Staying at this hotel was misery. First, a summary: This is a beautiful hotel with a unique location alongside historic gardens and castle - what should be a great oasis of relaxation. However, we spent two full days dealing with miscommunications regarding the rooms; waiting and moving from room to room; overseeing maintenance (electrician, clogged sink, toilet that doesn’t flush, blood! on the tub); coping with other problems (Internet doesn’t work, A/C doesn’t work, not one single towel in the bathrooms, getting stuck in the bathroom with a malfunctioning lock, etc.); trying to ignore smaller issues (hairs, stains, and holes in the bedding; fuzzy TV screen, etc.); not to mention contradictory (or dishonest) claims by staff. Two days of constant misery until 6 or 7 pm, all of our holiday day excursion plans cancelled, and no satisfactory response from management.
Now in more detail, first the positives then our extraordinarily miserable story:
The hotel is located in the midst of the gorgeous Montazah gardens, next to the magnificent castle and on the edge of the ocean. There are so many restaurants, a large garden, and wonderful places to sit next to the swimming pool and small private “beach” (basically steps down to a tiny bay with murky mucky still green ocean water). There is a decent gym, and many activities to do. The bell captain staff was efficient and courteous, especially Mr. Shaaban and Mr. Waguih. Although the diversity and quality of the breakfast and especially dinner buffets were not up to 5-star standards, we enjoyed interacting with the wonderful Alexandrine restaurant staff, including the maitres and head waiters (and server Nourhan was so sweet). Finally, the rooms have good space and excellent sound insulation from inside the hotel, multiple electric outlets, CD player with the flatscreen TV, views from the rooms are really amazing, and having a balcony to sit in can be wonderful.
When I called to reserve, I asked if the hotel had any rooms that could accommodate 4 adults (plus a baby) because with us was a person with a disability who needs simultaneous efforts from all of us. I was told that the options were a suite or two connecting rooms, and the reservationist recommended the latter so that we would have more space and not need an extra folding bed.
When we arrived, we were astonished to discover that we were given smoking rooms. In 35 years of traveling to over 15 countries I have never stayed in a smoking room. Beyond my allergies, most hotels in the U.S. are smoke-free or the default is non-smoking so this is not something I would even think about. I immediately asked for a switch, but was told there were no available connecting rooms in the non-smoking floors. They asked me why didn’t I reserve non-smoking? My question is, why did the reservationist not give me this choice! I desperately and repeatedly asked the front desk staff repeatedly to look for other rooms or find another solution. I’m sure they were probably thinking “This person is so annoying and overbearing! Doesn’t she understand there is nothing available? Here we go with a difficult customer…”. However, I was remembering a few years before when I called the Helnan and was told there were absolutely no rooms available, so I asked someone (who spoke Arabic in a classy manner) to call and they gave us a room! Also, during this check-in process I heard so many contradictions by hotel staff that my trust was rapidly diminishing (see example list below!). I was also in shock about the situation, and feeling trapped because it was probably too late to look for another hotel for that night.
The front desk personnel reassured us that a) housekeeping sprays the rooms well to extinguish the smell of smoke; b) moving to non-smoking rooms the following day would easily only take a few moments with support of bell captain staff; and c) there was a non-smoking connecting room that will be available (unless the guests decided to stay longer, which personally I doubted since it was the day after Eid break so most guests were returning home). I asked that she please make a note to reserve those connecting non-smoking rooms for us, and she agreed to relay the information to her female colleague who would arrive the following morning.
So we went to the smoking rooms (which were beautifully furnished and decorated), and this is what we faced:
* The electrician was replacing all the burnt spotlights in the Room 1, a time-consuming process with to hanging wires
* The doors to the connecting rooms were not able to be opened by several hotel staff (until a bellman showed us the trick)
* In Room 1 the A/C gave out a full blast of highest cold regardless of the thermostat settings, and then by 8 or 9 pm it completely died and did not operate at all
* So we opened the balcony to bring in a breeze, but instead it brought humid heat, mosquitoes, noise from the terrace/bay, and cigarette smoke, all of which disrupted sleep
* In Room 2 the A/C was not controllable – only extreme cold regardless of the settings – so we woke up every couple of hours to turn it on for a few moments then close it again
* The baby cot that we requested with reservation and confirmed twice with front desk never arrived. Thank God by chance we had a tiny baby basket in the car that we snuggled on two chairs to avoid the floor (we noticed housekeeping weren’t vacuuming).
