This is my first ever tour group review, and also my first ever tour group that I joined since 2006.
This tour that I participated in was made up of 2 different groups with a common itinerary for the first 7 days. The second group however will diverge on day 6 as they will have another 3 extra days exploring the northern part of Hokkaido (10 days 8 notes).
The tour is a fully guided tour with full meals on board (except 2 meals for the 7D 5N tour). The local (Malaysia) tour guide is Cammy while a local tour guide in Japan (Kelvin) took care of the group throughout the journey in Japan.
Our itinerary was as follow
Day 1 – Assemble in KLIA2, with a direct flight to CTS on D7 550
Day 2 – arrival in CTS: Salmon fish farm –> cultural village (with lunch) –> Noboribetsu (Date Jidaimura and Hell Valley) –> Lake Toya (overnight in Sunpalace Lake Toya)
Day 3 – Lake Toya –> Bear Range –> Hakodate (Motomochi Park and Mount Hakodate) (overnight in Hakodate Heiseikan Kaiyote)
Day 4 – Hakodate (Hakodate morning market) –> Onuma Park –> Shikabe Geyser –> Niseko (Green Leaf Resort)
Day 5 – Niseko –> Mount Yotei (extra) –> Fukidashi Park (extra) –> Otaru (Otaru Canal, Steam clock) –> Sapporo (Premier Hotel)
Day 6 – Sapporo (Shiroikobito Park) –> Premium Outlet –> Chitose (Air Terminal Hotel)
Day 7 – Sapporo back to KLIA2
Pace of tour
This tour is very typical Asian style; fast paced with focus mainly on photo taking of sights and shopping. Such tours are catered towards middle-aged Asians who generally prefer to see more things / go to more places within the given time. We tend to wake up early (6:30am) for an early departure (8:30am) to try to make use of the time (as sun sets at about 5:30 pm daily). Kudos to both the drivers and local guide (Kelvin) who was able to fit in all the places of interest stipulated within the itinerary. They were able to add in additional stops too without the driver needing to drive at a break neck speed. The driver drove safely throughout the trip without the need for frequent acceleration and deceleration (which can induce a lot of nausea). I generally dislike very tight itinerary for my travel and hence my preference for free & easy arrangements. As my parents are in their mid 70s, it is more convenient for them to join a fully guided tour.
The tour was made more pleasant with a group of very pleasant, fun-loving and time-abiding tour mates. Even though we had a group of 33 people, we were never late more than 10 minutes from the time given to us. This helped a lot in trying to reach our destinations on time.
Our transport throughout the trip was a standard 44/48 seater bus in a 2-2 configuration. Seat pitch was a little short (similar to the pitch one would get on a budget economy class flight). As there were only 33 of us, it still managed to accommodate everyone comfortably as some of us get 2 seats per person. The bus is not equipped with any onboard lavatory.
Generally, the accommodation choices were acceptable, though not great. A breakdown of the review of the hotels is as follow:
- Toya Sunpalace – A very big resort that is situated just next to Lake Toya. Hence lake facing rooms will get a splendid view of the lake and the mountains behind. Those facing the lake will get a good glimpse of the daily fireworks display that is scheduled at 7:45pm. The lobby looks clean, spacious and modern. The hotel comprises 2 wings – Sunpalace wing and Crystal wing. The Crystal wing looks more dated, is served by 2 rather slow and small lift (which is a bottle neck given the volume of visitors the resort can accommodate) and the rooms furnishing has shown a considerable amount of wear and tear. The crystal wing rooms have very low entrance (those above 1.75 meter will need to watch their head). Tatami (instead of bed) is provided. Despite sleeping on the floor, it was quite comfortable. Food is buffet style in a very large dining room – however, it can get quite chaotic depending on season (during high season, expect bigger crowds and hence longer waiting time to be seated and more chaos at the buffet queue). The main draw of this hotel is the Onsen (comprising both indoor and outdoor pools). Besides the Onsen, there is a very big indoor water park, a games room and a small souvenir shop in the lobby. At night, guests are treated to a Polynesian dance show featuring topless, muscular men and scantily clad ladies dancing to Tahitian beats.
