Just Back from Egypt

Dec 4th, 2008, 08:20 AM
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Just Back from Egypt

Having just returned from a 9-day trip to Egypt, I wanted to share some of our experiences. What you have read in so many of the other reports about the sights/antiquities is all true. They are absolutely amazing and I won’t report the obvious. The logistics of our trip were handled by Ahmed Hamed Yousif ([email protected]). He has been recommended in other reports on this board and again…everything that is said about him is true. The trip went off perfectly! I think there is so much opportunity for things to go wrong on a trip to Egypt, that we were so grateful that we had decided to book through him. He in turn books through the Lady Egypt tour company. The level of professionalism among the staff we encountered was outstanding. In short, they “took care of us.” They genuinely wanted us to have an enjoyable and safe trip.
In case you’re wondering… in my opinion… there is NO way you can go to Egypt on your own. Everyone there was either a part of a tour group or with a private guide. As I watched the large tour groups visit the sites, I knew we had made the right decision to go with a private guide. There is a major difference. First of all…the ability to go and come as you please, adjust your itinerary on the fly, and to have your questions answered immediately is terrific.
From the time we were met at the airport, until we were back at the airport to return home, our guide and driver was with us. Our guide even waited until the very last moment, when he could no longer see us as we passed through the security gates, to finally leave the airport.
Arriving in Cairo was an experience. At that point, I was traveling alone so I was very happy to see my guide as soon as I walked into the arrivals hall. The arrivals area is very crowded, hot, and overwhelming. He immediately got my visa and waited (endlessly) for my bag and then hopped into the waiting car. It couldn’t have been any easier. The ride to the hotel was filled with information about the upcoming arrangements, etc.

We stayed at the Marriott in Cairo. Let me say, that before you go, you really need to adjust your thinking about the definition of a five star hotel. By Egyptian standards, it may be five star, but by American standards…perhaps a three. It is an interesting place with a lot of history but is older and can appear dingy. On a positive note, the outdoor garden with hundreds of tables with umbrellas is delightful. It is very lively with people from all over the world eating, having coffee, etc. The rooms are pretty much Holiday Inn-ish except the linens were quite nice. The location is quite central which is good considering the unbelievable traffic in Cairo. Security is tight and they check cars entering the hotel premises with dogs, etc. I know the other hotel of choice is the Oberoi but it is close to the pyramids and not much else and appears to be under renovation. The hotel has many restaurants to choose from and the food was surprisingly good.

We met Ahmed the next day and we started our tour with a trip to the museum. Be prepared…there is no air conditioning and it is very crowded. On the other hand, I loved it. It was built around 1900 and it looks it. The cases are wooden and many of the description cards are hand written on browning paper. All of this added to the ambiance for me. I hear they are building a modern museum near Giza to house the antiquities. I’m glad I got to see them in the older building. (Tip: the public bathrooms are horrible everywhere, including the museum. The Hilton is right next to the museum so we used their bathroom.) Ahmed helped us to navigate this jam packed museum and ensured that we saw the highlights at a time with the least amount of people. He took us to a typical Egyptian restaurant for lunch with very good food. There were several occasions where he seemed to be able to read my mind. One time was in this restaurant where I thought the table linens could have been cleaner. Without my saying a word, he had them changed. He seemed to be able to anticipate our needs which is a very good thing and indicates the extent of his service orientation. The afternoon was spent at the pyramids, etc. We had a great time negotiating for a fair price to ride on a camel ($20 pp). If you can, don’t miss this opportunity. My husband and I were hysterical…we kept thinking of the Laurel and Hardy saying…”Another fine mess you’ve gotten me into Ollie.” And, the photos are terrific of the camel with the pyramids in the background. Ahmed also knew the best places to stand to take pictures.

We were off to Coptic Cairo the next day, a mosque visit and a ride into the countryside to eat. It was very pleasant and met with my request for a tour that wasn’t a killer. We walked through he Khalili bazaar. I enjoyed that but truthfully, there is very little to buy. I bought a few of the striped scarves which are colorful and light.
We were leaving for Luxor that evening so we had checked out of our hotel in the morning and our flight didn’t leave until 10:15 that night. As a surprise, Ahmed arranged for a room for us in a little hotel where we could rest until it was time to leave for the airport. That sure beat sitting in the airport for four hours.

