Staying

Mira Moon, Hong Kong – Review

The Basics

Mira Moon is a boutique hotel tucked away a few blocks from the Causeway Bay MTR station, with good service and nice interiors bordering on being playful, providing a pleasant overall experience. And they run a rabbit theme throughout the hotel, too. Can't be bad.

 

Hotel Experience

I ended up staying at the Mira Moon after having ejected myself from a rather horrible hotel experience, needing a decent stay spanning a few nights. I stumbled across this property, went with it, and was pleasantly surprised. The building is a tall, slender thing with a kind of confetti light pattern going on at night. Easy to spot when walking along Marsh Road coming from Hennessy. A couple of elevator zips you up to the lobby, with room floors stacked on top and there's kind of an intimate feel to it all with only four rooms on each floor. And even though buildings are all around, corner rooms facing to the north-west has a decent veiw towards Kowloon and the ICC skyscraper.

Speaking of the ICC, regular Mira Moon rooms aren't super big compared to what you may find that the Ritz Carlton, with most of it being occupied by the bed, but that's not really an issue. The bathroom on the other hand is quite big with a large freestanding tub placed next to the windows, and a decent set of the amenities you'd expect. And they've done a kind of Andaz type move with the minibar, and won't charge you for sodas. A nice touch. Also, rabbits seem to be a significant part of the Mira Moon branding featuring both in copy and desk lamps, and they do add to the experience.

So yeah, you can't really go wrong with this one. A good choice if you're looking for a place to stay in Causeway Bay.

 

Nearby

Tons of things are nearby with the Causeway Bay MTR station a few short blocks away and Wan Chai is pretty close, too. If you want a super quick meal, Cafe De Coral has a branch two blocks away. And for shopping, the Hysan Place (featuring an Apple Store), Lee Gardens, Times Square malls are all a few minutes away on foot, along with a ton of individual stores. 

I haven't tried the hotel restaurant and bar offerings, but judging from looks only they seemed to be perfectly decent.

 

Getting There

Mira Moon is a short, six-minute cab or Uber ride from Hong Kong station where the Airport Express terminates. And should you want to use public transportation instead, the Causeway Bay MTR station is a few blocks to the east. 

 
 

Links

Park Hyatt Busan – Review

The Basics

The Park Hyatt in Busan, South Korea, is a fairly recent addition to the family of upscale Hyatt hotels. And it’s a pretty good place to stay. Sure, the service does have some ways to go until it reaches the impeccable levels of Park Hyatt Seoul, with a slight touch of hit-or-miss, but it’s nowhere near being a major problem and, in general, it’s a really nice property. Especially from a design perspective with warm and textured interiors, an abundance of trees and leaves in the lobby area, floor-to-ceiling windows and wooden floors.

 

Hotel Experience

The hotel opened in 2013 and doesn't have too many rooms, giving it some of the small scale feel you get when staying at the Park Hyatt Seoul. Service is swift and pretty decent most of the time. Once you get to the ground floor main entrance, they will whisk you up to the lobby on the 30th floor and everything happens just the way you would expect it to. The lobby in itself is really quite neat. Plenty of pretty big trees everywhere with lots of green leaves, creating a light, calm and relaxed environment that I really do prefer over the bombastic and dark settings of some other hotels.

Now, the interior designs of these upscale hotel rooms tend to follow a certain set of seemingly unwritten rules, especially the ones done over the last few years. It's basically a given set of lego bricks to be placed and seasoned differently depending on what the property happens to be. Bathrooms are folded into the room in creative ways, blurring the line between bedroom and privacy, and minibars and coffe machines are put into custom fit furniture blending with the walls. And so on. Sometimes it's done balancing on the bleeding edge of contemporary quirkiness (Andaz Toranomon Hills, Tokyo), other instances manage to be bland without much of a personality (The Conrad, Seoul). And some stick with old-school familiarity by staying close to the hotel brand's default way of doing things (Ritz Carlton, Tokyo and Hong Kong).

The Park Hyatt in Busan interiors happen to be designed by Super Potato. Their previous work with Andaz Shanghai and Park Hyatt Seoul share quite a few common traits, but this one is a bit different. And I really do appreciate what they have done. Yes, the contemporary basics are there, but the execution is great. The wooden floor is warm, unpolished and textured. Colors are soft and quite Scandinavian. There's a personality. The giant windows, stretching from floor to ceiling, adds to it all. Good stuff, really. I like it a lot.

