Review: JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul

To get myself back home to Toronto after a long summer of travel, I had booked myself a return trip on Asiana Airlines First Class with a 23-hour layover in Seoul. 

When searching for hotels for my one night in Seoul, none of the Marriott/Starwood options struck me with any particular inspiration. Since we only needed a quick overnight stay, I ended up just going with the newest high-end property in town, the JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul.

As the name implies, this property is located by Dongdaemun (or “East Gate”), and is a separate hotel from the JW Marriott Seoul, which is located in Gangnam District. 

 

A free night at this Category 4 property costs 25,000 Marriott points. I was checking into the hotel shortly after the August 18 transition to the new loyalty program, so I had actually cancelled and rebooked the reservation to secure the lower points rate (it was previously at 30,000 points). The cash rates seem to be around the $300/night region, making this a decent use of your Marriott points.

We arrived at Seoul Gimpo Airport around 8pm, and from there it was a 20-minute taxi ride to the JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a single bellhop to help us with our luggage upon arrival – my previous stays at JW Marriott properties have always been marked by exceedingly eager bellmen positioned near the front door. 

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Exterior

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Exterior

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Entrance

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Entrance

The lobby was also pretty empty when we walked in, and there was a single staff member at the check-in desk. The guests ahead of us took quite a while to complete their formalities, so we sat and waited for a good 10 minutes or so, enjoying the ambience of the lobby lounge.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Lobby

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Lobby

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Lobby

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Lobby

Looking around, I definitely felt that this JW Marriott property was much more “boutique” than other ones I’ve stayed at previously, which tend to have more in the way of grandiosity. That also explained the lack of bellhops…

Eventually, we were welcomed to complete our check-in. The agent informed us that as a newly-minted Platinum Elite member with Marriott, I’d have access to the Executive Lounge on the 10th floor, where there’d be breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres. 

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Front desk

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Front desk

I was also given the choice of 1,000 Marriott points or a welcome amenity, and got to choose from a variety of options for the latter. After consulting with Jessica, I decided on a half-bottle of wine and a cheese platter, to be delivered to our room shortly.

We had been given Room 904, an Executive Sky View Room that looked to be the highest room category below a suite. There were apparently “no suites available” for the night when I asked, but I didn’t press the matter too much.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Hallway

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Hallway

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Room 904

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Room 904

The Executive Sky View Room is a little on the small side, although the room’s open-concept layout helps to mitigate that, as we’ll see later. The decor primarily consists of darker tones with relatively dim lighting, and I thought the combination of slate-grey stone tiles and polished wood worked well together.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Sky View Room

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Sky View Room

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Sky View Room

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Sky View Room

The king bed occupies most of the space in the room. As with every JW Marriott property I’ve stayed at, the bed made for an excellent night of sleep during our quick overnight layover.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – King bed

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – King bed

The far side of the room plays host to the skylight and daybed. There’s also a wooden surface here that serves as both a table and a desk; if you wanted to get some work done, then one side of the daybed would double as the office chair. It’s not exactly the most ergonomic arrangement, but a decent workaround given the limited space in the room.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Daybed

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Daybed

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Table and chair

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Table and chair

Here’s a daytime photo of the skylight with the blinds drawn, and the view of the Dongdaemun gate and the surrounding markets. It’s my understanding that the Executive Sky View Rooms are only located here on the 9th floor, where the hotel building curves inwards, allowing a row of guest rooms with skylights. 

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Skylight

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Skylight

Anyway, back to the room itself. The opposite wall from the king bed houses the television, the minibar, and a few storage units.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Television

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Television

The minibar is quite ergonomic, with a full set of snacks, drinks, coffee and tea, and glassware hidden away in a series of drawers and cupboards.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Minibar

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Minibar

Next, the open-concept bathroom. As you can see below, there would normally be a wall separating the bathroom from the rest of the room, although there’s just empty space instead. While this certainly contributes to giving the room a more spacious feel, it’s safe to say the Executive Sky View Room wouldn’t quite be a good fit for travellers who do require privacy in the bathroom. 

