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Reviewed October 15, 2008

Our family (husband and I and two teenagers) enjoyed a luxurious holiday in the Hotel Riu Imperial Marhaba last Easter (March 2008). What a treat! The policy of the management seems to be 'never say no'. We were spoiled with excellent food and drinks, spa treatments, a luxurious pool, private beach, access to tours and fantastic service. It was heaven.

This was a Thomas Cook holiday, all inclusive. Our flight was 6 hours late (really the only down side of the journey) so we arrived in the middle of the night. The hotel employees were very sympathetic to our exhaustion and extremely efficient, getting us to our room quite quickly.

The next day, we asked to have our teenagers in an adjoining room and that was immediately sorted. The hotel is gorgeous. It's been recently redecorated and while we were there they were working on a new spa, though you would never have known it as the construction was not intrusive. There was never a shortage of sun loungers and one could choose to sit by the expansive pool or the turquoise sea. The staff was incredibly attentive and always did everything for you.When you walked out to the beach someone jumped up, grabbed a chair and a cushion and asked where you would like to sit. I was particularly impressed by the fact that staff were not pushy about tips. I felt as if it was my choice. I do choose to tip while on holiday, but only for good service. Staff was appreciative not pushy.

I highly recommend the all inclusive option. It's quite cost effective as it allows you to have anything you like for drinks all day and night as well as snacks that they provide throughout the day. They have lovely African hot chocolate with an exotic spicy flavour, lots of specialty drinks both with and without alcohol, and nibbles throughout the day. And the meals are incredible. The variety of foods offered is amazing. Fresh fruits and breads, lovely mains and decadent desserts all on a buffet so you can take what you please. They have a nice combination of European and African dishes so one can taste the local foods. There is also a separate restaurant that does all Tunisian food (also included but reservations required).

I know they have a night club but we didn't do that and our kids weren't quite old enough. There was also evening entertainment in the lobby but it was silly and unappealing. In fact it was our only complaint as it was loud and went on until 11pm.

The various holiday companies have a number of tours, however, which offered the opportunity to explore Tunisia. Tunisia is an amazing country. It was a lovely introduction to East Africa with its stunning Mosques, its labyrinth-like markets and its desert countryside. See El Jem. It's particularly awe inspiring if you've been to Rome and seen that Coliseum and the ride to El Jem allows you to see a great variety of farms with their prickly pear fences and donkey cart transportation.

Don't be scared off from going to the souks (markets). They're fascinating and fun. The vendors are quite aggressive but they will be much more respectful in women wear headscarves. Bargaining is half the fun but you can't take people's astronomical initial offers as a personal insult. Just laugh, say no thank you and move on or, if you're bargaining and can't come to agreement, again, smile,with your no thank you and continue on your way. A smile speaks volumes.

Our beds were very comfortable and the service to the rooms impeccable. One night, the bed was spread with rose and other flower petals in a beautiful flower pattern. Such attention to detail! On our last night, our flight did not leave until after 10 pm. The management included a last dinner in our plan despite the fact that, technically, our meal plan ended at check-out time that day. We were given a late check-out (until dinner!), ate dinner and then were taken to the airport. It worked out perfectly.

  • Stayed: March 2008, traveled with family
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3  Thank pdnaps
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed October 8, 2008

As the title says, this is a great hotel. The facilities and staff were top notch. The only problem was the weather, which was overcast and raining for the majority, but we can't really blame the hotel for that!

I agree 100% with the review below this one. Many people will moan because the food has little variety, but nothing could be further from the truth. Bottom line is, if you are willing to experiment and try new things, you will love the food here. Fresh fish, meat, fruit, veg - the list is very diverse and I can't possibly remember everything I ate whilst there. If you want burgers, chips, and pizza, then go to Ibiza.

Now, the room. On arrival, we were upgraded to the suite (room 2405) and it was massive - two big rooms and a bathroom. Only slight complaints were we didn't get a double bed (two singles pushed together) and one of them in the spare room was broken (which didn't bother us as we didn't use it) Air con only works with your key fob in the slot by the door, but I just unhooked the key when we went out. The room we were in didn't have any drawers which was a slight inconvenience but not the end of the world.

