“ Address: Route de la Corniche / B.P 217 Mahdia / Tunisia / 05150 „
***Be warned, this is one of my reviews of epic proportions - if you are stumbling across it on the Internet, pay particular attention to my tips at the end of the review***
Shortly after my bf and I got together we decided to book a holiday, anticipating a bad British summer it would give us something to look forward to. We decided that the beginning of October was when we'd go, and we were torn between Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia (after considering loads of other options), as the weather was likely to be good in all of these, and they were affordable. We chose Tunisia mainly because an Egypt holiday might have brought back past memories for me, and because Morocco didn't have the beaches. In addition to this while my bf had been to Tunisia before when much younger, it was a new country for me (I went on a day trip to Morocco from Spain once) and I love having a new country to add to my list!
---Choosing our hotel and booking---
Choosing a hotel was fun. Every time I found one which sounded perfect my bf found something wrong with it - mind you on the whole I think that reading through the various reviews on Trip Advisor was helpful (and after booking we continued to do so - which worried me a bit in case we found something wrong with the hotel when it was too late). My bf really wanted a 5 star (although obviously 5 star isn't what a 5 star would be in the UK), so the options did become fewer.
Having perused all of the information we booked in our local branch of Thomas Cook where they were very helpful. In the end there were two 5 star hotels to choose between, but this one came in at £200 less each (approximately £600 for hotel and flight rather than £800 for the more expensive one), so it was a no-brainer. We paid a deposit then and there, and the balance about a month later. We were also able to book our plane seats online 90 days prior to the departure which was useful.
Fast forward to October, and very excited we were on our way - although tired having to leave home at midnight to get to Manchester with plenty of time for a 6am flight. Cumbria might be a great place to live (despite the weather), but where we live must be about the furthest point from an airport that there is!
Tunisia is an excellent holiday destination as it's not a long flight. Compared to 5-ish hours to Egypt., it was less than 3 hours. Of course this does mean no on-flight film, but it meant that we didn't need to bother paying for a meal (although I will admit to loving plane food - really!) When we arrived at Enfidha airport it was pretty slow getting through as we had to fill in 'immigration' forms (which really they could've given us on the plane), and we got in the longest queue (one of my many talents). However, it meant that there wasn't a long wait for baggage, and it wasn't too long to wait for us all to be on the minibus for the transfer to our hotel. Although I imagine the majority of my readers will be in the UK, it is probably important to note that currently US citizens must not travel to Tunisia. Most guests in our hotel seemed to be British, German, Russian, French and Belgian.
The transfer time was about 2 hours which was a bit of a trek, but it did give us a chance to see a bit of Tunisian life. We were struck by the unfinished houses (which is apparently because they build as and when they can afford to), and the donkey driven carts.
Mahdia is the town in which we stayed, and a little bit of information can be found out here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahdia - it is well worth going on the guided tour of the town as we did.
On arrival at the Iberostar Royal El Mansour (which is ranked the best of 22 hotels in Mahdia on Trip Advisor) we handed over our passports (which they copied and gave back), filled in a form (whilst having a non-alcoholic cocktail), and were given gold wristbands (one tip given by our Thomas Cook rep was to keep them inside out (with the white of the band showing when out so that locals can't see which hotel you're from) which I have to say were the classiest hotel wristbands I've ever had. We were given one card key to the room (although after our balcony saga were given another one), and given directions to our room (a porter followed up with our cases - we did give him a tip, but otherwise only left a tip for the maid at the end of the holiday). We had requested a room with a view rather than roadside (which apparently can be noisy), but we were lucky enough to be given a sea view, possibly as the hotel wasn't at full capacity. We were on the second floor - although we sometimes had to wait for the lift (and sometimes used the stairs) on the whole they were efficient.
The hotel has good wheelchair access (there were a few guests with wheelchairs) which is useful to note. The Internet tells me that there are 447 rooms - we were told that there were currently 1100 guests. I would estimate that this was about two thirds of its capacity.
In our room the bathroom (consisting of bath with shower, and sink) and toilet were in separate rooms - every toilet we came across had a hose pipe type thing attached to the wall which I imagine serves the purpose of a bidet, but we obviously stuck with toilet paper! The shower worked fine (my bf seemed to have some trouble with the temperature, but it worked well for me). There were complimentary shampoos (which I didn't use), shower gels (which I did use, and were ok), and sewing kit (etc) which is nice as not something you get everywhere these days. There is a thing which you can use for drying your hair, but it was a bit broken and fell apart when I used it, but my hair dried quickly in the heat. The towels in the bathroom are changed every day.
