I mentioned back in my post on Trip Planning that I booked the Courtyard by Marriott Tokyo Station because it was the cheapest award option available to someone with SPG points (35,000 Marriott Points= 11,667 SPG points per night). But location wise, it’s awesome too. I know Tokyo station isn’t as happening as say, Shibuya, but it’s still an excellent place to use as a base for exploring Tokyo, with easy access to and from the airport. I reached Tokyo station in just under 30 minutes from Haneda.
Despite the name, the property isn’t exactly at Tokyo Station- it’s maybe a 6-7 minute walk depending on how much luggage you have (and how lost you get at Tokyo Station). You can save yourself a lot of trouble by remembering to take the Yaesu South exit of Tokyo Station.
On the plus side, the hotel is extremely near the Kyobashi station (on the Ginza line), perhaps a 1 minute walk from the entrance.
First Impressions and Check In
The property itself is surprisingly small- it’s spread across four floors, and the 150 guestrooms are only on levels 2-4. The first floor has the (very excellent) Lava Rock Grill, which I’ll cover under the breakfast review, plus a coffee and pastries style cafe.
Check-in is up on the fourth floor. It was a very cozy lobby that was designed in the style of a living room, complete with communal dining table and armchairs a plenty. Secluded in a dark corner were automated kiosks for quick check in and out, but I didn’t see anyone using them.
My favourite feature however was the “lounge”. It’s not a brand standard for Courtyards to have lounges, of course, but this one had gone a bit above and beyond to set up a small area with complimentary drinks for Gold and Platinum members.
The fridge had soft drinks, bottled water, fresh juice and local + imported beers. There was really no way of enforcing the “Platinum and Gold” members only rule, but I suppose when you’re in a place like Japan the honor system is king. It was a really nice touch by the hotel and meant I didn’t have to go out and buy bottled water (yes, I know Japan has some of the cleanest tap water in the world but watching Avatar made me really angry at Gaia)
My room wasn’t ready when I arrived at 8am, so I headed out to explore Tsukiji market before returning around noon to check in. At check in, the staff passed me a letter asking me to indicate my preferred welcome amenity. They advised me to take the points because of the aforementioned minifridge in the lobby. I find Marriott’s welcome gift of 250 Marriott points to be inferior to Starwood’s (SPG’s properties offer 250/500 SPG points (750/1,500 Marriott points) depending on the brand), but every point counts I guess.
There’s a surprisingly large range of room types for a Courtyard property.
Cozy Double (16 sqm)
Creators Double/Queen (19 sqm)
Editors Twin/Queen (23 sqm)
Photographer Corner Twin (33 sqm)
I booked a standard reward room and was given a Creators Double on the second floor. I’m not sure if this counted as an upgrade over the Cozy room or what, but the size difference is honestly negligible. This is Tokyo, so don’t expect big rooms. My room was actually bigger than I envisioned it.
On the bright side, the bed and pillows were extremely comfortable and had the scent of fresh laundry.
The view from the room was…uninspiring. However the sound proofing was excellent and a light sleeper like me wasn’t bothered by any of the road noise.
There was a proper work desk with a lamp, but the chair wasn’t the most comfortable for seating for extended periods of time (no lumbar support).
Disappointingly, the desk lacked USB ports and the power sockets were not universal, so be sure to bring an adapter if you visit.
This property gave quite a few welcome gifts. I got three cans of beer, a mix of Japanese nuts…
…and a wafer thin biscuit welcoming me to the Courtyard Tokyo Station (that predictably broke a little while later in my clumsy fingers)
Here’s an idea of the prices for in-room dining in case you’re curious.
Fun fact: the Marriott chain is owned by Bill Marriott, a staunch Mormon. Hence you’ll find copies of the Book of Mormon in most Marriott properties alongside the Gideons provided Bibles.
Below the work desk was a minifridge and a safe.
The minifridge had 2 more free bottles of water inside.
The bathroom was cramped, yet for whatever reason had a bathtub. Unless you’re running a luxury property, there really is no need for bathtubs in rooms. The toilet had a fancy Japanese bidet.
I didn’t realise it at first, but opening the drawer beneath the tissue box revealed a host of amenities including, most interestingly, a hair scrunchy (scrunchie?)
Breakfast is served at the Lava Rock Grill from 0630 to 1000.
As a Platinum member, I received a complimentary breakfast coupon for each day of my stay (Gold members get the same).
Breakfast was amazing. I knew the Japanese were proud of their food, but this was easily one of the best hotel breakfasts I ever had. And did I mention it was totally free?
All the food is labelled in bright white chalk, so I don’t need to give you a blow by blow rundown. But to summarize- there were Western and Japanese options, and they were all very high quality.
The hot items really stole the show for me. The items look no different from what you’d get at any breakfast buffet, but remember this is Japan, so the produce and meats are of the highest quality. I guess you had to be there to taste it, but ordinary things like mushrooms and greenbeans tasted amazing because of the freshness. So too mundane items like sausages and pork rashers.
You could also get made to order pancakes.
And because it’s Japan, you know the pancakes are going to be cute. The pancake was done in the style of a small ball.
Here’s a sampling of the other hot items…
They had big crispy steak fries, at breakfast. Plus, just look at how red those tomatoes are! Japanese cherry tomatoes are famous in their own right, but grill them till their skins burst and you’re in flavortown.
I made myself a simple egg and rice set. The rice was as good as any rice I had in all of Tokyo, and the egg yolk was a luxurious orange.
