Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Hotel Reviews International - Middle East & Africa

the good, bad, & 'what' across the world!
Middle East & Africa

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As I have traveled the world, I have gotten to visit many cities.  Within these cities, I have stayed at many different hotels - some good, some great, and others not so much.  Hopefully my reviews will help you enjoy your travels in the good hotels and avoid the band ones.  Happy (and safe) travels!

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Residences,  Dubai Al Barsha - May 2016
for pictures and additional comments on this hotel, visit my tripadvisor page

We had a day layover in Dubai and wanted to stay at a hotel that was next to a Mall as well as next to the metro station so that we could move around.  I decided to try the DoubleTree Hotel & Residences, Dubai Al Barsha as its located near the Mall of the Emirates. The Mall of the Emirates is a very large mall (where Ski Dubai is located) so there is access to food, clothes, services, and a grocery store.  The mall is also a stop on the metro thus providing easy access to the train.  The hotel has very good customer service as they responded quickly and were willing to work with me when I emailed them questions regarding my stay.  That was a positive sign of the hotel.  Overall, the hotel provides a nice comfortable stay in Dubai with nice amenities.

The hotel located in a building by itself, and is advertised as both a Hotel and Residences.  As you enter into the hotel, you enter into an open atrium.  Immediately in front of you are chairs to sit and lounge, while to the right is a coffee bar and restaurant.  To the left is the check-in desk and in front are the glass elevators which take you to the room.  The lobby itself is somewhat narrow, the atrium makes it feel bigger but overall the hotel looks a bit older that some of the other hotels I have seen in Dubai.  Check-in was smooth and we received our key to our room (plus directions to the Mall).  There are two sets of elevators, but they were both in the middle and both led to the same direction.  We were on the 4th floor, and on the 4th floor the elevators were separated by a glass door so in the end it did not matter which set of elevators you took. 

The first thing you notice when you enter the room is the long entrance-way.  The entrance way from the door to the actual bedroom is very long and very wide.  The room is shaped like an L, with a long entrance way that leads to the bedroom. For us, everything was on the right side of the entrance way as on the left was a wall and a door leading to the next room.  On the right side was the entrance to the bathroom, followed by two sets of big closets, and then a nook area that had shelves on top as well as a coffee maker and fridge on the bottom.  The closets were very big and housed a safe, an iron plus ironing board, slippers, as well as plenty of space to hang clothes.  

The bathroom was very spacious and had all the basic amenities including a sink, a toilet, and a shower.  There was not a lot of counter space on the sink, but there was some space above the toilet (be careful nothing splashes down or up).  The shower was bit tricky to work out as the same handle operated both the shower as well as the hand-held.  It took a few (wet) tries to figure out which direction went for which mode.  The was also not covered, as there was only a glass partition for half of the shower.  I am not sure why hotels do this as it causes a lot of water to spill out, thus creating a mess for the guest and the housekeeping.  

Considering the size of the entrance-way, the room itself was a bit narrow.  As you entered into the room area, there was a L-shaped couch with a table in front of it.  Had the couch been a bit bigger it could have fit a sofa-bed - the couch itself was decent but the table was a bit out of place as it was very big so you could not sit at the table and pass around the table at the same time.  On the wall opposite the couch was a ledge that led to the TV stand, and this was also connected to the desk.  The ledge provided a lot of space to put your things, but the TV was oddly placed as you could not move it so you couldn't see the TV from the couch, only from the bed.  

The beds were two twin beds with nightstand in the middle.  Since the room was narrow, there was no room to move on the other side of the bed, so both persons had to move in the same direction which made the room feel even more cramped.  The beds themselves were comfortable and provided a decent night sleep.  The AC in the room also faced the beds, so if you were sitting on the bed you felt the breeze but if you were sitting on the couch you could not.  Next to the bed were switches to control the lights, but you could either turn off all the lights or keep them all on.  There was no option to turn off just the bedroom lights and keep the hallway lights on.  There were plugs available next to the bed and near the desk, but that was about it - no USB ports available.      

The hotel itself is located behind the Mall of the Emirates.  There is no connection between the hotel and the Mall, and there is a lot of construction between the hotel and the Mall which cuts off a direct route.  To get to the Mall from the hotel you have to exit the hotel and go around the construction and enter the hotel through the parking garage near the grocery store.  Overall it's about a 5-7 minute walk and there are many people walking as you pass through a residential neighborhood.  There is also a shuttle to the Mall as well as to the Beach which runs every 2 hours.  

The hotel is a full-service hotel with lots of amenities including meeting rooms, a business center, a fitness center, a pool, steam and sauna rooms, as well as coffee bar and restaurant.  We were only there for one-day so I was not able to try out the facilities, but they looked really nice and well-maintained.  The business center was near the meeting areas and provided a nice and quiet place to conduct business and any potential meetings.  The fitness center was also nice and well-maintained and had enough equipment for a good workout.  The pool was outside on the 1st floor and was surrounded by the views from the room, but the pool was decent given the hotel.   There is also free wifi, with an access code, and the speed was decent. 

Overall, it was a pleasant stay at the DoubleTree Al Barsha.  While it looked liked an older hotel, the rooms had been properly updated and maintained so it provided a nice rest.  The layout and narrowness of the room, in my mind, made it good for one night but not sure if I would spend more here.  The hotel does provide good customer service, lots of amenities, and of course the DoubleTree cookie :)  

Novotel Suites - Duba, Mall of the Emirates - April 2016
for pictures and additional comments on this hotel, visit my tripadvisor page &

We were looking for a hotel near the Mall of the Emirates and I decided on the Novotel Suites for a couple of reasons.  1) There were three of us travelling and it is difficult to get 3 people in one room in Dubai so I needed 2 rooms and I had points from a previous Accorhotels stay that I could use for a free room; 2) the hotel described itself as a suite which meant bigger rooms; and 3) I had previously tried Ibis by Accor so wanted to try a different brand from the same group.  Overall, it was a nice stay but the room is definitely not a suite.  

