Hotel Review : Park Hyatt Dubai

Standard

Just this month I had the opportunity to stay at Park Hyatt Dubai and I had mixed feelings about my stay.

First of all, the hotel is huge!!!! I had made a mistake of not using the valet parking and instead just parked my car at the car park. I did not realized I had some walking to do (not to mention stair climbing. Walking in the hot UAE summer sun is no fun), and in some areas, there were no sign indicating the direction of the lobby.

However, the hotel has very beautiful grounds.

IMG_9293

Check-in was good (once I found the lobby anyway). The lady escorted me to my room since I am pretty sure I would get lost along the way. The hallways are decorated with art works and I could see beautiful courtyard just inviting you to sit there (I would wait until the weather is cooler to do that).

My room was on the first floor, and the lady mentioned all the rooms has a view of the creek. The room was a good size with a comfortable bed. There is a balcony which is perfect to sit outside during the cooler weather.

There is sort of like a french window which opens to the bathroom (not sure how I feel like not having a glass panel separating the bedroom and bathroom). The bathroom is a good size with a bath tub found in the center of it.

I like there was a bench to sit in the shower area. The shower was a bit difficult for me to operate (mainly because the faucet was very tight, so it took a lot of effort for me to twist it). The other thing I did not like was there was no door to the bathroom. So you will not get any privacy when you are having a soak or in the shower.

I am not sure if this hotel has cocktail hour as it is the Ramadan month. I did try the breakfast the next day. It was either I was early or because it was Ramadan as there were not many people having breakfast. And to be honest, I was not impressed. I had stayed at Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, and their breakfast was much better than this.

Most of the breakfast items were cold breakfast or continental breakfast. There was no egg station (not sure it was due to Ramadan). So I had asked the waitress if this was the only options available. She then pointed to a piece of laminated paper set on one of the tables (it was not found on my table), and it was the hot items menu. The selection was a bit limited but I was happy to be able to get an omelet for breakfast.

After breakfast, it was a walk to explore the hotel before checking out.

And across the creek I could see the Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek hotel and you could sort of make out the Grand Hyatt Dubai hotel also (Grand Hyatt is near to the pyramid building and Hyatt Regency is the tall building).

IMG_9362IMG_9363

Here is a panoramic view.

IMG_9371

Overall, not a bad hotel. I would come here to relax and do nothing. Did I mentioned there is no metro nearby? Or I got lost finding the gym? In any case, one night might not be enough to assess this hotel. There is also the fact it is not operating in its usual capacity as it is the month of Ramadan. Hope you enjoy the photos!!!!

Hotel Review : The Meydan Hotel Dubai

Standard
Hotel Review : The Meydan Hotel Dubai

It has been a while since I have been posting anything. I have been busy with work, and also with my running training program. I have not been the most healthiest person. So I had decided to take up running and had set a running event targets to reach by the end of the year.

So far so good. My doctor is slowly lowering the dosage of my medication or totally cutting it off. Anyway, it was because of a running event I had ended up staying at the Meydan Hotel in Dubai. I had registered to run in the Asics series and really did not want to wake up early to drive down to the Meydan. So I had booked a room there for 1 night via RocketMiles.

Unless you are attending an event there such as the horse races, there is nothing nearby. You would have to take a taxi every where. However, I must say the hotel is very luxurious.

IMG_9126

The lobby is open and there are lots of chairs to sit.

IMG_9091IMG_9092IMG_9097

Check in was rather slow but it was moving along. The elevator was a bit funny because I have to press the button hard to select my floor. But again, luxurious decor.

IMG_9095IMG_9100

All the rooms I think faced the racing track, and I was excited to see the room because the website photo looks fantastic.

IMG_9101IMG_9102IMG_9103IMG_9104IMG_9106

The room is a good size, with the hallway curving a bit so if there is a person at the door, they would not see into the room, which I thought is a good idea. There are a few “hidden” panel which if we do not look for them, we would not know it was there.