I’m sure the fruit wasn’t the expensive Japanese type you see at Taka, but it was still light years ahead of any fruit I’ve ever had at a breakfast buffet. The melon dissolved in your mouth.
The rooms may be nothing to shout about, but man, that breakfast. I don’t know if this is par the course for all hotels in Tokyo, but if anything it just reaffirms how obsessed the Japanese are about quality. It’s incredible if you think about it- the Japanese set out to create the best rice, chicken, pork, beef, fruits…and did. I’ve read that you could go into a run of the mill 7-Eleven for a re-heated meal and get better rice than you’d find in Singapore. I’m tempted to believe it.
If you’re a Starwood loyalist who is looking for options in Tokyo, you could do far worse than pick the Courtyard Tokyo Station.
ratatouille is in love with food, cooking and travel (who isn’t). Apart from cooking up a storm in his kitchen and worry about the calories, he is blessed to be able to undertake occasional travels around the region for his work. Sharing is caring, he feels. And this is how he shows that he cares for mankind.
THE PLAZA Seoul sits right smack in the CBD of the Korean capital and walking distance to Myeong Dong. To qualify to be a hotel in the Autograph Collection, the hotel has to have some sort of uniqueness in itself and exudes its own personality and spirit. What that means, I leave it up to your imagination. Personally I think it’s Marriott’s take to rope in more cool looking establishments to soften their stiff Americanised corporate image in view of competition from the boutique hotels and the ultra cool. Like they say, no two hotels in the Autograph Collection are the same. We shall see how THE PLAZA Seoul fares.
Getting to the hotel from the Incheon Airport is not difficult as it sits right on top of the City Hall Station. From the airport you could take the AREX direct to the Seoul Station and then transfer on the subway dark blue line to get to City Hall Station. This travel mode should take 1.5 hours while a taxi should take about 45 min to 1 hour, depending on the traffic. It costs me about S$50 for the taxi ride.
Once I arrived at the hotel, the porter asked me for my name and he ushered me to the lift rather than to the check-in reception at the main lobby. It was then I realised that I could be getting a room upgrade and club lounge access. True enough, when we reached the 18th floor, the club lounge was there and a pleasant looking lady staff took over and proceeded to check me out in. Such is the benefit of a Marriott Rewards Gold Elite member. Depending on availability, there will be a room upgrade to your existing booking. For this business trip, I was booked on the Deluxe guest room so the upgrade will put me up on the Premier Suite, which is the next higher. Other perks like guaranteed late checkouts and lounge access/free breakfast are part and parcel of the Gold status.
I checked in after 5pm on a Monday and the club lounge was empty except for one guest boozing away on his laptop. Check in was a breeze and I took a few pictures of the club lounge before heading to the room.
My abode was on the 20th floor. Let the pictures will tell you a thousand words.
So far the room seems ok, apart from the eerie-looking red coloured wardrobe. The living area is good size for up to 2 persons to sit comfortably on the couch to watch tv. The bedroom is small but neat enough and does not feel claustrophobic.
The toilet is bright lit and is just ok, with a separate shower and bathtub. Nothing to shout. Then my eyes shifted to the shower amenities…
Before we goo-gaa over these, let me just say these Hermes smell pretty normal with a citrus overtone. I don’t feel/smell a million bucks after using them.
Before heading out for dinner, I make a quick visit to the in-house gym. Now this is a gym that is located in another building next to the main hotel. To get there, you have to cross a small road behind the hotel and get to the building next door. The gym is located on the 16th floor. This is one of the best hotel gyms I have ever been into and it beats many of those membership ones. The equipment here are new, the space is big and even comes with a golf driving range. Some equipment are weird looking but soon I realised their benefits. On the 17th floor is the main gym area while the 16th floor houses the reception desk and men’s sauna and grooming room. The ladies’ area is on the 15th. And finally the swimming pool and aerobic studio is on the 18th. 4 floors of fitness and well-being. Wonderful!
The saunas and shower facilities were good. The swimming pool was warm and has a lifeguard present. By far this is the best fitness centre I have been too, especially for a hotel’s. I reckon that this is also a member’s gym based on the type of visitors and the locker rooms. If you don’t have your gym attire, you can loan the in-house pink t-shirt and blue shorts (that’s the reason why you see the gym visitors in the same attire). No sports shoes? No problem. You can loan that too.
The next morning I decided to visit two breakfast areas for the sake of writing this article. The first one was on The Seven Square located on the 2nd floor. This was the common area for paid buffet breakfast, and this breakfast was part of the rate which I had paid. The spread was good and some of the items were uniquely Korean in the form of kimchi and cold noodles.
It was about 9:30am by the time I finished and it is coming to the end of breakfast service. I made a rush to the club lounge to have a look what is up there. The spread there is probably 30% of what the main buffet breakfast offered. But since this is offered free of charge to Gold Elite members, there is nothing to complain about.
THE PLAZA Seoul suits the business traveler as well as the holiday maker. Roughly US$200 for a room is not a bad rate given its location and the service. For me, I like the service from the staff who are ever so friendly and the fantastic fitness centre that I can spend the whole day in. Travel safe and well, everyone!
The Tokyo Ramen Run: Trip Planning
Qantas Lounge, Singapore
British Airways Galleries Lounge, Singapore
Japan Airlines B772 Business Class SIN-HND
The Great Tokyo Ramen Hunt
My Tokyo Food Pilgrimage
ANA Suite Lounge Narita
Singapore Airlines B77W First Class NRT-SIN
Ah, Tokyo. The only place in the world where people don’t think I’m a total weirdo.