After a one hour flight to Luxor, we were met by our new tour guide and driver. We arrived at the Sonesta St. George around midnight. We made a mistake by not having dinner earlier and found that there was not much to eat there. They promised to send up some bread and jam to the room but it never materialized. Their dining room overlooking the pool area and the Nile is very nice with a great buffet breakfast. (Tip: 1) there are no alarm clocks in the room, so bring your own if you depend on one and 2) be specific about the bed type you want.)

The guide (Mach Moud ..sp??), who met us in Luxor, was with Lady Egypt and he stayed with us for the remainder of our trip. He was very knowledgeable and delightful to be with.
For the next four nights we were aboard the Sonesta St. George for a Nile Cruise. We had a great surprise when we were upgraded to a presidential suite. I’m not sure, but I think our guide may have had something to do with that. The room was enormous with two slider doors and French balconies. Overall, the cruise was fine. The service was very good except for our waiter who was probably the worst on the boat. For a five star experience this was unacceptable. The food was rather repetitious…beef, sea bass, chicken, veal. The bread was great, the desserts varied and plentiful. (Tip: Again…lower your expectations…it is not a typical cruise ship). The pool area and covered deck is very nice. Sitting on the deck during tea time and watching the Nile and the scenery go by is a wonderful experience.
Rather than taking the tours that go along with the cruise, we continued with our private guide. By the way, the private guides stay on the boat. We toured each morning then spent the afternoon relaxing on the boat. I found Karnak temple to be most impressive. And although I thought seeing it at night was special and a bit eerie, I wouldn’t recommend the sound and light show. By the end, most people were falling asleep. Perhaps they were all suffering from jet lag but I doubt it!

On the other hand, I would suggest taking the balloon ride over Luxor. We were up really early for the sunrise ride with Horizon Balloon Company. We were told that they were one of the few who had insurance. The pilot was very professional and we felt very safe in our 32 person basket. It was worth getting up at 3:45 a.m. and the boat packed us a breakfast to take along. Getting to the balloon also required taking a ferry across the Nile. They had coffee and tea set up for us and we ate our boxed breakfast aboard. It cost $150pp for the 50 minute ride.

We pretty much followed the tour itinerary of the cruise ship for the remaining days and all the sites were great. I think the Valley of the Kings was the most interesting. Don’t miss the model of the tombs in the visitors’ center to help put them in perspective.

After five days on the boat, we were back to Cairo. We actually became quite attached to our guide and hated to say good-bye. He handed us off to a driver and another guide for our trip to the airport back to Cairo. Again we were met at the airport and ushered through the crowds and back to the Marriott.

All in all it was a great trip that went off well. I would highly recommend Ahmed Hamed Yousif. Planning this type of trip is a bit different from anything we’ve done in the past. It literally takes a leap of faith to book with an Egyptian guide and tour company. The deposits are done through wire transfers with a long lag time until you get confirmation. It was a little nerve racking but now that I have experienced it, I would do it again without hesitation. It all worked precisely, if not better, than Ahmed had promised.

Hopefully this report proves helpful to others. I understand that Egypt’s rate of tourism for the high season is down; so, if you can do it, this may be a time to visit with less crowds and perhaps some deals.

firenz is offline  
Dec 4th, 2008, 06:44 PM
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Which Marriott did you stay in in Cairo ?

Percy is online now  
Dec 4th, 2008, 06:52 PM
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<< We walked through he Khalili bazaar. I enjoyed that but truthfully, there is very little to buy.>>

You would never guess there was nothing to buy if you came to my house!!!!
Grcxx3 is offline  
Dec 4th, 2008, 07:24 PM
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firenz, who was your guide in Luxor, etc? (We went with Lady Egypt on a private tour in August - our guide was Mahmoud and he, too, was wonderful, we thought).
sf7307 is online now  
Dec 5th, 2008, 10:49 AM
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Thanks for the details. I may be going some time in the not too distant future and looks like Ahmed is getting very good reviews.
Femi is offline  
Dec 6th, 2008, 03:58 PM
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sf7307, I think you both had the same guide in Luxur -Mahmoud- but she seems to have typed his name phonetically "Mach Moud"...

I've never been to Egypt but I do have the intention to go when I'm done visiting every single country in Europe.

As for the Marriott not being a five star, well the Marriott chain generally has a 4 star rating, and since this particular hotel was probably old, it could have been run down and downgraded to a 3 star.

