On our recent trip to Asia we stayed exclusively at Ritz Carlton properties, which provided an excellent point of comparison between them. Kyoto was my favorite.
One brief note about the Ritz hotels in general before I share details about the Kyoto property. We were traveling as a party of three (myself, my husband, and our 23 year old daughter). It is nearly impossible to find hotel rooms in Asia that can accommodate three people, unless you get a roll away cot. We find roll aways to be very uncomfortable for adults, so did not want this option. Most hotels in Asia and Japan have rooms with a king size bed or two twins. The Ritz is the only hotel we found that had double beds, allowing us to fit three people in the rooms. The only alternative was to pay for two rooms and most hotels could not guarantee the rooms would connect or even be on the same floor. It ended up being less expensive to book one room at the Ritz than two rooms at a lesser chain. I’m still stunned that this was the case, but it was. We also found that the level of service and the amenities that came with the hotel provided great value to us.
Another note is that we had great difficulty actually getting our reservations made correctly. We booked directly through the Ritz booking line and were quoted rates for three people in the room with breakfast included. We wrote down the rates we were given. The calls were being recorded. We then received email confirmations that listed higher rates, with additional fees for the third person and not including breakfast for all three of us. Emails to the individual hotel properties did not resolve the issue. My tweet to Ritz went unanswered. We escalated the issue to Ritz corporate headquarters where we were assured the problem would easily and quickly be resolved. It took more than a month to get all three of our reservation corrected. The corporate person who was initially so anxious to help us became unreachable and it took many emails and voicemails to get all the reservations corrected. The good news is everything was eventually corrected. The bad news is it took so long and so much effort on our part to accomplish this.
The Kyoto Ritz Carlton hotel is located next to the Kamogawa River and is on a side street, near a busy shopping area. It is centrally located with most areas of interest a short drive away. You don’t even notice the hotel is there as you walk past since the entrance is through a garage. It has a very discrete feeling to it. Once you’re dropped off at the bellman’s desk inside the garage, you walk under a pergola across a bubbling
man-made stream with waterfalls to the unassuming door of the hotel. It’s worth stopping out here for a moment though to enjoy
this serene and truly Japanese garden. It provides a soothing moment of calm before entering the hotel. One of the greeters who is always present at the bell area wears a traditional kimono, which is a nice touch.
The Common Areas
The lobby is broken up into areas. When you first enter, you walk directly by the concierge desk and a small seating area. Walk though a large wooden automatic door and you enter the main lobby with seating areas, a macaron counter, a lounge, and eventually the main desk. The lobby is unassuming but quietly elegant. There are jars of Japanese candy in the corner of a sitting area if you need something sweet.
Elevators lead to the upper floors. The hallways are very Japanese with panels and hidden closets. The hallways feel quiet and private.
We entered our room to find it segmented into three areas: a hallway, bathroom, and main bedroom. The hallway ran next to the bathroom but there was curiously no door between the two areas at the bathroom opening right by the front door. The hallway consisted of a bar area, mini fridge, mirror and some shallow storage. It was nice to have this separate area for storage and it made the room
feel larger to have a separate little space.
The main bedroom area was spacious compared to the other Ritz properties we stayed at. There were two double beds as well as a day bed with a twin size mattress. The beds were of course wonderfully comfortable. The nightstands next to the beds had buttons that controlled the lighting and draperies in the room, which is very convenient. The day bed had a small table next to it. A seating area contained two chairs and a table, as well as a storage unit. A plate of grapes greeted us. A glass door led to the patio which faced the river. Two chairs and a table beckoned us to sit and relax. We could not actually see the river due to the trees, but we could hear it and the sound of it enchanted me. I left the door open to be able to hear it (more on this in a minute!).
The bathroom was similarly spacious. A double sink vanity with mirror and TV took up one wall. On the counter was a large black lacquer box containing toiletries. There was not a lot of counter space, however. The tub and shower were in a glass enclosed room (which meant there was no way for two people to be
in the bathroom at the same time if privacy was required) with the shower area simply comprising all of the space next to the tub. It had a wooded slat floor. The tub was deep for soaking. The Western style toilet with requisite Japanese toilet seat was in a small room, next to a closet.
