What it’s Like to Stay at the Hoshinoya Fuji: Hotel Review

0

Hoshinoya Fuji Hotel Review

I immediately fell in love with Hoshinoya Fuji when I was browsing hotels in the area. We had plans to attend the Pink Moss festival, and while I was originally imagining a practical Airbnb near Kawaguchiko Station, those serene, modern rooms with Mt Fuji views hooked me.

Hoshinoya Fuji calls itself a “glamping resort”, a charming, if not entirely accurate label. Modernist guest “cabins” are connected in staggered rows along a wooded hillside facing Lake Kawaguchi, and you’re presented with a backpack full of camping essentials like bug spray and binoculars upon check-in. However, rooms offer all the creature comforts you’d expect from a luxury hotel, and feature stunning views of Mt Fuji.

Location

The location of Hoshinoya Fuji, set above Lake Kawaguchiko and directly across from Mt Fuji, was a major selling point for me. Sure, there’s no shortage of hotels in the area, but there’s fewer that can compete with the amazing views and luxury setting. (the other drool-worthy Fuji view hotel I was considering does have the added feature of onsen, but it’s twice the price!)

The hotel is a 20 minute taxi ride from Kawaguchiko Station, which is easily accessed from Tokyo. There’s a number of train and bus options that will get you to Kawaguchiko Station, including one direct Fujikyu Railways train. There’s onsite parking available as well if you’re driving.

Those who drive will find it easier to get around, but in general, a stay at Hoshinoya Fuji is best for rest and relaxation at the resort itself. With its location up on a hill, a bit away from town, you’ll want a car or taxi to leave the resort (though there are bicycles available to borrow if you’d like). Staff are happy to arrange a taxi and a ride down to the reception, but it’s a bit of a production. Taxi costs will also add up quickly.

This wasn’t an issue for us– in fact I appreciated those limitations. After 10 days running around Tokyo, I needed an excuse to relax.

Check-in

The resort is located on a hillside, up a winding, single lane private-access road. You’ll begin check-in at a small airy reception building at the foot of the hill, and select your preferred backpack to borrow from the large wall display. From there, staff drive you up the hill to check in at the main building, and deliver luggage directly to your room.

During check-in, staff will schedule your meal reservations and arrange sign-up for any activities you’d like to participate in. The two phase process and details to decide on mean that check-in takes a little longer, but you’ll be sitting with a glass of herbal tea and forest view for most of the process.

Note that check-in is only available from 3pm-9pm. You’ll want to contact the hotel beforehand if you must arrive outside of those hours.

The Room

We booked a D Cabin– described as King Bed with Mountain View on Expedia.

I’d recommend checking availability at Expedia and Booking.com first, as their room rates are significantly cheaper than booking directly through Hoshinoya. Hoshinoya’s booking process is also a little confusing, as they list rates per person, per night, so that what initially looks like a deal comes out to be quite a bit more expensive.

From reception, you’ll walk down to your private cabin. There’s umbrellas and rain boots for inclement weather just outside the door, and slippers inside.

We booked this stay roughly in the middle of a 2 1/2 week trip, sandwiched in between Tokyo and Osaka. The serenity of the setting was exactly what I needed, and I couldn’t resist sinking into the fluffy bed before snapping photos.

I thought the big cozy coats were such a cool touch, but as with everything else here, available sizes are tailored to the Japanese frame. Not an issue for me, but Devin looked like a giant trying to squeeze into the coat, with the sleeves stopping mid-forearm.

The large blackout curtain did a good, if not perfect, job of blocking light in the morning, and blinds can be lowered over the patio door as well.

With so much natural light coming in the window, additional lighting wasn’t necessary during the day. The soft lighting above the bed could be adjusted with controls on either side of the bed and by a panel by the door. There were ample outlets by the bed, along with a small radio.

The bathroom was simple and spacious, with a deep soaking tub and Japanese toilet with all the bells and whistles. The shower setup in our room was a little awkward, as more often than not, Japanese bathrooms have a separate shower area, rather than showering in the tub.