There was a small fridge. I believe that you could have it stocked with alcohol for a cost. It came with a bottle of still and a bottle of sparkling water (which I inadvertently drank some of on the first night during the night having crashed around the room feeling I was dying of thirst and waking up my bf - I HATE sparkling water). We usually had it filled with bottles of water we'd got from the pool bar - useful for taking out on excursions etc.
There was a safe which was free to use (relatively simple I believe, but I leave technical things up to my bf) and we made the most of. There was plenty of wardrobe space, but we chose to live out of our cases. There was a flatscreen TV perfectly positioned for bedtime viewing, although the only thing to watch really was BBC World News which only really told us the weather in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and some repetitive news stories which didn't have anything relating to the UK (unless you count a 50 year celebration of the Beatles and James Bond). There was another channel which showed films which we didn't want to watch.
Outside the room there is a balcony. On the morning of day 2, my bf was out on the balcony. I went out and without thinking shut the sliding glass door behind me. As a result we were locked out. My bf was not amused, but for me this was the highlight of the holiday, I found it really amusing. My bf's highlight was our visit to the amphitheatre. I think this says something. Anyway, I shouted down at a member of staff who was setting out tables (things might have been very different if we'd been on the other side of the hotel!), and he then had to get someone to come up, into our room, and let us back in. This took a while as we had locked our door on the inside, and they had to get someone to unscrew the lock on the door (or something). We told our Thomas Cook rep about this at the welcome meeting a couple of hours later - he was going to warn us about it, but for us it was too late. Mind you, this wasn't the only thing - later on in the week we had put a couple of pairs of shorts to dry on the balcony rails and they blew off. There was no way to retrieve them without going over the balcony of the room of someone below us (and they weren't answering their doors), so we had to get the rep to ask the hotel to retrieve our shorts from the roof. The hotel staff were so efficient, retrieving them almost immediately - fantastic service, but quite embarrassing!
The bed was huge (well, two singles pushed together) and hard but comfy. The absolute best bit was that there were sheets and a duvet - it's a duvet I tend to miss when on holiday no matter how hot it is. That said the air-conditioning worked well and we were never too hot in the room, and that and lights are activated by your card key. If you have two card keys make sure you take one with you when leaving the room.
Essentially outside there is one HUGE pool, but it's split into three big pools and a baby pool (the hotel is suitable for families). The three pools are on different levels, which flow into the middle one (if that makes sense). The pools are of varying depths, but overall deeper than some hotels, and you can have a decent swim if you so desire. The water felt exactly the right temperature, slightly cold when getting in, but nothing that will make you scream or even gasp. Although I'm not a swimming fan, when it was particularly hot I probably had a dip every 30 minutes or so, just to cool off. I would possibly have liked a waterslide, but didn't find that this detracted from the holiday at all! There is also an inside pool which isn't heated and we didn't use.
There were loads of sunloungers, and we generally stuck with the same ones. After you claim them a man comes round with cushions for them which makes them really comfortable. I think perhaps is the hotel was full then it would be harder to get your desired position, and we might have not felt comfortable leaving our towels on them for the whole day, even when we weren't using them. When by the pool we took it in turns to go to the bar/pool since we had valuables such as phones with us (i use mine for MP3s), but on the whole I don't think it's a place where you need to worry too much.
The hotel has its own section of beach (although you can walk along the beach past other hotels), the sand is lovely and golden (perfect for sandcastles, although I left my bucket and spade in the hotel room) and the sea clean and clear (with fish who nibbled our legs). Again there are loads of sunloungers, which are all free to use. We spent one full day on the beach rather than by the pool.
The hotel does provide pool/beach towels which you pay a deposit for (blue with the yellow Iberostar star on them) - this costs 20 Tdn (£8), and you'll get it back at the end. However, since we'd brought our own we used our own - also meant it was easier to spot where we were sitting. But in the days of low baggage allowance (ours was just 15kg) it is worth bearing in mind, and if we went again I think we'd use the hotel beach towels.
This is one of the most important parts of an all-inclusive resort, and we were on the whole extremely impressed with the quality and quantity of the food.
