ABD Japan July 14-26 (with Tokyo Disneyland Extension): Trip Report and Impressions

CaliforniaGirl09

DIS Veteran
Joined
Dec 4, 2009
We just got back yesterday, and I wanted to put together my thoughts while they are fresh. Overall, it was a fantastic trip. We absolutely fell in love with Japan—what a fabulous country. Everything is so clean, safe and run so efficiently. I'd return in a heartbeat.

Our ABD was a lot of fun. It easily won for the best overall food, and the Peninsula Tokyo was probably my favorite ABD hotel ever (although I think China probably had better hotels overall). We also had two of my favorite guides of all time—we loved Ken and Tomomi—but the trip itself didn’t knock China and Scotland off my favorite spot. It’s a solid trip, and probably one of the best ABD offers, but group size and pace was a big issue for us. It really feels as if ABD is moving away from the VIP/special type of family “adventure” product, to a more multi-generational family less active travel platform, which is fine—and would be great if we were traveling with my mom—but that’s not the travel experience I’m looking for right now. There were many times I thought enviously of my friend @Calfan's summer 2020 to Japan with Thompson that will have much smaller numbers. I'll be anxious to hear how her experience compares. Was it "worth" it? So subjective, but I think it was for us. Still, I'm not sure I'll be booking another ABD unless they change the group sizes or I can be sure of a smaller group.

PRE-TRIP:

Flights: If you are on the budget board, you’ve heard me talk about our flights already, but this was one of my best travel hacking successes ever. I was able to get $55k worth of flights for about 554,000 miles and $1300. Originally all four of us were all on the same JAL flight from SFO to Haneda (two in first and two in business) but when the amazing VS redemption option opened up for two tickets on ANA, I was able to switch DH and DS to ANA, one-way in business and one-way in first for half the JAL miles. Also, that way all of us had at least one way in first.

DD and I had the JAL round trip flight in first, and it was amazing. We had Cristal champagne, caviar, and a multi-course Japanese meal. Our flight attendant was stunned when we both ordered the Japanese meal rather than the western meal option. Repeating what I wrote about in the budget board, we (two casually dressed western women) stuck out like a sore thumb on the mostly black-suit-clad Japanese businessmen on the plane. We only saw a handful of westerners on the entire flight. All the other first class passengers were Japanese businessmen, and I only saw one businesswoman in business class, although there could have been more. I saw one other western woman getting on the plane, and didn’t see any young kids or families at all. It was very strange. Something to think about, but I would have been very anxious if I’d had young children with me in either first or business. It was extremely quiet, and you know how when you walk into a cabin you exchange smiles and sometimes chit chat with your cabin mates? There was NONE of that. We weren’t uncomfortable, but we definitely felt as if we stuck out.

The way back was slightly less Japanese Businessmen focused, and there were only 6 of 8 first class seats filled. The boys were the only 2 in first on ANA on the way back and were basically treated like royalty. They loved first on ANA, but weren’t as impressed with the business class service going out. DH said they were pretty much ignored and had to use the call button a number of times for service. Weird and not what we've heard about ANA at all. Probably a fluke.

Here are the girls enjoying our JAL suites
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My Cristal and caviar. I love Cristal, and they kept my glass full. Caviar I'm not sure about. I've had it multiple times, but I think it's that acquired taste thing :)
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Pre-days:
We had two pre-ABD nights in Tokyo. As the boys were flying into Narita, and the girls were flying into Haneda, I wanted a hotel that was central to both. The Tokyo Station Hotel seemed to fit the bill. I’ve wanted to stay at the Tokyo Park Hyatt since LOST IN TRANSLATION, and I could have gotten it fairly cheaply on miles a few months back so I debated changing hotels. I’m so glad I didn’t. The Tokyo Station hotel worked out perfectly.

DH and DS made it all by themselves on the Narita Express without me navigating (quite a feat!) and were met by hotel staff at the station. DD and I zoomed into the station on a monorail and a quick subway ride. We were there about 80 minutes after our flight touched down—and that was with customs, luggage, and us waiting in line to send our luggage on to the first ABD hotel in Kyoto! [A quick aside on that: I’m a control freak and the last person to trust a baggage service with luggage, but Japan is different. They are so efficient, and I’d read really great things about the airline’s baggage service. Given the limited size of the train luggage racks and the crowded trains, it was awesome not to lug our huge bags back and forth. Shipping via JAL was easy, and the agents who helped me immediately inspired confidence. While in Tokyo those two days, I didn’t worry once about losing luggage, which is saying something. To jump ahead, it was waiting for us when we checked in.]

Back to the hotel … not only did the Tokyo Station Hotel live up to it’s fantastic central location promise, it was gorgeous, stately, and had a fabulous concierge who was able to secure us a lunch reservation at the most famous sushi restaurant in Tokyo the day after our arrival. The hotel ended up being our second favorite hotel of the trip.

View of the hotel from the plaza--it's literally connected to the station and our room looked out over the ticket lobby.
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For dinner the first night, we broke an unspoken family rule to try to eat local when we travel. As it was 9pm, we wanted something quick and relatively cheap given our big budget lunch the next day so we hit the very close to the hotel Shake Shack for dinner. It was pretty much the same as the US, although smaller portions and not as greasy and sweet. I know, it’s shameful, but at least it wasn’t McDonalds, LOL.

