Sunday, May 17, 2015

Conrad Tokyo

On our way back from Bali, we wanted to stop in Japan since I have never been. We decided on 3 nights, since by that time we would have been gone for about 3 weeks, and couldn't take too much more time off from work.

We looked into a couple different hotel options and ended up booking the Conrad Tokyo. We were very happy with our choice. We reserved the Conrad using two free nights from my CitiCard Hilton Reserve (and which also gave me automatic Gold status), and then I booked the last night via Expedia. The hotel was located just a few blocks away from Ginza, which definitely felt like an upscale area, but the immediate surrounding area felt very "business-y".

Ginza

When our taxi pulled in to the entryway, there were Japanese doormen wearing long coats and white gloves to open the car door! It turned out to be just the "welcoming" area, because then we had to take the elevator to the 28th floor, where the actual lobby area was. My understanding was that the rest of the floors were actually used for office space.

Lobby

The lobby was beautiful as it had huge glass walls to the ceiling with a great view of the Bay.

Bar Area with huge floor to ceiling glass

We then took another separate elevator to go to our room. This could be annoying sometimes as we would basically had to change elevators every time we wanted to go out and when we returned. Not a big deal, but definitely interesting and could be a hassle at times.

The room was quite spacious for Japan, with a beautiful bath tub, separate shower area, and double sinks.

King Bed
Glass window between bathroom & bedroom

Double sink, shower area


Service at this hotel was really, really good. Everyone at the front desk & concierge were very friendly. Usually after we got back from an outing, they would always ask how the day went and said hi to our daughter. Another day we came back to the hotel, and the cleaning service lady noticed that we had a daughter. She then rang our doorbell soon after to leave 2 small Conrad teddy bears for M, which was really sweet of her.

Due to my Hilton Gold status, we were also entitled to free breakfast at the cafe which we took full advantage of.



The breakfast buffet spread was good, and we could also order from the menu.



Overall we really enjoyed the hotel. Room was spacious and clean, and everything was very well maintained. One thing though, the hotel did feel a little stuffy/dry, maybe because it was the winter season and the heater was always on? Another negative about this hotel was that there's not really much in the immediate surrounding area. It's not a far walk to Ginza but the hotel by itself did feel a little isolated.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Activities & Where to Eat in Bali

This is a continuation of our Bali & Tokyo trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here. 

Bali Safari & Marine Park

Since we traveled to Bali as a family with 2 toddlers, we wanted to do a fun kid-friendly activity. I had heard about the Bali Safari & Marine Park, and we decided this would be a good option.

My mom rented a van so that all of us could fit in one vehicle. The drive to Bali Safari & Marine Park took about one hour.

Bali Safari Lobby

I was pleasantly surprised with the park. The first half was walkable and I loved that overall it's quite shaded. They also styled the park very Balinese, but you can tell that this was a professionally managed park.


M especially loved the bird section near the lobby.


There's also various eating options, ranging from very cheap stall food to actual sit down restaurants. Dan tried Nasi Djinggo (traditional Balinese rice) for the first time!

Eating Nasi Djinggo

Like I said, the first half of the park was walkable, which then directed us to the line to take the safari ride. The safari ride was air conditioned (a huge plus since it's so hot & humid in Bali!) and was enjoyable. We did have to wait in line for around 40 minutes though!

Our ride!

The ride was enjoyable and we got to see lots of animals!

Lion at Bali Safari Marine Park

Overall it was a wonderful day and I would highly recommend it if you have young children!

Bumbu Bali

Bumbu Bali is probably the quintessential Balinese tourist experience. The place is clean, has Balinese feel, and serves traditional food. Make sure to get a reservation here, as we had tried to get in for several days without reservations and were unable to.



My main gripe with this place is that since the setting is outdoors, there's lots of mosquitoes, so be prepared to wear long pants and/or use lots of bug repellent.

Food is wonderful. We've usually ordered several Rijsttafel (Rice Table set menu) to share. It's a good way to try different food for everyone at the table. Price is a bit more expensive than a typical Balinese restaurant, but it is a good quality.


The Rijsttafel includes various curries, satays, cooked veggies, etc. Yum!


