Happy August! Now that summer is winding down, we’re thinking about back-to-school—and specifically, to college. This month, we’re talking about a new trend we’ve been seeing lately: Families taking special trips with their college-bound kids. And speaking of bonding travel, we’re also highlighting our recent retreat in Puerto Rico—including our top hosting tips. And finally, rounding out this edition is a great Q&A with Qatar Airways, which was recently honored with the distinction of “World’s Best Airline.” We hope the rest of your summer is fun and relaxing!
Erika Reategui and Fernando Gonzalez
A team of our leisure specialists spent President’s Day Weekend exploring Tokyo thanks to the Tokyo Tourism Board, Delta Airlines, the Park Hyatt and Andaz. Leisure affiliate Susan Quillin fills us in on how to make the most of four days in the bustling capital.
How would you describe the city?
Tokyo’s remarkable skyline features parks, palaces and skyscrapers, an alluring combination of imperial and modern design. Neighborhoods vary unimaginably in architecture and lifestyle. Roppongi is hip; Shibuya is innovative; Harajuko is refined; Ginza is trendy; and Shitamaki is the oldest section of town.
Why would you recommend a trip to Tokyo?
Tokyo offers so much more than a city experience. It’s really fun to explore such unique surroundings, traditions, countercultures, arts, gardens and cuisines– no matter how short your stay. And don’t forget spring cherry blossom season.
How do you make the most of the long flight?
We flew Delta’s new business class, which was amazing. The new 777s are refitted with an innovative 1 x 2 x 1 seat configuration. Every seat has aisle access, ample space and privacy. TV entertainment is first rate with plenty of plugs and USB ports for devices. The crew was outstanding in every way, making the 13-hour flight extremely comfortable.
Can you give an overview of your weekend?
Tokyo never sleeps! We were spirited through this exciting city by guides who shared their individual experiences with this well-traveled group. We began with Delta’s new Business Class, stayed at Park Hyatt in Shinjuko and Andaz in Toranomon, discovered extraordinary fashions, streets, alleyways, temples and hotspots in every district. We even used Tokyo’s impressive metro.
What experiences are on your must-do list?
– Visit Harujuko, Roppongi and Shibuya districts for a lively, hip fashion culture. Then Ginza and Aoyama for high end shopping.
– Stroll tranquil Meiji Jingu Shrine, then Kaminari-mon Gate for truly traditional culture.
– High Tea at beautifully restored Tokyo Train Station, known as Grand Central Station’s sister.
– Morning visit to Tsukiji Fish Market in time for breakfast, but stand clear of the motorized carts!
– 360º Tokyo view from the top of Tokyo Skytree, the 2nd tallest tower in the world.
Apparently Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other world city. Tell about your dining highlights.
We dined like royalty on kobe and wagyu beef, sushi, fois gras, delectable sweets, sake and Japanese whiskies. Hassan, a hidden delight behind nondescript doors in Roppongi, serves sushi and shabu-shabu with Japanese beer. The chef at Kozue, Park Hyatt, designed a jaw-dropping Japanese menu just for us. Ritz Carlton’s Azure 45 introduced us to Japanese French fusion, while our mouthwatering experience at Andaz was a feast for the eyes. Tokyo Station Hotel offers an indulgent High Tea overlooking Tokyo Station. Last but not least, Shangri-La created an elegant spread of Japanese bites we devoured.
How was the world famous Tokyo Fish Market?
Definitely arrive with a guide before 9am. The world’s largest fish market does not stop for tourists. Let your guide weave you safely through this booming exercise in commerce. Locals and regular visitors come for breakfast, but it is not for the faint of heart. Wear sturdy, rubber soled shoes. No flip-flops or Prada here!
Any other cultural highlights?
The hour-long Geisha experience is a must. There are only seven Geisha schools left in Tokyo, and they remain revered. We experienced a traditional performance, followed by seemingly simple games played in rounds. If you lose, which we did, you must drink a shot of sake. Have you ever had a shot of sake while giggling? So much fun! This hour is not easy to arrange and must be booked well in advance.
How was the shopping?
Fantastic! Whether heading to Precce food market, or a stylish sweet shop for beautifully packaged treasures, or Gucci in the Home Page Ginza district, it’s all worth the hunt. Highlight: Sembikiya, the ultimate gift shop for fruit. On special occasions, it is customary to present your host with fruit. Not just any fruit – fruit that has been carefully cultivated to have precisely the right sweetness and texture. A perfect example is a square watermelon ($250), or a tray of twelve perfect strawberries ($75). Finally, don’t forget that Tokyo is the home of Hello Kitty, a brand that appeals to kids of all ages.
Tell us about your hotels.
Park Hyatt Tokyo, with understated tones and touches one would hope to experience in Japan, rests on the top 14 floors of Shinjuku Park Tower. Every room has a spectacular view. Lost in Translation was filmed there 20 years ago! While it has changed a great deal since then, I was still hoping to spy Bill Murray in the New York Bar. Andaz, Park Hyatt’s boutique sister, has recently opened in Taronoman district. The 164 Hindu style rooms and 51st floor Rooftop Bar have commanding skyline views. The crisp blue and white cotton kimonos and slippers en suite are especially nice touches.
Top tips for first time travelers?
Always have your hotel business card on you to show your taxi driver. Use the very efficient metro whenever possible. Signs are in English and Japanese. If you’re confused, take photos of the signs to track your way back. Ask your hotel concierge to write the address of your destination in Japanese. If you lose your way, ask a passerby for help.