For breakfast we needed coffee but didn’t to eat much. “St. Arbucks,” the great patron saint of coffee from Seattle that was a block away, fit the bill. We’d heard the Starbucks food was surprisingly good in Japan, and it was. They had really good pastries that are both smaller and not nearly as sweet as in US. I never eat scones or cinnamon buns, but both were delicious. We ended up eating that both mornings. The hotel buffet was about $45 a person and we all ate for that price at Starbucks. We knew we’d be doing a lot of buffets in the next 12 days so it ended up being a good decision.

Our lunch on Saturday was at noon so we didn’t want to eat too much. The coveted reservation the concierge was able to secure for us (the Peninsula wasn’t able to get it for later in our trip) was at the Michelin 3-star Sukiyabashi Jiro Ginza made famous by the documentary JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI. If you haven’t seen the film, look for it on Netflix. It’s a wonderful movie and has become something of a cult favorite. Seeing the dedication this man puts in to the art of making sushi is truly awe-inspiring.

If you know about Jiro, there are some pretty strict “rules” that mostly have to do with respecting the chef and the tradition [if you are interested you can read more here: https://www.sushi-jiro.jp/dining-at-jiro/]. But one of the biggest is that you must be on time. If you are even one minute late, you forfeit your reservation and pay the full amount of the lunch, which is the same cost as dinner and a pretty penny! It sounds punitive, but it goes back to the respect issue and the perfection of the timing. Each batch of rice is made to be ready precisely on time for each seating.

We were warned that the restaurant can be somewhat difficult to find so I’d sent the boys on a Jiro finding recon mission the night before, as they arrived a few hours earlier than DD and me. They apparently found it, but then decided to look for a nearby Krispy Kreme, which we planned to reward DS22 special needs with if he did a good job the next day at lunch. The boys found KK and got lost going back to the hotel. But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that it (allegedly) messed up my husband’s memory of the path he took to Jiro. Of course he didn’t tell us that until we were walking there the next day, and he got us lost! I would have literally killed him, if we hadn’t found it. We’d been given maps, but they were pretty useless. Addresses and streets in Tokyo are very very confusing. There is pretty much another city underground in Tokyo with malls, eateries, businesses, etc. often under street level.

Fortunately for my husband’s life expectancy, we’d left the hotel early and ending up finding the restaurant with about 10 minutes to spare. We didn’t forfeit the exorbitant cost of the meal for the 4 of us. It was ridiculously expensive, but a once-in-a-lifetime experience that exceeded my expectations in every way.

The biggest and best surprise of the trip hit us when we walked in the door and saw Jiro standing behind the bar. The famous sushi master is now in his mid-90s and I believe has been either not feeling well or not around much lately. We had absolutely NO expectation of seeing him, and I literally had to control my gasp—and my shaking. I couldn’t even look at my daughter or husband it was so exciting. And then the meal began and all we could concentrate on was eating.

I was very nervous about the meal—it’s a little intimidating as the restaurant is an “Edo style” ten-seat counter and you eat at the bar piece-by-piece right in front of the chefs who watch you for reactions. Both Jiro and his first son Yoshikazu were behind the bar. There is very little interaction with the chefs, although the sous chefs will talk a little.

It’s hard to explain how good the sushi is. The rice, the fish, the wasabi, the soy sauce, the balance, everything just literally melted in your mouth. You eat 20 pieces put out in front of you one-by-one in about 30 minutes, and I’m happy to report that although both kids had slight mishaps with the second piece of broiled prawn (the only one that is cut in two), we finished no problem. I could have eaten more, but due to the cost I refrained :)

We were primarily worried about DS. He loves sushi restaurants but typically eats rolls and not nigiri. I was worried he might not like things like sea urchin or mackerel and wouldn’t be able to hide his reaction. I shouldn’t have been. Each piece was absolutely delicious. There wasn’t one thing I ate that was “unusual” or “an acquired taste”, i.e. euphemisms for tastes weird, LOL. My son devoured his sushi, oohing and aahing along the way. He’s got a really good palate, which speaks to how good the food was. I really don’t think you need to be an avid or adventurous sushi eater to fully appreciate this place.

Pictures are not allowed during the meal and the chefs won't always take pictures with you, but we were thrilled that Jiro agreed to take a picture with us. We had to wait about 45 minutes while he attended to the next seating, but it was worth it!

Here's our menu and the cherished photo! (Sorry about the sideways picture, but the new DISboards does this to all my iPhone shots taken vertically).
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Our Jiro experience was so over the top amazing, I knew we’d hit the highlight of the trip on the first day. I'm so glad we were able to get in there.

After Jiro we walked around the Imperial Palace area, which is right by Ginza and our hotel (which are also very close to the Peninsula hotel where we’d be staying with ABD on our return). I was mostly interested in the Edo Castle ruins so we headed there and walked around the gardens. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon.

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For dinner, we headed to the famous Ramen Street in the labyrinth that is Tokyo Station. Even with a map and directions it took us a while to find it, but eventually we stumbled on it. DS, DD, and I are huge “ramen head(s)” (another great documentary if you can find it), and I had a list of ramen shops that I wanted to try. We found my top choice and then proceeded to the vending machine, which is how you order. We spent a good ten minutes trying to figure it out before a waitress from the restaurant took pity on us and came out to help. The instructions were all in Japanese, and it wasn’t intuitive. You had to put the money in first before ordering, and then choose the number you wanted before actually hitting the item. But it was worth it. It was the first of many delicious bowls of ramen we had over the next few days. If you like ramen, I highly recommend trying to find this part of the station. We ended up returning to Ramen street on our last full day in Tokyo for lunch.

