A Guest's Review of the Hilton Taba Hotel in Egypt
In March 2010 I was lucky enough to be offered a holiday in Egypt with my parents and my sister. This was a country I had always wanted to visit, not least of which because both my sister and myself have always been fascinated by ancient Egypt, the pyramids and the Pharaohs etc. We were going to be staying at the Hilton Taba Hotel, (Taba being a coastal region in Egypt). This hub is intended to be a review of the hotel and the facilities it provided to the guests staying there.
The Main Swimming Pool
Upon arrival at the hotel we were impressed by the warm welcome we received from the staff. A nice fruity cocktail drink was brought out to us and everyone was very polite and friendly. The reception area was extremely spacious and large white pillars were a prominent feature throughout the lobby along with the marble tiles covering the entire floor area. We were quickly offered the option to upgrade our designated rooms to ones with balconies and a sea view for an extra charge, which was mildly annoying only because Thomson Holidays had verbally told my Step Father that we would almost definitely get rooms with a balcony and a sea view as a matter of course, in other words not for any extra fee. However, it would be unfair to blame this on the hotel as clearly we were misled by Thomson Holidays, not by the hotel. We decided to pay the extra charge and upgrade to the better rooms.
A Display Left on the Bed in our Parents Room
I have to say the rooms were very nice. They had air conditioning that could be controlled within the room and a very nice view over the pool and the sea, although we did have to look to the left to get the benefit of this. If I had to be critical I would say the balconies were rather tiny, and apart from two plastic chairs on them there was nothing else, nor would there have been room for anything else such as a table or a sun lounger (even if they had given us the option to have one). Another rather annoying rule was that the hotel prohibited guests from bringing drinks to the room, so any drinks had to be purchased from the mini-bar within the room (and we all know how expensive that can get), in spite of the fact we had paid for an all inclusive holiday. On the plus side a large bottle of water was provided daily free of charge within the room, and when we asked for an extra bottle we were given this free of charge also, (and they continued to leave us an extra bottle daily for the duration of our stay in the hotel). I would have liked to see tea and coffee making facilities in the room, but these were noticeable by their absence.
The bathroom had a good quality powerful shower and was cleaned daily along with the room itself. We did have to ask to have items such as shower caps, shower gels and face flannels replaced though, as the attendants had a habit of taking away the wet flannels and empty shower gel bottles etc, but not replacing them with new ones.
What particularly impressed us was the way the room attendants would always greet us so warmly, even if we simply passed them in the corridors, often putting flowers behind our ears etc. They also folded pyjamas, towels etc into beautiful displays on the bed in our parents room, adding real flowers (although often these were fairly wilted), to create artistic creations such as I have featured in the photos next to this section.
Views from our Room
The Restaurants and Food
The main restaurant was located within the hotel building itself and was called The Palm Court Restaurant. In general the food was very good and on the all inclusive package we were on we were entitled to breakfast, lunch and dinner. We also had the option to eat lunch and dinner at the Nelson Restaurant (situated by the private beach on the complex) or at the Marhaba Restaurant, (latter dinner only). For dinners at the latter two restaurants it was necessary to book in advance.
The best choice of food seemed to be at the Palm Court Restaurant, with breakfasts of freshly made
omelettes, pancakes or waffles, plus cereals, fried foods or fruits and
yoghurt's. Lunches and dinners offered anything from hot food to salads, and some delicious soups which were changed twice a day. Each night of the week the food in the restaurant was themed to a country, e.g. Egyptian Night, and the waiters dressed accordingly. Desserts every night were all much the same 'junket based' colourful but tasteless cakes and pastries, but there was the option of a hot dessert each day and various fresh fruits.
We did try The Nelson Restaurant for lunch a couple of times, but it was outdoors during the day and the food choice was far more basic than within The Palm Court Restaurant.
There was the option to pay extra to eat at a couple of other restaurants located on the complex, but we decided against this so it would be unfair to comment on the standard of their food.
Gorgeous ice creams and alcoholic drinks were available from the beach cafe Shish Bish during the day on the all inclusive tariff, and after 5pm soft drinks could be purchased here, and for an extra charge you could order a Shisha Pipe, which my sister and I did on a regular basis as it was rather like 'guilt free smoking', plus the fruit 'tobaccos' (nicotine free) were actually really enjoyable.
All inclusive drinks were also available from The Fantasy Pool Bar (in the centre of the swimming pool) and The Pirates Beach Bar (on the private beach) and from The Rainbow Lobby Bar (in the hotel lobby).
To be critical we found it rather restrictive as far as the all inclusive drinks were concerned. Wine was only available during meal times, and then only by the glass, not by the bottle. If the restaurant was busy it was often difficult to get served and when the glasses of wine arrived they were usually less than half full. We ended up feeling somewhat like a family of alcoholics when forced to keep pestering the waiters to either bring full glasses, or to bring further glasses within minutes of having been served the first ones. Eventually we had befriended a couple of waiters as well as the restaurant manager, so the size of the glasses and the frequency at which they arrived sped up considerably. Outside of meal times only the local beer, local spirits, cocktails made with local spirits, soft drinks and tea and coffee were available on the all inclusive package, and again it required some pestering to ensure a decent measure of spirits were put in the cocktails and not simply a token amount. We also had to point out that a cocktail claiming to include coconut milk should not have normal UHT cows milk used instead as they are completely different. After we pointed this out a couple of times coconut milk was finally used in the cocktails we ordered.
