My friend and ex-colleague Roxanne Youssef Dowell (who wrote an excellent and often humorous blog about the trials of motherhood A Reluctant Mom - check it out!) recently returned from a 15-day trip to Egypt with her husband and two young daughters. Her report on one of the places they stayed, the Sonesta Beach Resort in Sharm El-Sheikh, is below. Thank you Roxanne for your wonderful and thorough review of this architecturally stunning hotel!
We picked Sharm El-Sheikh in the Sinai as a place to relax before venturing to Cairo because it’s a gorgeous area of Egypt that is completely unlike the rest of the country. People there are used to foreign travelers and, therefore, do not balk when women walk around in short shorts and a tank top (there are even quite a few topless women at the beach and pool. This custom is ignored but not totally appreciated, however.).
Our travel agent, Ghada Sabry at ATA (Arab Travel Agency in Cairo), suggested we stay at the Sonesta Beach Resort on Naama Bay in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, for four nights and five days because it was an all-inclusive hotel and ideal for kids, but we saw many couples, both young and old, here on holiday as well.
The family style rooms are spacious and perfect for two adults and two children (you must make sure you confirm this type of room if you are traveling with children, otherwise you may be given two double beds or a king with no
additional beds). The room (which is decorated in the same lovely Arabesque theme as the rest of the beautiful resort), has a small dressing room and a decent sized bathroom. There was an extra-large king-size bed and a seating area. Take a few small steps down to a nice living area (complete with television and not-so comfortable loveseats) and to the right of that is an adjacent room complete with bunk beds and its own door. This awesome set up allowed us to put the kids to bed at night and enjoy an evening to ourselves in (relative) privacy.
The resort itself is stunning, situated right on the Red Sea with incredible views of the Sinai Mountains. The Arabic-style buildings had freshly scrubbed white walls and mashrabiya (carved wood) windows and awnings. The main areas were surrounded by lush greenery and blooming flowers. There are six separate, well-maintained and inviting pools for the resort but if you are traveling with children
TIP: I highly recommend asking for a room near the bar and Le Dome restaurant because they serve drinks and snacks all day long. Other pools offer a swim-up bar but no snacks and some are perfect for the couple on a romantic trip who want a bit of privacy (there were absolutely no kids at some of the pools). There is even a casino for those interested in trying their luck. We, however, were too busy lounging at the pool to want to do anything else.
The staff was courteous, friendly and often times went above and beyond what was required of them. The animation team was entertaining yet, thankfully, not annoying, and if you felt like you wanted to get up and do a little exercise they offered a variety of aerobic activities, both in and out of the pool.
WHAT WE LOVED: The best part about this resort was its overall beauty and the way the staff catered to its patrons. (The scenery was breathtaking and the various balcony views were accessible and easy to enjoy.) Each night there was a dance show presented at the Citadel Restaurant. My kids (5 and 8 years old) were so mesmerized by it they insisted on going every night (each evening the show boasted a different theme). Although dinner does not being until 6:30 p.m., if you a party of six or more I would highly recommend getting a table early (around 5:30 p.m.). Tables fill up quickly.
The resort is enormous and I cannot imagine anyone getting bored here. There are many different places to enjoy various views if all you want to do is relax, but if you’re up for adventure there is plenty to see and do. The staff is eager and helpful if you need advice about what to see or do. There is a fitness center, tennis courts, dive center, recreation center, health club and kids club.
At night I recommend walking down toward the beach and taking a stroll along the strand. Several hotels dot the beach but there are plenty of restaurants, bars and other nightlife options for those traveling without children. The strand is also the place to book boating, car trips, and snorkeling and diving tours.
WHAT WE DIDN’T LOVE: I’ve been to the Red Sea at least 10 times but have not been back since 1999. In the past decade, Sharm El-Sheikh has become overpopulated by hotels, making the beach area overcrowded. Many hotels have set up little fences so it is difficult to walk along the beach, and there isn’t much room for private sunbathing. Nonetheless, if you want to take a rest in the sun, there are plenty of places at the various pools to find solace and enjoy some quiet time with a partner or alone.
Although this particular hotel had some very good food for lunch and dinner, the breakfast was abysmal. It was the typical arrangement of cheese, bread, canned fruit, local (but unappealing) cuisine and vegetables. Kids were offered various breakfast cereals that were mostly sugar-filled. Yogurt and juices were on hand as well. We were asked if we wanted fresh orange juice, and didn’t realize it was an extra cost (make sure to ask which items are included in the all-inclusive package). The juice was the worst I have ever tasted and not at all worth the $3.00 per glass price tag.
WHAT NOT TO MISS: If your kids are old enough to swim well (in deep water for long periods of time), or if you’re a couple traveling alone, I would not miss the snorkeling or diving. The Red Sea is unlike any other body of water in the world. Be aware if you take a boating trip out you may be asked to swim a small distance to the coral reef, which requires skill (and is not for kids who are not strong swimmers). Also, a car trip to Ras Mohammed National Park will require walking along some coral areas before you can drop down into the sea, so a good pair of water shoes for kids are recommended.
WHAT TO SKIP: The Lebanese restaurant, Casablanca, at the hotel requires a 24-hour advance reservations. We assumed this meant the restaurant was exceptional. It wasn’t; the dinner buffet was not nearly as good as the one at the Citadel restaurant. Additionally, another guest I met warned me not to get the massage. “It was by far the worst massage I have ever had in my life,” she said. She did, however, go to the hairdresser who did a great job styling her hair and her friend’s hair.
THE BOTTOM LINE: This place was so relaxing and kid-friendly we felt the time whizzed by and we were very sad to leave. Our children were able to meet other kids and play together, and because our room was right off the pool area they could come and go to the room as they pleased. (We kept our balcony door open, as it was in plain view of the pool area.)