The hotel is located near the Mall of the Emirates, meaning to say its a quick 3-4 minute drive.  I am not sure if you could walk to the Mall as I did not see many people walking nor a clear/direct path from the hotel area to the Mall.  We pulled up to the hotel but there is really no entrance/drive-way to the hotel from the street.  The entrance to the hotel is on the sidewalk so you have to park your car in a 10-minute parking (and Dubai does monitor and ticket) while you are checking in.  As you enter into the lobby, you enter into a spacious lounge area with lots of chairs and couches to lounge on.  It seemed very relaxed.  To the right of the lounge was the restaurant as well as the indoor and outdoor dining area (this is where breakfast is served in morning).  The indoor dining area is shared with the Ibis hotel, as both the Novotel and Ibis are located in the same building - just on opposite sides.

As you enter further into the lobby you encounter the check-in desk.  We were a bit early than the scheduled check-in time, but I had communicated this information to the hotel prior to arrival so they accommodated our early arrival and were given our rooms.  The elevators are located behind the check-in desks, and we took those to our rooms.  While the elevators are tiny, they are very quick so no long waits.  Our room was located at the end of the hallway, for the Novotel, but the hallway continued through the door into the Ibis.  Both hotels were connected and only divided on the floor rooms by a door which was not locked - so anyone from the ibis side could come to the Novotel and vice versa.  

Even though we had requested two rooms next to each other, those were not available so we received two rooms that were near each other.  Both rooms looked similar in terms of layout and the only difference was that one room had one bed while the other room had two beds. 

As you entered into the room, you entered into a entrance-way that lead to the bedroom.  As you entered, on your right was a door that led to a small area for the toilet - it was very narrow as you had to step to the side to close the door because it was very cramped (and this was the only toilet in the room).  As you progressed further into the room, on the left hand was a shelf with the TV and menus.  In front of the TV was a couch and a desk - the desk could be moved.  The couch doubled as a sofa bed so potentially someone could sleep here (although given the size of the room not sure how).  

As you progressed further into the room, on the right side was a curved closet plus a nook area that held the coffee maker on top and fridge on the bottom.  The curved closets were huge and provided a lot of space, frankly more space than was need (in my opinion they could have used some of the closet space for the toilet).  The closets were big and provided a lot of storage and had a safe, slippers, and laundry bags available.  

Following the closets led you to the other bathroom door, and this was the shower/tub area.  Again, this area was somewhat narrow and cramped.  As you entered, on the left hand side was a tub while on the right hand side was a small shower.  Against the wall was a sink that had little to no counter space to hold anything.  There was a shelf for the shower and this housed the amenities for the shower including a shampoo, a bath gel, mouthwash, soap, and lotion.  It was a nice touch.  

The beds were located against the backwal, and between the bed and the bathroom was a night stand and against the wall, next to the bathroom door, was stack of small shelves (there was a lot of storage space).  The night stand had plugs next to it as well as light switches to control the room - again a nice touch.  We had two rooms - one with one big bed and the other with two beds.  The two beds were put right next to each other with no room in the middle.  The big bed basically was one mattress on top of the two small box springs on the bottom.  Both provided a decent nights rest, but the two beds being so close together meant that you got really comfortable with your sleeping partner.  The pillows were also decent and thus it provided a decent nights sleep.  

In between the couch area and the bedroom was a curtain which could be pulled for privacy - so I am guessing that is how it is justified as a suite - but given the size and narrowness of the room I would definitely not count it as a suite.  

The hotel did have provide amenities such as a pool, gym, massage room, free parking, and free wifi.  The wifi speed was decent and you stayed connected so that was a good amenity.  The parking garage was free but it was extremely tight and the spaces limited, but we managed to get a parking spot.  The gym was decent and had the basic equipment for a decent workout.  The pool was outside and looked to be a decent size - not grand but not small either.  

The other amenity that we tried was the restaurant, as we could add breakfast to the to the room.  If you added breakfast prior to the reservation, then you received the discounted rate but if you added breakfast the day of then it was the regular rate.  The breakfast was a buffet and overall it was decent, it provided the basic items needed for breakfast.   Given the selection and the quality of the food, the cost was a bit pricey so am not sure if I would choose this option again.

Overall, the hotel was decent if you know what you are getting.  If you go expecting a suite then you will be disappointed.  If you go in expecting a decent room and a decent nights sleep, then you will enjoy the Suites Novotel Dubai Mall of the Emirates.

Hilton Makkah Towers - March 2014
for pictures and additional comments on this hotel, visit my tripadvisor page

The only thing saving this hotel, in my opinion, is the location. It is located right in front of the Masjid al Haram so its easy to access. Note: There are 2 separate properties, the Makkah Hilton and the Makkah Hilton Towers both located here. The Makkah Hilton's lobby is on the second floor while the Hilton Tower's lobby is located in the Garage (yes, garage!) I had previously stayed at the Makkah Hilton (see above) and the rooms were nice and the service was nice. Recently stayed at the Makkah Hilton Towers, and neither the rooms nor service are good. There is free wi-fi though.

Service and Hotel:   We went through the garage to the check-in counter which is also located in the garage.  There was a lot of commotion in the lobby but check-in proceeded (was not efficient, was not slow but was not efficient).  We were handed our keys and were given directions to our hotel - exit the lobby to the garage, go through the garage and the active parking lot and drive way to the entrance to the other tower.  
Once inside the room, the room service is slow and unresponsive. When we arrived into the room, there was only 1 towel that room service has put in. We called down to request additional, and only after 8 hours and three calls later did we finally get the towels!  After our stay we needed to check out, but this process was a NIGHTMARE!!! There were two lines to check people in an out and in each line there were at least 7 people, but people were cutting in line and the representatives were helping them instead of those in line. It was utter chaos, and again it seemed as if the hotel had no idea there would be a crowd!  Furthermore, the hotel representatives could not control the line and were helping the people who were cutting the line first instead of those who were waiting.  Utter chaos! 