Some of the things in the room needs replacing such as the hotel file i.e. room service menu. It was tattered. The bathroom was great. It took me a while to figure out how the bathtub works.

IMG_9111IMG_9115

Step out of the balcony, and the race track is just there. I think it is a nice place to sit and enjoy a cup of tea during the cooler season.

IMG_9116

Below is my attempt of panoramic view.

IMG_9117

There are a few restaurants within the hotel or at the nearby club hotel. Be prepare to shell out some cash.

Overall, not a bad hotel. Too rich for my blood and also there is nothing nearby. If you are staying here, prepare to spend money on taxi or rent a car. Did I mentioned, at the end of a workday, the main road heading to The Meydan is always busy with traffic?

Hotel Review : Hyatt Place Baniyas Sq, Dubai

Standard

Although I love to stay at both Hyatt Regency hotels in Dubai (Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek and Hyatt Regency Deira), there are times when the price for the rooms in both hotels is a bit too high for my liking.

I could stay in another hotel but….. I would like to retain my Diamond status with Hyatt. Which is why the Hyatt Place Baniyas Square is another one of my choice hotels to stay in Dubai.

I love the location of the hotel as it is located just 5 minutes from the Baniyas Station, and in a busy shopping area of Old Dubai. The spice souk is just a 15 mins walk from the hotel.

IMG_4056

This hotel is new and just opened late last year. The lobby is located on the mezzanine floor, and the whole concept reminded me of SPG “Aloft”.

It has a clean, fresh and hip feel to it.The room are clearly labelled so it is easy to spot your room.

The room is a good size and the bed is quite comfortable.

I love the sofa and the wall deco. The bath room is a good size and clean.

IMG_4042IMG_4043

When I came back in the evening time, I found some nice refreshment waiting for me in my room, which was great!!!

IMG_4065IMG_4061

The room comes with breakfast and the hotel is great about letting the guests know the peak hours.

IMG_8728

The breakfast selection was great. Loads of fresh fruits, juices, bread etc. What I had noticed missing was strawberry jam, which was no biggie.

IMG_8729IMG_8730IMG_8731

One thing for sure, the hotel got it right about the breakfast traffic. I went down around 8:30, and there were still loads of tables available. 30 mins later, most of the tables were occupied.

So a great hotel and a good location (if you do not mind listening to the calls to prayer. There is a mosque nearby. The calls is not too loud. It is just like someone sounding from a distance. I also want to add I was staying in the higher floor, and could hear the faint sound of cars honking). For the people planning to drive, just note that this hotel does not provide parking not does it have valet parking.

Eat The World DXB

Standard

This weekend I wanted a change of scenery so decided to head down to Dubai and checked out the Dubai Food Festival. There are several events going on but I was very interested in the food trucks event – Eat The World DXB, held in Burj Park.

The name is misleading as there were only food trucks from Britain and UAE. Also most of the cuisine were burgers, tacos and chips (the gourmet kind).

IMG_8721

You have to pay 30AED for entrance and then some more for the food.

Tip : There are no ATM within the event ground and all food trucks only accept cash. So bring lots of cash to pay for the food.

It was such a nice day as there were clouds overhead so the temperature was just nice. The vendors were scattered throughout the grounds and the lines were long for most of the vendors, but I had managed to sample some of them.

The Roadery which serves sliders and tacos. I got myself the sliders, which was the perfect snack size. The meat was great, buns a bit hard but overall good flavor. The sliders in the photo cost 45 AED.

Next was the hot dog….

I ordered the French Bull Dog, which was the beef hot dog. It will cost an extra 5AED for the special toppings. Since the sign said it was the best hot dog in Britain, I really do not need the special toppings then. So ended getting the plain French Bull Dog for 35 AED. The size is decent but nothing special about the taste. I think I could buy the sausage from Spinney and make this myself.

One thing I had noticed about this event, there is not a lot of places selling drinks. The few places which sells them are selling the “healthy” option. And the line for most of them are long.

IMG_8699

All I want is a nice cold Diet Coke to go with my food. I had noticed there were some smart and well prepared people as they had packed drinks with them.

