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As someone that has been into Travel Hacking for close to 20 years, I’ve had the chance to see some of the most amazing places in the world and stay at some pretty special hotels as part of those adventures. My favorite hotel chain has been and continues to be Marriott but the brand within Marriott that has been my favorite has been the JW brand. This is because the JW lounges tend to be some of the best in the world and the food and beverages that are served are incredibly high quality.
Prior to our trip to Japan, my favorite hotel was the JW Marriott Marquis in Dubai because the lounge was mindblowing and our room was gorgeous. I thought it would be hard to dethrone the JW Marquis Dubai as my favorite hotel but as it turns out, the Ritz Kyoto outshines the JW by quite a margin.
I’ve often stayed away from the Ritz Carlton brand because most hotels in the brand do not provide the status recognition that most of the other brands within the Marriott family do. As most RCs would only provide a space-available upgrade to a nicer room you often lose out on one of the most important benefits to me, the free breakfast. When on vacation, it’s always nice to start out a day of sightseeing and activities with a hearty breakfast, and it’s even nicer when you don’t have to pay for that breakfast. Unfortunately, most Ritz Carlton’s do not provide this very important benefit.
Luckily, Ritz Carlton’s in Asia tend to be a lot more generous with their benefits than other Ritz properties around the world. The Ritz Carlton Kyoto has been renowned, by many in the know, as one of the best examples of hotels that really get and recognize top-tier status.
Not only does this mean upgrades to suites but also free breakfast at your choice of two restaurants: Muzuki, a Japanese fine dining establishment, or La Locanda, an Italian themed eatery.
The Ritz Calton Kyoto is a 3-minute walk from the Kyoto Shiyakuso-Mae station on the Tozai subway line. The walk itself is quite pretty due to the architectural beauty that is Kyoto but as you approach the Ritz Kyoto, you start to realize that even with the gorgeous backdrop of Kyoto, the Ritz is something very special.
As we walked to the hotel, the first area we hit was the small enclosed area that is meant for taxis and guests with cars. As we approached, the hotel staff jumped to attention and ran over to take our bags from us. They also presented us with ice-cold water and towels, something received with much appreciation due to the 38° C temperature and the sweltering 80% humidity. One of the attendants called over to the check-in desk and one of the staff quickly appeared to check us in.
As we walked towards the front entrance we stumbled upon the waterfall that incorporated into the walkway and we could tell we were in for a treat.
The hotel exterior and interior were absolutely awe-inspiring – a unique combination of beautiful and historic Japanese architecture, blended with the beauty of nature, all while managing to incorporate a feeling of modern sophistication.
As we made out way to the lobby, my wife, daughter, and I looked at each other in disbelief that we were staying at this property for 5 nights.
The Check-In Process and the Room
I have checked into a LOT of hotels and this is the first time that I have been absolutely in awe. First off, the check-in didn’t occur at the check-in desk. I’m unsure if that had anything to do with my Ambassador status or not but the check-in representative had everything ready to go and simply asked us to follow her to our new suite.
Now, I had already known that we had been upgraded to a suite because in Asia, Marriott tends to confirm your suite prior to arrival so you can actually check the app to see what kind of room you have been assigned. All you need to do is go into your reservation and check the Room Type to see if you have indeed been upgraded. In my experience, for Japanese hotels, these room upgrades are confirmed 24-48 hours prior to arrival.
We had been booked into a Standard Room for our redemption stay and these bookings were done prior to both the Category 8 and high-season pricing introductions so the room was a steal at 60,000 points a night. In addition, because we had booked 4 nights in a row, the 5th was free. This is a very nice perk from Marriott that I often take advantage of because of the great value. In total, we paid 240,000 points for this stay and if you compare it to the new Category 8 High Season Rate of 100,000 points a night, we really did well in terms of value for money.
So how much does a Garden Terrace Suite sell for? Hint: it’s obscene.
The Garden Terrace Suite is normally booked for about $4,000 CAD per night! If you were looking for the CPM for this redemption, it works out to 8.35¢ per point, which is a ridiculous value. Normally, you tend to see about a 1¢ per point value so 8.35 is absolutely incredible.
I can tell you for an absolute fact that without the use of miles and points, the chance of me ever paying that much for a hotel room sits somewhere between slim and none.
As we walked into the room, I knew that my wife and daughter would be BLOWN AWAY and I wasn’t wrong. Honestly, could you blame them? Everything from the room to the details was on point. This hotel was the first I have experienced, to have slippers specifically suited for my daughter. The mind-blowing aspect of it was that the slippers weren’t brought in after we checked in, they were there, ready for my daughter to enjoy. I’m not sure how they managed to do that but every last detail was accounted for.
The check-in agent meticulously went through all the features of the room which included tea and specialty soap that was made locally in Kyoto.
The breakfast benefit was extended to us for every day of our stay and boy did we take advantage. We had a choice of having breakfast in the Western or Japanese restaurant as well as a choice of having breakfast in our room. Every day, we decided on the Western restaurant because the food was so damned good but on the last day of our stay, we decided to have breakfast in the room. The next time we stay, at the Ritz Kyoto, we will be sure to try out the Japanese restaurant for breakfast.
