Archive | January 2014

Conrad Tokyo Review

This is a continuation of the Japan Trip Report. You can read more here:
Booking Lufthansa First Class Using United Miles
Lufthansa First Class Denver to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Osaka
Japan Day 1: Nijo Castle and Kinkaku-ji
Westin Osaka Review

Japan Day Two (Part 1) – Fushimi Inari and Nara
Japan Day Two (Part 2) – Bullet Train/Nabana no Sato Illumination

We arrived in Tokyo fairly late, on one of the last few bullet trains from Nagashima to Tokyo. We had to transfer from the bullet train to the subway to get to Shinbashi station for the Conrad. This was somewhat daunting as it was very crowded. Not the level you see in online videos of people backing into a stuffed subway, but still there was a lot to take in.

You enter the Conrad from a low level, and then take an elevator up to the lobby on the 28th floor.

Conrad Tokyo Entrance

Conrad Tokyo Entrance

The lobby and hallways were very calming, and we really enjoyed the atmosphere of the Conrad.

Conrad Tokyo Hallway

Conrad Tokyo Hallway

We had two separate stays booked back to back, as one was from the Citibank Hilton Reserve weekend night certificates and the other was an AXON award stay using points (see more here). Since I’m a Hilton HHonors Gold member through the Hilton Reserve card we were hoping maybe if we left it as two stays we’d have a better shot at an upgrade. That’s exactly what happened. I wanted a room on the Executive level floor for the cocktail hour with appetizers from the Michelin Star restaurants in the Conrad.  When we arrived, we received a Tokyo Bay view room on the floor below the Executive level, but no rooms were available for an upgrade. For our second award stay there was availability and we were able to move to the Executive level. I’m glad we were able to experience both.

The room itself was incredible. I loved the decor, and the bay view was amazing.

Conrad Tokyo Room

Conrad Tokyo Room

The bathroom was also spectacular. Free standing tub, separate rain shower and dual sinks.

Large Bathroom

Large Bathroom

I was a little disappointed when we arrived that there was no rubber ducky. The Conrad Tokyo typically offers a rubber duck in the bathroom upon checking in, and bears on the bed. We received the bears, but there was no duck.

Conrad Tokyo Bears

Conrad Tokyo Bears

I called to ask if they had any, and this is where the exceptional service was demonstrated. They mailed a freaking rubber duck back to us at home in the United States when they received more. They also included a Christmas Bear!
Read More…

Japan Day Two (Part 2) – Bullet Train and Nabana no Sato Winter Illumination

This is a continuation of the Japan Trip Report. You can read more here:
Booking Lufthansa First Class Using United Miles
Lufthansa First Class Denver to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Osaka
Japan Day 1: Nijo Castle and Kinkaku-ji
Westin Osaka Review

Japan Day Two (Part 1) – Fushimi Inari and Nara

This is a continuation of the Day Two report in Kyoto. After spending some time feeding the sacred deer in Nara, we decided to catch the bullet train towards Tokyo before the sky opened up on us. We made our way back to Kyoto station and picked up our stored luggage before catching the bullet train. This was our first bullet train ride, and we enjoyed it. When the bullet train pulls up to the station everyone quickly boards and finds a seat. In case you can’t tell from the blurry picture – they pull up pretty quick. This was the best picture we could get without risking missing our train!

Our Ride to Nagashima/Tokyo

Our Ride to Nagashima/Tokyo

The train is very quiet, and you will not hear a single person on their cell phone. This went for most of our experience on trains in Japan, actually. The one time we heard a cell phone ring on the subway the guy looked incredibly embarrassed and RUSHED to silence it.

Shinkansen (Bullet Train)

Shinkansen (Bullet Train)

Our JR Rail Pass covered bullet train rides for seven days on certain bullet train types. It did not cover the Nozomi or Mizuho, which are the fastest trains. But the trains it covered were plenty fast!

During my research on Japan I came across an article on cnn.com about an amazing winter light show in Japan. When I looked up where it was located, it seemed most efficient to stop there on our way to Tokyo from Kyoto. We got off the bullet train in Nagoya, stored our luggage there and took a bus to Nabana no Sato. We had a very hard time finding where to catch the bus from Nagoya and a couple people we asked spoke no English (but were very friendly/polite). We finally caught a guy who spoke perfect English and was able to direct us outside the station to the bus station. The other transportation option we had considered was taking a local train from Nagoya to Nagashima and then a shorter bus ride from there.

