As we trudge through the winter, I’ve been busy planning our March Break travels. The planning for March Break 2023 actually began back in March 2022, as I wanted to lock in some flight bookings for my family of five, which isn’t always an easy task.
Japan has been on my bucket list for a while, and although its borders were still closed to foreigners at the time, I was hopeful it would reopen by next year. Aeroplan still had its free change policy back then, too, which also helped make my decision easier.
Finally, news came out that Japan would reopen to free, independent travel on October 11, 2022. I couldn’t help but share my excitement, and before I knew it, I had five other friends and their families who were coming along for the ride.
In total, there will be 26 of us, including 12 adults and 14 children ranging from 1–11.
Planning a group trip has its challenges, especially when it comes to accommodating everyone’s needs, preferences, and schedules. I also had to take into consideration that not all my friends were avid points collectors. 😱
Here’s some insight into how I approached this complex trip.
The last time I was in Japan was when I was a child, and to be quite honest, I don’t remember much. I recall a lot of hustle and bustle in Tokyo, and spending a night in a ryokan around Mount Fuji.
Now, almost 30 years later, it’s time to refresh those memories and create some new ones with my kids.
Spring is a great time to visit Japan, as it’s neither too hot nor too cold. Normally, I’d consider going somewhere warm and sunny for March Break, but with average temperatures of around 10 degrees in Japan, it still beats the single digit temperatures here in Canada.
If we’re lucky, we may even catch the beginning of the cherry blossom season.
With two weeks of March Break, it gives us adequate time to explore the major destinations in Japan: Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, and Tokyo. We plan to enjoy some great food, immerse in some cultural experiences, and visit some historic sites and theme parks.
We start off in the historical and cultural city of Kyoto for a few nights. Kyoto is a great place to introduce the kids to the traditional Japanese culture.
They can dress up in kimonos as we walk down the traditional streets of Gion or Higashiyama and partake in a samurai and ninja experience. There are a few temples and castles to visit, as well as the Arashiyama monkey park and bamboo forest.
From Kyoto, we’ll head into Osaka for a couple of nights. Osaka is otherwise known as the food capital of Japan, so we’ll be visiting some food markets and streets, like the infamous Nishiki Market and Dotonbori Street for its Japanese street food.
We may need to burn off some calories after the feasting, so the Osaka Castle and park will be a nice place for the kids to run around. The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan will be a hit for the younger ones, while the older ones can enjoy Universal Studios Japan.
We plan to spend a day in Nara to unwind after a busy day at Universal Studios, and the majority of our time will be spent at Nara Park. The kids will be excited to see the abundance of free-roaming deer here.
After our little break in Nara, we’ll hop onto the bullet train back to Tokyo for a few nights.
We had difficulty narrowing down our itinerary here, as there is just so much to see and do. So far, we’ve decided to visit the main attractions and a few districts, including Shibuya Crossing, Ginza, and Harajuku.
The great thing about traveling with friends is we can help each other out with the kids. We’ll take turns dining at an omakase restaurant, maybe take a go-kart tour through the streets of Tokyo together, and we’ve also planned a shopping day for the moms and a sake tasting for the dads.
For the kids, we’ll check out some experiences we can’t find elsewhere, from hedgehog and Pokémon cafés to a day at Tokyo DisneySea, a Disney park unlike any other. If time permits, we may even squeeze in a sumo demonstration to introduce ourselves to Japan’s national sport.
TeamLab Planets also looks like an unique attraction that I think will be fun for the whole family.
Finally, to end off the trip, we’ll make a journey out to Mount Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi region. The scenery there is beautiful, and even more so if the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
Not too far off from here is Oshino Hakkai, home to the eight springs that deliver water straight from Mount Fuji, and also Ōwakudani, a volcanic valley with active sulfur vents and hot springs.
It’ll be an action-packed trip, but we’ll be sure to schedule in some down time for those who need it.
When it came to booking flights, each family booked their own. We all employed different strategies based on what points currency we had or didn’t have, and also what travel plans we had aside from Japan.