Breakfast was included as part of our room but to access the breakfast area was a little odd.  We took the elevator to the 3rd floor, go out, and then went through a maze to get to the breakfast place.  There are even signs every couple of feet point to where the breakfast location is.  Once you get there, there are two seating areas - the main and the overflow.  Both provide the same breakfast and service, but it did seem odd that people were being sent to the overflow before the main was filled up.  We sat in the overflow which was big and spacious and could handle many guests, which was good since there were many guests.  Breakfast was standard with eggs, omelet, cheese, olives, and bread and the service for tea and coffee was efficient.  This was a plus point for the hotel.

Rooms: The room has two double beds, a sofa-bed, a small bathroom, and a sink and stove. The rooms are OUTDATED!!! and need major refurbishment. The first room we went to was in Tower 2 and it smelled as if it had not been cleaned in 2 weeks. The beds were uncomfortable and looked worn out. I immediately asked to be changed to another room and we got to Tower 5. In this room, there was no smell but the room was still outdated and the beds were not comfortable.

The major difference between the Hilton Makkah and the Hilton Towers are the size of the room.  In the Tower, the rooms are bigger and have a mini-kitchen area.  As you open the door, on the left hand side is the entrance to the bathroom.  Beyond that is the mini-kitchen - which is a cutout in the wall that houses a sink, a warmer (to warm up dishes), a microwave, and a fridge).  We had gotten a room with 2 beds so this room had 2 beds with a nightstand in between and then a sofa-bed couch between the bed and the windows.  
While the rooms are somewhat big, the bathrooms are small.  There is a toilet, a standing shower, and a sink in the bathroom (along with PeterThomasRoth products available) but it looks like they diminished the bathroom size to increase the room size.  
NOTE: We were three people so I slept on the sofa bed, which was extremely uncomfortable and the springs were poking me in the back (Hilton either has a roll-away with a decent mattress or sofabeds; the rollaways are way more comfortable).

Against the other wall, in front of the beds, was a chest with drawers beneath and a TV on top.  Next to that was a desk and next to that was a round table (small to medium size) with 3 chairs.  There was also a coffee table in front of the sofa bed.  All of the furniture looked really outdated and worn out.  

NOTE: There is a lot of construction going on in Makkah.  You can hear the Azaan (call to prayer) and other items either through the TV or through your window and the construction noise is minimal, but it is there so be aware!

Overall, the hotel needs major refurbishment of their rooms and their service. The only saving grace of this hotel is the location - the hotel is located in front of the Masjid.  On the bottom level of the hotel is a shopping plaza with many food and shopping options so that is also a plus point; however, these plus points do not outweigh the negative look to the hotel, the outdated furniture, the uncomfortable beds, and the bad customer service (also --- you cannot earn HHonors points as your stay; another ridiculous point).  There are many newer hotels being constructed in the same location and that provide the same ease of access so if I went back, I am staying at those hotels and not this one!

Hilton Madinah - March 2014
for pictures and additional comments on this hotel, visit my tripadvisor page

We left Makkah and made our way to the Hilton Madinah. The hotel is located very close to the Mosque - you walk out of the hotel, turn right, and walk for 30 secs and you are at the mosque. That was about the only good thing about the hotel.
picture from Hilton Madinah website
Service and Hotel: We pulled up to the hotel entrance on the first floor and then took the escalators up to the second floor to the lobby to check in.  Check-in was again extremely slow and inefficient and the staff were not courteous at all.  We checked in and went to our room.  I was starting to wonder whether 'smiling or being pleasant was not an option here? 
Another note about the lack of service: We were three people staying in the room so we asked for additional shampoo. I asked for it the day we arrived and two days later (and multiple requests later) still never got the shampoo (nor other items we requested).
One pleasant note on the service:  we did have a medical issue and needed another fridge in the room and that the hotel was responsive to that.  It took multiple tries and explanations but eventually they brought a bigger fridge.

Amenities:  Breakfast was included and that was decent but the sitting area was very small and definitely could not accommodate the crowds.  When we went early in the morning, we could easily find a seat but as we left -- and the crowds getting bigger -- the seating became limited and it was more of a 'fight for your chair and your life' type of situation!

There is a nice lounge in the Hilton that has windows facing the Mosque. The chairs are comfortable and very relaxing - the lounge also has food service but the food is very bad, very expensive, and the service EXTREMELY slow. 
There is no wifi in the hotel, but the hotel does provide a business center with two computers, with fast internet access, and a printer.

Rooms:  The room looked outdated and needed to be overhauled as the rooms looked very good for the late 90's but seemed not to have updated since then. 

As you enter the door, on the left hand side was the entrance to the bathroom.  Along the other wall was the closet, the fridge, and other such items.  In the main area were 2 double beds with a night stand in between.  Across from that was a chest with drawers on the bottom the a TV on top.  Next to that was a desk.
The beds were very comfortable and those seem to have been updated to the new Hilton standard. 
In between the bed and the window were some tables but there was also room to put in a roll-away bed.  Instead of a sofa-bed, this Hilton has upgraded to the new Hilton roll-aways which are way more comfortable than the sofa-beds.  At least you can get a decent nights rest on the roll-away.

Overall, the location of the hotel along with the beds and the business center are the positives.  Everything else - from the outdated look to the lack of customer service to the slow service in the restaurant -- are all things that need improvements!

Hilton Northlome Seychelles - January 2014
for pictures and additional comments on this hotel, visit my tripadvisor page

We took a family vacation to the Seychelles and booked this Hilton property. The check-in was very inefficient, but the rooms were amazing, the staff friendly and responsive, and in the end it was a nice, relaxing holiday. 

When we arrived, we were shuttled from place to place and told to wait, the hotel attendants seemed unsure about what was going on or our arrival. We were checked in, given a tour of the hotel, and then shown to our room. We later found out that we were not given a lot of information that should have been given upon check-in, such as access to free shuttles.

Once we completed check-in we went to the room which was beautiful and spacious. The bed was big and extremely comfortable and the bathroom was huge with a separate shower and jacuzzi tub. There were also a huge balcony to enjoy the ocean views. The hotel is located a short-bus ride up from Beau Vallon on a rocky beach, so they have free shuttles from the hotel to beau vallon (we found this out on our last day). The hotel has a bar/lounge which is open for lunch and drinks and is very nice, has good food, but extremely slow service. There is a restaurant open for dinner on the top of the terrace that serves a different buffet nightly. We went for the Seychelles cuisine buffet - overpriced and definitely not worth it!

