la vista hakodate bay | thetalariaproject’s review

there is a place where a city fronts a panoramic and expansive bay, where victorian-era mansions and churches grace steep, tree-lined avenues, and where cable cars dissect through the congruous city grids. if this description seems even vaguely reminiscent of san francisco, you could easily be forgiven for making that assumption.  although familiarly western in its initial portrayal, this is counter-intuitively, the very japanese city of hakodate, japan, and one of the newest and premier hotels this geographically blessed city offers is the la vista hakodate bay.

city of hakodate from mt. hakodate at dusk
camera: canon 40d
exposure: 1/2 sec
iso: 800
f-stop: f/3.5
post processing: cs4 contrast, saturation and sharpening

plus points:

if you’re a luxury traveler and need a port of call in this city, few other other hotels in the area come close to the higher standards of lodging the la vista hakodate bay offers.   the hotel is relatively new, clean and rooms are simple yet tasteful with an obvious japanese flavor. the ultimate highlight of this hotel however are it’s rooftop baths that have both indoor and open air options with the latter allowing you to fully appreciate the stunning panoramic view of the city and its surrounds. the hotel is also very conveniently and centrally located to most of the city’s attractions, with numerous shopping and dining areas encircling the property, and hakodate’s famed asaichi markets (morning markets) only a 10-15 walk away.  the most famous attraction however, is the summit of mt. hakodate and this too is within close proximity to the hotel.

hotel viewed from motomachi district

minus points:

although the hotel’s spa/hot spring baths are indisputably restful and relaxing, they were often on the side of overcrowded in our experience, and like us, this may be a fly in your ointment if your primary aim is peace and solitude. the hotel’s english language website was also a little difficult and confusing to navigate and i lacked confidence in securing a booking via this avenue. instead, i used japanican.com and this website will easily help you communicate with the hotel to answer any questions you may have, especially because there is an incredibly wide array of room types available.

japanese/western style room at the hotel

stay period: 9-11 Oct 2012
rate: ¥18,690
room category: japanese/western style room
room number: 1034
tripadvisor class: not listed
tripadvisor rank for city: #2

sights of motomachi district on the foothills of mt. hakodate, a 5 min drive from la vista hakodate bay

thetalariaproject’s tips:

if you happen to be driving into hakodate from sapporo, in our experience the journey, including stops along the way, was approximately 6-7 hours. despite appearing relatively close to each other on the map, roads in hokkaido have notoriously slow speed limits that are enforced with numerous speed cameras, and the alternative tolled roads add only slight reprieve for a much greater, almost non-economical cost. if you are driving in however, the la vista hakodate bay has reasonable daily parking rates for hotel guests that grants you unlimited entry and exit access for a 24 hour period. finally, if you decide to make the much recommended trip up to the summit of mt. hakodate, renown for its incredible views of the city and beyond, do let the hotel concierge know as they will happily issue you discount vouchers for the gondola ride to the top.

warehouses at hokodate's waterfront, a 5 min stroll from la vista hakodate bay

warehouses at hokodate’s waterfront, a 5 min stroll from la vista hakodate bay

thetalariaproject’s ratings:
ambiance: 7/10
value: 7/10
service: 15/20
bonus points: +1
total percentage: 75%
would i stay here again? yes
bonus points awarded for the impressive views garnered at the rooftop hot spring baths. even the sauna offered panoramic views of the bay.
lv
food

fresh seafood-don from hakodate’s asaichi (morning) markets, about a 15 min walk from the la vista hakodate bay

been to or stayed at the la vista hakodate bay hotel recently? i’d love to hear your thoughts, agreements or disagreements with my review. feel free to rate the la vista hakodate bay in the poll below.