I love Tokyo, even though I couldn’t care less for temples, shrines, Mt Fiji, handicrafts or fashion (as the Milelioness will attest to). But I do care for food. And my goodness, Tokyo has a lot of it. My entire itinerary for Tokyo is gastronomic. Sashimi, crab, Kobe beef, yakitori, tempura, tonkatsu, Japanese fruits, Japanese pizza, and Japanese pancakes.
Oh, and ramen.
Yes, buying 132 cups of Michelin Starred Nakiryu noodles was never the idea behind the trip, but hey, I’ve got all this luggage space I won’t be using, and a whole lot of love for ramen. Now that some very helpful commenters have brought my attention to hotel-airport delivery services like TA-Q-Bin, I’m starting to wonder if 132 units is thinking too small. It’s probably a moot point anyway because all reports I’m hearing from Tokyo are telling me the noodles are gone. Finished. Nada. I reached out to the UOB concierge to ask them to help me source more units and got this response
Thank you for your email. We have just heard back from our team in Tokyo, and they have advised that unfortunately these noodles have been discontinued. Our team contacted Nissin directly, and they confirmed that the production was limited to May 2017. The noodles have largely been sold out, and the main convenience store support lines could not confirm stock availability at individual locations.
We apologize that we could not be more helpful. We did look at other options for purchase, and it appears that even the third party sellers/resellers have stopped taking orders for this product.
That can’t be good, but it’s not going to stop me from looking…
Another reason I’m extra excited about this trip is it’ll be a chance to test my investment in better media creation. That’s right, my Sony A5000 is here, and it will undoubtedly solve every photography issue I have because technology.
So here’s the gameplan:
To get to Tokyo, I’m using the remaining leg of my RTW ticket (remember I chose to start the trip in Tokyo because of the big cost savings involved) which will put me on JL36 to HND on JAL’s 777-200ER aircraft.
Fortunately, they’re one of the few airlines that publishes a schedule showing you which seats are operating which routes. A little bit of searching and I found that I’d have the Sky Suite III on my flight.
On first glance, the Sky Suite III looks like your standard reverse herringbone seat. But having tried JAL’s excellent Apex Suite, I’m keen to see how the rest of their J seats measure up (well, at least the non-angled flat ones).
To get back to Singapore, I decided to burn some of my Krisflyer Miles to redeem an SQ First Class seat on SQ637 (which leaves from NRT, unfortunately. The HND flight leaves at 9 in the morning, which is too early for me. At least the NRT flight leaves at 11.10am). I tagged on an additional leg to Sydney in F with a stopover in Singapore of a few months to save miles on my next trip.
Most people would call this a bummer, but in this case I actually would prefer a bigger F cabin. I’m planning to shoot some video during the flight featuring an in-air taste test of the noodles, and the last thing I’d want to do is bother the other guy in the cabin (as per the seatmap it appears only one other seat is taken) with my antics. If I were in a one row First Class cabin it could be quite distracting, but at least with two rows I can occupy whichever one he/she isn’t in.
I’ll also need some help from the crew and that’s why flying J isn’t an option. I know the crew will be super busy in J and may not have time to help me out. I tend to find SQ’s crew in J professional but not particularly personable, whereas the crew I’ve interacted with in F have been universally warm and approachable. I’m sure a lot of it comes from the fact that the crew in F often look after just a couple of passengers, but that’s exactly the sort of attention I need this time round.
Tokyo is a tough city to find value accommodation…unless you’re willing to do AirBnB, in which case you can find fantastic deals (and $40 in travel credit if you’re a first time user).
I got a studio apartment around Tokyo station for S$100 a night, all taxes and fees included. I paid for this using a combination of referral credit (thank you, everyone who used my link!) and the AirBnB gift cards I’d been stockpiling every time they go on sale for 20% off.
The problem is, if you want any chance of booking some of the nicer restaurants, you need a hotel concierge to do it for you (and if you want the really, really nice restaurants, you need a 5 Star hotel concierge). So I decided to split my stay half between AirBnB and half in a hotel.
The Starwood options in Tokyo are a good way of draining your points balance though, with the cheapest property starting at 12,000 points (and also in a really inconvenient location).
This is where I found the Starwood-Marriott tie up useful. Starwood lets you transfer your points to Marriott rewards at the ratio of 1:3. Marriott has a big footprint in Tokyo, as you’d expect. Here’s what they have and how much each property costs, in terms of MR points.
So, for the equivalent of 35,000/3= 11,667 SPG points per night, I can get a hotel right outside Tokyo station, which suits me just fine (not to mention it’s 900m from my AirBnB).
The Courtyard by Marriott Tokyo Station has solid reviews on the only review site that matters, and its concierge was able to get me reservations at the restaurants I wanted. Not bad for a 4 star hotel!
My only gripe was that they were very strict about booking restaurant reservations only on dates that I was staying at their property, and not the dates I was at my AirBnB. I really didn’t understand this, given that either way I’d give them my credit card as security against no shows, but in the end the UOB concierge managed to help me out for the other dates.
With 132 cup noodles to carry home, transportation suddenly becomes a very important part of the equation. I’m bringing two large roller bags + 2 collapsible duffel bags. Somehow I think that won’t be enough, and I’ll end up having to bring some of the noodles in the boxes they came in.
