Beside Egyptian Red Sea
If it’s blue skies and clear blue water with palm trees on the private sandy shore, then our holiday in Hurghada comes fully recommended.
But if it’s sunshine coupled with sophistication you want I am not so sure.
Egypt isn’t to everyone’s taste, our sprawling hotel wasn't shabby chic but it is just six hours from Bristol airport and the temperature in December hovers around 26 degrees.
However, when your bus breaks down in the desert on the return journey and with heightened security checks it took a full day to get home to Nailsea.
Here is my diary with warts and all of a pre Christmas all-inclusive Thomas Cook seven day stay on the Red Sea at the 445-bed Sentido Palm Royale Hotel, Soma Bay.
The five star holiday with room and flight upgrades cost just under €2,000 although post Christmas there are some bargains to be had.
DAY ONE Monday, December 17
Interesting flight - six fuckers from our plane got on wrong flight. By the time they were located, hold already unpacked and then had to repacked we were 40 minutes late taking off. Grandparents sitting behind us allowed their ‘are we there yet’ grandchildren to climb all over them kicking the back of our seats including child with persistent cough. Cabin crew great, especially Shareen and Sian, and by time we landed the captain was less cross about the delay. Arrival at Hurghada chaotic. Couldn’t cope with two Bristol flights at same time. One Thomas Cook the other Tui. In wrong luggage queue (other flight). If we knew then what we know now. Despite buying visas online prior to take-off airport delays in Egypt are par for the course. Rob gave rogue ‘bell boy’ five dollars for putting cases in coach hold after he demanded tip and grabbed our luggage in airport car park!! He didn’t even work for Thomas Cook. Happy holidays...transfer more than an hour, bumpy, bumpy, speeds bumps, all the way and heightened sense of security with many police checkpoints and looking under coach with mirrors for BOMBS. All’s well that ends well - alcoholic drink coming in glamorous hotel reception thanks to English hotel rep Natalie. Nice touch is we are escorted by reception staff in direction of our beach fronted three storey room and cases delivered minutes later. Goodnight.
DAY TWO Tuesday, December 18
Walk around bay, weather warm with pleasant breeze. Few boats - modern and dated craft - bobbing. Nought percent chance of rain. Cooked tomatoes at breakfast had a sliver of cheese and my bread roll was coated in sugar. Quite a few Germans here. Hotel, pool and beach not crowded. Lovin’ it. Two choices of wine - white or red. Off to reps meeting in a moment. After years of staying in hotels finally worked out how to successfully lock room safe. Thought about going to Bedouins village all belly and dervish dancing but bit about camping and star gazing put me off as it could be overnight. Heard later our ‘authentic’ nomadic tribe had Land Rovers parked behind their tents. Thomas Cook rep said everything twice - even his jokes but was affable enough. Really pushed Luxor and Cairo trips at bargain prices. Didn’t fancy seeing a MacDonald’s next door to the Sphinx - told it will be moved soon. Curry for lunch, fantastic pedicure and swimming at health club where heated outdoor pool is 28 degrees. Dosed insect bites on ankle with antiseptic. Maintenance men let’s himself into apartment when I am lying on bed knickerless - impossible to live with this disturbance and loud volleyball game going on sands below balcony. Obviously jet lagged crabby. A few hours later (midnight) woke up to deal with toilet flush flooding bathroom - my Howard Hughes fear of germs kicks in as worried excess toilet water could contaminate floor. I am on hands and knees cleaning.
DAY THREE Wednesday, December 19
Covered in big red welts left by kamikaze mosquito. Spoke to night manager Mahmoud who promised to get bathroom closet fixed pronto and decided on al fresco at breakfast in Stella cafe sitting among wildlife - birds flitting around - no buzzing creepy crawlies. Feathered friends share breakfast fruit bowl. Being a predominantly Moslem country - thanks to British interference way back - bacon for breakfast is beef!! On a comfort level beds not as good as Macdonald hotels or Center Parcs but far superior to any we experienced in Barcelona. Single beds very generous width. Pillows solid lumps of foam, towels plentiful - beach and bathroom provided. Nice touches with room furniture - clothes fit in drawers and wardrobes (unlike China) but request for extra coat hangers ignored. Room tea/coffee making facilities perfect, jug, kettle, crockery slot into tray which warns of €3 fine if you pinch plastic (specially imported it says) long handled pink acrylic spoons. Memo to self must find out about fresh milk. Loo fixed. Awful piped music on site on continuous loop and despite date we have heard Christmas and new year music ad infinitum. Bought rubber (plastic) ring cost 200LE (Egyptian pounds). No restrictions in health club pool on swimming aids including large lilo. Must mention lovely mosaic artwork but huge portraits of owners in reception are a little disconcerting - thought they were of prominent politicians- perhaps I will graffiti moustaches and spectacles before we leave? Blue sky, mild breeze makes palm trees sway. Fellow travellers tell us Luxor is hot, hot, unbearably hot even in December and Red Sea may look calm close to shore, but they experience massive swell on island trip. Unable to find out when hotel originally built but with its telephone and computer room, English pub and disco guess 1990s - will update when I find out.