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hilton niseko village | thetalariaproject’s review

the small northern japanese village of niseko is probably best well known for it’s spectacular ski season due its incredibly light powder snow that easily rivals that of whistler, british columbia, and the hilton niseko village hotel is strategically situated central to all this action. though most popular in the winter months, other seasons offer an array of activities suited for the most adventurous to the quick getaway and r&r seeker, and consequently the hotel is open year round.

mt. yotei at sunset’s glow from the hotel room
camera: canon 40d
exposure: 1/50 sec
iso: 400
f stop: f/5
processing: cs4 contrast, saturation and sharpening

plus points:

the hilton niseko is the only international-branded hotel in the niseko ski region, so if you’re after accommodation with a reputable branding and high standards this may be the choice for you.  in my previous post i mentioned that many hotels in japan struggle with the use of english, however i found this was not a problem at all here with the majority of staff very fluent with their command of english, which i believe is testament to the high standards a hilton hotel possesses. being outside of ski season, rates were very reasonable and included a splendid buffet spread of several japanese and western options. nearly all the hotel’s rooms arc to face hokkaido’s response to honshu’s mt. fuji, the striking and profound mt. yotei which rises dramatically, yet gracefully from the luscious valley floor. this view is once again repeated in the hotel’s spacious hot spring bath that includes an infinity rotenburo (outdoor bath) which allows you to remain toasty despite the often frigid temperatures outside.

the twin mt. yotei room at the hilton niseko village

minus points:

although we received a room with a beautiful aspect on the hotel’s top floor, we were caught off guard to how ambiently warm the room would be, and when the hotel was asked to find a solution to this problem, their only remedy was to open the windows as they had reportedly shut off the air conditioning system for the season. unfortunately this didn’t help much despite the much cooler temperatures outside as there was no cross ventilation in the room and the cooler air was not able to enter. i can appreciate that the climate is generally cool in this time and region, however i couldn’t really accept that a more appropriate response was not sought after for a customer’s need for comfort, particularly when ambient temperature plays an integral role in overall experience and comfort and should be customized to an individual’s needs.  other than this unfortunate incident however, staff at the hotel were generally helpful, courteous and approachable. finally, although the hotel was neat and tidy, furnishings appeared slightly dated and en-suites in particular could stand to be upgraded from it’s almost portable-toilet vibe.

breakfast spread

stay period: 8-9 oct 2012
rate: ¥15,300 (AP rate)
room category: twin hilton mt. yotei
room number: 1870
tripadvisor class: 4 stars
tripadvisor rank for city: #2

thetalariaproject’s tips:

most vacationers visit and stay at the hilton niseko during the winter months and not surprisingly rates are much higher during these periods (possibly even double or triple non-peak rates). if you book in advance however, you may be able to secure a 15% discount under the advance purchase rate (AP) rate where full prepayment will be required. during off peak periods, hilton may also offer other discount prices to encourage higher occupancy rates and you may be able to obtain a rather good deal that may include breakfast as well. as with most japanese hotels with hot spring baths, there is often a hot spring tax and this hotel is no exception, however rates are generally low, approximately ¥150 per person. if you have a vehicle with you, it may be a good idea to drive out for meals not included in your hotel rate, as prices will likely be higher otherwise. the closest biggest town with restaurants and supermarkets is kutchan which is about 20 minutes away from niseko by car.

thetalariaproject’s ratings:
ambiance: 7/10
value: 9/10
service: 15/20
bonus points: +1
total percentage: 80%
would i stay here again? yes
bonus points awarded for an amazing experience at the hotel’s infinity onsen that uses rare natural peat water and offers incredible views of mt. yotei while you relax and unwind.

mt. yotei in the daylight as viewed from the hotel room
camera: canon 40d
exposure: 1/320 sec
iso: 400
f stop: f/11
processing: cs4 contrast, saturation and sharpening

been to or stayed at the hilton niseko village hotel recently? i’d love to hear your thoughts, agreements or disagreements with my review. feel free to rate the hilton niseko in the poll below.

