As you arrive at the AA GRAND OASIS RESORT in Sharm el Sheikh you may think that you have ended up in a 5-star hotel. The lavish lobby with the spectacular domed Tiffany ceiling suggests style, elegance and a firm grip on things. Well.
The hotel itself boasts of 4 stars - Egypian stars, mind you – but my little Danish tour operator was more realistic and lowered the status to 3+, which still is a bit much in my opinion.
Let it be said right away – the Grand Oasis, which is an ”All Inclusive” hotel for better or worse, is a quite fine hotel – as a structure, that is. Nice, with two long 3-storied wings surrounding two pools (one quite large, one smaller and heated one, and one kids' pool). The rooms may not quite live up to what the impressive lobby suggests, but they are quite large, well equipped and decently kept, so all that is OK. The entire property is characterized by the extraordinarily well kept gardens with greenery and flowers galore – no less than 20 full-time gardeners see to that.
And then – after a couple of days the faults and defects became visible, one by one, making the glossy image slowly fade away. As mentioned the physical hotel side is quite OK, but according to information from the hotel itself they have 541 rooms, meaning way over 1.000 guests (double occupancy only, plus eventual extra beds) when they are fully booked. The main restaurant may only seat 350 persons – max. 400 when it gets rough – meaning eating in shifts and seatings. The restaurant is very noisy, cafeteris-like and impersonal, and definitely not very attractive with its hard surface walls and tiled floor increasing the noise. There was an endles coming and going between the small tables (mostly for 3 persons only) and the buffets, childrend running around and playing between the tables, and so on. The concept seems to be ”eat quickly and get out to make room for others”, and any intimacy and service is completely non-existing.
The food, yes – it was by all means edible, all said. There was lots of it, but the same day in, day out with small variations. At breakfast cooks were stationed on the small open terrace outside the dining-room making delicious fried eggs and omelets to order like on a conveyor belt along with pan-cakes. Three differend juices (tasing a bit synthetic), lots of bread (of the light type without ”substance”), salads, various hot courses and so on. It was all there – everything presented to its advantage. But it was and remained a noisy and restless cafeteria with average food.
At dinner there were two different soups, always delicious. The cooks were lined up out on the terrace and grilled and fried and broiled the best they could. It was mostly Egyptian meat-balls,
grilled chicken, liver (!) and cheap, fried fish – inexpensive and quickly prepared ingredients. Otherwise, the evening meals appeared to be unimaginative with somewhat overdone dishes. However, the Indian dishes lined up on a separate table were very popular and delicious – if you favour spices, that is. The promising pots saved the meals for several, who were disappointed by the culinary performance of the Grand Oasis kitchen.
The free red wine (or beer) was to be fetched at the makeshift ”bar” where a waiter would splash it into a sad and sometimes unappetizing ”beer glass” of plastic, and the afterward coffee had to be picked up from a machine making Nescafé straight into the cup. Indeed, no style or finesse at all.
There are three other speciality restaurants, for whom reservations are to be made in advance. There is one Italian option – a few tables put up along a dull wall beneath the bar-lounge area – and one fish restaurant and an Oriental one sharing a ”greenhouse” with sad garden furniture somewhere down in the gardens towards the sea. The seafood place was praised by everyone as excellent, while nobody liked the Oriental option. The Italian restaurants aroused mixed feelings.
One may visit each of these restaurants free of charge only once per stay – otherwise you will have to pay for the meals if you wish to go back again.
In continuation of the entrance and reception area with the fabulous glass ceiling there is a quite large, but somewhat sparcely furnished lounge and bar, which runs further out onto a small outside terrace with not too comfortable Manila furniture. But nor this most important section of the hotel is properly equipped for the potential large number of guests. Apart from this bar-lounge and the adjoining very small terrace there is no alternative for spending the evening, except in the hotel room – your only choise is to walk the 7-8 minutes down the road to Soho Square with its handfull flashy cafés and restaurants, some expensive shops, a couple of banks etc.
