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Trip Report Egypt Uncovered Review: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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We booked our 25-person private customized tour to Egypt with Egypt Uncovered (a UK based company that uses Lady Egypt as their local tour provider). Here's a summary of my feedback about the tour operator:

The good:

1. Detailed pre-planning, quick email response time prior to the trip (unfortunately this changed afterwards) with our bookings manager, Janet Northrop. Over the months and change in plans/dates/number of people, I communicated with Janet numerous times to ensure a well-planned tour.

2. Well-organized -- I was pretty impressed with the level of organization for the tour. Airport pick-ups/drop-offs, baggage claim, transport of luggage, transportation to and from each site, went very smoothly even with such a large group of people. It was nice to have reps at each location managing this. I also appreciated the measures taken to ensure our luggage was not lost -- we identified our luggage at every baggage claim, before they were loaded on the bus, after they were was a great system. We had no luggage problems at all during the course of the trip. Actually, the only person who did was our tour guide, Hamdy, who forgot his own luggage on the cruise boat because he was making sure we didn't forget anything. Luckily, someone from the Aswan office was able to get it to him before we boarded the plane to Cairo.

3. Tour guide/Egyptologist Hamdy -- We all thought very highly of him -- he is incredibly knowledgeable, friendly, and humble. He knows how to both read and engage his audience to create a good balance of how much and what kind of information to give us. We bombarded him with questions about anything and everything, and he patiently answered all of them. He seemed sincere in wanting to ensure that we made the most of our trip and tried to accommodate our wishes. He apologized about the problems that arose during the trip and seemed genuinely concerned but didn't seem to have the power to do anything about them. He took such good care of us over the week and became part of our travel family that we invited him to dinner with us at the Moghul Room our last night. He politely declined. We gave him a nice tip at the end and we even wrote him a thank you note from the group.

4. At my request, accommodated birthdays of several of our group members (with personalized cakes, etc)

5. Last minute change to a different cruise boat (overall, very nice) -- While on the sleeper train, we were informed that our original cruise ship, Farida, had had a fire incident and that there would be a last minute change to the MS Opera. Nobody (neither Janet, Hamdy, or our Cairo rep, Ahmed Khalifa) seemed to know much about the boat other than that it looked nice in their website pictures. I'm guessing it is not a boat that Lady Egypt uses often, if at all, which made me a little nervous since I did so much research prior to the trip about the boats we were going to use. It turned out I had nothing to worry about. It was a lovely boat. In fact, it was among the nicest boats we walked through. Very opulent-looking décor, comfortable, good food most of the time, great gift shop. The front desk staff was not overly helpful or friendly, but we otherwise had a nice time overall. I do think, however, that it doesn't make much sense to not include beverages with the meals since the meals are included. It was annoying to have to pay for a bottle of water with each meal.

6. Tipping Kitty – made managing tips much less of a hassle: With all the emphasis on the tipping practices in Egypt, I was nervous about how we would be able to manage this with 25 people. I was told that you have to tip for any and everything, and I had nightmares of how chaotic this would be. The tipping kitty was a great solution -- the tour guide collected 150 LE/person to use for tips for the duration of the tour. I was glad that I wouldn't have to manage all that. What I found a little awkward was that many porters, etc., would ask us for tips anyway and we just had to direct them to our tour guide. This was confusing at first because we weren’t sure what to do, but since we had already paid our tour guide to cover all the tips, we thought we should enforce it. If someone went above and beyond to provide good service, we tipped more, but it would be helpful if our tour guide could make sure that the crew/porters, etc, know that he would take care of their tips.

7. Opportunity to buy cold water bottles on bus -- 5LE or $1 USD for 2 bottles (made it easier for our large group)

The bad:

1. Poor response time (or no response) to problems/feedback – cruise room, food issues, entrance fees, optional excursion fees. For large private tour groups, it might be worth it to give the group leader a phone so that it is easier for the rep to contact us when problems arise. Though I had internet access on my blackberry, which was invaluable to me as it allowed me to freely communicate over email, having a phone would've been helpful (instead, I had to take over our tour guide's phone)

2. The constant touting EVERYWHERE you go – not just at tourist sites, even when you’re on a 5-minute ferry to a temple, on the coach bus, on a felucca ride…literally, everywhere.