The hotel has two pools and a decent gym. Right next to each pool there should have towels so that you dont use your own (when we went, they did not have towels even though we kept asking for them). 

Overall, the hotel is nice. It is a bit far from Beau Vallon and many other destinations, but it is located right on the bus route so you can take that anywhere. There is also a small supermarket located 7 minutes uphill from the hotel which provides easy and quick access to items that you may need.

The room service and attendant are very good and very responsive; however the front desk service and attendants are not very good nor responsive. We stayed at the hotel for 5 days and on the 3rd day, I wrote to the general manager about the lack of service. The general manager was quick to reply, asked to meet with me in person so that they could discuss the issues and try to resolve it prior to my departure. The managers were very accommodating and nice and they made the trip worthwhile.

Tip: taxis to the airport are very expensive. If you have booked a local nature tour, the tour guides will also do airport pick-up and drop offs and usually at a better rate. This is what we did and saved a lot of money and it was more comfortable and convenient. (the airport gives you a free SIM upon arrival into the country)

Hilton Addis Ababa - January 2014
for pictures and additional comments on this hotel, visit my tripadvisor page

We had a really long layover in Addis Ababa (over 14 hours) so we decided to use our points and get a free night at the Hilton. There is a Hilton shuttle (paid) or a private car (also paid) that will transport you from the airport to the hotel. The private car is only a little more and we had been flying all night I assumed that would be quicker; I was very wrong.

After you exit customs and enter the arrivals hall, there is a Hilton booth/stall where you wait for your ride. We entered with another couple and that couple had paid for the shuttle (which was cheaper) while we paid for the private car. They waited for 2 minutes and went into the shuttle. 15 minutes later we are still waiting for our private car. When the car showed up, it was dirty with trash all over the floors, looked run down, was uncomfortable, and the driver was playing a rap song with a lot of cursing and inappropriate language (especially with my mother in the car). We complained when we got to the hotel but it seems I had to talk to multiple people because nobody spoke to each other. In the end, our ride back to the airport was free and upgraded to a bigger car (even though we did not need the upgrade), but even this car was unkept and not a hilton car; overall it could've been handled beter
Picture from Hilton Addis website
The hotel is a big complex with lots of people and is very busy. From the outside, the hotel looked like it was nicely built, in the 1980's. Check in went rather smoothly and we went to our room. The first room we went to had a rather odd smell to it so we asked to be switched to another room. 

The room had a king size bed which was decent, not uncomfortable but not extremely comfortable either; decent. The room was a decent size but was very outdated. Both the room and the bathroom looked very good for the 1980's and looked like it had not been updated since. We had access to the club lounge and we went there for breakfast as well as cocktail hour. It was a nice selection for breakfast and not that many people so it was nice. For cocktail hour, there were TONS of people and the club is very small (only about 15 people can sit and we were about 30) so it felt congested and tight. 

The hotel is located near the UN building but there is not much around it in terms of walking. The hotel does provide maps for shopping and other amenities if you want to take a cab or private car. 

This is a full service hotel so the amenities include:
1) a money changer with good rates (note: remember to keep your receipt as we had charged food to the room and needed to pay that but the hotel needed a receipt from the hotel money changer to verify the exchange)
2) Airline offices - ethiopian and kenya airways.
3) safari and other tour group bookings
4) an olympic size pool (which was very busy in the evening time)
5) a promenade with shops
6) a restaurant near the pool (with decent food but service was a little slow and hectic)
7) a spa and sauna (which was very inexpensive. For 3 people who got very good 1-hour deep tissue massages, total was $60 for all three)

overall, the room quality was poor and the front desk service was poor but the hotel amenities are nice. Not the Hilton experience i was expecting but better than sleeping at the airport.

Maru Maru Hotel - Zanzibar - January 2014
for pictures and additional comments on this hotel, visit my tripadvisor page

Just steps from the Fordhani Gardens, seaside, and fort is a great boutique hotel - Maru Maru. The hotel is situated next to Fordhani Gardens and the Fort and you walk to anywhere from here. We stayed here for 4 nights and it was a great hotel. I had booked the hotel online and communicated with the general manager via email who was very responsive and nice. I had also booked an airport transfer from hotel, and they were there when we landed. Check in went smoothly and we were shown to our room.

We had booked 2 rooms as we are 4 people and the rooms are either 2 twins or 1 Queen. We got one of each. Booth rooms were decent size but the 2 twin bed room was a little bigger. Both had nice comfortable beds, with an armour closet, and a desk and chair. Both of them had nice size bathrooms as well. In the bathrooms, the hotel provides soap made by a local women's business cooperative which was a nice local touch. The Queen could fit 2 people, although it was tight.

Breakfast was included and that is served on the rooftop lounge/restaurant which had amazing views of Stone Town and the ocean. This is also where you can come and enjoy an amazing sunset (the only downside at night is that there is not enough lamps/candles/light so its pretty dark up there). Breakfast was standard cereals and toast, with fruits and an egg station. Coffee, and hot chocolate, were made by a machine. 

Service at the hotel was very nice and attentive. There was free wifi in the hotel which was a major plus.

The hotel is located only a couple of steps away from Fordhani Gardens and the only negative thing about the hotel is the entrance/lobby. To get from the seaside/Fordhani Gardens to the hotel, you have to walk up a road that a night is dimly light (during the day, this is where all the taxis hang out so creates easier access to taxis). There are plenty of people walking and we never had a security issue, but it is something to consider. The lobby is right off the street so there is no major entrance or sitting area; not a big deal to me but some in my group cared about that.

Overall, location was good and hotel and service was excellent. The only downside would be the entrance but other than that, a great hotel.

