Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Review of Hotels - Early November 2017 Sendai & Hokkaido

We visited Japan for two weeks in early November 2017 with our daughter.

Here is a review of (or my impression of and reaction to) the 4 hotels we stayed in during the trip.

Richmond Hotel Sendai. 
We arrived at Narita and took the train to Sendai. We wanted to re-visit Omoshiroyamakoen. We would have like to stay in the same hotel we stayed in the last time, but the Hotel Monte Hermana Sendai was not available or did not cater to small children.  We liked that hotel because it was in a good location and the price was good value for money. But we settled for Richmond Hotel. It was a little further, and the price was a little over my budget, but there was not much choice in terms of hotels that catered for small children. I was a little desperate to get a hotel in a relatively good location.

I booked 3 nights for S$847 for a Twin room non-smoking (all my bookings are for non-smoking). The room details were presented as two Double beds, with 27 sq m. Which would be quite spacious by Japanese standards.

What I got on check-in was a Superior Double bed with an extra bed, which I had not asked for. The extra bed made the room very cramped. Which was already rather small at 22 sq m.

On the plus side, they did not seem to have charged extra for the bed. But then if I had gotten 2 double bed, with the larger room, I would not have needed an extra bed.

The problem was I did not not recall what was the details of the room I booked when I checked in. I had made sure to indicate that I was booking for 2 adults and a child aged 3 at the time of booking. Agoda's booking indicated that I had booked for 3 adults. Which may have been why they put in an extra bed. Or maybe they ran out of Twin (double) bed rooms. Or whatever. The problem was the language barrier. Sure, we can lay the responsibility on the Japanese hotel industry to learn English, but I always felt that as the guest it is up to the visitors to at least learn to speak the language.

The upshot of it all is that I felt rather put out by the downsizing of the rooms, with no explanation. Perhaps the front staff did not feel up to the task of explaining the problem in English, to a non-Japanese-speaker.

My other issue with Richmond Hotel was when I sought to Ta-Q-Bin my luggage to the third hotel (Hotel Monterey Sapporo). Usually, the front desk or concierge would help by filling in the form in Japanese. In this case, the front desk clerk was quite content to let me fill in the form myself.

In English.

Perhaps the Yamato Transport Company (a.k.a. Kuroneko, a.k.a. Ta-Q-Bin) has upgraded to be able to read Japanese addresses in English.

In any case for my efforts, the fee was only about 1300 yen.

Summary Review:
The location is not terrible, but not very convenient either. Best I can say is, there was no extra charge for the unrequested "room change", and "extra bed", and the Ta-Q-Bin fee was one of the lowest (for shipping one luggage from Sendai to Sapporo). But that is not within control of the hotel.
+ Cup noodles vending machine
+ Microwave
+ Drip Coffee bag provided in room.
+ Charger with multiple adaptors provided in room (this was the case in ALL the hotel rooms but is a new "feature" I am seeing in Japan Hotels.)
= No onsen or public baths. If this is your thing.
- No Wifi. Or if there was, there was no "introduction" to the Wifi SSID or password at the front desk at check-in. (I used the Mobile Wifi I had booked).
- Room not what I booked, with no explanation or communication regarding the change in room type and size, and the additional bed included.

Dormy Inn Asahikawa
From Sendai, we flew to New Chitose, and then took the train to Asahikawa, where we stayed for 3 nights at Dormy Inn Asahikawa.


Tatami section of Dormy Inn Japanese-Western room
I had booked a Japanese-Western room with two twin beds. But in the "linen" closet were another 3 or 4 futons. If there were more occupants, we could just move the short "dining" table and 4 "floor chairs" in the tatami room and roll out the futon mattress.

After checking-in, the front desk staff (manager) continued, "allow me to introduce the facilities of the hotel," I remember him saying.

First the Dormy Inn Asahikawa is famous for its "natural hot spring" onsen (it's in their name!). On the 10th floor. There is a section for the ladies, with an access code that is changed daily. If my wife wanted to use it, she would need to contact the front desk for that day's access code. The front desk also provided an information sheet in English.

Second, there was free Wifi. Which the front desk readily informed me, and provided the password on the information sheet.

Third they provided decent robes and slippers, and informed guests that it was ok to wander around the hotel in the robes and slippers (particularly to go to the public baths; or to the vending machines).

Fourth, FREE RAMEN! Every night from 9:30 to 11:00 pm, the ground floor dining area serves ramen to their guests. On our last night there I avail myself of their offering. It was Asahikawa's Soy Sauce ramen (famous?) but with just some mushrooms. No meat or eggs. You come down and the lady at the service counter will immediately offer you a numbered token. When she calls your number, you have to quickly learn how to recognise that number said in Japanese! Fortunately, I had some practice a day or so ago at the cafeteria of the Sendai Zoo. I do not know if it is the BEST ramen in Asahikawa, but it was pretty good and it was hot, and it was enjoyed by everyone, some of whom were in bathrobes after their session in the onsen. And it was FREE.

I had booked 3 nights for $468. This was almost half the price for Richmond Sendai, for the same number of nights, and (maybe) more than double the space! And there were TWO bathroom sinks - one in the bathroom, and one just outside the bathroom. My daughter has decided that ALL hotel rooms should come with a Japanese-styled tatami room with a dining table and floor chairs.

Or they are not real hotel rooms.

This is somewhat similar to the room we booked at Hotel 1-2-3 at Kobe.

Except this was probably a 5-star hotel. Or at the very least 4-star.

