Monday, April 13, 2015

Japan trip Spring 2015 part 10 - Hotels and Pupuru pocket wifi review

This probably should have been at the beginning of the trip posts, but I was so excited to write about everything else that I wanted to blog about those first lol. Plus those will probably be more interesting than this post which I'm mostly writing just for reference (for myself or anyone else who is specifically interested in these hotels). The Osaka hotel will have a slightly more in depth review since we've never stayed there before compared to the Tokyo hotel.

Tokyo hotel: Prince Shinagawa N Tower
In Tokyo, we decided to stay at the Prince Shinagawa N Tower again. We had previously stayed there during our last trip in July 2014 and were really happy with the location. The room size definitely leaves something to be desired with something ridiculous like 16 sq. m, but we were willing to make the sacrifice of staying in smaller rooms because of its familiarity, proximity to Shinagawa station and also proximity to Haneda Airport.  Shinagawa is a major stop on the JR Yamanote line with easy access to Shibuya, Harajuku and Tokyo stations. It is also a shinkansen stop which was really handy for us since we were planning on using the bullet train to get to Osaka in the second half of our trip, and it was nice not to have to transfer lines with our baggage.

To get to the Prince Shinagawa from Haneda Airport, you simply need to take the Keikyu line to Shinagawa station (no transfers necessary). It costs 410yen. Once you exit the train station through the Takanawa exit, head towards the McDonalds, Anna Millers and Wing Takanawa just across the street via a large, frequently used crosswalk. Walk past McDonalds and a restaurant with outdoor seating (on your left) and Wing Takanawa (on your right) and the 1st floor of the Prince Shinagawa will be right in front of you. The lobby is on the second floor. There is also a small 7-Eleven near the entrance of N Tower as well. The Annex and Main tower of the Prince Shinagawa will be to the left of N Tower.

The room itself is quite small, especially compared to the average hotel room in America for the price you pay. However, you still have all the regular amenities (double bed, chair, desk, tv, bidet toilet, ofuro tub and sink) and whoever designed it did a pretty good job for efficiency imo. I really like the little shelf near the full length mirror in the hallway, and I used it a lot. The similar small shelf near the bed was also often used. If you don't have a lot of luggage (we did), the room probably feels a lot bigger as well. I wrote about this hotel in my Part 1 post of last year's trip so please check that out if you'd like more info since I don't want this post to be too repetitive and just say the same things lol.
I mentioned this last time, but the Prince has a greener cleaning program where if you opt to skip room cleaning (new towels, sheets, etc) for the day, you will get a 500yen vouchers which can be used in a number of the hotel shops (there are a lot of them, believe me) and also at the nearby 7-Eleven. You can opt in for a maximum of 3 consecutive nights and then your room will need to be cleaned before you can do the greener cleaning service for other nights as you wish. We opted in quite a bit and used our 500yen vouchers at the 7-Eleven for water and snacks and things like that.

One huge perk during our stay this time was the free breakfast buffet in the mornings in the Executive Lounge on the top floor of the N tower! It opened at 06:30am (2 days a week it was 07:00am) and closed at around 09:30am. They had potato salad, scrambled eggs, sausage, mini croissants, chocolate, sakura and onion bagels, granola and cornflake cereals, soup, yogurt, milk, orange juice, some other kind of dark orange fruit(?) juice, in addition to water and other soft drinks. Once you entered, you served and seated yourself (open seating) and could stay as long as you liked until it closed. They used paper plates and plastic utensils (easy for self-disposal) and also had a toaster oven available if you wanted to toast your croissants or bagels.
It was the same offerings every single day, but it was free so we weren't complaining too much. Especially because there aren't a lot of cheap breakfast options in the area that open that early, are extremely convenient (I mean, hello, we could go up and eat and still go back to the room and get ready more if we needed to), and most hotel breakfast buffets cost an additonal $22-29/day. Seriously, good luck finding a plethora of cheap, easy breakfast restaurant choices in Tokyo that open before 07:00am.We thought it was so great lol, especially because we weren't expecting it. This was just a perk for those staying in the N Tower though. The other family we were traveling with was staying in the Main Tower (for bigger rooms) and didn't get the advantage of this free breakfast.