Which brings me to the second problem- getting to Narita airport. I’m going to opt for the much cheaper Keisei Toyko Shuttle bus (JPY 1,000) over the overpriced Airport Limousine (JPY2,800), but the issue is the sheer number of bags I’ll have. The Keisei website seems to suggest that strictly only one bag is allowed, and even if they’re flexible I don’t relish the idea of carrying 2 rollers, 2 duffels and an indeterminate amount of boxes to the bus stop from my AirBnB.
Fortunately, someone told me about TA-Q-Bin, a luggage forwarding service that can pick up your bags/parcels from an address and forward them to the airport where they’ll be waiting for you. I’m inclined to go with this, even though it’ll eat into my profits somewhat. If I pack my stuff properly, I should only need to pay about S$20-30 to ship everything.
So that’s the plan! The real question is whether or not I’ll be able to increase my 132 cup haul…but I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve that I’m itching to try out.
Bangalore beckoned, as did the Ritz Carlton. I’d previously had no interest in staying at Ritz Carlton properties, despite the fact my company had some pretty sweet corporate rates with them, because they weren’t part of Starwood. But now that the merger of Marriott and Starwood is well and truly underway, Ritz Carltons suddenly came onto my radar.
Our car pulled up to the hotel just after 3 in the morning. We had a morning meeting that started at 8am and all I wanted to do was climb into bed and sleep.
Even at this early hour, neither the property nor the service disappointed. The building was lit up spectacularly and the water feature adorning the entrance had gas powered flames that seemed really wasteful and pretty at the same time.
An associate met us at the car drop off point, greeting us by name. Don’t ask me how they figured out it was us, but I suppose given the lateness of the hour and the nationality of the guests it was pretty obvious who we were. He ushered us through security and told us that they’d get us checked in in no time at all.
We took the lift up one story to the main check in area.
And boy, did he really mean in no time at all. When we got to the lobby (photographed below in daylight), we found our keys already prepared, all paperwork ready and all we had to do was sign.
We were whisked up to the room, with our bags and bade goodnight. The whole process was fast, but never rushed. Well, if anything I was probably rushing the staff.
I mentioned it before but I’ll say it again, it’s incredible how many hotels don’t bother to anticipate needs. It’s not rocket science for a hotel to look at its arrivals roster to see who hasn’t come yet, know that they’ll be arriving late and just want to get to bed so prepare the paperwork in advance and have everything ready to go. At 3 in the morning, every minute feels like an hour.
The rooms at the Ritz Carlton (or at least the club room I’d booked) certainly aren’t going to blow you away in the way some of my previous rooms at the W Doha or Grosvenor House did. They’re elegant, for sure, but they’re still your standard hotel room where you enter and the bathroom is on your right and the bedroom just infront of you. That said, the other rooms I’ve received were suites and this is a standard room.
The work desk was at least large, with conveniently located USB and power outlets.
I was also pleased to see that they had these panels by the bedside. It made night time charging of your devices very simple. You’d be amazed how many hotels position their outlets ridiculously far from the bed.
The room had day blinds with patterns that let in some light. Can’t say much for the view though, but I find it silly to pay more for a view when you’re at a business hotel.
I liked the towel animals and handwritten note that housekeeping left on the second day. Each day I’d get a new animal.
There was a small minibar and capsule coffee machine in the room too. The coffee was Nespresso and complimentary.
I was amused the bar was called the “Honor Bar”, given that’s what Hilton calls its bars in certain North American club lounges (Hilton Honors, geddit?)
The bathroom had twin sinks recessed into elegant marbletop counters.
There is plenty of space to put your own stuff, as the shot below attests to. They also give you a virtually limitless supply of mineral water.
The bath amenities were supposed to be by Apsrey of London, but I only saw Ritz Carlton branding on the bottles and soap.
There was both a shower and a stand alone soaking tub.
On check in, I got two letters from the front desk. The first was a welcome gift
Yes, unlike other properties that give you a welcome amenity of some mushy fruits and a $5 bottle of wine, the Ritz Carlton gives Platainum members a 30 minute spa treatment. Now that’s a welcome amenity worth having!
The second was a letter highlighting the club benefits, which I’m going to talk about now
Ritz Carlton Club
There are club lounges and there are club lounges, but when you’re at the Ritz you’d better believe that the club lounge benefits are going to be impressive. Here’s what you get when you book a club room
The exclusive Club experience is accessible from 07:00 am to 11:30 Pm every day at the Club Lounge, located on the 15th floor.
Our dedicated and knowledgeable club concierge team is ready to take care of any need you may have during your stay with us. These include but are not limited to arranging:
Local Sight Seeing
Golf, Restaurant and Spa Reservations
Flight Confirmations / Boarding Passes
Amenities: While you relax, unwind and enjoy the Hotel and Club Lounge, we have some amenities to make your stay even more convenient and enjoyable:
Complimentary wireless Internet access throughout the hotel.
24 hours complimentary coffee and tea service to your room.
Complimentary garments pressing of 2 pieces per room per day (non-cumulative).
Complimentary Board-room usage up-to two hours and business center services (On availability)
Complimentary limousine drops off within S km vicinity between 0700 hrs to 2200 hrs
Personalized check in and check out service at the Club Lounge.
30-minute ‘Experiential Event’ at 6:30 pm every Saturday evening.
More importantly, club access means food. A lot of it. Most club lounges do breakfast, and canapes during happy hour. But remember, this is the Ritz.
