Hyatt Diamond membership is valuable because they have suite upgrade vouchers which one could use to guarantee a suite for your stay upon making any reservation. As luck would have it, the Hyatt Regency Hakone has the Regency Suite available for my stay, and I was able to redeem one of the four given annually for a suite upgrade.
Leaving Kyoto slightly after breakfast allows us to reach the JR Kyoto station just in time for the 11:30am train to Odawara. Hyatt Regency Kyoto has a shuttle bus service that will pick guests up from Odawara station at 2:15pm. As the Shinkansen we will be taking arrives at Odawara around 1:40pm, we would have more than enough time to catch the shuttle bus which we had to register with the hotel concierge.
The Shinkansen is definitely one of the reason why I enjoy travelling in Japan as moving from cities is just so easy and convenient. Upon disembarking from the comfortable cabin of the Shinkansen, we looked for the monument as that is where the shuttle bus will pick guests up from. I even had time to buy the Hakone Free Pass from the Odawara station first! My sister had some time to even buy some bread from the bakery for some snack on the way to the hotel. I spotted the bus while waiting and turns out that the bus arrives early today and ticks off a list of names who have registered for the ride to the hotel. We waited for another a couple more guests as there was still time.
Right at 2:15pm, the bus departed and it was perhaps a 40 minutes ride to the hotel through some winding roads which can cause a headache if you suffer from motion sickness. Arriving at the hotel, I was assisted immediately with the luggage and the receptionist whisked me inside to complete the check-in process. The process went by very fast and the lady who checked me in proceeded to escort me to my room, explaining the Diamond amenities and pointing out the facilities of the hotel as we passed by. There is a main ‘living room’ lounge where wi-fi is provided, as rooms do not have individual wi-fi. But then again most guests are here to relax so I surmise wi-fi is the least of their concern. The izumi spa and onsen is on the adjacent wing of the hotel which can be accessed via the lower lobby floor where all the restaurants are located. The reception desk is on the upper lobby floor, along with the main entrance. There is also a small library that can act as a quiet corner for guests when people are dining in the ‘living room’.
Being assigned a Regency Suite, I checked if there is the possibility of seeing Mt Fuji from our room and the receptionist did say it is possible on a clear day. Access to the suite is by the traditional key, and not a key card. Upon entrance, the first thing that greets guests is the foyer where clogs have been prepared for guests to use. There are some cabinets to store your stuff here. The foyer leads to a huge living room with slightly curved windows, while an alcove behind the foyer is furnished with 2 sets of work desks and chairs. Beside the living room is a walk-in closet where the receptionist showed us the set yukatas that are meant for use within the hotel compounds and the ones to be used for sleeping. The hotel also provides matching pouches to hold your belongings while using the yukatas which is a nice touch!
The bathroom is connected to the walk-in closet and while the rest of the suite is stellar, the bathroom is good. There is a spacious walk-in shower where the tub is also located at. The long console is fitted with one sink and the rest of the space is meant as a dressing table. The toilet is located at the other end of the closet with its own small sink, again another attention to detail.
My favourite part of the room is probably the bedroom which has a nice enclosed balcony furnished with a table and 2 chairs. It would be a great place for tea while admiring the 270-degree view of the valley as the corner location of the suite allows for this. A large bottle of water is provided complimentary for guests along with tea as well as teapots and boiler.
One of the reasons to visit this property is the indoor onsen located on the second floor of the west wing of the hotel. The hotel also provides complimentary drinks in the ‘living room’ lounge from 4pm to 7pm with coffee, tea and juices in the morning from 7am to 10am. There is also a fireplace in the center of the living room and the seats around it is always highly coveted amongst guests.
During my stay here, I was actually able to have the onsen all to myself at night between 9-9:30pm, so this was really appreciated since guests are expected to be completely naked inside the onsen.