Breakfast - This isn't THE best breakfast selection I've encountered (that would be in Barcelona last year), but it was nonetheless pretty good. Admittedly you'd be hard-pushed to attempt to recreate a British fry up due to the lack of bacon and baked beans (or any kind of beans). There are sausages (of a sort) which I enjoyed in a roll as a sort of hot dog. There are eggs - fried and scrambled (both acceptable), but better than that you can have an omelette cooked in front of you (involving onion, some sort of herb, tomato and cheese). There are no hash browns, but there are potatoes, and bizarrely there are unusual breakfast choices such as courgettes, and other hot items such as onions and tomatoes.
There is a good selection of cold meats (although we only used these for feeding the cats!), cereals, yogurt (I sometimes had this with dried fruit), and loads of pastries (such as croissants, pain au chocolate and cake type things) with jams etc, and lots of lovely fresh bread.
However, the best bit for my bf was the freshly made pancakes (cooked in front of you, like the omelettes), which you can smother in chocolate sauce or sugar and syrup. For me, it was the amazing deep-fried things (again fresh) which I covered in syrup. They tasted like those doughnuts which you get at the seaside, and essentially were a heart attack on a plate - but absolutely divine!
Sometimes you are offered coffee, but more often not. In which case we made our own with a jug, hot water, milk and coffee. This was actually nicer than the stuff they made which seemed to use funny milk. There are fruit juices, but they varied in quality and seemed to change from day to day. Personally I'd give breakfast 5 stars just because of the deep-fried things. But really I think anyone should be satisfied with the choice!
Lunch - Our first meal when we arrived was lunch, and we chose to eat at the 'snack' bar which serves food from 12:30-3pm. There is a selection of salad dishes, including rice, pasta, mushrooms, peppers - my bf loved the red cabbage which reminded him of kebabs, but was very disappointed that there wasn't any on the last day, as they do alternate the dishes.
There's a selection of hot dishes - there is always turkey or chicken, beef and fish, and usually pork as well (I had thought that in a Muslim country there wouldn't be pork - unfortunately there was no bacon though). There is always rice and pasta (the carbonara was particularly good). Then there's the chips, which really are very good - we ALWAYS had these. There's a selection of particularly child friendly bits such as chicken nuggets.
There is an ice cream freezer where you can help yourself, either putting it in metal dishes or in cones (bizarrely on the first day there was a German man just standing eating cones while he waited at the bar). The one day we decided to have ice cream the freezer wasn't working, so we went inside to the main buffet. We decided then that we'd stick with the snack bar for our lunch, as the choice is just huge at the buffet, and we just needed meat and chips! However, when inside that lunchtime we did have some amazing chocolate cake - what we thought was vanilla ice cream turned out to be lemon sorbet (and I had that experience another time), but it was fantastic cake!
Dinner - Dinner (served from 6:30pm I believe) is mostly served in the Buffet Restaurant. There is a fantastic selection of foods and I'm not going to list them - meats, fish, rice (although I was surprised by the lack of cous cous), pasta (including an Italian section) to give a flavour. Unlike at most all-inclusives where I will end up leaving loads of things, at this buffet I can say that I enjoyed probably 95% of the dishes! Dessert is where the hotel shines, with all sorts of cakes and pies which are delicious, but not so good on the waist-line. Of course, you could choose to eat healthily if you so desired!
There are two themed restaurants (in the same room on different days). There is the Oriental, and the Italian. I have to say that this was probably the only real area that I think the hotel could improve. You can visit once during the week (you book in the buffet hall), and we chose the 'Oriental' as it was traditional Tunisian cuisine. We did enjoy our meal in a 'proper' sit down restaurant - we didn't get a choice of food which was slightly unexpected (and they could've brought more wine), but the food was nice and we ate things that we perhaps wouldn't otherwise have tried in the buffet. Quite frankly though I'd be happy to eat in that buffet every day!
Snacks- Realistically speaking, if you have three large meals a day then you are unlikely to want any snacks between them! Plus, the meal-times do cover the majority of the day. However, should you miss meals, there are generally some leftovers (such as pastries) available at the pool bar.
Overall - On the whole we found the food very impressive and cooked well. There were occasions when bits of meat were a bit fatty or had a bit of gristle. Meat and fish sometimes had quite a lot of bones. However, when such huge numbers are being catered for, I think that this is probably unavoidable. Besides, if you looked at the food, you could pick the best bits out.
Sometimes it did seem that dishes could've been labelled better, for instance "Fish" or "Pasta" doesn't really explain much about what's in it. However, on the whole I think this adds to the fun. Besides, our rep did say that for those with special dietary requirements, the hotel staff will walk round with the person and show them what they can and can't eat, and would be able to cater to individual needs which I think is pretty good in such a large hotel.
