“ Address: 23 City Council St / Hadaba / Sharm El Sheikh / PO 312 / Egypt / Tel : +20 6936 64302 „
I'm at risk of offending a large number of people by saying this, but it's a complete mystery to me why anyone who doesn't dive would go to Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt. When Tony Blair and his family trotted off there every Christmas I was left wondering what they could possibly be thinking of. It's a horrible, soul-less place full of Russian prostitutes, military guys on R&R, rude shop-keepers and suicidal taxi drivers. Only the fish make up for the general yukkiness of the city and if it weren't for sharks and shipwrecks you couldn't PAY me to put myself through five or six hours on a plane followed by the hell which is Egyptian immigration surrounded by hundreds of aggressive, rude queue-jumping Russians. (Before you push that button to complain about my scathing attacks on Russians, let me be more specific. I know many lovely Russians who wouldn't dream of jumping a queue or using their elbows to gain a few inches advantage on you. Sadly, the ones I know and love don't go to Sharm).
In view of my feelings about Sharm-el-Sheikh, Ocean Club is a haven in a city that I hate. Or to be more precise, it's a haven because it isn't in the city and it isn't full of people who want a beach and pool holiday. Ocean Club is first and foremost a hotel that serves the dive holiday trade. It's not in the city, it's not even close to the sea but neither of those is a bad thing. It's not full of people who bring two suitcases packed with make-up and hair straighteners and a dozen pairs of shoes. Nobody feels the need to dress up and wear makeup and show off - it's just a wonderfully down to earth place that revolves around diving. Considering that most divers with their own equipment will probably have cut back on all but the absolute essentials in their luggage in order to stay within baggage allowances, there's not a lot of scope for 'different outfit twice a day every day' travellers at the Ocean Club.
We discovered Ocean Club through taking previous dive holidays on liveaboard dive boats run by the Ocean College who are the company that run Ocean Club. We knew that the standard of the diving would be good but that more importantly the staff would be efficient and run things safely. Dive boats in the Red Sea are often very crowded and some instructors aren't as careful as they should be. After being left behind by an instructor from another company who simply didn't notice that we got in the water with her but didn't get out again, we're pretty fussy about who we will dive with now and I was impressed by the way that Ocean College takes care to check, double check and check again and includes briefings on health and first aid.
I've stayed in a couple of more central Sharm hotels and I wouldn't dream of going back to those despite their 'bling and big buffet' approach but I would recommend Ocean Club, but obviously only for divers or their loved ones. There's very little to see or do near the hotel, which is fine. I want to fall out of bed in the morning, have my breakfast, get my equipment and go out for the day on the water. I don't need fabulous architecture, lots of marble and chandeliers. I just need a clean comfortable bed in a clean room where I trust the staff not to steal my things - and that's what I got at Ocean Club.
They have two pools, possibly three if you count that one of them is in two parts. One is a nice free-form blob and the other a rather duller oblong for doing dive lessons. I suppose by some standards they're a bit sparse on the sunbeds and umbrellas count, but most of their clients are out all day so there should be plenty of space for anyone left behind at the hotel.
All the rooms have small balconies or terraces and the place is extraordinarily friendly, especially for people who are visiting on their own which is not uncommon with divers. The rooms come with en suite bathrooms, television with satellite channels, room safe, air con and fridges. Rooms were serviced daily - often with the local 'towel origami' specialists doing their magic with the bath towels - and everything was clean and tidy, though a bit basic. We were last there in January which is a pretty chilly time of year so the air con wasn't needed but we benefited from really good discounts on the accommodation and diving because the water's still very cold.
The diving operation is highly professional and well equipped and I've not seen anyone forced to go without a wetsuit due to lack of stock (and that's sadly not uncommon in some of the centres). They communicate extremely well so nobody is left wondering where they should be, what time and with whom - it's run as a tight ship and that's extremely important. Many of the Sharm dive operators are rather too laissez faire for me and I want to know that there are rules and people making sure they're kept. The equipment is well serviced and there's a friendly culture that means people own up to their mistakes and tell the staff when they've accidentally broken something or got water where they shouldn't. Other places I've been on the Red Sea have been so strict that divers have been terrified to admit to mess ups, leading to them putting others at risk.
Once the diving's done for the day, the rooftop bar is a lovely place to rest on a stack of cushions and have a beer and there are several restaurant options, admittedly mostly of the pizza and chips persuasion. Certainly there's enough for you to not feel you have to go into the town in the evening but if you do want to leave the sanctuary of the club, there's a regular free shuttle service into the centre of town.
In summary - if you want a friendly, down-to-earth hotel that lacks a bit in bling but makes up for it with a fantastic dive centre and a cheap and cheerful approach to food and drink, this is a great choice. If you want marble, big chandeliers and lots of in-hotel entertainment, try somewhere else.