been posted in Japan for about a year now, and in that time, he had developed serious yellow fever. It took a determined effort to get him to stop trying to seek out only asian girls (there were none at this party), and make a go of it with the Aussies.
I exchanged numbers with some Swedish girls who were based in Sydney and working on a cruise ship (weird), and we talked to some other randoms, but there was no luck to be had. It was a still a fun night.
N2 and I somehow got separated on the way out of The Ivy, but our cabs pulled up to the Park Royal at the same time. He sloppily explained to me that he had slipped out of the bar in order to go to Pie Face and get a steak and cheese pie, and that it had changed his life.
It was after 4am at this point, and we had a reasonably early flight the next day, so we went up to the room and passed out.
Park Royal Darling Harbor Report Card
Pros: Decent location, upgrades & other amenities for GHA black.
Cons: Outdated rooms that were no particularly nice, no gym, crappy common area, a very second rate hote.
Verdict: Even with the GHA black perks (in this case, upgrade to a suite, a complimentary bottle of wine and club floor access [accidental]) I wouldn’t stay at this property again. Not until they renovate it.