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Publishing previous trips in back-dated mode

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After experiencing terrible glitch in TravelMaga’s original website last year, I had to salvage and to move it to the new hosting account. That put a dent in my original target of launching TravelMaga. I did not anticipate such thing upon doing soft-launching TravelMaga. Initially I was targeting at least by November 2017 that we could launch TravelMaga. Our (sort of) unplanned third trip to Japan in November also contributed to additional delay. With all these, I decided to no longer delaying TravelMaga launch. With many of previous travel stories that have not yet been published, I will publish them in back-dated mode (meaning I will post them in future but will use past date of when such posting is supposed to occur approximately instead). For future travels, I will not do them in same mode but may publish them as is.

Many things have not been finished currently and readers may find some missing things from our TravelMaga website. I am currently not too satisfied with few major things, especially the Review sub-system that we have in our website. Tweaking them may take a while and at the same time, I don’t want it to be a reason for further delaying TravelMaga launch. You may find issue with our commenting system (we are using Disqus) but I have tested it and so far, it seems to be working. With all of my work schedule (and others), I may find it difficult to find free time to reply and/or to moderate the comments. You may also find some postings are using few different gallery sub-systems. Hopefully I will finalize them and iron out other issues one by one.

I learnt the hard way that doing blogging while travelling can be very difficult, so you may find some blogs were actually back-dated as they normally were written after we returned from the travel. We also tried our best protecting our website but based on the security logs, we found many attempts made by unknown sources to attack our website. We kindly asked for those who meant harm to us to rescind such activities. Please be considerate to others and let us know any feedbacks that you have. With all of these shortcomings, please pardon us for the inconveniences and be patience until they are addressed. In the meantime, please enjoy our TravelMaga site.

 

TravelMaga Admin

Hotel Review: Hotel Emisia Sapporo

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A very unique hotel that’s just located across JR Shin-Sapporo station. The hotel looked like something straight from Las Vegas boulevard. Its location in Shin-Sapporo is perfect for those folks who want to be still near to New Chitose airport but also still near to Sapporo city. With many shopping malls nearby, this hotel offers attractive features for people who make brief transit to this city and for tourists as well. In fact, we noticed that many pilots and aircrews from many different airlines make this hotel as their place to stay for their brief visit.

We came to this hotel straight from Otaru, as the last stop in our Hokkaido trip before heading back to Tokyo. It’s not difficult to find the hotel since we just simply follow the direction in JR Shin-Sapporo station. Despite of it was late March, weather at night can be colder than during noon. However the hotel’s unique exterior facade which welcomed us at that evening, made us felt warmer despite of the cold air.

Hotel Emisia Sapporo Night View from outside 00Hotel Emisia Sapporo Night View from outside 01Direction from Shin-Sapporo Station to Hotel Emisia SapporoHotel Emisia Sapporo Night View from outside 02Hotel Emisia Sapporo Night View from outside 03Hotel Emisia Sapporo Night View from outside 04Hotel Emisia Sapporo Night View from outside 05Hotel Emisia Sapporo Night View from outside 06Hotel Emisia Sapporo - ElevatorHotel Emisia Sapporo - EscalatorHotel Emisia Sapporo - Dolls from Around The World exhibitHotel Emisia Sapporo - Chapel 01Hotel Emisia Sapporo - Chapel 02Hotel Emisia Sapporo - Chapel 03Buffet Breakfast at Hotel Emisia Sapporo 03Hotel Emisia Sapporo - Chapel 04Hotel Emisia Sapporo - Chapel 05 FixtureHotel Emisia Sapporo - Chapel 06 FixtureBuffet Breakfast at Hotel Emisia Sapporo 01Buffet Breakfast at Hotel Emisia Sapporo 02Toarco Toraja Coffee House at Hotel Emisia Sapporo 00Toarco Toraja Coffee House at Hotel Emisia Sapporo 01Shin Sapporo Panorama from Hotel Emisia Sapporo Hotel Room 01Shin Sapporo Panorama from Hotel Emisia Sapporo Hotel Room 02Shin Sapporo Panorama from Hotel Emisia Sapporo Hotel Room 03Shin Sapporo Panorama from Hotel Emisia Sapporo Hotel Room 04Shin Sapporo Panorama from Hotel Emisia Sapporo Hotel Room 05Hotel Emisia Sapporo - Lobby at early morning 00Hotel Emisia Sapporo - Men Restroom at Lobby 01Hotel Emisia Sapporo - Men Restroom at Lobby 02Hotel Emisia Sapporo - Lobby at early morning 02Hotel Emisia Sapporo - Lobby at early morning 01Hotel Emisia Sapporo - Guest room 01Hotel Emisia Sapporo - Guest room 02Hotel Emisia Sapporo - Guest room Bathroom

 

As we walked closer to the hotel’s entrance, we could see the chapel’s exterior on the right side of the hotel which has greenish roof with white and stone grey wall colors. There were some snows near the side entrance of the hotel but all parking lots and nearby roads were pretty much clean from snow/ice (which was quite a contrast than what we saw at some roads in Otaru and Sapporo downtown that we still could see many of them were covered by snow and ice at that time).

The hotel’s lobby area was quite big. There were plenty of seatings in the middle of lobby, hence guests can wait while sitting in lobby (surprisingly we found some other hotels don’t think such seating facility is important for the guests). Check-in process was quite brief and standard. The receptionist responded well with our requests for the need of large group and provided a very good service to us. One thing that I do notice was those folks who work at front desk were working very late (it was almost midnight) but we were surprised to still see them in the morning! Initially we thought they were part of the evening/morning shift but they were there for the rest of the day since next morning too. They didn’t look tired or anything that indicated they needed rest. We admire their dedication to their job! Especially to one young lady there whom never ran out of her smile. She deserves a gold medal.

