31 January 2013

Tokyo without the Dreamliner

I had planned this trip a few months ago, once I had seen the announced schedule for United's Dreamliner deployment.  Even after there was a subsequent announcement about delayed deployment, the Los Angeles-Tokyo route still was on schedule.  And up to two days before my departure, the Dreamliner was still flying (the route had officially started a couple of weeks earlier as planned).  But like it or not, the Dreamliners were grounded the day before my departure to Tokyo.  Since the whole point of routing through LAX was to fly the Dreamliner, I called up United Global Services and they easily moved me to the non-stop flights between SFO-NRT.  I had also checked for upgrades to First (they were available) and asked to upgrade.  Normally, the only way to upgrade with my fare code is to use miles and a copy.  But since I was "inconvenienced", they let me upgrade using my Global Premier Upgrades.

The plane turned out to be very full.   There were several people who had also planned to be on the LA flight (the flight status showed there was no replacement plane out of LAX).  There were at least 4 flight attendants sitting with me in First.  We left a little late, but arrived in Tokyo close to the scheduled time.    The flight service was nice and they had the new turn down service, so sleeping was pretty easy to do after lunch and watching "The Campaign".

There was no line at immigration, so the landing formalities did not take very long.  I exited Customs, made the left turn to the ATM machines for some cash, and then headed straight down the escalators.  My choice this time for transfer to my hotel was the Keisei Skyliner and then the JR Yamanote line to Shinjuku Station.  It is possible to take the Narita Express to Shinjuku Station via Tokyo station, but the Skyliner plus local train is a little cheaper and maybe a little faster, depending upon the timing.  The only advantage the Narita Express train offers is that you don't run into potentially crowded trains.  Since it was mid-afternoon, I didn't think crowding would be too bad (it wasn't). At Shinjuku Station, there is a shuttle bus to the Tokyo Hilton, but I didn't remember exactly where it stops, so I just walked it (underground).

The Hilton granted my paid upgrade request to a Tower Suite, so I had a very nice space for my stay, including a nice view of Mt. Fuji.

Surprisingly small bathroom

The days were surprisingly clear during my stay

The Executive Lounge is very nice at the Tokyo Hilton.  There is usually a nice variety of food offerings.  The only drawback is that it can get crowded in the evening.

This was going to be a short stay, and I had a few things I wanted to do.  These included shopping for a unique retirement gift (I failed), dining at a highly-rated restaurant (I succeeded), spend some time at a Japanese onsen (traditional hot springs bathhouse, one located in Tokyo -- also succeeded), and find baby Japanese peaches to take home (also succeeded).  I also tried to get into an exhibit I heard about at the last minute, called Spaceball. It's a sphere where you stand on a platform inside and they project a movie around you for 10 minutes.  Unfortunately I was not able to get in and that was its last week in Tokyo.  If it was that popular, I'm sure it will be back.

My dinner at Pierre Gagnaire at the ANA Intercontinental was very nice.

Oysters and scallops

Duck foie gras with ice cream

Cheese course
Dessert Part 1
Dessert Part 2

Dessert Part 3

The baby peaches were kind of a big goal for me.  I have had them at The Bazaar in Beverly Hills and at the Tapas Molecular Bar in Tokyo. After searching on the Internet, the only place I could find them was a mail order shop in Tokyo.  I looked at many food stores in Tokyo with no luck.  My massage therapist in Tokyo helped me out and called the shop up (since they probably only spoke Japanese) and arranged for an order (one jar) to be delivered to my hotel.  They actually delivered the next day while I was out.  The hotel paid them and charged the cost to my room, so it all worked out very smoothly.

My return trip to the airport used the same conveyances I used to get to the hotel, except I took the Hilton shuttle bus (leaves every 20 minutes) to Shinjuku Station.  I took the Yamanote line to Ueno Station where I walked across the street to the Keisei Skyliner station.  At the airport, the formalities were quickly done, especially with the First Class security line and no immigration line.  It gave me a bit more time to shop duty free and then grab a snack in the First Class lounge before boarding my flight.

The flight home was okay.  The crew did not offer turn down service and the flight was very fast (the route was almost straight across the Pacific instead of heading northeast towards Alaska.  It was also fairly bumpy a good part of the way.  But we arrived early and Global Entry got me through immigration quickly (even though I had to deal with a new software interface on the kiosks).

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