Doubletree Dar Es Salam Oyster Bay - December 2013
for pictures and additional comments on this hotel, visit my tripadvisor page

Picture from Doubletree Oyster Bay website
We stayed in this hotel in December 2013 at the beginning and end of our Tanzania trip. I had booked this hotel through the hilton website when they were having one of their 'special' sales which include drastically low prices for pre-paid rooms. After I booked the rooms, I contacted the hotel to confirm some of the details of the reservation; I contacted them through email but the hotel never responded - I finally got results and messages back from the hotel using facebook as they did reply to these messages. When we got to the hotel and checked-in, I went to confirm the details I had emailed about but the front-desk staff seemed confused as to what I was talking about. They were nice and pleasant and could check me in ok, but extras and additional services seemed difficult.

The hotel premises include the hotel itself, an on-site restaurant (with slow service), a coffee shop, a pool with a cafe, and a deck. There are no beaches at this hotel (to get to the beach, you have to drive about 10-12 minutes to the closest public beach). There is also a fitness center and massage

The rooms in the hotel are quite large and spacious. Both the king-bed room and the 2 queen-bed room provide ample space for the beds, a desk, a chair, an chest, and a TV. The bathroom was also quite spacious with a nice size tub (along with spacious closets). 

While we were there, we tried the wifi (free and basic enough to check and receive mail), the restaurant (or dinner, the food was ok, the service slow and the price high), the fitness center (decent), the pool (crowded with locals swimming for the day), and the massage (also pretty good and relatively inexpensive but the one at the Hilton Addis was better). Breakfast was included in the room and that was decent (standard with cereal, breads, other breakfast items, and an omelet station). 

The hotel is located in a nice part of town and is located right next to a nice shopping complex with restaurants, a small supermarket, shops, and a market for souvenirs. because of the location of the hotel, there are plenty of taxis and rickshaws available to take you to other parts of the city (the hotel is located about 20 minutes from downtown and about 45 mins from the airport). 

The negatives about the hotel include the staff, which seemed nice but confused. The service at the hotel restaurant was slow and also confused (especially if you have any dietary or religious issues, the staff seemed generally confused with these requests). One major annoyance was that the hotel NEVER had change. We got very large notes when we exchanged money and tried to get smaller bills from the money charger, shops, or supermarket when we were there - but we asked the front desk many times and each time they said they did not have any change at all. This was somewhat annoying as smaller bills were easier to pay for cabs (who never had change either)

If you want a good night stay in a good hotel, and do not mind being away from the city but being walking distance to markets and some restaurants, then you will enjoy this place. this hotel was very peaceful and tranquil, as it was not a big hotel (only three floors) and it was in a quiet area. Nice restful stay!

Hilton Makah 
Note: this review is based on my stay which took place in 2007/2014

Note: As an FYI, there are 2 Hiltons in Makkah – there is Hilton Makkah and Hilton Makkah Towers.  The hotels are located right next to each other (literally in the same building) but are geared towards different clienteles and have different approaches.  I have stayed in both and here is my review of Hilton Makkah, while below is the review of the Hilton Makkah Towers. *Note note:  My stay at Hilton Makkah was a couple of years ago, but I did recently go back and visited the hotel again (this time staying at the Towers) so the review is still relevant.

My family and I were going to Makkah as part of Umrah so we wanted a hotel that was clean, nice, and close to Masjid.  Even though we had requested a nice hotel, originally we were placed in a local hotel that looked more like a hostel rather than a hotel.  We quickly go out of there and moved ourselves to the Hilton.

The Hilton is literally located right across from the Masjid.  There is a circle of shops, restaurants, and hotels that surround the Masjid is the Hilton is located right in front of King Fahad Gate 76 so you have easy access to the Masjid.  Another plus point is that Hilton is located in a building of which the first 2 floors are a shopping plaza with shops, fast food outlets, and a grocery store.  This is a plus point in that everything is conveniently located; it is also a negative as the shops and restaurants bring in a lot of people so sometimes you have to cross through the rush to get to your hotel!

The lobby of the Hilton is located on the 2nd or 3rd level (depending on whether you count the ground as ground or first level).  As I said, on the first 2 levels are shops and restaurants, and on the 3rd level is the lobby to the Hotel.  Even though there is a LOT of noise on the first 2 levels, you do not hear that noise in the lobby.  The lobby looks very big, bright, and airy and also very clean and modern.  Check-in was efficient and we took the elevator to our room.

Our room was located on the 9th floor and we opened the door to a very modern and nice, clean Hilton room.  As you entered the room, on the right was the bathroom with a shower (very nice and modern) and beyond the bathroom was the 2 beds with a nighstand in between.  Opposite from the beds was a chest with the TV as well as the closet.  The windows in the room faces the Masjid so you could clearly hear all the calls to prayer.  The nice thing about the windows though, was that there were blinds and curtains so most of the sunlight could be blocked out during the day (if you wanted to sleep during the day).  The beds were extremely comfortable and provided a good night’s rest.

Free breakfast was included with the room and that was on the 6th floor.  The room in which we had breakfast was nice and airy.  It was not a huge banquet room, but also not a small dining area; it was somewhere in between that was a good size.  The breakfast was standard for the area with eggs, omelets, potatoes, Middle Eastern delicacies such as falafel and labneh, cheeses, olives, and bread.  Tea and coffee were also served.

Overall, it was a nice, clean, and restful stay at the Hilton Makkah.  The location in front of the Masjid was nice and convenient, and the hotel provided a good room with good service – and this complimented the location.  The only negative about the hotel is that you cannot earn HHonors points as part of your stay.  The stay will be posted to your account, but you cannot earn any points nor miles (that should be fixed!). 

Marriott Dubai Marina
Note: this review is based on my stay which took place in 2012/2013
for pictures and additional comments on this hotel, visit my tripadvisor page

I had booked this hotel for NYE as it was the only hotel that would allow me 2 days booking (the other hotels were requiring 7 days minimum). The hotel is located in the Marina in Dubai and has amazing views. The rooms are enormous and spacious and the beds extremely comfortable. The staff were accommodating and helpful (they did mess up but were apologetic and went over backwards to try and rectify it).
View from Marriott Dubai Marina

Details:  We were doing a family reunion and celebrating a birthday so I called and emailed to confirm all details and to ensure we would stay in one room. Even two days before I called the hotel to confirm all the details. My flight was delayed so the rest of my family proceeded to check in, only to be told that we would did not have one room as requested, but they had messed up and given that room to someone else so now we would be split in two rooms on two separate floors. We were extremely upset and irritated as this is not what we had planned nor booked, but the hotel management were extremely apologetic and tried to rectify the situation throughout our stay.