Using one of the many elevators to go up, our rooms were at the top level. We could see the surrounding Shin-Sapporo area very clearly. The rooms were quite big. We started to really really like the big rooms trend in the hotels that we stayed during our trip in Hokkaido. The price is not much different than hotels with similar star ratings in Tokyo area. Some of them were even cheaper. During weekends, we could see price increase, but they weren’t as much as price increase that we usually see in Tokyo area’s hotels. The hotel has more than 500 rooms with 32 floors, so it’s considered as quite big in Shin-Sapporo area, the second city center of Sapporo.

The rooms that we got were non-smoking rooms and they were clean and not smelly. Room amenities were standard and Wi-fi was fast enough. The beds were quite comfortable. As usual, room’s central AC was only heater mode during cold seasons. We had to use portable AC/humidier. I didn’t get much to watch TV channels since it was already very late night and we were very tired. I did see they have plenty Japanese television channels to choose from. Unfortunately at this time, I didn’t have time to enjoy the free onsen facility at this hotel because it was already late night and tomorrow we have to catch train to go back to Tokyo.

Next morning, we got up pretty early, considering we came late last night. The anticipated buffet style breakfast at Cafe Dom was already full of hungry guests. Interestingly, the restaurant was in open Atrium area near the chapel. The chapel itself was quite an attraction. It looked like a mini version of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, France. The restaurant serves Western-style and Japanese-style breakfasts with ingredients from Hokkaido’s local produce. The pastries were quite a feat. We really enjoyed that morning breakfast in the Atrium, while looking at the beauty of the chapel’s facade and decorations. This hotel is truly unique and we never had seen things like this anywhere else in Japan so far. The Cafe apparently serves coffee with “Toarco Toraja” brand. The name seems familiar to the ear of Indonesian folks in our team, as it reminds them about a place called Toraja in South Sulawesi.

Upon checkout time at 11AM, we asked the concierge to store our luggages while we took a stroll in Sapporo for lunch. During the checkout time, we saw many pilots and airplane attendants were lining up to wait for their shuttle to go to the airport. It seems this hotel is very popular for those airplane crews due to its proximity with the airport. After lunch, we returned to the hotel, did a little shopping a little bit at the bakery and shop near the hotel’s lobby area before heading to JR Shin-Sapporo to catch our train to Hakodate and from there, we’ll take Hayabusa Shinkansen to go back to Tokyo. Our stay in Hotel Emisia Shin-Sapporo was indeed memorable and satisfying. We will definitely choose to stay at this hotel again in future if we ever go to Shin-Sapporo area.

 

Hotel’s official website:

Hotel’s location:

Hotel Review: Hotel Emisia Sapporo
Our Takeaways
An outstanding hotel in Shin-Sapporo. Has Vegas-like exterior facade. Good quality and service.
Hotel Review - Comfort9.2
Hotel Review - Location8.7
Hotel Review - Service9.5
Hotel Review - Quality9.5
Hotel Review - Cleanliness9.5
Hotel Review - Value9
Hotel Review - Hotel Facilities9
Hotel Review - Room Amenities9
Hotel Review - Entertainment / Fun9
Hotel Review - Communication9
Pros
Location is near JR Shin-Sapporo station..
Near shopping malls.
Buffet Breakfast is top quality.
Has interesting chapel facade.
Cons
A bit far from Sapporo city but ideal for folks who want to be near the New Chitose airport.
9.1
Overall

Hotel Review: Hotel MyStays Premier Sapporo Park

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This is our review for the first hotel that we stayed during our trip to Hokkaido last Spring 2017. The criteria for us to select the first hotel in Sapporo was to be close to main tourist attraction area in downtown Sapporo. Prior to this selection, we chose APA Hotel and Resort Sapporo. However we changed that after we realized that it was located a bit far than what we needed. If not due to location requirement, we would have stayed at APA Hotel and Resort Sapporo as it is more economical for our big group. We ended up choosing Hotel MyStays Premier Sapporo Park since it’s quite close to Susukino area (but not too close since we don’t want to stay in crowded downtown area). Surely it was more expensive than our first choice, however our splurge was not for nothing. Hotel MyStays Premier Sapporo Park indeed delivered the service and quality that we were looking for within that extra budget. I found this hotel is unlike the regular budget hotel that MyStays hotel chain usually associated for. It seems this hotel which has the “MyStays Premier” brand, indicates it has higher class than the regular MyStays hotels.

On the everning of our arrival (we took train from Hakodate), we happened to go to the wrong hotel with almost the same name but turns out to be about one/two stations away in the other side of Sapporo Park. So be sure to know which subway station to go to from JR Sapporo station (please note that we came from that station, not JR Shin Sapporo). Some streets in Sapporo (especially not near city center) could be full of ice and snow during Winter and Spring (we went there during late March 2017). However from Subway station near the hotel to the hotel, we didn’t find any difficulties since the roads and walkways were mostly cleaned from snow and ice. It is always recommended to walk carefully during such seasons to avoid accidents due to slippery walking surface, despite of the roads are cleared or not.

Since the hotel is located at the corner of triangular shape of city block, guests can enter from front (west) or back (east side) or from north side. When we entered the hotel, we were greeted by hotel receptionist. He seemed to understand that we were already tired from our journey and immediately prepared everything for us. There was a big banner of TripAdvisor in the wall that indicated the hotel has good review rating from TripAdvisor site. 

After we checked in, we went outside to find dinner at nearby Susukino area (I’ll post the story later). When we went back to our hotel, it was already late night. I decided to try the indoor hot spring/onsen facility in the hotel. I was wearing Yukata that hotel provided to guests in the room. I had to bring my own towel and the hotel room card key in order to enter the onsen facility. Perhaps it was already quite late at night, there was not many people in the big onsen. It was my first Onsen experience in Japan actually. Some people may have problems with going to Onsen (being naked in front of other folks while taking bath), however it is not a problem for me. Men and women side of Onsen are separated. The steam coming from the hot spring water filled the big room and there were few different hot springs that people can try. Of course, you have to clean up your body first using the plenty of individual bath stations (which I did quite enjoy it) before going to the hot springs. All of my body ache from the journey seemed to go away. 