Basic amenities were provided, including moisturizer packets and a Hinoki and Mulberry scented bath packet that smelled divine. I do think they missed the mark on the shampoo, conditioner and body wash, though, which had a chemical salon shampoo type odor. Something more natural (1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge’s incredible cedar scented toiletries come to mind) would have been welcomed.

I’m a sucker for a bathtub with a view, so I made sure to book a room with a bathroom view. All rooms have Fuji views, but only the King Bed rooms have views from the bathroom as well. Our large bathroom window looked out over the balcony and toward Mt Fuji. (I kept the blinds down for modesty, but they can be completely lifted for an unobstructed view).

Bath with a view of Mt Fuji (when it’s not cloudy)

The huge balcony cushion is such a pleasant spot to relax, and those provided coats came in handy. We visited in early May, but due to the elevation it could still be a bit chilly during the day and cold enough to merit the provided coat at night.

If you stay during the winter, your balcony will be outfitted with a kotatsu (and a couple rooms have an old-fashioned wood stove on the balcony!). But I imagine the resort would be incredible during the summer; still warm, yet a welcome relief from the stifling heat of Tokyo.

If you wish, staff will light the sunken fireplace in your balcony ledge each evening. It doesn’t put off any real heat, but does contribute to the glamping aesthetic.

The Property

The resort is arranged in levels up the hillside, with rows of staggered cabins at the lower level. Only guests are permitted on the property, and the relatively small number of cabins means that you don’t need to jockey for lounge space up on the terraces.

It probably goes without saying, but the property is not handicap accessible. Those with limited mobility may be able to work with the hotel to arrange a cabin closest to the road and easier to access. However, the sheer abundance of stairs will make it difficult to enjoy the full resort.

Several flights of steps up from the guest rooms is the Dining Hall and staff desk, along with a small gift shop. You can grab a drink here in the evenings, as well as at the Cloud Terrace.

At the top level is the Cloud Terrace, with wide patios and plenty of cozy seating areas.

The small Library Cafe building at the Cloud Terrace offers refreshments, s’mores fixings, and small snacks throughout the day, along with books, newspapers and even blankets for chilly weather.

At night, old movies are projected onto the canvas shades, a nice selection of Japanese whiskey is available for sipping, and there’s even live music.

Beyond lounging at the resort, Hoshinoya Fuji offers a number of nature activities like canoeing and hiking that you can sign up for– most for an extra fee. There are also a couple free activities: aerial stretching, a short hike for children, and participation in wood chopping for the bonfire. We were tempted by the hike in Aokigahara forest, but less so by the 6am start time and $60 per person fees, and ultimately didn’t take advantage of any of the formal activities.

Food

If you’re staying at Hoshinoya Fuji, you’ll probably be eating most of your meals there. As I mentioned in the location section, you’ll want a car or taxi to leave the resort, and won’t find much within walking distance.

We hadn’t fully considered those logistics when we booked, and I was originally thinking we might eschew the resort’s dining options for cheaper fare. Fortunately, the food turned out to be fantastic, and the relative isolation was a good excuse to relax at the resort for a couple days without the usual city FOMO.

There are multiple dining options, including room service, for each meal. You could theoretically order every meal delivered to your cabin to be enjoyed with that gorgeous Mt Fuji view.

Staff will schedule your meals when you check in. However, if you’re intent on a particular schedule or dining experience, I’d recommend contacting the hotel ahead of time, as you may find that some options are already booked up on the evening of your arrival.

With so many steps, a room service cart won’t cut it here. Still, I was surprised to see our breakfast box delivered by a staff member wearing a huge metal framed backpack filled with all our goodies. The same held for our glamping curry shown below, even with all the heavy pots!

The breakfast box (about $25 a person) above, was a favorite, and one of the better values available. With fresh bread, salad, soup, omelet, sausage, veggies, yogurt, and granola, it’s a huge–and delicious– breakfast.

Dinner in the Dining Hall (about $90 a person), was also excellent.

Presentation is consistently careful and beautiful. The high quality fresh veggies in the appetizer paired with the miso dip were a revelation–and the server was kind enough to write down the recipe for the miso dip when I expressed interest.

