Pros: Exceptional service, immaculate, cater to guests, 6Pm check-out, multi-lingual, reasonable pricing.
Cons: Twenty-minute cab ride (six dollars) could be an advantage or disadvantage depending on perspective.
During my recent trip to Cairo, I had the pleasure of staying at the Radisson Blu in Heliopolis near the Cairo Airport. This five-star hotel will not have their Grand Opening until mid-2010. Because the hotel is already open but not fully operational, I was able to stay at an exceptional rate (for under one hundred dollars per night). The hotel is conveniently located just five minutes from the airport.
Upon arriving at the hotel, I was surprised to see the front driveway barricaded by a sliding gate. After passing through the gate, we entered the front of the hotel, passing through a magnetometer in between the two sets of lobby doors. Our luggage was taken to an adjacent entrance where it was security screened through an X-ray machine before the bell staff retrieved it to deliver to our room. The sense of security was prevalent but unobtrusive.
The nicely appointed lobby has a plenty of sitting areas for visitors to relax. Beyond a large couch is the reception desk where we were checked in by a sweet young lady named Walaa. Her English was sharp enough for us to understand everything she was saying. Her personality was welcoming and warm. She advised us of our room number, confirmed the dates of our visit and prepared our keys. She also gave us a brief rundown of the services available at the hotel.
After check-in, we proceeded to our room on the third floor. At the time of our visit, the first four floors of this nine story hotel were operational. The room lock is a proximity reader and the key seemed to have demagnetized. The bellboy (Ahmed) took the key downstairs and had it re-programmed for us, returning as quickly as he departed. The key worked and we quickly settled into our temporary quarters. The room felt welcoming and spacious. Our name and a welcome message was displayed on the television screen as well as the telephone. A large closet and smaller suitcase shelf were immediately to our right when we entered. The bathroom was on the right just beyond the closet area. The bathroom had a modern look with a somewhat small bathtub. The bedroom/living area was large with a long counter that doubled as a work space. A flat screen television was also located on this counter.
I was first introduced to the energy saving room key when I stayed at the Hotel Sarajevo in 2009. The Radisson Blu uses the same type of device, which is a small card slot that you place your room key into when you enter the room. This key holder provides power to several of the power outlets in the room, allowing the lights to automatically power off when guests leave the room. It also puts the lights on when you return. Unlike the Sarajevo Hotel, this key only operates the lights and will not reset your alarm clock or turn off the television when the key is removed.
The room amenities met my immediate needs. The best bonus was the free wi-fi, which I took full advantage of. In addition to the wi-fi, each room is equipped with a flat screen television (which has speakers in the bathroom so you don't miss anything), coffee and tea service, a stocked refrigerator with typical hotel charges for any items consumed, room service, complimentary shampoo and conditioner in the bathroom (unbranded), hair dryer and a small safe located in the closet. The power outlets were designed to allow a US three-prong plug to insert, but the power is 220, so it is inadvisable to use the outlets without a converter.
The bed was a little bit firmer than I normally prefer but seemed to be of high quality. I slept well in the bed in spite of the firm factor. The television channels included programming in German, French, Egyptian and English. The only two English channels were BBC News and CNN (which was fine with me, since my television is normally on the news anyway). A tall sofa was placed along one wall with a narrow coffee table in front of it. My room was a non-smoking room and appeared to be enforced (although the rooms were only open for a month prior to my arrival).
Because the hotel is not fully operational, the rooftop pool and fitness center were not even open for visitors to look at. The elevator would only go to floors that were already open to guests. The hotel has a variety of services available to include a 24-hour front desk that was always adequately staffed with at least one person that I could communicate with in English. The hotel has a spa, restaurant and bar that I did not utilize. It appeared that a second restaurant was in the process of being opened during my visit. They will also have a wedding facility. Although I did not use the hotel restaurant, I did take a look inside and was impressed with the layout. The restaurant had an upscale appearance without appearing exclusive.
Other amenities at the hotel include newspapers in the lobby (a paper was left on my coffee table on day), ATM Machine, business center, currency exchange, dry cleaning service (outrageous hotel prices apply), two gift shops, technology support (I was never actually able to use my inverter for tech reasons...but they tried), wired lobby area, tour assistance, laundry facility, limo service (pricey), secure parking (for under five dollars per night), child care, sauna, private and public security, Avis car rental on-site (fifty dollars per day for the brave and/or insane), cell phone rental, translation services, computer rental, full service spa, library, music library, business center and much more. Pets are not allowed in the hotel.
When we were ready to begin adventuring out on our own the first day, we had already decided on the places we wanted to visit. I met with Magdy at the concierge desk and advised him where we wanted to go. He translated the locations for us, provided us with written addresses to include our hotel, and hailed a cab. The translation must have been accurate because we never had a problem. When we returned that evening, we wanted to set up a professional tour for the following day to the pyramids of Giza and Saqqarah. We spoke with Mustafa, who made all of the arrangements through Thomas Cook, indicating that we should start at 7 AM if we wanted to arrive early enough to get the limited tickets into the Great Pyramid. It was good advice and an exceptional tour. For under two hundred dollars we got a car, driver and Egyptologist for the day (private for just the two of us) as well as admission to the plateaus. The concierge desk bent over backwards to ensure that we were well taken care of.
The Raddison Blu is located near the airport, which makes it convenient for getting in and out, but places it about twenty minutes (ten miles) from downtown Cairo. This cab ride should cost visitors between 20 and 30 LE or less than six dollars. I liked being away from downtown and found the cab ride to be short enough. Several restaurants are located near the hotel (at least a two dozen, but about a dozen that I would actually consider eating at). A fresh bakery is also located nearby. I purchased a bag full of bread, pretzels and croissants for forty cents there. Fresh, delicious and cheap. I found the decent meals near the hotel to run between three and five dollars per meal, but did eat for less than that. Gift shops, groceries and ATM machines are also located nearby. For anyone brave enough to rent a car, there is a gas station located one block from the hotel.
We had a late flight out on the final day. The normal check-out time is noon. I was going to have the concierge keep our bags while we went into Cairo on our final day, but was advised by a pleasant desk clerk (Marian) that we did not have to check out until 6 PM. That was a big help, allowing us to maximize our final day without concern for our baggage. We enjoyed the sights and sounds of Cairo one last time before returning to our hotel with enough time to check out and catch a cab to the airport. We left the hotel with impression that anything we could have possibly needed would have been provided. This hotel is one that I would absolutely recommend to any friends of mine who might decide to visit Egypt. The property was immaculate, attractive and the staff incredibly helpful. Although there were a few nit-picky issues, they were easily mitigated by the incredible service we experienced during our stay. This five-star hotel is certainly worthy of five stars.
The Citadel in Cairo
Coptic Musuem in Cairo
Egyptian Musuem in Cairo
Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar
Pyramids at Saqqarah, Egypt
Pyarmids and Sphinx at Giza