We did not realize it that it is common in Japan, especially at places with colder climate like in Sapporo, to have their room’s central Air Conditioner in Heater mode only. While the weather was super cold outside during winter, inside the room could be like sauna-hot when that central AC was turned on. We ended up turning it off and using the provided portable AC to have more comfortable room temperature instead. It took a while to figure it out but it was not difficult, despite we can’t read the writings in Japanese fluently. The room was quite spacious and the bed was comfortable. The room has unique design as it has the sofa to be made like a day bed and placed against the window. I could enjoy the night view of Sapporo city from the sofa while slurping my hot tea. The room seemed to have good insulation as it was very quiet and we barely could hear people outside walking in the hallway.

In the morning, we head to our breakfast. It was a buffet style breakfast. By buffet, they really spoiled the guests with so many choices. Frankly, it took me a while to decide how to start it. They pretty much has everything from Western to Japanese style foods. People seemed flocking the queue to get seafood stuffs. Fruits, while it could be very expensive in Japan, but it was plenty available here for breakfast. They also have special separate section in the corner for kids where they have foods tailored for kids (cakes, etc) as well as some toys and decorations for kids. The utensils and plates were also kids size. As expected from hotel with this caliber, the supervisors for dining area were always checking each section as well as guests tables. As soon as guest finishes their dishes, the server always pick the plates up right away.

When we finished our breakfast, we proceeded to check out and asked the concierge to keep our luggages while we were heading outside for lunch, shopping and sightseeing in Sapporo city. By the time when we got back, it was already afternoon. We got a chance to take some photos at the restaurant on first floor that had very nice interior as well as in front of some decorations in the hotel’s lobby. They have a good collection of local arts that were shown in the waiting area.

Since we only stayed for one night, we can’t review everything that this hotel has. Perhaps next time when we have a chance, we will try to cover more thoroughly. In overall, we were very satisfied with the service that this hotel provided. If there is an opportunity to come to Sapporo again, we would definitely choose this hotel again when possible.

Official site:

 

Hotel’s location:

 

Hotel Review: Hotel MyStays Premier Sapporo Park
Our Takeaways
Nice hotel near the heart of Sapporo city.
Hotel Review - Comfort9
Hotel Review - Location9.5
Hotel Review - Service9
Hotel Review - Quality9.5
Hotel Review - Cleanliness9
Hotel Review - Value9
Hotel Review - Hotel Facilities9
Hotel Review - Room Amenities9
Hotel Review - Entertainment / Fun9.5
Hotel Review - Communication9
Pros
Walking distance to Ramen Alley & other entertainment places in Susukino area.
Near Subway station
Breakfast buffet is superb
Very nice big onsen inside
Cons
Room's Central AC only works in Heater mode during cold seasons (Portable AC/Humidifier is provided in the room however)
Parking lots are limited and may be a problem for tourists driving their own cars
9.2
Overall

Hotel Review: Osaka Castle Hotel

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This 3-star hotel is located in Chuo, near Osaka Castle area (hence the name). We only stayed for one night in Osaka and needed a basic hotel that’s located near major train stations in Osaka. We picked this hotel for few reasons. The location of this hotel is very conveniently near Temmabashi station (Keihan train), shopping centers. As a bonus, it’s just located in front of Okawa (O river) and within walking distance to Osaka-jo (Osaka castle). Also it’s not far from Umeda station, which was the meeting place with our tomodachi (friends) for dinner together. The other reason for staying at this hotel was they provide rooms with 4 beds! Also it has very reasonable prices.

OsakaCastleHotelOsakaCastleHotel01OsakaCastleHotel09OsakaCastleHotel02OsakaCastleHotel08OsakaCastleHotel07OsakaCastleHotel06OsakaCastleHotel05OsakaCastleHotel04OsakaCastleHotel03

We normally always choose newer built hotels that offer non-smoking rooms since we can’t stand staying in rooms that have smoking odors. Although this hotel is not brand-new, however it’s maintained very good condition and the non-smoking room that we stayed indeed was not smelly or having weird odor at all. Some of the interior inside the hotel in general needs some updates but it’s not our concern or a deal breaker for us. Also the room that we stayed was actually quite up-to-date and doesn’t feel like an old hotel.

Checkin time is 2PM, which is a life saver for folks who needed to get some rests after moving from other city and could use the room before starting their day trip again. Their checkout time is very generously at noon (most hotels we stayed have checkout time at 11AM, or even few of them were only 10AM!). Interestingly the hotel lobby is not on the first floor, so you have to use elevators to go up.

During our stay, we didn’t have a chance to try the breakfast so we can’t give any reviews about the food service. Before our trip, we had concern about people were giving some comments about rooms being small. However when we got here, the quadruple room that we stayed had reasonable size and could accommodate all of our big luggages and still plenty room for 4 of us moving around. Perhaps if compared to hotels in USA with comparable rating, it may be too small for certain people from there. However, to be fair, if compared to other hotels in Japan, this hotel has slightly better size.

The bed was comfortable enough but it was too soft for me who prefers firm bed. It was okay for other folks in our group however. The room amenities were pretty standard for Japanese hotels. The bathroom is also quite standard size with of course, bidet equipped toilet (we love it!). Our room has big windows where you can look at the river in front of the hotel as well as the park and tall buildings that are in Temmabashi area.

We enjoyed the evening during our stay by strolling the Okawa Temmabashi river cruise which we got the tickets at the base of the Keihan City Mall building where this hotel is located. The tree was full of lighting decorations at the nearby park gave the cruise an extra nice touch. With so many restaurants at the mall, people should not worry about where to get foods. However, since we already had dinner appointment at Umeda, we went there by taking train in the subway station underneath the building.

