It happened – we went to Egypt with a travel agency on an all-inclusive package… What’s more, it was our 50th country we visited (mine and Fryderyk’s), 15th for Nella, and 5th for Nikos. It was our first trip ever with a travel agency!
Egypt with a travel agency – why
We went to Egypt in January 2023, to be precise, to the Hilton Nubian Resort in Marsa Alam. Nella was just over 5 years old, and Nikos had just turned 3.
We had been thinking about a trip to Egypt for some time, mainly because of the easy access to the reef and the opportunity for beach snorkeling. In this regard, we were not disappointed – and the location of the Hilton hotel made everything easier for us.
We made the decision quite spontaneously. We had plans to go somewhere for a longer period in February. From December, I had been hunting for flights to “somewhere in Asia.” Unfortunately, the post-pandemic reality meant that cheap flights often involved multiple layovers and almost 20 hours of travel. With two not-so-small children, that could be quite exhausting. And we were looking for some sunshine and a change of scenery in a more relaxed version. I looked at travel agency offers to Egypt, looked at the prices… Well, the cost-benefit analysis was encouraging.
A short flight with no layovers, a short transfer from the airport, no need to bring car seats or rent a car… In other words, we, tired from home renovations, found this option exceptionally attractive.
Hilton Nubian Resort Hotel
I’ll write a few words about the hotel because when I was looking for information on where to go for snorkeling in Egypt, I didn’t find much.
So, the hotel we ultimately stayed at, Hilton Nubian Resort, we recommend. I don’t have a comparison to other hotels in Egypt or those offered by travel agencies. However, in my layman’s eye, the standard of this hotel is very nice. We had a family room, which means two rooms connected by a passage. In this hotel, all rooms are probably the same, differing only in whether they are on the ground floor or upstairs. You can have a view of the pool or not. Each room has a balcony or access to the lawn.
The hotel is located on Ab Dabab Bay, where there is a truly beautiful reef. Accessible even for children.
The food wasn’t the best, but we expected that because we had read a few reviews on TripAdvisor beforehand. However, there was plenty of food, so no one went hungry. But it wasn’t exceptional cuisine. There were a lot of classic dishes like penne pasta, chicken, and rice. There was always something for the kids.
The hotel also has paid thematic restaurants that are not included in the all-inclusive package: a seafood restaurant by the beach, an Italian restaurant in the main building, and an international cuisine restaurant by the pool. As part of the all-inclusive package, you could dine once at each of these restaurants. We tried the Italian one, but the food was worse than in the buffet, and we had to wait a long time, and the kids didn’t like anything, so they made a fuss… So we didn’t try any of the others.
The hotel has access to the beach, where you can find sun loungers and a hotel restaurant. However, there is a reef in this area, so you cannot enter the water. To reach the beach where you can swim or snorkel, you need to walk about 200 meters along the shore. There are also sun loungers available for free on that beach, and there you can easily swim or snorkel.
On the hotel grounds, there are four pools, including two heated pools. There are two children’s paddling pools, but only one of them is heated. The water was pleasant, but the air temperature was a bit low (around 22-23 degrees Celsius), so it was challenging to stay in the pool for more than 30 minutes at a time. The kids quickly wanted to get out of the water, so we had to find other activities for them. There was a Mini Club, but it may have been closed during our stay. Our kids never expressed interest in going there or finding out what was happening, so we’re not sure.
Snorkeling with Children
Egypt is great because you can see the reef and fish close to the shore, making it accessible for even young children. We took Nella into slightly deeper water, where it reached her shoulders, and she could already see various fish.
You can buy or rent everything you need for snorkeling or diving on-site. However, we had our own wetsuits, which I highly recommend for a winter trip because the water wasn’t that warm. The ambient temperature was even cooler, around 22-23 degrees Celsius. Plus, it started to get windy around 9:30 AM.
You also need water shoes because, as it’s a beach with a reef, there are plenty of rocks, shells, and remnants of the reef on the seabed.
