Japan has been on “the list” for years. We wanted to experience a society that feels mysterious, and the juxtaposing of modern and ancient drew us in. When we decided to do a big trip, Japan was it. We would finally get to see this amazing country first hand.
Now what to do with 8 days in a country that offers a tourist so much to experience? From Sapporo in the north down to Yonaguni in the south, each city, each island, each prefecture, has its own personality and attractions. Eight days didn’t feel like enough, but we wanted to see as much as we could while setting our own schedule. Narrowing down what to do was difficult, but for our first (because there will be a next time!) trip to Japan, we focused on Tokyo, Hakone, and Kyoto.
We landed in Tokyo in the early evening, our driver-in full suit and white gloves (we would soon find this was standard for taxi and transfers) was waiting for us with our name on a sign board. The journey to the hotel was about an hour and a half, we flew into Narita Airport, which is further from the city than Haneda, but our flight
options were better into Narita. When we arrived at the Hilton Tokyo, in Shinjuku we decided to take a nap then go to dinner. We didn’t wake up until the next day.
We woke up obnoxiously early the next day and went to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market (it opens at 5AM and you should go before 9AM to see the bustling of the market). It was overwhelming how perfectly the chaos was organized. There were people on carts taking the morning catches to the vendors, locals doing their shopping, and wares and fish I didn’t recognize. We wandered and watched and then had sushi for breakfast, although we passed on having a beer with our breakfast like many of locals were doing.
From the Fish Market, we hopped on the subway and ambled down Takeshita Street. This street is full of Japan’s latest fashions. Young adults and tourists were popping in and out of the many clothing shops and themed cafes. The street is famous for their crepes-we had to stop and have one.
Just a few blocks from Takeshita is the Meji Shrine. As the path to the shrine rambled on, we stopped in our tracks upon seeing the first tori gate welcoming us, and it hit us-we were in Japan. Hours ago, we meandered through a district that is a pop-culture bellwether and crossed the street to a shrine that was built in 1920. At the Shrine, we sauntered through the grounds and the gardens. The gardens were so tranquil, we had no inkling we were in the middle of a metropolis larger than New York City.
From the Shrine, we ventured to one of Tokyo’s most photographed areas- Shibuya Crossing. Even though we were there before evening rush hour, it was packed. We observed this perfectly orchestrated bedlam before doing a few crossings ourselves. There is a Starbucks that overlooks the crossing for an elevated view.
Our last day in Tokyo, we started our sightseeing at Hamarikyo Garden. This is well planned garden, where the flower species are staggered so there are blooms all year long. The garden is full of lakes and teahouses and even a duck-hunting blinds built in the late 1700s. After admiring the gardens and having a bit of serenity before getting back into the city, we boarding a boat to take us north to Asakusa. The hour-long boat ride was a great way to see Tokyo from a different perspective. You could see how the neighborhoods changed from sky-rise buildings to smaller homes. We even got to see where the ships dock at the fish market.
A few blocks from the dock is the Sensoji Temple. The complex is huge, with building and shopping everywhere you turn. Walking into the main hall feels otherworldly and the five storied pagoda looms over you. After taking in all we could at the Temple, we took a short subway ride to Skytree. Although very touristy, I’m glad we fit this into our itinerary. Skytree is hard to miss, it’s 2,080 feet high and you can go to the top observation deck, overlooking Tokyo at 1,480 feet. On a clear day, you can see Mt Fuji. This could be an all-day experience, there is tons of shopping from chopsticks to Pokémon and the views are absolutely stunning. It’s hard to imagine how massive Tokyo really is until you’re at the top seeing nothing but urban landscape.
Hakone is a onsen (hot spring) town about an hour and a half from Tokyo for locals and tourists alike. It feels very rural compared to Tokyo and while it would take three days to see everything, but we only had one. On our way to Hakone, we stopped at Odawara Castle. This was one of my favorite stops in Japan. It’s beautiful and the town feels sleepy. The museum at the Castle was full of ancient armor and relics. After touring the castle, we walked back to the train station and after a short ride, we were in Hakone.
Trains and gondolas are the way to get around in Hakone. At each stop, there’s a little village with shopping, restaurants, and hotels. We only had time to explore one and we chose the Owakudani Station. What’s interesting about this stop, is that you go over a volcanic area with sulfur vents. The smell is overwhelming and the landscape is eerie. There is hiking you can do in the area and even eat a hard-boiled egg that cooked in the steam of the vents that turn the egg shells black. After exploring, we got back on the gondola and took it to our ryokan.