My delicious "Tonkotsu" style ramen.
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This was the shop we ate at twice.
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Some of the lines in Ramen Street.
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The vending machine that defeated us!
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After dinner we walked around “character street” a little while, where there are tons of Hello Kitty types of stores that are so popular in Japan, and then headed back to the hotel to try to get a long night of sleep. We wanted to make sure we got rid of any jet lag for the start of ABD the next day.
 
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CaliforniaGirl09

DIS Veteran
Joined
Dec 4, 2009
Day #1: Sunday was technically the first day of our ABD, and we had to get from Tokyo to Kyoto. Most people take the train, but thanks to @calypso726 we saved quite a bit of money by using United miles for a short domestic flight on ANA from Haneda to Osaka. It couldn’t have been easier from the Tokyo Station Hotel, as we simply reversed the quick trip DD and I had done two evenings before. I think we made it to the airport (terminal 2) in about 35 minutes from the hotel. The cost was a very cheap $24-ish for all four of us and without our big bags we didn’t have to worry about lugging a bunch of luggage through the stations.

Once we arrived at the domestic terminal for ANA, however, it wasn’t as easy as I’d expected. For some reason we couldn’t check into our flights online the night before even with the ANA (not United) reservation #, and when we arrived to check-in at the airport a couple of airline agents directed us to a line. A short while later, another agent came by and pulled us from a short line and stuck us in a much longer one, even though I tried to tell her we’d been put there by two other agents. It still isn’t clear to me why she moved us to the “oversized baggage” line when we only had one small bag to check. The new line was painfully slow, and it felt wrong so DD and I went to see if we could use the auto check in and auto bag check (which was very cool BTW). We could, but an agent basically had to do it for us by entering actual ticket number in the system—not the ANA reservation number.

Strangely, we were never asked for ID the entire time we were at the airport! Nonetheless, security felt very official as you are given a second pink ticket that we were supposed to hold on to (it said not to lose it), but we never had to show anyone again.

There weren’t a lot of food options gateside. We went to an ANA takeout place and nothing looked very familiar—there were basically tons of different kinds of prepared food in boxes. The rest of the family wanted to hike down to Starbucks, but I reminded them that tons of people are eating what was in the boxes, and when in Rome …

We found the most promising looking of the boxes, and it ended up being totally yummy! It’s always great when you try something outside the comfort zone and are rewarded.

We bought based on the cover :)
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The things on the left are basically rice balls covered in deep friend tofu. Very yummy as were the sushi rolls.
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Our flight landed in Osaka, and the ABD pick up and transfer were seamless. It took a little over an hour to get to the Hyatt Kyoto, and we were pretty much greeted outside by Ken. After a quick check-in, we sat down at the desk with Ken and Tomomi for about a half hour, chatting and covering all the things we needed to know. We knew right away we were in for some great adventure guides, and we weren’t wrong. They are fabulous and quickly became two of my favorite. Naming favorite adventure guides is a little bit like picking favorite kids—it changes based on what’s going on—so I won’t try. But they were two of our favorites, rivaling Hanni, Zoe and Dusty.

As others have mentioned, due to some re-ordering of dinners we were given and “extra” meal on ABD and had vouchers to use for dinner and some welcome drink tickets that we promptly used JAfter happy hour, we actually had a hard time finding a place to eat. There are three restaurants at the hotel, but both the Italian and Japanese were fully booked when we tried to eat at 5:30-6 pm. Our third choice, the western restaurant, was also booked, but I think they took pity on us and sat us. If you are arriving later in the afternoon that day and think you might not want to venture out to find food, I’d think about making reservations. On my comment sheet, I’m going to try to remember to suggest that ABD block off a couple of tables at each restaurant in case people want to eat at the hotel that first night.

The good news was that the western restaurant was surprisingly good and a nice surprise since none of us really thought the menu looked very appetizing.

Still a little jet lagged we hit bed early.
 

CaliforniaGirl09

DIS Veteran
Joined
Dec 4, 2009
As @sayhello is doing a detailed trip report, I’m going to give general summaries and overall thoughts rather than a day-by-day report. Since we had such excellent food, including the meals on our own, I’ll try to call them out and post pictures where I have them in case future travelers want to eat in our footsteps :)

Days #2-4: Kyto/Osaka

Hotel: Our tour date stayed at the Hyatt in Kyoto. It was a nice hotel. Not as nice as the one we’d just come from in Tokyo (Tokyo Station Hotel), but still luxe and it had nice amenities. It was our third favorite of the trip. We definitely took advantage of the free bottles of water that they will deliver to the room, and DS had a nice room service meal the fourth night when we went into Osaka, and he just wanted to hang out.

Breakfast was included, and you could eat off the buffet and/or order from the menu. We never bothered with ordering as the buffet was good and enabled us those precious few minutes of extra sleep. They bring you coffee, which meant we were constantly asking for refills and flagging down waiters. Finally one took pity on us and brought us an actual pot. So if you are big coffee drinkers, you can save yourself the hassle and ask off the bat. The fruit was outstanding—especially the melon—and we really liked the raisin bread and fresh fruit juices. One morning they had a great green juice that I would have had every morning if it had been available.