3. Being taken to overpriced touristy places to shop and to eat…some were very unreasonable. Perfumery and papyrus shops charged more than double other places charged (as for differences in quality, I don't know...and I'm not sure you would even be able to tell). We insisted that we just wanted to go to local eateries, but despite our requests, our Cairo rep, Ahmed, usually booked us at restaurants that only catered to tourists (that locals couldn't afford) with poorer quality of food. Ones that only served buffets for $15-20 or preset menus that we had no control over (e.g. a meat plate with dry chicken for $15 and for the vegetarians, a plate consisting of FRENCH FRIES as the main entree with a small side of peas for $10...which we had to bargain down from $20!!! Needless to say, 2 of our group members didn't even eat lunch that day). Our best meals in Egypt were places we could order a la carte -- Al-Masry in Aswan ($5 meal for tons of delicious food) and the Moghul Room at the Mena House. We got everything we wanted -- appetizers, drinks, main entrees, more than enough food (in fact, so much that we couldn't finish it all) and no one ended up spending much more than $20 per person. If we are spending around $20/person at a 5 star Indian restaurant (the best in Cairo), then how is it possible we were being asked to pay the same amount for much less for these lunch places that are of much poorer quality?

4. Being assigned to rooms directly above the engine, rooms that are normally reserved for staff -- the noise level was like a jackhammer and the room shook so violently that panels fell off the walls (almost hit one of my friends), lights flickered, items moved across the table (like a long, constant earthquake) – ridiculous for a paying customer and frankly, unsafe! Only one of our requests for change was accommodated, the other room was not (even though there were empty rooms on the boat)

5. Being told our student cards wouldn't allow us to get half-price discounts on entrance fees when there are some places that would've taken them (adds ups to about $50-60 in savings)

The ugly:

1. Finding out that we paid $175 for a hot air balloon ride in Luxor that would’ve cost us $80/person if I had booked it directly with Hod Hod Soliman. For the price we paid for 17 people, we could’ve actually taken 37! I understand people trying to make a profit, but since our tour company did nothing other than book this excursion (all transportation was taken care of by the hot air balloon company), I think charging more than double the price is absolute extortion!

2. Being blindsided about the fact that entrance fees to the sites were not included in our tour price even though our private customized tour was identical to their superior tour (which includes entrance fees). I even asked prior to the trip that I was trying to figure out how much money we needed to carry at each site, so I needed to know what additional costs we would have to pay. I was told about optional things like Mummy room, etc., but it was never mentioned in ANY correspondence for the last SIX months that regular entrance fees were not included. I was also told prior to the trip when I inquired about whether we could have gotten student discounts on entrance fees (since I assumed we had already paid for them) and I was told that "It did use to be the case that you get get discounts on entrance fees with the ISIC card however they no longer do this. They changed it a while ago now. So there would have been no discounts on any entrance fees. Sorry.”
"Would have been" implies that the entrance fees were already paid...another chance to inform me that entrance fees were not included, but I was not told this. This leads me to believe that our bookings manager did not know, either, and we were charged extra once we got to Egypt and it was covered up after the fact.

3. Being charged for a full day city tour (185 LE) to go to just the Egyptian Museum when I was explicitly told by the tour company prior to the trip that it would be 65 LE. (I kept every single correspondence I ever had with them, so I have proof of this).

4. Hidden transportation fees – sometimes we would pay 20LE per person to go around Aswan, sometimes 115LE per person to, literally, go across the street to the Pyramid light show. Very inconsistent and very fishy considering transportation is supposed to be included. For our large group, we were using the bus the whole day. I doubt they were paying them by the hour and probably had booked it for the whole day anyway to save money.

5. When you add up all these undisclosed extras (and these are only the problems I knew about…who knows how much I didn’t know about), we were ripped off more than $250 per person (at the very least). With a group of 25 people, that’s more than $6000!

6. For a company that made such a big deal about how much they valued their customer’s feedback, I find it incredibly unprofessional and dishonest that they have chosen to ignore my requests for clarification of all these undisclosed hidden fees. Considering we spent close to $50,000 on the tour alone with our group of 25 people, it pretty much negates all the good will we had created in the last 6 months. I even sent the feedback (both good and bad) directly to their director, Ralph Foulds. I gave them over a month to respond, and I have heard nothing.

