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After flying Air Canada business class to Japan and spending a great two weeks in the country, my husband and I headed to South Korea. We spent five nights in Seoul where we stayed at the JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square. This article outlines the highlights of our visit and thoughts on this great hotel.
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Seoul doesn’t have a “city center”, rather, the city has many different neighborhoods, all connected by public transportation. Because of that, we wanted to be close to a subway station and JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square fit the bill – there’s a subway station in the hotel’s basement. Seoul has a really great subway system that is easy to navigate, so we never had any issues getting to any tourist sites.
To get to the hotel from Incheon airport, you’ll have to either take an express airport train and then transfer to the subway, or take the airport bus. I almost always travel with a suitcase, so if there’s an airport bus, that’s always my first choice, even if it might take a little longer.
Seoul has a very comfortable airport bus that stops at many major hotels in the city. It takes about two hours to get from Incheon airport, which is located very far from the city, to JW Marriott (other big chain hotels are a little closer to the airport). The bus stops right in front of the hotel.
Unknowingly, we arrived on the eve of a national holiday, so the traffic was really bad, and unfortunately, the bus ride took three hours. This was an exceptionally bad day with huge gridlocks coming into the city. In spite of the bad experience with Seoul traffic, we took the bus back to Incheon airport, when it wasn’t a rush hour, and the ride back took less than two hours.
A couple of weeks before arrival, I emailed the hotel and asked for a room on a higher floor and politely inquired about any other complimentary amenities, such as breakfast, that they could offer us.
Both my husband and I have Marriott Bonvoy Gold status thanks to our American Express Platinum cards. Nowadays, however, Gold status doesn’t really mean much and doesn’t get you any real perks. Not surprisingly, the hotel’s response was that breakfast is only included for Platinum members, but they will try to put us in a room on a higher floor. I couldn’t argue with this, so I left it at that.
However, when we checked in, the lovely staff member at the front desk told us that they are giving us a complimentary breakfast! This was a huge surprise because the breakfast at JW Marriott Dongdaemun costs almost $50.
This was my first trip to Korea, but not my first time in Asia and I’ve noticed that there’s a huge emphasis on providing excellent service and making guests happy. I’ve never gotten better service at hotels than I did in Vietnam, Japan and South Korea. The JW Marriott staff was uniformly polite, always happy to help, and spoke excellent English.
We had a room on the seventh floor with a nice view of the East Gate, one of four remaining city gates. I am very sensitive to noise, so at first I was a little apprehensive about street noise but we couldn’t hear it at night at all, especially with the curtains closed and air conditioning on the lowest setting.
One of the first things I look for in any hotel room are electrical outlets. I want to see if there are enough of them, if I need an adapter and if they are easily accessible. The JW Marriott has universal outlets which work for both US and European/Korean plugs, including a standard U.S. three-pronged laptop plug. No adapters needed! Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of outlets in the room and we had to take turns charging all our devices.
We slept great in this room. The air conditioning was very quiet and efficient and the curtains let in a minimal amount of light in the morning. If you are very sensitive to light and this is a big issue, I’d recommend an eye mask. I prefer to sleep in a dark room but didn’t bring an eye mask with me on this trip. However, I didn’t feel like it was a big deal and I am an early riser anyway.
Our king bed was very comfortable, if a bit on the firm side, as in many other Asian hotels. The pillows were also great. You get one soft and one firm pillow and they were just the right sizes. I am very picky about hotel pillows, but I really liked the ones provided. We didn’t hear our neighbors at all, so the soundproofing must be really good.
The room wasn’t very big but spacious enough for two people and all our bags. There was a good amount of closet space and lots of great lighting. I am not into dark and moody hotel rooms, I prefer bright overhead lights.
The room comes with a minibar, free bottled water, electric kettle and, my favorite part, a Nespresso coffee maker. There’s also a standard big screen TV and Bose speakers. The light, AC and curtains electronic control panel seemed a bit outdated but easy to use.
There was also a nice desk and an office chair. This was very important to both of us, as we had to do some work on this trip. A lot of newer hotels are doing away with desks altogether, or they are putting in smaller tables instead. This might look cool but is far less practical if you need to use a computer while traveling.
The WiFi was fast and reliable. And, as is the case in most hotels in Asia, we had bathrobes and slippers.
There was a big, shining and sparkling gym and spa. I didn’t use either and I usually rely on my husband to check our hotel’s gym and report back. He said it was great and had everything he needed for a good workout. They even had disposable headphones if you forgot to bring your own.
The bathroom was very spacious for a hotel in a major Asian city. There was a separate tub and shower and all the pocket doors and wall panels could be opened to create a feeling of more space. My two favorite, and such trivial, features of a hotel bathroom include having towel hooks and a magnifying mirror. We had both at the JW Marriott.
Side note: Did you ever wonder why hotels encourage guests to reuse the towels but then there’s nowhere to hang them to dry? This is a huge pet peeve of mine. I am happy to reuse my towel, but often there’s no place in the bathroom for more than one to hang to dry!
We really enjoyed and took full advantage of our free breakfast. There was a big assortment of cold items, such as fruit, vegetables, cold cuts and yogurt. The hot items included french toast, bacon, sausages, potatoes and eggs to order. The bread and pastry section looked divine!
I don’t eat gluten or dairy and I found lots of things I could eat. I definitely didn’t go hungry!
There were even cute kids plastic cups and dishes which was lovely touch for families traveling with small children.
This is a Category 5 Marriott property and I booked it for 35,000 Bonvoy points per night. Don’t forget that when you book four nights with points, the fifth night is free. So our five-night stay cost us 140,000 points. We had both opened Chase Marriott credit cards and between the two of us had enough points for this stay. Marriott allows transfers of up to 100,000 Bonvoy points per year to another member, so it’s easy to combine points for a bigger redemption.
The important caveat here is that both accounts must be opened for at least 60 days before the points can be combined. I always say that it doesn’t cost anything to open airline and hotel loyalty accounts, so why not create a free account just in case?
Right now, points can only be transferred between accounts by calling Marriott customer service. The points transfer should be instant, but it’s always a good idea to double-check and follow up if necessary.
Visiting Seoul was very high on my list of places to visit. I especially wanted to see the Demilitarized Zone and the Joint Security Area on the border with North Korea. I hope that in my lifetime this area becomes a relic of the past, just like the Berlin Wall. It was important to me to see and experience this place but I didn’t go to Seoul just for this reason. Seoul is a vibrant, young city and there’s so much to see and do there.
Most of the city was destroyed during the Korean War between 1950 and 1953, so a lot of historic landmarks had to undergo significant restoration. The skyline is dominated by skyscrapers but there’s also a small neighborhood of charming traditional hanok houses sandwiched between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung – Seoul’s two major royal palaces.
I was pleasantly surprised by Seoul’s weather. We were there at the beginning of June and I was expecting it to be much hotter. There’s also a big swing between day and night temperatures, so even on a hot day you know the relief is coming.
We both thought that JW Marriott Dongdaemun Seoul was a great choice for us. The rooms, the service and the location were all great. The surrounding area is dominated by large shopping malls, and some of them open till 5 A.M. If you have a late night (early morning) fashion emergency, you are covered!
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