Oh boy, this one is going to be a bit long… it’s all about our incredible trip to Japan and Korea!
After confirming with United Airlines by phone twice, we arrived at LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal as directed for our flight to Tokyo, but quickly found out that our international flight was leaving from Terminal 7 (United Airlines terminal at LAX). We checked our bags, went throught security, and entered the UA Premier Lounge, where we waited for our delayed flight. The lounge is large with a bar, several seating areas, desks, a business room, conference rooms ($75/hour) and a quiet rooms. Coffee, hot water, cappucino/espresso machines and orange juice was offered but the food offerings were pretty meager (mini-bagels, yogurt and donut holes at breakfast; cheese & crackers, cookies, carrots & dip for lunch, with apples & bananas offered at both).
We used 90,000 US Airways miles and about $125 each in taxes round-trip for each person for our flights confirmed in
Business Class with lie-flat beds:
United Airlines from LAX to Narita, Japan
Asiana from Osaka, Japan to Seoul, South Korea
Asiana from Seoul, South Korea back to LAX
This was before US Airways miles were devalued so now the same flights would be 110k each.
Our flight was delayed 2 hours so we waited in the UA lounge until they called for boarding. The airplane pulled away from the gate and while waiting in the queue for takeoff, LAX grounded all planes because of a radar malfunction. We were there for over 2 hours. Then something crazy happened. A lady refused to stay on the flight – she said she was going to miss her connection to Indonesia for a wedding and was going to miss it, so she wanted off the plane. And for some reason, they had to let her off. So the captain turned the plane around and went back to the gate. Lots of angry passengers commented on the selfishness of the lady and made sure she knew of their discontent. We had
to wait a very long time for them to sift through all the luggage and get her luggage off the plane, and then we were finally cleared for takeoff again with topped off fuel tanks and a new flight plan. This flight would have been unbearable in coach – I felt bad for all the people in coach during the entire flight. Thank goodness for my US Airways miles! The flight attendants were professional and attentive, especially Raimie (sp?), and although the meals were not that great, the service was outstanding.
Upon landing at Narita, we cleared customs/immigration for foreigners and walked a few feet to the “Friendly Airport Limo Bus” sign and purchased airport transfer tickets – they were about $31 US each, paid by credit card, and then walked outside the terminal door to the right to sign #11 (they told us to wait there), where the attendants looked at our tickets and took our bags to load onto the bus. They handled all the bags which made it easier for us than taking the NEX Train into Tokyo and then a taxi. The bus took us to it’s last stop (out of 4) – the Park Hyatt Tokyo, where we were to stay for 2 nights.
The Park Hyatt Tokyo – what can I say about this hotel but, “WOW!”…. the hotel starts at the 41st floor of the Shinjuku Park Tower building. The attendants took our bags and wisked them to our room, and upon learning our names, an attendant took us directly to our room on the 47th floor of the hotel, bypassing reception altogether. She took our info and credit card and showed us the controls for the room, which was a Park Tower Deluxe with spectacular views of the Tokyo skyline. We used 44k Hyatt points for our stay (reserved before the devaluation – it is now 30k points per night).
The view from our room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo:
Our room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo:
The bathroom was sumptuous – with a soaking tub, shower and one of those amazing heated/bidet toilets. Plenty of comfortable seating, a desk, hot water tea and a tea set, a Nespresso machine and pods, and two bottles of comp water made our stay comfortable.
We changed money at the hotel (exchange rates were not bad, but the rate would have been better at a bank or Travelex currency exchange on the way to the Shinjuku train station). The Concierge, Adrian, spoke English perfectly and was wonderful in helping us with JR Shinkansen Bullet Train tickets, directions and restaurant and shopping suggestions. He even made the rest of our transportation easier by suggesting we have our non-essential bags delivered to our last hotel (at a very reasonable $14 per bag!). We were carrying medical supplies for an orphanage we were to visit on the last leg of our trip and those bags were very large and heavy, so this helped us out a lot!
The next morning, we took a taxi to the Tsukiji Fish Market (about 30 min ride and $35 USD), and walked about the stalls. We ate at one of the popular small sushi restaurants, but I got stomach issues that evening- I think my body was in shock after eating raw fish at 6:30 am – I won’t be doing that again! Note to self: don’t do something just because everyone else does it – go with your gut (literally!).
After taking another taxi back to the hotel, we swam in the indoor pool on the 47th floor – wowza – what spectacular views and a great gym! Then, we took the spa elevator from the pool area to the spa and enjoyed the (separated his & hers) jacuzzi/saunas/cold plunge pool – very relaxing and very luxurious. The pool and spa admittance is complimentary for Diamond members.
We then did the buffet breakfast in Girasole – it was very good:
Now I know why people rave about this hotel – will definitely want to stay at the Park Hyatt again when I come back to Tokyo.
We also walked to Shinjuku Station (10 min walk or can take complimentary shuttle), purchased train JR train tickets for 1.40 USD per ticket one way to Harajuku Station (5 minute ride) to visit the Meji Shrine and gardens (what a great oasis in the middle of a big city!) and to window shop the Harajuku area – great people-watching and lots to see! 2 days in Tokyo is not enough!!!
The trains are so efficient here – remember to press “English” on the screens when you buy your tickets and keep the tickets safe to put through the entrance machines – they then come out stamped on the other side where you retrieve them. Then again when you exit any train station, you put them through the machines again, where they
stay. On the bullet trains, you must also have them stamped by an attendant.