After a 30 minute or so bus ride, we arrived at Nabana no Sato. Nabana no Sato is a botanical garden that puts up an amazing winter light display starting mid-November. Admission was 2000 yen (~$20) but also included two 500 yen certificates for use towards food inside the park. So really it was more like $10. It was entirely worth going out of our way to get there.

When you enter the park, there are clear paths people were following to see the lights. The path brought us to a gorgeous light tunnel.

Light Tunnel Nabana no Sato

Light Tunnel Nabana no Sato

Following the path further brings you to the main attraction – a HUGE light display of Mount Fuji. The lights were synchronized to music and changed to represent all of the various seasons. It was gorgeous.

Read More…

Day Two (Part 1) – Fushimi Inari and Nara

This is a continuation of the Japan Trip Report. You can read more here:
Booking Lufthansa First Class Using United Miles
Lufthansa First Class Denver to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Osaka
Day 1: Nijo Castle and Kinkaku-ji
Westin Osaka Review

As this is a long day I’m going to break the report up into two parts. On day two we checked out of the Westin Osaka and took our luggage with us to Kyoto. We took the train again to Kyoto and found coin lockers in Kyoto Station where we could store our luggage for the day for 600 yen (or ~$6). We then took a different line to get to Fushimi Inari, a shrine that was just a short ride from Kyoto station. When we got off the train in Fushimi, we weren’t quite sure where to go. We stopped to ask a train station attendant where the shrine was. Definitely wasn’t one of our brighter moments as he just pointed to the giant torii gate (which the shrine is famous for) directly across the street. Opps!

Large Torii Gate Outside Fushimi Inari

Large Torii Gate Outside Fushimi Inari

The shrine was neat to check out, with ornate buildings and several fox statues.

Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari was incredibly crowded. We wandered through for a little bit. The torii gates up the hill were very neat, and were donated by individuals or companies. The writing on the gates is the donor’s name.

Torii Gates at Fushimi Inari

Torii Gates at Fushimi Inari

We had a lot planned for today (too much, unfortunately), and as we were transferring to Tokyo later in the day we didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend at Fushimi Inari. We walked up a little bit, but there were so many people that we decided to just head to Nara. Definitely worth a visit as the gates were impressive, but probably better to go earlier or later and avoid the crowds.

Nara was a little further from Kyoto, but still an easy trip by train. In Nara, deer are sacred. There are free-roaming deer throughout the town. It was funny watching traffic stop for the deer who had the right of way. We decided to head towards the park, where there was a decent deer population.

Westin Osaka Review

This is a continuation of the Japan Trip Report. You can read more here:
Booking Lufthansa First Class Using United Miles
Lufthansa First Class Denver to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Osaka
Day 1: Nijo Castle and Kinkaku-ji

We had dropped our luggage off earlier at the Westin Osaka, but returned after a long day in Kyoto to check in. I’ve mentioned in the past, but this room was free due to a targeted “buy one get one” type promotion. We had needed a room in Tampa and by staying at a Westin that night we received a free night valid in certain categories (see here). I had emailed the hotel ahead of time to request a non-smoking room, as we tend to be sensitive to smoke smells. I had also asked for a higher floor room if available. Upon check-in, we were told that our room on floor 19 was a non-smoking room on a higher floor. I don’t know if it was the language barrier or what but we walked away with the impression that the 20th floor was the highest floor – turns out that was incorrect.

When we had walked into the lobby, we noticed our luggage was still by the front desk. When they went to escort us to the room they told us our luggage was in the room. We had to walk them over to our luggage and show them it wasn’t. We were taken up to the room, and it was NOT a non-smoking room. I hate to be that picky (especially on award stays), but didn’t want to spend our first night in Japan with headaches. So we politely and apologetically requested another room. 

First Room at the Westin Osaka

First Room at the Westin Osaka

Read More…

Day 1: Arrival in Osaka, Nijo Castle and Kinkaku-Ji

This is a continuation of the Japan Trip Report. You can read more here:
Booking Lufthansa First Class Using United Miles
Lufthansa First Class Denver to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Osaka

We arrived in Osaka around 9am after an AMAZING Lufthansa first class experience (read more from the links above). Well-rested and refreshed, we started the day off running. We had a few items to pick up at the airport before heading into town.

First stop was an ATM, as we had read many places in Japan don’t take credit cards. We used our Bluebird account to withdraw from a 7/11 ATM in the airport and only encountered a $2 fee. It was very convenient and way better than our main banking options ($5+)!