Would I recommend Egypt Uncovered/Lady Egypt? (I don’t know where one begins and one ends to tell you who was primarily responsible for our issues)
If you asked me prior to the trip, I would’ve given you a wholehearted yes. After the way we have been managed during and after the trip, I'm not so sure. If you choose to go with them, I would ask for detailed breakdowns of how much they are charging for everything and demand full disclosure. Definitely do this ahead of time because once you’ve paid, they could care less.

No matter who you decide to go with and regardless of any issues that may arise, nothing can take away from the magnificence of all the places you will see...especially if you experience it with a great group of family and friends. Egypt truly is a magical place and you will have a so many wonderful memories to bring back home! Have a great trip!

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    Always sad to read when someone does not get what was promised and what was paid for.

    When I went to Egypt in a small group , once I paid here in my local city. I never had an extra charge once I arrived.!!

    I even came a few days earlier on my own..before joining the tour , then

    hired a good local guide ( like Debbie at Casual Cairo) and she took me to all the places that I would NOT be seeing on my tour.

    I felt by the time I joined my tour group 2 days later, I had already seen half of Cairo.!

    I can sympathize with your "bad" and ugly"

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    Unfortunately I just have time for a quick note. Will re-read again. It sounds like you had "my" Hamdy. It sounds like him not going to dinner. He ate a couple of times with us when we were out on the road but wanted to give us privacy. Privacy is not what we wanted. Mostly he e wanted to enjoy his company and speak to a local Egyptian. I thought he very sweet and caring. He would joke to me, in his own quiet and respectful way about saving 1 EGP when there was no bathroom attendant!

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    Thanks for your trip report, ToThereAndBack. It was an interesting read.

    My husband and I have compiled a list of questions for our travel agent and had already planned to arrange a meeting with her sometime in the next two weeks (our trip is in March). Your report made it clear that we need to ask more questions and get more information.

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    <<The Bad: 5. Being told our student cards wouldn't allow us to get half-price discounts on entrance fees when there are some places that would've taken them (adds ups to about $50-60 in savings) >>

    <<The ugly: 1. Finding out that we paid $175 for a hot air balloon ride in Luxor that would’ve cost us $80/person if I had booked it directly with Hod Hod Soliman. For the price we paid for 17 people, we could’ve actually taken 37! I understand people trying to make a profit, but since our tour company did nothing other than book this excursion (all transportation was taken care of by the hot air balloon company), I think charging more than double the price is absolute extortion!>>

    I wanted to comment on these two points

    1 - Don't blame LE or your operator too much for this. This is a constantly changing issue in Egypt that all guides and companies struggle to deal with. One day they are accepting the Green International Card, the next day we hear Zowie Howas has decided that anyone and everyone can buy one of those, so they are not going to be allowed anymore - now you need a real Student Body Card from your University. Then the next time we go to another site, they want the Green card again. I think it may be a lack of across the board training for the ticket sellers. They fear for their jobs if they sell tickets for too little. And in this country if they sell student tickets to someone undeserving (by their bosses estimation) they will probably have the difference taken out of their paycheck. This is the NORMAL form of punishment implemented in this country. If you are a group of 25, and 12 of you are carrying student cards that my boss may detirmine don't meet the rules TODAY and ticket prices are LE60 per adult and LE30 per student - that could mean LE360 taken from my paycheck. If I make LE500 per month, I might not want to take that chance. Maybe they make LE1000 per month, but I would bet not more than that.
    So maybe you can see we are constantly dancing around that rule. And what is worse is that different sites and the ticket sellers will do things differently.
    Also known that NO tickts go on sale in advance.
    Whether they double dipped for tickets, I have no idea. If you have it written somewhere that tickets were included in your upfront fees that you prepaid, by no means should you have been shelling out more dosh for standard tickets. Optional tickets would have been the only thing you should have paid extra for.

    2 - Before posting that you can buy a Hot Air Balloon ride from Hod Hod Solimon for $80, I think you should get that in writing, and I'm 90% possitive you won't get it from them. They are NOT that cheap. The least expensive I've heard them to be is $120 per person. Perhaps with a large group you could have paid $120 per person and had a couple of free spots which when spread over the group might come to $80 per person, but it is dangerous to post prices like that on the internet as some one is bound to read that and expect an $80 flight from Hod Hod Solimon.... OR another company and that is what drove prices into the ground two years ago and had too many balloons flying for too little money with too little experince at the pilots hands and started causing too many accidents. Having said that, please understand that Hod Hod is the SAFEST company down there to date (IMHO) and if you want a safe flight, fly Hod Hod Solimon, but DO NOT expect it to be the cheapest flight in Luxor.
    If it was heresay that someone paid $80 for their flight, I would be asking a lot more questions about the details of that flight. Where did they buy it? How many in their group? Why was there such a discount offered? If it is true, there must be a good reason.