There are several different places to get drinks - in the buffet restaurant they will bring you drinks (wine, beer, soft drinks and hot drinks) although are not very forthcoming with them. There is a bar by the beach which does beer and soft drinks. This isn't to be confused with the beach bar which does food and there is a cost to use. The snack bar does drinks too - we tended to have wine with lunch. Mostly we got drinks from the bar in the hotel, and the poolside bar. There are three types of glass - those made of glass, a strong plastic, and flimsy plastic. It seems to vary which type you get. You must only take the flimsy plastic cups onto the beach. However, we found that you get a whole lot more pina colada in a plastic cup than you do in a glass.
The red, white and rose wines are all drinkable, in fact the rose was very similar to the stuff we drink from Asda at home and we had a lot of this. The lager is drinkable and refreshing, our drink of choice during the day. Cocktails are included in your all-inclusive package (unless made with well-known spirit brands which cost), and we had lots of pina coladas along with some others (we tended to get four at a time!) These varied depending on the person who made them, but on the whole very good. They could've done with a cocktail menu, as the only menus were for the drinks which incurred a cost. Sometimes in the evening the barman made little decorations out of limes which were cute. In the evenings if you're drinking outside a waiter will bring you drinks although sometimes there is a little wait.
Obviously when in a hot country, and particularly when drinking much alcohol it's important to keep hydrated. As already mentioned you could get cold bottles of water from the bars (as with most foreign countries you shouldn't drink the tap water). Then there's also soft drinks such as juice and fizzy drinks - I did have a diet coke, but with added vodka!
The onsite shop was actually pretty good. The souvenirs had fixed prices which is ideal for those like me who hate the whole bartering/bargaining thing. They were good value, for instance you could get a fridge magnet for 1,5 dinars which is 60p. Postcards were 0,3 dinars, and stamps 0,6 dinars, which means that a postcard and stamp works out at less than 40p! For those who smoke, a packet costs just 4 dinars (£1.60). There's pretty much everything you'd need in the shop - tampax, nappies etc. However, rather than paying for suntan lotion, our holiday rep has a suntan lotion scheme where he collects people's half used lotions, and then gives them to other guests who can donate to charity if they desire. There are also used books and magazines available. But back to the shop, there was also a wide selection of very fake branded goods - Nike T-shirts, Prada bags, Levi belts - if that sort of thing takes your fancy.
Communal areas in the hotel were well kept and very clean. The hotel lobby was impressive. All of the public toilets, including those by the pool were clean and I had no problem using, whereas usually on holiday I would try to avoid and go back to the room.
---Entertainment & the cats etc---
Since we weren't there at peak season I think that the entertainment was less than otherwise. I don't believe that the children's clubs were open, and obviously there weren't many children around. However, there were daily activities such as yoga, archery, aerobics ("Moves like Jagger" must be the song of the holiday as they always played this - mind you on the whole the music played wasn't that repetitive) and water aerobics. The animation team weren't pushy at all, which was so refreshing, a simple 'no' when asked to participate sufficed. There is evening entertainment (and disco), and on the first night it sounded like Karaoke which was quite loud. However, we didn't participate, choosing to get an early night so that we'd be up early to not miss any sun. I imagine that if you wanted to join in it would be good.
There is a Tunisian tea room in the hotel. There is also a spa which you can go in once free of charge (we were going to, but never got round to it) and massages available (for a reasonable price) There are also two gyms (which looked pretty good), and other all-inclusive activities such as tennis and table tennis.
We passed our days with the usual reading by the pool, and the evenings drinking and playing cards. Our other entertainment was the hotel cats - well, they lived out the front of the hotel anyway. There was the cutest kitten (we named him Khaled!), and a one eyed ginger cat. Later on we found that the ginger cat had three little kittens which we very sweet. We took meat from the buffet and fed the cats (the hotel didn't mind) which other people did too - happy well-fed cats.
There is free Wifi in the hotel lobby which varies in availability depending on I imagine how many people are using it, but we were able to go online, and I uploaded pictures onto Facebook while we were away. You will also get a good phone signal should you want to use your mobile.
Tunisian dinars are a 'soft currency' - you can't take them in or out of the country so you get them there. We changed money at reception (£20 at a time) which was very easy to do - 1 Tdn is roughly 40p (as already said). If you keep your receipts and have money left over, you can apparently change it back at the airport. We used our remaining change on my souvenirs and tips for the maid. You can also use Visa, Mastercard and American Express.