Culinary Offerings: We offer an exciting array of food presentations designed to tempt you. In addition, complimentary refreshments are available as well:
Breakfast: International Breakfast Buffet (Market Restaurant, L3) 06:30 am 10:30 am
Light Continental Breakfast (Club Lounge, L15) 07:00 am -11:00 am
Light Lunch 12:00 pm-02:00 pm
Afternoon Tea 02:30 pm-04:30 pm
Hors d’ oeuvres 05:00 pm-08:00 pm
Cordials and Desserts 08:00 pm -10:00 pm
Yup, you read that right. Food is pretty much served in the lounge round the clock. What’s on offer is substantial enough that (if you’re not fussy) you could conceivably eat all your meals in the lounge and save a whole lot of money. This is the first time I’ve seen a hotel serving a light lunch in the lounge.
The lounge interior is homely, reminiscent of a library with bookshelves and other old world curiosities like globes and wooden chessboards.
They have two counters here that can handle check in and out, reprogram demagnetized keys, arrange late check out or do pretty much any transaction the counter downstairs can do.
There are also two computers plus printers.
If you need to get work done or take conference calls, as my colleague and I did, there’s a fully equipped meeting room. They can arrange a polycom for you if you need it too.
The lounge seats maybe 30 people. It never felt crowded when we were there, and the service was impeccable. As soon as you were seated someone would unobtrusively approach and ask if you’d like a drink, and the staff learned the skill of vanishing when not needed but ever present when needed.
I don’t know where to start with the food offerings, but I’ll try. The breakfast selection is no doubt smaller than what you can get in the lobby (read the F&B section for more details) but they still have cooked to order offerings in the morning.
You also have a small buffet spread of selected hot and cold items
You can get smoked salmon and cold cuts
A selection of bread (no toaster in view but they’ll gladly toast it for you if you want)
Throughout the day they put out small cakes and pastries. The selection changed each day.
And in the evening they bring out the happy hour spread.
They even have a make your own fondue station during happy hour.
A sampling of the happy hour selections
Of course, happy hour means boozy hour, and out comes the liquor spread. You have all your usual hard liquors plus wine.
The sparking wine on offer was a decent cava, and the staff ensured my glass never went empty.
There are always a couple of hot items that get rotated throughout the day. You can make a proper lunch out of it if you want.
On the last day of my stay, the club manager came around to give me this signed postcard plus an elephant keychain. It was a very nice touch from the lounge staff, who had been nothing short of fantastic during my stay.
After 6 weeks on the road I was really missing Chinese food. However, living two years in India had made me very weary of Indian Chinese food (they have it in Singapore, check it out), which is basically Chinese food with lots of gravy, with basmati rice (you can’t make Chinese food with basmati rice!) and with other, shall we say, interesting creations like chicken manchurian.
I decided to check out Lantern, the in-house Chinese restaurant. I knew the better hotels in India would have a native Chinese chef on staff, hopefully that would be the case here.
Latern is not inside the main building; instead, you cross over an elevated walkway that connects the main building to an annex. This is where they store the wine, so it makes for an interesting wal through cellar.
It’s a pretty swanky place, though the proof is in the pudding.
Prices are not completely unreasonable- dim sum starts at S$8 a basket, veggies at S$15 and meat and seafood upwards from S$25. That’s the same prices you’d expect to pay at an upscale Crystal Jade back home.
My colleague and I did a few dim sum dishes, which were quite average.
The lobster moneypouch, despite its description in the menu, was made with prawn not lobster
The rest of the dishes we ordered (curry prawns, mixed vegetables and stir fried chicken) were nothing to shout about. At least the rice was jasmine.
But, creature of habit I am, I went back the next day for lunch and it was a totally different experience. This time I ordered to coriander prawns and broccoli with garlic. I mentioned to the waiter when ordering that I was quite disappointed with the lobster moneypouches the previous night, because I was 100% sure it was prawn not lobster. He apologised and I thought that was the end of that.
However, a few minutes later the chef showed up at my table and apologised for the confusion. He told me that I was right, they used a mix of prawn and lobster that was predominantly prawn. Well, that wasn’t particularly honest, but I appreciated that he came clean.
Later, when the food appeared so did an additional dish of lobster with Singapore chili crab sauce. Yeah, the chef went to prepare a special dish for me, at no cost, to apologise for last night. I thought that was a great touch (provided they do update their menus). And yes, this meal was so much better than the night before.
As a club room member, I could either take breakfast in the lounge or in the lobby restaurant called The Market.
It’s got a really vibrant atmosphere at breakfast with many live cooking stations.
I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves. The selection is extensive- you’ll have Indian, Asian and Western options, plus cooked to order items.
I paid a visit to the spa to claim my 30 minute complimentary treatment. The spa, as you might expect, was a quiet and serene place, with soft music and lighting.
I elected to do the foot and leg treatment and was ushered into the changing room to get ready.
A smiling associate showed me around the facilities and taught me how to use the code-based locker.
I was then given a changing room and robe to put on.
Before being ushered to the treatment area. We passed the steam room and jacuzzi, which I was welcome to use after my treatment.
The associate dropped me off in the waiting area and said my therapist would be with me shortly.
I sat on one of these chairs, expecting the foot and leg treatment would take place there.
But when my therapist appeared she instead brought me to a proper treatment room with a lie down table. So I got to take a nice nap while I got my foot massage. It was awesome.