The next day, upon our checkout time, it was not too difficult to catch taxi as they were already lined up in front of the hotel. It only took us few minutes to go to Shin-Osaka station from this hotel. We will definitely stay at this hotel again if we want to explore Temmabashi area in future.

Hotel’s location:

Hotel’s official website:

Hotel Review: Osaka Castle Hotel
Our Takeaways
A good basic value three-star hotel with superb location. Their triple and quadruple rooms are good choice for big travelling family.
Hotel Review - Comfort8.5
Hotel Review - Location9.7
Hotel Review - Service8.5
Hotel Review - Quality8.5
Hotel Review - Cleanliness8.5
Hotel Review - Value9.5
Hotel Review - Hotel Facilities8.5
Hotel Review - Room Amenities8.5
Hotel Review - Entertainment / Fun8
Hotel Review - Communication8.5
Pros
Has large capacity rooms (quadruple & triple rooms)
Good service, clean rooms
Location is near Osaka Castle and Umeda, just above train station and shopping mall.
Cons
Some of the interior is a bit outdated but it is not too much a bother to us.
Lobby is not in the ground floor, must use Elevator or stairs.
8.7
Overall

Hotel Review: Daiwa Roynet Hiroshima

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We happened to stay in this hotel by “accident”. It was due to our miscalculation, hence we missed the last Shinkansen train from Hiroshima to Kobe. One of the JR station officer helped us to book our Shinkansen for the early morning the next day and gave the list of hotels nearby the station. Despite of his kindness, the hotels nearby the JR Hiroshima station were either full or had sky-high prices. In our frantic search, I found one particular hotel in Hiroshima that I remember I had read about upon our planning time.

Initially before booking our flight to Japan, we thought we could spend at least one night in Hiroshima. However the other team members reminded us that they did not want to move to new hotel everyday (despite of wanting to visit Hiroshima). I was worried that we would not make it. My worry turned out to be true. As we missed the train to go back to JR Hiroshima station, we missed our last Shinkansen train! Luckily I was able to get rooms at Daiwa Roynet Hiroshima hotel with the help of Hotels.com from my iPhone (it was almost midnight). I redeemed one of my free night there. I actually felt very relieved that we were able to get the room, considering that day was actually a big holiday and most hotel rooms were fully booked.

Due to the “emergency” nature of our stay in this hotel, I can’t give much review since literally we only stayed for brief period of time (less than 7 hours) but I feel obligated to give the review anyway. We took taxi to go to Daiwa Roynet Hiroshima (spent about less than 1500 yen). Once there, we were greeted by one person (which happened to be the only person to handle the front desk at that time). He gave us a bag with extra towels and yukata. The hotel rooms were quite clean. For americans, perhaps they would think the room too small for their size, but to us, it’s comparable with many 3 stars hotels that we had been before. Actually I quite like the bed. It’s on the firm side and good for my back. The room amenities were quite complete. There is a small portable AC/humidifier that you could use since the room’s AC seems to be for heater mode only during this season.

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After a hot shower, we were able to go to sleep, although only for brief period (about 5 hours) as we had to go back to JR Hiroshima station before 6AM. The receptionist gave us a morning wake up call as I ordered. The same person who helped us last night was still there. He told me that he already called taxi and it was waiting at the left side of the hotel. Since neither of us had luggage to carry (our luggage was still at Kobe!), we briefly departed the hotel. Before leaving, I told the receptionist guy that we owed much to him. I promised myself that I will go here again when we visit Hiroshima again in future.

We definitely agree with this hotel’s motto: It is indeed a no non-sense hotel!

Hotel’s location:

Hotel’s official web site:

Hotel Review: Daiwa Roynet Hiroshima
Our Takeaways
A no nonsense hotel, located at the heart of Hiroshima, near Peace memorial museum and other major interests in Hiroshima. Can't go wrong with this if you need basic hotel but good service and amenities.
Hotel Review - Comfort8.5
Hotel Review - Location9
Hotel Review - Service9
Hotel Review - Quality8.5
Hotel Review - Cleanliness9
Hotel Review - Value9.3
Hotel Review - Hotel Facilities7.5
Hotel Review - Room Amenities7.5
Hotel Review - Entertainment / Fun8
Hotel Review - Communication8
Reader Rating0 Votes0
Pros
Near Peace Memorial Museum and other major interests in Hiroshima.
Good service and decent amenities.
Cons
Room is a bit small but decent enough for a family.
8.4
Overall

Hotel Review: The B Kobe – Kobe, Japan

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The B Kobe was among many hotels in Kobe that we reviewed before making decision. It won our selection due to its location and attractive price. The location is unbeatable since it’s right in Sannomiya district. The price was a winner too. If you were looking for a nice view, this hotel is not for you since it’s not a high rise building and right in the center of Kobe. I would recommend ANA Crowne Plaza Kobe for such venture. In fact, that hotel was our first selection until we decided to move closer to Sannomiya district instead of Shin-Kobe area.

To us, non-smoking rooms are our most important factor since we can’t stand smoking odor in the room. When we arrived there, we were glad that the non-smoking rooms that they gave us was indeed has no smoking odor or any other foul smells. The rooms were clean.

Interestingly this hotel’s lobby is in the second floor. You need to take the escalator to go up to the lobby. The first floor is occupied by restaurant and cafe. There are two small elevators for guest rooms, right next to the receptionist desk. At the lobby, guests can enjoy free coffee and Wifi. 