At our welcome meeting we were given information about the excursions available. I wasn't really bothered, but my bf wanted to do a bit of culture, and I'm glad he did as it really added to the holiday. We didn't want a long trip out though (I feel it's a waste when staying all-inclusive) such as the one to Carthage - we chose to go on the half day morning trip to El Djem (think it was about 45 minutes on the coach, but the tour guide was interesting) where we saw the Colosseum (officially an amphitheatre) and the remains of a roman villa with some amazing mosaics. This cost 45 dinars (£18) + 1 dinar each to take photos.
We also went on the medina walk in Mahdia with the Thomas Cook rep as the tour guide (he was quite a character) - this cost 10 dinars (£4), 4 dinars (£1.60) for entry to a traditional Tunisian House, 1 dinar (40p) for the Mosque. It was 5 dinars each way for a taxi from/to the hotel (we shared with a couple), and we spent 5 dinars on a couple of drinks, and 20 dinars each (£8) for silver bangles engraved with our names in Arabic (I think this gives some idea of costs). This was a well-spent morning of our final day, although we were a bit eager to get back to the hotel at the end for some final sun!
We had a 10:20am flight home which meant leaving the hotel at 4:50am which wasn't great. The hotel was dark and a bit weird as we went for breakfast shortly after 4am (it's available for those leaving). The selection of food was very strange at this time. It would've been nice to have a pastry or something (but imagine these only come later), I ended up with sausage, potato, courgettes and bread (which took forever to toast) and some yogurt. But still, it was food. Checkout was extremely quick (no hidden charges - I thought we might be charged for the balcony escapades!), and after waiting for the coach we headed back home after a fantastic holiday.
Really when you add up the cost of 7 days of eating out three times a day and as much as you want to drink I try and tell myself that by going on holiday I'm actually saving money! The holiday cost about £630 each which included flights, hotel, insurance (for me only) and parking in the Jet Park at Manchester airport. Looking at next year's prices, if you book now you can get a week for significantly less than we paid - VERY tempting!
---Mary's top Tips for the hotel and in general---
* Don't shut the door behind you when you go on the balcony
* Don't hang shorts/clothes up on the balcony railings
* If you have any left over Euros from previous holidays, you can change these into Tdn in reception as well as your British £s. You won't need much money though.
* Make the most of the holiday rep and the excursions, which are good value - definitely attend your welcome meeting, even if it does mean an hour of missed sunbathing!
* There's useful information available in the Thomas Cook folder (or whoever you are going with) - we learnt that Nam (think this is pronunciation rather than spelling) is 'Yes' and La is 'No'! I have to say that the English spoken by the Tunisians was excellent.
* It's so cheap to buy and send postcards - so you might as well send lots of postcards, catch up on a bit of correspondence - everyone loves receiving a postcard after all - although perhaps I should reserve judgement on this until I hear that people have actually received their postcards! Oh, update here - my parents received their postcard exactly a week after we sent it!
* Jabs - check what jabs are needed before you travel and make sure you get them!
* Be prepared for a bit of queuing at Enfidha airport and a confusing immigration form to fill in - and make sure you keep the bit of card they give back in your passport for the return journey!
Having reread my hotel review from my 2008 holiday to Sharm el Sheik whilst writing this, I realise just how much better this holiday was on so many levels. Obviously my bf is far better company than the ex-husband was (although the friends we went to Egypt with were good company I should say in case they are reading!), but the hotel was so much better. In particular the lack of hassle from staff and people trying to sell you things, and there were no people trying to remove my dinner plate while I was still eating. Plus of course the flight is much shorter. The hotel is suitable for couples and for families. It is interesting to see that the week after our holiday they are having rain in Mahdia. Perhaps if we'd had worse weather we'd have made use of things like the spa, and the inside pool, and would perhaps even have played a game or two of table tennis. I think we'd have had a fantastic time regardless, but coming back to the UK with a tan after such an awful summer was just the icing on the cake! The temperature was around 31/32 degrees C when we were there, but being October meant that it got dark relatively early - there was no time difference from the UK. The hotel had everything that anyone could want, and probably much more even than I've included in this review.
If we ever go back to Mahdia, we would definitely stay at the Iberostar Royal El Mansour again, and if we were undecided on holiday destination then we'd definitely consider going back to Mahdia. However, if we choose other destinations then we'll definitely keep an eye out for Iberostar hotels as if they're this good then we're onto a winner!