Before the trip, I bought water shoes, wetsuits, and full-length swimsuits for our kids on Vinted. I also got a used wetsuit for myself. It was more than enough for a first-time experience. There’s no need to overspend to explore the activity.
A really cool option is a boat with glass-bottom panels on the lower deck (known more as a glass-bottom boat, but as you can see in the photo, the bottom is not made of glass). Anyway, I was so positively surprised by this experience that I wanted to do it again (but the kids didn’t want to).
The experience was truly fantastic. We saw a huge reef, plenty of fish, turtles, and rays. I thought it would be like visiting an aquarium, but it was much better. I highly recommend it.
In Marsa Alam, there are two such boats: the yellow Seascope. The whole tour takes about 2.5 hours, including about an hour of underwater reef viewing. This option is perfect for a trip with young children.
Another option is the Nefertari boat, styled like a pharaoh’s ship, offering a full-day excursion. It also has a glass-bottom (probably more like glass walls). Besides the underwater viewing, there is a stop for snorkeling, and the price includes lunch on board (apparently, the food is delicious). However, this is a multi-hour trip, and we didn’t opt for it with our children.
The last option in various versions is the typical motorboat excursion for snorkeling or diving. Here, you have as many options as there are people and needs.
The simplest version is a 2-hour trip, which includes stops at two or three snorkeling spots and costs around 25-30 euros per person, with children paying half the price. The boat will likely have around 6 people.
We opted to charter a boat just for ourselves, allowing us to spend more time on the reef where we liked it, without wasting time looking for sea cows (which can sometimes take up to half an hour, leaving you with less time on the reef).
We had our children with us, so we also wanted to ensure that they wouldn’t be a burden to others and that they would be comfortable themselves. In the end, they were so comfortable that they fell asleep.
Our swimming skills are, diplomatically speaking, beginner-level, and having a private guide was an added luxury because we entered the water individually with our guide, and he led us, even holding our hands. It was a few meters deep there, but we were snorkeling with life jackets, so the risk was minimal, but his guidance was really supportive for us.
All-inclusive in Egypt – what else can you do
In the case of stays in Marsa Alam, the choice is quite limited. Essentially, the stay is confined to the hotel because there is nothing else in the area except for other hotels.
All the attractions revolve around snorkeling and diving. Of course, you can go camel or horse riding on the beach. There are also quad bikes, massages, and we even received an offer for haircuts (although Fryderyk showed no interest…). However, the main attraction is snorkeling or diving.
Once, we took a taxi to the nearby town of Port Ghalib. There was a promenade with restaurants and souvenir shops. You can skip a visit to this place unless someone is already dying of boredom at the hotel and desperately needs a change of scenery or, like us, promised the kids they could buy souvenirs.
All-inclusive in Egypt – what we think after our first trip with a travel agency
It wasn’t bad.In fact, we might do it again someday. However, the hotel and location must offer something exceptional, just like in this case with the reef.
What surprised us, and what we had forgotten, was the fact that it was a trip with a Polish travel agency. Consequently, there were many Poles at the hotel. This was new for us. We rarely encounter Poles on our trips, certainly not in such large numbers at once.
Furthermore, the staff kept trying to speak Polish all the time. The same goes for the vendors in the nearby town, drivers, everyone. I won’t hide it – it was irritating. We have this thing where, in order to relax and disconnect from everyday life, we prefer not to understand the local language and just use English. In this case, it was challenging.
A new experience for us was eating in the same place every day, three times a day. That’s really not our style. Not being able to stroll around the town, choose where we’d like to eat, or simply grab something from street food vendors was a change of pace for us.
I often hear parents say that it’s very easy with children when you go all-inclusive because there’s plenty of food available all the time, and kids can always find something to eat like rice, fries, or pasta. However, we didn’t find it to be a significant convenience because how much of the same food can one eat? I also don’t worry too much about feeding the kids, and honestly, we’ve never been in a country or place where they couldn’t find something from local products. So, that argument doesn’t hold much weight for me.