Osaka hotel: The Westin Osaka
In Osaka, we booked with The Westin Osaka. One of my friend's friends who travels to Japan a lot (he works for an airlines) posted a picture on IG of his hotel room at The Westin Osaka which I remembered when we were looking for an Osaka hotel for this trip. We had previously stayed at the Hotel Monterey Grasmere Osaka near the JR Namba station during our summer 2014 trip and wasn't fond of the location. Although it was very close to the JR Namba station...it wasn't actually close to the shopping district and was like a seven minute walk to the main (subway) Namba station which seemed like forever during the hot summer.

The Westin Osaka has a slightly less desirable location than a few other hotels nearer to Osaka/Umeda stations, but we decided to stay here because the rooms promised to be MUCH bigger than the average Japanese hotel (almost 2-3x as large), it offers free wifi, and we were able to adjust the temperature ourselves. Apparently, according to reviews, there are a number of hotels that have standardized temperature control for all rooms during the colder months, and it is purposefully made to feel very warm. My bf really doesn't like warm air, and I knew that it would be a priority for us to have room where we would be able to adjust the thermostat ourselves for comfort.
The Westin Osaka has a great step-by-step tutorial for how to get to the main lobby of the hotel from Osaka station on their website. This was great for us because I thought we'd have to catch a taxi from the station for our first time. Obviously walking is much cheaper. The very specific pictorial left little doubt about how to get there, and I feel like even if you're a bit directionally challenged, you'll still be able to find it. I found the access guide ahead of time and downloaded each step's pdf as a jpeg and saved them onto my phone's photo album just in case something happened and I wasn't able to quickly access the internet when I needed to. If you're extra worried, of course you can print out the steps as well lol.

We were able to find the hotel with no problem by following the steps in about ten minutes or so, even with our luggage with us and were pleasantly greeted in the lobby by several helpful (but not too aggressive) hotel staff. As expected, check in was no problem, and we didn't seem to have any communication issues. Our rooms were on the 16th floor and a porter/bell hop(?) stacked up all of our luggage on a trolley and escorted us to our rooms. The service was really quite excellent and to think they don't even work for tips!

The rooms. OMFG. I have to admit I was wow'd. I knew the room would be bigger than we were used to in Japan, but it was really quite fantastic imo lol. Bigger than even some of the hotel rooms I've stayed in in America! And nicely decorated but not tacky as well. My bf and I had our own room as did my parents, and we really wanted the rooms with one King bed but apparently those were more expensive than the rooms with two double beds, so we went with what was cheaper lol.
If you are concerned about room size in Japan, this is a great hotel to stay at, especially for the price. I think we paid through hotels.com and it was about $170/night with free cancellation up to 48 hours before check in (the free cancellation option was important to us). A lot of other hotels with somewhat similar room sizes that we looked at were above $200 or not in our ideal location. (But it might be the area we were looking at and the time of the year we were visiting.) Anyway, I really thought the size of the room was massive and more than we'd ever need. I mean, the shower has a full size tub and a shower stall! And also in the bathroom was a speaker for the tv that you could adjust the volume to from the toilet lol.
with natural lighting lol
We had plenty of room for all of our baggage and just to relax and whatever lol. They even provided two free regular size bottle waters in the mini fridge. And if you got your room made up, they replaced the waters (still free)! They would also replace the bathroom amenities as well! And you also got a free newspaper in the morning (which wasn't useful to us since we can't read Japanese, but still).