DAY FOUR Thursday, December 20
Tired, bit of hangover. Toilet doesn’t work perfectly and learn on BBC website about drones diverting flights to and from Gatwick. Brother Eric and sister-in-law Beverly plus children Romany, 22, and Alfie, 17, lucky to have made it here. Found the first floor VIP restaurant - absolutely fabulous, coffee served in silver pot. Must book tasters and à la carte restaurants today. Family at beach went back to bed for an hour now off to health club. Bites still itchy, Eric and Alfie have bites too. One the size of a molehill on side of my face. Cleaners leave towel in shape of swan on bed. Apparently, their party piece. Just realised hardly any women employed at resort which was built in 2002 as an intercontinental hotel and bought by Egyptian fridge millionaire 11 years later. Told elderly industrialist lives in house on site. Rob and Bev do a yoga session. Massage booked for 10am for girls and boys booked at noon at health club. Pondering about scuba boat trip and singer in English bar today - still have tasters to book in Lebanese, Asian, French or Greek restaurants, the later has a plate throwing session. Bev and Alfie going to try shisha corner and smoke a pipe. Found out it is £25 to upgrade to faster WiFi, we all decided not to bother. Guest services called to check if all okay and Bev didn’t realise they had to put ‘service room now’ sign on door to get cleaners in!!
DAY FIVE Friday, December 21
Glorious night’s sleep feeling million times better. Bev and Romany tossed and turned due to weird air conditioning and itchy bites. Bumped into little Charlotte, neary three, and her parents. Told the child has been ‘banned’ from health club pool as someone complained as it has age restriction as you have to be 10+. She is a wonderfully well-behaved little girl and as place isn’t crowded seemed a bit mean. Rania gave me a full body massage - we were allowed three as ‘tasters’ all-inclusive in Thomas Cook package. Wonderful - will go back with tip as she was amazing. I smell of coconut oil which is nice and during my full frontal, shoulders, neck and back rub listened to authentic pipped Egyptian music. You could believe you were living in a palace belonging to a pharaoh, happy day (so far). Day ended with belly dancing show and three glasses of white wine after snooker game in English pub. Another night of being bitten - so bad wanted to go home...took radical action and sprayed all my bedding with insect repellent which cured the nuisance.
DAY SIX Saturday, December 22
Breakfast rendezvous at 8am in my favourite VIP restaurant - full itinerary today. Too late to book à la carte restaurants as hotel filling up for Christmas and New Year. Alfie and Eric have gone on a scuba diving boat trip, Bev and Romany are beach babes, Rob is wandering, and I am fighting off flies at health club. Seems cooler, ... unable to get internet connection but refuse to pay £25 extra for router. The quad bike experience was a bit hairy, so no one is brave enough to try camels or horses. Health club is quiet now all small children evicted. This evening we paid £80 for a 'luxury' limousine to take us to the shithole of the world. Dirt, dust and disgusting just about sums up the experience. Fellow travellers avoid Hurghada downtown like the clappers unless you want a dose of something nasty or to meet a rabid cat. As Bev says at least we viewed it in the dark after an hour ride through the plastic littered desert...whoops, found a more civilised thoroughfare off main road but it isn’t John Lewis or Trafford Centre and I know I should lower my expectations, but it wasn’t retail therapy as I know it. Touts, tat and loud traffic, unlit side streets with unfinished projects, no pedestrian crossings and elderly Arab peeing in road while another adjusts his tackle in bar after watching football on tv. Found out on route to airport city that old camels don’t go to some lovely retirement home but a Cairo abattoir to be made into shish kebabs. Bar manager Mena Moner saved my soul by providing much need substance on return to hotel - several large cocktails and fuck the last day hangover. Gratis muchie - he a now a friend on Facebook.
DAY SEVEN Sunday, December 23
Final thoughts - I never have to come back. Feel there is something immoral about lording it in four (definitely not five) star luxury while others live outside this complex in impoverish conditions but then the Egyptians rely on tourism which is vital part of their economy. The hotel is trying to be all things to all people, but the Miss and Mr Hotel competition sealed its fate for me - Butlin's by the Red Sea isn't my idea of holiday entertainment. The outside sports were superb - I watched everyone from my comfy beach bed. I did note that health & safety isn't an Egyptian thing yet, for instance, pot plants in reception perched precariously on top of the revolving entrance door, I am sure the shower screen isn't safety glass and the electric hairdryer a bathroom fixture? Feel like a Thomas Cook secret shopper. By upgrading to a beach front apartment - according to Trip Adviser reports - we understood we would get less noise disturbance, however, any chance of an afternoon nap wasn't possible in room 2206 which overlooks volley ball court. Staff forgot to tell us we were entitled to breakfast in the VIP upstairs restaurant (my little bit of heaven) this was left to a fellow holidaymaker at pool. Hotel ATM only gives Egyptian pounds and charges £1.75 a withdrawal and on our return found that Virgin had charged us for mobile internet use despite having roaming. Duff info was to take US dollars and sunset is at 5pm in winter so afternoon siestas probably aren’t a good idea if you like daylight.
Postscript: Fellow holidaymakers from all parts of UK and Germany were fantastic, friendly and considerate. Staff, who learn English from day one at school therefore have 16 years foreign language tuition including the mystery men in black who I presume were security were all wonderful. While the English pub wasn't to my taste the shisha corner was a favourite with our travelling companions. The big beefy bouncer-type also spoke Russia but we didn't seem to have any former USSR comrades staying - apparently their behaviour is not so good which is what we were told in Stockholm too. Full marks to the chefs, multi-linguist Mr Ali on the beach and Rania and staff at the health club. Big, big thank you. A written guide or even something clearer on the TV in the room telling times and location of everything would be a helpful addition. And to be truthful I have been bitten worse in Spain and Portugal. Brother and his wife concluded hotel better but they prefer Sharm El Sheikh for authenticity and will go back when travel restrictions lifted.