- Kaiyote Hakodate – another Onsen hotel that is a little far from central Hakodate. Again, the rooms feature tatami style accommodation. We had our dinner and breakfast in the hotel restaurant which was buffet style. The selections were not as extensive as that of Toya Sunpalace, but I would rate the quality slightly better. It has both western and Japanese fare (including sashimi and tempura). The Onsen is located at the top floor and is smaller than Sunpalace’s (as the hotel is much smaller).
- Green Leaf Niseko – Niseko is well known to be a skiing resort in Hokkaido. However, October was still too early for any snow, hence the peaks were still green. Green leaf hotel is located in the same compound as Hilton and both hotels are connected via a shuttle service. The room could accommodate 2 person quite comfortably (and also our first hotel to feature a proper bed). Toilet again was small (seems to be a typical feature of most mainstream Japanese hotels). We had our breakfast here, which was again buffet style. Choices were smaller but quality was much better than the previous 2 hotels.
- Premier Hotel Sapporo – our most modern accommodation so far (but also the smallest). I could not even spread my luggage open on the floor. Being a modern hotel, beds instead of tatamis were used. The bed and pillow was less comfortable than that of Green Leaf’s. Breakfast was buffet style but it has the smallest selections among the four hotels we have stayed in so far. Food wasn’t particularly great.
- New Chitose Air Terminal Hotel – I have described this hotel in detail on a separate review and will not write anymore of it here.
The tour covered all (almost) meals except for 1 lunch and 1 dinner. I am not a great fan of buffet hence the food choices featuring buffet dinners will be a minus point of the tour (for those who enjoy buffet, this will be a plus point instead). My favourite meals were the steamed chicken meal outside the cultural village, the tendon and udon combo set meal lunch in Hakodate and the teppanyaki set dinner in Niseko. The barbecue lunch in Sapporo was alright while the buffets were my least favourite. The best fare was our added option of a piece of Grade 5 Kobe Beef, a piece of wild Hokkaido Abalone and the Sashimi combo (blue fin tuna, prawn and scallop). The scallop and beef were delivered fresh to the restaurant and prepared for us by the chef. Of course, it cost us a fair bit of money too!
This is my first time to Hokkaido and as I have not made any search prior to my travel, I was completely clueless to what are the must see sights in Hokkaido. Given the distance we had to travel, we managed to cover all the sights stated in the itinerary (with additional stops too). Being a typical Asian style tour, this is an on-the-go tour. Once we reach a destination, we get down for 4 things: eat, photo, shop and sleep. We were able to visit quite a number of places; Chitose, Toya, Hakodate, Niseko, Otaru and Sapporo (for the 7 days tour) but we were only to see each place superficially (which is expected due to the time constraint). This is good for those who wants to have a sample of Hokkaido and will come back again in the future on their own. Those who like a hassle-free tour and not keen for planning (planning for a tour is a headache!) will likely to enjoy such a tour.
This is where this tour stood out. Our local guide was very experienced and flexible. It was also helpful that he spoke Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin and some English. His forte however was his ability to engage everyone in the group in a positive way and gel everyone together with his witty jokes (some of which were adult themed). His jokes were not distasteful and were well accepted by everyone in the group. Besides local knowledge, he was also very knowledgable of Malaysian affairs, which allowed him to engage his audience even better. He had been pretty helpful in sharing some tips as well accommodate certain requests (within his limits).
- Very informative and entertaining guide. Able to gel all tour members together with his jokes and information, be it related to Japan or Malaysia
- Flexibility – some additional itinerary were added thanks to the local guide’s ability to improvise (with lots of co-operation from tour members)
- Group of fun loving tour members
- Hassle free with the ability to cover many places
- Onsen in some of the hotels
- Rather hectic pace (typical Asian group tour). Waking up early and bus ride the whole day before arriving in hotel for an overnight stay
- Limited time in each attraction
- Food – this is subjective as I dislike buffet
- Accommodation choices are rather old, but still acceptable