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TPG Contributor Richard Kerr has grown skeptical of luxury hotels promising to do all but make him royalty, and generally lowers his expectations before staying at a property for the first time. But The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa in Okinawa, Japan has restored his optimism: though surrounded by dense jungle, it feels more like an oasis in a vast, dry desert.
Located an hour drive north of Naha Airport (OKA) on the Japanese island of Okinawa, a short two-hour flight south of Tokyo, The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa opened in 2012 after taking over the 2009-built property from a Japanese hotelier. Set on the grounds of the Kise Country Club, the hotel features a fantastic par-3 course right in front, with the green perched just past a lake. While not located directly on the beach, it’s a only a two-minute drive down the hill to a pristine beach shared with the Bankoku Shinyro-kan convention facility—the site of the 2000 G8 summit.
The hotel feels rather intimate, with 97 guest rooms divided into five room types. With 78 rooms, the Deluxe category dominates here. Bay Deluxe versions are set on higher floors with better views of the adjacent bay, while Premier Deluxe rooms are a bit larger and set on the top floors, along with the Presidential and Ritz-Carlton suites. On the hotel’s ground level, each of the eight Cabana rooms has its own terrace and private outdoor whirlpool, as well direct access to the outdoor pool.
Deluxe rooms start at 36,000 yen/$357, including taxes and service charge; as you increase room category, you add another 10,000 yen/$80 per night. All room rates include a full breakfast buffet at the delicious Gusuku restaurant.
The hotel has only one Ritz-Carlton Suite and one Presidential Suite, and during my stay, I asked to tour both. While not overpowering with lavish fixtures or in-your-face bling, I feel they offer a refined sense of luxury with incredible views and amazing private whirlpool decks. Just be aware that these two rooms are are rarely found available online—if interested, consider inquiring via phone or email.
Booking & Check-In Experience
Award nights at The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa start at 60,000 points, and could be a solid use of your Marriott balance given the cost of this property throughout the year. I used The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card to pay the bill and earn 5 points per dollar spent, and I also used the $100 property credit that comes with the card. With the card’s limited-time sign-up bonus of 140,000 points last New Year’s, and the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, I’m well on my way to Marriott’s Flight and Hotel package redemption.
When I pulled up to the property’s 24/7 complimentary valet parking service, I was somehow greeted by name, then escorted into the lobby. Partially open to the outside, the lobby and its public spaces encircle a huge, shallow pool studded with lights and trees; this one-of-a-kind water feature created the best first impression I’ve ever had at a hotel.
A front desk agent greeted me with a cool towel and Okinawan sanpin tea, thought to promote longetivity. After a quick check-in process, a bellman took my luggage and escorted me to my room on the ground floor. The lobby and restaurants are actually on the third floor of the property, so we rode the elevator down; after I checked out the view of the golf course right outside my room, my escort explained the many high tech features of the room, then wished me a pleasant stay.
My first room was a Deluxe on the first floor, identical to 77 other Deluxe rooms in the hotel. Divided in half by a wall with working desk and TV, on one side was the largest bed I’ve ever seen, and on the other was a fantastic bathroom with tub, rainfall shower, and double sink.
The room was stocked with robes as well as slippers in my size and my wife’s size, and a pair meant for little kids—still too big for my 4-month-old but an awesome touch, nonetheless. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Nespresso machine, standard in every room.
After our third night, a Bay Deluxe room opened up, and while the layout was identical to my initial room, the views of the surrounding hills and water were absolutely fantastic. Every Bay Deluxe room has a balcony, though I would call it more of a porch with seating furniture and a table.
Nightly turndown service laid out our slippers by our bed, and on our pillows, left chocolates and a weather forecast card for the next day.
The hotel has some of the top-ranked restaurants on the entire island of Okinawa, impressive for such a small property. There are a total of five dining areas on the property, but my favorite was the aforementioned Gusuku (“castle,” in local lingo), which has all-day dining and specializes in Okinawan cuisine. It hosts a breakfast buffet each morning with Western and Asian options as well as cooked-to-order eggs. I had Okinawan Beef curry one night and Okinawan Taco Rice on another, and both were fantastic, and made entirely with locally produced ingredients.
The executive chef of the property is Italian and unsurprisingly, runs the hotel’s very popular Italian restaurant, Chura-Nuhji. There’s also a very expensive yet still fully-booked teppanyaki restaurant, Kise, where every party gets their own chef and table-front grilling experience. A cozy, oak-paneled space simply known as The Bar is located on the fifth floor, and requires guest room key access in order to enter; it stays open until midnight serving fancy cocktails, and features a sushi night once a week. Located just off the entrance to the hotel on the main level, The Lobby Lounge has great coffees and afternoon tea service, as well as the ability to remove its walls and make an open-air, semi-covered space with incredible views.
The Ritz-Carlton Spa by ESPA was voted the number one spa in Japan for 2014. In order to reach the spa, you have to walk through a low-lit walkway that I began to call “the tunnel of luxury,” as well as a traditional Japanese garden with multiple water features, finally arriving at the spa’s grand entrance behind the hotel.
With a comprehensive treatment menu that includes pre- and post-natal care (the latter of which my wife begged for), as well as a small gym, indoor lap pool, outdoor cabanas, whirlpool and bar, the spa is a destination in itself.
While the Japanese are generally known for subdued but solid service, Okinawans proudly maintain their own culture, different from that you’ll find on mainland Japan. Within my first day here, everyone knew me by name and struck the perfect balance of hospitality by displaying a sophisticated, respectful warmth that made me feel that each staff member truly cared about me and my family. For instance, the lobby lounge attendants would spontaneously offer to hold my son so that my wife and I could linger over our cappuccinos and savor the hill-top views.
On the third night, I struck up a conversation with a staff member who, unbeknownst to me at the time, was the hotel’s rooms director. An hour later, he personally drove me to a local restaurant using the hotel’s complimentary driving service (offered to nearby restaurants and attractions) and set up an amazing dinner of local Okinawan cuisine.
The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa is a beautiful property that has the setting, decor and service of a true five-star hotel. It was a treat to visit a hotel that made me feel that all is right in the world.
Planning a trip to Japan? Also check out:
Best Value Destinations for 2015
Best Mileage Transfer Partners For Awards To Japan
How to Use Airline Miles for Award Travel to Tokyo
10 Reasons I Love Tokyo
Hotel Review: The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto
What To Do in Kyoto (Anytime But Winter)
Know before you go.
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