The staff were really friendly. Yes - they expect a tip a lot of the time, but this is a poor country and they rely on tips to make a living. When you are spending £1000+ on a holiday, a few dinars a day hardly makes a difference. They work hard for their tips, so you should do it and not complain about things being different than at home.

We booked an excursion that I really recommend called Sahara Select. It's for over 16s only and you get two seats on the coach so you can stretch out a bit. We were out for about 36 hours and meals/hotel stay is included. Costs around £120 pp. The other hotel was a 4 star and it was ok, but I was glad to get back to the Marhaba!!

Due to the weather, we didn't use the outdoor pool much, but we did use the indoor one and we got 2 massages each, which worked out at about £10 each (make sure to tip!) and they were really good. The steam room and sauna needs a bit of renovation though.

Didn't really bother with the entertainment - there's so many nationalities there, it's difficult for the animation team to please everybody. But the few nights we did spend in the hotel were fun and most people seemed to have a good time, but it's not really my cup of tea. I can see children getting bored here.

Don't think anyone's mentioned this in the other reviews, but the TV you get in the room only has 1 English channel (CNN) but they have a movie channel that shows Hollywood movies in English with Arabic subtitles.

Overall, this was a great hotel apart from the weather (it even rained in the Sahara Desert!!)

I don't think I will go again, not for quite a few years anyway, but that's only because I've seen what Tunisia has to offer and I'm not the sort to go to the same places year in year out. But I would definately recommend this hotel to anyone going to Tunisia. Some of the three and four star hotels we went past looked pretty grotty in comparison.

Just remember that this is a poor Muslim country and things are different and you'll be fine. One woman did nothing but complain all through the flight home. Some of the things I saw in some of the poorest villages here (barefooted children running alongside trains in the hope of getting money) really put these trivial complaints in perspective

  • Stayed: September 2008, traveled as a couple
    • Value
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1  Thank Rob_BWFC
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed October 4, 2008

First of all, I must say that there are a lot of people about that are never happy no matter what you do for them. What do you expect when you go anywhere outside the UK, but other nationalities, cant understand those who complain that there are so many foreigners there. If you want only British people where you go, then stay in the UK.
We have stayed in 4* & 5* hotels all over the world. The Imperial Marhaba is one of the best and for North Africa it is far better than most.
We arrived for our 2 week holiday last month (Sept 2008) and were very impressed by the welcome we received. The first person to greet us was the porter waiting outside with a great big grin and a happy “Welcome to the Imperial Marhaba”. Bags gone into the hotel before we were out of the taxi. We were shown to seats & given a cool drink by the reception staff as soon as we got into the lobby. Fantastic lobby (see photo). The reception staff came over and told us that our room would be ready in about 1 hour and if we wanted anything (i.e. drinks) please ask. As check-in is not until after 2pm, we were not un-happy about the wait as it was 11am when we arrived.
You must remember that you are in a poor country so expect to tip everyone, but tips do not break the bank. 2dn (90p) is the expected for most of the staff. (Can’t understand people who complain about giving airport porter £1 to take your bags to coach. Saves you carrying them & I always say “my holiday starts when I leave home“).
The porter took our cases up to the room and showed us where everything was.
The big surprise was, we booked a sea view room and we had a view of the building work. Not a problem, then nothing is a problem to the staff, they will bend over backwards to help you with anything you want.
A friendly chat with reception meant we got a room change to 122 (see photo) the following morning, as every room was taken the day we arrived. We understand they can’t always do thing at that very moment, but will do their best. We saw people who were very rude to the staff but still expected to be treated like royalty.
My wife went down ill 4 days after we got there (nothing to do with the hotel). The reception got the doctor out within an hour who gave her an injection & some pills to sort out her problem. She was told that she had to eat only white rice and white bread for 2 days. When we went to dinner that night, we asked if it was possible to have some white rice. Again, “no problem” was the reply & the chef cooked her some. The following night he cooked her pasta with white sauce and said that if she wanted anything at all just ask.

We went half board but changed to full board the second day after talking to others who were already there. It was cheaper, as half board you have to pay for all drinks including water, even at breakfast and dinner you had to pay for the extras and any extra food that you wanted including ice cream & pancakes during the day.
Water could be obtained from the lobby bar free of charge if full board but about 50p a bottle in the shop if half board. We were drinking at least 3 bottles a day.

