Help with airline routes from U.S. to Morocco

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Jan 14th, 2006, 11:08 AM
  #1
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Help with airline routes from U.S. to Morocco

Hello travelers,

I've become very interested in spending my next vacation in Morocco, and will join a group tour which will begin in Rabat and end in Marrakech. I've been doing lots of searches and am not finding flights to/from these cities. However, I do find flights to/from Casablanca.

I prefer flying out of Atlanta instead of New York because it's a shorter flight to my regional airport in Florida and I know the airport very well. Have had bad luck in N.Y. with customs, making connections, delays, rude employees, etc.

Can anyone relate their experiences flying into Morocco? The airports? Transportation to/from the airports?

Thanks,
Luisa

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Jan 15th, 2006, 01:01 PM
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My husband and I traveled to Morocco in May 2004. We spent a few days in Marrakech and went to Merzouga for a dessert experience. Our flight experience was not pleasant, but this was to be expected when going to a developing country.

We live in NY, so took Royal Air Maroc (RAM) which flies non-stop from JFK to Casablanca. We were advised to arrive at the airport 4 hour prior to departure. We waited additional 4 hours as the RAM’s aircraft had a mechanical problem (a total of 8 hours at the airport!). An unusually high numbers of babies and children were on the plane. Many people had a lot of carry-on luggage and the flight attendants were weeding out additional luggage from passengers. My DH’s luggage was taken when he was boarding. This luggage was lost for a few days, as it did not make the connection from Casablanca to Marrakech. I recall that the aircraft was fine (not too old), and the food was rather descent.

Once we landed in Casablanca, surprisingly, the connecting flight (also RAM) waited for this delayed flight from JFK. We ran through the airport and got on the small plane and headed to Marrakech. As mentioned earlier my DH’s luggage did not make connection. At Marrakech airport, we took a car that was sent by our hotel, Jnane Tamsna.

We took the same flight back from Marrakech –Casablanca – JFK. At the Marrakech airport there was a flood of people…again, mechanical problems which lead to cancellation of flights to various places. The lines were long and there was a lot of confusion. Luckily, we were able to get on the scheduled flight from Marrakech to Casablanca. When boarding the plane in Casablanca, we had to go through additional security check and check the name listing with RAM. The flight to JFK was fine.

If we were to go back to Morocco, although the non-stop feature is attractive, we would not take RAM again due to the uncertainty of flight scheduling capabilities. We would rather take British Air via Heathrow or Air France via Paris to Morocco.
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Jan 15th, 2006, 02:40 PM
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We live in Atlanta so we flew out of ATL to Madrid. From Madrid to Casablanca (no problem using Iberia)and from Casablaca to Marrakech (the best deal we got at the time for this flight, Christmas holidays, was $1440 per person). Most domestic flights have to originate from or pass through Casablanca. And yes the experience at Casablanca airport was horrible. People do not speak English there. That is one thing. Our flight (Royal Air Maroc, which is what you will use flying domestic) to Marrakech was delayed 7 hours. It was pure chaos. They told us to take a bus but we opted to wait (fearing we would lose our luggage). Travellers were MAD. Our flight back was from Fez to Casablanca, Casablanca to NYC, NYC to ATL. It was an adventure too. Flight was delayed from Casablanca to NYC (45 minutes). We had an hour and a half window to catch our connecting flight. Arrived at JFK, had to wait in the plane for 30 minutes due to broken Jetway! We of course, along with many other, missed our connecting flight. We were lucky there was another flight going to ATL that night but at different airport. So we took a taxi (through heavy rain) at our own cost to La Guardia. Flight left on time from there. Took 20 hours to get home. In Atlanta we had to wait for our luggage for an hour due to broken carousel! What a trip!!! Just do not get stressed out. It is part of the trip. We are going to Spain and Canary Islands this summer. Hope to have a smoother ride...
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Jan 16th, 2006, 07:05 AM
  #4
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Any airline, any day can have delays of one sort of another. But reading the above, I would suggest you leave a day earlier "just in case." It would be worth the extra money for a hotel in Casablanca, then next day get to Rabat to meet your group.

Likewise, on the return, I'd leave sufficient time for any connections to your final destination, or give yourself an o/n somewhere.
 
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Jan 16th, 2006, 09:01 AM
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Thank you all for your replies. I've had delays but none as bad as yours.

I will take Sandi's good advice and arrive a day early. I wonder if I'd be better off taking a train or bus from Casablanca to Rabat.

My first choice (depending on airfare) is Air France from Atl to Paris, Paris to Casablanca and back the same way. I think I will try to avoid RAM.

Mochi, did you enjoy your desert experience? What did you like best about Morocco?