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Bathroom

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Bathroom

There’s a separate shower and bathtub, which is always a preferable arrangement. I particularly liked the wooden bench in the shower that allowed you to have a sit-down as the water cascades around you.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Shower

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Shower

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Shower

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Shower

We were treated to L’Occitane-branded toiletries, which had a great smell and felt really smooth on the skin. I didn’t recall having such premium toiletries at other JW Marriotts I’ve stayed at, so this was a nice surprise, and we took a few bottles of the shower gel and shampoo for ourselves.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – L’Occitane toiletries

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – L’Occitane toiletries

Then to round off the bathroom there’s the central countertop that plays host to the sink, mirror, and a vanity cabinet. 

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Countertop and vanity

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Countertop and vanity

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Sink

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Sink

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Built-in vanity

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Built-in vanity

There was also a small TV screen here for you to keep yourself entertained while washing up. 

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Small television

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Small television

Overall, I thought the arrangement of the Executive Sky View Room was a little odd. It was definitely an interesting new room layout for me, but that in itself was not wholly unexpected given the more boutique feel of this JW Marriott compared to the other, perhaps more cookie-cutter properties I’ve stayed at.

As the clock had already struck 10 o’clock, Jessica and I opted not to go outside for a walk around Dongdaemun Market; instead, we treated ourselves to the wine and cheese amenity that had been dutifully delivered to our room, before turning in for the night. 

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Wine and cheese amenity

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Wine and cheese amenity

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Red wine

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Red wine

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Cheese plate

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Cheese plate

Our one day in Seoul began with breakfast in the 10th-floor Executive Lounge, which is served from 6:30am to 10:30am. I’ve found that JW Marriott Executive Lounges in Asia rarely disappoint, and this one was no exception.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge

There was a variety of seating options, and the decor evoked the familiar JW Marriott mix of classic elegance with contemporary aesthetics.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge seating

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge seating

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge seating

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge seating

I really liked the style of the breakfast presentation, which was designed to look like a modern kitchen, complete with an oven and a fridge. It reminded me of the Executive Lounge at the JW Marriott Bangkok in that regard.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge breakfast spread

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge breakfast spread

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge breakfast spread

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge breakfast spread

Since we wanted to get a head start on exploring the city during our short layover, we only grabbed a quick breakfast and didn’t get to indulge fully in the breakfast spread, which mostly consisted of Western options with a few Korean dishes mixed in.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge breakfast spread

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge breakfast spread

It wasn’t the most extensive in-lounge breakfast spread I’ve seen, although I’m sure the breakfast buffet in the main restaurant contains more variety. Alas, that one isn’t complimentary for Marriott elite members at this hotel.

Before departing, I also had a gander at the Executive Lounge’s outdoor terrace, which features sweeping views of the Dongdaemun old city gates and the surrounding area. 

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge outdoor terrace

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge outdoor terrace

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge outdoor terrace

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – Executive Lounge outdoor terrace

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – View of Dongdaemun

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul – View of Dongdaemun

It’s also worth noting the other Executive Lounge amenities that are available to Platinum Elite members and above. There’s evening hors d’oeuvres and cocktails from 5pm to 7pm, which I’d expect could serve as a dinner replacement if you were so inclined, as well as all-day coffee, tea, snacks, and non-alcoholic beverages.

Moreover, elite members also receive one piece of complimentary garment pressing per stay, plus two hours of Executive Lounge meeting room use per day, which must be reserved in advance.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to check out the hotel’s 8th-floor gym, spa, and pool during this stay, given the short time I had on the premises. Nevertheless, the pictures on the Marriott website look quite stunning, so I know that my fitness needs would be well met if I were to ever return (which I likely would on a future visit to Seoul).


Conclusion

I’m quite a big fan of the JW Marriott brand, as I find that it delivers a consistent experience of high-end comfort anywhere in the world. The Dongdaemun Square location in Seoul reinforced those good impressions, albeit with certain elements of the stay giving me a few more “boutique hotel” vibes than I was expecting.

Next time I’m in town (hopefully for a longer visit), I might well return to the hotel for a more complete experience, or I might try out the JW Marriott Seoul in the more lively Gangnam neighbourhood as well.