The first morning was slightly different as we ate in a private room and just had the buffet as it served as our “intro” to our tour and our fellow travelers. This was the first time our family has had a welcome dinner the second night, and it was nice to have the breakfast to do quick intros. This was our 7th ABD and we were right up there at the top with one group who’d done 8. I want to say there was only one group who were first-timers. This is probably because our trip was one of the original offerings, and it was sold out on “insider” day.

Getting started with Ken and Tomomi:
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Buffet on the first morning for our meeting.
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Group Intro:
Our group was a little different than the other ABDs we’ve been on. We were 39, but the youngest adventurer was 12. I think there were technically 7 or 8 kids, but most of them were older teens so it felt almost like an adult trip, which was fantastic. All of the kids were great, too. To a one they were all really nice, polite, and friendly. We’ve never had a tour where I could say that before :). I had a chance to talk to all of them at different points in the trip, which had also never happened before.

Three of the families were traveling multi-generational, with one group of ten. The group skewed quite a bit older than any other trip we’ve been on (at least 7 travelers were over 65 or 70), and we had 1-2 wheelchairs. Coupled with the large # of adventurers this meant that getting on and off the bus and moving from place to place was slow. Very slow.

There also wasn’t a lot of room to spread out on the bus, which was a bummer—especially with the long bus rides on this trip. I’m not sure I clued in on that from the itinerary, but there was a ton more bus time than I realized and lots of traffic seemingly everywhere we went. Nothing was quick. They kept everyone together (between the paddles) so even crossing the street took forever. As @Calfan can attest we are a fast-walking family, which meant we were chomping at the bit a lot on this trip.

Day 2-4 Activities:

The first few days were jam packed with activities, most of which we really enjoyed. The rickshaw tour through the bamboo forest on day 2 was one of the trip highlights for us and for many of our fellow travelers. We had a great guide and the weather was warm but not too humid. Our driver was such a nice guy, spoke pretty good English and loved photography so he took tons of pictures.

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Days 3 and 4 were two of my favorite of the trip. I really loved the trip to Hiroshima—it really spoke to me and reminded me of Honolulu. The train was great and so relaxing. We lucked out with our timing as the famous Torri gate that has been under scaffolding, but it was taken down our week for a festival.

Torii gate without scaffolding!
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The museum was incredibly impactful--the images are hard to forget. But what really struck me was how no one was looking at us with any kind of animosity. We were a bunch of Americans in a museum of horror that we caused, and the Japanese people not only welcomed us but did so without any hint of reproach. It was also incredible to see the pictures of a flattened, wiped-out city along side the beautiful place it has become.

But maybe my favorite moment of the trip was at the tower where we did the origami cranes and let them drop. There was a rooftop viewing area where we went after at dusk, and it was just gorgeous. I could have sat here for hours looking at the 360 degree beautiful views of Hiroshima. I tried to buy a drink but was disappointed to find out that the bar didn’t open until 7 (we were there at 6). IMO this was a missed opportunity for ABD. I would have loved a small cocktail party or glass of welcome champagne there. My fellow travelers mentioned the same thing later in the trip. One had a great suggestion, which would have broken off the younger adventurers to make cranes, while the adults enjoyed a drink on the viewing deck.

View from the top of the tower. The light was stunning.
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Maybe my favorite pic of the trip (ugh on the sideways for DISboards!)
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Continued in next post ....
 
  • CaliforniaGirl09

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Dec 4, 2009
    Continued Activities Day 2-4:

    The much looked forward to “hike” in Miyajima was a big disappointment. They should have billed it as climbing two staircases since that’s what it was. I thought we were climbing to the top of the mountain. That needs to be changed in the itinerary.

    The Taiko Drums, Bento, Hozugawa river cruise, and Dotonbori excursions on day four were all great. The drums in particular I thought were an excellent ABD activity choice as there was a relatively short initial learning curve that allowed everyone to participate without feeling awkward. Even our special needs son was able to do it for a while.

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    I think that cuisine is one of the best ways of experiencing a country and the bento box experience like the sushi one that came later hit that on the nose. Love doing stuff like this! Japan is big on the culture of “Kawaii” cuteness and that really came through here with our Mickey shaped rice ball. The tamago (omlette) was surprisingly easy to make and yummy. We are buying one of those pans when we get home. Our big eating family could have used about triple the chicken portion, but they did hand out plenty of rice balls to fill us up. In general, Japanese portions are smaller than American but usually sufficient. I loved that not everything is overly sweet—even cookies and confections.

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    The river ride was really fun and picturesque. I was seated in one of the wet seats and got a few direct hits, but stayed pretty dry. Our youngest adventurer had the wet seat in our boat and she did get pretty wet.

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    Due to the busy day not everyone went to Osaka (including DS), which was a shame as it was a highlight. There wasn’t a lot of down time on this trip so far, and with the early bag pull and late-ish return, some people decided to stay at hotel. Dotonburi Street was fabulous and a highlight for a lot of us. It had an energy that was quintessentially Japan, i.e. 42ndstreet with Japanese sensibility and great food. We loved all the food booths and had to try the mandatory octopus balls, which are the specialty. They were fine, but not something I’d probably buy again.