Tip : There is a Waitrose in the ground? Floor of Dubai Mall. Buy your drinks first before heading to the event.

I got a few munchies here and there, and was impressed with the van which has the pizza oven.IMG_8714

There was only so much I could eat but I managed to munch on some nice churros.

The churros was nice and crunchy, but the chocolate sauce was watery (reminded me of chocolate milk, which was probably what it was as I saw them poured something from a carton).

Overall, not a bad experience. Yes, it was expensive… Would I come here again? Maybe…. But I am going to pack some drinks and cash before heading there again.

Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Lounge

Standard

Less than a week ago, I was in Singapore to meet up with my parents for the weekend. I was using Qatar Airways as the timing was more suited to my needs. After the weekend with my parents, I made my way back to Abu Dhabi with a layover in Doha.

My flight from Doha to Abu Dhabi is in first class, so I was given access to the First Class Lounge during my 2+ layover. There are a few lounges located around the airport, and all of them are on the higher floors. Various escalators will take you to the different lounges. I was directed to the Al Safwa lounge by one of the staff when I was almost getting on one of the escalators. Apparently, I am on the wrong one.

You know you are in the right direction if you are getting on the taller/ longer escalators which will take you to the second floor (or just read the signs)IMG_8610IMG_8611

There are 2 entrances for this lounge but both are equally impressive.

IMG_8593

The lounge is HUGE!!!! And very quiet. There were not many people in the lounge. What caught me by surprised was the number of restaurants/ cafes / eating areas found within the lounge.

I was feeling very hungry so I made my way to the main restaurant of the lounge. Again not a lot of people seen.

IMG_8571IMG_8570IMG_8569

You can order any thing on the menu (very limited selection), and since I really do not feel like eating steak or anything meaty, I had ordered spaghetti and a diet coke (sorry, only managed to take a photo of just one side of the menu. The waiter was waiting for my order).

IMG_8563IMG_8568

The spaghetti was not bad….. Or maybe it was because I was just hungry.

Seriously, there was not a lot of people that the staff was just standing around. I actually saw it took 3 people to clean a spot on the floor (one to hold the dustpan, one sweeping the broom and one observing).

Anyway, after the meal, decided to walk around. I passed by the SPA, game room, Quiet area (I think there is no need to have this area. It is freakingly quiet as it is) and family area.

 

It was going to the family area that I discovered the dessert area.

IMG_8578IMG_8579IMG_8583IMG_8586

But what I really like is the family area. Usually, it is just one big room for the families to rest. What this lounge did was to divide it into several good size compartments to give each family some privacy. Each compartment has a large couch, several chairs and TV. This is fantastic for families!!!

I think Qatar did a great job designing the lounge and I hope I have the chance to try the spa the next time I am here.

Only in Japan – Sandwiches

Standard

Because of our short time in Tokyo, we are always on the go. So lunch for us is usually a packed sandwich or bento, bought in the supermarket. It is a good cheap option for those wanting to watch their budget.

However, you do encountered unusual fillings for the sandwiches (Hey! I am not judging. I think some of them are brilliant). However, I am not sold on the pumpkin salad nor the carrot salad. To me, if the filling is mainly carrot, just eat carrot then.

So enjoy looking at the pics.

IMG_7859IMG_7860IMG_7861IMG_7862IMG_7863

 

A treasure hunt in Tokyo

Standard
A treasure hunt in Tokyo

I was a Tomboy when I was growing up and it was no wonder as I grew up surrounded by male cousins, raised by my dad (mom was busy traveling for work), and my uncle (mom’s younger brother), who would indulged me by taking me on fishing trip and buying me toys such as remote controlled cars (one of them was an actual BMW remote controlled car), robots etc.

I also grew up watching a lot of cartoons specifically Japanese anime such as Transformers, Voltron, Gatchaman etc. But I really love watching the Robotech series (Macross, Mospeada and Southern Cross). The Robotech series is a series of science fiction mecha anime and features a fictional history of Earth after the year 1999. My uncle even bought me an action figure from the Mospeada series (he also bought me a couple of G.I.Joe action figures. I even got a tank with a “Flint” figure driving it).

