Hey guys and girls, I recently returned from a family holiday to the French Alps, more specifically to the wonderful Val D'Isere near Grenoble.
As well as myself and my family, we were joined by my sisters family, as well as a couple of add ons (Boyfriends/Girlfriends etc).
In total, we were a whopping party of 22, almost like something out of home alone.
We found ourselves staying in the amazing Club Bellevarde, a 12 bedroom chalet tucked away on the edge of Santons Piste in Val D'Isere.
Around a week before our departure, we found via email that our party had been split, the majority had been loaded onto our original flight, while a couple of us were loaded onto an "overflow" flight operated by Smartlynx Estonia. They offered compensation in the form of a free drink voucher available to claim on any Thomas Cook flight. Thanks, so no compo for the ones actually bumped from the Thomas Cook flight
Anyway, here goes!
Airline: Smartlynx Estonia on behalf of Thomas Cook
Route: Manchester, UK to Grenoble, France
Scheduled Departure: 07:20
Actual Departure: 08:47
Scheduled Arrival: 10:15
Actual Arrival: 11:02
Scheduled Flight Duration: 2 hours 00 minutes
Aircraft Type/Reg: Airbus A320-200 (ES-SAQ)
I woke up at 3:30am, to a very already wide awake and chaotic household, people and bags flying everywhere, screaming, the lot, just what one would want to wake up to at that time of day.
We set off from the house at 4:45ish, and arrived at Manchester Airports JetParks at around 5am. We waited patiently in the freezing cold, uncovered, car park bus stop, until the shuttle bus arrived to take us to Terminal 1.
The terminal at this point was already quite busy, several sun and ski flights departing simultaneously, and so we joined the long zig zag queue system for bag drop, having checked-in online the night before.
Unfortunately, most of our group were on the Thomas Cook operated flight at 07:15, and the remaining 5 of us were on the overflow Smartlynx flight at 07:20, operating as MT1750B, however this didn't cause any dramas at check-in as we knew this the day before and checked into our respective flights, thankfully OLCI was available for the Smartlynx flight.
Around 6am we proceeded through a busy, albeit very efficient T1 security, into a busy departure lounge. It is one of those terminals where to enter the departure lounge you must pass through the maze of the duty free.
Here, everybody shot off in their different directions, some stayed in duty-free, some rushed off for breakfast, some for coffee, some for a phone charging point, leaving me
I made my own group consisting of me and only me, and made my way to the other end of the terminal to Starbucks, where I managed to nab a window seat overlooking the airfield.
I sat here minding my own business, until I saw the larger group of our group making their way to Gate 31, where their Thomas Cook flight would depart from, I was soon joined at starbucks by the other 4 who I was travelling with on the Smartlynx flight, which at the moment had "Next Information 07:30".
Soon enough, we were called to Gate 14, and boarding quickly started. Boarding wasn't in any particular order, but the load factor was only around 50 so it didn't make much difference. We all boarded 2 buses, and made our way to our aircraft, which was parked out on the remote stands opposite T2.
We were greeted by ES-SAQ, an unpainted, dirty looking A320, which we boarded via the rear stairs.
2 young girls greeted us onboard at the rear door, they were very bubbly, their English was broken and quite hard to understand, but they were cheerful and friendly nevertheless.
I took my seat at 19F, the seats were actually quite comfortable, and the legroom was decent, I am quite tall and was comfortable sitting in the seat.
The seat pocket contained all of Smartlynx's own material, I was half expecting to see TCX magazines etc.
Boarding was completed very quickly, with the light load, we were all boarded by 07:55. The captain apologised for the delay in boarding, but didn't give a reason, but gave a detailed explanation of the route and weather.
The purser then introduced herself and the crew of 5, they announced a full buy-on-board service was available today, and it would be from the Smartlynx menu which was interesting.
A quick check on the flight radar app, and the Thomas Cook flight with the rest of our group was already over the channel making good progress.
The crew performed a manual safety demonstration, it was difficult to understand to say the least.
At around 08:20 we pushed from stand, and made the taxi to 23L, where we joined a long queue for departure.
A final quick check of fr24 app as we lined up showed the Thomas Cook flight descending into GNB, they'd have quite a wait for us
08:47, we made a noisy departure from Manchester, straight into the clouds where we encountered some light turbulence, but it soon smoothened out and it was sunny skies all the way once through the clouds.
The crew started service pretty quickly, and with such a light load they reached our row in no time, I got a Chocolate muffin, and a standard b-o-b kenco coffee for €5. Strangely, they didn't accept British sterling £ cash, Luckily they accepted contactless.
Following the b-o-b service, the crew passed with a duty free trolley, my 14 year old nephew got a 1/200 scale plastic Smartlynx A320 model for €17.
The remainder of the flight passed without much to note. Flying conditions were good and it was smooth flying all the way.
We started our descent into GNB, and the crew started securing the cabin for arrival. The Captain announced there was quite significant fog in the area, however we would "give it a go". We descended through the clouds for what seemed an eternity, and we never actually left the clouds fully as we were surrounded by a thin fog when we got lower to the ground. The descent was quite turbulent, but the arrival was very smooth, we touched down at what seemed a faster than normal speed and hit the brakes hard which caused several pax to
We were welcomed to GNB by the crew, I received several text messages from members of our party, who'd been waiting for us for nearly an hour now
The "customs" shed was pretty empty, and baggage claim was quick, and we reunited with the remainder of our impatient party soon after arrival.
Our transfer minibuses took us on the 2 hour 45 minute drive to the beautiful Val D'Isere.
