Here’s what happened when I stayed at the cheapest all-inclusive resort in Egypt
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I’ve been dipping my toes into the world of all-inclusive accommodation.
I started with an adults-only four-star hotel in Majorca, Spain before the pandemic. Then after not leaving Central London for eight solid months during the brutal winter 2020/2021 lockdown (remember when Christmas was cancelled?), I spent an amazing week at a gorgeous five-star all-inclusive resort in Kos, Greece which featured the most spectacular hotel pool I have ever seen in my life.
Earlier this year I was in Tenerife in the Canary Islands of Spain and decided to stay at the cheapest all-inclusive on the island. It was nothing glamorous, but a surprisingly decent experience for the very low price I paid and a fun experience.
On a recent trip to Egypt to fly easyJet’s longest flight, I decided to see just how far my money would stretch at this traditionally affordable destination.
Here’s what I experienced at the cheapest all-inclusive resort in Egypt.
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After a six-hour flight on a low-cost carrier I knew I would need some time to recover, so looked for three-night accommodation options in Egypt. There were a few requirements in my search for all-inclusive accommodation. It had to include alcohol (for research purposes, of course, alcohol being not that common in Egypt outside tourist areas), it also needed to have a pool and/or beach, and be classed as a resort, rather than just a city hotel that threw in a few free meals.
I’ve found Booking.com to be the best place to search for budget all-inclusive options as you can easily filter an entire country to only show all-inclusive options and sort by price. There were plenty of cheap options in both Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheihk for under £50 per night (my Tenerife all-inclusive was £56 per night).
I then spotted an absolute bargain Booking.com Genius member discount option of just £33 per night at the Marlin Inn Azur Resort in Hurghada. This ticked all the boxes — right on the beach, pool, all-inclusive with alcohol included and the cheapest price I could find anywhere.
The property bills itself as four-star, which I found difficult to believe for that price. While the reviews on Booking.com were okay at 7.6/10, the most recent review on the resort’s own website was worrying.
Shower water was yellow and didn’t clear for the 5 minutes I left it running. Small pool, pathetic gym, beach too small for the amount of beds on it. Would not stay here again. Food was reasonable at best.
Oh well, at least the food was reasonable, what could go wrong?
I visited Egypt many years ago but this was my first visit to Hurghada (HRG). My easyJet flight landed at a sparkling new and deserted Terminal 1 and unlike the chaos of the country’s busiest airport, Cairo (CAI), the arrival experience at Hurghada could not have been easier or more pleasant.
I was through immigration in less than five minutes and it only took another five minutes for a friendly and efficient sales assistant to help me pick up a local sim card as I had read the resort’s wifi did not extend to the guestrooms.
With a 9 p.m. arrival time after a long travel day, I treated myself to a pre-booked private transfer to the resort, booked through Booking.com for the grand price of £7. The Marlin Inn is less than ten minutes drive from the airport and the first impressions were good — the resort was huge.
On entering the huge sunken lobby I noticed a huge amount of staff everywhere — during my stay I must have seen at least 100 staff and I rarely saw the same person twice. Interestingly, every single one was male. I quite liked the design and furnishings — it felt like faded glamour and fitted this unusual destination well.
Check-in was efficient and friendly and I was given a wristband though I was not given any information about any dining times, activities or services available to me during my stay. I assumed it would be in my room — it wasn’t, so required a trip back to reception where they provided me with a sheet listing this information.
I don’t know why this information was not provided to me when I checked in.
I had booked a Standard Double Room – Single Use, the very cheapest option at the property and this was what I was given in Room 308. Random sofas and bench seating were arranged along the corridors though never used by the limited number of guests staying at the resort. I imagine when a piece of furniture is no longer suitable for a guest room it is just dumped in the corridor as it’s easier than disposing of it properly?
A glance out of the window at the properties on either side of my resort reminded me I was not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
My first impressions of the room were great — it was spacious, and had working air conditioning (temperatures reached the high 30s outside during my visit).
The bed was really comfortable and I slept surprisingly well. I’m very fussy when it comes to pillows and these were great. No bed bugs or stained sheets here.
My balcony had two chairs and a partial ocean view which gave me a sense of how big the resort was (everything in this image is the Marlin Inn).
The television, mounted on the wall was more scratched than my first car. How do you even scratch something mounted on a wall?
There were tea and coffee-making facilities but no mugs to drink it from and I didn’t fancy testing out the strength of the glass tumblers with boiling hot water. This sort of lack of attention to detail would be a common theme during my stay but at this price, I didn’t expect perfection.
