For Liam’s second birthday, we didn’t throw him a party. Instead, we took a family trip to Osaka. Why Osaka? Well, for one, we never been there. Second, we’re PCS-ing by September to who knows where so this might be our only chance to while we’re still here. Then third, Liam LOVES Elmo. There’s a Universal Studios there so he can meet Elmo for his birthday.
We decided on this no party thing months ago so we had a lot of time to plan the trip. We had a decent idea of how much the trip would cost cause we had friends who travelled there for holiday. We basically based our plans on them.
We originally wanted to travel by bullet train cause everyone kept saying that we should experience it while we’re in Japan. The husband wanted to drive there. He had friends suggest that we drive there cause it would be cheaper cause we’ll just be paying for gas and parking if we rent a car (tolls are free when you rent cars on base). Renting a car would cost $70 a day while taking the bullet train would cost around $300 per person both ways. It would be a lot cheaper to rent the car but I didn’t want to deal with the stress of driving 8 hours with a toddler and an annoying husband who’d nag all day about how tired he’ll be from all the driving. I honestly rather pay more if it meant I wouldn’t be that stressed out during the trip. Ultimately, we ended up purchasing plane tickets. It was cheaper than taking the bullet train and also seemed less stressful that an 8 hour drive. We found flights with Jetstar that only cost us $460 for four people (3 adults, my sister came with us, and a toddler).
Since the trip was planned months before we were able to get a very good deal on our hotel. Trips during December to anywhere usually cost more if you plan late cause it’s right in the middle of the holiday season. We used Booking.com for our hotel. We stayed three nights at Hotel Keihan Universal City. It was located right next to the train station for easy traveling and it was within Universal City so it was steps away from restaurants and shops. The employees were fluent in English which was great. It made calling to request check-ins and other transactions with them flawlessly.
Before going on this trip we had a drafted out itinerary but because the weather wasn’t cooperating we scrapped it and winged it. Also, we underestimated how much more complicated it is to go on vacation with a toddler. We constantly had to check whether where we’re going is child friendly and stroller accessible and like I said it was raining so just walking to the train station was difficult enough. It’s a good thing this is Japan. Japan in general is a very child friendly place to travel in. Most of the train stations have priority elevators for people traveling with strollers, trains have priority seats, and some bathroom stalls even have a child rest.
Day 1. Like I said it was raining so we had to crap our Universal day and just go sightseeing. We figured that we had better chances avoiding the rain going to sites cause we’ll either be on the train or inside somewhere. We left the hotel a little before lunch. Our first stop was the Umeda Sky Building. We took the train from Universal City Station to Osaka Station and from there walked to the Sky Building. We could spot the building from the train but didn’t know how to actually get there. Good thing we stumbled upon a tourist information center. They were not only helpful enough to point us to the right direction but they even gave up a map of Osaka and highlighted all the places we might be interested at, as well as the stations near those places.
The name is a big give away. The Umeda Sky Building offers a 360 view of Osaka from high above the city. It only cost $10 to get in, a lot cheaper than the Tokyo Skytree. You first take this elevator that takes you all the way up to the 32nd floor and from there you get on this steep see-through escalator to viewing area. It feels like you’re on an escalator to the sky. The viewing area not only have comfortable seats so you can lounge while you enjoy the view, it also has a little cafe that offers coffee, sandwiches and ice cream which Liam didn’t want to share with us. From the viewing area, there’s an elevator you can take up to the roof deck. The roof deck is a lot different from the viewing area. It was as open as open can be. By the time we went up to the roof top the rain had slowed into a light drizzle but wind did start to pick up.
To get to the While we were there there was a German Christmas Village at the ground floor of the building. They had all sorts of beer, food, candy, and Christmas decorations. There was even a booth where you can make your own candles. We didn’t try it though. We just bough caramel popcorn and Liam rode the carousel they had set up.
Our second stop was Osaka Castle, a regular stop on a trip to Osaka. It’s just a couple of stations away from Osaka Station. When we got there rain started to pick up again, we bought cheap umbrellas from the convenience store so we were prepared. What we weren’t prepared for was the absence of elevators. I’m not sure if there really weren’t any elevators or we just didn’t find them. The husband had to carry Liam’s stroller with him in it several flights of stairs. Right after exiting the station, you’ll spot a number of signs indicating where to go. You have the option of riding a ferry to the castle or walking. We walked from the station. It was quite the walk from the station too. There was also an event at the convention center right in front of the train station so there were a lot of people.
