My wife and I booked a 10 night stay here from the 17th to the 27th March 2013. It was a late booking (just two days before we flew) to relax and recharge the batteries following a difficult few months during which my Mother in Law became ill and passed away.
We booked through Airtours and, to be fair to them, their brochure advertises this hotel as a 3 Star + and not a 4 Star as some others do.
Now this is going to be a lengthy review it's probably best to list the numerous issues we encountered from the day we arrived to the day we left. I suggest you grab a coffee before you read this or, if you've booked to go here already, you may need a stiff drink!
1. RECEPTION: On arrival we were greeted by a lot of people who had turned up on other flights all trying to be booked in by one guy on Reception. Having queued to see him he promptly gave us a card to go away and fill in before being checked in properly. On our return to the desk he gave us our room key and a card which we had to place on a table in the restaurant but told us to come back in an hour for our AI wristbands. We returned after an hour to be told that actually he said 'three hours' and sent us away again. Four hours later we received our wristbands. During this time we had gone to our room (see point 2), kindly shown there by one of the waiters as there was no porter available to do this for us. During the whole of our stay the Reception guys, who looked remarkably like Tunisian Secret Service Plain Clothes Police bods, always looked pee'd off and always made you feel it was an inconvenience for you to bother them and made a very poor advertisement for the hotel in terms of new guests looking for a warm welcome.
2. ROOM: We've stayed in many hotels around the world and have a pretty good idea as to what to expect from the various Star ratings and also take note that different countries have varying degrees of quality control when it comes to allocating these grades. However, where I take issue with Tour Operators is when they give some hotels the 'big up' when it's quite clear from staying there that it's been some time since a venue was inspected.
Our room (1127) was on the first floor with a balcony that looked onto the gardens and part of the swimming pool. As someone else mentioned in a previous review our patio door didn't lock either so it appears this isn't an uncommon problem.
The room was adequately big enough but our expectation of a double bed turned out to be two singles pushed together and there was also a 'put you up' bed in there too which I had to get removed by finding a maid down the corridor.
There was an old style (box shaped) TV which only received BBC World News and a handful of German language channels in varying degrees of poor, snowy quality. In this day and age of Satellite TV I found this disappointing. At this time of year it gets chilly in the evenings so a movie channel would have been handy for those evenings we didn't feel like sitting in the reception area.
There was no kettle in the room. We took some tea bags and coffee sachets for early morning and late evening drinks but ended up having to take coffees to our room in plastic cups from the bar.
There was no hairdryer in the bathroom. My wife took her own travel hairdryer but, all the same, this kind of item should be fitted as standard in any 'quality' establishment.
The bath towels were clean and changed daily however the quality was lacking. It was hard to find two towels that matched in terms of colour (this was the real '50 shades of grey' experience!) as well as appearring for the most part tired and frayed (just like the rest of this hotel really!)
Then there was our shower! I have to say that this was the most powerful and hot shower I have ever experienced in a hotel anywhere BUT the holder in which the shower head slots was loose. This meant that as you turned on the water the pressure would force the head upwards thereby spraying onto the ceiling and all over the bathroom floor! Me and the missus ended up having to take turns holding the shower head and hosing each other down! We complained Sunday afternoon to reception but by Monday afternoon it was still the same. I complained to our Rep Moez who went to the Gestapo at Reception and told them again. Tuesday afternoon I went back to the Rep who came up to our room in person with the maintenance man so we could demonstrate the issue. They both stood in the bathroom as I turned the shower on and they both duly got soaked as the water shot over the top of the glass screen. Needless to say the shower was fixed within the hour!
The room was clean and the maid did her job but this room like a majority of this hotel was crying out for a fresh coat of paint.
This isn't the quietest of hotels either. The long stone corridor and paper thin walls mean that any sounds such as footsteps, conversations, patio doors opening/closing appear magnified.
3. POOLS: The Marhaba Club shares the same grounds with the Hotel Marhaba and so there are to pools available. The Marhaba Club has a free form pool which is clean and tidy and is quieter than the other. We had no issues here other than the fact the pool was so cold it was impossible to go for a swim, even when the temperature during the day was in the mid 20's and you felt the need to just take a refreshing dip. These are heated pools apparently and we were led to believe they actually turn the heating on in the next few weeks as the weather gets hotter!? We tipped the little guy at the pool and he always had our beds ready in the morning but, to be honest, we never had an issue with the poolside being busy.
The other pool a short walk away was also cold but was more popular with guests, especially those with families, as this was where the flumes were and the daytime entertainments took place. Unfortunately this pool was also freezing cold and the flumes were never in action and aside from being hassled to take part in bowls or archery there was very little really going to to warrant any enthusiasm.
4. RESTAURANT: Probably the worst dining experience from all my travels over the years. This place was shockingly poor! In fact it was so bad we ate our last meal there on Monday lunchtime and moved our dining card to the Hotel Marhaba (sister hotel available to all AI guests) where the contrast was remarkable.