And a note on the elevators. At first glance everything seems to be set up in a way similar to the Park Hyatt Seoul where nothing really makes sense (although they recently reconfigured and simplified the PH Seoul setup) – the main entrance elevators go all the way up to the 30th floor, and from there you switch to another set of elevators getting you down to whatever floor your room is on. The thing is, you don't have to do it this way. If you go past the pastry shop a few meters and turn right, there's a separate set of elevators that will bring you directly to your floor. So much easier.

 

Restaurants

If you opt for casual dining you will end up at the Living Room on the 31st floor. Food has been delicious when I've tried it, and the views are really quite something if you stay near the windows. If you are a party of two, try and get the small table tucked into the corner towards the bridge. It feels a bit like dining mid-air because of all the windows surrounding your table in every direction.

The Dining Room is the more formal of the two restaurants. I have yet to try it for dinner but the breakfast is pretty decent. It can get rather crowded during peak weekend morning hours, though. The spacious ground floor sports a pastry shop, just as you would expect.

 

Relaxing

The Lumi Spa & Fitness has everything you would expect from an average upscale hotel spa, no big surprises here. The fourth floor pool area is big and airy with giant glass walls providing plenty of light. You get a fairly large, regular pool, and an oversized jacuzzi. The one odd thing is the lack of adjacent locker rooms. Instead, you're expected to change in a small room right next to the pool. I'm not sure if it was me misunderstanding the setup or if it's supposed to be that way, but it's a bit weird.

 

Nearby

The hotel itself is not right in the middle of a ton of late night activity, but Haeundae beach is a short walk to the east with plenty of cafés and restaurants on the way there. The Dalmaji Art District is on the other side of the beach and yes, it does take a while to get there, but it's absolutely worth the walk. Once you get up on the hill the views are pretty stunning, especially at night with the Gwangan Bridge in the distance. This post has a handful of photos from around the area, including the beach and the views from way up on that hill.

On a side note, last time I was there I tried to find a place to rent a jet ski for a while. Turns out there is a place called The Bay 101 not too far from the hotel, on the way towards the Haeundae beach, and they do all sorts of stuff – including jet ski rentals. I ended up running out of time and never tried getting an hour or two on the jet ski, but they're there if you need them.

 

Getting There

Be prepared to give your taxi driver detailed instructions and a glance of the google maps app on your smartphone. None of the drivers I got knew where the Park Hyatt was. Should you opt for the subway, the Dongbaek station is only a few blocks away.

 
 

Andaz Prinsengracht, Amsterdam – Review

The Basics

I really do quite like the Andaz approach having previously stayed at their properties in Shanghai and London. The recently opened Amsterdam variety is my favorite one so far, featuring a boutique-sized setup, great location and a slightly quirky, fun yet minimalistically nice interior design. The restaurant does a pretty good job with breakfasts and brunches, and the staff provides excellent levels of informal service. A great pick.

 

Hotel Experience

The Andaz Prinsengracht site used to be a public library, only recently converted into a hotel in late 2012, and they've done a really good job making use of the property. And as usual, the Hyatt sub-brand does represent a fairly fresh take on what a hotel experience can be these days – friendly, informal, with great service and a few subtle tweaks and perks making the stay an enjoyable one. And I like it. A lot.

As always with Andaz, the staff members are referred to as »hosts« and will get you checked in using their iPads, a pleasant and relaxed experience, and while they make sure you know the basic perks – such as all non-alcoholic drinks and all snacks in the minibar being complimentary for the duration of your stay – you're able to enjoy the small but nicely designed lobby while casually watching a big wall of video art. Once the formalities are taken care of they send you off to the room, either in the main building or in a smaller annex across the nicely landscaped backyard. The annex is a nice option and I quite like the ten second walk across the backyard late at night when going back up to my room. Should there be drops of water falling from the sky, there's an underground corridor as well.

Moving on to the rooms, the interior design is pretty quirky and, I guess, more progressive compared to the other Andaz properties I've stayed at in Shanghai and London. Again, I like it.

Apart from the graphic art covering some of the restroom and bedroom walls, the most obvious and weird thing is a pretty big stone table featuring a sink and a mirror, placed somewhat randomly right next to the bed. Turns out they've split the usual bathroom setup into three parts – a toilet, a shower installed behind a one-way mirrored glass wall opening up into the main room, and the sink on that big in-room stone table. As with one-way mirrors in general, this glass wall only gets you so far in terms of shielding your showering habits from outside views. Other than that, the setup works well even though they've clearly prioritized quirky design over function.