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the kukuna fujikawaguchiko resort & spa | thetalariaproject’s review

what’s better than catching a glance upon japan’s awe-inspiring and world renown mt. fuji? viewing the majestic symmetrical peak from the comfort of your japanese inspired tatami room, forefronted by a serene and mirror-like lake! it’s one thing being able to conjure this image up in your imagination, however turning this reverie into reality is another matter, and this is exactly what the kukuna resort and spa, nestled on the northeastern shore of lake kawaguchi, is able to achieve. whether it’s watching the surrounding mountainside flame up in an autumn splendor of color from the comfort of your room, or being mesmerized by a frozen lake and a snow clad village at fuji’s foot all from the hotel’s steaming infinity hot spring bath, there never seems to be a less than perfect time to visit this hotel and its surrounds.

mt. fuji from the kukuna

plus points:

nearly every room and facility at kukuna kawaguchiko sustains incredible views of lake kawaguchi and mt. fuji, which is important considering the high rates imposed at this hotel. weather pending, it is an amazing experience awaking to a sunrise over japan’s highest peak or retiring for the evening at the hotel’s restaurant while the sun sets over the alpine scene. for the amount you pay per night, the hotel ensures you are properly stuffed during meal time with dinner service providing both a daily changing eight course japanese style degustation menu as well as an accompanying buffet of both japanese and western style options. breakfast is slightly lower key with an available choice of western and japanese items, buffet style once again. lastly, a major noteworthy facility the hotel offers is its luxurious open air infinity style onsen, or hot spring bath that commands unimpeded views of the lake and mountain. though i visited this hotel in the fall, i’d imagine it’d be absolutely magical in winter, being embraced by the onsen’s warm waters while snowflakes gently descend around you.

minus points:

the most significant drawback for this hotel would be its rates which seem a little steep even by japanese standards.  it cost us about US$250 a night per person although this was somewhat compensated for with both quality and quantity at meal times. there is also an additional tax for the hot spring that is not included in the rack rate, so it is important to use the baths for maximum value. no wifi (paid or free) is available at the property, which is a real shame considering rates, and the only way to access the internet is through one of the hotel’s two computers. one of the first things you will notice when stepping into the hotel is its quasi hawaiian vibe which i felt to be bordering on tacky and was exacerbated by the fact that they had decked out (and cluttered in my opinion) most of the hotel with halloween decor. perhaps this catered best for the hotel’s mainly japanese clientele, however i was not a fan and would have preferred simple, contemporary luxury with a hint of alpine ski resort instead.  at the very least the hotel was clean, neat and tidy.

infinity hot spring bath, unfortunately mt. fuji was obscured by clouds

stay period: 2-4 Oct 2012
rate: ¥42,000 + ¥1,200 (hot spring tax)
room category: japanese/western-style room with lake and mountain view
room number: 415
tripadvisor class: not listed
tripadvisor rank for city: #3
hotel’s official website: http://kukuna.jp/eng/index.html

japanese degustation menu

thetalariaproject’s tips:

although the fuji five lakes areas is an immensely popular tourist destination both domestically and internationally, it would be highly advantageous to have a basic understanding of the japanese language as staff at this higher end resort struggled with english, and this is not uncommon in non-international branded hotels in japan. the hotel does have an english language version of it’s website, however i did not find the website’s booking system to be as straightforward as i hoped, and i would recommend that you use japanican.com instead to help you with the reservation for this and any other hotel in japan you may be interested in.  in my experience, japanican was free and easy to use and offered a high level of service and correspondence. being close to a kilometer above sea level, the weather at lake kawaguchi and mt. fuji can drastically change in mere moments and your view of the sacred mountain may become easily and abruptly obscurred. it is therefore ideal to be able to stay at the resort for a minimum of two days to increase chances of catching a view of the sometimes elusive mountain should weather conditions not be favorable, and this is exactly what i experienced. japanese hotels tend to allow smoking in rooms, however if this is not preferable, you would be able to request a non-smoking room. finally, it may be beneficial to have a car when visiting the area as you would be able to get from point to point at your own time and convenience, which may be important considering the weather may change rapidly, and furthermore parking at the hotel is free of charge.

kawaguchiko lakeshore

thetalariaproject’s ratings:
ambiance: 6/10
value: 6/10
service: 15/20
bonus points: +1
total percentage: 70%
would i stay here again? yes
bonus points given for a unique experience at the hotel’s open air infinity hot spring bath.

mt. fuji from lake saiko, one of the other five lakes in the region.
camera: canon 40d
exposre: 1/800 sec
iso: 200
f stop: f/8
processing: cs4 contrast, saturation and sharpening

been to or stayed at the kukuna fujikawaguchiko resort & spa recently? i’d love to hear your thoughts, agreements or disagreements with my review. feel free to rate the kukuna in the poll below.