Once or twice a week there was ”live music” in the lounge-bar – provided by a gentleman who played on a key-board or an accordion - both with amplifier, of course - but the ”sound” level was so overwhelming that it all became a rather unpleasant experience. The case is that like in the restaurant there are only hard surfaces everywhere, making the loud noise roar between the walls and tear your ears off. It wa s awful.
Also, there was various entertainment around the pools. During the day there was aerobic and the like (sometimes accompanied by very loud ”music”), and in the evening various shows which were rather amateurish and mostly aimed at the younger crowd. Such things can be very noisy, but I must admit it was generally quite acceptable, and at 11.00 pm it was all quiet. During the day there was also some sort of entertainment down by the water, but they kept it down to a pleasant level with music for everybody. All OK there.
The hotel and the pool area is quite handicap friendly. There are wheelschair ramps everywhere – there may, however, be problems with access to the 1st floor main dining room. Handicapped guests will need help any way. There are ramps all the way down to the water, but they are very steep, and the handicapped should not expect to get into the water without problems – the rest of us could not either.
The hotel is situated on top of a slope leading down towards the sea – it is a five-minute walk down along the beautiful gardens – where you'll find four landscaped terraces with sunbeds, canopies and some wooden shades. Theres is a booth where you'll have your beach towel handed out and nice and very clean toilets, and on the upper level a bar for all the free drinks – beer and booze galore (Egyptian, somewhat watery brands) in every shape and shade. Next to the bar there is a snack kitchen serving hamburgers, potato chips, fried liver (!) etc. for lunch. The cooks were not too much into quality – half-grilled burgers, deep-fried slimy breaded fish and limp French fries more often than not, the fish and the fries made in the same oil, of course. And there was no salt! Imagine potato chips without salt! Well, they did provide a small plastic bag like the ones they'll give you on the plane containing fork, knife and napkin plus the small paper tubes with a minimum of salt and pepper in them. If you wanted more salt the cook suggested that you opened a number of bags and fished out the salt & pepper tubes until you were satisfied. That was what he said! Quite by chance I discovered that they had lots of salt at the bar a few feet away, but not at the snack place where you would need it. This fact did not impress the cooks at all, and nothing was done about it. Too bad, really – it says all. Also, it was stated that lunch snacks would be served from 1.00 until 4.00 p.m., but often they were out of food long before 3.00 p.m. Sometimes they would replenish – sometimes not.
I take it that most people go to Sharm el Sheikh to bathe and swim in the clear Red Sea, but that is no easy matter at the Grand Oasis. To put it blunt it may be a dangerous task, especialli for seniors. On its web-site the hotel boasts a photo of the waterside area showing a minute beach and a pontoon bridge leading out over the coral reef onto deep water. Beach? Pontoon brigde? Well, the beach is very small indeed – roughly 150 x 30 feet - but once you take two steps into the water you are right on the slippery and very uneven coral rocks. 30 feet further out you still have the water only half way up your calves – but one more step and you are out on the blue deep. There are deep holes in the coral rocks and if you are unlucky you may fall and break something, or otherwise hurt yourself seriously. So watch out.
The so-called pontoon bridge turned out to be a structure made of half-rusted permanent iron bars, some 6 feet high, that went out to the edge of the reef only and ended in a steep vertical iron bar ladder with about 1½ feet between the rungs! For comfort some line was wound around the upper rungs, while under water the rungs were slippery from algae and difficult to stand on. One thing was to get into the water – something else to get out of it again. With the large spaces between the rungs it was difficult to get a proper footing on the steep ladder. To that came the scenery of people trying to get in or out of the water wearing snorkels and flippers, all at the same time. Also, many swimmers crowded in the water beneath the ladder, which could also lead to dangerous situations. Several Russians – most of them in the heavyweight class – liked to gather at the end of the bridge to talk and pass the time, making it even more difficult to get up or down the ladder. They simply refused to move and make space. So the bridge made up a no safer way to get into the water than tottering over the slippery coral rocks. The result was that several hotel gueats just avoided bathing altogether. The bathing conditions at the Grand Oasis are very dubious.