 

Restaurant

I have only tried the breakfast and brunch options and both are pretty good with the weekend dessert table being dangerously appealing. The restaurant is not too big, featuring an interesting layout positioning the open kitchen right in the middle of everything, similar to the setup used at the Cornerstone restaurant at Park Hyatt Seoul, but even more so. Probably a coincidence as the interior design was done by Marcel Wanders and not Super Potato, the Japanese firm having done both the Andaz Shanghai and Park Hyatt Seoul properties.

 

Nearby

The Andaz Prinsengracht is positioned along one of the canals, only a few blocks from Leidseplein. Most things are within easy walking distance and if you need to get to the RAI (the humongous Amsterdam conference center) it's no more than a brisk 40-ish minute trip on foot. As for restaurants, there's a convenient Wagamama nearby if you need a quick and predictable bite before running off to an important meeting, but should you want to grab fine dining type food, stay away from the touristy areas around the Leidseplein square and opt instead for something along the lines of Bussia.

 

Getting There

Using public transport is fairly easy and the tram stops a few blocks from the hotel, try using the excellent routing feature in Google Maps to get you there. I usually opt for a quick cab ride from Schiphol though. And apart from getting from and back to the airport I always opt for a walk, even when having to get myself to the RAI.

 
 

Links

Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo – Review

The Basics

Even though a stay at the Ritz-Carlton property might lack a tiny bit of the personal touch that comes with a few of the other upscale, five star hotels in Tokyo, it's still a great place to spend a few nights. Having dinner at the Hinokizaka restaurant during sunset is spectacular, and the lobby and bar ambience is relaxed while still sporting stellar levels of service. And even though their »heat experience« pool falls short of my preferred onsen temperatures, spending a few moments there will get you relaxed in a heartbeat.

 

Hotel Experience

You will probably arrive by car or casually find your way through the Tokyo Midtown maze, end up at the main entrance and get sent right up to the 45th floor. Views from high up in one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo are pretty stunning and this particular lobby happens to be one of my all-time favorites – a perfect mix between spacious, inviting, casual and upscale. Always makes me feel right at home.

The front desk staff is friendly and efficient, though the entire experience is a tiny bit less personal than, say, the Park Hyatt equivalent over in Shinjuku. Any luggage will be sent straight to your room a few moments after you have settled in, guest rooms are on floors 47 and up, and the basic ones are rather large with all the features and amenities you would expect. No surprises there. The turndown service is on par with expectations too, with the nice touch of a weather forecast card being placed on your pillow.

The night time views really set the in-room experience apart, though. Unless you happen to be all dead inside, you will be absolutely mesmerized by the never ending cityscape with all its red, pulsing lights. I have been stuck hours on end just watching it all, mind drifting away. Just be sure not to get a room on the lower floor (no. 47 if memory serves me) – the otherwise spectacular view might be partly obscured by an offset edge protruding a few feet off of the building, and it does ruin the visual experience a bit. 

 

Restaurants

Getting breakfast at the Towers Grill is a pretty good idea. Sure, it's expensive but then again, sipping on your morning cup of green tea while reading a decent newspaper and enjoying the stunning views of Tokyo is not a bad thing. Not at all.

And the Hinokizaka restaurant is a great option if you're into kaiseki style dinner setups. Should you be a party of two, request a window table and time the reservation to kick in half an hour or so before sunset. Believe me, you won't regret it. Once you're done with the meal, head back out into the lobby, get a few drinks and ask for today's cake selection. Great way to unwind.

 

Relaxing

This is one of the reasons I keep coming back. The usual indoor pool and fitness center are all decent but the separate »heat experience« section adds an extra layer of relaxation. It's a calm, tranquil environment allowing you to soak yourself in a hot tub while watching the Tokyo skyline from the 46th floor. The only downside is the water temperature – it's a few notches below proper onsen level, but you do turn into a relaxed and happy human being regardless. (Should you want the hotel equivalent of an onsen bath, by the way, try the Park Hyatt in Seoul.)

 

Nearby

Check out the Midtown Garden and Hinokicho park, both right outside the Ritz-Carlton main entrance. Great place to catch a bit of fresh air while reading a book or a magazine. And speaking of magazines, you might want to head over to the Tsutaya/Starbucks combo in the south-east corner of the nearby Roppongi Hills complex. They are open all night, not closing until 4am, and will let you read any magazine you want for free while at their premises. Goes great with a caramel frappuchino.

And if you're up for a walk, head towards Omotesando through the back alleys of western Roppongi. A brisk 25 minute walk will get you all the way to Omotesando Hills.

 

Getting There

Either have your cab driver drop you off at the main entrance or disembark at Roppongi station having travelled on either the Hibuya (H04) or Odeo (E23) subway line. If you do the subway thing, simply follow the signs towards Tokyo Midtown.

 
 

Links