With respect to arrival and departure dates, we were all within a couple days of each other over March Break. Here’s a breakdown of how we all booked:
Family #1 – Five passengers using Aeroplan points and Asia Miles
- Toronto (YYZ) to Tokyo Narita (NRT) in Air Canada premium economy
- Tokyo Haneda (HND) to New York (JFK) in Japan Airlines business class and First Class
- Business class: 4 × 75,000 Asia Miles + 1,778 (HKD) taxes and fees
- First Class: 1 × 120,000 Asia Miles + 1,857 (HKD) taxes and fees
Family #2 – Four passengers using Aeroplan points and Asia Miles
- Toronto (YYZ) to Tokyo Narita (NRT) in Air Canada economy class
- 4 × 60,000 Aeroplan points + $59.81 (CAD) taxes and fees
- Tokyo Haneda (HND) to New York (JFK) in Japan Airlines economy class
- 4 × 40,000 Asia Miles + 1,732 (HKD) taxes and fees
Family #3 – Four passengers using Aeroplan points, BMO Rewards, and cash
- Toronto (YYZ) to Tokyo Narita (NRT) round-trip in Air Canada economy class
- 2 × 105,100 Aeroplan points + $100.01 (CAD) taxes and fees
- 2 × $1,653.46 (CAD) cash fares, with one ticket offset with BMO Rewards points
Family #4 – Five passengers using Asia Miles
- Vancouver (YVR) to Tokyo Narita (NRT) round-trip in Japan Airlines economy class
- 5 × 54,000 Asia Miles + 5,576 (HKD) taxes and fees
Family #5 – Four passengers using Aeroplan points
- Toronto (YYZ) to Seoul (ICN) in Air Canada premium economy
- 4 × 64,900 Aeroplan points + $60 (CAD) taxes and fees
- Tokyo Narita (NRT) to Toronto (YYZ) in Air Canada premium economy
- 4 × 76,500 Aeroplan points + $29 (CAD) taxes and fees
Family #6 – Four passengers using Aeroplan points and cash
- Toronto (YYZ) to Tokyo Narita (NRT) round-trip in Air Canada economy class
- 2 × $1,415 (CAD) cash fares
- 1 × 129,871 Aeroplan points
- 1 × 11,750 Aeroplan points for an infant-on-lap
When it came to hotels, I found ones that could accommodate families with four or five people. Obviously, since we all have families, the more spacious the rooms, the better.
Our group has diverse needs. We have a couple of families with toddlers, where kitchenettes would be helpful. Some have elite status with hotel programs and prefer booking with a specific brand, while others do not.
In Kyoto, we opted to split up with respect to where we stayed. Some families opted for the Mimaru Kyoto Nishinotoin, a local family-friendly hotel chain with kitchenettes, which priced out at under $300 (CAD) per night.
The Chapter Kyoto, a Marriott Tribute Portfolio Hotel was booked for around $200 (CAD) per night or alternatively for 21,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. It’s a nice combination of being affordable and close to all the main attractions in Kyoto.
We also booked Hotel The Mitsui Kyoto for 76,000–92,000 Bonvoy points per night, for those of us who wanted to live it up a bit.
In Osaka, we opted for the Hyatt Regency Osaka, not so much for its location but its value. We booked their highest suite categories for 11,500–13,000 World of Hyatt points per night, which includes lounge access with food and beverage options served throughout the day.
In Nara, we booked a night at the JW Marriott Nara for 45,000 points, having decided to splurge a bit for a relaxing night.
Heading back into Tokyo, we’ve booked the Miramu Tokyo Ginza East for $200–400 (CAD) per night, depending on the room. This seemed to fit the bill for convenience, cost, and having family-friendly amenities.
One tip you may find useful when traveling as a family, especially in Japan, is to contact a hotel directly if at first you can’t find room availability online. Often, if you just do a search for two guests, you’ll find a number of properties available, but once you enter three or more guests, the results become quite limited.
After contacting several properties, I found that many were fine with a third, fourth, or even fifth guest as long as they were children under the age of 12. Some hotels may charge an extra person fee or ask you to pay a small upgrade fee to accommodate, but that sure beats the cost of having to book two rooms at a property.
All that’s left to do at this point is figuring out how to get from one destination to the next. For me, I find this to be the most challenging part of this trip.
For the most part, we’ll be taking Japan’s railway system to get to our destinations; however, with kids and luggage in tow, it won’t be easy.
I’ll be pricing out some private transfer options, as with a group this large, it may prove to be a better option if the price is reasonable. Another great suggestion from a fellow points enthusiast was to book a baggage transport service to take some of the stress away from travelling.
So far, this is the general plan for our big March Break trip to Japan for a total of six families. It will no doubt be a bit chaotic at times, but as parents, chaos is often the norm, so we’ll make it work.
Flexibility is the key here, and we’re all going with the understanding that we may not all do the same activities, eat at the same restaurant, or stay at the same hotel together the whole time. But when we are together, we’ll have the kids to entertain each other and the parents to support one another.
Stay tuned for the follow up post after the trip when I’ll let you know how it all plays out. Until then, happy March Break planning to you all!