As expected, the wifi only worked in the lobby and didn’t extend to the room so I’m glad I had organised my local sim card. There was a fridge in the wardrobe and I naively hoped it would be stocked with an extensive range of chilled beverages, replenished daily as part of my all-inclusive tariff.
Not at this price point. All it held was a single large bottle of water, with a note saying I was only allowed one bottle of water, per person, per day.
The bathroom had everything I needed and unlike some previous reviews, the shower water was both clear, and actually hot, though the hot water took several minutes to come through.
I made the mistake of closely examining both the showerhead and the drain. They both looked like they’d last been properly scrubbed around the time of Tutankhamun, so I tried to ignore this as I showered.
Overall, I was impressed with the room — I’ve stayed at far worse places during my travels that have cost me much more.
Food and beverages
The food was the part of my Egypt all-inclusive experience I was dreading the most, especially eating every meal there for three days. On my previous visit to Egypt, I stayed in much more expensive accommodation and visited decent restaurants and still didn’t like the food though it’s reasonable to assume others may admittedly fare better. Following my previous stay, I left a 10-day visit to the country with no clue as to what Egyptian cuisine actually was — most menus were just badly cooked Western options like pizzas and hamburgers.
But back to the all-inclusive, meals were all served in the resort’s huge main restaurant as a buffet with seating options indoors and outdoors.
I was impressed by how many hours per day food was available to guests. This included:
- Continental breakfast from 5am to 7am
- Hot breakfast from 7am to 10am
- Baked goods from 10am to 11am
- Lunch from 12:30pm to 2:30pm
- Snacks (at the beach bar) from 1:30pm to 5pm
- Dinner from 7pm to 9:30pm
- Late-night snacks from 10pm to 11:30pm
That means from 5am until almost midnight, there was food available most hours. Here’s an example of the morning ‘baked goods’ option — perfectly fine for a light snack.
Some buffet items appeared at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I liked this as once I found something I enjoyed, I knew I could have it for every meal if I wished. I was a little wary of food hygiene so I loaded up on the salad ingredients and enjoyed the hummus and tahini to dip items into.
I love Middle Eastern food so was very pleased to see so much of it featured in the restaurant rather than just attempts at Western classics. I made a bee-line for the hot falafels each breakfast. The ‘orange juice’ on offer was the type of vile orange cordial drink that somehow has more sugar in it than orange juice.
The falafels were certainly not the best I have eaten (more powdery than crispy) but they were edible. I also had plenty of Arabic bread with every meal.
Some of the hot options were not appetising at all — these sunburnt beef sausages were vile and tasted even worse than they looked.
In addition to the above, there was a live cooking station outside adjoining the restaurant with a different option for each meal.
For breakfast, there were made to order omelettes, and for lunch and dinner more random and unexpected options. One lunch featured freshly grilled quail which was a fancy treat and I returned for seconds. It was a little dry and overcooked but I figured this was safer to eat than if it were still pink in the middle.
Dinner options were quite random. I spied a queue for a roasted duck — the chef dumped literally half a bird on my plate. The sides that evening were tempura vegetables. I still don’t know what traditional Egyptian cuisine is but I’m guessing it’s not this Chinese/Japanese fusion.
There were plenty of sweets on offer with all meals. With unlimited food for 16+ hours a day I could have easily gained a stone during my three-day stay so drew the line at the pudding. It’s a good thing for my waistline that the food was not particularly high quality as it limited the amount I ate.
I wouldn’t say I dreaded each meal, but I didn’t exactly look forward to it.
The beach bar had a wood-fired oven that was fired up each afternoon. On the first afternoon, the chef was making pizzas to order which looked pretty good.
I did treat myself to the freshly made Turkish pide they made to order the following day. I’ve grown to love this simple flatbread snack from my travels on Turkish Airlines and this Egyptian version was pretty tasty and nicely cooked.
This beach bar snack feature was great and very popular amongst guests — it was not something I was expecting at such a budget property.
Drinks-wise the offerings were far less comprehensive, or enjoyable. I’m used to alcohol being scarce in this part of the world and was advised that the all-inclusive only included tea/coffee, juices, beer and cocktails (wine was an additional charge and I did not recognise any of the labels).
The hotel’s bar was called Joker’s Bar though ironically the bartender didn’t have much chat.
Coffee was available from a Nescafe style machine, and wasn’t great with powdered milk being used instead of fresh milk. Pepsi was the main soft drink available and often wasn’t cold.
