Just got back from our Egypt tour. And since I owe this forum for all the great information I would like to return the favor and share my experience here. I will not go through a daily report, however will take each aspect of the trip and post a review on each - accordingly, you will see the following reviews from me in the next couple of days - De Castro Tours, Mena House, Old Cataract, Mojito Cruise Ship, Mercure in Luxor, Zosher in Cairo and a general review on Cairo, Aswan, Alexandria and Luxor.
Let's start with De Castro.
So, I have been planning this trip for over nine months. Went through exhaustive research, going through reviews, details on each company and the itinerary itself. I decided on De Castro since it is a large company, had some good reviews online, and Soliman (the tour operator) was very responsive and was very patient answering all my questions - and I will tell you I had a lot of questions since I wanted to make sure this trip was perfect and we were going with the right agency.
To give you some examples - I was very clear with my specifications on the type of trip. We wanted the trip to be exclusive, and wanted to stay in specific hotels and take a specific cruise. I had chosen these places based on the research I had gathered from here, Soliman and I had clear talks about this - he had recommended the Le Meridien, Giza however I had heard nothing but great things about Mena House, so I had asked him to book us into that. Similarly, he had tried to put us into another hotel in Aswan, however I had told him we needed the Old Cataract. So, I was very specific with him each step of the way, letting him know where we wanted to stay and he was great in acknowledging that and confirming it.
Eventually towards the latter part of the planning, we went ahead and booked the Mena House ourselves since I wanted to put the deposits on our credit cards. Accordingly, the trip itinerary through DeCastro included everything else.
Things went smoothly the first day, they were there to receive us, get our visas, take us to the Hotel, collected us the next day toured Cairo and then came the next day morning to pick us up to go to Alexandria.
On the way there, Soliman tells us there was a change in the itinerary - They could not book us into the sleeper trains to Aswan and the return from Luxor to Cairo, so we will be flying there ( we were ok with that even though that meant spending an extra day at Aswan and Luxor). Then he said, the reservations department screwed up and even though they had reserved rooms for us at the Old Cataract they did not send the deposit on time, so our reservations are cancelled and we are now booked into the Pyramisa. Also, the same thing happened with the Nile cruise - we are now booked into the cruise ship Medea instead of Mojito. He assured us repeatedly how Mojito and Medea are similar - five star deluxe, we will not see the difference; everything is still five star deluxe category.
We were disappointed but believed him...and then we went to the Alexandria Library where we got online and checked out Medea - and saw the difference in pictures. Medea looked like a cheap motel compared to the Mojito. It was not a deluxe category, and again, thanks to all the information I had received online, there is a big difference between the two categories. Besides, based on the rates we had paid De Castro - they were five star deluxe rates all the way through, so this was not acceptable.
So, on the way back to Cairo, we had a conversation with Soliman, and that is where the true colors came out. He had known about this schedule change since the 2nd of April, but did not bother to tell us when we got there 6th morning, when he met us at the airport and took the money from us. He basically lied when he said the Mojito and Medea was the same, and Pyramisa is an ok hotel, but not the same category as the Old Cataract. At this point, they can do nothing; we will just have to accept it. However, we were very insistent and stressed on this being bad service and it took a lot of discussion (heated at times) before he finally agreed to make some calls. Finally we were told that we would be given $200 per couple to book ourselves into the Cataract and they would cancel the Pyramisa booking. So we booked ourselves into the Cataract and paid an extra $200 to stay there since De Castro messed up. The stay there was amazing (will post separately on that). Then he said he would let us know about the cruise.
Next day, he kept us hanging - telling us we will know soon whether he could get us into the Mojito. Meanwhile, we went and took a look at the Medea - and it was scary. Very shabby, peeling carpets, the room they showed us was dirty, peeling bright orange carpets, half windows which was dirty - and then we saw the Mojito - and it was a big difference. Waited the whole day to hear back from Soliman, he told us we would know by 5pm latest, then disappeared and showed up at 7:30p to let us know that we would have to go with Medea. At that point, we were livid. Nine months of planning, detailed instructions, countless emails, confirmed itinerary and everything was pointless because he was basically telling us that he could not put us into the Mojito. He then admits to the fact that Medea is not as good as the Mojito...we can go and book ourselves in there independently but it would be like the Cataract. We would have to pay the money out of own pockets. They would refund us some of the money but we would get it back in 20 to 25 business days. At that point, we were not trusting him anymore - since everything he was saying was lies and were out of a great experience. We said we would complain to the Tourism Police, we would make sure EVERYONE knew this and he basically said he does not believe in online reviews, De Castro is owned by the same guy who owns Harrods in London, and if I post a negative review, he will post 10 good review online, and they will still get customers. After arguing with him till about 11pm ( we missed the Phila light and show), he finally made a call to the Senior Manager who then called us back at midnight to say that he was putting us on the Mojito.
The next three days were great - Mojito was wonderful. Then we arrive at Luxor where again we meet DeCastro's tour operator who brings along Bob, a tour guide. He then starts bargaining with us...we want to see the Karnak Light and Show; we need to pay then 35 British pounds per person for it. When we pause at that, he says ok let's bring that down to 20 British pounds per person, but if we pay him directly, then it will be only 15 British pounds. At that point, we decide to do those ourselves. So we get a taxi from the cruise ship to the Temple (15 LE each way) and then 75 LE pp for the tickets - you can see the difference – 1 GBP is about 10.79 LE…
We go on the sightseeing to Karnak Temple, Valley of the Kings, Queen Hatchesput Temple with Bob where we see him blatantly buy one ticket and get all of us through, give some separate money to the gate wardens, and then charge us the full price.
I know this is a long review, but at this point, I want everyone to be aware of this tour agency. I realize mistakes can be made, but the way they handled it was terrible. Soliman turned out to be this immensely bitter person, who made it clear he did not enjoy his job and clearly did not like to be contradicted. He was lying every step of the way to cover up the mistakes. What scared me was his talk about the company not caring about reviews - I have traveled extensively and ALL my traveling decisions have been made by what is posted in various travel websites - so if a company is of that philosophy, then they are basically there to take your money and that is it...who cares about travel experiences?
Mostafa, the GM, did do a good job of putting us on the Mojito, but the day and a half of battles with Soliman and putting up with his attitude before we could speak to Mostafa really made the whole thing very bitter and messy. It was clear that other travelers probably got the same thing happen to them, and Soliman was sure he could get away with making the changes in the itinerary and when he told us he was calling his manager to see what could be done, he wasn't.
I am sure people out there have good experiences with De Castro, but the question is – when something does go wrong how do they handle it? We were fine with taking the train from Cairo to Aswan and from Luxor to Cairo. They could not arrange that (though in the final itinerary everything was confirmed) so they moved us to flying – they DID not do us a favor. We paid for an extra night in Aswan, AND, also we paid for our meals in Aswan and Luxor (dinners at both places which would have been covered on the train). We stressed on five star deluxe – we were booked into a five star (which was horrible), and we had to fight for over a day to get what we wanted AND had paid for.
Please feel free to email me if you have any questions, I will try my best to answer any questions. But, I strong recommend thinking twice before going with this tour agency.