In the room, there is Wifi too and the connection speed was quite fast. The single beds were quite comfy. Actually the beds are rather firm, which are good for my back. The bathroom is an interesting one. It has a long shape and the wall is in yellow greenish color. The smart bidet toilet will open the lid automatically if it detects your presence and close the lid when you move away from it. The shower peculiarly has a place where guest can sit down while taking shower. This will be very beneficial for elderly people, although it’s not particularly helpful for people with disabilities since you have to step up to the shower as it’s placed higher than the bathroom’s floor. There is no bath tub however, but it’s not a deal breaker since none of us would take bath tub on this trip (we’d rather go to Onsen or Sento for such pleasure). Travelling with kids can be rather convenient with this hotel when you find coin-operated washer-dryer machines facility in this hotel. Vending machines also can be found in most floors of this hotel.

Upon entering the hotel from the road side, there is a short wheelchair ramp to allow guests with wheelchairs and luggage to go upstairs. During certain days, this hotel can be full of tourist groups as tour buses dropped their passengers here rather frequently. We saw people coming from China, Hongkong, Taiwan, Korea and Indonesia in big groups. I didn’t have opportunity to try the breakfast buffet in the morning but one of our team members tried the japanese-italian style buffet and she quite liked it, especially the breads. For us, having italian breakfast could be quite heavy.

To reach this hotel, we took subway from JR Shin-Kobe station to Sannomiya subway station (not JR Sannomiya station). Unfortunately our IC Cards (Pasmo, Suica) that we got from JR Station in Tokyo can’t be used here. They have different IC Cards. That gave us a lesson. However it didn’t make us worry since the subway cost was quite small. Later we learnt that for a small group of people, it’s better to take taxi, especially when you have to drag the luggage with you and not all station exits have elevators/escalators. From this hotel to JR Sannomiya station, it only costs us less than 1000 yen to take taxi. 

There is a small shrine located near the hotel (right behind the Tokyu Hands store which is near the hotel as well). The Sannomiya subway station has multiple exits, so either read the sign carefully or ask the station officer for directions. Our west exit to the hotel didn’t have escalator/elevator so we instead took elevator at Tokyu Hands basement level floor to go up to the street level. For foods, you can walk around Sannomiya district as there are tons of restaurants and food courts available. For big shopping malls, they are located around JR Sannomiya station, which is can be reached by walking for about few minutes towards east direction. Hotel staffs are friendly and can be resourceful to ask around for places that you want to go. We definitely will stay in this hotel again if we want to explore Kobe, especially at Sannomiya district.

 

Location of the hotel:

Hotel’s official web site:

Hotel Review: The B Kobe – Kobe, Japan
Our Takeaways
Right in Sannomiya district of Kobe. Most of attractions are within walking distance. Hotel shower has a place to sitdown while taking shower. Clean and quiet room. Good value for people who want to visit Kobe's Sannomiya.
Hotel Review - Comfort9
Hotel Review - Location9.5
Hotel Review - Service8.5
Hotel Review - Quality8.5
Hotel Review - Cleanliness9
Hotel Review - Value9.5
Hotel Review - Hotel Facilities8.5
Hotel Review - Room Amenities8.5
Hotel Review - Entertainment / Fun8
Hotel Review - Communication8.5
Reader Rating0 Votes0
Pros
Location is right in Sannomiya district. Easy access to anywhere. Walking distance to major attractions nearby.
Shower has a section where people can sit down while taking shower. Good for elderly people.
Room has good enough size with standard amenities.
Cons
Elevator and the room can be a bit small for large families with many big luggage.
Can be very crowded during tourist heavy season.
Lobby is not at the ground floor. Can be difficult to drag luggage to second floor. Escalator is only one person wide.
8.8
Overall

Hotel Review: APA Hotel & Resort Tokyo Bay Makuhari

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We chose this hotel as our base for our vacation since it’s quite near proximity to Disneyland and DisneySea theme parks (only few stops from JR Kaihin-Makuhari station). Previously we were considering for hotels that are in Maihama station’s vicinity (literally the gateway to the theme parks). However their price was quite high. While bigger rooms in APA Makuhari hotel’s central tower can be above $100 per night, the smaller rooms for two people were considerably priced (if you book the rooms sooner, the price can be very cheap). The ‘smaller rooms’ are actually slightly bigger than what we used to have when staying in Kawasaki or Kyoto. However, for family with many luggages and kids, we would recommend the bigger rooms.

It took about 30 – 40 minutes by Airport Limousine bus from Narita Airport to reach this hotel which only costs us 900 yen per person and 50% discount for kids under certain age. Be mindful that bus only operates during certain hours. As they may change at any time, please check with the Airport Limousine bus info desk near the entrance of the terminal. They will take your luggages and tag them with coupons that have numbers on them. It is extremely important to keep the coupons as they are needed to retrieve your luggages upon arrival at your destination hotel.

APA Makuhari 00APA Hotel Tokyo Bay

 

We had opportunity to review both smaller and bigger two bedrooms. While the size of the bed is only single bed, we were able to move the two beds side-by-side, hence it turned into something wider than queen-size bed. The bigger room (aka ‘Deluxe Twin Room’) that we got has a narrow passage where a walk-in closet on the right side was located and the bathroom was located on the left side, before entering the actual bedroom. For the price that we got, this room indeed was quite big for Japan’s hotel. The room was quite spacious, with big windows facing the coast line (we only got the room on 11th floor, so the view of coast line was a bit obstructed). The next stay with smaller ‘Standard Twin’ room was on 25th floor and had gorgeous view of the coast line. The Standard Twin room barely allowed us to put our 3 luggages on the side, next to the beds (that’s after shifting the bed to put them side-by-side).

When we arrived at the hotel, we had to actually go to the receptionist area that’s located at the east wing. There was a long line of people already in the queue for check-in. They had several checkin-counter opened, so it wasn’t long until our turn. The check-in process was automated via a touch-screen kiosk. The receptionist was guiding us with his somewhat limited English but we were able to understand, despite of few things that we weren’t sure of. We actually had to ask for APA club card to him. However, when we were asking about the benefits of APA club card, he had hard time to explain it to us. Since we were already tired from our long journey and it was already late night, we went to our rooms.