FOOD. It was impossible not to find something that was great to eat at every meal. The only thing was the bacon in the morning, no thanks, but that was to be expected. Try getting bacon for breakfast outside the UK.
With so much choice each meal, it could be beef, duck, turkey, lamb, fish, pork and so on, you could always enjoy your meal. For those who did want to eat like they were home, then chips are on the menu. Along with this you had salad meats and all the salad you wanted. If I listed all the different foods that could be had, you would be looking at 2 x A4 sheets.
The puddings, well what can I say, only “fantastic” with again so much choice. Fresh fruit ever meal each day including breakfast.
The food was always fresh and they kept checking the temperature of hot and cold food, also the cleanliness of the restaurant was very good. When any of the food dishes got low, then they were refreshed.
You can eat from 7.30am until 10pm without stopping if you wanted to.

POOL. We were advised to tip the pool boy the day we arrived and he would save your sun beds each day for you. Well it works out to 10dn (your choice) and we had the sun beds we wanted each day and beach towels, no matter what time we went to the pool, even the day we went out in the morning and did not get back until 2pm. Beds and towels still there for us.

RECEPTION STAFF. Every one of the staff without exception, were very friendly and helpful. Every day they always had a smile and asked you how you were and if you were enjoying your holiday. But we saw those that just ignored the staff. Maybe they are the ones complaining that the staff are not friendly.

MAID. She cleaned and decorated our bed or bathroom with flowers, petals or sweets every day. She changed our towels when we left them out. Put the air conditioning on for us when she had finished. We gave her 10dn the 2nd day so that we got her personal service. Air-con only works when you put room key in holder by the door. But we were lucky to have 2 keys, so left one in the key holder in the room.

WAITER. Very helpful and kept tables clean and took away empty plates as soon as we had finished with them. He always asked if we had enjoyed our meal as we went out.

REST of STAFF. Can’t praise them enough including the management, cleaners, gardeners every one of them had a smile and a welcome for you no matter what time of day.

NOW FOR THE BAD BIT. Watch out for the men on the beach touting for parasending, speedboat rides, microlight and other things. They will try to over charge you. Cut what they ask for in half and start from there. My wife went on the microlight and he started at 100dn got him down to 60dn.
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Two of the evening entertainments were to our liking, but that was us, others enjoyed most nights. Did like the rule that music stopped at 11pm and if you did want to carry on dancing and drinking, there is a disco. You could not hear it, as its in a separate building away from the main building.
The building work that was going on did not disturb us. But did hear others complain about it. But as we said, it only bothered you if you let it.
We went out and visited Kantaoui. Very nice but you can see it all in about 2 hours. Sousse, well what can you say, smelly, dirty and nothing to see really.
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Well to round it off, the hotel is clean & friendly. They will try and do what ever they can to make your stay enjoyable. I am in a wheelchair and found that the staff would help me when ever I needed it. Just remember, if you treat them with the respect you would expect for yourself, then you will get it returned. They will not tolerate bad behaviour or those who over drink.
I would recommend this hotel to everyone, old, young, those with children even singles. As I said, there will always be people who are not happy even if they are treated like royalty, they will find something to complain about.
All in all we had a wonderful time at the Imperial Marhaba.
If you have any questions, just e-mail me and I will try and answer them for you.

  • Stayed: September 2008, traveled as a couple
    • Value
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7  Thank JACKIE D
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed October 1, 2008

Good Points :
-Hard working staff who try their best despite their lack of tools or the lack of investment in the hotel. The manager seems to have the right idea or seems to make the right noises anyway.
-When we were there late Sept there were usually enough sunbeds round the pool and this worked well.
-The rooms are quite nice in decoration and generally have everything you need when it all works.
-Entertainment. Its okay, just okay. Very international reflecting the guests, but it happens and one or two people seemed to get on and enjoy it. Expect it to be a bit like eurovision though there are something like 4 or major nationalities from rusians, swiss, german, french and english staying at the hotel.