* The deadbolt lock on Room 1 did not turn
* the INTERNET did not work at all, or sputtered slowly for a few minutes, which seriously compromised some commitments I had (I learned that there is contention between the hotel and their lousy service provider, and contractual issues are preventing switch to another provider)
By morning I was so sick from the third-hand smoke that I had taken 3 anti-histamines, 2 different eye drops, and used an asthma inhaler (thank God I still carry it even though I use it rarely, every few years). After breakfast I went to the front desk to anxiously inquire about when we will move to the non-smoking rooms. She cautioned that the available rooms are not with our preferred view. So I told her, “At this point, we will take anything! It is better than having to go to the hospital!” Of course, I was referring to the view as that was the topic of the conversation.
We cancelled all our planned day excursions to wait for the transfer. At 2 pm we were informed that one of the two rooms were ready, and bell captain cordially took our things. After a few minutes in the room I couldn’t find the connecting door, and when I asked the bell captain to help me find it, he shockingly informed me we were in two separate rooms! I called the front desk person. She said there were no connecting rooms available, she had no idea what happened to the rooms that her colleague had said would be available, and didn’t I say any room was ok? Our family quickly discussed the dilemma of choosing between connecting smoking rooms (which would make me sick), or not-connecting non-smoking rooms (which would compromise our ability to care for the family member with a disability), or look for another hotel (which was unlikely so late in the day). We stayed in the noticeably shabbier non-smoking rooms. WHAT A MISTAKE!
The SHOCKING things we dealt with from 2:30 – 6:00 pm:
* The bathroom sink in Room 1 was not draining, so we called the plumber who was very busy
* In the meantime after using the toilet it turned out the flush was not working, so we had to personally clean up the mess ourselves out of embarrassment before the plumber came
* We did not have one single bathroom towel until nearly 6 pm because the hotel was washing them
* The bed covers had hairs, stains, and many small holes
* We did not receive keys to Room 2 until just after 5 pm as housekeeping wasn’t finished
* At about 5:30 p.m. I finally entered the bathroom and noticed reddish stuff on the tub (see the pictures!)… it LOOKED LIKE BLOOD… it was so disgusting… I tried to convince myself it was something else, but logically plumbing transfer would have been grey-black dirt, housekeeping fluids could be transparent or yellow, and regardless of what it was, why was it not cleaned from the tub before our arrival?
* Housekeeping didn’t remove the reddish stuff until about 8:30 pm after we called twice.
* Room 1 toilet continued to have problems flushing (it regurgitated or needed two flushes), and Room 2 sink started to drain slowly later in the evening
* In the morning no one dared to take a shower because we were so disgusted
In the middle of this fiasco on the second day, we met with the manager on duty. We expressed our shock and anger at the injustice of having to pay for two rooms that we did not even have private use of until after 5-6 pm on both days due to moving, maintenance, housekeeping issues. He said he could not refund or discount the rooms. He offered us late check-out the following day till even 3 or 5 pm if we wanted. To end the hopeless discussion we said ok, but it wasn’t much of a concession (I usually have late check-out since I’m on so many hotel rewards programs) and really we couldn’t use this offer since I had to drive back to Cairo for a Skype meeting and other work commitments (remember, hotel didn’t have Internet). We left the rooms 1 pm the following day (delayed 1 hour due to separate rooms making it difficult to care for person with disability), and it took another hour to complete all the check-out bureaucracies (including bell staff keeping our bags hostage until they could find the release slip which they had lost).