The rooms here are massive -- they are mini-apartments. We received two 'apartments': the first apartment had two bedrooms, one with two doubles and the other with a king, along with a kitchen, a sitting area, nice size bathrooms with closets and a balcony. The other apartment was even bigger with huge master with a king size bed and a jacuzzi, a huge sitting room and dining room with kitchen, laundry room, storage, and balcony. 

Dubai can be pretty expensive during the NYE celebrations, but this hotel was affordable and offered great rooms with great service.

Conrad Cairo
Note: this review is based on my stay which took place in 2012
for pictures and additional comments on this hotel, visit my tripadvisor page

We were going to Cairo to visit a family friend and they had suggested the Zamalek neighborhood for us to stay at.  In this neighborhood there are a couple of hotels, with the most famous being the Cairo Marriot.  It was recommended to look for a place near the Marriott since would be easier to navigate as many cab and tour drivers know of this hotel.  When I started to look for places, I noticed the Conrad Cairo, which was about a 10-15 minute drive and located across the bridge from the Marriott.  The Conrad was providing a good deal and I wanted to try out this product from Hilton so I decided to book this hotel.  Overall, the hotel was nice with a large and modern lobby.  The hotel had many amenities (such as a bank) on the bottom floor and the second floor was the breakfast with a nice view of the river.  The rooms were also spacious and comfortable.  The major negative of the hotel was the service, which was definitely not up to par and needed major improvement.
Picture from Conrad Cairo website

In terms of transportation, I am not sure if the hotel is new or for some other reason but many taxi drivers were unaware of the hotel.  It took some explaining and having the information written in Arabic for the drivers to get us close to the hotel or to the hotel itself.  There were plenty of taxis waiting at the hotel to take you where you wanted to go. 

You enter the hotel through a huge lobby that makes the hotel feel large and grand.  At the beginning of the lobby is the car service and taxi stand.  As you walk through the lobby, you pass many sitting areas until you get to the back of the lobby where the check-in desks are.   Right next to the check-in desks are stairs – which you can take upstairs to the breakfast and lounge area or downstairs to the bank and other amenities.   Even though it was not mentioned on the booking, the check-in desk let us know that the breakfast buffet comes standard with each reservation.

The room looked like a standard Hilton two double-bed room.  The room was spacious and had everything standard in it – two beds, a dresser, a TV, a nightstand, a closet, an iron and ironing board and a desk.  In addition the room also had a balcony which had a view of the river so that was nice to step outside and see some of the city – especially at night.  The beds were comfortable and the bathroom was nice.  Everything seemed to be in line with updated Hilton standards.

The breakfast buffet was big and had a lot of variety in it, catering to various populations.  There were Arabic, English, and Continental options so it provided a good start to the day.  The room and the breakfast were very good and both were appreciated.  What was not appreciated was the bad customer service.

view from room balcony
The customer service was extremely poor and not helpful at all.  Neither the taxi/car service provided any help nor were the staff responsive or helpful with any requests.  When we spoke up about our complaints to the manager, the response was “this is the best I can do given the situation (we went in 2012 so when all the protests were going on”.   I completely understood the situation that the country, and thus the hotel, was facing but there is still respect and decent customer service.  In fact, one would imagine that since tourists are not coming in the same numbers that they would be treated better in order to spread the word about the good service they received.  Instead, the hotel had dropped the level of their customer service and that was not good.    

Overall, positives of the hotel included the decent and comfortable room, and the nice breakfast.  The location was decent as it was near Zamalek and walking distance to a mall.  Negatives of the hotel included the poor customer service and the sometimes lack of awareness of taxi drivers of the hotel.

Crowne Plaza - Amman, Jordan
Note: this review is based on my stay which took place in 2011/2012

When travelling to Amman, I was looking for a hotel that was close some attractions but also had access to transportation and services within walking distance.  I found all of that in the Crowne Plaza Amman.   From the outside, the hotel does not have the greatest curb appeal but inside the good customer service outweighs the outside appearance.  

Picture courtesy of Crowne Plaza Amman website
The airport is located far away from the city center, so it takes approximately 45 minutes from the airport to the hotel.  Since we were arriving in the middle of the night, and given the distance from the airport, we had arranged for the hotel to pick us up (the hotel does not provide a free shuttle).  Unfortunately, there was no on there to pick us up as the hotel forgot to send someone.  This was not the greatest start to our visit, but this seemed to be the only lapse in customer service.  

The hotel faces the main street, but the entrance to the hotel is on the side street, connected to a mini shopping plaza on the first floor of the hotel which contains a barber shop and other small shops.  As you enter the hotel, there is a security check and scan (each time).  As you enter the hotel, on the left is the check-in desk and straight ahead is the dining room where breakfast is served.  The hallway next to the check-in desk leads to the back of the hotel, and along the way you pass the elevators, a jewelry shop, and other small stores.  Towards the back of the hotel is another restaurant and the exit to the side of the hotel that is connected to the small shops.  As it was very early in the morning, and the hotel was overcompensating given the earlier mistake, check-in was quick and efficient.  I had booked a room on the Club Floor so included in the club floor was complimentary breakfast, tea/cocktail hour, as well as unlimited high speed internet.  

The room itself was nice and comfortable, but a bit small.  As you entered the room, on the left hand side was the bathroom and the right hand side was the closet and storage area.  The bathroom was small, not as small as some European bathrooms but definitely smaller than American bathrooms.  Beyond the bathroom were the two double beds which were comfortable to sleep on, but they were close to each other with a night stand in the middle.  As the room was a smaller size, it seemed like everything was squeezed together.  Across from the beds were the TV, a chest with drawers, as well as a connected desk set against the wall.  From our side of the hotel, our view was of the parking lot, the main street, and the market across the street; on the other side the view would have been of the pool, health club, and neighborhood. 