Then, my baby sister, E, came. And smashed went the G.I. Joe tank, my Scott Bernard Mospeada Cyclone Action Figure, Transformers etc. The only thing that was saved was my BMW remote controlled car, and I suspect the reason it was saved was because my Dad loved that toy. Seriously, if the toys had survived, it would be worth a lot.

So now when I travel especially when I go to an anime convention, I keep my eyes out for those vintage toys or scoured e-bay. Anyway, when planning my trip to Tokyo early Dec, I found out a place which you could find vintage toys. So I dragged my sis, J, to that location when we were in Tokyo.

Nakano Broadway is a shopping complex in Tokyo famous for its many stores selling anime stuff and other idol goods. It was on the Chuo line and is about 2 stops from Shinjuku Station.

The Nakano Broadway is just a few minutes walk from the Nakano station. We went there around 10AM during a weekday and at first glance it appears to be an ordinary shopping mall. I really like it as it has a more local feel to it. You do not see a lot of tourists wandering around.

On the first floor (I defined it as ground floor), it consists of ordinary shops such as clothing, shoes etc. It is only when you go up to the next floor it becomes interesting. This is where you can find the “Mandarake” stores.

There is even a shop just specializing in just “Masked Men” toys (think Power Rangers).

IMG_7801IMG_7803

The shops have both old and new so you have to be careful and check whether you are buying vintage or a re-production.

My sis, J, spotted a rare legos collection which she immediately bought (J collects legos among other things).

However, I could not find the toys I was looking for. There was another floor above the “main” anime floor but there is no escalator to head up. You have to take an elevator. Most people just stick to the “main” anime floor and ignored the floor above it. But we figured we might just check it out.

And I am glad we did!!! On this floor, you can really find the second hand vintage floor, and we managed to find some Robotech toys. The toys have different prices although it looks the same thing. The shop assistants explained to us the prices reflects the damage to the box, missing components and damage to the toy.

IMG_7817

The toy you see above is the toy I had bought from the shop. I was very mindful of my budget so I bought only one. The toy you are seeing cost me 30,000 yen (about USD 250). Yes, you read it right. USD250. Hence the reason for buying just one.

Now my sis, J, well….. She went all out. We actually had taken out a few of the toys for inspection, and the shop assistants were thinking she would be buying only one from the selection. They were shocked when she said “All” in Japanese. So if you considered how much it cost me for one, and multiple it for about 6 of something similar to that well….

But in truth, she did not know she was spending that much. So when I told her she was spending to equivalent to a Celine bag, that is when she gave me the blank face. So I had to gently informed her that 100,000 is about USD 830, and she spent more than that. Apparently, she missed one of the zeros’ in the price tag.

We found out from the shop assistants the stock is always changing as they depend on people coming in to sell their old toys. And those people know how valuable the toys are. We spotted several Chinese men taking snapshot of the toys especially the rare one. Our guess is that they will research the toys first before buying it and then selling it in their locations.

So after dropping some cash, it was time for a snack. Takoyaki time!!!!

IMG_7815

I made a promised to myself, I will come back again to this place when I am Tokyo, because you see there is this one toy …… And it cost 100,000yen. Yeah, thanks baby sis for breaking my stuff. Now, keep your hands away from my X-Men Blackbird.

P/S: Most of the Anime stores open around 12 in the afternoon.

Relaxation – Hot Spring (Onsen) Trip

Standard

Earlier this month, I was in Tokyo with my sister, J. Now J has an occasionally Gout issue and the day before we met up in Singapore to catch our flight, she suffered a really bad case of gout. From what my family told me, it was too painful for her to walk.

So while in Tokyo, we took it easy. However, because it was winter and it was a bit chilly, I had suggested to do a trip to a hot spring. There is a spa facility in Tokyo Dome which has hot spring water pumped into the pool but I wanted to relax out in the country.