+ Value for money - spacious
+ Free Wifi
+ Clear instructions on use of facilities
+ Charger provided
= Not a positive or a negative. They provided an "air-pot" which boils water and keeps it warm. However these "kettles" tend to be a little lower power (wattage), and it takes a while for the water to boil. But once boiled, it keeps the water warm or near boiling. But we preferred to have a simple electric kettle.
= Onsite Onsen. I didn't go in, but the photos look good.
- only provided green tea (powder in packets) in room. No coffee. Or sugar.

Hotel Monterey Sapporo

Hotel Monterey Sapporo

Analog floor indicators of lift. Elegant. Old-style.
This is an elegant, grand, stately hotel with traditional charms and splendour. The lifts have analog indicators of the floor!

It was the most impressive hotel of our stay. And we stayed there for 6 nights! For $1030! I consider that value for money!

Strangely, I was also provided with an extra bed. In addition to the two double or queen-size beds. The extra bed reduced the usable space a little, but it was not cramped like Richmond Hotel was.

The pajamas made me look like Ebenezer Scrooge. It was western-style, not Japanese. Whereas the two piece Dormy Inn robes were a little less pajamas-y. And was decent enough to wear about the hotel.

This hotel was two blocks from the JR Sapporo station, and so very convenient, location-wise. The Sapporo subway is nearby - about 2 blocks to the entrance to the underground.

Right across from our window was "Vegas Vegas" - a pachinko parlour. Not a feature, but it was a good landmark.

Anyway, we would close the windows (the wooden ones) to provide more insulation and keep the room a little warmer. When the wooden shutters were open, we could feel the cold radiating from the glass window.

Our days in Sapporo were generally cold, wet, and windy. Snow and Gale alerts had be issued. Winds gusted to 20+ km/h.

But we only got snow on the morning of our departure. My daughter was most delighted. There is something abut snow that delights us all.

+ Location. Most convenient.
+ Spacious. Value for money.
+ Free Wifi
+ Charger (now standard).
= Western-style tub (i.e. not deep. Richmond and Dormy Inn were "Japanese" tubs - deeper. Not a major issue.
= Also not a personal issue. No onsen.
- No coffee. Just tea.
- Mirror in bathroom not heated (i.e. not fog-resistant. All the other hotels bathrooms had heated mirrors where one section of the mirror - if not the whole mirror - would not fog up if the room got too "steamy". Wife said this was because it was old-style and probably difficult to install heated mirrors and still be consistent with the architecture). 

Hotel Coco Grand Ueno Shinobazu

We had reservations about this hotel. And at this hotel of course.

But I would say, it was my FAVOURITE hotel of this trip. Or at least, I felt this hotel REALLY REALLY tried to make for a "WOW!" experience and succeeded.

Our first impression of this hotel was that it was tacky, obiang, and cheena. (Yes, we are ethnically Chinese, but it doesn't stop us from being racist about our own race).

My second impression is that this is a "love hotel". Because there is a glass window in the shower/toilet that you can look into from the bedroom.

Looking very much like a tacky love hotel. The "window" on the right looks into the bathroom.
Of course, you can lower the blinds. Which are located on the BEDROOM side of the "window".

The decor was basically tasteless orientalism.

But in the dark, who cares.

There was a massage chair in the room. In case your wife (or whoever you are sharing the room with) refuses to give you a massage.

There was a heater on a timer, and a humidifier which we did not use. The heater was generously timed, so the room was very comfortable.

There was a electric kettle, and a Keurig K-cup coffee machine with 2 coffee and 2 tea capsules. In addition there were also drip coffee bags, and a variety of tea bags of different flavours.

The two double beds were joined together and my silly daughter stepped into the gap between the beds several times. It might have been dangerous, but my daughter was not harmed.

The hotel prepared a welcome package for my daughter (little toiletries and stuff) and us.

The hotel was VERY GENEROUS with the toiletries, and even had a "take away" pack of their bath gel, shampoo and other lotions.

The bath was a western style bath (shallow), but they also provided bath scents or powder to add to the tub.

The whole room was about scents. There was a scent in the bathroom (which I got used to), and the bath powder also generated a scent which competed with the incumbent scent of the bathrom. There was linen spray, and clothes spray, and also a take-away for the clothes spray scent which were scent bags you can put with your clothes in the luggage or whatever.

I'm a naturally suspicious person, so when the hotel practically begs you to take their shampoo, bath/shower gel, condition, cotton towels, and their scent bags, I get VERY suspicious.

It's not as fun when they expect you to take the toiletries and are happy you do.

My final impression of this hotel is that, they really do understand their cheap, tacky, avaricious guests. Like me. Or rather my wife (she took the bath gel and shampoo pack!)

Ok! I took the drip coffee bag. Two of them. I'd have taken the K-cup, but I don't have a Keurig coffee machine at home.

I paid $942 for 3 nights. And I think I got my money's worth.

+ Location. Near the JR Ueno. Near the Keisei Ueno train station (with the Skyliner Airport Rapid service) - which was the main reason I booked this hotel. Near the Ameyayokocho night market. Near Ueno Zoo. Excellent location!
+ Lots of facilities within the room - massage chair, Keurig Coffee maker, bath scents.
+ Complementary breakfast. This was good cos it was towards the end of our trip, and we didn't need to make every breakfast an adventure. It's a mix of western and Japanese breakfast. Interestingly, I did not choose the breakfast option at booking (confirming my booking details). But it was provided at check-in.
+ Very generous with the toiletries.
+ Charger for phone and other personal devices.
+ Spacious.
+ Free Wifi
= Bathtub was western style shallow bath.
= "Love Motel" vibe - I don't dislike it, but I don't need the window into the bathroom.
- decor
- room was a little odd shaped, but had usable space. Daughter loved crawling under the desk for her own hide-hole.
- a little expensive, but I think you get your money's worth

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