The only meal we weren’t as impressed with was the glamping curry. This room service option looked awesome on paper, but fell a little flat. At around $50 for two people, it was comparatively economical, but the portion sizes were on the small side, and the food was just ok. The presentation was nice, and hewing to the rustic theme, they include small bottles of spices along with a heavy cast iron spice grinder to doctor up your curry if you like.

There are additional neat food experiences, like a Forest Pizza Workshop, and Dutch Oven dinner in the outdoor Forest Kitchen. With nicer weather, I’d have given one or both a try.

The Forest Kitchen is roped off when it’s not in use, so I wasn’t able to snap any photos of that dining area. But all of Hoshinoya Fuji’s outdoor dining spaces looked lovely, and I’d definitely recommend taking advantage of the beautiful setting to eat al fresco if weather permits.

Service & Amenities

When you check in, you’ll be asked to select a backpack from the wall to use during your stay. The backpack includes a headlamp, binoculars, bug spray, a small inflatable seating mat, refillable water bottle and biscotti. The biscotti is complimentary and the water bottle is yours to take home. All other items must be returned at the end of your stay.

While there is minimal lighting to assist in navigation throughout the resort at night, you will probably want that headlamp or the flashlight provided in your room. I loved that they didn’t go overboard with the nighttime lighting: it made a trip up to the Cloud Terrace feel a little more like an adventure.

I can’t believe I forgot to take a photo of it, but the room keys (real, solid keys!) include a wooden fob that doubles as a bird call. It’s a beautiful touch, and representative of how committed Hoshinoya Fuji is to the rustic aesthetic of the property, even in the small details.

Rooms are stocked with comfy cotton pajamas that I was very tempted to take home! (you can also purchase them in the gift shop). As with the coats, sizes are limited. Larger sizes are available on request, but only up to about a women’s large/ extra large.

Rooms are stocked with tea, coffee, tin camping style mugs and electric kettles. You’ll find a selection of juice and alcohol in the mini fridge, along with gelato and tinned meat (I wasn’t too eager to try that). The bottled water in the fridge is complimentary, and re-stocked daily, which I appreciated.

There’s no TV in the room for obvious reasons, however the WiFi is excellent, and free.

Hoshinoya’s custom Jeep Wranglers provide drop off and pick up anytime you’d like to come and go. Staff deliver and pick up luggage directly to and from your room.

Service was predictably great throughout our stay. Every staff member we interacted with spoke English, and was gracious and friendly.

We’d saved up some postcards to mail, which the staff quickly took care of for us, adding the nominal fees to our bill. Any dining or other purchases made at the resort are added to your bill, so there’s no need to carry a wallet (Service fees are added to dining, but tipping is not otherwise expected for handling luggage, etc.). If we’d stayed a little longer, I imagine I could have racked up quite a bill sampling Japanese whiskey each evening!

When I booked via Expedia, I remember seeing a note about a separate resort fee charged at the hotel, but there was no additional charge on our final bill.

Overall Impressions

This was an overall amazing stay! The modern glamping concept occupies a nice space in between standard hotels and more traditional ryokan type lodging, while still maintaining an atmosphere that feels distinctly Japanese. In my experience, photos vs reality of hotel views can often disappoint, yet the Mt Fuji views here are legitimately fantastic, and Hoshinoya Fuji lives up to its luxury moniker.


Check rates for Hoshinoya Fuji on Booking.com and Expedia


1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge Review

0

Our Stay at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge

We chose 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge for stay to visit friends in Brooklyn recently The hotel was gorgeous, though not without some minor flaws. Read on for all the details, but if you’re looking for a quick summary, I do recommend the hotel so long as you’re certain the location is right for you.

It wasn’t any cheaper to book directly through the hotel and they’re not part of any loyalty programs, so I booked the room as part of a package deal on Expedia, which netted me Expedia rewards for the purchase.

One of my favorite things about 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge was the rich smell of cedar at the entrance, a theme which continued in our room, with Cedar and Vetiver scented bath products. I usually stay away from hotel lotions due to perfume sensitivities, but theirs was a nice mild unisex scent.

The serene lounge area off the lobby. Nearly every space in the hotel seemed carefully thought out and matched to the overall aesthetic.

We booked a King Room with Statue of Liberty views, though really the views of lower Manhattan from our window were more impressive than the distant figure of the Statue of Liberty.