We found the room to be extremely comfortable. However, because I had left the door to the patio open, soon the room began to smell like dead fish. We quickly closed the door but the room continued to smell this way for our entire stay. It was distracting and did in part ruin the experience. We did not
complain to the staff because I felt I had caused the problem by leaving the door open for an hour or so and because I really thought the smell would dissipate once the door was closed. Instead it simply reeked for our entire three-night stay. If the housekeeping staff noticed, they did nothing.
The staff at the hotel was excellent. They view themselves as a small high-service hotel, and it shows. I contacted guest services
before we left home to get assistance with restaurant recommendations and to arrange transportation. They responded to emails swiftly and with courtesy. We arrived extremely early for check-in and after a brief wait, our room was ready. We were invited to sit on couches during check in while the woman assisting us knelt on the floor at the coffee table. This felt a little odd to us Westerners but we understood the courtesy of the gesture.
We asked to have a bucket of ice brought to the room each evening and that request was handled without an issue. The concierge staff arranged for a car and driver for a day for us, made restaurant reservations, and provided directions to shopping areas. The concierge staff spoke excellent English and were all very accommodating, if a bit perplexed at our reluctance to dine at extremely high-priced restaurants.
All of the Ritz properties have greeters, but we found those at this property to be the most low-key (but still a bit aggressively friendly). Because the lobby is set up around a staircase going down to the restaurant, there are two paths to the elevators, one of which goes by the main desk and one which does not. We sometimes prefer to just be left alone, so we walked on the side away from the desk when we didn’t feel like answering questions about our day.
We found the bell desk to be very helpful in arranging for transportation to and from the train station and providing taxis when necessary. Whenever the hotel arranged transportation for us with a prior reservation (such as reserving a van to take us to the train, not when we just walked up and asked for a taxi), they always stocked the car or van with bottled water for us which was a nice touch. When they called a taxi for us they always communicated with the driver to explain where to take us, since there was usually a language barrier.
When staying in a country like Japan where the language barrier can be great, it was a great comfort to stay someplace where the staff willingly made all the arrangements we needed, including informing restaurants we needed only gluten-free choices.
One of the lovely features of this hotel is that they offer a variety of free activities and classes, such as origami, flower arranging, or use of bicycles. The bath products were high quality and the bathroom was even stocked with a hair brush, combs, nail files, and more. Our supply of bottled water was always replenished in the room.
We enjoyed breakfast in the hotel each morning. Entering the dining room we were subjected to an assembly line greeting from every staff member. Again, the Ritz
errs on the side of over-friendliness which can sometimes feel stifling. The dining room is very comfortable with several secluded nooks, offering much privacy. However it was very dark and was not exactly the place to wake up to your day. The breakfast buffet is scattered throughout the room with several stations – one so well-hidden we didn’t discover it until the second morning. Eggs are prepared in the kitchen to order. Fruit, meats, traditional Japanese breakfast items, cereals, breads, juices, and hot prepared items make up the buffet. The most notable fact for us is that there was a separate gluten-free station set up at the bar with bread, a dedicated toaster, and cereal. We did inquire in advance if gluten-free bread was available, so I’m not sure if this is a standard feature, or created just for us. T We had some difficulties communicating with the
wait staff. My husband asked for a glass of ice each morning (to pour his juice over) and some mornings he got it and other mornings he got ice water. Eggs were not always cooked precisely to specifications, but were close enough that we were able to eat them. We all ordered tea one morning but only two of us got it.
Overall, we were extremely pleased with the hotel and any criticism I have is merely nit-picking (except for the smell in the room, which we should have complained about). The level of service and concern for guests here is sky high. The hotel feels quiet, comfortable, private, and personal. I highly recommend it if you will be visiting Kyoto.
On our recent trip to Asia we stayed exclusively at Ritz Carlton properties, which provided an excellent point of comparison between them. Kyoto was my favorite. One brief note about the Ritz hotels in general before I share details about the Kyoto property. We were traveling as a party of three (myself, my husband, and … Read more