We found our rooms were clean and tidy. To our surprise, we found a big walk-in closet in our room! We put our luggages inside that walk-in closet. The toilet sink and mirror were placed outside next to the bathroom. Inside the bath room, as usual, a toilet with bidet, regular size bath tub and shower. There is a laundry line that you can pull out to hang your wet laundry (which is useful since the coin laundry machines on the 3rd floor seemed to take forever to dry our clothes). There was a small refrigerator (but cold enough to turn your bottled water to ice), a medium sized flat-panel TV with plenty channels (most of them are in Japanese language), safety box, and other standard hotel amenities. As APA hotel chain signature, they put two Origami Swans and two Kimono robes (Yukata) with APA brand on it. The sandals that they gave were too small for me but it’s fine for my wife’s size.

There were 6 elevators available in Central tower for guest hotel rooms and restaurants on the top floors. The 3 elevators on the right were faster ones as they do not stop on floors lower than 25th (except the first 3 floors). There were additional elevators that were special for the restaurant on the top floor. Using those elevators, you can see the outside view from the window while moving up and down.

Since we were hungry, we looked for any nearby shopping malls. We found that there was no shuttle bus going directly from the hotel to AEON mall which was close by. According to the concierge person, it may take about 30 minutes walking. She suggested to go to the JR Kaihin-Makuhari station which only took much shorter time and there will be shuttle bus that goes from the station to the mall. She pointed out that there is a bridge that we can use to walk across the street towards the station. From there, we found several shopping malls with plenty food courts and restaurants. We were able to visit few of them and tried several foods. Among them, our favorite is PLENA Makuhari. There was a Katsu-ya that sells really good Chicken Katsu.

During our 6 days stay at APA Hotel & Resort Tokyo Bay Makuhari, I was able to enjoy their Sento (Public bath) that was on the 4th floor for few times. It was very relaxing. There were coin-operated lockers provided in the entrance but I found there was also lockers with wearable key inside the changing room. You have to use your room key to get inside. So it’s important to place your key safely inside the locker. The fun fact that I found was they kept changing the men and women areas every day. So, make sure you enter the right one! You have to follow their rules, so be sure to read the signs. As usual, coin-operated vending machine is also available inside. There were also plenty bathing stations in the Sento. To dry your hair, you can use the hairdryer provided in the room next to changing room. In one occasion, I was startled when a cleaning lady entered the men’s changing room to pick up dirty towels and cleaning up the room. I felt uneasy when she was there but others seem to ignore her. The fact that the Sento remains open until 2AM is really the ultimate deal for me since usually we arrive really late at the hotel back from our day trip until almost midnight. After hot bath, I found another paradise in this hotel: two LAWSON Konbini (Convenience stores) on the 3rd and 1st floor. I usually bought midnight snacks, Japanese beers and Oden! Yes, they have Oden! The first time I ate Oden while drinking Japanese Beers, it was like in heaven.

In the morning, we went to LA VERANDA restaurant to claim our breakfast buffet coupons. The buffet was Continental, Chinese and Japanese style. My son’s favorite was their potato fries and Yakult (yes, strangely they have Yakult!).  The yakult drink is very popular and easily be gone fast. The restaurant was in the right wing side and had a swimming pool outside (which we didn’t try since when we came, it was already cold weather). If I’m not mistaken, you have to pay small fee to use the swimming pool (not free) but I could be wrong. Tourist buses can be seen parked next to the Right wing building. There is a big bull statue near the LAWSON on Right wing’s1st floor that reminds me of the one at the Wall Street, NYC.

We were able to store our luggages in the hotel and went back 5 days later to collect them and resumed our stay in the hotel before our departure. In overall, we were quite satisfied with this hotel and really recommend it if you are visiting Makuhari and nearby areas. It is so far the best APA hotel that we ever stayed.

Hotel Review: APA Hotel & Resort Tokyo Bay Makuhari
Our Takeaways
A Makuhari's jewel. Its location, price, Sento (Public Bath)/Onsen, facilities are killer combination. Really recommended for family who are visiting Disneyland/DisneySea theme parks nearby. Tokyo station is only about half hour by rapid train service. Narita airport can be reached by Airport Limousine bus, taxi or train. Coast-facing rooms have awesome view of Tokyo Bay.
Hotel Review - Comfort8.5
Hotel Review - Location9
Hotel Review - Service9
Hotel Review - Quality8.5
Hotel Review - Cleanliness8.5
Hotel Review - Value9.5
Hotel Review - Hotel Facilities9.5
Hotel Review - Room Amenities9
Hotel Review - Entertainment / Fun9.5
Hotel Review - Communication9
Pros
Their Onsen is already enough justification to stay in this hotel.
Location is near Disney resorts, easy access to train and bus stations.
Very nice buffet style breakfast. Has two sections to handle during crowded morning breakfast time upon heavy tourist seasons.
Higher floor rooms have breathtaking view of the city and the bay.
Large receptionist area that can handle many guests, easy check-in and check-out.
Cons
Standard rooms can be too small for certain guests (However they are common in Japan's hotels with similar star rating).
Room can be very hot in morning when the morning sun hit the window, despite of already have windows blinds cover. Need to use portable AC to cool down the room.
Some portion of the top areas in the locker room in the onsen were quite dusty. Perhaps need some cleaning.
Need to go down to receptionist area to get extra towels, etc.
9
Overall

Restaurant Review: Saizeriya Italian Restaurant (Sunpiazza Duo, Shin-Sapporo, Japan)

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As we arrived at Shin-Sapporo station quite late at night (around 9PM), many of nearby restaurants and shopping malls have closed or about to close. Near Shin-Sapporo station, there was a shopping mall (Sunpiazza Duo) and AEON mall. However most of the stores over there were already closed. As we were looking for any restaurants, the mall directory showed the food court has already closed but the restaurants at 5th floor were still open. As we arrived at the fifth floor, there were not many choices. The strong candidates for our dinner place were a ramen shop, japanese traditional restaurant and to our surprise: Saizeriya italian restaurant!It was still open until very late night (10.30PM), so we still had couple hours before it’s closing.