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anantara uluwatu | thetalariaproject’s review

the anantara uluwatu is one of this thai luxury brand’s newest additions to its resort collection and its sophomore property in bali. due to be 100% completed by year’s end, according to its website, the resort is nonetheless functional and open for business, albeit softly. hugging south bali’s rugged limestone cliffs, the resort provides uninterrupted views of the indian ocean and plays host to magnificent, awe-inspiring sunsets each evening. this resort is suite-exclusive and most if not all rooms are afforded at the very least, a glimpse of the glimmering ocean.

sights of anantara uluwatu

 

plus points:

if it’s subdued contemporary luxury, infinity pools, unimpeded water views you’re after, then the anantara uluwatu would be the ideal selection for your retreat. the resort is situated relatively far away from the hustle and bustle and tourist trodden kuta beach district, and this near seclusion will serve to further enhance any sense of tranquility you may be craving for.

private plunge pool with unimpeded ocean views

minus points:

seclusion and remoteness may be one person’s criteria for a true relaxing and restful vacation, however for another this may be somewhat of an issue, especially if there is a desire to be close to all the so-called “action”. the anantara uluwatu is approximately an hour away from the main tourist hubs of kuta, legian and seminyak where a host of great restaurants and bars are located and may be quite exhausting attempting to continuously visit these areas. as the resort is extremely new and only in its soft opening phase, some facilities such as it’s spa (in-suite service only at the moment) and restaurants are not yet operational or offer limited service, however this is compensated by 30-50% off room rates. some minor improvements in service would also be beneficial. for example, i was not offered a drink or even a bottle of water in my pick-up vehicle from the airport and although i finally received one upon arrival at the resort, the accompanying refreshing towelette did not exude a pleasant scent at all.

rate: US$330++
room category: ocean front pool access suite
room: 643
tripadvisor class: 5 stars
tripadvisor rank for city: #453 (of all bali hotels)
hotel’s official website: http://bali-uluwatu.anantara.com/

in suite

thetalariaproject’s tips:
the main reason i was drawn to this particular resort was firstly because simply put, it was brand spanking new. in fact the suite i had the pleasure of staying in was never before occupied and had reportedly only been completed and ready for use a day before my check in. i also selected this resort because of anantara’s reputation for luxury and was aware its location on the clifftop would offer nearly unrivaled ocean vistas. although construction was ongoing to complete the rest of the resort’s villas, which are presently unavailable, any noise or disruptions were kept to a minimum and barely noticed. because the anantara uluwatu is currently in its soft opening phase, rates are 50% off until the end of september 2012 and then 30% until its grand opening. i believe this is exceptional value and if you happen to be in bali or are planning a trip there in the very near term, i would certainly recommend a stay at this resort. do note however that hotels and resorts in bali attract a 21% tax on room rates and this will unfortunately substantially increase the final price of your stay.

main infinity pool

thetalariaproject’s ratings:
ambiance: 8/10
value: 9/10 (while in soft opening phase)
service: 16/20
bonus points: +1
total percentage: 85%
would i stay here again? yes
bonus points given for the resort being brand new. there’s just something awesome about staying in a room where no one else has stayed before.
been to or stayed at anantara uluwatu recently? i’d love to hear your thoughts, agreements or disagreements with my review. feel free to rate anantara uluwatu in the poll below.
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marina bay sands | thetalariaproject’s review

marina bay sands. one of asia’s newest and most innovative construction projects in recent years. three soaring glass encased towers crowned and stylishly linked with a cantilevered sky park, complete with a jewel of a swanky and sexy infinity pool. complete with a glitzy casino, world class spa, celebrity chef restaurants, broadway inspired theaters, and plethora of shoppes (as they’ve explicitly stylized), marina bay sands is a destination in its own right in the cosmopolitan city state of singapore.