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn dating back to the 8th century. There are all kinds you can book, but this was our splurge. Upon arrival, we left our shoes at the door as the floors were covered in tatami mats. We were seated in the bar and given a welcome drink as were checked in. When we arrived to our room, our hostess showed us how to dress in the provided yukata (bathing clothes). Then we were left to relax in our private onsen on the balcony of our room overlooking the mountains until dinner. This was a welcomed treat as were averaging 12 miles a day on foot. We would soak until we were too hot, cool down with a beer, then get back into the onsen until dinner time. If you would like to experience a public onsen there are a lot of etiquette rules that I’d be ecstatic to share.
Dinner was served in our room, and each of the 9 courses were better than the last-even if we didn’t recognize what we were eating. After dinner and another soak, we slept on traditional futons. The next morning, we were served a traditional Japanese breakfast in our room, then said goodbye to Hakone and the wonderful ryokan. Our stay marked one of the best cultural experiences we’ve had to date. We were off to Kyoto by bullet train. We spent the evening in Kyoto and had the best tonkotsu I’ve ever tried.
It was an early morning as met our driver at our hotel to take us to Miyajima Island Hiroshima. We arrived via bullet train to Hiroshima, then ferried to Miyajima Island where the Tori Gate in the water welcomed us. This is another place I wish we had all day to explore, as the water receded, you could walk right up to the gate. The town had so many specialties restaurants-we had oysters-and there was so much more to explore and so many deer to pet.
After our time on the Island, we went to the A-Bomb Dome and began our tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The A-Bomb Dome is sobering. As our guide let us take in the magnitude of which were seeing, she led us to the Children's Peace Monument, then the Museum. This day was certainly thought provoking and was wholeheartedly different then the wide-eyed days had already spent in Japan, I am fortunate we were able to absorb part of the history.
The next day, back in Kyoto, we took the train to Fushimi Inari. Stone foxes dominated the shrine, and everywhere you looked, there were orange tori gates-one after another- leading you to another part of the shrine. As we climbed up the mountain, there were offshoots of smaller shrines. The tori gates and shrines went all the way up the mountain. That evening, we were picked up from the hotel and taken to a restaurant across the city in the mountain foothills. The opened-air restaurant was situated next to the river, and after we were served another multi course meal, met two Maikos and watched them preform.
On our last full day, we ventured to Ryōan-ji Temple, dating back to 1450. We were there early-before the other tourists and school children, and it was so serine. You can wander the temple grounds, which takes you to a perfectly manicured rock garden. There are 15 rocks in this garden, and only 14 are viewable at any angle.
From Ryōan-ji Temple, we taxied to Arashiyama, which is just west of Kyoto. Arashiyama is an outdoor district where bicycling is popular. We began this part of our journey walking the paths of the bamboo forest and popping into the local shops that line the entrance and exists. From there, we found an amazing, small sushi restaurant for lunch. When my husband ordered the fatty tuna, the chef held the fish us for us to admire before slicing it. This was the best sushi we have ever tried and it took us months to have sushi after we came home-we were ruined.
It’s a good thing we had a solid lunch, because we then ventured to Monkey Park. You literally have to climb a mountain to get there. But when we made it to the summit, over 100 Japanese macaques were there to greet us. You can feed them from a building in the middle of the park but keep your distance when wondering the grounds! This is their home and they take no issue with running in front of you. Between being fascinated by the monkeys and the stunning views of Kyoto from the top of the mountain, the hike was worth it. We relaxed by the Togetsu-kyō Bridge taking in the gorgeous scenery until we made our way back to the hotel.
That evening, we wanted Kobe beef for dinner, and wanted to do it right. The hotel made us reservations (and delivered a package to our room with our reservation time, the address of the restaurant, and the best way to get there) at one of the best Kobe restaurants in Kyoto. The restaurant itself was very small-only seating about 15 guests. As the chef prepared our meal at the teppanyaki grill in front of us, he joked that he doesn’t catch eggs in his hat like the chefs in America.
The next morning was our last, and since our transfer wasn’t until the afternoon, we had time to explore Nijō Castle. We saw the shogun’s receiving rooms and gardens, then climbed the defense towers to get one last look at Kyoto before our flight home.