Also the hotel wasn't very close to the nearest train station (especially not compared to the Prince Shinagawa's proximity to Shinagawa station), the Westin offers a free shuttle bus to and from Osaka station which leaves about every 15 minutes during peak times on a specific time table (below on the left). And there are two buses, so even if one is a bit delayed, that shouldn't muck everything up too horribly. But it really takes about 7-10 minutes to go to or from the station on a good trip, so there is a bit of leeway either way.
There are tickets to use the shuttle bus in the rooms which confused us a lot. Actually, the shuttle is free for Westin guests, and you don't need those tickets at all. If you can manage to find the shuttle bus stop before you check in and want to catch it to the hotel, I don't think that should be a problem either. You don't even need to show your room key to enter the bus. However, sometimes the line for the bus to return to the hotel was quite long and not everyone made it on and had to wait for the next one! If you know you want to catch a certain time shuttle bus back to the hotel, it may be worth it to show up 7 minutes or so early and get in the line if it's during a peak return time. The shuttle bus stop is right next to Eki Marche, and if you exit the Osaka station through the Sakuragicho exit, you shouldn't have too much of a problem finding it if you walk towards the street. (If you want more specific info on how to find the Westin shuttle bus stop, please ask. I'm not going to try to go into full depth descriptions in this post.)

There is an airport shuttle bus that leaves direct from the Westin to go to KIX. I wrote a bit about this on Day 8's post, but the nearest leaving time to our flight time was 04:58pm which was about an hour early for our flight, but our best option in terms of cost. I think it was around $14/person, but the other family ended up reserving and paying for the tickets for all of us, so I'm not 100% sure. Considering we were on the bus for quite awhile (over an hour I think), the price is not bad imo, especially compared to a taxi. The Westin is the first stop for the airport shuttle, so you and your luggage will be the first to load. If you can figure out where the other shuttle stop are and can get there with your things (before it leaves the Osaka station area), you can likely have about half an hour more shopping.
View of the Westin (pink arrow) from the airport shuttle


Pupuru pocket wifi
On our previous trip in July 2014, we went without a pocket wifi. I had been in Japan during my study abroad without wifi and thought I had gotten around fine, and so I although I knew such services existed, I didn't spend a lot of time looking into it. I knew there were a few big name companies but I don't really know a lot about how many gigs you want or speeds or things like that that made one better than the other or one price expensive and the other price cheap so I really just let it fall to the wayside.

While I was researching for new things to do in Tokyo for this trip, I came across a review for Pupuru from asiatravelbug which compelled me to look into this specific company more. I mean, that's essentially what I was waiting for anyway. Someone to break down in layman's terms what these things do and what settings the average person would want on a trip in Japan and if it's worth it or not since I am okay not posting to IG or FB until I get back to my hotel (which would have wifi as a basic requirement for us booking there). (I've read Cheesie's blog posts about a specific company before but those seemed Malaysia/Singapore based and not helpful to me in the US.) Anyway, I checked out Pupuru's website, looked up a few more reviews and decided that the price was decent and there were enough positive reviews that it seemed legitimate, so that is who my family decided to book with. We initially just purchased one pocket wifi and the other family was going to purchase their own (on their own). Then, when my parents decided to fly up a day early, we purchased a second one that would be available to them immediately after landing.
We arranged for each of the pocket wifi devices to be shipped to our hotel since we would be arriving in Japan late at night (past when the post offices would be open at the airport). This was no problem, and we simply had to provide our hotel's address when we were ordering them. It's typically preferable to book the pocket wifi for the person whose name the rooms were booked under for the least confusion since they are usually mailed to the hotels.

The pocket wifi comes with a charger and informational how-to but the most important thing is the wifi device itself. Ours was small and rectangular. Easily fitting in a pocket or purse/bag. Sometimes it would get quite warm but nothing that caused us to be concerned with it catching our things on fire.
To turn it on or off requires the power button to be pushed for approximately 6 seconds so it's unlikely that it will be shut off on accident in your bag. We didn't have any problems with the battery except for maybe one day where were out for quite long with no breaks back at the hotel and on multiple long term trains when the wifi was likely very busy searching and searching and searching repeatedly for signal. We ended up turning ours off for about an hour or two near the end intending to save it for an "emergency", but it might have lasted the whole time if we really needed it to. We didn't really want it to die, so unfortunately I don't know for sure. Otherwise, a good overnight charge seems to last most of the day. If we stopped by the hotel to drop stuff off, we would always quickly try and charge it even if it was just for a little bit since we really came to rely on having wifi and never really wanted to be without it. At the end, we just put back all the components into a prepaid and pre-addressed envelope provided and dropped it off at the front desk of our hotel. I believe you can also drop it off at the airport or any post office box really, but it was easiest for us to just take care of it when we left the hotel so we wouldn't forget and have to deal with the monetary consequences of sending it from Hawaii or something lol.