Rooms feature bedside iPads with thermostat control (useful when you wake up cold and don’t want to get out of bed), service requests, and hotel info.

Though not a large room, it was comfy enough for two people, and the open bathroom made it feel larger. The shower and toilet are next to each other in separate glass partitions, just beware there’s not a lot of, ahem, auditory privacy in the bathroom.

As part of their eco-friendly efforts, rooms feature taps with filtered water in lieu of bottled water. It’s a cool idea, but I didn’t love the taste of the water–and this in a city known for its water quality. Perhaps the filter needed to be changed?

Other amenities included free WiFi, complimentary cozy socks, and free pods for the Nespresso machine. I appreciate these little things when so many hoteliers seem to take the “luxury” label as an excuse to gouge on everything. You will pay the normal premium prices if you pull from the fully stocked mini bar, though it’s nice that there’s an effort made to include local booze and snacks.

I loved this little patch of green at the end of the bathroom counter (and there’s enough counter space that you don’t feel like it’s in the way).

The views of lower Manhattan were fantastic, and if you peered out the window to the left, the Statue of Liberty is (distantly) visible. If you look closely, you can see that the window is a actually a French balcony. The middle section of the window slides open, which was so nice to let in the warm air and listen to the city sounds.

So, circling back to my initial comment about location, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge is convenient to the Brooklyn Bridge and DUMBO area, though about a 10 minute walk to the closest subway station. There is a ferry stop very close by, which will take you to lower Manhattan and Williamsburg. The ferry is scenic, if not the fastest mode of transport.

We chose the area because it’s close to friends we were visiting, but found that even then we spent more time in hipper Williamsburg, which features far more late night bars and restaurants.

When we wanted to pop into a drugstore for a forgotten toiletry around 11pm on a Saturday, we were surprised to find that while there were multiple Duane Reades open 24 hours across the river in lower Manhattan, there weren’t any open drugstores within a reasonable walking distance of the hotel.

The hotel itself is lovely, but the area sometimes seems more designed for transport by cars, and we ended up taking more Ubers than we’d planned. Do note that the hotel offers free rides within a 3 miles radius in their house Tesla–that is if you can snag it. Rides are on a first come, first serve basis, and we unsurprisingly weren’t able to catch the car when it was free over the busy holiday weekend.

I love the idea of rooftop bars, but very often they’re super scene-y and overpriced. 1 Hotels Brooklyn Bridge has a rooftop bar with incredible views, and yeah, it’s scene-y and overpriced.

The good news is guests don’t have to wait in the long lines on the weekends, just take the elevator directly up. The bad news is that even though there’s a dedicated rooftop line outdoors and a separate elevator for the bar, the hotel was often crawling with people trying to get up to the bar, or jumping in the guest elevators only to be confused that it went nowhere without the required keycard.

There’s also a plunge pool on the rooftop, though it wasn’t open yet during our stay in late May (perhaps this is why we weren’t charged the laughable $19 a day “resort fee” that Expedia mentions?). While looking for a spot nearby for drinks with friends, we also discovered that the bar closed at the bafflingly early hour of 8pm

The small section of the rooftop that was open during our stay didn’t carry through as well with the hotel’s immersive aesthetic, and at any rate was too crammed with people to take any attractive photos. There was a roped-off seating area to one side with tables that could be reserved, and the rest was first come, first serve.

Given all of the above, perhaps they’re still working out the kinks. At this point, I’d recommend taking a quick jaunt up to the roof to check out the views, just don’t waste your money on the perfunctorily served and mediocre $20 drinks.

Reaching the end, I feel like I’ve criticized enough that I should reiterate that we really did enjoy our stay! It’s a gorgeous hotel, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it–just be sure its limitations fit well with your travel plans.

Book 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge on Expedia

Book 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge on Booking.com

Book 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge on Hotels.com

Airbnb Experiences Review: 3 Tours in Mexico City

Review of Airbnb Experiences

We gave Airbnb Experiences a try on our recent trip to Mexico City, and I thought I’d share some info and a review for those who are wondering if it’s worth it. This isn’t sponsored: I paid for the tours myself, so I can be completely honest!