Our visit to Japan was one of our best trips yet. The culture, the people, the food, has left us wanting more. This didn’t feel like a vacation, it felt like we were transported to another world. We were able to come into contact with the ancient and modern of this country-happening all within the same day. Japan-we will see you again!
Carrie has many more stories to share of her journey to Japan! Contact her to learn more and begin planning your next bucket-list trip:
Send Carrie an email
This past October, Ensemble Travel Group and Carnival Cruise Line announced a new multi-year preferred supplier partnership. Ensemble Travel Group is a member-owned and member-run organization of approximately 850 top-tier, independent travel agencies including Brentwood Travel.
Carnival joins its North American sister brands Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Cunard and Seabourn as part of the World’s Leading Cruise Lines preferred supplier team with Ensemble Travel Group.
Missi Wilson, Marketing Associate, believes that a Carnival cruise is a perfect introduction to the world of cruising. ‘I had never cruised before or had even been out of the country until I sailed with Carnival when I was 18. They showed me just how fun cruising can be because it's such a unique form of travel. You're vacationing on the ship while you're going to your vacation spot. I'm definitely addicted to cruising after sailing with them"
Travel Consultant Maggie Groene absolutely agrees! When she was a young traveler, Maggie enjoyed three Carnival cruises with her family. "We chose Carnival because they have New Orleans as a cruise port. We have family in New Orleans, so before each cruise we would drive down and visit them. Each cruise we did an excursion in Cozumel, which is a great place for snorkeling. Because I was super young, the things that stood out to me were the towel animals in the room and the 24hr free ice cream machine."
Contact Maggie at 314-439-5700 ext. 120 or send her an email to book your next family cruise.
Benefits of Using an Ensemble-Member Travel Agent:
Imagine if you had the opportunity to speak with a globetrotter whose profession is wanderlust? Well, you can! Booking with an Ensemble-member Travel Agents can make your experience come to life with more travel experiences, promotions, and preferred suppliers.
Working with an Ensemble-member travel agent means access to a large selection of travel experiences catered to your unique style and preferences.
'Valentin Imperial Riviera Maya was incredible. Upon our arrival they offered an upgrade to the ocean front Imperial Suites. We took it and were so glad we did! Our rooms were on the 1st floor and walked straight out to the beach. We also liked that they were in a very quiet area and we felt we got a great deal.
We spent most of our days at the main pool. There were constant activities and you could choose to do as many as you wanted. The swim up bars were terrific and had top shelf liquor available. No one even thought of leaving the property of this all-inclusive resort.
The restaurants were amazing! They had great nightly entertainment and you could go to more than one restaurant a night if you wanted. We did appetizers at one place and main meal at another.
Everything involved with this trip was so smooth! Frontier Airlines was great and the Cancun airport has been totally renovated and was awesome. Transportation to the resort and back was also seamless.
A big thanks to our Travel Consultant Sue Deibel for everything. Highly recommended and we will return!'
Clients Steve and Patricia D. just returned this past weekend from their Star Clippers cruise and couldn't wait to share amazing pictures with their Travel Consultant Ashley Curry. Their two-week journey on the Royal Clipper whisked them away to several picturesque islands including Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and the Grenadines.
A voyage on a Star Clippers tall-ship is truly a unique travel experience. Think of it a as yacht-meets-sailboat cruise that’s guaranteed to provide you with luxury, comfort, adventure and indulgence all on the same trip. The 'informal elegance' is perfect for any traveler looking to enjoy the best of the Caribbean!
'Stacey Hoehne was amazing planning our honeymoon! She presented us with a ton of options prior to choosing St Lucia. She delivered information throughout our booking process and even made us a vacation cheat sheet folder. She picked amazing seats for us on our flight to and from St Lucia. I would have not changed a thing about our recent booking with Brentwood Travel!
Thanks so much Stacey for everything!'
Contact Stacey at 314-439-5700 ext. 128 or email her to start planning your honeymoon!
Did you know that Brentwood Travel offers a Honeymoon Registry? Click here to learn how your family and friends can help make your Honeymoon dreams come true!
When you work in the travel industry your resolution list doesn't always include just diet and exercise; instead, it's where to travel next! Some of our staff members shared where they hope to travel in 2018 that they had not visited before. We wish everyone a happy 2018 and we hope you complete your travel resolutions, too!