    I'm sorry you had an overall so-so (at best) experience with your tour. I hope some of you may decide to come back and try it in smaller groups next time and have a better time.

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    I'd love to see their correspondence about the non inclusion of entrance fees. Seems unbelievable. How frustrating for you. Even without the extra entrance fees you had to pay at the last minute, I found that I did need a lot of extra "spending money". Something people don't think about and others have asked on here how much they'd need. If we decided to do extra things we had to pay for the activity and for someone to take us there. I fully understood this and as I didn't not have to count every penny I was able to do this. I can see it being an issue in big groups. We paid extra for things like the Mummification museum in Luxor, camel ride in Aswan, Nubean village, visit to Nubean Restaurant (which I paid US$20 to eat and didn't touch a bite of food... it was a bit "icky" in my opinion - hubby ate everything and loved it!) I too figured they'd have to make a profit.

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    I wanted to give an update since my last post. Shortly after I posted this review on TripAdvisor, one of Egypt Uncovered's current customers brought my review to their attention, which prompted a reply from their operations director, Ralph Foulds, after 6 weeks of waiting. (Whoever that reader was, I sincerely thank you!) I had given up getting a response, which is when I posted my final review. After reviewing the issues that occurred during our trip, he sent me a thorough reply and agreed that many of the problems arose due to a communication breakdown. He has since offered a refund of the entrance fees and the extra we paid for the Egyptian Museum trip, which I very much appreciate as I felt there were discrepancies with what had been communicated to me prior to the trip and what happened while I was in Egypt. It was frustrating to deal with at the time, and I'm glad I can lay some of those issues to rest.

    In addition, Egypt Uncovered is refunding £10 of our hot air balloon ride cost (bringing the total cost of the hot air balloon ride to about £100). This is still double the price than I would’ve paid had I booked it myself. I actually do have this in writing, and the only reason I inquired is because I was looking through Fodor's/Frommer's posts about the hot air balloon ride after I returned from the trip and came across prices that others paid. When I realized we had been way overcharged, I emailed Hod Hod Soliman (which was the company I heard about through one of these forums). They told me they normally charge "90 Sterling or US $ 130 or 100 Euro per person , but the booking by email will be 70 Sterling or US $ 100 or 70 Euro per person include every thing and transport. You can pay by card or cash on the flight day. ALSO BECAUSE YOU ARE GROUP SO THE PRICE WILL BE US$ 80 per person if you are more than 15 pax." (quoted from the email they sent me). I had read that Hod Hod Soliman is not the cheapest but are reliable with a good safety record so if they were charging me $80 before I had even negotiated anything with them, it made me feel like I really got ripped off. I should've done more research about it beforehand, but I trusted that Egypt Uncovered would procure group discounts for all of our excursions since we had such a large group (we pretty much took up the whole balloon except for 2 people). While Mr. Foulds agreed that they should’ve looked into this, they didn’t and we ended up paying the same set price their company charges for 1 or 2 people (as opposed to a group larger than 15 people). Even the regular price Hod Hod Soliman quoted (without the internet discount or group discount and for a date not last minute but 4 months in advance) was $130 USD per person, which was $45 less than what we paid. I assume tour operators, because they give a lot of business, would get a better standard rate from hot air balloon companies than someone like me who would've been a one-time customer, but perhaps I'm wrong.

    I also think it is unreasonable to charge 175LE for the sound and light show at the pyramids if your customers are staying at the Oberoi Mena House which is across the street. Entrance fee is only 60 LE, so that is 115LE extra PER PERSON for transportation across the street. We paid 65 LE per person to be taken all the way from the Mena House to the Egyptian Museum in the city center and back and for a several hour guided tour, but paid 115 LE per person for a 5 minute ride across the street. That doesn't make sense. I know this is their same standard fee for people who are staying in the city center, but there should be some flexibility when this is not the case. And even taking into account some commission for the local reps, this is still high and inconsistent with other charges during the trip. Taking a taxi probably would’ve been $5-10 at the most, as opposed to the almost $20 USD per person we paid.