I ended up visiting the spa again because the treatment was so good. Here’s the spa menu
Moreover, the prices were really reasonable for a 5 Star hotel. Let’s be frank- S$127 for a 90 minute massage in the Ritz Carlton is a price unheard of outside of India. You’d be paying three, even four times that back in Singapore.
Pool and Gym
I really wanted to get some exercise after six weeks on the road, but it had rained an hour before and experience told me that the water in the pool would be freezing. But I’m the kind of person who would rather jump into a cold pool than edge in slowly, so I figured just get it over and done with.
But it’s the Ritz, so of course, the pool was heated. I shook my head in disbelief as I stepped into the warm water. They really thought of everything here.
It turns out these little statues that spit out water have a heater of sorts inside, and the water they spit out is warm. This was a lifesaver especially since it was still windy and chilly after the rain stopped.
The gym was probably one of the best equipped gyms I’d seen throughout all my hotel stays in India. You had treadmills with built in entertainment systems
And other specialized equipment for spot exercises. I imagine if I actually used a gym I’d know the names for this equipment.
Of course there were abundant refreshments available, together with cold and regular towels.
I wrote about this extensively in my other post, but to summarise, the service at the Ritz was absolutely flawless. The staff there helped me out with so many small things, be it chasing Oman Air for a baggage delay letter, getting my shoes fixed for a couple of bucks
Being meticulous enough to remove stains on the sleeves of my white shirts when all I asked for was pressing
Right up to sending my laptop charger to me, in the hotel car, after I realised I’d left it in the meeting room, at no charge.
I don’t think any of this is particularly revolutionary- it doesn’t cost the hotel much to do these things. Which is why I’m surprised so many hotels don’t do it. Hotels unnecessarily lose a lot of goodwill by not doing simple, low cost things for their customers and end up losing big money when the customers don’t come back. It’s penny wise, pound foolish.
So the Ritz Carlton has definitely won my business (where I can afford it!), and I do look forward to another stay at the one in Bangalore if I return.
Bino is a banker, part-time wanderer and a sometime travel writer. He is the author of the Singapore-based travel blog, I Wander, which focuses on travel guides, hotel reviews and flight reports. He believes that Iran and North Korea are excellent places for a holiday but feels just as excited when visiting the United States and Japan. Feel free to say hi. You can reach him through his Instagram at @iwanderrr
Bangkok has no shortage of Marriott Hotels with around 9 to choose from – this is without even considering the ones that integrated from Starwood. A Marriott brand that has been mostly under the radar is Renaissance. It has been around for quite a while now but never seemed to have expanded significantly. Personally, I think there isn’t much room to position this brand – given that JW Marriott already caters to the high-end and there’s Marriott for the accessible luxury and business segment. The Renaissance website makes it clear that the positioning is centered on business travel but don’t the other Marriott brands already handle that effectively? Frankly, I had never stayed in a Renaissance prior to my most recent visit to Bangkok. A quick search revealed that only 7 countries in Asia have Renaissance-branded properties and most of them are in China. There is also one in JB, but I digress.
Anyway, for a hotel within a relatively under the radar brand, the Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong has a surprisingly topnotch location. It is right in the heart of the Sukhumvit shopping strip. You can walk to the famous Erawan Shrine which is just a few meters away or take the skywalk to other shopping centers like Gaysorn or Centralworld. You can even walk all the way to MBK from the hotel.
The property has been around for some 8 years now but remains thoroughly modern with a dark and sultry interior. I took one of the morning flights on the 777-200 with Singapore Airlines and arrived at noon. It was still a couple of hours before the check-in time but the associates were kind enough to check me in early.
The Deluxe Double is the base level room category in Renaissance Ratchaprasong. At 37 square meters, the size is nothing to write home about. What struck me however, were the chic interiors. Think: bold colors (plenty of purple) which add a sense of vibrance and a bathroom which is fully enclosed by glass. That being said, certain parts of the room resembled more conventional hotel setups – such as the working desk so the room could easily suit business people as much as leisure travelers.
The bathroom is graced by a standalone tub, a nice fixture considering the room isn’t particularly big. There is also a separate shower area although the toilet is notably not separated.
Toiletries are from Tokyo Milk. Admittedly, it’s my first time to see this brand used in a hotel.
I was mostly in Bangkok for business so I didn’t get to use the facilities. That being said, I thought the indoor swimming pool was fantastic. It’s covered but had plenty of open windows from which guests could appreciate the skyline of Bangkok. I enjoyed coming up in the evening for a bird’s eye view of the city all lighted up.
Beside the pool there is a relatively spacious gym with plenty of equipments and cardio machines for those with time to go for a run (I didn’t!).
One of the highlights of the Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong in my view is the breakfast buffet. It’s one of the more extensive morning spreads I’ve seen with a good emphasis on local food. I particularly loved the Eggs Benedict here which is served with Thai sausages and condiments. While not strictly breakfast food, I was pleased to see Thai Iced Tea served in the buffet.
The property likes to call itself a 5-star hotel. While I personally experienced no issues during my stay and found the room to be a welcome change from the usual business hotel, I did not think it offered enough to be at par with, for instance, Conrad Bangkok down the road or The Sukhothai Bangkok. That being said, I definitely though the location was a plus and the property had most of the creature comforts. The only thing lacking is perhaps a wow factor which one would come to expect in luxury hotels.