The pool area, to the contrary, is quite OK. One large pool, one smaller (heated in colder periods) and one small children's splashing pool. Canopies and sunshades provide shaddow and good sunbeds the comfort. The entire pool area is in fact very well-kept, and the friendly pool attendants provide you with a fresh towel and a place in the sun. The pool bar, however, appeared rather untidy. The bartenders did not seem to bother much about it – either with the service or otherwise. But – also here the accidents just wait to happen: around the pools there are glaced tiles who become dangerously slippery when wet, which is difficult to avoid around a pool. Also here one has to watch one's steps very carefully. However, to do the Grand Oasis justice I may add that slippery pool tiles are something one may find at many hotels. Broken arms and legs are obviously a calculated risk which many hotels take. The guests have travel insurances, don't they?
And then some words about the clientele: in November 2011 the hotel was half full, about 70% were Russian, quite a few were Italian, some English and a handful Norwegians and Danes. The Russians dominated the hotel to such an extent that it was unpleasant. Individually Russians are both friendly and civilized, but as a majority they become ”the rulers” with ubelieveably bad manners and behavior that defies description. Most of the Russian guests were obviously without any understanding of how to behave abroad. They were patronizing the hotel staff whom they bossed around, they were loud and drinking without moderation and their eating manners were spectacular. They littered everywhere, both inside and out. They did not respect the queues at the bars, but just marched up front and demanded loudly more vodka (in Russian, of course, because very few of them knew more than three English words), and would insult you brusquely (also in Russian) if you protested. Nor did they respect the hotel's ”dress code”, requiring long trousers and a decent attire for dinner in the dining room – they would not hesitate showing up in swimming shorts and beach sandals. The hotel accepted it obviously; there were no protests from their side, which in turn was not very polite towards those of the other guests who did dress up a little for dinner. There were limits, however: a somewhat plump, middleaged Russian lady turned up for dinner in a bikini, but was unseremoniously shown the door with instructions to dress properly.
There were a good deal Italians, but they did not dominate like the Russians, and the rest of us – well, we just minded ourselves as usual. There were messages and posters everywhere about this and that, and they were firstly in Russian, then in Italian, and – if there was space – in English. The majority of the staff seeemed to speak fluently Russian and many also Italian, and English was no problem. But Grand Oasis is and remains an outspoken ”Russian hotel” and those who have experienced the phenomena will know what I am talking about.
In the hotel lobby area there are a small dozen shops selling anything from post cards and beach equipment to exotic perfumes and spices to souvenirs and expensice copy watches and jewelry. All prices were open to easy negotiations down to the half or less. There is also a spa department with massage and baths etc. in the basement along with a fitness center, whose equpment, I heard from users, is somewhat dated.
Haven't I anything good to say about the Grand Oasis? Of course, the hotel as such is very well kept and comfortable (but, as said, lacking space for all guests when full). The rooms are nice and well equipped with for inst. a hair dryer, lush towels and lots of small bottles in the bath room, and in the wardrobe you'll find a safe free of charge. The beds are very good with comfy divets – a rarity in the warmer countries. Individual A/C, of course, and a TV and fridge, and on the balcony or terrace a table and two chairs. The soundproofing is excellent. The ”room maids”, who are all male, see to it that there are lots of free water bottles, and the cleanliness is acceptable by all means. The staff is generally very friendly and helpful. So yes, as a hotel as such there are nothing really to put a finger on – the physical sides are in order. It is all the other things – the food, the Russians, the miserable ”beach” facilities – that pull down, and very much so.
It is all a matter of management. If it is good, then the hotel is good. In the case of the Grand Oasis it seems they have a problem. Well, I do not know – I only describe it as I saw and experienced the hotel in November 2011. That I ended up having a very nice vacation after all is due to the very nice people I met, and not to the Grand Oasis.
How my little Danish tour could place the Grand Oasis in the 3+ category remains a mystery. Well, I will give the hotel proper (main building, the rooms, the pool area and the lovely gardens) 3 stars, but the extra plus? It seems to me that my tour operator has only skimmed the hotel quickly and let it be with that. I doubt that they ever had a meal there, let alone visited the ”beach” area and seen the miserable bathing conditions there. Should I judge the Grand Oasis as a whole – the entire experience – I would rather give them 2 stars out of 5.
The rooms are fine, but look for another hotel
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