If you really wanted to stay at a five star property in Cairo, they not only have one, but TWO four seasons properties to satisfy you. A Ritz-Carlton will be opening soon too.
Mark11 is offline  
Dec 6th, 2008, 05:47 PM
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You could not have been staying at the Marriott at Gezira Island !!?
Percy is online now  
Dec 6th, 2008, 08:58 PM
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You said - "The rooms are pretty much Holiday Inn-ish except the linens were quite nice."

I'm curious how the Marriott room is like a Holiday Inn? I was at the Holiday Inn this last week and the rooms are tiny compared to a standard Marriott room in the towers.

I'm just curious what you thought was "dingy" about it? Dingy is not a word I would use to describe the Cairo Marriott at all. Elegant would be more like it, I think.

You did get it right about the location though. In my opinion the location beats anything else in the city.

What room number did you get? Maybe you got a lousy room? Overlooking the parking lot or into the freeway on the other side? Room location can make a difference in your opinion of a hotel.

I'm sorry you didn't love the Marriott as much as the rest of us do.

And Mark11, NO WAY the Marriott is old and downgraded to a 3 star hotel.

Just MHO
Casual_Cairo is offline  
Dec 6th, 2008, 09:14 PM
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Mark, you're right - I missed the "Mach Moud" prt of the original post. Anyway, Mahmoud WAS wonderful - very knowledgeable and just a very nice person (and speaks outstanding English).
sf7307 is online now  
Dec 7th, 2008, 08:15 AM
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I agree 100% with Debbie at Casual_Cairo.

I thought the Marriott was terrific.

I just finished looking at all the pictures I took inside and out side of the Marriott.

Then I talked to two ladies who were there in late April and they were stunned that someone would call the Gezira Marriott a three star hotel.!!

But firenz you are entitled to your opinion.

Who knows maybe your previous holiday before coming to Cairo was at the 7 Star Dubai Hotel.

To anyone going to Cairo and wanting to stay at the Marriott...

just google the Marriott . look at the outside and inside of the hotel

..look at some of the room !! does this look like a three Star to you.!!!

As for the Khan al Khalili Bazaar not only is there lots to see and lots to buy( if you are a shopper) ..BUT it is an Experience just being here and walking about.

Thanks Debbie for showing us such a good time here and for the bargains you got for us.

That's my opinion of the Marriott and the Bazaar !!

Percy is online now  
Dec 7th, 2008, 08:33 AM
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<<As for the Khan al Khalili Bazaar not only is there lots to see and lots to buy( if you are a shopper) ..BUT it is an Experience just being here and walking about.>>

I just LOVE the Khan! I used to go about once a month...visiting my "regular" shops and then exploring and finding new ones. Even if I didn't buy anything (rare, but it happened!) - I had fun. Every couple of months I would head over to the tent makers area to see what new applique items were available.

I'll never forget the time DH and I were down there and we saw a man carrying a cow (dead, skinned, but otherwise in one piece) on his back - with the front legs of the cow over his shoulders. WISH I had had my camera!
Grcxx3 is offline  
Dec 7th, 2008, 08:37 AM
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Just returned from Egypt on a Grand Circle Tour Nov.29th, stayed at the Cairo Marriott and we thought it was great. Toured Islamic Cairo with Debbie Senters of Casual Cairo Detours and had a great time. (Hi, Debbie!)Am planning to post a trip report but have been busy decorating for Christmas. Just wanted to add my opinion of the Marriott: lovely room; lovely, soft linens; 2 double beds with 4 pillows on each; super water pressure in shower; fantastic breakfast buffet in the Omar Kayyam cafe, everything clean, nothing I would remotely consider dingy. We'd go back in a heartbeat!
KRNS is offline  
Dec 7th, 2008, 09:34 AM
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As for the Khan al Khalili Bazaar not only is there lots to see and lots to buy( if you are a shopper) ..BUT it is an Experience just being here and walking about.

I love markets, and loved poking around Khan al Khalili, but I didn't buy a thing -- and didn't see anything I would have been interested in buying.
sf7307 is online now  
Dec 7th, 2008, 06:32 PM
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Glad other like Khan al Khalili as much as I did.

Okay Grcxx3.... I am stupid, but what does DH stand for

Percy is online now  
Dec 7th, 2008, 06:45 PM
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DH = Dear/Darling/Damn/Demented Husband/Hubby.

Whatever fits at the moment!
Grcxx3 is offline  
Dec 8th, 2008, 02:54 PM
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Why Thank you very much DL !

Percy is online now  
Jan 13th, 2009, 09:22 AM
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Frienz - How much does a trip like this cost? (approx)
pattyshearts is offline  
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