Allison Harper - Walt Disney World
Ashley Curry - Road trip to another state with a stop in Walt Disney's hometown, Marceline, MO
Cathy Robinson - Singapore and Italy
Cheryl Hegger - Adriatic and Baltic
Emily Medina - Galapagos Central Islands & Inca Discovery tour to see Machu Picchu
Jennifer Wilmes - Alaskan tour
Joanie Ramey - Napa, CA by way of Sacramento, CA; Phoenix, AZ; Destin, FL; Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Maggie Groene - Alaska and Punta Cana
Mickey Gaona - Portugal
Missi Wilson - Anywhere on a cruise
Stacey Hoehne - Hawaii
Susan Hakenjos - Meditation and wellness trip in India
To book your 2018 resolution trip contact one of our excellent specialists at 314-439-5700, or visit our Contact Us page.
"Booking our trip to Mexico with Stacey Hoehne was really easy. I gave her a couple dates and a price and she got exactly what we wanted. It was even a little under budget!
We stayed at Secrets Capri in Cancun. We really liked that it was a smaller resort and there was always plenty of space by the pool and on the beach. There was rarely a wait for any restaurants or the bar and all the employees were extremely helpful.
Stacey answered all my questions leading up to our trip and provided valuable information and advice we needed for our first trip to Mexico.'
Contact Stacey at 314-439-5700 ext. 128 or email her and start planning an all-inclusive vacation to paradise!
Of the survey respondents, 43 percent said world events such as terrorism, protests, and election results have had “little to no change” in their travel bookings for 2017 and 2018. Thirty-four percent of the respondents indicated their clients were placing a greater reliance on booking with a travel professional; 32 percent noted an increased interest in lesser-known destinations for their vacations; and 31 percent reported an increase in travel insurance bookings. Members could choose multiple answers for the question.
“These positive survey results tell us that in spite of some very challenging world events – both natural and manmade – most consumers are resolute in carrying through with their travel plans,” said Stephanie Turner, President & CEO of Brentwood Travel. “We’re particularly encouraged by the metrics that showcase a travel advisor’s expertise because this tells us consumers understand a professional’s value given our world’s ever-changing conditions.”
In addition, the appeal of experiential travel continues to resonate with consumers. When asked what is more important to the majority of clients – price or experience – the latter was the clear preference as 70 percent of respondents selected experience, compared to a distant 30 percent opting for price.
Survey results also indicate 2018 to be a banner year ahead across all travel segments, with 66 percent of respondents expecting total travel bookings to increase compared to an already strong 2017 where 64 percent of those questioned expect bookings to be up this year.
To find out how to book your next trip with one of our excellent Travel Consultants, please contact us at 314-439-5700 or via email.
What are the real facts about REAL ID? REAL ID has been around since 2005 and is a federal mandate requiring that every state must issue more secure ID cards to its residents. This will effect the type of identification needed for air travel but luckily there is time to get ready for this change for Missouri travelers.
For a license or identification card to be REAL ID compliant, the state issuing it must incorporate anti-counterfeit technology into the card, verify the applicant’s identity, and conduct background checks for employees involved in issuing driver’s licenses.
Starting October 1, 2020 every air traveler will need a REAL ID compliant license for domestic air travel. A new Missouri law took effect this past August and gives residents the option to receive a compliant driver's license well before this deadline takes place. Visit the Missouri Department of Revenue website for up-to-date information on how to apply for a REAL ID compliant card.
Right now travelers do not need to adjust their travel plans or rush out to get a new driver’s license or a passport for domestic air travel. Residents of all states are still able to use a state-issued driver’s license or identification card for domestic air travel.
The Transportation Security Administrator also lists 15 alternatives that will also be accepted at airport security checkpoints after the REAL ID mandate is in effect. And the Transportation Security Administration will not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States.
Even if you don’t have proper ID, Transportation Security Administration rules clarify that you may be allowed to fly. You will need to complete a form with your name and current address or may be asked additional questions to confirm your identity. The Transportation Security Administrator can also confirm your identity through a publicly available database.
If you are concerned that your state-issued driver’s license or photo ID may not be accepted by TSA, we recommend that you apply for a REAL ID compliant card ahead of your planned travel dates. Our experienced travel consultants are available at 314-439-5700 to help you navigate all of these upcoming changes.
This past October, my boyfriend Scott and I went on a trip to Negril, Jamaica to experience the pure luxury of Couples Swept Away. This is my second trip to this magical island and my boyfriend’s 14th time and we were spoiled and pampered at this all-inclusive resort perfectly located on Seven Mile Beach.