Marriott doesn’t have a big footprint in Africa, which is why the acquisition of the Protea chain in 2014 was seen as a great way of making inroads on the continent. Protea had 116 hotels with more than 10,000 rooms across Africa at the time of acquisition, and the deal allowed white guy Arne Sorenson to make some awkward PR comments
Arne Sorenson, Marriott International’s president and chief executive officer, said, “Today marks a new beginning. We can now officially say ‘molweni!’ (Xhosa), ‘sawubona!’ (Zulu) and ‘hello!’ to South Africa and ‘welcome!’ to our approximately 15,000 new associates at both managed and franchised hotels across Protea’s portfolio.
Whatever you say, imperialist oppressor.
I have decidedly mixed feelings about the Starwood Marriott merger, but one of the good things that has come out of it is undoubtedly the expanded footprint. Starwood, for example, has no properties in Tanzania. Marriott has four, three of which are in Dar. There was an ongoing Marriott points bonus for every new brand you tried, so staying at the Protea was a no-brainer.
I picked the Protea nearest to the coast, in the vain hope that I’d actually have time to see the beach. As it turned out I was in the to do only the 3 Ss- sleep, shave and, er, send emails, so location wasn’t that important. That said, if any of you intend to visit Dar let me warn you that traffic will be unlike anything you’ve seen before, and this from a guy who lived in Bombay. It’s a straight road to the airport, and on paper it’s a 35 minute journey. In reality though, it’s about 2 hours, complete with loud construction, stuffy, no a/c vehicles, and random jams that pop up for no rhyme or reason. Be warned.
The Protea is a relative haven from all that, located off a busy main road in a quieter part of the city.
The hotel itself is quite storied, as this display at the entrance attests to.
First impressions- the lobby was well lit and pleasant, with natural light and stained glass ceiling lights plus windows. There was a lot of seating but no one really around at the time we checked in. We later learned there was a conference in the hotel though and it was booked solid.
There was some difficulty with my reservation because I was originally scheduled to check in the day before, but a month ago modified my reservation to move the check in one day later. Apparently, IT integration between Marriott and Protea hasn’t been high on the to-do list, as the update didn’t reflect on Protea’s side and I had been flagged as a no show the previous day. Once I showed the staff my confirmation email from Marriott acknowledging the date change, however, they were able to restore everything after about 15 minutes.
As a Platinum member I was given a form with a choice of either a welcome drink and snack or 250 Marriott Rewards points. 250 points isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things (it’s 83 SPG points), but I’d much rather have that than “African Passion” wine.
The building is arranged, as the name of the property suggests, around a courtyard. All the rooms face in towards the pool. I was worried this would mean a lot of noise, but the pool was hardly used on account of the mozzie problem, which I’ll get to in a bit.
My room was on the ground floor, and apparently I’d been upgraded to a bigger one because when I stepped in the first thing I saw was a separate living room and seating area.
The floor plan confirmed my suspicions of superiority.
Beyond that the room opened out into the bedroom, with a four post bed and working desk.
The working desk had a very pretty stained glass lamp. There was no lack of stained glass on this property
The bed itself was comfortable enough, but the mattress was quite thin. There was also a lot of dust on the wooden frame that triggered my allergies.
And the bedside lamp was, well, you know the drill by now.
Just before you get to the bathroom there’s a ledge for storing your luggage and a minibar.
The coffee selection was instant coffee, no fancy Nespresso machines here.
The fridge had your usual assortment of water, beers and soft drinks in glass bottles. I’m sure there’s a reason for it, but I haven’t figured out why in the developed world you hardly see glass bottle soda.
A knock on the door came a few minutes later and a fruit plate was delivered, with compliments of management.
The bathroom was basic but clean. Both a shower and a tub were available, and the sink had a good amount of counter space.
The water pressure in the shower was good, and a welcome relief from the places I’d been in the past few days. I didn’t think it worth of a trip report but prior to this I was in Morogoro, a smaller city outside of Dar Es Salaam that needed a 5 hour car ride to reach and where the accommodation was, shall we say, more basic.
The amenities weren’t fancy or worth raiding the housekeeping cart for
Now, a few words about the mozzie situation. I knew coming in that I’d have to be on my guard against mosquito-borne diseases and had various prophylactic measures in place. But these Tanzanian mosquitoes were something else altogether. You don’t even notice they’re there because they don’t seem to have the buzz in your ear habit that our South East Asian mosquitoes do, but man, do you realise they’re there after a while when your whole body gets itchy. Such was my experience when trying to sleep. I felt very triumphant for killing one just before going to bed, thinking: what are the odds there’s more than one?
Well, quite good apparently because I then realised housekeeping had left my window open ever so slightly and that was funneling the bloodsuckers in. By then I was sure my room had many carbon dioxide hunting monsters in it, and no amount of Off would deter them.
I called the front desk and they helped set up a mosquito net around the bed. The whole process took about 30 minutes and a lot of hammering- they had to remove the top of the bed, pry a lot of nails loose and dangle the webbing from a hook on the ceiling. This ended up dislodging more dust and giving me sneezing fits throughout the night (delicate flower that I am), but at least it solved the mozzie problem.
I love mosquito nets because they make me feel invincible. I guess that’s sort of the visceral thrill people get by getting up close to a lion with just a thin layer of glass between the two of you. I do think that given the mosquito situation these nets should have been installed as standard in all rooms, but maybe that would have alarmed customers. I managed to sleep properly after the net was put in place.
Breakfast is served in the only restaurant in the hotel. It was complimentary for Platinum members.
The hotel has both indoor and outdoor seating. Outdoor seating is by the pool, and fortunately the mosquitoes don’t bite during the day.