Here are examples of staff DISHONESTY (if not intentional, then incompetence or miscommunication):
1. The person at reservations described three room views, but front desk staff said there were two views.
2. The two front desk staff on the first day said that there were two non-smoking floors (2 and 4). Then on the second day the staff member lamented the difficulty in finding non-smoking rooms because there was “only one floor!” so I said, isn’t it two? and she looked flustered and said yes it’s two. The manager on duty strongly insisted there was only one non-smoking floor. Meanwhile both floors 2 and 4 have large “Non-Smoking Floor” signs, and a non-smoking symbol on every door, and housekeeping staff also confirmed that both floors were non-smoking.
3. On day one the front desk person said that connecting non-smoking rooms would be available the following day unless the guest decided to continue their stay. What happened to those rooms? We never received a clear answer. Housekeeping staff confirmed that there were connecting rooms that were emptied but new arrivals were given those rooms.
4. The front desk person promised to alert her colleague who was on staff the following morning regarding allocating the non-smoking connecting rooms to us, but the colleague seemed unaware of things, so either she was pretending to not know, or the first person did not relay to her the information as promised.
5. The BIGGEST shock was later on the second day when the person we spoke with on the first day answered the phone, and she said “yesterday you agreed for non-connecting rooms.” WHAT?! This is the same person who spent so much time with us on the first day discussing the need for connecting rooms, telling me she found a connecting non-smoking available, and agreeing to alert her colleague of that. This was insulting, infuriating, and just plain shocking.
6. On one morning the restaurant told us the upstairs section was closed that day, and only the downstairs extension was open to customers. Then later friends told us they had eaten breakfast in the upstairs part.
7. The restaurant claimed that the downstairs buffet was exactly the same as the upstairs buffet to convince people to go downstairs, but we found that some items (like fresh fruit salad) were only in the upstairs section.
1. Regardless of the fiascos with the room set-up, no hotel guest should face the things we faced related electricity, A/C, plumbing, housekeeping, etc. Those things would be unacceptable even in a 2-star hotel.
2. We should NOT have paid such high price for rooms that we did not fully “receive” until past 5-6 pm on both days, and for rooms that did not meet the promised amenities listed on their website (including air conditioning, Internet, etc.). This is a violation of professional ethics.
3. It is completely unacceptable that the hotel was not honest or realistic and did not communicate clearly regarding the (un)availability of non-smoking connecting rooms and the length of time it would take to move from room to room. Otherwise, we would have moved to another hotel at least the second day. Their constant empty reassurances took away our ability to make informed choices and cost us our vacation.
4. This hotel is simply not equipped to handle a full house. Management should admit this to themselves if they want to preserve their reputation. When housekeeping doesn’t have towels or proper bedding or time to clean; when maintenance crews can’t keep up with requests; when the bathroom on ground floor is flooded for a long time with long lines of guests waiting; when lounge bar staff physically turn their back to guests and take more than 1 hour to bring cold coffee to well-known people such as the restaurant singer; when restaurant servers can’t handle the flow; when innocent guests at the pool area are accosted by hotel staff accusing them of skipping their bills because they can’t keep track of who got what; etc… these are all obvious signs.
5. While many of the problems we faced were the fault of the housekeeping or other hotel staff, we could not be angry at them because they were truly taxed beyond their capacity and were also so apologetic, polite and respectful, and genuinely friendly. On the other hand, front desk staff’s courtesy and empathy leave much to be desired.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- The Hotel is The civic & social center of Alexandria, known for its commitment to excellence in service & hospitality,The hotel is a five star deluxe hotel, situated in a unique location and embracing the Mediterranean and providing harmonious scenery. The vast magnificent gifts of nature, 350 acres of gardens and golden sandy beaches surround its bay. The hotel faces one of the most famous historical landmarks in Alexandria, "Royal Palace" which was once the site where the late Egyptian royal family vacationed. ... more less
- Reservation Options:
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- Also Known As:
- Helnan Palestine Alexandria
- Helnan Palestine Hotel Alexandria