Bad Points
-We'd been before 4 and a half years ago and since then the hotel has changed hands and half the staff appear to have been made redundant! Service seems to have suffered as a result.
-Room we had 323 TV needed replacing as stopped working, washbasin leaked all over floor so had to arrange to be fixed, maid broke toilet and left for us to arrange to be fixed.
-We were half board, this involved eating the AI food which is mainly pizzas pasta rice and cous cous, i.e. cheap buffet. Food goes from being okay on the 2 weekly theme nghts tunisian and fish to poor the rest of the week. One dish was a plate full of tinned tuna spread evenly on the plate, All of 20p!
-As half board we tried to pay cash as we went along. (you dont get receipts if you charge to your room!)! This had the effect of paying different prices all the time for the same drinks. I was charged 4 different prices for the same two drinks in the lobby bar! The waiters clearly were pouring us AI drinks and pocketing the money.
-Generally the hotel is very clean but the restarant is disappointing, lipstick on cups, waiters wiping knives on jackets, my wife found an spider in some breakfast juice and some chipped plates here and there.
-We were given a leaflet from Thomsons on arrival to say we received a free tunisian meal at al a carte restarant, the hotel said this was not the case and we'd be charged. Again lack of clarity on prices!
-Always ask for a receipt if you exchange money at reception. The first time I exchanged it was with the receptionist who checked me in half an hour before. I received no paperwork or receipt and when I exchanged more money the next day and received a receipt I discovered id been short changed about 20TD or £8-9 the day before! When I exchange what money I had left back to English before departure it came to a £20 note exactly again with no receipt! At this point I was past caring though and tierd of questioning everything so just accepted it.
-Drinks are odd when your half board, you pay 20TD per person if you want the AI lunch then have to pay for drinks on top. Thats nearly £20 for some pizza and pasta for two when you can get 2 nice pizzas two drinks and a tip all for just 20TD just down the road in the main resorts centre. There is no mention of drinks at dinner. What you are expected to do if you dont order a bottle of wine is ask a waiter to pour a drink from the AI section and then charge you. This is far from clear though and you are never told this. The waiters seem a little unclear as well. Again the drinks will cost you different prices depending on who you get, if you pay in cash expect to pay about 4TD for less than a half of cheap AI beer. They will also expect a tip as they never have enough change in their pocket to give you! Again dont expect your money to go near the till!
-Building work is there but is bearable though well at least it was when we were there and to be fair the hotel has done its best to mitigate its impact on its guests.
-The indoor hasnt had a bit of investment in the last 4 and a half years since we were last there the paintings are faided the windows rotten, tiles a bit grimy and the water unheated so freezing. On the plus side I guess this will be demolished soon when the spa is opened and is usually very quiet if you can bear it.

In summary we had been to this hotel when it wasnt under RIU. We liked it and so returned. This time the two reasons why we liked it have gone the staff have halfed in number and the hotelis mainly AI and so the food has gone down hill and generally its a bit tacky. I heard mixed reviews when I was there, some people seemed to love it while others picked on with their food, ate little and didnt enjoy. We were aware of one couple who even tried to get the Thomson rep to move them hotel. I guess its safe to say though we wont be back, having said that it is down to what your used to and expect. If your used to self catering or something youd be happy if your your used to quality hotels with good standard youd be disappointed. Some people id say will be back time and time again paying over the odds for this kind of service though.

  • Stayed: September 2008, traveled as a couple
    • Value
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1  Thank EnglandConsensus
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed September 26, 2008

When we arrived off the plane we where met with people wanting to take our luggage to the coach which where only a few meters away and wanted a pound for doing this, so I would advise to take your luggage yourself.

The coach trip was interesting seeing what the buildings where like and how they lived on the way to the hotel.

On arrival at the hotel we where greeted with a nice cool drink and checked in our room which was nicely made up. The only thing was that the cooling system didn’t work as well as we hoped but otherwise it was fine.

The building work did not even bother us which I was a little worried about before we started our holidays

The food was very nice indeed with all sorts to choose from. I had a lot of there salads and pizzas. There was plenty to drink too including local wines etc.

In all a very nice hotel and very helpful staff indeed so maybe even go back next year or at some later date.

  • Stayed: September 2008, traveled as a couple
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1  Thank UKWave
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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