The Rijsstafel also came with a selection of yummy Indonesian dessert!



Potato Head Bali

Potato Head is a famous bar by the sea that is always full of locals and westerners. Make sure to get reservation in ahead as well as this place is always packed! They have a section for "western food" and another section for "local food".

Finn's Beach Club

My sister told me about this Beach Club, and I made the mistake of trying to go without reservation. By the time we get to this place, they were fully booked. One thing I learned from this Bali trip during the high season is to always make reservations in advance!

So we didn't end up going to the beach club, but I did spend time at the spa at the hotel.

Amanusa

Our hotel was across the street from Amanusa, and we were intrigued to see what the hotel is like since it's very upscale ($1000/night) and had heard wonderful things about it.

I booked lunch at the restaurant for our family. The resort and the restaurant was located up on a hill. The resort seemed very quiet and had a strong Balinese influence. Unlike our resort at the Mulia, we barely saw other resort guests at this place. I think they only have around 80 rooms or something like that. The view from the restaurant was amazing! I'll let the picture do all the talking.





Food was pretty good (not outstanding, but definitely good). Price was typical hotel price.
It was a good lunch and definitely a good way for all of us to take a peek of how the ultra rich live. :)

Nasi Campur Bali

One thing for sure that was obvious was the service here was much better than at the Mulia.

The Rock Bar

If you are going to Bali, you must go to the Rock Bar at the Ayana. Unfortunately, when we came, the line was too long and we didn't want to wait hours to get seated. So we ended up reclining at the lounge area. If you are guest at the hotel, you have priority to get in. The Ayana is definitely a beautiful resort worth checking!

Ah Yat at the Ayana

This place serves really good, upscale, Chinese cuisine at the Ayana resort. The place was quite empty when we went. I'm typically not a big fan of Chinese food, but this place was actually good. :)

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Here are more list of restaurants that people have recommended me, but unfortunately we didn't get a chance to try all....but maybe you can! :)
  • Metis
  • Kudeta: Really nice to catch sunset on the beach.
  • Nuri’s ribs: Famous ribs, they have 2 locations. One in Ubud and another one in Seminyak.
  • Bebek Bengil or Bebek Tepi Sawah: We love either one! Really good, in Ubud area. They both now have branches in Jakarta too
  • Nasi babi bu Oka: I thought it was overated but this place is very popular.
  • Mozaic or Mozaic Beach Club: Mozaic is the fine dining restaurant in Ubud, and Mozaic Beach Club is the beach side restaurant in Seminyak
  • Brunch at Soleil: The Sunday champagne brunch is very popular and very good
  • Merah Putih: Upscale Indonesian restaurant in Seminyak
  • Biku: Casual, good food in Seminyak
  • Menega: This place is famous for seafood/beach dining
  • La Lucciola: Really good Italian food in Seminyak

Saturday, March 21, 2015

W Seminyak Bali

This is a continuation of our Bali & Tokyo trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here. 

For our last 2 nights in Bali, I originally booked a private villa for my family via Airbnb. We checked in to the villa and were not happy with the condition of the villa. So we decided to find another accommodation last minute. Thankfully, the W in Seminyak had availability for 4 rooms. We made reservations online and checked in to the resort after lunch.



Hotel Lobby

This was actually my very first time staying at a W property. We all noticed a very different vibe from our stay at the Mulia. Where the Mulia's style was more classic, elegant and luxurious, the W was very hip and modern and had a boutique feel to it. The size of the W was a lot smaller compared to the Mulia.



The lobby was open air and had views of the pool and the ocean. During our check-in, we were introduced to the daily drink refreshment free of charge at the lobby. For our first day, it was mint iced tea. For our second day, it was mango/pineapple juice.


Room

The room was good sized, with the first half being the bathroom, and the second part the actual bedroom. Bottled water and milk were free of charged at the minibar (which was huge since we were traveling with a toddler). They also had movies available to borrow for free.



The bathroom had dual sinks, a tub and a big shower area. I actually noticed some minor wear and tear in the bathroom area, specifically near the shower. I'm not sure if it's the material that they used, or if the maintenance was not up to par, but something about the bathroom didn't look terribly clean.