MatthiesA, What did you like best? How was Casablanca airport other than the lack of English speaking staff? Is it easy to navigate? Have your rugs arrived? Did you buy in Marrakesh?

Thanks again to all.
Luisa

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Jan 17th, 2006, 08:43 AM
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Casablanca airport is like many other European airports in that it reeks of cigarette smokes... We had to walk around a lot to avoid the stink. Once we sat down, someone would almost always light a cigarette. Another thing about the airport is the cafe food is horrible (and expensive). I had one of the worst airport food there (had no choice due to long flight delay). The airport is not difficult to navigate however. Take a French phrase book with you.

One of my rugs has arrived. We knew this one would. We bought it in Fez. The one we are waiting on is the one we bought in Marrakech (where we got ripped off). We bought this rug a week before the one already arrived! Also still waiting on the saharan furniture. That really concerns me. The seller was kind of slimy...Will see.

Though we had tons of bad experiences and stories including one where we almost go slaughtered in the Mellah (if we didn't give them money), we still do not mind going back. Morocco is a very interesting country. The best part about the trip is driving our rental car (another rip-off at $120 a day, a VW Golf) through the Atlas Mountains. The landscapes are stunning. Also love spending two days in Essoueirra. It is a nice little town. We do not like Marrakech that much though if you go to Morocco you have to see it. Just be firm about not buying things you don't want or bargain till you get your desired price. Many times the seller blocked us physically so we could not leave the shop (till we buy something)! Fez, as I said, is very nice. The Medina there is a must-see. The other thing I got from this trip (besides many rugs) is the taste for Moroccan cuisine and spices. I have made two tagine dishes back home already. Bought two tagines from Morocco. I wish I bought spices from there. I didn't know I could. Rabat I heard is the cleanest city in Morocco.
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Jan 17th, 2006, 03:01 PM
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Good information, thank you very much. Interesting that you enjoyed the food so much, I've been a bit concerned about it being too spicy and leading to an upset stomach. Are the tagines you bought the containers that the food is cooked in?
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Jan 17th, 2006, 04:47 PM
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I could cook the lamb tagine in the container I bought but I didn't. I used Le Creuset tagine I already have to cook the dish. I just trust it better for some reason. It know it could withstand very high heat. The tagines I bought are very nice. I don't think one of them can be used to cook (has lead).

My husband got sick one time from food. We suspect it was the fish (the only time he had fish was in Essoueirra, a coastal town). Moroccans really know how to use spices. Dishes are full of spices but are mild conmpared to say Thai food. Do did eat a lot of lamb and chicken tagines. Also cous cous. Moroccans have cous cous every Friday (religious thing).
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Jan 19th, 2006, 10:56 AM
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Luisah,

Yes, we enjoyed the desert experience very much. In fact, that was the highlight of our trip.

We originally planned to rent a car and do the driving ourselves, but we found out that hiring the car and driver via travel agency in Marrakech was much less expensive (strange?!). So, we decided to sign up for Sahara Expedition’s 4-days 3 nights desert package which covers both Zagora and Merzouga desert. For your reference, I attach the company’s website. Their price was very reasonable and we received good service. We contacted the company via e-mail and arranged the trip, and the day before the departure from Marrakech we visited the office and made payment.
http://www.saharaexpe.ma

Merzouga desert was just breathtakingly beautiful. Because of heat, we started to head for dunes around 5pm. Camel ride was not that comfortable, but it was only about 1 hour to get to Berber camp. Sunset was causing strong contrast of light and shadow on the sand dunes – that was absolutely beautiful. Once at the camp (tent), we visited Berber family. In an evening, Berber family cooked stew for us and we spend time talking to each other. We spend time under the stars and slept under the tent. Next morning we left the dune around 7am to head back to the base. While Zagora desert experience was fine, I would strongly recommend visiting Merzouga desert. Merzouga visit was the best part of Morocco for us.

I agree with Mattheis’ comment on Marrakech. It is an interesting place, but we will not go back there. If you are tourist, merchants take very aggressive approach – that was very annoying. Souk seems exotic place at the first glance, but when you get familiarized the place, you start seeing the same mass produced cheap products sold store after store. Unless you do not go to the reputable shop, you will be end up buying the same junk you could have bought at Pier 1 in the US for cheaper price than what you would have paid in Morocco.

We also liked our hotel, Jnane Tamsna, which was located 15 min from Medina (center of old town). The place is beautiful and it has fantastic pools. My husband and I usually like adventure, but since we did not like Marrakech much, we lounged around the hotel.......which was very nice.

When we travel, we enjoy trying out local food. Unfortunately, we did not like the food in Morocco much. Because of the past French occupation, we somehow thought that food standard was high, but it was not the case.