Egyptian-branded Stella beer was available at Joker’s, as well as from a bar at the restaurant during main meal times, and at the beach bar during the day. It was poured from large bottles into tiny cups that held about two sips of beer.
The temperature of the beer varied greatly depending on where you ordered it from. The bartenders at the beach bar wouldn’t bother to put the bottle back in the fridge so it would quickly reach room temperature as the sunshine exceeded 30 degrees each day.
The cocktails at Joker’s were a hilarious disaster.
While the bartender was enthusiastic about making anything on the limited menu it was clear he both didn’t taste anything he made or really knew what they were supposed to taste like. I ordered a mojito on the first night and this is was what arrived.
It did have actual lime floating in it so props for that, and I could taste a healthy slug of rum. This interpretation of a classic cocktail appeared to have creme de menthe used liberally for the mint taste, rather than, say, actual mint. A splash of room-temperature lemonade was added with a couple of half-melted ice cubes.
It tasted like I had just brushed my teeth and then rinsed my mouth out with Bacardi.
I didn’t order a second.
A slightly more successful effort was the tequila sunrise. Made with ‘Pharoah’ brand tequila (a low-rent brand I had never heard of), it at least roughly resembled an actual tequila sunrise — in presentation at least. There appeared to be no shaking of this cocktail (or any, for that matter), as with each sip I’d get either pure luminescent sugar or pure ‘tequila’.
The drinks were so bad I found a nearby pub that served actual full-sized, cold beer and forked out for a cleansing ale on the last night rather than facing another session at Joker’s.
Amenities and activities
An awkwardly-placed pool crammed right next to reception and the main restaurant was barely used by any guests during my stay.
I was most looking forward to the resort’s beach during my stay and it was decent. With the property less than 50% full there was plenty of room at the beach, with sun loungers and umbrellas available for all guests.
I like the palm trees which made me feel like I was somewhere exotic.
The beach was fairly small but the water was cool and refreshing and popular with guests to escape the heat. The ugly ferry terminal right next door wasn’t in the brochure, but it was otherwise a pleasant place to soak up some sunshine.
There was a small gym on-site above the entertainment stage but I didn’t see this until my very last day and this was not listed anywhere on the information given to me at check-in or in my room.
As for entertainment, there was a dedicated ‘activation team’ featuring a few foreign female staff (the only female staff I saw at the resort) who would get up to throw some shapes occasionally when a particular song was played at the beach (the same eight songs were played on high rotation hourly). They also lead the odd stretching or belly-dancing class near the ferry terminal, but otherwise spent most of the day laying on sunbeds, on their phones, or chatting up young male guests.
The only entertainment I saw in the evenings was a game played at the main stage where guests could win a prize by guessing the snippet of each song being played.
Service was well-intentioned across the resort. The clientele was very international — I heard mostly Arabic, German and French spoken by other guests. My unusual accent led every single staff member to ask “where you from?” as soon as I said anything and they all said, “you are very welcome here”.
English wasn’t widely spoken by the staff but they were all friendly and hard-working. They weren’t given much to work with at this price point and I suspect not given much training given most seemed unaware that beer is best served cold on a very hot day or that mojitos traditionally have fresh mint rather than a mint liqueur.
Overall, the cheapest all-inclusive resort in Egypt was slightly better than I expected — it really is extremely good value for money. I really liked my room and enjoyed three nights of really good sleep.
The beach was pleasant and having cooked-to-order pide and pizza each afternoon was a treat I was not expecting for £33 each night. Staff tried their best with what they had to work with — they were never going to provide five-star service at a property like this. The four-star rating the property advertises was very generous — I’d give it three stars at best.
The food and drinks were the most disappointing part of the experience. The food wasn’t particularly healthy, fresh, or delicious and I found myself dreading some mealtimes. If I’m going to eat junk I at least want it to taste good. If you’re planning on sinking pints in the sunshine all day be prepared for tiny glasses of warm beer. The cocktails were no better.
How did it compare with the cheapest all-inclusive resort in Tenerife? At around half the cost, the Marlin Inn Azur Resort was certainly incredible value — you get a lot for your money here though for food and drinks alone I would definitely opt to pay a bit more for something higher quality next time.
I much prefer Tenerife to Hurghada as a destination as I feel the staff there have a better understanding of what Western tourists are looking for. The room and service were better in Hurghada, while the food was about the same but the drinks were far worse.
Featured image by Ben Smithson / The Points Guy
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