There's a sectional that actually turns into a bed. My sister shared a room with my parents, and they converted the sectional into an extra bed.


We booked a garden view room, so our room overlooked the back of the property. There's a good size balcony area with a table & lounge chair.


Our rooms at this hotel were all right next to each other, so it made coordinating meals and excursions a whole lot easier compared to the Mulia where our rooms were all quite far from each other.



Breakfast

Breakfast was included in the rate and we all liked the W breakfast more than the Mulia. I think because the W was a much smaller resort, they were able to offer a higher quality breakfast. The decor was very modern and interesting. You can choose to sit inside or outside.



Upon entering the restaurant for breakfast, we were given an option to select our own mug from a selection of vintage mugs, which I thought added a nice touch.



There were different stations such as dim sum/porridge, pastries, desserts (with chocolate fountain!), egg station, and even their own barrista station! We could also order from the a la carte menu if we didn't want the buffet, and they had a huge menu selection! Overall I think this breakfast was probably one of the better ones we have ever had. We highly recommend it.

Cheese & Cold Cut Station
Cereal/Milk Station

I loved their pastries display which were in between books as if the pastries were part of the display. Can you see the hanging donuts below?


I ordered an ice latte, and it was just perfect!



Fitness & Spa

We checked out the fitness center and spa. I saw a special which was 100 minute spa treatment (massage, wrap) for around $100 USD, which was a pretty good deal. However, our schedule was so packed we didn't get a chance to try the spa.

Buggy Service

Since the resort was quite a long walk from the main road, the hotel offered complimentary buggy service to take us to the main street. My mom and sister used this service quite a few times to go shopping. :)

The location of this hotel was definitely more convenient for shopping and just being in the hustle & bustle of Seminyak.



Lounge Area

Just next to the lobby, there's lots of seating/lounge area where you can order drinks & snacks, and enjoy the view of the pool and the Ocean. Dan & I spent a few hours lounging on one of these sofas.



Pool & Beach Area

The pool was tiered and had a beautiful curved design, overlooking the ocean. 


The pool area was not that big (especially compared to the Mulia), but it never felt crowded.


The ocean waves in Seminyak were much stronger compared to Nusa Dua. I do not think the beach in Seminyak was actually safe for swimming. During our time in December, the waves were very strong and people were not allowed to swim. Additionally, when we walked by the beach in the morning, there were tons of debris and trash on the shores and local people cleaning them up. I talked with the security guy to ask why there's so much trash on the shores and he said that from January-March (rainy season in Bali), there's lots of tree branches/debris that got swept away to this part of the shore.



So in general, I would recommend staying away from the main beach and just spend your time "inside" the hotel resort boundaries. :)

General Observations
  • Service generally was really good. The workers were very friendly and helpful. 
  • At night, the hotel/lounge area looked like a Vegas nightclub :) 
  • Majority of the clientele appeared to be from Europe or the US
  • I noticed that they tried to use unique short words to describe different areas. Such as "Wet" for the pool and "Away"for the spa. Sometimes it was confusing because it wasn't super clear what things meant. However, I appreciated the concept of it.
  • Although the hotel was not too old, I could see some wear & tear, especially in the bathroom. 
  • The location was great if you enjoy being in the middle of the hottest restaurants/clubs/shopping. 
  • In summary, we really enjoyed our stay at the hotel and we were really glad that we were able to get a last minute reservation.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Mulia Resort & Villas Bali

This is a continuation of our Bali & Tokyo trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here. 

We stayed at the new Mulia hotel for our first five nights in Bali. I was pretty excited to try out this relatively new hotel in Bali as it had been ranked as the #1 Beach resort in the world as well as #3 on Top 100 Hotels & Resorts in the world per Conde Nast traveler. I first got to know about this hotel from one of my guilty pleasures, the Real Housewives of Orange County. The Wives took a trip to Bali last year and stayed at this very resort!

Mulia Bali

Mulia is a local Indonesian hotel brand that is known for its quality and good food. The Mulia Jakarta is probably one of the better hotels in Jakarta and is the almost default choice to hold Multi-million dollar weddings for Jakarta's socialites. The Mulia Resort in Bali is relatively new and was quite highly anticipated.