The chalet was enormous, and slept a total of 24 people. The next argument were the sleeping arrangements, which I let everyone argue with each other while I dumped my bags in a room with my wife and turned on the wife in the living room area.
The chalet came with it's own waiting staff and even a chef! It was crazy, and something which I and my family have never experienced before.
We were all offered Champagne (or pink lemonade in a champagne glass for the littluns), before the arguments were settled and we went out into the resort to explore.
Val D'Isere is very lively and it has a fantastic atmosphere, full of younger people, families and couples, it's vibrant 24/7 as it also has a good nightlife scene for those interested.
That evening after a wonderful dinner cooked by our chef "Romaine", we all settled on the deck for the evening. The chalet has a wonderful "ski in ski out" facility where we can literally ski up to our front door. It also comes with a fully functioning bar stocked with free wine and draft beers, an indoor pool, 2 hot tubs, "ski boot warmers", the lot, fully kitted out, it was such a relaxing experience. The ones who were inclined to, headed out for the night while the rest of us relaxed.
The next day, and for the following days, we spent hours on the magnificent slopes in the area, both skiing and boarding.
We spent new years in the Val D'Isere resort, it was fantastic fun for everybody from kids, to teens to adults, all ended in a fantastic firework display, before everybody parted ways back to their hotels/chalets, less of course the people who wanted to stay out until the early hours which many of our group did.
Unfortunately for nearly a day and a half we were stuck in our chalet due to Storm Eleanor battering the mountains around us, and Val D'Isere being put on an Orange flood alert, however it passed without incident.
Finally, after 7 days of fun on the slopes combined with pure relaxation, it was unfortunately time to go home.
An early wake up of 5am, and Romaine served up a wonderful continental breakfast for all of us. We left Val D'Isere at 6am, and made the long 2 hour 45 minutes drive back to Grenoble airport, along with many other skiers, we all drove almost in a convoy, coaches, minibuses, rental cars, all left from Val D'Isere and all went to the airport.
Airline: Thomas Cook Airlines
Route: Grenoble, France to Manchester, UK
Scheduled Departure: 11:35
Actual Departure: 11:46
Scheduled Arrival: 12:35
Actual Arrival: 12:21
Scheduled Flight Duration: 2 hours 00 minutes
Aircraft Type/Reg: Airbus A321-200 (G-TCDM)
Saturdays are typically the busiest day here at GNB, and the morning rush of departures was in full swing. The check-in area was chaotic, especially with some airlines (Thomas Cook, TUI etc) having 2 simultaneous departures to several airports, including MAN and LGW.
Unfortunately OLCI isn't available at GNB, so we joined the endless queue of people jammed into the tiny check-in area.
Our group of 22 swamped the check-in desk, again we found out we were all on separate flights, the check-in agent couldn't apologise enough but it didn't bother us we would all get back to MAN at the same time.
The majority of the group were on MT1741 at 11:30, while again, myself, my daughter and her boyfriend were on MT1741B at 11:35, this time, operated by Thomas Cook too.
The security was a mess, Grenoble cannot handle the capacity it receives on a Saturday with the small security in operation.
Once through the nightmare that was security, the departure lounge was equally chaotic.
After spending the majority of the time stuck in duty free, the first flight was called for boarding. They walked across the road, directly to their 757-300 in the old Thomas Cook livery. No more than 5 minutes later, we too were called forward for boarding.
This time, the flight seemed full, and a mass of people formed a queue quickly. We walked down the road, past 4 or 5 other aircraft before arriving at our very good looking, shiny, Thomas Cook A321 in the new livery with a "I❤️ MCR" sticker.
I boarded via the rear door along with the other 2, and we were quickly seated in row 37, the last row.
The crew weren't particularly welcoming, and didn't say anything to anybody as they boarded.
Boarding was completed quickly, and before any announcements were made we found ourselves pushing back. The captain welcomed us and gave a brief introduction to the crew and told us of the route. We were shown a video safety demo on the drop down screens, before the TV's slammed back up, the crew rushed to their seats, and we lined up on the runway.
We departed immediately after the 753 bound for MAN, and entered what would be a race back to T1.
The sun was out, and there were no clouds and it was a smooth departure, we climbed at a steep angle, and made a long left turn to head us towards home.
Thomas Cooks "CafeCloud" is pretty minimal, and im not a fan of it personally as it barely offers anything substantial to eat, but I managed to get a Latte for £2.80.
Once again, the flight passed without anything noteworthy happening, endless screaming kids maybe but nothing new.
Is it bad that I preferred the flight out on Smartlynx Estonia?
The weather in the UK was not a calm, and the wind rain and the thick clouds threw us around a bit as we made our descent into Manchester.
Our approach too was quite bumpy, a few shrieks echoed from around the cabin, and we were still all over the place until we touched down hard onto the runway. I checked Fr24 and saw that unfortunately we had lost the race, and the 753 which departed before us was taxiing to the gate, not too far ahead of us!
We were welcomed to Manchester, and taxied to the satellite at T1 where we docked on stand.
Customs was quite full but for once there was a full complement of UK Border Agency officers which helped the queues go down somewhat faster.
We then headed to baggage reclaim, where we shared a belt with the other flight from Grenoble. Together, bags from both flights started to drift through, and around 20 minutes later our whole party had our baggage, and so we headed off to catch the bus back to the car park.
By 14:00, we were home!
All in all, it was a fantastic holiday, it was nice to experience a new carrier in Smartlynx Estonia, it was a great experience staying in the magnificent Club Bellevarde, and once again it was awesome to be able to hit the slopes of Val D'Isere once again.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed, comments are always welcome!