In terms of amenities, I tried the complimentary breakfast, the club floor lounge, the spa, and the fitness center.  In terms of the breakfast, the big breakfast is served downstairs in the main dining room but they also serve a smaller breakfast in the club floor lounge.  At first we ate in the club floor lounge, but the next day decided to have the bigger breakfast where there were more options, more staff available, and more guests to interact with.  We did go to the club floor lounge for tea/cocktail hour.  The club floor lounge is located on the top floor and has some really nice views of the city from the top of the hotel.  

The lounge itself looks a little dated, but is very spacious and can accommodate a large group.  Against the wall is a TV with couches in the middle, and behind this is a long table in which the food is set out.  For the tea/cocktail, in addition to drinks they also had hors-d'oeuvre available such as meat kabobs, mini sandwiches, and other small items to eat.  It was very comfortable to sit and relax as there were not many patrons when we went.    

The fitness center and sauna are located on the other side of the hotel across from the pool area.  The facility is two stories and it houses both the fitness center, which is decent, and many spa rooms.  The spa services were very nice and very affordable, and they provided a nice relaxing experience to the Crowne Plaza Amman.

Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa (Dead Sea)
Note: this review is based on my stay which took place in 2011/2012

We were travelling through Jordan and wanted to stay at the Dead Sea.  I am a Marriott Rewards member and had accrued enough points to have a couple of free nights at the Marriott Dead Sea Resort -- the Resort is amazing and very was worth every relaxing moment.

The rooms at the resort are very open, spacious, and comfortable with EXTREMELY comfortable beds.  We had a room that had a balcony that faced the courtyard which contained the pools -- yes multiple pools (some for adults, some for kids, some for families).  

The pools are accessed either directly outside the lobby (on the second floor) or via the first floor with direct access to the restaurant (which contained morning breakfast buffet and nightly dinner specials).   The pools are situated in the middle of the courtyard, while one side are 2 additional restaurants - a sports bar restaurant with burgers and wings (slow service but good food) and a lounge by the pool (also very slow service but decent food).  On the other side of the pool are some rooms and then the entrance to the spa.  

In addition to the pools, the resort also includes a really nice spa and some spa services are included in the room rate -- sauna, steam room, indoor pool, jacuzzi, and other such amenities are free of charge.  Additional spa services can be booked and paid for separately --- they are worth it as the massages are very good!

The spa is accessed via the pool or also via the beach --- and this is what most people head to the resort for; the Dead Sea.  The Dead Sea has fantastic mud that is supposed to be very good for your skin so you see a lot of people applying this to their body (the resort has a private beach and private entrance for their guests).  The sea is also special as there is so much salt that you only float and are not able to swim (do be careful though, if you have any cuts or bruises --- the salt will STING...a lot!!)

Overall, I was very impressed and enjoyed the Marriott Resort Dead Sea.  The only negative was the slow service in the restaurant (we went to the same restaurant in the Marriott Amman and found the same slow service so that is something that should be addressed) but other than that, a great and relaxing stay at the Marriott!

Hyatt Casablanca
Note: this review is based on my stay which took place in 2011/2012

When I was booking a place in Casablanca, I wanted to find something that was central to many attractions or had easy access to the various sites we wanted to see.  I found all that in the Hyatt Casablanca, which is a nice full-scale hotel in the middle of Casablanca and close to many sites.

The hotel is situated in downtown Casablanca, right next to the main bazaar so it is very easy and convenient.  Even if the cab driver was unfamiliar with the Hyatt (which was extremely rare), they all knew of the bazaar and it was a quick walk from the bazaar to the hotel.   The hotel entrance was on the main street, whereas the bazaar’s entrance was the side street. 

The hotel is very large and grandiose from the outside, but it looks a bit dated – it is not the most up-to-date hotel.   Upon entering the hotel, on the right is the taxi and car service stand while on the left is the check-in desks.  In the middle is a lounge area whose seats were very comfortable – and almost always full of people relaxing and having tea at the Hyatt.  We had tea there and the service is a bit slow, and the air a bit smoky, but it’s a nice place to relax and see the crowd mingle.   The lounge chairs led into the restaurant area where a breakfast buffet was served each morning.  The breakfast buffet was not overly extensive but provided enough options for a good morning breakfast.  Right next to the check-in desk was an ATM and this was the only banking service provided in the hotel. 

Check-in was smooth and we received our key and straight passed the restaurant to the elevators to our room.  There are two sets of elevators on either side of the hotel and both lead to guest rooms.   One set of elevator is right next to the check-in desks, while the other set of elevators is on the other side of the lobby, next to the restaurant.   The set of elevators next to the lobby were usually busy so it was nice to have another set of elevators to have. 

Taking the elevators to the room, we entered a long hallway and made our way to the room.  We had two rooms booked with two double beds.  When entering our room, on the right hand side was the closet while on the left hand side was the bathroom.   The closet was big and expansive and provided robes and a safe.  The bathroom on the other side was very big and expansive.  In addition to the standard amenities, the bathroom had a tub and a shower.  Beyond the bathroom were the two beds, which were very big and comfortable.  Across from the bed was a dresser with a TV on top of it, and next to that was a desk.  All of the furniture, both in the room and in the bathroom, was decorated in in a very museum or royal style with a lot of fancy treatments. 

The main attraction of the room, in addition to the large size, was the window which faced the main street.  It was very nice to look out the window and see the city pass on buy.  The street was somewhat busy in the morning and evening but no noise was able to be heard in the room. 