Hakone is an area famous for its hot spring and also Mt Fuji. It is about an hour or an hour and half train ride from Tokyo. There are several ways to reach Hakone but the easiest (for us anyway) was via the Odakyu Odawara Line from Shinjuku station which is the station closest to Park Hyatt where we were staying.

You can buy the tickets at the station or use a Japan Rail Pass. If you are staying in Japan for a week or more, I would really recommend to get a Japan Rail Pass before arriving in Japan as you can only buy them outside Japan. If you are using the Japan Rail Pass to get to Hakone, I would really recommend to go to the station early or a day early to reserve your seats.

The train stops at Hakone-Yumoto station, and this is where the hot springs we are going to is located.

IMG_7856IMG_7854IMG_7835

Just outside the station is the free shuttle bus which will take you to the hot spring facility. The bus ride is only 15 mins and there are several stops along the way but the hot spring is the end of the stops.

IMG_7851

The facility is known as Hakone Yuryo, and they offer different type of rooms depending on the price. Typically, most people would go for the communal baths which cost about 1400 yen (~ USD 14) per person. Towels are excluded so it is either you have to bring your own or buy as they do not rent towels. Please note communal baths are same sex, and you have to be naked. You cannot use swimsuit.

Then there are the private open-air baths. There are 3 types with the cost ranging from 3900 to 5900 yen per room per hour. The largest which could accommodate 4 people is 5900 yen per room per hour. It is recommended to reserve in advance as the bath you might want is unavailable.

We did not make any reservation and J really wanted a private bath so we asked if there is any left. We were lucky there is one left but it was the more expensive bath. Since it was 5900 yen (USD59) per hour, we went for it (for private baths, towels are included. If they offer Yukata, there are 2 in the room).

I really took bad photos of the facility but you can check its website for a better idea on how it looks like.

IMG_7845IMG_7846IMG_7848

The water from this hot spring is alkaline so it is perfect for someone suffering from high Uric acid (Gout condition).

We were given a key and a map of where our bath would be located. For our bath, we have sort of an indoor living room with a small side room to change and do our personal care. There is no bathroom so you have to go outside for that.

IMG_7836IMG_7838IMG_7837IMG_7839IMG_7844IMG_7840

Outside is a small sitting area (useful if the water gets too hot for you and you need to cool down), a washing area (you need to wash first before entering the pool), and the pool.

And yes, you still do have to get naked. There is no curtains separating the indoor and outdoor, just a clear glass barrier.

We spent some time in the water, and J was enjoying the dip. It was really useful to have a private bath as I could have a snack at the sitting area. This is a no-no in communal baths.

Anyway, really enjoyed our time there. The next few days, J condition got better and she was walking faster and longer by the time we reached LA. She kept on telling me the hot spring (Onsen) really work and she is a convert. Now she is asking me when are we going to Japan again.

Planning is the key – hotels

Standard

Usually for hotels, I would concentrate on 2 hotel chains. For 2015, I was concentrating on Hyatt and Starwood (SPG). But for 2016, I am still deciding on the second hotel chain.

It is no brainer I am still going for Hyatt Diamond status for 2016. I love some of their hotels and services such as Park Hyatt Tokyo, Hyatt Madeleine Paris etc (yes, there are some bad ones also which I tend to avoid at all cost). This year I have 28 stays under my belt.

As for the second hotel chain, I am reluctant to go with SPG since Marriott bought them. I do not like Marriott loyalty program and I do not stay in Marriott that much.

Since I like staying in Fairmont Singapore (and it looks like I will be stopping in Singapore a lot in 2016), I am more inclined to go in that direction. However, they do not have a large number of locations and their loyalty program is not the best. You will earn points for airline miles but not hotel miles. And you would only earn a free night if you are Platinum (10 stays and it is not bad considering you become SPG Gold for 10 stays).

FairmontFairmont2Fairmont3

Also in the locations where a Fairmont could be found, the hotels are very good (Think The Savoy in London).

