Qatar Airways and the Qsuite
Last month Qatar Airways invited me to fly from Los Angeles to Qatar with them. I usually turn down airline invitations since I fly enough anyway. Another 30+ hours of flying for the sole purpose of flying? No thanks. But this was different. Qatar Airways had recently launched the Qsuite business class and I had heard great things about it. Plus I had never been to Qatar, and the three-day itinerary looked fun. So I accepted, and in early February I headed to LAX to see what the hype was about.
Check in at LAX was standard – a line for business class and a line for economy. But then it got fun. I started at the Oneworld lounge with an excellent lunch, and then went downstairs to the Petrossian Caviar Bar with my fellow trip participants. This is a special this month – if you’re flying business class with Qatar Airways, you can head to Petrossian for free champagne and caviar with any purchase. I’ve never been a big caviar fan, but I really enjoyed all four types that we were served, and the champagne was excellent as well (it wasn’t just for Instagram, I promise!). Before we knew it, it was time to walk a few minutes to the gate.
The Qatar Airways Qsuite
The Qsuite is deserving of the hype. I’m used to flying in business class (it’s the primary way we redeem airline and credit card miles), and in just the last year have flown in business on United, American, Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, ANA, and SAS. Some business classes are barely better than coach, one was actually worse than coach, and some are very good, with comfortable flat beds, storage, and even on-board chefs. Qatar Airways blew them all away – and I promise I’m not saying that just because this was a sponsored trip. It really is the best business class that I’ve ever flown. Specific things that impressed me:
- The seats are suites! They have doors and are relatively private. The working space is excellent, there’s a ton of storage, and the sleeping area is larger than I’ve seen before. I could actually turn over, and didn’t have to sleep straight as an arrow.
- By lowering barriers, the seats in the middle of the cabin (it’s a 1-2-1 layout) can combine with nearby seats to form double seats/beds or even quad seats. I could see utilizing the double if traveling with my wife (although I’m guessing serious mile-high romance is frowned upon), and in theory the quad seats would be good for a family. Except that my kids love being on their own in business class, and would really love having their own suites without having to interact with us or their siblings. So I don’t think we would use the quad seats even if we could.
- There’s a menu with a lot of dining options and NO set meal times. No need to stay awake through take off so that you don’t miss the meal, and no need to have breakfast when you feel like dinner, or vice versa. You can order anything, anytime – with 10-15 minutes lead time.
- There are a LOT of entertainment options – like hundreds of movies. My only complaint was that they were censored.
- The bathrooms are wiped down after every usage. They were pristine. Compare that to how the bathrooms on your last flight looked after 10 or 15 hours.
- The Qatar Airways pajamas are the most comfortable I’ve ever had, in the air or on the ground. So I kept both pairs! They fit perfectly and were far better than pajamas I’ve received on other airlines.
- The WiFi was excellent, and it’s free for one hour, or only $10 for the 16-hour flight. I usually don’t go online when I’m flying, but these were long flights, and I was able to stay on top of email and social posting.
- The business class was quiet. For my Doha to Los Angeles flight I was next to the galley and heard virtually nothing.
Qatar – Arrival
After an excellent flight where I slept well and got work done, we landed in Doha and headed to immigration… and walked right past the main immigration lines and went into a private lounge, complete with espresso and immigration officials! This is only for business class passengers, and was easily the best entry into a country I’ve experienced anywhere. And since Doha is largely a transit airport (a mistake, which I’ll get into shortly), there weren’t many of us from our flight who were even going through immigration. In only took a few minutes of leather chair lounging before we all had our passport stamps (my 91stcountry!) and were at baggage claim. And the bags from our flight were already being delivered.
Our Hotel – the Shangri-La Doha
We got into a shuttle and headed to our hotel. It would normally be a 20-minute drive or so, but Qatar’s football team had won the Asian Cup the night before, and there was partying in the streets, and a large number of streets were blocked off for the victory parade. Just bad (or good) timing. It took roughly an hour to reach our hotel, the Shangri-La Doha. When we finally arrived we were greeted with dates and Arabic coffee (of course).
My room was on the 28thfloor – a corner suite. Everything over the course of four nights was great. I can’t compare the hotel to any others in Doha, but no complaints at all. I slept well. The shower was good. Housekeeping was excellent. And when I asked where I could photograph sunrise, I was given access to the club lounge – even though I wasn’t staying in a club room.
Just a note that if you’re searching for the Shangri-La Doha, it no longer exists! It was rebranded as the JW Marriott Doha in mid-2019.
Things to Do in Qatar
I mentioned above that most people simply transit through Doha. And we had before as well. Qatar Airways flies practically everywhere, and every one of their flights goes through Doha, so you can travel from any point to any point with just one stop – in a gorgeous airport. But next time you’re flying Qatar Airways, stop for a couple days in Doha. The airline and tourism authority even make it really easy, with extremely discounted five-star hotel rooms for layover passengers.
Over three days I experienced as much as possible in Doha and all around Qatar (it’s a nicely small country). And per the itinerary, it was indeed a lot of fun. Below are all 13 things that we did, and my thoughts on each. Note that I was going to give itinerary suggestions for one, two or three-day stopovers, but given how small Qatar is, you could mix and match almost any of these, in any order, depending on how long you have in the country.