While I find myself feeling increasingly ambivalent about Airbnb itself, we enjoyed all three of our tours, the guides were knowledgeable and personable, and facilitated experiences that would have been difficult to find or set up on our own. They were however, a little pricey for Mexico, and one tour brought up some interesting questions about Airbnb’s policies for Experiences.

How Airbnb Experiences Work

First off, what are Airbnb Experiences, and how do they work? Experiences are basically tours that you can book through Airbnb. They’re available in cities worldwide, and you don’t need to book a stay in an Airbnb to go on an Experience.

We actually booked a cool condo style hotel and airfare package first on Expedia, and then chose some Experiences on Airbnb that fit with our schedule. There’s so many to choose from, it was a struggle to narrow it down to 3.

What appealed to me about Experiences is that there’s more of a focus on real connections with locals: many Experiences are offered by regular people with day jobs, rather than tour companies. And, for lack of a better word, they’re often more experiential, with a focus on learning and interacting.

When you browse experiences, you’ll be able to see the available dates and times offered, but don’t be afraid to contact the host if you don’t see a date that works for your schedule.

After you’ve booked, your host will likely update you on any changes via messages on Airbnb, so it’s a good idea to have the Airbnb app on your phone (if you’ll have data access on your trip), or let your host know if there’s a better way to contact you.

Do be aware that the cancellation policy for Experiences is somewhat strict, so obviously don’t book until you’re sure it will fit in your travel schedule, and allow for the possibility of flight delays in your scheduling.

Our Airbnb Experiences

I booked 3 Airbnb Experiences in Mexico City: A food tour, a street food and lucha libre experience, and an archaeological tour.

First up, Taste Colonia Roma was a walking food tour of the Colonia Roma neighborhood with 7 stops at local spots for food and drinks. We booked this tour for our first full day in Mexico City, thinking it would provide a bit of an orientation to the city, and give us a chance to pester someone with all our must-eat food questions!

It was just the two of us and one other girl on the tour, so it was a nice small group. In between stops, we walked through the gorgeous architecture of Colonia Roma, and our guide Salimah took the time to tell us about the history of the area dating back to the Aztecs, and the more recent history of the eclectic architecture. I really loved this about the tour! While not mind-blowing, the food we tried was all good, and represented a variety of foods and cool local spots we might not have heard about otherwise. Salimah was happy to answer all of our questions, and gave us recommendations for spots to try pulque.

When our she gave us a handy fold out map with a list of the places we’d be visiting, we realized that the tour was run by a local food tour business, Sabores Mexico. Turns out, I could have booked through their website and paid a little bit less. To be clear, I don’t have a problem with this tour being on Airbnb, I think it very much fits with Airbnb’s ethos. It’s a small company, and our guide was wonderful.

But this was the tour that got me wondering about what Airbnb’s policies and standards are for Experiences. Can any tour company sign up and offer their tours as Experiences?

With so many Experiences being listed now, if Airbnb isn’t carefully screening the people or companies involved, it’s easy to see how poorer quality offerings could proliferate. I couldn’t find detailed info about this on Airbnb’s website, so I contacted their press e-mail to ask. Aaaand, a week later, I haven’t heard back from them.

I’ll update this post if they get around to answering my email, but in the meantime, I’d recommend treating Experiences like anything else on Airbnb: be cautious, read reviews, and ask questions if you’re not sure whether the tour is being offered by a tour company or a local individual.

UPDATE: Airbnb never did bother to respond to my questions about screening and standards, but they do seem to have created quality standards for Airbnb Experiences more recently.

You can see all the details here. They include requirements like expertise, offering experiences that you couldn’t achieve on your own, and making tour times offered on Airbnb bookable only to Airbnb users.

However, they don’t say how they evaluate for expertise, and it’s clear that tours by larger companies are still common on the site. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just know that experiences may not be the intimate, one on one connection with a local that you’re picturing.

When you go on an Experience and leave a review, Airbnb will ask you questions aimed at confirming the quality of the experience. Much like vetting of their home listings, they seem to be crowd-sourcing quality control rather than directly verifying it.