Before we came to Japan, we had watched many videos in Youtube about Saizeriya. It seems an interesting dining place that offers value for travellers on the budget. The prices were not expensive and there are free refills for drinks (very unusual for restaurants in Japan). We didn’t expect to get quality as high as regular italian restaurants but to our surprise, the foods that we had during our dining at Saizeriya were quite decent. It took us a while to scan the menu (you may find it here: http://www.saizeriya.co.jp/menu/grandmenu.html) which was quite thick and full of foods that made us salivating while looking at them.  The dessert section at the back of the menu was enough to convince ourself that our choice was not wrong.

I got myself a hamburg steak. I couldn’t stop drinking the Melon Fanta, despite of the bright green color. For dessert, we ended our dinner with Ice Tiramisu and Italian Custard pudding. We were quite satisfied by the service although they only had two people working at that small restaurant place. Besides us, there were three group of customers having dinner at that late night. We will definitely go to Saizeriya if we ever found ourself in the same situation next time we go to Japan.

 

Address:

5-6-3 Atsubetsu Chuo 2 Jo, Atsubetsu-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido – Japan

Ph: +81 11-890-2696

http://www.saizeriya.co.jp/

 

 

Japan Trip (Spring 2017) Day 4 Part 1 – Exploring Otsu City (Miidera Temple)

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I woke up around 7AM at my hotel room (I was staying at 22nd floor of Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel). I remember that I had to move room to the Sky room which is located at higher floor (33th floor). After a nice bath, I went to 35th floor restaurant to get a breakfast. After a good & plenty breakfast, I decided to go to Otsu station as my point of walking tour. I was planning to visit at least three places (which was very ambitious), not knowing that the heavy storm was already brewing at the northern part of Lake Biwa that morning and was heading south to Otsu. That was partly my mistake but the weather in this area indeed was quite unpredictable. It had decided the fate of that ambitious plan and I eventually was only able to visit the first place, which was Miidera Temple. Regardless of the outcome from today, at the end of the day, I had very good experience in Otsu.

Miidera Temple, or also known as Onjō-ji (園城寺), was recommended by the lady at the Otsu visitor center near the Otsu station. She also recommended to go to Hieizan Enryaku-ji Temple, which was located further north and had to be accessed by Cable car from Sakamoto. As my third original destination, I wanted to visit Biwako Terrace (which is located even further north and I had to go to Shiga station to access the Biwako Valley Ropeway from there). However, as I mentioned earlier, the other two were just simply impossible to go since they were closed due to heavy storm that hit the Otsu area later that day.

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From my hotel, it only took about 15 minutes to reach Otsu station by hotel’s shuttle bus. I stopped by at the Otsu Visitor center that’s located next to the station and acquired some maps and brochures of the area. From there, I walked north, along the narrow street, towards Miidera temple. I had to follow the straight line until I reach a local market and turn left, going through the indoor market. It was a very good sightseeing and I had a chance to greet “Ohayo gozaimasu” to some people that I met on the street. I stopped by at few stores, bakery and took some photos along the way. Without I realized it, I spent a good hour before I reached a big Torii made from stone/concrete. From there, a short walk to the entrance (it was not the main entrance however) of Miidera temple. After paying the entrance fee, I was told to take the stairs to go up.

When I looked at the stairs, I barely could see the top. It was quite an effort to go up using the stairs. While making few brief rests, suddenly it started to rain! As a person coming from Seattle’s Pacific Northwest, this rain was not much and I actually liked it, rather than being in a hot and humid weather. The rain drops, fresh air, and a hint of trees’ scent kinda gave me a boost, as if they were saying “Gambatte kudasai!” to me as I was climbing the stairs that seemed never ending. Surelly I have been in such situation before in the past, but I didn’t feel any difficulties climbing the stairs, despite of I was carrying quite heavy backpack.

When I reached the top, I could see one of the building in the temple complex.

 

 

Hotel Review: Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel

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This 3.5 star hotel in Otsu, Shiga prefecture, Japan has special place in our heart. If a man could build a nirvana, this probably one of the best of such thing on Earth. The view of Biwako (Lake Biwa) from this high rise tower is amazing. It is a jewel hidden in this city called Otsu, which is just a stone throw away from north of Kyoto.

Before coming to this place, I had no reason of staying in Otsu. However, after reading the reviews and seeing amazing photos of this hotel, I immediatelly cancelled my previous plan of staying in Kyoto. Also it only takes about few minutes train ride from Kyoto station to Otsu station (i.e.: JR Biwako Line). This hotel provides a free area shuttle that can pick people up at the Otsu station. Despite of the shuttle only runs every hour on certain day (please refer to hotel official website since schedule may change in future), I did not mind a short wait when I arrived at Otsu station.

Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel SeibuLake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel Biona 01Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel Biona 00LakeBiwaOtsuPrinceHotel_BridgeViewLakeBiwaOtsuPrinceHotel_BreakfastLakeBiwaOtsuPrinceHotel_BiwakoMapNearFrontDeskLakeBiwaOtsuPrinceHotel_EntranceBiwako00

While waiting, I was at the Starbucks near the station, sipping Sakura Frappuccino while looking at the shuttle stop across the street). It is probably nicer if the area shuttle can pick up people in front of the Otsu station but the shuttle stop area is just across the street. There are few other area shuttles belong to other hotel (Biwako Grand hotel is one of them). So make sure you choose the right one that has the right hotel name (I may try staying at Biwako Grand hotel in future visit and will post a review when possible). Since I only carried my small luggage with me at that time, it was not difficult to get inside the shuttle since it was a medium size bus. My bigger luggage was already sent to the hotel from their “Welcome Counter” service at Kyoto station. My Japanese friend who told me about such service. I found their service was superb. They were located near the Kyoto Station South Exit, JR Shinkansen Hachijo Exit. Be mindful about their availability hours since they have a 2PM deadline on sending luggages to the hotel from the station.