view of marina bay sands
location: viewed from the swissotel
camera: canon 40d exposure: 1/250 sec iso: 100 f stop: f/10
processing: cs4 contrast, saturation and sharpening

stay period: 5-7 Aug 2012
rate: S$479++
room category: premiere
room: 2569, tower 2
tripadvisor class: 5 stars
tripadvisor rank for city: #39
hotel’s official website: www.marinabaysands.com
plus points:
located across the bay from the ever growing singapore skyline, marina bay sands offers truly unforgettable and spectacular views. each north-facing room offers of marina bay and downtown singapore, while rooms with the southern aspect are afforded views of the newly christened gardens by the bay, backdropped by the world’s busiest shipping straits. inaugurated in 2010 to much fanfare, the resort and its accompanying entertainment venues aptly blend a sense of chic with contemporary asian flavor.  there is subway station located in the vicinity of the resort for easy access to the rest of singapore, including its airport, however the integrated resort also provides free shuttle transfers to and from each of the sprawling airport’s terminals at regular half hour intervals. please see click this link for further shuttle information.
minus points:
as impressive as marina bay sands is structurally and aesthetically, i personally believe it is slightly struggling to cope with its demands.  a quick glance on tripadvisor’s reviews of the resort will immediately reveal its thorns, with a slightly inferior service when compared to other 5 star establishments across both singapore and the world.  with the incredible volume of guests it receives, it is hardly surprising quality of service may be compromised for efficiency. some examples include being unable to guarantee a room with my preferred bedding configuration besides giving the hotel 50 days notice. no mention or explanation was given at time of check in and not surprisingly, no offer of an upgrade for this lack of service . upon checkout, i was billed at an almost arbitrary rate for my stay, however after some discussion with a supervisor i was able to obtain the rate i was originally quoted by the hotel’s very own website. the toilet area in my bathroom also reeked of cigarettes despite requesting and receiving a non-smoking level and room.

skyline view from the infinity pool
location: skypark marina bay sands
camera: canon 40d exposure: 1/320 sec iso: 200 f stop: f/6.3
processing: cs4 contrast, saturation and sharpening

thetalariaproject’s tips:
like most other hotels, advanced reservations may secure you with a discounted rate. according to the hotel’s official website, you may be able to save up to 46% off rack rates. if possible, i would advise against staying at this hotel during peak periods including holidays, as it can be extremely crowded. if you’re after quiet seclusion or a honeymoon, i would not recommend this hotel as its guests appeared to be mainly families with kids.  as stunning as the hotel’s infinity pool is and the million dollar views it affords, the ambiance and crowding exudes more of a theme park atmosphere than ultra-chic urban retreat. of course, all photos of the pool will depict is being spotless, pristine and uncrowded, however be warned, the opposite is true! that being said however, marina bay sands is undeniably a true icon of singapore and would be worth the visit at least once.
thetalariaproject’s ratings:
ambiance: 7/10
value: 5/10
service: 11/20
bonus points: +3
total percentage: 65%
would i stay here again? maybe
bonus points given for the hotel’s crowning glory, the one of a kind infinity pool. access to and from the hotel is virtually limitless and inexpensive as well. dining and entertainment options are nearly countless as well and suit all budget ranges.
been to or stayed at marina bay sands recently? i’d love to hear your thoughts, agreements or disagreements with my review. feel free to rate marina bay sands in the poll below.
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thetalariaproject’s hotel rating scale

as promised, in this entry i’ll be outlining how the implemented hotel grading scale will work. i’ve also constructed a relatively simple graphical representation of the scale system below, as i believe observing data graphically affords a more impressionable effect. hotels will be assessed on what i believe are three key areas; ambiance, value, and service, and this will presently be elaborated upon. in the future, i intend to extend this grading system to “spa-cations” as well as not surprisingly, i am a frequenter of spas and such retreats.