    I guess the moral of the story is, consider booking optional excursions yourself either by contacting them in advance or booking once you arrive. It would've saved us quite a bit and it's not even that inconvenient. I think we got pretty good discounts on hotel prices from Egypt Uncovered, so I'm not sure why this was not the case for the optional excursions, too...I guess I was a little naïve.

    While there was a significant delay in response, I appreciate Mr. Foulds' willingness to work with me to resolve some of these issues. Because of their excellent correspondence prior to the trip, I expected the same during and afterwards and was disappointed when I didn't receive it for quite some time...and even then, it was prompted by another customer's concerns about my comments. However, I am pleased that they are now taking some steps to correct this -- better late than never. I still disagree with the handling of the optional excursion fees, particularly the hot air balloon and sound and light show -- even though our group was unusally large for their tours, I still think it's the responsibility of the tour operator to get us the best rates possible given the extra business instead of the same rates reserved for smaller groups/individuals. At least the director said in his email that they were discussing all my feedback at their administrative meeting and are looking into making some of these changes for future travelers.

    I normally am not one to join tour groups (in fact, I've never done it) as I prefer to do the research and design an itinerary on my own without having to conform to the restrictions of a formal tour. However, I felt that Egypt was a destination for which this might be a much more difficult task...particularly since my travel group went from 3 to 25 in a matter of a few months. I have never planned a trip for 25 people...much less a trip to a place halfway around the world. I enlisted Egypt Uncovered's help with the legwork hoping that with enough planning and collaboration with them beforehand, the trip itself would be stress-free for me. It wasn't...but like I said, these issues, as frustrating as they were at times, did not take away from how incredible it was for me to stand in front of the pyramids, walk through ancient temples, learn about such a rich past, meet such warm and friendly people, and immerse myself in a different culture. Plus, I got to experience it with some of my closest friends and family. I assure you, Casual Cairo, it was more than a so-so trip :).

    I hope someone finds some of this information useful in planning their own Egypt trip. I also hope that everyone in Egypt is staying safe right now and wish that it will be safe to travel there again soon.

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    Hummmm you got a refund after reports out. Shame on them refunding after the fact. Word of mouth is the the best advertizing/or |NOT Glad you posted the negative so we could all see and them make a decission who we want as a tour guide
    Great forum-Also TA

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    I read your review on TA at the time, so am glad you have at least had some form of recompense from Egypt Uncovered. Publicity obviously helps!
    One minor point I might argue with:-
    I agree the Mena House is 'just down the road' from the Pyramids, but you are at the wrong end of the complex. The road through is usually closed before the show, so you go round the edges to the seating area which is over 1 mile.
    Still NOT worth 115LE though.
    Have to agree re the Mogul room re prices and especially re the food

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    <<Taking a taxi probably would’ve been $5-10 at the most, as opposed to the almost $20 USD per person we paid.>>

    Taking a taxi SHOULD have cost $5-$10 at most, but I can assure you, you would have paid that to get to the show and another $20 to get back to the hotel. The taxi drivers are not stupid and they will wait to find someone going into town or someone willing to pay that much to go around the corner. They will probably allow you to walk back to the Mena House before they would take you there for $5 - $10 at the end of the show.
    I'm not saying that is right, but it is their right to refuse work that doesn't pay as much as other work they would hope to get.
    Walking from the Mena House to and from the show would be doable, but probably pretty annoying with all the touts that will be there trying to get you into their papyrus shop or whatever.

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    TC - All tour companies are going to set prices for an event and not make concessions depending on what hotel you are in. That could become a logistical nightmare for the tour company.
    Keep in mind that the tour company may only be transporting you from across the street, but I doubt the van and driver live across the street and the company is paying for their time to get from wherever they are, to you at the Mena House (or wherever), so gasoline and driver time have been used to make your life more comfortable by providing transport you trust to get you there, wait for you, and return you to the hotel.
    It is certainly your right to choose to NOT buy this tour from LE or any other company if you feel comfortable enough to go outside, get your own transportation, buy your own tickets into the show and manage transportation back to the hotel. No one should stop you from doing that if you are comfortable with it. There are difficulties, as mentioned above - such as drivers that will want to collect a LOT more money from you to take you back to the hotel than it cost to get to the show if you didn't organize that in advance. What you are paying for, if not for drivers time, gasoline and a van is a comfort level that you may need/want so you can enjoy your time and the show better.
    Hope that helps explain why their price is probably not adjusted because a hotel is near an event.

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