Overall, the hotel provided a nice stay in Casablanca.   The comfortable rooms and the nice location made the hotel a welcome space.  The only negatives were the somewhat outdated fa├žade and the fact that the hotel was not willing to negotiate with the taxi drivers (other hotels provide this service and it is invaluable in a country where taxi meters are rare)

Le Meridien N'Fis Marrakech
Note: this review is based on my stay which took place in 2011/2012

In looking at hotels in Marrakech, there are a variety of options.  We were looking for a hotel that was in walking distance to the main Square, but not necessarily next to the Square.  We were looking for something modern and nice, but also had the Moroccan feel so we choose the Le Meridien N’Fis Marrakech.   The hotel is very grand and nice on the outside, and has beautiful gardens and landscape on the inside that provides a nice and tranquil atmosphere.  The same grandeur and niceness cannot be said about the rooms, which are not updated nor are very comfortable.

The entrance to the hotel is very grand the service at the hotel is very good.  The bellmen were very good at hailing taxi and negotiating fare rates that were fair to both sides.  When you enter into the hotel, you enter in the lounge/relaxing area of the hotel.  Straight ahead, to the left, is the check-in counter.  There was a hallway next to the entrance to the hotel, and this led to the hotel restaurant and meeting rooms.  On the other side of the check-in desk was the entrance to the courtyard.  The rooms surrounded the courtyard and in the middle of the courtyard were gardens and a pool.  Next to the pool was the spa and fitness area. 

The two amenities we tried at the hotel were the restaurant and the spa.  The restaurant was decent, a bit pricey, but provided a nice Moroccan experience with tajine food, a belly dancer and nice Moroccan music.   The spa was also a bit pricey and didn’t provide the greatest service.  It was decent, but not sure I would go out of my way for the spa.   

As I said earlier, the rooms itself were not that great as they did not look updated nor were they very comfortable.    As you entered into the room, on the right hand side was the bathroom while on the left was the closet and storage area.  Straight ahead, on the right hand side were two double beds while on the left was a TV, a chest with drawers on it, and a desk.  The beds were not as comfortable as I expected, and the whole ambiance of the room did not feel updated, warm, nor welcoming.  The ambiance felt as if it was developed in the late 80’s/early 90’s and had not been updated since then.   The rooms were of decent size, not too big but not squeezed in either. 

In the end, the positives of the hotel included the nice outside, the lovely landscape and gardens, the good customer service especially from the bellman, and the close proximity to the Square (it was a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel to the Square.  The negatives include the high prices for the services plus the rooms which had not been updated.

Movenpick Petra
Note: this review is based on my stay which took place in 2011/2012
for pictures and additional comments on this hotel, visit my tripadvisor page

Picture from Movenpick Petra website
I had read many reviews online trying to find a place to stay near Petra, Jordan.  I was looking for a nice hotel but also a place that was close to the entrance to Petra.  In choosing the Movenpick I definitely got a hotel that was close to the entrance but the rooms were not nice and the beds were uncomfortable.  The only upside was the close location of the hotel to the entrance of Petra as well as an on-site ice-cream parlor.

The Positive: the outside of the hotel looks nice and really fits well into the surrounding environment.  The hotel also is just steps from the entrance to Petra so it’s convenient and close to the entrance.  A breakfast buffet was included and that was decent.  Finally, there is a Movenpick ice-cream parlor onsite and a breakfast buffet is included with the room. 

Picture from Movenpick Petra website
The negative:  the rooms looked and smelled old.  Entering the room was not pleasant – there was an odor that smelled a combination of smoking (even though this was a non-smoking room) and a room that was quite old.  The room had two twin beds in it along with a desk, an armoire, and a chest in it.  All the furnishings looked and felt dated.  The most important part, the bed, was uncomfortable and did not provide a good sleep at all.

In the end, location is the only positive aspect of this hotel as hotel comfort, look, and relaxation were not provided.  Even in terms of location, while walking from the hotel to the Petra entrance (about a minute or less) I noticed a Crowne Plaza also right next to the entrance.  If I was to go back to Petra, I would definitely not choose the Movenpick and would try out the Crowne Plaza (or another hotel).

Crowne Plaza - Muscat, Oman
Note: this review is based on my stay which took place in 2007

We had planned a long layover in Muscat so that we could see the city and decided to stay at the Crowne Plaza Muscat.  Overall, the hotel is very nice with good service, comfortable rooms, and a nice view as it is situated right next to the water.  The only downside is the location, in that is somewhat far from the main city center – it is about a 20 minute walk or a 5-10 minute taxi ride from the city center to the hotel. 

The hotel is situated on a hill overlooking the sea.  The location is a bit odd as you drive away from the business area and enter into more of a residential area, and that is where the hotel is located.  The hotel is one side of the hill facing the sea while on the other side, and across the street, are houses; so it is bit of an odd location.

The hotel itself is laid out very nicely.  As you enter, on the left hand side is the check-in desk and on the right hand side is a lounge area.  Straight ahead are windows which open directly to the water, provided a nice view and letting in nice sunlight.  Beyond the lounge area are stairs which lead downstairs to the restaurant and pool area.  A full, and expansive, breakfast buffet was included and the dining room opens up to the pool area so you can sit and eat breakfast while looking out onto the pool and water.    The breakfast buffet was very nice, expansive with lots of options, and provided a nice start to the day.  The pool was very nice, but it seemed a bit small given the size of the hotel.  There was also a private beach available, but I did not have a chance to experience it.

Check-in was quick and overall the service at the hotel was very good.  I had been communicated via email with the GM prior to my arrival (I had to rearrange travel) and they were very accommodating and very nice – so overall good service.  The lobby is the main floor and the guestrooms start from the lobby area and go higher.  The bottom floors, heading towards the water, are reserved for dining, meeting, and pool area.  Our room was located on the main floor so we entered through the double doors next to the check-in desk and went to our room.

Overall, the room was nice and comfortable.  As you entered, on left hand side was the bathroom and on the right was the closet and shelves.  The bathroom was nice and spacious and decent for the hotel.  As you walked further into the room, on the left hand side were two double beds and on the right hand side was the TV, a chest with drawers, and a desk.  Straight ahead was a window that overlooked the water – the vistas from the hotel was very nice and glad the design was made to show that.  The windows also allowed natural light to come into the room.  The beds were very comfortable and provided a nice rest.

Overall, the only negative was the location in that the hotel was not near the city center.  The positives of the hotel included good customer service, nice views of the water and the service was also good. 

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