    (Ugh! Now one is upside down. If anyone knows how to fix this let me know).
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    Over these first few days we saw a number of temples/shrines and walked around some very cute little shops, which ended up being a theme of the trip as we did quite a bit of it. I was pretty over temples(Buddist)/shrines(Shinto) by day #3, and over the shopping trips by a few days later. All the markets began to look the same.

    Apparently, I wasn't the only one who thought the itinerary was a little temple/shrine heavy because they ended up eliminating one later in the trip for that reason (along with timing). I also heard comments from fellow travelers about there being too much shopping in markets.

    For the on our own shopping time, we kept ourselves busy trying a number of different snack crackers (my favorites were the dried peas in a waffle cone type of batter that we found in the shop where we had lunch after the bamboo forest) and looking for Kit Kats. I’d read that unique flavors of Kit Kats were a thing in Japan, and sure enough there were tons of them.

    From top row to bottom: Purple sweet potato, Shin Shu Apple, Strawberry Cheesecake, Uji Hojicha (tea), Uji Matcha, Mamiji Manju (Maple), Sake, Lemon, Strawberry, Mint, another Sake, White Chocolate, Melon and Marscapone cheese, peach.
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    Collecting Kit Kats kept us busy during all the shopping excursions, which was a good thing as there were a lot of them. We ended up with 14 different types of Kit Kats and had a tasting party when we got home. Lemon was the family favorite. It tasted just like Lemon Coolers, the powdered sugar cookies that were my favorite growing up. [photos] We also brought home a bunch of cookies—they have a bunch of the wafer type that I love. We’ve never brought home so much food from a trip. It pretty much served as our souvenir, which is good as it doesn’t take up space for long. I just went through a huge downsize so I’m careful about travel trinkets. Food allowed us to shop without to deal with it later. Win win!

    Our taste testing :)
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    Next up tomorrow ... food!
     

    disneyphx

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jan 4, 2010
    Looking forward to hearing your impressions - and reliving some memories!
    We did not hear about ‘wet seats’ - and I got wet - then again, on any ride where ‘you may get wet,’ I will!
     

    sayhello

    Have Camera, Will Travel
    Joined
    Oct 28, 2006
    @CaliforniaGirl09 I'm still reading but I wanted to post this for you. Assuming you're using a Windows PC, here's an article that explains what's going on with your photos and how to fix it. I had to do this for my last update (and the update I'm hopefully posting tomorrow) and it worked perfectly. It's a bit of a pain, but I haven't found any other way to get around this quirk of the new DIS site. :) If you're using a Mac, there's probably a similar article for that.

    https://www.ivertech.com/Articles/Image-Rotation-Issue-With-Windows-10.aspx

    Sayhello
     

    sayhello

    Have Camera, Will Travel
    Joined
    Oct 28, 2006
    Looking forward to hearing your impressions - and reliving some memories!
    We did not hear about ‘wet seats’ - and I got wet - then again, on any ride where ‘you may get wet,’ I will!
    Did you guys have the tarps overhead like in @CaliforniaGirl09's picture? Because when I went, those tarps weren't up, and were rolled up on both sides of the boat. So we were able to pull them up partially over us when we hit the "rapids", and none of us got wet. I guess that was an advantage of going earlier in the year!

    Sayhello
     
  • *WDW*Groupie*

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Oct 2, 2006
    GREAT report! We also had a group of 39 on our trip, one of the best groups I can recall having. I think because everyone was so amazing it made our group feel smaller than it was.

    Thanks for sharing your trip with us.

    You made the right choice not staying at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. It was huge disappointment for us -- the location wasn't good and our suite was old and dated. I really, really wished we had stayed at the Peninsula or somewhere else in that area as it is so much better than Shinjuku. I contemplated leaving the PH after 1 night to go back to the Peninsula, but ultimately decided it wasn't worth it given our limited time in Tokyo.
     

    helenk

    I wish I was in Disney World
    Joined
    Jan 4, 2000
    "The museum was incredibly impactful--the images are hard to forget. But what really struck me was how no one was looking at us with any kind of animosity. We were a bunch of Americans in a museum of horror that we caused, and the Japanese people not only welcomed us but did so without any hint of reproach."
    Interesting observation, we were at Pearl Harbor in June and there were plenty of Japanese tourists there, I don't think anyone felt animosity towards them either.
     
  • CaliforniaGirl09

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Dec 4, 2009
    Looking forward to hearing your impressions - and reliving some memories!
    We did not hear about ‘wet seats’ - and I got wet - then again, on any ride where ‘you may get wet,’ I will!
    We hadn't heard about them either. I think they put the kids in the first row purposefully, which could have backfired.
    @CaliforniaGirl09 I'm still reading but I wanted to post this for you. Assuming you're using a Windows PC, here's an article that explains what's going on with your photos and how to fix it. I had to do this for my last update (and the update I'm hopefully posting tomorrow) and it worked perfectly. It's a bit of a pain, but I haven't found any other way to get around this quirk of the new DIS site. :) If you're using a Mac, there's probably a similar article for that.

    https://www.ivertech.com/Articles/Image-Rotation-Issue-With-Windows-10.aspx

    Sayhello
    I'm actually on a Mac so I'll try to look around. I was just reading another post on a different thread and they were having same issue. SO annoying. Can't wait to read your post!
    Did you guys have the tarps overhead like in @CaliforniaGirl09's picture? Because when I went, those tarps weren't up, and were rolled up on both sides of the boat. So we were able to pull them up partially over us when we hit the "rapids", and none of us got wet. I guess that was an advantage of going earlier in the year!