We had rented a pocket WiFi device ahead of time from wifi-hire for roughly $68 for 10 days including pick-up/drop-off at the airport. This turned out to be one of our best ideas. We would have been very lost without WiFi. The WiFi pickup location was very close to where we exited customs and was it very straightforward to pick up. We had decent signal for almost all of our trip, and only had a few issues trying to restart the device a couple times.

After picking up the wifi device, we headed to the JR (Japan Railway) station located in the Kansai airport. Before leaving for Japan, we decided the JR Rail Pass made sense for us. The JR Rail Pass is an unlimited rail travel pass for foreigners. It is somewhat expensive (ours were $280), but if you plan on taking many bullet train trips it can make sense. As we were traveling between Osaka and Tokyo and had a couple day trips planned from Tokyo we decided it made sense for us. Another valid option would have been to use 4,500 Avios per person and fly between Osaka and Tokyo. We decided we wanted leave Osaka at a certain time and make a stop near Nagoya on the way to Tokyo, so the rail pass made more sense for us. 

The gentleman who gave us our rail passes pointed us in the correct direction for the train. It was about a 45 minute ride into Osaka from Kansai airport. We would be staying at the Westin Osaka for our first night, before heading on to Tokyo the next night. After all was said and done we arrived in Osaka around noon. As check-in at the Westin wasn’t available until 2pm, we dropped our luggage off and then headed to Kyoto. The Westin Osaka was about a 10 minute walk from Osaka station, but offered a free shuttle, which was convenient. Kyoto is about a 30 minute train ride from Osaka, and has many neat temples to check out. We did not use the rail pass for travel within Kyoto, as most of it is bus-based. Instead, we paid 500 yen (~$5) for an all day bus pass. The pass was worth it if you did 3 or more bus rides. We intended to do four, but did five by accident!

We decided to go to Nijo Castle first. Nijo Castle was 600 yen (~$6) admission. Nijo Castle is one of the seventeen  designated Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto by UNESCO (click the link if you are interested in some of the history). The castle has singing wooden floors. The floors were designed to make noise in order to warn of intruders.

Read More…

Frankfurt to Osaka on Lufthansa First Class

This is a continuation of the Japan Trip Report. You can read more here:
Booking Lufthansa First Class Using United Miles
Lufthansa First Class Denver to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt

I didn’t really think the second flight would be that eventful, especially in comparison to pulling up on the tarmac in a Porsche.

View During Our Ride To The Plane

View During Our Ride To The Plane

But I was wrong. I was rushing to try to get some good pictures before the other first class passengers arrived.

First Class Cabin

First Class Cabin

The flight attendant approached us and welcomed us and offered a drink. She then told us to feel free to use any seats as we were the only two first class passengers! We had the entire upper deck of the plane to ourselves! We also had two dedicated flight attendants who did an AMAZING job.

Our Empty First Class Cabin

Our Empty First Class Cabin

Since we had boarded slightly early and were the only two first class passengers we decided to push our luck and ask if it was possible to see the flight deck located directly in front of the first class cabin. We were expecting a polite no, but were amazed when they said yes! The pilot was very friendly and asked about our trip, and mentioned that they weren’t as uptight as Americans about seeing the cockpit. It was very, very neat.

Read More…

Lufthansa First Class Terminal In Frankfurt

We arrived in Frankfurt around 11am and quickly passed through customs/immigration. There are several Lufthansa lounge options at the Frankfurt airport. There are First Class lounges within the main airport terminals, but there is also a dedicated First Class Terminal outside of the airport. I had researched ahead of time and knew we would have to leave the airport to get to it. It’s not clearly marked, and it seems to be intended for passengers originating in Frankfurt – not connecting. But we were allowed access. For anyone who is wondering, the couple who was in first class on our flight had a business class connection but was also granted access to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal.

We asked upon arrival at Frankfurt about the lounge and were directed towards one of the ones inside security in the main terminal. But luckily I had read View From The Wing’s great write-up on it and knew to walk out. So we headed out towards ground transportation and walked until we found where the taxi’s originate from. At that point you have to cross the street (where there isn’t a clear crosswalk, it was a little iffy but we made it!) and you will see the First Class Terminal.

Lufthansa First Class Terminal

Lufthansa First Class Terminal

You then walk in on the ground floor and will see a simple sign saying to take the elevator up. We followed and were met by a personal escort, who would come get us when it was time for our flight. The service was simply amazing. Upon entering the First Class Terminal you pass through security there. It was the politest security check point I’ve encountered. No rush, very quiet and nice. You then hand your escort your passport. They will take care of immigration for you and give you back your passport when you leave for your flight. This made me a little nervous, but I had read about it ahead of time so I wasn’t too concerned.

Read More…