The restaurant looks like a works canteen and the food is buffet style, spread along the one counter. The system is that the card you are given on arrival is placed by a waiter on a table and that table then becomes your place for the duration of your holiday. That way I guess the waiter gets to know you and he gets a tip off you for his services. In theory it's not a bad idea but, even as early as Monday morning our dining card had been joined by another dining card (bear in mind this table seats 2!) and, as the Tunisians started to overrun the hotel (a later subject), by the time evening dinner came around there were 3 cards sitting on our table! (It later transpired that waiters were moving dining cards in order to accomodate Tunisian families in their own groups of tables and moving the western tourists out of the way, putting multiple cards on tables as the number of available spaces became more limited.)
The food was of a pretty awful standard and I don't know how anyone avoided getting stomach gripes or more ill as a result of the general hygiene on show.
Plates and glasses weren't always clean from the dishwasher.
The pastries and bread throughout the day never appearred to be that fresh.
The hot lamps the food was under were useless meaning that all the food that was under them was never hot, merely luke warm. The grill station and pasta station were the only means of obtaining food that was acceptably hot.
The choice of food was limited and the description cards that accompanied the various dishes were hard to decipher.
The final straw for me was going to dinner on the Monday evening not only to see guests eating their meal at our table but a huge queue of guests waiting, plates in hand, to get their food. We returned a half hour later to find the situation the same so we went over to the 3 Star Hotel Marhaba and never looked back. I draw the line at being made to feel I'm back at school by waiting in line to be given my token scoop of mashed potato on my plate!
Both restaurants were host to cats that would manage to get in from outside and it wasn't uncommon to see them skulking under tables. The Sunday morning we checked out we had coffee in the Club restaurant and noticed a guest showing a waiter a photo on his mobile phone. The waiter went out of the restaurant and returned with a cleaner who went over to where this other guest was and swept something up into her dustpan. She then walked past us and did little to hide the cat faeces it contained! Seems both me and the cat were thinking along the same lines!
5. BEACH: The gate to the Marhaba Club section of beach was padlocked so you had to walk along a bit and enter via the gate associated with the Hotel Marhaba instead. At this point you had to negotiate your way past Checkpoint Ali, an excursion spiv, who set his table up at the gate and tried to flog quad bikes, camel rides, pirate ship trips etc etc. Once on the beach it was rather pleasant with nice soft, white sand and plenty of straw umbrellas and sunbeds to go round. Once again the sea was very cold so swimming was only for the brave hearted. There were guys walking up and down the beach trying to flog all kinds of nicnacs and flaky fags but they weren't a real hindrance.
NOTE: Unlike most other hotels there is no beach towel service here. If you go to the beach you have to take your own beach towels from home as you cannot take your room towels to the beach. The only time you can take the room towels out is if you use the Spa Centre as they don't supply towels for Spa services!
6. GROUNDS: On the whole the grounds are well maintained. Plenty of garden areas with lush grass, flowers and assorted palm trees. Very pleasant indeed.
7. HOTEL: Despite it's bravado this hotel is not a patch on the 3 Star sister Hotel Marhaba and could learn a few lessons from it. Aside from the 'public' front the rest of the buildings are in need of some updating. It's not a lot but it would make a major difference. The whole place need a coat of paint urgently, both inside and out. The addition of beach towels, hairdryers, kettles and more smiley faces among some of the staff should be fitted as standard too.
8. OVERALL: What really annoyed me about this hotel, and in particular, the Management is that from the oustide it looks impressive but they have had the audacity to put their beloved 4 Stars on the building under the hotel name. It's as if they feel that's all they need to do! I am sure that when it was first opened it probably did meet the standards of this grade of accomodation but those standards have to be maintained over time. It is unfortunate that we stayed here when the Tunisian holidays started. There was nothing in the brochure or forthcoming from the Travel Agent that this might be an issue but this hotel does have an 'open door' policy for the locals. This meant that as the week progressed it seemed the whole of Tunisia was staying with us and, if they weren't booked in, they were coming off the street.
The result was that you had all these families (generally comprising 1 man, 2 women (wife and maid?) and at least 3 kids between the ages of 5 & 11) who would walk around the grounds in their coats, scarves and slippers (yes, slippers), completely occupy all the seats in the reception area and yet not a drink to be seen anywhere (most were FB or HB so drinks would have cost extra from the bar) and then at mealtimes descend like locusts and strip the restaurant of anything edible, piling their plates only to leave half of it uneaten and wasted at the end. it was so bad that one guest told us the restaurant was closed just after 9pm one night (instead of 10pm) because all the food had gone. On another night the wife and I returned to the lobby from the other hotel bar at about 10pm to find not a single white face in the area. It seemed all western guests had retired to their rooms or to the other hotel bar instead.
I am sure some people may feel I've been a bit harsh, well maybe so but I've been honest. Had this been rated from the start as a 3 Star then maybe I could have forgiven some of the failings but when you go all out to shout your status from the rooftop (literally) then you have to expect some flack if it appears your really a bit of mutton dressed as lamb.
If you're faced with a choice of the Marhaba Club Hotel or the Hotel Marhaba then plump for the latter. If you're already booked into this one then I hope your stay is better than ours. So long as you check your plates for yesterday's dinner residue and check under your table (or even on it) for cat poo you should be okay.
We will return to Tunisia but it won't be back here.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.