    Sayhello
    We heard from the guides that the boat company was completely random about when the tarps were up. They were more for sun than water. We also had the tarps on the side that we could pull up to help with the water. They helped me some, but not the little girl in the front! There were some huge waves. I'm sure you are right about timing of the year. We were during the rainy season so I'm sure the river was high.
    Enjoying your report, thanks for taking the time to write it up!
    Thanks so much for reading along and glad you are enjoying!
    GREAT report! We also had a group of 39 on our trip, one of the best groups I can recall having. I think because everyone was so amazing it made our group feel smaller than it was.

    Thanks for sharing your trip with us.

    You made the right choice not staying at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. It was huge disappointment for us -- the location wasn't good and our suite was old and dated. I really, really wished we had stayed at the Peninsula or somewhere else in that area as it is so much better than Shinjuku. I contemplated leaving the PH after 1 night to go back to the Peninsula, but ultimately decided it wasn't worth it given our limited time in Tokyo.
    We had a great group, too, and I really liked everyone who we had a chance to talk to, but I think I've had too much small group travel lately and the big groups really get to me. I feel like I'm on a cattle call, LOL. It's almost a claustrophobic type of feeling. Anyway, it bums me out because ABD has been a great go to travel company for us. If we book again, I"m going to be doing the last minute thing.

    Wow, what a bummer about the Park Hyatt. So glad I didn't change! Location was so important to us, and the Tokyo Station Hotel couldn't have been better located with the trains. It was a breeze, and I loved how they offered to meet people coming in from Narita (I think the platform was located a little further away than the trains from Haneda). It worked out really well for us, but the rooms was definitely quite a bit smaller than the ones we had at the Peninsula that were more like suites.
    "The museum was incredibly impactful--the images are hard to forget. But what really struck me was how no one was looking at us with any kind of animosity. We were a bunch of Americans in a museum of horror that we caused, and the Japanese people not only welcomed us but did so without any hint of reproach."
    Interesting observation, we were at Pearl Harbor in June and there were plenty of Japanese tourists there, I don't think anyone felt animosity towards them either.
    How was the weather? My daughter and I are going next year, the beginning of July.
    The devastation of an atomic bomb was like nothing I'd ever seen. The museum is pretty overwhelming, and I definitely wasn't the only one making the observation. A bunch of us were talking about it. I hope it isn't as crowded for you as it was for us. That limited the amount of the museum we could cover as it took forever to read the boards with all the people.

    I think we lucked out with the weather as we were technically in the rainy period. We had a few days where it rained, and only one of those days was for any length of time when we were driving to Takayama. That was scary heavy, but the driver was amazing. We had one really hot and humid day in Nara that was pretty bad, but the rest of the time was warm and humid but not unbearable. In Tokyo it actually felt relatively cool. We had hot sunny days at Disney, but nothing too bad. I hope you have similar weather. There was one trip I think where it rained almost every day--that would have been a bummer.
     

    Cousin Orville

    Inventor of Air Cooling
    Joined
    Aug 27, 2000
    Funny we tried most of those Kit Kat's as well. There's a couple that I don't recognize, but the rest I'm pretty sure I can accurately guess where you bought them! My favorite by far were the matcha flavored which is good because you can find them State side. The sake ones were not so good. Although I like sake! I didn't try the lemon. I'll look for that next time!
     

    CaliforniaGirl09

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Dec 4, 2009
    Funny we tried most of those Kit Kat's as well. There's a couple that I don't recognize, but the rest I'm pretty sure I can accurately guess where you bought them! My favorite by far were the matcha flavored which is good because you can find them State side. The sake ones were not so good. Although I like sake! I didn't try the lemon. I'll look for that next time!
    We literally bought them all over Japan at Family Marts and little shops. There were a few "specials" for the area like the maple ones for Hiroshima. The big boxes we bought at the airport on the way home. They also had grape, but I didn't have time to buy them as we were about to board. So bummed as I love grape. Agree about the flavors so far. We like the green sake one better than the floral. Fortunately, I have a couple garbage disposals (DH and DS) when it comes to sweets so none will go to waste. I love the lemon and really like all the other fruit ones except maybe the plain strawberry. They were fun to hunt for.
     

    CaliforniaGirl09

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Dec 4, 2009
    Day 2-4 Food:

    I think it was @Cousin Orville who said the food on the Japan ABD was the best of any tour he’s been on, and I 100% agree. It was basically all good. I’ll point out the highlights and lowlights, but there really wasn’t a lot to complain about. Great job ABD!

    The group welcome dinner on Day #2 was delicious and we loved the Geiko (local word for Geisha) entertainment. She was lovely—which I guess is the point, LOL—and answered all of our questions so patiently. I was surprised how many in our tour hadn’t read Memoirs of the Geisha, but there were a lot of questions I wanted to ask but didn’t ☺. We loved the food, but there were a lot of plates that were barely touched, which made me sad. I hope they don’t change the food to more western tastes. IMO a huge part of the experience is the local cuisine, but I think some of the menus pushed the comfort level for some people.