Breakfast was included for Diamond members and like the St Regis Osaka, there was a choice of a Japanese breakfast set. There was a nominal supplement for choosing the Japanese breakfast so we chose the Japanese set for the first day and had the buffet for the second day. The Japanese breakfast set consisted of rice, grilled mackerel, miso soup, poached egg, fruits and assorted pickles. It was good, but not comparable to the one we had at St Regis Osaka. The breakfast buffet spread in the hotel was adequate and I noticed that the bread and pastries were actually sourced from the same bakery as in the Odawara Station exit.
As I mentioned earlier, I had gotten for me and my sister a 2-day Hakone Freepass that could be used to take the public transport around Hakone along with the ropeway, cable car and sightseeing cruise at Lake Ashi. This is highly recommended for guests staying in Hakone for 2 days or more. I believe there is also a package for a day trippers that includes a return ticket from Shinjuku station in Tokyo. When in Hakone, the Lake Ashi cruise and the ride on the cable car (which is called the Hakone Ropeway to avoid confusing it with the funicular cable car) is a must since the views are pretty awesome under the right weather conditions. On the day we decided to head to Lake Ashi, it was cloudy in the morning though the weather cleared to give way to wonderful blue skies. From the Hyatt Regency Hakone, we had to walk slightly uphill to Kami Gora Station which is the 2nd last stop for the funicular cable car ride between Gora 強羅 Station and Sounzan 早雲山 Station. Upon reaching Sounzan 早雲山, we boarded the ropeway up to Owakudani 大涌谷 station before heading downhill to Togendai 桃源台. From the ropeway, it is a good vantage point over the rest of Owakudani.
Upon reaching Togendai, there was a short wait queueing for the next Hakone Sightseeing Cruise departure. Togendai can serve as a stopover point as there are some souvenir shops, photo booths and a restaurant in the station. There was also a stamp booklet where visitors can collect stamps featuring characters from Doraemon from the various points of interests such as the major ropeway, train and ferry stations. I think people buying the Hakone Freepass might only be entitled to a return trip (two times journey) on the sightseeing cruise. On the map included with the Freepass, the cruise is meant to run between Togendai, Hakonemachi and Moto-Hakone, and as I meant to stop at Moto-Hakone, I didn’t alight after the ship stopped at Hakonemachi. But it turns out the ship is returning to Togendai. This meant I ended up plying the Togendai-Hakonemachi route 3 times, and perhaps the route to Moto-Hakone doesn’t run in winter, but I did not proceed to find out why. However this meant I was able to board both variety of the ‘pirate’ ship that cruises Lake Ashi and there was definitely photo opportunities from the deck with all sorts of ornaments to keep kids occupied onboard. The view from the cruise was also spectacular especially in sunset on our return trip.
Hakonemachi is a suburb of Hakone and located at the southern end of Lake Ashi. There are a couple of hotels, a post office and a large tourist center selling all sorts of snacks and specialty foodstuffs including the black eggs that Hakone is famous for. While we did not try the eggs, we had lunch of Hot Soba in the noodle restaurant beside the tourist center. After lunch, the skies kind of cleared up and we visited the Hakone Checkpoint 箱根関所, a sort of tourist attraction which is meant to replicate the checkpoints during the Edo period where Hakone serves as a major crossing between Kyoto and Edo (ancient Tokyo). It was an average attraction at best, but visitors can climb up to a viewpoint between the display area and a small museum showcasing artifacts from Hakone’s past as a major checkpoint. It was a beautiful view of Lake Ashi as the skies cleared and the sun sets!
As the sun was setting, and we did not want to miss the last ship back to Togendai, we headed back to Hakonemachi Terminal to board the ‘pirate ship’ back to Togendai, and we were rewarded with a sunset view of Mount Fuji from the ropeway between Togendai and Ubako station.
Before returning to the hotel, we stopped by for dinner at Itoh Dining by Nobu and had a nice set dinner, though we were the only diners in the restaurant which is a short walk away from Koen-Shimo Station along the Hakone Cable Car between Gora and Sounzan. Hakone is a pretty nice place as a break away from the city to enjoy the onsens, views of the valley and a day cruising Lake Ashi. The best motivation for me though was the onsen as it was an amazing experience not to be missed while in Japan!