The other chain I was thinking of was Hilton. There is a Hilton status match promo at the moment which is useful since I would be staying in a Hilton in June for one of my running events. However, have not heard back from them, and my Hilton status is still silver.

Although Hilton is the larger hotel chain compared to Fairmont, I do not stay there often and the number of points needs for a hotel room is rather high. Also to get the highest status with Hilton (Diamond), you would need 30 stays with them. Since I already need 25 stays for Hyatt, I do not think I could spare that mush for Hilton. That is why I am attracted to Fairmont as I would only need 10 stays to get the highest status (There is also the fact I love the spa in Fairmont).

So I am going to try for Fairmont in 2016, and see how it will go. Maybe I will go be to SPG or move to Marriott (maybe).

Planning is the key – Airlines

Standard

I have picked up running about more than a year now. Nothing serious, just 5K so far but my aim at the end of 2016 is to try to run 10k.

This is big for me as 2 1/2 year ago I had a problem walking and my doctor was talking about surgery. But I am stubborn and refused to give in. So I trained and trying the 5K. Now in Abu Dhabi, there are several runs but it is mainly in the winter time i.e. Oct to March. The rest of the months being too hot to run.

So my aim for next year is to join 10-12 events in a year. I have enrolled 4 events in UAE for the period of Jan to March. Which meant, the other events would have to be outside UAE, which means I would have to travel.

I have decided to mix my running events with my vacations. I have scouted some events with fits to my schedule, but travel is expensive. So, I had started planning my strategy on reducing the cost which means miles and points.

First, I am to narrow down the locations for next year. There is Hawaii, USA, Singapore and France. For most locations, I figured Qatar Airways, Etihad and Singapore Airlines would do just fine. Also, I have to maintain my Krisflyer gold with SQ.

For SQ, I should be ok. But I am in trouble with Qatar and Etihad. In October, my accumulated miles for Qatar and Etihad was in the 30k-40k ranges. To get business class seats for Europe or Singapore, I would need about 140k miles each for both airlines.

Strategy

Qatar Airways

  • Hotel partners – Third party hotel booking site. Qatar (and even Etihad) gives generous miles when you book with the third party booking site. Sometime, even promos. Since I was traveling a lot in the later part of 2015, and need some hotel accommodations, I made used of the promos and rich rewards.
    • Rocketmiles
    • Kaligo
  • Credit Card – Citibank Premier Miles card. Citibank has several partners and one of them is Qatar Airways. Since  I have to pay for my grocery, internet bill etc anyway, might as well put it on the card and get the points (of course, I pay my credit card bill in full every month, and I do not spend more than I need).

At the end of Dec, my miles in my Qatar Privilege account is 80k. Now, I just need 60k more.

Etihad

  • Hotel partners (same strategy as Qatar). If the rewards for Etihad is higher, then I would select Etihad.
  • Credit Card – Etihad Above Guest credit card. I had the Gold Etihad credit card but it was not enough. Then I had checked out other credit card offers.

EtihadCrdCrdEithCntEithCnt2

From the list, the Platinum card is much suited for me. So I had called in ADCB and upgraded my card to Platinum. I had also confirmed with the bank I would received 25,000 bonus miles for Etihad. Since I was also buying air tickets and hotel rooms, I was spending USD$2000 above during the time I am traveling, I would also be getting an extra 2000 miles on top of the miles I would earn from my spending.

  • Banks – Banks such as ADCB also gives TouchPoints for transactions done on your account e.g. salary direct deposits. The TouchPoints could be converted to Etihad miles.
  • Hotel points conversion. Some hotels allows the conversion of their points to airline miles. With the news Marriot buying Starwood, I am  slowly using up my Starwood hotel points. It is also good as if you convert 20,000 points to airline miles, you also get 5,000 miles conversion bonus. So I converted 20,000 points to Etihad miles.

At the end of Dec, the number of miles in Etihad Guest miles is around 110k. I need around 30k which is achievable.

Well, the airlines strategy is settled but the hotels…. Well, that is another thing I have to think about.