value – simply put, i rate this based on how much bang for buck the hotel gets you. to charge more, the hotel has to be set apart somehow from other hotels in its class. it should also have the ability to lure me back despite charging the rate it does. a maximum of 10 points will be awarded in this section.

ambiance – i rate this based on the hotel’s feel, vibe, it’s general appearance and whether it achieves what it sets out to accomplish especially in terms of aesthetics, cleanliness, and its position and ability to compliment and respect its surrounding environment for its purported rating. a maximum of 10 points will be awarded in this section.

service – this is probably the most important asset a hotel has. i believe a hotel can be situated in the best location and charge the lowest prices, but if service is lacking or substandard, there is absolutely no point in returning. exceptional service need not be waiting on you hand and foot, but should be attentive, responsive, situational and dynamic. service that goes beyond expectation will always garner additional points with me. as a result, i have increased the points available for service to a maximum of 20.

bonus points – if i feel a hotel has performed exceptionally outside the three areas of ambiance, value and service, i will award a maximum of 5 bonus points in this area. points may be awarded for excellent convenience, one of a kind experiences, upgrades etc. these may be arbitary, however i will attempt to explain and justify why a hotel would deserve these bonus points.

total percentage – this is calculated by adding up the points in ambiance, value and service. bonus points, if available, will also be included for a total score out of 40, from which the percentage is derived.

thetalariaproject’s percentage rating scale

rating scale defined

0-20: hotel is extremely poor in quality and standard. drastic improvement required. will definitely not be revisiting this property.

21-40: hotel is of poor quality and standard. great improvement required. will likely not be revisiting this property.

41-60: hotel is of fair quality and standard. several issues exist and further attention is required for improvement. there may be a chance of revisitation should conditions improve.

61-80: hotel is of good and noteworthy quality and standard. there is still room for improvement to allow the establishment to strive for perfection. will likely revisit this property and recommend to friends and family.

81-100: hotel is of exceptional, outstanding and excellent quality and standard. little to no complaints exist or can be found. will definitely revisit this property and highly recommend to friends and family.

disclaimer – thetalariaproject’s rating system is 100% self constructed and idealized. all ratings are completely subjective, although attempts will always be made to keep reviews objective and fair. the rating system is not scientific by any means. thetalariaproject is not paid by any bodies or organizations to rate these properties. this rating system has been devised out of the desire to share a somewhat tangible experience with fellow like-minded travelers.

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a slightly new direction

thank you for staying tuned. i realize i have been absent from this blog for quite some time now, however in my absence, i’ve had some time to think about what i’d like to add to the blog this year, or what’s left of it anyway.

i still greatly enjoy my travel photography, and i’m still more than happy to share whatever tips i can on that front. lately however, i’ve been perusing through several accommodation review websites online and have received both hits and misses with my own experiences as compared to those reviewed online. as such, i have decided i’d like to commence a hotel review section on my blog to give fellow avid travelers yet another avenue to help direct them to their own perfect getaway.

as you’ll probably observe, i simply love my luxury hideouts (who doesnt!) and most of my reviews will focus on such properties. i’m continuously searching for that exciting and unbeatable offer to maximize the value of my experience at these ultimate stress relieving destinations, and it is my hope that i’ll be able to extend this to you.

with each review, i happily welcome any comments, agreeing or disagreeing with my reviews and ratings. perhaps i’ve been too lenient or too harsh in my review, please let me know, as it is my aim to establish a credible and honest review system here. i’d like to know what kind of experiences fellow travelers have had at the same property and reasons for any major discrepancies in their review.  i sincerely hope i will be able to provide you with reliable, resourceful and entertaining reviews for your own travel planning or dreaming.

in an attempt to standardize and produce consistent ratings for each review, i’ll be detailing how i envisage my rating system to both function and materialize. i also hope to publish my first official review by month’s end. once again, i invite you to stay tuned.

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