The food at the Western restaurant, La Locanda, was probably the best I have ever experienced in a hotel restaurant in my life. What really stuck out for me was how delicious the French Toast was and how perfectly ripe the fruit was, especially the cantaloupe. The view at breakfast wasn’t half bad either.
After the First Day
We were supposed to stay in Kyoto for 5 nights and then go onto the Ritz Carlton Osaka for 5 nights, but after our first day at the RC Kyoto, our family decided to skip staying in Osaka completely and extend our stay at the Ritz Carlton Kyoto. If you know me, you’ll know that this is VERY out of the ordinary. I’m typically very planned out so making a last-minute change like this is uncommon but really, there was no choice. The Ritz Kyoto really is THAT GOOD. If I could live at the Ritz Kyoto for the rest of my life, I would do it in a heartbeat.
In total, we stayed 10 nights at the Ritz Carlton Kyoto and we all wished it was longer.
For those that are trying to decide between Kyoto and Osaka, you really can’t go wrong with either because they are literally 15 minutes apart by Shinkansen. Either make a great base to explore the region.
Pool and Gym
The spa area is where you can find the pool and the gym for the Ritz Kyoto. We spent quite a bit of time in the pool during our stay because it was so peaceful and serene. The waterfall that I referenced early in the review can be seen through the windows of the pool and as you can see through the photos, the area is stunning. There is both a wet and dry sauna and very few people tend to use the area so it’s very quiet. You will be required to wear a swimcap for sanitary reasons but they will provide you one.
The change room is a spa onto itself, with a hot tub, showers, hair and skin products, and a spinning machine for drying out your wet swimwear.
I read that in Japan, you are often forbidden to swim in a public pool if you have any tattoos. This wasn’t the case for me at the Ritz Kyoto, even though I have read reviews that suggest that other guests have been asked to cover up their tattoos.
Our check-in agent also told us about the free tours that the hotel provided, including a trip to the specialty soap store where we could make our own soap … for FREE.
We decided to take the Ritz up on their offer for a free tour. On the day of the tour, the Ritz sent TWO of their staff to accompany us to the visit to the soap store so that we would have translators that could assist us with the store staff! They also provide taxi transportation to the store and back as part of this free tour. How unreal is that?
We also did a bike tour with the Ritz (again complementary) to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. The bikes were electric assist as well, which made for a very easy ride, even in the sweltering weather.
If you happen to be staying at the Ritz Kyoto and want to know what else is included as part of their complimentary tours, you can check out the list at https://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/japan/kyoto/area-activities/activities.
While the Ritz’s complimentary tours were nice, it’s not what made the stay special. That distinction easily goes to the staff at the Ritz Kyoto and specifically to the folks that work within the Ritz Kids Program. The people that worked within the program were unbelievably gracious to my daughter and treated her like absolute gold. Because we were staying for a longer period, she really got to know the staff and looked very forward to hanging out with them each evening. They would participate in activities like a scavenger hunt around the hotel, movie night, and games each night. Every afternoon, there was a new game kids could play and “earn” some treats like cotton candy … made directly in the hotel!
Another nice perk of the Ritz Kids program is that most activities in the evening are hosted out of the most expensive suite in the hotel, the Carlton Suite. This, of course, depends on whether or not the suite is occupied. The counselors were gracious enough to allow me a tour of the room and it is unreal.
What I’m describing above isn’t even the half of it. Remember that bike tour of the Inari Shrine I referenced earlier? Well, my daughter sat in a kid’s seat on the back of my bike because she’s not very confident when riding a bike. One of the counselors got wind of that fact and offered to give her a private bike lesson, again for free! I found out later that he took time out of his personal day to give that lesson, one of the most heartwarming gestures I have ever experienced in all my years staying at hotels.
But it doesn’t end there. On our last day at check out, one of the counselors bowed and handed my daughter a handmade card written in by all the counselors she encountered as well as candid photos of our stay.
I was completely speechless. There’s above and beyond and there’s “I’m never staying in any hotel besides this one when I come back to Kyoto”. This gesture made me a Ritz convert … at least in Japan.
I’m honestly looking for reasons to get back to Kyoto ASAP because of our experience at the Ritz Kyoto and if you have the chance, I would encourage you to do so as well.
Award rates now range between 75K (off-peak), 85K (standard), and 100K (peak season) for the Ritz Kyoto. While this is certainly a lot of points to redeem, you can earn quite a few through the American Express Platinum Business (75K Membership Rewards with referral = 90K Marriott) or through the American Express Cobalt Card (40K Membership Reward Select = 48K Marriott). Make no mistake, if you want to stay for as long as we did, your points balance is going to take a hit but in my honest opinion, it’s well worth it.
The Ritz Kyoto is the best hotel I have ever stayed in, hands down. There are others that were very good but the Ritz Kyoto is in a league of its own. Every single aspect of the hotel was perfect and that’s very rare in a hotel. The staff are incredibly good at their jobs and all the included extras make the high point redemptions worth the cost.