The buffet spread is very strongly Western focused. There were baked beans, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms and an egg station.
There were some stale pastries (it’s amazing how stale can go to delicious with liberal use of a toaster though)
A mixture of jams, raisins, prunes.
A selection of cereals
Yogurt, cheese and cold cuts
A lot of fresh fruit was available.
Fresh coconuts were available as well, along with juices.
The egg yolks seemed to be the palest I’d ever seen. It’s probably not scientific, but I tend to associate darker, oranger egg yolks with “better for you”
Food quality wasn’t outstanding, but then again it seems a bit churlish to complain about something like that when you’re in a place like Africa.
Overall, mosquito issues aside the hotel offered a very good quality stay. The staff were friendly (the night manager was particularly apologetic about the mosquitoes) and requests were attended to quickly. Not sure if any of you will ever stay at a Protea hotel, but if given the choice it’s a solid option.
There are two Starwood options in Madrid, but both were pricing upwards of 400 euros a night on the nights we were looking at. It’s a shame, because I’ve stayed at the Westin Palace Madrid before and although the building itself is very old, I found the rooms charming and the service excellent (in other words, the opposite of the Westin Paris Vendome).
Moreover, they have an amazing breakfast buffet with a free flow of cava. Who can argue with that?
The next best alternative was to find a Marriott property, because now that SPG and Marriott Rewards accounts are linked, you can transfer points freely between both of them. Also, when the merger of the programs eventually happens your lifetime nights from both programs should roll into one. I do suspect they’ll increase the threshold for lifetime qualification though. Good thing I’ve hit SPG Lifetime Gold!
Marriott’s footprint is many times larger than Starwood’s, so it wasn’t surprising to find an abundance of options
We settled on the Courtyard Madrid Princesa because it was decently located and less than 100 euros a night. The hotel itself is part of a complex that includes a branch of the department store El Cortes Ingles, and there’s a big supermarket and all the other conveniences you could ask for.
I didn’t have high hopes for this property from reading the reviews on Tripadvisor, but I noted that most of the complaints were about the old rooms and the property had been recently renovated. In fact, if I’m reading this right the previous owners of the property went through some insolvency that ended up with the property under new management- Marriott’s. So hopefully this change in management would mark a turnaround.
The recent acquisition is evidenced by some elements of the past on the facade, most noticeably the Princesa Hotel sign (which is how most taxi drivers will know this place. BTW, There are hardly any Ubers in Madrid)
When you get around the side to the main entrance, however, you’ll see the sign of new management.
The lobby was empty when we arrived in the early evening. I noticed quite a few Japanese tour groups had chosen this hotel.
The lobby also had a lot of seating, the kind that people lounge around in while waiting for tour buses.
Check in was smooth and the front desk told me I’d been “upgraded” to a renovated room on account of my Marriott Platinum status. I’m not sure if that counts as an upgrade, but based on what I read about the old rooms I was thankful nonetheless.
Here’s the floor plan-I was assigned to a newly renovated room on the 2nd floor. If you ever stay here, the 01/02 and 23/24 rooms are suites
The new rooms are fairly sizable, if not fairly unimaginative. But they were clean and modern and I really couldn’t ask for more. There was a good amount of space infront of the bed.
The bed was on the soft side, which I prefer. I didn’t know that Courtyard by Marriott has a brand standard bed, but apparently they do! It’s definitely not in the same league as a W or Westin bed, but comfortable nonetheless.
In the corner of the room was a large sized sofa.
I was happy that the room had a large work desk with a comfortable chair for getting work done.
No need to worry about closet space here (Tom Cruise reference?) because there’s plenty of it.
The closet had a safe, hairdryer, bathrobe and ironing board.
The minibar was empty, but there was a sticker asking guests to fulfill their snacking needs at the lobby shop. This arrangement makes much more sense to me. For the hotel, it minimizes restocking logistics and pilferage, and for the customer you get plenty of fridge space in which to put your own stuff.
Still on the topic of food- there was a room service menu but it worked European hours. That is, didn’t start till 12pm, and finished by 7pm or something like that. Fine, enough cheap shots at the Spaniards, they actually work longer hours than most countries.
Nothing fancy in the bathroom, but as I alluded to in my AA review, there’s something classy about a sink that’s extruded from the counter surface
There were some mass hospitality brand toiletries available as well.
The shower was the best part of the bathroom. After my experience at the Westin Paris where they couldn’t even get reliable hot water, it was amazing to have a shower with proper water pressure.
Free breakfast isn’t a standard benefit for Marriott Platinums at Courtyard properties, but we got a 50% off breakfast voucher which reduced the cost of breakfast to 9 euros.
Breakfast is served at the only restaurant in the hotel on the 1st floor.
It wasn’t half bad. I mean it definitely was more hearty than gourmet, but at 9 euros I can’t complain
You had your usual salad selection
Hot items included eggs (not made to order), bacon, mushrooms, ham, some indeterminable Spanish omelette cake and baked beans
The expected cheeses and cold cuts
Bread selection and a toaster that pretty much incinerated everything you put inside
And an electronic juice dispenser, yogurt and water.
The best thing was that it was melon season. I helped myself to a big plate of ridiculously sweet melon, which would easily give any Japanese muskmelon a run for its money.
So, considering the money paid, this was a very good stay with all you could ask for at a sub 100 euro price point. Madrid probably pales in comparison to Barcelona as a tourist hotspot, but if your travels bring you here you could do far worse than this hotel.