Regarding the travel time scheduling, although arriving day early may be prudent things to do, if you are taking the Western carrier, I would not build extra time (1 day) as their schedule is much more reliable than RAM.
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Jan 20th, 2006, 04:58 AM
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One more thing. If you are taking Air France, you may be able to fly into major morrocan cities non-stop without going through Casablanca.
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Jan 25th, 2006, 08:45 PM
  #11
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Hello Mochi,

Thanks so much for all the great information! The desert experience does sound very appealing. And thank you for the web site, I'll look into it.

I'm kind of disappointed to hear about Marrakesh (it sounds so exotic), but better to know now than when I arrive.

I laughed at your remark about finding the mass produced goods at Pier 1 but know what you mean. I've seen pictures in travel books and a lot of the stuff looks very familiar. However, did you look at the rugs? I thought that might be a worthwhile purchase.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to go through with this trip but am not sure when, maybe September. Since the nearest hub for me is Atlanta I'll try to fly Air France. After your experience I'll avoid Air Maroc.

Thanks again.
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Jan 27th, 2006, 10:50 AM
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Luisah,

I tend to take home décor seriously, so if we were to buy rugs we would be spending serious money. We went to several carpet stores in souq in Marrakech. We saw some attractive rugs there. But we were not impressed with sales people’s knowledge of the rugs. Some of them were misrepresenting dye process (claiming usage of vegetable dye, while the rug was dyed chemically), quality of materials used to make rugs, etc. I felt that I was more knowledgeable than these sales people. And I did not trust their claim nor the value of the rug they were trying to sell – so we did not buy any rugs. If you are thinking about purchasing important piece, you need to research ahead of time and find out reputable dealers there. In fact, I think reputable dealers would not have their shops in souq.

That being said, if you are thinking about buying rugs just as a souvenir, those rugs sold in souq were fine. You can have fun bargaining with sales people.

I hope I did not put Morocco in negative light. We experienced these small bumps I mentioned earlier, but our trip overall was wonderful - we treasure our Morocco travel memory.

One advice I want to give you is that when traveling to developing countries, don’t plan so much ahead of time. Since political environment in those countries are usually not stable, you may not be able to go there for a long time once something happens (i.e. coup d’tar). Good example is Nepal. My husband and I went there and had a wonderful time (about 10 years ago). It would be inconceivable to plan a trip to Nepal now.
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Jan 27th, 2006, 12:03 PM
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Hi, Luisah.

I just returned from Zambia this month, and am already planning my next African adventure. Like the trip you are planning to take, we are going to Morocco. We are going to be there December 7-30, with Overseas Adventure Travel. We have travelled with them before to China, the low countries, and their Croatia/Greece cruise. We fly from New York to Casablanca on RAM.

Like yours, our 15 day tour also begins in Rabat and ends in Marrakech. We have elected to also book OAT's optional five night pre-trip extension to Essaouira and Casablanca, as well as its optional four night post-trip extension in Marrakesh. So we will be in Morocco for about three weeks.

As a teacher of expressive travel photography, I look for destinations where light, color, architecture, people and culture are unique. I understand Morocco is just such a place. Looking forward to it. If you will be there before we leave on December 7, I look forward to your trip report on this forum. Thanks,

Phil Douglis
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Jan 30th, 2006, 02:50 PM
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Mochi,

You did not put Morocco in a negative light. I appreciate your information and I like to know the good and the not-so-good before I go to a new place. As for the rugs, I think I will ask, or search before going, for a reputable and knowledgeable dealer. I might bargain on a rug that I really want but at this point I'm not sure I want to get into bargaining in the souk.
Thanks again for all your good information.

Phil, Your trip sounds wonderful. I think Morocco will be a dream for a photographer. Did you read Mochi's post on the desert? Sounds gorgeous to me.

I hope I'll be going in Sept. If I do, I'll post something when I get return. I say "hope" because I dilly-dallied around making up my mind and when I decided to enroll for Sept. find that I am # 2 on a waiting list. If I don't make it in Sept. it will be April 2007 - a long way from now, so then you will be there before me. I'll post any changes.
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Jan 31st, 2006, 03:16 PM
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Hi Phil,

I just received an e-mail from a friend who is taking the China trip with Overseas Adventure Travel. I had never heard of them until I read your post.

Since you've made several trips with them you must be happy with this company. I looked briefly at the web site and see that it is affiliated with Grand Circle Travel. The prices look very good too. Any inside info on the tours? Guides? Meals? Flight arrangements, etc. I sent for a brochure but am curious, especially about the small size of the groups. Were there any singles on your OAT trips?