It is located in Nusa Dua which is a more quiet, upscale resort area in Bali. The Mulia is located next to the St. Regis and the Ritz Carlton. I actually like the Nusa Dua area as it is more quiet and not as touristy. However, it is a bit far from places and not as convenient compared to other areas such as Kuta or Seminyak. I didn't mind it though as I liked the seclusion and exclusivity, and being able to enjoy the resort and what it had to offer.

View from the Mulia lobby

We stayed in the "Resort" part of the hotel. There's another part which is the "Villas". We ended up booking four rooms because there were so many of us. :)  We actually had a bit of trouble booking the four rooms because of limited availability and high prices since we were staying over New Year's.

We arrived mid-day and were greeted with fragrant water by the attendant. The lobby was open air and we immediately felt the humidity. Check-in process was very cumbersome. I think it took at least 30 minutes because they asked for everyone's ID/passports, made photocopies of them, filled out multiple forms manually, and finally also asked for a "deposit" of 1 million rupiah (around $100 USD) for each room per night that we will have to sign for. Since we are booked for 5 nights and 4 rooms, they are basically "holding" $2000 USD on my parent's credit card. I found this confusing and unnecessary, but my parents told me that this was common.

Mulia Lobby

My first impression of the resort was that it was huge, beautiful, and had a more "classical" design (as opposed to modern).  This hotel also did not have many Balinese elements to it. It could have very well been in Mexico or Hawaii, and I wouldn't have known any better.

We booked a regular garden view room for all of us with the exception of my parents who stayed in the Royal Suite Oceans Court room. The hotel was fully booked at the time so we were not able to get rooms close to each other. My parents and I were in building 1 where as my two other sisters were in building 2. The resort was actually quite huge, and it would take around 10-15 minutes to walk from our building to theirs.

The room was actually quite spacious. I'm not sure why, but we got 2 twin beds pushed together. :p  I think maybe I forgot to specify that we wanted a King bed. We requested a baby crib for M, although she ended up co-sleeping with us the whole time!



The bathroom area was large and beautiful: dual sinks, big tub, separate toilet and shower area.


There's also blinds for privacy that can be lifted up which opens up to a glass window that overlooks the room.


One thing worth mentioning was the super high-tech toilet. The toilet was very advanced/automated - similar to ones in Japan. The toilet seats automatically opens and closes, and there's multiple buttons to flush or clean yourself. :)

Mulia Pools

One of the great things about the resort being so huge was that it could afford to have multiple pools. They have so many pools (at least four large ones), where it never felt crowded. We especially enjoyed the kids pool for children, and the Oceans Pool for adults.

The kids pool was large, shallow, had some shaded area, multiple fountains, and was just very kid friendly. M loved swimming and playing here with her cousin.

Mulia Kids Pool

She loved the fact that she could stand on her own in the pool!



When not swimming with the kids, we really enjoyed the Oceans Pool, which was located in the bottom, closest to the Ocean. It's probably the largest and had a dining area where we ordered drinks and food. I think we spent more time at the pool bar versus swimming...hehe

Mulia Beach

The beach area was pretty nice. It did feel exclusive because I believe only resort guests have access. So there's not a lot of sellers or people walking around randomly.


We didn't spend much time at the beach, but we did try the lounge chairs to relax and took a quick nap under the shade which was nice!



Restaurants

"The Cafe"

Breakfast was included in our rate and was served at the Cafe. It was huge and plentiful. There were stations for pastries, eggs, pancake/waffle, Indian food, hot food, chinese food, sushi, and fruits. There's definitely something for everyone. We noticed that over New Year's when we stayed, sometimes there's a long queue outside of the restaurant, so make sure to come before 8 am if you are here during peak season.

The restaurant was a little strict with dress code for males. My sister's boyfriend was wearing a sleeveless shirt, and he was asked to put on a shirt over it and was given one by the restaurant to wear!

"Soleil"

For New Year's Eve, we had dinner at Soleil. The dinner was included in the booked rate for two people per room. We had to buy an additional seat for my sister's dinner since she was an extra guest in one of the rooms, and the dinner cost $380 USD!  I told her that dinner was more expensive than French Laundry. :)

Dinner was seven courses. It was quite good actually, but a little too heavy.