I’ve been kayaking in six continents, but had never before gone in the Middle East. We drove over to The Pearl, the man-made island off Doha, and rented kayaks from Blue Pearl Experience. It was an overcast, slightly rainy day, but the water was calm, and we kayaked around the coast and through the marina area for over an hour. The view of the Doha skyline made the trip worthwhile.
Qatar is hosting the World Cup in 2022. You’ll see signs and under-construction stadiums throughout the country, but for the complete picture of Qatar’s bid, the stadiums, the new metro, and what the World Cup will be like, head to the Legacy Pavilion. The stadiums are incredible, with several stadiums designed to be taken apart after the World Cup and used for other things. And the movie at the end is worthwhile. I attended the World Cup in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2018, but given how far the stadiums were from each other, we were limited to seeing one game. It will be great to be able to attend this World Cup and see multiple games at multiple sites, all while basing out of the same hotel.
Dhows are the original Arab sailing vessels. You can go out on a similar boat for a one-hour cruise around Doha’s harbor. A perfect, relaxing pre-dinner activity, and the city views from the water are outstanding.
A Camel Ride
Honestly, skip this one. I mean, if you’ve never been on a camel and want to check it off your list, go for it. But I’ve done amazing camel rides through deserts in several countries and loved the experiences. This wasn’t one of those – really just a touristy 10-minute ride (if that) across a parking lot and back.
But the camel ride was just a prelude to the dune bashing, which was incredibly fun. For hours our guides drove us through the desert near the border with Saudi Arabia, powering up steep dunes and going down even steeper dunes. We got out several times to walk around and climb dunes, and once to pick up seashells. Add in a western and Arabic soundtrack and lots of great conversation and laughter and it was a very memorable morning!
A Stop at Regency Seaside Camp
After dune bashing we stopped by the Regency Seaside Camp for swimming, relaxing and lunch. Next time I want to spend the night, or several nights, here. A perfect base for exploring the desert, or just relaxing.
The Museum of Islamic Art
Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art is a must-see. The building, designed by I.M. Pei, is spectacular, and the collection is excellent. We went right at sunset and had the museum virtually to ourselves.
Breakfast on a Helipad
My favorite breakfast ever! The Shangri-La set up an early-morning feast for us on the hotel’s helipad (not currently in use), 50+ stories up. It was a little chilly and windy, but we barely noticed. We enjoyed the view, took photos, and enjoyed breakfast in a very unique setting for roughly an hour. The hotel can also arrange private dinners on the helipad.
The Royal Stables (Al Shaqab)
We have horses, and I’ve been to horse facilities around the world. Al Shaqab is the best I’ve ever seen. Take a tour, meet the Arabian horses, see the arenas, and check out the training areas – complete with a horse swimming pool, a horse treadmill, and automated horse-walking areas.
The Halal Qatar Festival
The Halal Festival takes place annually, in February/March, showcasing animals from throughout the GCC countries. There are also flower and vegetable vendors, as well as women who make yarn and weave spectacular fabrics. We had fun roaming around for over an hour, and entry was free. If the Halal Festival isn’t taking place when you visit, see what other festivals are. There’s typically something going on.
Katara is a fairly new area of Doha that showcases Qatari arts and culture, with an amphitheater, mosque, beach, pigeon houses (I love pigeon houses!), an opera house, and a lot of restaurants. We had an excellent Palestinian lunch at Ard Canaan.
A Camel Race
Camel racing in Qatar goes back centuries and is huge. There’s even a television channel dedicated just to showing races. We drove out to Al Shahaniya to see two races – and they were nothing like I was picturing! First, there are no human jockeys. Second, you don’t watch from grandstands. Instead, there’s a 10km track, and the camels have little robot jockeys, and fans and camel owners drive their own vehicles alongside the camels as they’re running at 40-60 km/hour. So much fun watching the camels run, and watching the other spectators yelling and honking as they drive.
We closed out our three days in Qatar with an evening at Souq Waqif. This is another must-visit site, even if you’re only in Doha for a day. The souq has a very traditional feel – lots of narrow passages where you can buy spices, rugs, clothes, handicrafts and souvenirs. And it doesn’t feel touristy. Get dinner in the souq (Parisa is stunning, and the food was excellent), and simply wander. There are also a few hotels and guesthouses. I’m very tempted to stay there the next time I visit – probably my favorite area/site in Doha.
I mentioned a few restaurants above. Every (yes every meal) we had was excellent. We switched among Qatari, Lebanese and Palestinian cuisine, but they’re all similar – think hummus, baba ghanoush, pita, chicken, beef, lamb, fish, rice. I can highly recommend Al Mourjan, Spice Market (W), Ard Caanan, and Parisa. And I want to try more restaurants next time.
While check-in in Los Angeles was normal, check-in in Doha was anything but. For business class there’s a separate section of the terminal, you’re met at the drop-off curb, your bags are taken in for you, and then you walk up to a counter with no lines and no wait. And after you’re checked in, you head through private passport and security lines, into the main section of the airport, and up to the lounge. So peaceful!
So what are you waiting for? If your next trip can go through Qatar, I highly recommend stopping over for a few days and doing the above, and more. And be sure to fly to the Qsuite. Or don’t – it will ruin all other airlines for you!
And a note: at the end of the year I was invited back to Qatar for the FIFA Club World Cup, and I took my 12-year-old son. We experienced a lot more, including visiting the new National Museum and some of the World Cup stadiums. My blog post on that trip is here.