    We loved the dress up, too--this might end up as our Christmas card picture :)
    CYIZuTb5SHmWJxsRnynTjw.jpg

    I usually complain about the number of OYO meals with ABD, but this ABD had a great balance (maybe with the exception of Tokyo). One of my problems with OYO meals is having to hunt down your food in a relatively short period of time, but there were so many excellent options around in the places we stopped it wasn’t an issue.

    The OYO lunches we had were all standouts, and some of our favorite meals. If you like noodles as my family does, you will be in heaven. Strangely, I was hoping to eat more gyoza (some of our favorite dumplings), but we didn’t see them much. The only place I saw dumplings with noodles was at my ramen place in Tokyo Station.

    I will reiterate what others have said, but you absolutely need cash and can’t rely on credit cards. We came with five hundred in cash, but quickly hit the ATMs. I think we hit them twice when we were there. Although it’s nice not to come home to bills, I bemoan the loss of credit card miles. I think we spent about $800 out of pocket on meals, snacks, and other things in places that didn’t take credit cards. We spent about $10-15 a person on the OYO meals. It’s strange that a country that is so technologically advanced is essentially cash based, but there it is.

    After our “hike” on day #3, I asked the local guide for a good noodle place. He pointed us to a great one. We had a great lunch of cold udon noodles and shrimp tempura on our own in Miyajima. The menu was either in English or had pictures, but we had no problem ordering by pointing.

    [A quick aside … before we left we did a family crash course in Japanese. My special needs son loves learning other languages and often hits youtube for that purpose, so that was part of it, but we also wanted to be able to say something at Jiro. Our mini-crash course was a huge success. When we said “delicious” or even “thank you” or made efforts to use our very limited words, people responded so positively it was pretty special. I downloaded a couple apps, and printed off a cheat sheet. Both were helpful but the app had a voice feature that was great so you could hear how to pronounce things]. I think it was Fodors?]

    Here’s the udon noodle place:
    DjS6ayt5RRqNMcrvbSRQCw.jpg

    You can also get the noodles in a broth, but I loved dipping them in the broth myself. They are so refreshing on a hot day!
    AJaunYa+T3ifsHpnV0uHjA.jpg

    Our family’s favorite ABD meal of the trip was dinner later that night. The Okonamiyaki dinner was incredible—it is a new family favorite and we are already looking for places in the Bay Area that do the Hiroshima style with noodles to try. If we can’t find it, we’ll be making it. It was really that good.

    Here is our chef in action. We demolished ours so we had to move on to the one extra the chef had made :)
    7n+IuEhaQj+NcKGUA+MAxQ.jpg
    +kBq3fToRlCFPRCOww4oOg.jpg

    They won't win any awards for photos, but they were so good!
    DEjKbY1aQtiiOeoc0kzZPg.jpg

    Our other favorite food item that we were hunting down the rest of the trip was from the Dotonbori evening. I’m going to say two words that you will thank me for later: Melon Pan. We have already found a place in Oakland that is supposed to sell them. We raved to our fellow travelers and pretty much the whole tour was hunting them down as well. We had them with ice cream the first time, but we also found them without at a number of other places. The best I found were at the really nice rest stop on the way to Odawara that had a bakery.

    They are basically sweet, yeasty rolls with a cookie dough baked on top. They are called melon balls for their shape. They are usually not melon flavored, although we did find a melon flavored one later at Disneyland shaped like Mike from Monsters Inc. Super cute.

    Here is mine with matcha (green tea) ice cream and the place to look for them on Dotonbori:
    JWfMmxMQROGR7oz6+YO3DA.jpg6s5w3S%RSp6T%khsAslN+w.jpg

    Here's a sneak peak of the Mike ones from DL that did have a melon flavoring, but weren't nearly as good.
    p2uD8KhjQEezx4vynnnmzg.jpg

    And adding to my point about Kawaii and the culture of “cuteness,” we found these ice cream sandwiches on Miyajima. They looked better than they tasted ☺
    8SzzQBtwTN+dlDRXDToISw.jpg

    [Edited to correct noodle mistake!]
     
    Last edited:

    Woodview

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Dec 29, 2013
    Continued Activities Day 2-4:

    The much looked forward to “hike” in Miyajima was a big disappointment. They should have billed it as climbing two staircases since that’s what it was. I thought we were climbing to the top of the mountain. That needs to be changed in the itinerary.

    The Taiko Drums, Bento, Hozugawa river cruise, and Dotonbori excursions on day four were all great. The drums in particular I thought were an excellent ABD activity choice as there was a relatively short initial learning curve that allowed everyone to participate without feeling awkward. Even our special needs son was able to do it for a while.

    View attachment 420634

    I think that cuisine is one of the best ways of experiencing a country and the bento box experience like the sushi one that came later hit that on the nose. Love doing stuff like this! Japan is big on the culture of “Kawaii” cuteness and that really came through here with our Mickey shaped rice ball. The tamago (omlette) was surprisingly easy to make and yummy. We are buying one of those pans when we get home. Our big eating family could have used about triple the chicken portion, but they did hand out plenty of rice balls to fill us up. In general, Japanese portions are smaller than American but usually sufficient. I loved that not everything is overly sweet—even cookies and confections.