One thing Dan enjoyed from the dinner was the wine tasting option, as each "taste" was almost like a full pour, so we ended up getting 3 glasses of wine for the price of one taste!

I heard that Soleil serves a mean Sunday brunch. But by the time Sunday cane around, we were all a bit tired of the resort food and decided to cancel our reservations.


"The Bar"

Over New Year's, due to the capacity being at maximum, most of the restaurants only offered buffet and they usually cost around $50++ USD per person. For my big family, that equaled to almost $500 per night for dinner, which could really add up. So for one night, we ended up eating at "The Bar", ordering sushi rolls, noodles, etc. to share, and our bill was only $80 USD total for 8 people. Not bad!

"The Bar"

"The Skybar"

As part of our check-in, the hotel included two free drinks at the Skybar, which was located just above Soleil. Dan & I redeemed this on our last night. The setting was actually quite nice as it overlooked the Ocean, and you could look up to see the stars in the sky. But, they closed pretty early (I believe around 11pm).

"The Deli" 

Mulia has an in-house "deli" which was more like a dessert shop. I loved all the displays. I think they did a wonderful job with the presentation. We tried their version of Lady M's cake, but were very disappointed. :(

The Deli


Mulia Kidz

I was excited to check out the Mulia Kidz program. They had a pretty nice playroom with different toys and there's a guided activity every hour. They take children three years old and above unsupervised, and younger with supervision. Since we had a nanny while we were in Bali, we dropped M off with our nanny for a couple hours and she loved it.

Mulia Kidz was a great space, although we had a small incident when we were there. M and her cousin were playing in the ball pit area enjoying themselves. There was a boy who was probably 8 years old, watching them play and played around them. All of the sudden, this boy undressed himself and exposed himself in front of the kids. My sister and I witnessed this whole thing and panicked, grabbed our kids, and removed ourselves from the ball pit. We immediately notified the Mulia Kidz staff and it took three people to calm the boy down and force him to put his pants back on!

Afterwards we felt that the staff didn't really try to supervise the boy. So this incident made us feel a bit uncomfortable, and we ended up not coming back to Mulia Kidz after that. I felt that the staff should have tried to address the incident better and provide better supervision.

Overall comments:

We enjoyed our stay at the Mulia. The resort was beautiful, and I loved the pools!
Food was also generally pretty good, although after a few days we did get a little bored with the options.

I do have several comments about the hotel that I felt they could improve on:
  • The check-in process was too long and cumbersome. Probably the longest ever I've experienced anywhere. As I mentioned, they took photocopies of everyone's passport, made us fill in multiple forms, etc. I think they can make this more efficient.
  • The hotel had too many rules & restrictions. In some ways we felt that the staff was watching our every move and ready to scold us if we broke their rules. They actually had a book of rules as well as posted some of their rules for us to see. I heard a story about a couple who went swimming in the ocean, and afterwards sat in the hotel sofa, and got charged for making the sofa wet! It sounds crazy, but I somehow believe that this is a true story based on our experience here.
  • Based on our experience at Mulia Kidz, we felt the staff should have taken a better approach in addressing the situation.
  • Their accounting system was confusing! To give you an example, breakfast was included in our room rate. However, every morning after breakfast, we would have to sign a bill for Rp. 798,000 (USD $80), which was the value of our breakfast. They insisted that this was for record keeping purposes only and we wouldn't actually get charged. But to still have to sign my name and room number next to a monetary value did not give me any assurance that I wouldn't get charged for it. In the end they did not charge us, but it was just a very confusing experience. PS: This was the case for almost all instances where the service was included; they always asked us to sign for it.
  • This last comment is probably just a preference, but I do miss the fact that this hotel did not have ANY Balinese elements to it. It felt very Western and sterile.

Tips if you are staying at the Mulia:
  • My parents and I were in building 1 while my sisters were in building 2. I think I slightly prefer building 2 as it was closer to Mulia Kidz as well as the Cafe for breakfast and overall just seemed like a more convenient location.
  • Sign up for their Mulia Rewards program as in-room Internet was complimentary (although they will have you agree to pay for it online first :)