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Egypt Uncovered

#1 User is offline   Frank 

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  Posted 30 May 2009 - 12:22 PM

I thought I'd put a review up here as when I was looking into who to travel to Egypt with I was a bit concerned about the company I chose as I didn't find many reviews of them online.

However, I ended up having a great time (with Egypt Uncovered), and don't want other people to be put off by not finding out any reviews - as I almost was. I felt the whole operation was really smooth right from my first email correspondence to the tour itself. I was in a small group (which was one of the reasons I booked with them as they seemed to be able to guarantee this), and we got a lot of personal attention from the reps and guides which really made the difference to the trip. The rep in Cairo met us right inside the airport and whisked us through the visa process, and our guide Ehab took us to visit his parents house in the Baharya Oasis which was really interesting - we can learn a lot from Egyptian hospitality!

The only quibble I had were with the time we had on our second day in the Farafra Oasis, though I think this was cut a bit shorter than normal as some of the group had to rush back to Cairo However I'd have no hesitation in travelling again with them or recommending them to others.

Frank Joyner
Birmingham, UK
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#2 User is offline   ToThereAndBack 

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Posted 16 January 2011 - 06:55 PM

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 unloaded...it 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 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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