I had opportunity to  stay at two different rooms in this hotel during my short stay in Otsu. The first one was Sky floor suite at 22nd floor. And the second one was at the 35th floor. The first room was overlooking the center of the lake and the other one was overlooking the east side of the lake (I prefer the first one since I could see the west side of Otsu city and the lake Biwa better but the second one had a good view of the Omi Ohashi bridge, Yabasekihan park/island and east side of Otsu city, as well as Kusatsu city from distance since the room was is at much higher elevation).

When I arrived at the hotel, I saw bunch of umbrellas placed on bins near the entrance. At that time, I guess it’s probably raining a lot in this area. I was greeted by a lady at the Concierge and she showed me to the receptionist counter for check-in. The person at receptionist counter spoke to me in Japanese, and I politely informed him that I’m from USA and only can speak a little bit of Japanese. And then we started conversing in English. The check-in time was brief. After giving my passport to let him get a copy and filled in the guest info form, I was given card key to the room. I asked about my big luggage that was sent earlier from Kyoto station and he told me that it’s already in my room. Whoa! What a nice service!

A bell boy took me to my room at 22nd floor and I found my luggage already parked inside the room. The room itself was amazingly huge. I fell in love already with the room. Upon walking inside, I found the bathroom, sink, toilet room, and closet were in the middle of the hallway. The bedroom was very spacious with sofas, cabinets, flat panel TV and all amenities there. The windows were even more amazing since they have unobstructed view of the lake and surrounding cities with mountains in the background. The lake Biwa was almost like sea since I can’t really see the other side of it.

I couldn’t really wait for me to try the Japanese style bathroom. The tub was big enough for my tall body to sink in, but as I remember, I had to wash my body first. There was a small plastic chair for me to sit down while washing my body before entering the tub. I really like the design of the bathroom and the faucets. All of the shampoo, liquid soap, conditioner were very well made and I felt like I was in a spa. While enjoying my bath, I was still in disbelief that I was in Otsu and found such hotel.

After I went back from dinner with friends, I was quite tired from my journey. The bed was very comfy. After watching TV, I felt a sleep like baby and did not wake up until around 8AM the next morning. After a quick shower, I went down to receptionist and asked them that I will have to move to different room. They told me to leave my luggage in the room and it would be delivered to the new room. I went up to 37th floor to get breakfast at “Lake View Dining Biona” restaurant. Breakfast time was only until 10AM, so I only had a little bit over one hour to enjoy the breakfast buffet. I only needed to show the breakfast coupon that was given inside the check-in package. The waiter showed me to my table and gave me a card to place on the table to indicate it’s occupied.

The Biona restaurant was magnificent on service, food quality, as well as the grand view of Lake Biwa. That morning, a good amount of fog was coming from the mountain on west side of Otsu city. The view was simply astonishing. I couldn’t stop taking photos and videos from the window, almost forgotten about the breakfast if I did not hear my stomach’s sound. The food choices in Biona were quite rich. From Western style on the left side to Japanese style on the right side, I had difficulties on determining which one to get first. I normally do not eat a lot for breakfast but that morning, I was able to eat two plates and some fruits. They had a special drink (I forgot the name) with purple-ish color that was made from mix of veggies and fruits, which I really enjoyed drinking it. The pastries were also quite tempting but I only tried two of those.

While eating my breakfast, I started to notice a very beautiful instrumental music that really compliment the atmosphere in this restaurant. I can’t forget the sound of piano, strings and guitar that were playing very softly and had Japanese nuance in the melody. It was a mixed of easy listening, jazzy, japanese and new age. Since I was so curious about the music, I had to ask the lady at the cashier counter about what songs were being played. She showed me that it was played using streaming device. I had opportunity of taking snapshot of the name of the music but until now, i still couldn’t find the music. I did find (by some luck) of music that’s almost similar with that.

What’s missing from this hotel were there was no coin-operated laundry facility nor Sento (japanese public bath). The number of elevators were sufficient and fast enough to go the upper guest floors. The service from all workers was superb. The hotel was clean and has very good amenities. Wifi/Internet was fast and the rooms were huge for a hotel this class. I noticed all the cups in the room’s cabinets were ceramics with hotel’s logo on it. Certainly I was extremely satisfied with my stay during spring season in this hotel. It really made my visit to Otsu a very good experience. You can’t go wrong by staying at this hotel when visiting Otsu. My japanese friend’s parents also always choose this hotel to stay when going for vacation at Otsu.

As an update: Upon my return to Seattle, few months later, I received an invitation to stay in this hotel from Shiga prefecture – Biwako Tourism Bureau. It was as a result of my submission about Shiga and Biwako that I did during my stay in Japan. It was a very unexpected gift! I will post my story and my 2nd review of this hotel later.

Official Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel website:

Hotel Review: Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel
Our Takeaways
Hotel Review - Comfort9.5
Hotel Review - Location8.5
Hotel Review - Service9.5
Hotel Review - Quality9
Hotel Review - Cleanliness9.5
Hotel Review - Value9.5
Hotel Review - Hotel Facilities9
Hotel Review - Room Amenities9.5
Hotel Review - Entertainment / Fun9.5
Hotel Review - Communication9
Pros
Fabulous View of Lake Biwa
Fantastic Breakfast/Meals
Huge Rooms
Good Services
Cons
A bit far from Otsu city center (but they provide shuttle to Otsu station and plenty taxi are available)
9.3
Overall
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