A further criticism my sister and I experienced first hand in The Palm Court Restaurant was the bizarre dress code rules, or more to the point how the staff interpreted them. Essentially the rules stated 'No Beachwear' or 'Beach Shorts'. We adhered to this rule perfectly, or so we thought, but did get very frustrated when one lunchtime we each covered our bikinis with a sarong that was tied round our necks and covered us to well below our bikini bottoms. We were turned away from the restaurant and told we were not allowed in because we were wearing beachwear in the form of our sarongs. Even as we were arguing our point that we were well covered, other female guests were being allowed to enter the restaurant wearing shorts and tops that showed far more flesh than we were. To illustrate my point see the pictures to the right of this section and you will see what I mean. In the end we asked for the Restaurant Manager and he waived the rule and allowed us to enter the restaurant, but we were quite annoyed by then and our appetites had diminished considerably as a result.
The Entertainment, Sports and Activities
None of our family are particularly sporting or exercise freaks, but for those who were the Hilton Taba did have plenty to offer. Two swimming pools, beach volleyball, aerobics, water aerobics, open air stretching, belly dancing, water polo and beach football.
For extra charges it was possible to go out on boats, have a ride on a camel, enjoy a massage, have a pampering session or use the Internet cafe. Excursions to places such as Cairo and the pyramids were also options through several companies represented within the hotel. We did the day trip to Cairo but have to say we would not be in a hurry to repeat the experience. If you want to read why read my hub on the experience here.
For people who had children there was a kids club for 4 to 10 year olds, a mini disco from 20.30pm until 21.00pm and a children's playground on the beach.
In the evenings their was entertainment in the form of cabaret acts in the lobby bar of the hotel, but I have to say this was very poor quality in general, with what looked like local students doing out of time Egyptian dance routines. The two best acts were a belly dancer who was on once a week and a genuine whirling dervish dancer (see video below) who was impressive to say the least, especially when you know that it is a religious display that requires them going into a trance in order to avoid becoming dizzy and unbalanced, (although after ten minutes of watching him 'whirl' it did become a bit repetitive). The other problem was all the acts finished at 23.00pm, and at this point the bar closed too. After 23.00pm there was no-where on the entire complex to obtain alcohol unless you opted to buy it from the mini bar in your room. It was at this time I would frequently go for a Shisha Pipe at Shish Bish to provide some form of social activity, albeit without any intoxicating substances. After 23.00pm it was possible to go to the Rock's Bar Disco, but feeling a bit past all that and plus the fact when I did catch a glimpse inside one evening it was fairly empty, and of course there would be no alcohol, I chose to give it a miss.
The Whirling Dervish Performs
This was a really lovely stretch of sand. Yes it was rather stony and it was important to wear the types of shoes you could swim in (purchasable in the complex shops), but there were plenty of sun loungers and hammocks, easy access to places such as The Pirates Beach Bar or The Nelson Restaurant if you wanted food or drinks, a camel going up and down the beach if you wanted to pay for a ride, an abundance of beautiful and colourful fish swimming around the coral reefs close to shore if you wanted to do a bit of snorkelling and nearby toilets if you needed to use them.
Slightly annoying was the pestering that the representatives from the various franchises such as sporting activities and massage parlours forced us to endure. It seemed very intrusive to be regularly approached by people holding clipboards trying to sell us massages or boat trips etc.
The security on the complex was tight, and if you left the complex for any reason all bags had to go through an X-ray scanner upon your return to the hotel, and as individuals you were required to walk through a scanner in much the same way as you would at an airport. Shisha pipes purchased either within the shopping complex or outside of the complex were not permitted in the hotel and had to be surrendered to security until the end of your stay. Apparently this was in order to prevent accidental fires being caused within the hotel rooms. Security guards were stationed at the entrance/exit to the shopping complex as well as at the entrance to the hotel complex itself. It was comforting that any concerns I might have had about going on holiday to an Arab country were alleviated by the fact that the security was so visible.
The Shopping Complex on Site
Wow, what can I say, the shopping complex was truly impressive. There must have been well over seventy shops to choose from, each staffed by very friendly owners or employees who were always willing to haggle over prices. Frequently we were offered cups of hot Egyptian teas such as 'red tea' made from Hibiscus flowers, and on several occasions we were invited into the upper floors of the shops to enjoy a free Shisha pipe with the owner. Every time we went around the shops we were greeted, usually by name (the shop keepers seemed to have an amazing memory for names). Mildly annoying was being constantly asked the same two questions "What is your name" and "Where are you from", usually followed by the statement "I give you very good price". It did make it rather difficult to actually get further into the complex as being polite made it difficult to extract ourselves from the conversations long enough to peruse the next shops contents.
What was wonderful was the sheer range of things to buy, medicines from the pharmacy, wonderful clothing, beautiful Egyptian ornaments made of brass, copper etc, Shisha pipes and tobaccos, sunglasses, lighters, perfumes made to your specification, but best of all were the stunning papyrus paintings, (especially in shop 31). My sister Hayley was in ecstasy over the sheer range of papyrus art available, and ended up going home with two very large ones as souvenirs. In fact I was so struck by the quality of these that I took a number of photos of the papyrus available in their shop and you will see the photos below this section.
Shop 31 Papyrus Artwork
Other views around the complex
All in all we did really enjoy our time staying at the Hilton Taba Hotel, although I think rating it as a 5 star hotel is too generous and it is closer to a 3 or 4 star hotel. Would I stay there again? Probably not, but only because it is an experience I have already had and I prefer to try new experiences. I also found the times alcoholic beverages ceased to be served restrictive, and the fact we could not have a bottle of wine on our table in the restaurants and could not drink wine on the all inclusive basis in our rooms annoying. This might sound like a complaint an alcoholic would make, but consider the fact that on holiday you do tend to drink later and often on the balcony in your hotel room. All inclusive is not a cheap option, so surely to be allowed a bottle of the local wine in your room or on your dining table is not too much to ask. Marks out of 10, well I personally would give the hotel a 7 out of 10 based on the observations and experiences I have listed in this article.
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