We traveled with Uniworld in November 2008. I held off on this posting to let some time pass. Egypt is amazing. Travel there, you will be glad you did. The Egyptian people in their every day lives are very nice kind people.
Facts: Uniworld outsources their travel in Egypt to Spring Tours. The MS Norma is a boat on the Egypt Hotel group. A tour is what you make it. You cannot alwasy rely on your tour guide to make your trip. Egypt is fascnating. The sites are breath taking and the history is amazing. Book a tour, go, travel, see. Just don't take Uniworld.
It was a letter we sent to Uniworld.
We are seasoned travelers and have traveled with may tour companies. I take 2 trips a year and my parents take 2-4. It has been many years since we had such a negative experience as this. I tried to fill out the online form, but it kicked me out. So here is a recap . I hope that you welcome the feedback and can use it to make this segment of Uniworld's business a future success.
We very excited to go. We did enjoy the sites and the history very much. I do alot of research on the internet. Insight was sold out for this tour and everything I had read on Uniworld seemed positive including reviews of the ships.
I have to say that our initial disappointment took place when we saw our fellow travelers, but realized that this was not a Uniworld issue. We did make our concerns known to the ground host based in Cairo who assured us that our tours would not be cut down due to the mobility issues of the other guests. But even after the trip, I know that the guide did short cut some things. Bob was 85 and did not know where he was, he was lost much of the time, couldn't hear his phone ring in his cabin and towards the end of the tour our guide expected us to know where Bob was. Dave who couldn't walk and could not manage uneven terrain. He almost tipped over a number of times and almost fell off the gang plank and tender. Sam the girl with the broken back from a car accident just a year ago. At least she was able to recognize her limitations and purposely stayed back.
Based on our history with other tour companies and trips, we think the result of the mobility issues created a very rushed tour experience. It was as if our guide didn't want to stop and stand and only spoke at length if these people could lean up against a wall or sit. All site tours felt rushed. We were always the first group back to the boat. Excursions to some temples were 1 1/2 hours others 2 hours so the time guidelines in your brochures are very misleading. See Day 7 and Day 10. Our guide moved quickly from point to point and did not allow enough time for people to get their photos before moving to the the next speaking point. We paid money to see the sites, not sit on the bus and sit on the boat. We watched every other tour guide speak to additional sections of temples and openings which our guide ignored. What he did explain he did a great job with and obviously loved his work. But we were rushed. Only towards the end did he give us a little time after the tour (15-20 min) based on the opionions of those with limited liabilities to see the site. (Other tours got 30-40 minutes). It was only on the last day at Abu Simbel that we were able to stay on the site for additional time and sit and soak up the atmosphere of the temple site.
At the Pyramids, my mother and I had made arrangements through the Mariott on our first free day for a tour. We were 4 peole with the guide and had a lovely time. She took us to the site and made sure we saw all views and also recommended the camel, horse carriage ride to make sure we got to see the iconic vision of the pyramids. On the Uniworld day of the tour, our guide was not even going to take the tour to the last plateau for the view. Without this view, people would not have realized there were 3 pyramids not 2. It was just the final straw at the end of the trip. It was my opinion that he was too eager to get back to his family in Cairo, rather than excute a complete tour.
Our expectations were not met in many ways.
Let us start out by saying that the Mariott and Prince Abbas met expectations in terms of sleeping arrangements, amenities and food service. The people were extremely hospitable and the ship was very clean. Ongoing maintenace was very visible.
The MS Norma was a dirty ship. We have pictures we would be happy to share. The lobby was old and worn, the leather couches dirty, the carpets worn. I was ok with worn, but things not being clean was truly unacceptable. The lounge offered smoking (The MS Giselle was non smoking * a key reason for booking) so we were unable to enjoy any of the evening entertainment. When we entered our stateroom, we wiped down the inside of all the cupboards, shelves and table tops. The floor towel was black on both sides after we were done. They never vacuumed the stateroom. The hand towels and body towels actually had "matter" was it food, fecal? Whatever it was it did not come out of the wash. One night we had to raid the towel cart and I had to go through 6 different towels before I could find a clean one that was just stained without anything stuck on it. The sheets, and towels on the MS Norma were gray. Shades of grey. The cushions on the top of the ship seating area were stained. The towels were unraveling at the edges. Yes they had full service laundry (not self serve) but would you trust your clothes to people that created gray table, towel and bed linens?
The front hotel manager at the desk was not friendly at all. He pretended he didn't understand english. We had an issue with a leaking toilet that my mother had to make a major fuss over and actually get our tour guide invovled before they would fix it. Even in the room they coveniently didn't see where the leak was coming from. Umm wet drops on the floor after flushing? It took one of the upper managers to get involved. Their service was unfriendly.
We had asked to borrow 2 glasses which we said we would return the following evening. They reluctantly gave us the glasses and the next moring they had to literally rifle through our personal belongings on the table to get the glasses... as they probably didn't have enough. The boat was so dirty we were afraid to drink anything that wasn't bottled so we refused the "welcome" back drink coming back on the boat after a site visit. But there were the glasses. Also wash clothes were provided on the first day and then disappeard. Low and behold they were offered upon returning back after "tour" as the other ships offer a towel to refresh yourself. Apparently this ship did not have enough linens, towels or glassware to offer full compliments to guests.