Traveling with Apple Vacations to Jamaica made our journey easy and relaxing. We were able to take a non-stop chartered flight from St. Louis to Montego Bay with XTRA airways. The flight was 3.5 hours and we landed around 12:30pm, right on time to make the most of our first day in Jamaica.
We decided to use Club Mobay which is a fast-track service and is something we highly recommend. Our meet and greet representative, Wayne, met us right at the entrance to the airport with a warm smile and our names easily visible on a large sign. He then guided us through the lines of people waiting through immigration, customs, and the baggage claim and straight to a private lounge where we waited for our van.
The lounge also had a kid friendly area for families complete with toys and electronics which I know I would I would have used if we had our kiddos along for the trip. We had enough time to enjoy a cool drink and some yummy snacks when we were told our van was ready to take us straight to our resort.
The ride to Negril only took about 45 minutes and we listened to reggea music and watched the beauty of the island unfold before our eyes. Once we arrived at Couples Swept Away, I knew right away it was a place designed to please the eye and soul. The colors of the lobby were soft and serene and the sound of palm trees blowing in the breeze was hypnotic.
We were invited into an open air room with comfy chairs and given glasses of champaign which made us feel very VIP. A representative of the resort gave us an overview of the property including the location of their six restaurants and how the resort worked on a cashless system. In other words, we were encouraged to lock up our wallets in the safe provided in our room as they would not be needed during our stay.
We were then given the key to our garden verandah room and took one of many lush paths to discover our new home for the next week.
Our room was very tranquil and featured high ceilings, ceiling fans, and a large covered porch that had an amazing jungle view. It was just a quick one minute walk to the beach were we were always greeted with the turquois water of the Caribbean. There were plenty of beach chairs available as well as large rafts that could be brought straight out to the water to float on the waves. As much as Scott loves being on the beach, the sun is not always very kind back to him and he was relieved to find several shady areas with straw-covered umbrellas.
The food at Couples Swept Away was a major highlight during our stay. We loved the options at the full buffet for breakfast which included omelet stations as well as traditional Jamaican dishes such as fried plantains. A real treat was Seagrapes Cafe which served vegetarian options and was located beach side. The sweet potato chips were addictive and we also discovered delicious coco bread which is stuffed with cheese and peppers and served with a ginger chutney sauce.
For dinner, we tried two of the specialty restaurants: Lemongrass and Patois Patio which served delicious Meditterrian entrees. Lemongrass was our favorite and required a reservation which was easy to schedule with a quick visit to the front desk. The food was ala cart and Thai inspired and the flavors and portions were all spot on. The view was just as equally incredibly as it looked over the pool and was lit with lanterns and tiki torches.
Even though we never left the resort, there were plenty of activities for us to try. Excursion schedules are posted daily and you just need to sign-up one ahead to take part. Scuba diving has been on my travel to do list and the resort offered a FREE class to get a taste. We started out getting suited up and had a lesson of essential skills in their pool. Once we completed that and felt comfortable, we were led to a shallow area near the beach where we saw starfish. It was a huge thrill!
We also enjoyed a glass bottom boat ride out to the reef. Our guide was very entertaining and informative on the types of sea life we were able to see including all types of coral, sting rays, and even a sea turtle which can be rare to view. During the day there was a menu of classes offered throughout the resort including basket weaving, wood carving, jewelry making, and morning yoga.
We also enjoyed the martini bar which always had a fun crowd watching the bartenders make a variety of mixed drinks. The martini bar also had a perfect view of the dance floor where different entertainment groups including reggae bands, dancers, and steel drummers would perform nightly.
One evening, we enjoyed a bonfire on the beach which included wine tasting and live guitar music. It was a perfect and romantic way to end a day in paradise.
I would highly recommend Couples Swept Away as a place for couples to unwind and reconnect. The people were incredible friendly and we enjoyed making instant friendships with other guests and the staff at the resort. No matter where you were, you could hear singing and laughter and I felt like it was a place where I belonged and wanted to stay for a long time.
Call one of our expert travel consultants at 314-439-5700 and be swept away to Jamaica with Apple Vacations.
Brentwood Travel Vacation Experts
In the 60 years since Brentwood Travel was founded in 1957, we've grown into the largest, full-service travel agency in the Greater St. Louis area. No matter what your travel needs may be, our consultants will be able to assist you.