A Family South African Safari – Thoughts on Emirates First Class

1 – Introduction
2 – A Pit Stop in Paris
3 – Tanda Tula
4 – Londolozi Founder’s Camp
5 – Safari Photos – Part A and Part B
6 – Cape Grace Hotel
7 – Cape Town Activities
8 – Emirates First Class – Thoughts and Observations
9 – Conclusion, A Few Safari Tips and Future Plans


For our return flights, we were able to take advantage of the highly competitive premium long-haul market from South Africa and the strength of the US Dollar to fly on revenue tickets in Emirates First Class.  The cost of our one-way routing, CPT-DXB-JFK in first class, was about $2,500 each, and was a refundable fare!  (This compares favorably to roughly $8,500 for DXB-JFK one way in first class.)  While $2,500 is not a small amount of money, compared to prevailing prices for premium international travel in many markets, this represents a true bargain.

Bargain pricing!
Bargain pricing!

I booked our tickets via American Express Platinum just in case I needed to deal with someone regarding the tickets in the future.  This cost $160 in ticketing fees, but gave me some piece of mind.  (Amex’s 2-for-1 program only works for flights originating in the US, so not available for our flights.)

On the Ground

The hotel concierge booked our Emirates car to the airport.  The car service was unable to confirm a van, so they sent two C-Class Mercedes.  We fit, but it was tight.  The drivers were very courteous and were notably conservative drivers.

There are no special ground services for Emirates first class passengers at Cape Town.  Check-in was handled smoothly and we were told what lounge we could visit.

Before getting to the lounge, we had to clear departure immigration.  We had been warned about needing original birth certificates for the kids, identifying us as the parents.  We had those papers, and I even brought our marriage certificate, just in case.

Of course, when going through the passport control, the officer never asked for anything beyond our passports.  The officer muddled something about us all having the same surnames, so nothing further was needed.  He stamped our passports and called for the next in the queue.

Turns out the document checking from Air France on the way into South Africa was far greater than the actual checking on the way out!

Emirates uses the shared CIP lounge in Cape Town.  This is also a Priority Pass and Lounge Club lounge.  The lounge itself was small and relatively hot.  They had some food, but nothing notable.  There was plenty of cold beer at least.  As departure time for our flight and a few others drew closer, the lounge filled to be pretty much standing room only.

Overall, the ground experience was nothing out of the ordinary, perhaps even a bit disappointing.

On Board

For our first flight, we had the entire second row of first class.  (The middle two seats in the first row were already taken when we booked.)  This worked reasonably well for our family, though the having both middle pairs would have been more ideal.

The kids had an absolute blast exploring the suites and the flight attendants seemed to enjoy doting on them.

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I haven’t flown on Emirates in perhaps five years, so the flights served as an interesting update/refresher for me.

The hard and soft products had all of the “bling” that Emirates is known for.  At all times, the service was very attentive and every request was looked after.  Not everything was flawless, but the staff certainly was trying at all times.

With the exception of the caviar, we were pleased with the quality of the food served.  Some of the meals I had included Biryani and Anda Bhurji (spiced eggs and chick peas).  My son enjoyed the cheese plate and clam chowder.  Everyone was pleased.

Cheese plate
Cheese plate

We all asked for the caviar service.  We treat ourselves to caviar at home periodically, and the kids are even into it.  We were disappointed with the quality of the caviar served, finding it to be not crisp enough (it was almost mushy).  While the flavor was fine, the texture was discernibly off.  (First world problems if there ever were!)

The caviar disappointed

You may recall a year or two ago, Emirates announced a half a billion dollar “investment” into their wine selections.  While many Emirates trip reports focus on the champagne, where the carrier really differentiates itself is the wine.  Wines offered on our flights include:

  • 2010 Aile d’Argent (Mouton’s white)
  • 2003 Chateau Certan de May
  • 2009 Solaia
  • 2005 Sarget de Gruaud Larose
  • 2011 The Pairing Red (this is from the same producer as Screaming Eagle)
  • 2006 Doisy Daene

To be picky, perhaps they could have offered the main Gruaud (not their second wine), but overall, this is a very strong wine list.  Over the years, I’ve flown in international first class on Qantas, ANA, Cathay, Lufthansa, Korean and British, as well as a few US-based carriers.  The Emirates wine offering is meaningfully better than what any of these other carriers offer.  Frankly, the only similarity in the air that comes to mind is to what was served on Air France’s Concorde when I flew it in 2003, though Emirates offered a wider selection.

I’ve had each of these wines before, except for The Paring Red.  I made a point to try a little of each wine and enjoyed each.

While I wouldn’t go out of my way to fly Emirates simply because of their wine list, I would certainly look forward to exploring the list when I flew!

We all ended up sleeping a good bit of the way to Dubai.

"Stars" on the ceiling
“Stars” on the ceiling

Dubai Transfer

Transferring in Dubai was also fine, but in no way exceptional.  Unlike some carriers (such as Thai or Air France), no one escorts you between flights and you are simply part of the broader crowd.

Our onward flight left from the older terminal, so we didn’t get to visit the new full-floor first class lounge.  The first class lounge in the older terminal is reasonably nice, but not over the top.  We all enjoyed a small breakfast, and my son and I enjoyed the brief, complimentary massages.

Back on Board

Our onward flight to New York was on an A380.  The flight crew was similarly attentive.  Shean, the purser, was originally from Sydney and was very nice.

Prior to take off, Shean invited us to visit the cockpit.  That was a fun treat for the kids.


After take off, my son quickly asked about taking a shower.  He had a lot of fun with that.  (Our daughter declined.)

We made more round trips to the aft lounge during this flight than I care to recall, as one or the other kid (or both) wanted to go back seemingly every half hour.

We spent some time chatting with Shean in the act lounge when he was relieving the main bartender.  When we probed, he said over the years, there were a few “sex in the shower” situations and he’s had a few drunk passengers getting into tiffs, but he’s never had to restrain anyone.  He cited one ethnicity as particularly problematic related to excess drinking, but probably best if I don’t share that here.

My son got to play bartender for a little while.  He declined the red hat!


Landing was uneventful and our bags came out very quickly.  Having Global Entry (including for the kids), we were landside in no time.  Emirates arranged an SUV to take us back home from the airport.  The driver, clearly a native from New York (not unlike me), took the liberty of interjecting herself into our conversations a few times, including correcting our children several times.  This was odd.

Her driving was also pushing the limits on aggressiveness.  It wasn’t to the point of asking her to slow down, but it was close.

It took about 24 hours to get home.  While Emirates first was definitely a very comfortable way to fly, we were very glad to be home.  I would not hesitate to fly on Emirates again, though probably wouldn’t go out of my way, either



2 comments on “A Family South African Safari – Thoughts on Emirates First Class

  1. You mentioned Emirates uses the CIP lounge in CPT which is no longer the case (as of May 2016)

    Maybe you just posted this report really late, since I see it says Safari 2015 in the title, but that this report was posted 10/30/16?

    1. Hi Chuck. This was originally posted in Q1’16. I changed blog formats in October which may have changed the dating.

      Indeed, it appears CIP is no longer used by Emirates in CPT!

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