    View attachment 420627View attachment 420628View attachment 420629

    The river ride was really fun and picturesque. I was seated in one of the wet seats and got a few direct hits, but stayed pretty dry. Our youngest adventurer had the wet seat in our boat and she did get pretty wet.

    View attachment 420630

    Due to the busy day not everyone went to Osaka (including DS), which was a shame as it was a highlight. There wasn’t a lot of down time on this trip so far, and with the early bag pull and late-ish return, some people decided to stay at hotel. Dotonburi Street was fabulous and a highlight for a lot of us. It had an energy that was quintessentially Japan, i.e. 42ndstreet with Japanese sensibility and great food. We loved all the food booths and had to try the mandatory octopus balls, which are the specialty. They were fine, but not something I’d probably buy again.

    (Ugh! Now one is upside down. If anyone knows how to fix this let me know).
    View attachment 420631
    View attachment 420632

    Over these first few days we saw a number of temples/shrines and walked around some very cute little shops, which ended up being a theme of the trip as we did quite a bit of it. I was pretty over temples(Buddist)/shrines(Shinto) by day #3, and over the shopping trips by a few days later. All the markets began to look the same.

    Apparently, I wasn't the only one who thought the itinerary was a little temple/shrine heavy because they ended up eliminating one later in the trip for that reason (along with timing). I also heard comments from fellow travelers about there being too much shopping in markets.

    For the on our own shopping time, we kept ourselves busy trying a number of different snack crackers (my favorites were the dried peas in a waffle cone type of batter that we found in the shop where we had lunch after the bamboo forest) and looking for Kit Kats. I’d read that unique flavors of Kit Kats were a thing in Japan, and sure enough there were tons of them.

    From top row to bottom: Purple sweet potato, Shin Shu Apple, Strawberry Cheesecake, Uji Hojicha (tea), Uji Matcha, Mamiji Manju (Maple), Sake, Lemon, Strawberry, Mint, another Sake, White Chocolate, Melon and Marscapone cheese, peach.
    View attachment 420642

    Collecting Kit Kats kept us busy during all the shopping excursions, which was a good thing as there were a lot of them. We ended up with 14 different types of Kit Kats and had a tasting party when we got home. Lemon was the family favorite. It tasted just like Lemon Coolers, the powdered sugar cookies that were my favorite growing up. [photos] We also brought home a bunch of cookies—they have a bunch of the wafer type that I love. We’ve never brought home so much food from a trip. It pretty much served as our souvenir, which is good as it doesn’t take up space for long. I just went through a huge downsize so I’m careful about travel trinkets. Food allowed us to shop without to deal with it later. Win win!

    Our taste testing :)
    View attachment 420641


    Next up tomorrow ... food!
     

    Woodview

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Dec 29, 2013
    Were you really willing to pay $ 55K for 4 return flights ?

    I see that you spent 554,000 air miles & $1,300 instead Still a lot of money for such a short time in an aeroplane
     

    CaliforniaGirl09

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Dec 4, 2009
    Were you really willing to pay $ 55K for 4 return flights ?

    I see that you spent 554,000 air miles & $1,300 instead Still a lot of money for such a short time in an aeroplane
    No the benefit of using miles is that I didn't have to pay that. But I would definitely have (and have) paid $3-4k a person for business/first for 10 hour flights. I think the way over was 10.5 hours and coming back was 9.5. I consider that a long time on the plane, LOL--especially for DH who is 6'5. I was also able to take advantage of transfer bonuses for almost all the miles (so "cost" in miles was actually 30% less).

    We've been fortunate to fly business and first on miles on a number of trips, and we find that it really becomes part of the enjoyment of the trip as much as staying at a fancy hotel and really impacts our vacation--especially at the beginning. There's a big difference arriving tired and cranky after a miserable flight scrunched in coach all night--three of us don't sleep sitting up in seats--and arriving fresh and in a good mood after a restful 5-6 hours of sleep with lovely service and (usually) great food. I'm not saying it's necessary or that we don't fly coach--we do plenty of that--but for longer trips we find the experience "worth it" as much as any other part of travel, and when you can get these type of experiences for very little $$$ out of pocket and miles that we accumulate through regular spending, it feels like a huge success to me.
     

    PrincessDisneyFan

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Jul 2, 2014
    @CaliforniaGirl09 You are the 4th person to express that the Tokyo portion of the trip needs restructuring. So my question is what time did everyone have to meet up for the Farewell Dinner? Because I am seriously considering doing a tour of Akihabera on Day 10... and make most of that day our own time (would probably still do the shine and ceremony). We are big Video Game Fans (and have no interest in shopping or Takeshita Street at all really) Also on day 9... I believe that's a dinner oyo… what time did you guys get through with ABD. Might try and get a reservation at the Ninja Asaka Restaurant (its either do that or the Robot Restaurant show that night)
     

    Calfan

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 31, 2009
    Loving your report so far and already making notes for our 2020 trip!! It will be fun to compare trip experiences. I don’t have any info so far about our traveling companions (number or demographics) for our trip with Thomson. Definitely planning to book the Tokyo Station Hotel for the night in Tokyo before our flights back to the U.S. (I will need detailed instructions on how to find the ramen place in Tokyo Station, lol.) And it’s embarrassing to admit that I’m almost as excited about our JAL flights in First (for me and DH, while the kids slum it in Business) as I am about the trip! Also need to get details on Tokyo Disneyland for our pre-days there...
     

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