We all agreed that having wifi on this trip made it much more enjoyable than the last trip when we were often guessing and just wandering around and getting lost and not always catching the most efficient train. We used Google Maps and Hyperdia a lot to help us navigate and get around. Both work very well on mobile. It was also just good to have wifi when we were killing time on a long train ride or bored or something. We didn't have any issues with the data limit as far as I know and it was nice that up to 10 devices could connect even though we had maximum 10 people with 10 devices total among 3 pocket wifis throughout the trip.

Overall, I would highly recommend getting a wifi device or something similar if you're going to travel to Japan since free wifi is not super prevalent. Some areas and malls will have it, but half the time you need to go to the info desk and get the password, and it's only valid for X amount of hours and blah blah blah. It was really nice for us to have wifi whenever we wanted, especially to communicate with each other since we split up quite a bit, and iMessage was really handy and allowed us a bit more leeway since of explicitly having to meet at ABC place at XYZ time else someone think the others were hopelessly lost. Pupuru worked well for us this time and unless we can find a cheaper company, we would likely look to use them again.

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  Japan trip Spring 2015 posts
Part 1 - Pre-trip planning
Part 2a - March 21, Day 1: Liz Lisa Shibuya 109 Yui Kanno event
Part 2b - March 21, Day 1: Hawkeye Owl Cafe
Part 3 - March 22, Day 2: Kawatsura Strawberry Farm, Chiba, Shinjuku
Part 4 - March 23, Day 3: Tsukiji Fish Market, Yokohama, Machida
Part 5 - March 24, Day 4: Omiya, Ikebukuro, Takadanobaba, Asakusa & luggage forwarding
Part 6 - March 25, Day 5: Shibuya, Shinkansen & Osaka
Part 7 - March 26, Day 6: Tennoji MIO, Nara Deer Park
Part 8 - March 27, Day 7: Kobe (steak), Namba/Shinsaibashi & Keiko
Part 9 - March 28, Day 8: Kyoto, Berri & home
Part 10 - Hotels and Pupuru pocket wifi review
Part 11 - Liz Lisa shopping items/coordinates
Part 12 - Liz Lisa x My Melody 6th collab OPs and hand towel 

Japan trip Summer 2014 posts
Japan trip Summer 2015 posts

6 comments:

  1. Your Osaka hotel is so nice! It looks really fancy. The pocket wifi is a good choice for travelling as well and a sensible decision (didn't get pocket wifi, is not sensible,)

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    1. Dude it was so incredibly nice and the service was great! I bet your Disney hotel was bomb too.

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  2. I love your blog and all of the insight you have in regard to traveling into Japan! I've looked into Pupuru but was kinda skeptical! Now that I know you had success, I'm purchasing mine immediately~!!! ♡

    You are just too cute, smart, and fashionably sensible!

    Please continue with your blog, it's quite stunning!!! ❤︎

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    1. Thank you! I feel like there are a lot of posts about Japan from travel blogs out there, but not always ones with the same kind of priorities that I have lol. So that's why it might not be a waste to write :X [Even though I can hardly be called a travel blogger ofc lol.]
      Hope your experience with Pupuru goes smoothly! We were really happy with ours with no regrets at all except that we wished we used it on our previous summer trip!
      <3

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  3. Ah, free breakfast—a traveler’s best friend, and I should know. Been a frequent flyer overseas myself, and I can vouch for the convenience of a free meal early in the morning when you’ve allocated much of your time to seeing the sights you came for. Hope you had a great time there! Thanks for sharing!

    Danielle Richardson @ The Hoste

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  4. Really good article. Thanks for taking the time to explain things in such great detail in a way that is easy to understand.
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