We purchased JR Shinkansen bullet train tickets at Shinjuku Station, with help from the concierge at the Park Hyatt, who wrote the whole order down for us. We took the Nozomi (fastest train – 1 hour 45 min) Shinkansen, leaving from platform 8 (green cars – business class reserved). The concierge requested english language tickets, and you can see which platform to stand on and the correct train by looking up at the lighted signs and matching them with your ticket. The train was very, very long and it seemed like we walked a mile to get to our platform.
After exiting the train station, we followed signs to the Nagoya Marriott Associa hotel and took the elevator to the 15th floor, where the hotel starts. We used 2 free Marriot award nights for this stay (earned during the 2 stays = 1 free award night promos). Since we are Gold status with Marriott, we took another set of elevators to the 36th floor to get checked in. The first room smelled badly of stale cigarette smoke so we moved rooms, but the second room also had that smell, although not as bad. We were told that both rooms were non-smoking rooms, but like in Las Vegas, the windows
don’t open and the central air probably just recirculated air from smoking rooms all over the hotel. There was an air purifier in the room which we ran the whole time. I would classify this hotel as a 3.5 star hotel – it was pretty big and had the feel of a Las Vegas hotel. The furniture was very outdated but the bathroom was well-stocked with full size toiletries. The club lounge offered a very good American and Japanese style buffet breakfast and tea/cocktails in the afternoons and evenings. The hotel also had a pool and spa, but after experiencing the pool and spa at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, we weren’t impressed.
The great thing about this hotel is that it is on top of the train station and also on top of Takashimaya department store and it’s amazing food floors, where you can grab a delicious bento box full of yummies. There are also lots of good restaurants on the 12th and 13th floors, including one of my faves, Din Tai Fung.
There is a tourist bus (Meguru) that takes you on a loop to the major sites in Nagoya, but do yourselves a favor and take a taxi – they are relatively cheap and we found the Meguru to be crowded and confusing. It was easy to point to where we wanted to go on the map of Nagoya and we got there quickly without having to stop at places we didn’t want to see.
2 days in Nagoya was a little much; we were happy to get back on the Shinkansen to Kyoto.
The bullet train to Kyoto takes around 35 minutes from Nagoya. You can choose unreserved, reserved, or “green car” (biz class) seats for the train and buy them right there at the station. Unless its a busy holiday, unreserved seats are just fine. The Nozomi trains are the fastest.
Upon arrival at Kyoto Station, we were blown away by the sheer size of it all – hotels (Kinetsu, Hotel Granvia), tons of restaurants and shopping are located in the station. Since we were staying at the Hyatt Regency, we walked across the street to the Ibis hotel, where the MK taxis give you a complimentary 10 min ride to the Hyatt – no reservations required, and you just give them your name.
The Hyatt Regency Kyoto was wonderful (although rooms were small), and the service exemplary, as expected. We used 22k Hyatt points for one night at this hotel and since the other night did not have any award nights available, I used 10k points and $125 cash.
There are over 2000 temples in
the Kyoto area – much to see. We visited the Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine, about a 20 minute subway ride away – it was so cool to see lots and lots of Shrines and hike up the mountain to see the views of Kyoto. They also have many stops along the way for food/snacks/drinks – I had the best green tea ice cream ever there halfway up the mountain!
We went to a lot of good restaurants in Kyoto – the most memorable being “Sobanomi Yoshimura” a few doors down from the Citadines hotel – the multi course meals including handmade soba noodles done several differnent ways with sashimi, tempura and soba ice cream and a unique tea were amazing.
After a very good oil (for me) and shiatsu (for S) massage and delicious breakfasts at the Hyatt, we reluctantly checked out and took a taxi back to Kyoto Station, then the JR Haruka Limited Express Train to Osaka Airport (Kansai Airport – KIX) to say goodbye to Japan and say hello to South Korea.
After a 2 hour flight to Seoul (ICN) airport, we were picked up and taken to our hotel. The ride took about 2 hours in Seoul traffic. We checked in a the Park Hyatt Seoul (in Gangnam), another very nice Hyatt.
We used 23k points for a Park Deluxe Suite and it was super-nice with a great view. The breakfast buffets at Cornerstone were comped and we enoyed the upstairs gym, pool and spa, also complimentary with Diamond Status. The hotel did have a strange layout though, with reception on the 24th floor, the spa and business center on the 23rd floor, restaurant on the 2nd floor, and guest rooms in between. Access to guest rooms can only be done if you go to the 24th floor first. Annoying. However, we did really enjoy our stay there.
The food in Seoul was amazing as well – this is “fast food” at the basement of the Hyundai Department store – delicious and healthy – I guess that’s why so many people in Japan and Korea are so thin!
We left Seoul 3 days later and used the “Spa On Air” on the bottom floor of ICN airport – only $15 for spa/lounge/hot tub access for everyone using the airport – a must do when at ICN! We also used the Asiana Club Lounge, which was nice, but the food offerings were limited to snacks and drinks.
We had an amazing trip and was able to do this with airline miles, hotel points and $350 for the air taxes & hotel charges – amazing!!! We did pay for other transportation, meals and souvenirs of course. Love this hobby… I hope you can build up a good miles/point balance so that you can take advantage of these kinds of trips too!