Ritzy business: A review of The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto

May 2, 2020

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During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. Instead, we have been publishing a selection of our most popular reviews from the past year. However, as of this week we have resumed the publication of new, previously unpublished  flighthotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken before the lockdown. We hope this will help you choose once we’re all ready to start booking trips again.

Recently, I’ve become a Ritz-Carlton fiend, booking RC-branded properties around the world. That wasn’t the case before the Marriott/SPG merger but one of the very few Ritz-Carlton hotels I’d visited was this property in Kyoto, Japan and I was eager to return with friends.

In This Post

Booking

Regardless of when you visit, you’ll pay a lot for a night at The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto. At best, the property can be booked for 70,000 points — Marriott’s off-peak rate for Category 8 hotels — worth $560, based on TPG’s valuations. If you’re paying cash, I’ve seen rates as low as $660 but you’ll often pay well over $1,000 per night.

Because we booked before Marriott’s Category 8 pricing went into effect, we were able to lock in the old 60,000-point nightly rate — as of last March the standard rate for a night at The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto is 85,000 points and can climb as high as 100,000 on peak dates.

The hotel is also a member of Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts program — you’ll score perks like complimentary breakfast, a room upgrade, early check-in and late checkout, and a $100 property credit if you book and pay via Amex FHR using The Platinum Card® from American Express.

Location

The Ritz-Carlton sits beside the Kamo River, near plenty of restaurants, bars and several of the neighborhoods you’ll probably end up exploring, including Gion, a roughly 20-minute walk.

Coming from Kobe, we arrived at Kyoto Station and decided to make the 45-minute walk north along the river. Unless the weather is spectacular, you might want to take a taxi instead.

Check-in

Since I’d stayed before, I immediately felt at home — the warm lighting, crisp lines and even the lobby bonsai tree brought back memories of a fantastic trip with my mom.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been more in love with the design of a hotel — the attention to detail really shines through, from the entrance to the lobby to the guest room floors.

Thanks to Bonvoy Ambassador status, we were entitled to a number of perks, the first of which was the ability to complete the check-in process in the room.

Room

Guests booking a base room with Bonvoy points will end up in the Deluxe category with a spacious 538 square feet.

As Ambassador guests, we received an upgrade to an even larger Grand Deluxe Kamogawa River View room, including two double beds.

The space was efficiently utilized — a large sofa occupied much of the floor plan, along with a table and chairs by the window.

Our room also had a balcony facing the river, which came in handy for my friend’s frequent early-morning work calls.

The bathroom was large as well, with a double vanity and plenty of space to set everything out.

The combination shower/bathtub area was so spacious it felt like its own room — I loved the ambient lighting as well.

As with most luxury hotels in Japan, the bathroom was fully loaded with amenities, from shower caps to dental kits.

The room received bright natural light during the day and was transformed at night by lots of warm lighting.

Guests can adjust all of the lighting and the blinds using bedside controls. There’s also a two-prong outlet, making it easy to charge a smartphone as you sleep.

Food and beverage

There was a small mix of fruit as a welcome amenity when we arrived, along with two origami birds.

Tea and coffee was included as well — with more available on request.

There was also a large selection of paid beverages and snacks, but I know better than to go anywhere near the minibar at a Ritz-Carlton, especially with so many delicious Japanese treats just a few steps away.

Breakfast was included for Ambassador guests, which we were eager to try out.

With two mornings at our disposal, we decided to try out both of the breakfast options, starting with Mizuki, the hotel’s Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant.

Breakfast at Mizuki requires a reservation, so the staff knows how much food to prepare.

Our breakfast was a set menu, starting with a pot of delicate, boiled tofu.

Next, it was off to the races with a large assortment of Japanese treats, along with miso soup and a choice of white rice or porridge. Everything was delicious; it was just the right amount of food.

On the second morning, we dined at La Locanda, where a reservation is not required.

It has a full buffet, including a large selection of whole and cut fruit…

…and a number of cold items, ranging from salads to smoked salmon to cheese.

I could have easily gotten my fill from the buffet, but there was more to explore.

Guests also get to order from the a la carte menu.

I settled on the most incredible eggs Benedict — and immediately wished I had another morning to explore the rest of the menu.

I was truly impressed with the yolk:

You’ll find no shortage of incredible food elsewhere in Kyoto, but we did decide to stop by one afternoon for tea.

The tea service was also more affordable than I had expected — at 4,500 yen (about $40).

It was also apparently a big hit — there was only one order left by the time we arrived.

Amenities

We spent most of our waking hours out and about, but if you’re eating the way we were, you’ll need to work in some exercise time.

The hotel has a beautiful indoor pool, along with a well-equipped (but small) gym right around the corner.

Meanwhile, Wi-Fi is free throughout and speedy as well.

Service

The service is one of the highlights of a Ritz-Carlton stay and the Kyoto property did not disappoint. Although we had some difficulty getting a 20% Bonvoy discount on the afternoon tea service — which was ultimately resolved — all of the staff members we encountered were exceptionally outgoing and accommodating. I was craving carrot juice at breakfast, for example, and even though it wasn’t listed on the menu, the staff asked the kitchen to make some — without any additional charge.

Overall impression

As a Category 8 hotel, The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto comes with high expectations and the hotel delivered: The room was large and bright, the staff was fantastic and the complimentary breakfast was a treat.

Nonetheless, a trip to Kyoto can be far more affordable — there are countless rooms available on Airbnb for less than $100 per night and even the most luxurious options there can be booked for far less than the cost of a base room at The Ritz-Carlton. If the Ritz level of luxury is what you’re after, though, you know where to find it.

All photos by the author.

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