The man that ran the gift shop chain smoked inside the 3rd floor with another manager so we had to walk through their plume of smoke to get to our room. The only time the service improved on the MS Norma was on the last night when they were happy to see the tourists go. The only time I saw anyone on the MS Norma smile. It was tip time. Ridiculous. I'm not even sure I want to get into the topic of the smell of "pot" coming from the back of the ship in the evenings when most other guests were inside but we were on the top deck.
It is very apparent that both Egypt Hotels (MS Norma) and Spring Tours know that the relationship is short lived with the new arrival of the Tosca and their lack of service was evident.
Also on the "Egypt Hotel" ships you really felt like second class citizen. Every other boat that was parked in Luxor or Aswan was close to town with Taxi's avaliable. Where the MS Norma was parked you were stranded on the ship. In Luxor unless you wanted to walk down a dirty, trash threwn village area at the outskirts of town to try and hail a cab. Cabs don't even wait there and no one from any of the tours was offered a chance to take a cab off the boat. In Aswan we tried to step across the highway and we were chased back to the guarded area by police. Our tour guide asked us sarcastically why we even would want to get off the ship because it was so hot.
On the second ship - our guide asked us to hand him our tip cash for the boat... why was that??? Maybe because the tips on the MS Norma were not tendered for the full amount. We were happy to give the Prince Abbas full tip and even provide 2 of the men additional tips over and above the recommended guideline of $6.00 per day. But why would our guide take the money and hand it out. It seemed very fishy to us. We gave tips on the MS Normal that we felt they earned and deserved.
I would only offer recommendations of Uniworld to friends and family with some major warnings at this time.
We were told upon booking that it was good timing and that there were only 2 cabins left on the MS Giselle. Uniworld told that same story to another couple that booked almost a year in advance. Is this a sales ploy?? Once onboard the MS Norma, and speaking with other guests you felt that you had been given a little bit of bait and switch action on behalf of Uniworld. When we called 3 days before leaving to confirm the exact ships we would travel on, your office did in fact confirm that we would be on the MS Giselle. The MS Norma was not mentioned in a single piece of literature. Also that information was not provided as an emergency contact. A key point as when a fellow guest tried to make a phone call from port.. the phones were not working on the MS Norma.
Your literature cannot be trusted for actual content and future guests should very clearly get an understanding of each day's activities and the length of each. Day 8, your guide book and advertising says cruising Lake Nasser. We never left the port which was next to a garbage dump with wild dogs running around. I consider this false advertising and hope that Uniworld changes it's literature immediately at the next printing. Had we known we were going to sit in port all day (and even 1/2 day in Aswan and Luxor on the MS Norma too.) we would not have taken your cruise.
The service was at a bare minimum. Our tour guide never genuinely "offered" or asked sincerely if there was anything anyone wanted or made suggestions (i.e cab etc..). The guide did just what he had to do. Our guide offered once to hold a lecture.. we expected to see it on the schedule. At dinner when we asked he acted surprised and said.. well I was waiting for someone to ask me. Please. We already had asked numerous times and he said he would explain things to us later. He never did. He only offered to show the other guests a video, after we got it ourselves and he overheard us telling another guest it was worth watching. So you are thinking when you were stuck in port, why didn't you take a cab? Our guide resisted any type of arrangements saying it was too far and basically implying that it was too dangerous for us to venture out on our own. I would hope that Uniworld would offer additional options in the future on Day 8 - a trip to the Nubian Museum perhaps? Or a trip to the souk?
Unfortunately we had a few sick people along with the unfit that could not go to the sites and visit. We calculated on one day that the guide made $185 Eygptian x 4 people. Over $150.00 US money he pocketed just that day He made at least $50/$60 per day on people that didn't make the site visits. He probably made close to $1,000.00 on tickets he didn't have to pay for. He certainly didn't give a crap about a $4.00 tip per day from us.
As I explained before - we are seasoned travelers and have traveled with Hutigruten, Royal Carribean, Virgin, Delta, Insight, Adventures Abroad, Globus, Trafalgar, Brendan, Tour-Tec, CIE and Private arranged tours. Based on the reviews of your European River tours we had good expectations of this trip. However, we were traveling side by side with budget tours, that I am positive paid less money. I would say value for money on this Egyptian tour is low, very low and I would tell friends and family to look at other tour companies not related to the Uniworld family of companies for a tour of this type.
Final example, on the final day leaving Abu Simbel to the Mariott, our local guide had us sit in the bus for over an hour with no communication that rooms unfortunately were not ready. Our driver didn't come back with information, it took fellow passengers to go to the lobby and find out what was happening. Our local host wanted us to stick around and identify the luggage. There were only 16 pieces of luggage. On other tours the guests were allowed to leave the bus area, go into the hotel and grab lunch.. the tour director stayed to ID the luggage and make sure it go to the room. Really the theme on this tour was self service not full service.
There are more stories to tell... the guide chasing after one of our girl passengers (openly hugging, kissing on the check and dancing with her - offering preferential treatment) He was married with a 2 1/2 year old baby at home. The girls partner was very upset with him and let him know he was out of line. The lack of professionalism was amazing.
At this point my opinion is that Uniworld expects a premium price, but uses local budget hosting companies that do not provide value for the money.
Certainly I know that the next time I do book a tour it will always be with a travel agent. That way you know you have someone else in your corner. In all of our travels I have only ever had one other tour that was as disappointing as this one.
It is now June 2009. A warning to all. Book your tour through a travel agent! Should you have a bad tour experience the travel agent can help you. When you book by yourself directly with the tour company, they are less likely to listen to you and respond appropriately.