Thanks,
Luisah
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Feb 1st, 2006, 12:01 PM
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Luisah,

I would be delighted to talk with you at length about OAT's trips -- you can email me at [email protected], or call me at 602-493-6709 and I would be happy to discuss it with you and answer any of your questions.

However I can answer your questions in general here.

OAT is indeed part of Grand Circle. OAT groups are much smaller than Grand Circle's, usually 15 people or less. OAT's destinatioins can be a bit more adventuresome --for example, their China trips include Tibet, while Grand Circles do not. And their pricing is slightly higher to reflect these advantages.

I will have been to China, Holland/Belgium, Croatia/Greece, and come December Morocco with them. Their guides range from extraordinary to poor. Our China and Croatia/Greece trips ran like clockwork under the leadership of well trained, communicative, fluent guides. Our Barge trip from Belgium to Holland foundered because the guide was not used to working with older travelers and pushed us beyond our physical abilities. He could not communicate well with any of us, either.

OAT's pricing is excellent, and the air arrangements were good too. For a small extra administrative fee, you can "deviate" from your group's departure dates.

OAT specializes in getting its customers as close to the local population as possible. It has "home visits" -- in China we had several lunches in private homes, one in Belgium, and one dinner in Montenegro. Several "home visits" are included in OAT's Morocco visit. We met some wonderful people, and saw the country through different eyes because of them.

OAT tends to draw older travelers -- most of us are in our 60s or 70s. Most are married, but we had a significant number of singles on every trip -- at least a third. Many of OATs travelers are teachers and professional people. I find them curious, knowledgeable, and fun to be with.

Most meals are included, but there are a number of free days and evenings to explore cities and choose your own restaurants. The included meals ranged from simple to elaborate. OAT is also good about adjusting menus for those with special dietary needs.

Hotels ranged from luxurious to simple, depending upon location. All were were very well located, clean, and comfortable.

OAT's prices are excellent. It offers discounts for early payment in full, too. And it gives you credits for each trip you take to use on future trips. If you recommend a first time traveler, you will get credits for that as well. The credits expire, so it's hard to throw them away without using them. They are a major reason why we booked the Morocco trip -- our costs were substantially reduced by our accumulated credits from our previous trips.

The one major financial concern about OAT is it's penchant for canceling departures and rebooking customers. If you have already made your own non-refundable connecting arrangement, you could be out of pocket if they decide to cancel your departure. It happened to us on our Belgium trip. They "re-positioned" our barge to France, and we were bumped to another date, a less comfortable barge, and lost money on US connections we had booked on our own. It was not a good trip --but we took it stride. Our good OAT trips have outnumbered our bad ones. It is a huge company, with well trained people, tremendous destinations, and very favorable pricing.

Hope this helps, Luisah. Feel free to contact me personally if you want to discuss any further.

Phil
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Feb 1st, 2006, 12:11 PM
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Luisah, I forgot to ask you what company you are scheduled to go to Morocco with, and what factors entered in to your choice. If you don't make your September departure, seriously consider the OAT adventure.

We are booked on OAT's December 12th tour, but will be going early (Dec 7) to take their pre-trip extension to the Mediterranean city of Essaouira. (We meet up with the Dec 12th departure on the 13th in Casablanca.) We have also elected to take their post trip extension to Marrakesh --which extends the trip by four nights.

Phil
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Feb 1st, 2006, 01:02 PM
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Louisah,

I just noticed that I typed my email address wrong in one of my previous posts. It should read [email protected]. (Not pnd2)

Phil
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Feb 3rd, 2006, 06:22 AM
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Highly recommend Xotic Destinations...went on a trip to Morocco John arranged last Oct. and am returning this April with a group of friends...his attention to detail and planning is unsurpassed...we had such a wonderful time and having a Moroccan with us spared us any advances by people we didn't want....the desert experience was out of this world....you just won't believe it..and he arranges it so beautifully you will just pinch yourself saying I have never had such an unusual and exotic experience...and I have traveled a lot....his riad choices were superb..went on Royal Air Moroc from NY...will be doing that again...that worked out fine..traveling within Morocco via airplane is a little difficult...basically Cassa is the hub
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Feb 3rd, 2006, 06:28 AM
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In re: Carpets....we just got a carpet we bought there which we arranged to be made for us in the size we wanted...it is beautiful and we paid a very fair price....the bottom line....the guide who took us to this rug making cooperative in Rabat, from Xotic Destinations, vouched for their reputation...and we felt safe because we had the power of a very honest tour organizer standing behind us....I would say that is a good safety factor...if you are having it shipped...otherwise just fold up and take it with you if you can..that staves off all kinds of problems.....if you love the way it looks and the price seems ok...you are going to love it in your home....just don't believe much of anything you are told...about knots per sq. inch, etc...
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