By: Frank – @dugup46 – When Danielle and I set out to choose our first long-haul international vacation, it didn’t take us long to decide on Japan. And then after deciding that Kyoto was where we wanted to spend the majority of our time, it didn’t take us long to pick our hotel: The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto. The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, built in 2014, has become a staple of luxury in a city known for it’s array of temples, shrines, and architecture. Read on to find why The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto has become my favorite hotel in the entire world.
- Cash & Point Expense – Hotel costs in terms of cash, points, or both.
- Hotel Overview & Room – Overview of the property and room choices.
- Service & Conveniences – Service and amenities offered by the hotel.
- Restaurants & Dining – Restaurant and bar choices in the hotel.
- X-Factor – What sets this property apart from others.
Cash & Point Expenses
Danielle and I were incredibly fortunate to land four nights at the RC Kyoto using our free night certificates we received from the Chase Ritz-Carlton Credit Card. I say “incredibly fortunate” because at the time of booking the RC Kyoto was a Tier 4, which is the highest tier you can book using your free night certificates; however, a couple months after booking, the RC Kyoto was bumped up to a Tier 5 property which makes it ineligible for booking with your Chase free night certificates.
Cash rates vary on the time of the season. During Sakura (cherry blossom season in April) rooms will sell out 6 months in advance and can cost upwards of $1,200 a night, while off-season rates can be booked for $600 a night. Due to the increase in category tier, the most affordable way you can get a room would be using 70,000 Marriott points per night if you have a lot of Marriott points sitting around. The most realistic way to book a room moving forward would probably be paying with the Chase Sapphire Preferred through the Chase “Explore & Book Travel” portal.
Hotel Overview & Room Choices
The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto is unique in many ways but maybe none more in than it’s ability to blend in to Kyoto’s historical architecture. Sitting just off the banks of the Kamogawa river, the hotel provides a perfect sanctuary from the bustle of the city just outside the front door. Designed by Remedios Design Studio, many of the hotel’s 134 rooms offer sweeping views of not only Kamogawa River but the Higashiyama mountains just east of Kyoto.
To put it simply, the hotel just screams luxury… but in a minimalist way. There isn’t anything too gaudy, but it’s certainly not a laid back, fun hotel. If you are familiar with Ritz properties, think of that vibe but with a modern, minimalist twist. Staff members at the hotel were exceptional the entire trip. From our check in experience (will talk about that later) to the concierge asking how we enjoyed each of our daily trips – it was just a unique experience.
The resort offers 12 different types of rooms in two different styles:
- 49 Deluxe style rooms – 483 sqft – Views of city (or more appropriately, street, views).
- 13 Deluxe Garden rooms -483 sqft – Views of a traditional Japanese garden.
- 55 Luxury Rooms – 559 sqft – Sweeping views of Kamogawa River and the Higashiyama mountains (pictured above)
- Garden Suite – 698 sqft – Private Japanese Zen garden, separate living and bed room
- Corner Suite Kita – 1075 sqft – 3 corner suites offering river, mountain, and city views
- Corner Suite Minami – 1236 sqft – Views of the river, mountain, and city with living, dining, and bed rooms
- Ritz-Carlton Suite – 2279 sqft – Panoramic views, balcony w/ fireplace, luxury bathroom w/ marble baths
There were a few more suites in there as well; however, many are similar to one another. For instance, the Garden Suite and Kita can both be booked in Tatami style, which is Japan’s traditional floor bedding design.
Service & Conveniences
This is where things get juicy. A hotel is a hotel. Yeah they have different styles but that, to me, is generally secondary. Danielle and I have had the luxury of staying at some fantastic hotels over the past couple years, and I have come to appreciate location and, more importantly, service than the hotel itself. I feel this is really where the RC Kyoto shines.
When I talk about service of a hotel, a lot goes into it. Concierge is always huge for us as we typically “plan as we go,” so asking for help is a common occurrence. Secondly, the check in experience. Impressions of a hotel are built upon the service we receive during our check in at arrival. And finally, just the interactions we have with random staff walking around the hotel. Concierge and front desk agents are paid to treat you well, but what about the remaining staff? That always plays a big role for us.
Since our first experience was checking in, let me cover that. We grabbed a cab from Kyoto station and made our way up to RC Kyoto. Upon entering the parking area, a gentleman wearing a full tan suit with the most awesome top hat you’ve ever seen opens our door, greets us, grabs our bags, and leads us inside the hotel. Awesome. We walk in the hotel around 9PM and the front desk agent steps in front of the desk and greets us by name! I kid you not. Maybe we were the last ones checking in that evening? Not sure, but it was really cool. She then escorts us to our room before checking in! She shows us the room, sits us down at our desk, and checks us into the hotel INSIDE OUR ROOM! I have never seen anything like that in my life. Nothing could have gone better, it was incredible.
The concierge was fantastic as well! The third day we actually stopped down around 8:30AM to ask directions to the Golden Temple. We walked some distance and eventually took a cab. We were out for a while, but came back around 2:00PM to get a change of clothes. When we walk in the hotel, the lady working concierge greeted us by name and then asked how our visit to the temple was! This type of service may be the norm for all RCs, I’m not sure… but the service really has been unmatched by other hotel chains I have visited.
The hotel has everything you would expect in a high end property… the spa, restaurants, activities, and a plethora of other ways to spend your money if you want. Since we are always traveling on a budget, most of these items are out of reach for us. It’s a funny thing that we can take a “$35,000 flight” to Japan, but paying for a dinner at our hotel isn’t really an option!
The one item that I can comment directly on is the pool! We made it a point to stop by the pool, and we were not disappointed. It is just magnificent. We actually ended up getting lost trying to find it using the stairs, so be sure to use the elevator haha! True story. Check out the pool:
Restaurants & Dining
Unfortunately, as I said above, I wasn’t able to eat at any of the restaurants inside the hotel which is going to limit me from discussing this section in depth; however, the hotel features both Japanese style and Western style dinners, as well as a French patisserie shop! We actually did stop at the small patisserie shop, and while very expensive, it was super yummy!
Often, while returning to the hotel, we saw quite a number of people inside the lobby’s sitting area drinking tea and having light snacks. We never did partake in any of that (too busy seeing the city), but it was presented very nicely.
I’m sure the restaurants are exactly what you would expect at any high end hotel. Very high end meals with very high end prices. I wish we had the opportunity to eat there, but dining is just one aspect of travel where we really try to save money.
The x-factor for the Ritz Carlton Kyoto is the service. I know I covered it above in much more detail; however, this is by far the x-factor for this hotel. It’s almost unfair to compare because the Japanese culture in general is just very accommodating and always provide exceptional service with a smile. I know everybody has their good days and bad days, but you would never know it at the Ritz Carlton Kyoto… everybody smiles, bows, and greets you each day.
It’s truly something you have to experience to understand. From the hotel to the small shop down the street, you feel welcomed as a tourist and a person. The city itself is also very peaceful. We did a lot of walking (probably 20 miles a day) and at no point did we feel that whole… “did we just make a wrong turn?” feeling.
Although we have not stayed at many hotels (probably less than two dozen), this hotel has quickly become our favorite hotel in the world. Between the beauty inside and outside, the incredible service, and the gorgeous design, the RC Kyoto is really in a tier of it’s own. It is something I hope everybody will get to experience and the reason I am motivated to write posts like these. If you are a veteran churner looking for your next vacation, be sure to check out Kyoto, Japan. If you are a new person getting started, and you would like some help getting into the points game, check out the Award Travel Coaching services!