Like I said, a lot of walking was involved to get to the castle. We had to pass by the convention center, an arc, go over a bridge, and finally up stone steps. From afar the castle is already beautiful. All the gold accents stand out so you could imagine how much more up close. You can enter the castle for a small fee ($6). Inside is a museum. There’s displays of different armors, what the castle looked like through out time, samples of things that were used during the old times in Japan. At the very top, you can see the view of Osaka. Since the castle is so high up it offers a pretty cool view. Just imagining myself as a royal during the old times looking a far from the top gave me chills. At the second level, there’s a stall where you can take pictures wearing a kimono or a samurai helmet for $10. Of course, the sister and I had to try it out. She chose the kimono and I opted for the big helmet with antlers. The husband and Liam didn’t come with us cause they didn’t allow strollers inside and Liam was sleeping in his. We couldn’t wake him up so they just waited for us outside. Why weren’t strollers allowed? They were using only one elevator and that elevator only goes up. People can fall in line to take the elevator up and then climb down the stairs when leaving.
The only pictures we had from inside the castle was when we were playing dress up at the second level and the view from the top cause taking pictures weren’t allowed anywhere else.
We went back to the hotel after Osaka Castle to rest cause we were so tired from all the walking in the rain. We planned to do more exploring after resting but we got lazy and the rain started to pick up even more. We went to dinner at Bubba Gump near the hotel. It was our first Bubba Gump experience in Japan and it did not disappoint. It was a bit pricey but worth it. The servings were big in Japanese standards.
Day 2. We dedicated the whole day to Universal Studios. The weather was a lot better than the previous day. The forecast said that it would be sunny all day. The husband woke up early to purchase our tickets from the lobby of our hotel. The park opens at 9:30 so we planned to go before it actually opens that way there won’t be a long line to get in. A regular ticket for an adult cost $75 dollars and it’s at least another $75 for an express pass. The express pass gets you to a number of rides without having to wait in line. On a crowded day, the shortest waiting time for a ride is three hours. A special express pass guarantees you entrance to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the main attraction of the park. When the park is crowded only a number of people are allowed to enter the attraction. Those without an express pass can still get in but they have to line up or take a timed entrance ticket at the front of the attraction. We only got the regular park admission ticket. It wasn’t like we could take Liam on most of the rides anyway.
We remembered to bring our camera but forgot the memory card in the hotel so we only had our phones for pictures. By the afternoon, my phone and the husband’s were already dead and we only had the sister’s phone. We did find a charging station by a restroom so we got to charge our phones for 30 minutes. The highlight of the day was for us going to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We got to try butter beer, buy wands, use our wands, and walk around Hogwarts Castle. For Liam, the highlight was of course meeting Elmo in person. He also managed to fall in love with the minions while we were there. We though he would get scared of the mascots but he didn’t even cry at all. He had no problem standing next to them. We saw so many characters while we were there that by the end of the day, he would come up to the mascots himself and wait till we take his picture. He clapped along to the Sesame Street show we were able to catch and waved to the people at the parade. The staff of the park made him feel so special greeting him happy birthday everywhere we go. He loved the whole day. The husband even got him a huge Elmo doll (like he needed another one) as a souvenir. He loved the doll so much that he fell asleep hugging it and then when he woke up, he let the doll sit in his stroller while he walked around with us. It was a good day.
We didn’t stay long enough for the light show and illumination cause we were already tired and it was getting cold already. Universal Studios tickets are single entry unlike Disney. We rested a bit in our hotel and then headed back out to explore cause it was our last night. We leave the afternoon the next day so there wasn’t any other time to explore. We headed to Dotonbori that night. The girl at the tourist office was right. The place was great for shopping. The streets were lined with shops from high end products to low end products. Anything you would want to buy was there. We didn’t do anymore shopping. Our luggage was packed enough already. We couldn’t afford to take in anymore. We did end up falling in line for Pablo cheese tarts. Everyone’s talking about it so we wanted to know what the fuss was about. The fuss was all worth it. It was the most delicious cheese tart I tasted. I loved the macha flavored one and didn’t care for the chocolate one.
The next day, we checked out of our hotel early and then left our luggage at the counter so we can have breakfast outside. The hotel does offer a breakfast buffet and we tried it on our first day but it wasn’t worth it in our opinion. They advertised a world buffet but it was Japanese versions of everything. Liam didn’t want to leave his Elmo and Minion popcorn container so he carried it around the whole day.
We enjoyed our little family trip. We did feel like we didn’t have enough time to do everything we wanted. We wanted to side trip to Kyoto and Nara but we wasted a whole day when we rescheduled our flight to a later one and got to the hotel at midnight. Still it was a trip to remember.
Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!