Next, Spectactular Lucha Libre and Street Tacos featured a walking tour of street tacos, followed by a Lucha Libre show.

You can’t bring cameras into the lucha libre show, so I won’t post my terrible, grainy iPhone pics of the show here. But the tacos were just as much a part of Experience as the show, and there were SO MANY delicious tacos.

We met Tannia and Juan Carlos close to the first taco stand, and ate more tacos than I can count (my boyfriend estimates 21 between the two of us) at 3 stops on the walk to the lucha libre venue. They even ordered us some of the more adventurous options when we expressed an interest. Turns out I’m not crazy about the texture of brains, but eyeball tacos aren’t half bad.

This was the only Experience where we had any problems, and honestly, Tannia and Juan Carlos were so genuinely nice I hesitated to even mention it here. But I want to be honest, and really, if you book a handful of experiences, you’ll likely have something similar happen– remember that many hosts are regular people, not big tour companies.

So the first hiccup was meeting up. We arrived a little early at the meeting spot, then proceeded to wait….and wait….and wait. They showed up half an hour past the scheduled time (I double and triple checked the time listed on Airbnb), and they didn’t mention anything about being late. I chalked it up to a misunderstanding and let it go. We did get more than enough tacos on the walk to the venue, and enjoyed talking to them, but it felt a little rushed.

When we arrived at the lucha libre venue, we were surprised that they weren’t coming in with us, instead just handing over our tickets. As it turns out, this was fine, there are ushers to show you to your seats, and we didn’t end up needing any hand-holding (and they’d gotten us good seats!). It just wasn’t clear from the Experience description that we’d be going it alone from that point.

Ultimately, no regrets! It was a fun evening, and something I’d recommend doing.

Finally, The Aztec City Under Feet was a (mostly) walking tour of the ancient archaeology of Mexico City. Our host Jose was by far my favorite tour guide, charming and knowledgeable, the sort of person we’d have loved to explore the entire city with.

It was a small group with just one other lovely couple–and this was something I appreciated about our Airbnb Experiences; the platform seems to attract fellow travelers who are cool, open minded and fun. Jose tailored the stops to our preferences, and seemed to know every single hidden spot with cool architectural features downtown.

This was the cheapest tour, and definitely the one that would have been most difficult to replicate on our own, with all the gems we wouldn’t have known about or been able to talk our way into. I’m now set on staying at the amazing Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico on our next trip, after Jose convinced the doorman to let us in to view the soaring art nouveaux lobby.

Jose knew so much about the city, and had so many great recommendations. I wish we’d been able to book this tour for our first day so we could have followed through on all his recommendations.

The Verdict

Overall, I think Airbnb Experiences are worth checking out for your next trip.

Unless you have a huge travel budget, it can often be difficult to find day tours that feel intimate and un-touristy. The Experiences I booked hit that mark of meeting up with genuinely great people who want to show you around their city. I think a lot of people stay in Airbnbs precisely because they’re looking for this type of connection.

There’s some obvious caveats here: Read the reviews, and as with anything else, be cautious. It’s not clear how Airbnb is screening the listings for Experiences, so I wouldn’t necessarily book a listing that doesn’t have a handful of good reviews.

If you’re looking to screen out bigger tour companies, I’d recommend contacting them and asking if they offer the tour on other platforms or have customer reviews that can be viewed elsewhere. If it’s offered on another site, seeing how the tour is presented there may give you a better idea of how personal or touristy it actually is.

And it’s worth considering that some tours may be more enjoyable when organized by a company rather than a single person. It was clear that our food tour was the result of years of building relationships with local restaurants, and careful planning and organization. Likewise, it might be safer to take a bus tour for something like a day trip to Teotihuacan, rather than hopping in someone’s car (though honestly, the latter sounds like more fun!).

Finally, depending on where you’re traveling, Experiences aren’t exactly cheap. Unlike so much of our entertainment and meals in Mexico (and even our reasonably priced but huge hotel room), the cost of Experiences in Mexico city was more on par with what we’d have paid in the US. Still, I can’t really complain when I’m helping a local earn a living wage.  It’s not something I’ll be booking for every trip, but I’ll probably book an experience again for a country where I don’t speak the language well, or am visiting for the first time.