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Budget Airlines – Deal or No Deal!

low cost airline carriers

As I start prepping for my trip to Italy, I find myself wondering whether it’s actually possible to make full use of those cheap flight deals.  Can I travel abroad for a week with only a carry-on bag?  In recent years there has been an increase in low cost flights offered by low budget airlines like Easy Jet and Ryanair.  Even the likes of BA have jumped on this band-wagon, offering cheap no-frills short haul flights around Europe.  Typically, these flights exclude the traditional services and comforts we are all accustomed to.  Printing your own ticket and checking-in online are now the norm. On-board services are also limited, with no free meals or drinks on offer. With some airlines, there is no designated seat allocation either. Each carrier has its own set of rules but one certainty is that checked-in luggage is NOT included in the price of your ticket.

Just how much are we saving with these budget flights?

Despite most people preferring the basic amenities that an Economy flight includes, a good many of us are enticed by the very low prices offered by budget airlines. For me, those low fares mean the possibility of affording multiple trips per year or maybe splashing out more on hotels, excursions or general spending. However, I have learned that the fare stated does not usually reflect the overall saving you will make per trip. It is highly likely that you will end up spending more than you expected. I have compared fares for standard Economy versus budget flights to the same destination. Typically, the difference in price can be between £100 – £300.  That’s potentially a good deal if you are able to avoid all of the add-on exprenses.

Size matters

Some tickets include the price of a specified sized carry-on bag only, while other fares are literally just for bums on seats i.e., the fare covers transportation of a passenger from one port to another.  With Ryanair for example, your ticket price does not even include a free cabin bag (you can bring a small handbag or laptop only).  Since January 2018 their policy is that you pay at least £5 for a normal sized cabin bag, unless you buy a priority ticket, which itself costs more.  Also, Ryanair stipulate that their cabin bags should not be larger than 55 x 40 x 20, which is smaller than most airlines, who allow a slightly wider and taller bag.  Martin – the money saving expert, breaks down the latest Ryanair rules (which change again in November 2018) here

Ryanair baggage rules 2018
Ryanair baggage rules 2018

The unseen costs

So, there is a possible fee for cabin bags and a definite charge for checked in bags, usually between £40-60 each way.  Add to that an excess baggage fee (if your bag is overweight), between £20 – £70 each way. If you forget to print your ticket at home or need to buy food on the plane, that’s more again.  Another factor to consider is the departure/arrival airports. These budget flights tend to leave either very early or late in the day, and not from central airports.  Meaning you cannot rely on public transport and may need to get a taxi to and from a remote location.  Therefore, when you sum up all the extras fees payable, it can actually work out to be more expensive than a regular economy flight.

How to minimise costs

In most instances, unless you are travelling for business or are a student back-packer, you will definitely need both a carry-on bag and a checked bag.  However, there are definitely great savings to be made if you can follow these steps:

  • Choose an airline that includes carry-on luggage in their budget price.
  • Your carry-on bag should be as lightweight and roomy as possible. Be sure to check height and weight restrictions for your chosen airline, including wheels, handles and external pockets (check out the approved cabin bag size for various airlines).
  • Always check-in online BEFORE you get to the airport
  • Pre-print your tickets and boarding pass
  • Bring a packed lunch or allow yourself time to eat/buy food at the airport – Boots do a great meal deal with a drink for under £4.00, a fraction of what you would pay for the equivalent on the plane.
  • Don’t pack any toiletries that you can easily purchase at your destination. A good hotel will usually throw-in shampoos and lotions. Or, if you are travelling with others, divide the toiletries between you.
  • Before you travel, investigate the cheapest mode of transportation to/from airport to hotel. A hired car may be cheaper than a taxi. Or, pre book a transfer or hotel shuttle). With no heavy luggage it might even be possible for you to jump on public transport
  • If you buy souvenirs on your trip and know you are overweight, pay the excess baggage fee online BEFORE your departure date. It’s cheaper this way
  • Most importantly – pack lightly. Be prepared to wash and re-wear clothes

As I write this I find myself struggling with the idea of packing light. For me, part of the pleasure of travelling is using the opportunity to wear some of the clothes that I don’t get to wear in London’s unpredictable summer. I have a whole wardrobe dedicated to vacation wear.  Having a choice of clothes and shoes for day and evening, plus accessories, not to mention toiletries is essential for me. Also, I love to shop and inevitably need space to bring back my great finds. Packing minimally would potentially spoil how I enjoy my holiday.  However, I have not actually put this to the test. I like a challenge, so, for my next trip, after Italy.  I want to see if I can take full advantage of the budget fares on offer and still enjoy a trip.  I would love to hear from anyone who has managed to do this.  For now, I plan to fully enjoy my trip to Genoa. I will report back one I’ve don’t my challenge.  Watch this space!

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Review: Eden Andalou Hotel Aquapark & Spa, Marrakech

Main entrance to Eden Andalou Hotel
Main entrance to Eden Andalou Hotel
Main entrance to Eden Andalou Hotel

This summer I visited Morocco for the first time with my partner. I had heard many stories about how lovely Marrakech was and I wanted to see this for myself.  Before booking I checked out the seasonal temperatures.  In September, when I wanted to fly, it would still be hot. The average temperature was said to be around 26°C (that’s about 79°F)).  This was just right for me. Anything hotter would be too unbearable. The next thing to do was find the perfect hotel for my budget.  We reviewed a number of hotels.  Initially, I found it difficult to decide whether to stay in one of the many well-known hotel brands, where I could expect the usual amenities, or a more traditional Riad accommodation.  The Riads were typically smaller privately-owned guest houses with a more traditional Moroccan layout and decor. Most were very conveniently based in the centre of town.  After contemplating for a while, we decided on the Eden Andalou Hotel Aquapark & Spa which is located just outside of the main town (around 20 minutes’ drive).  We chose this hotel because the grounds, facilities and rooms looked very spacious and attractive.  Also, it combined a very traditional décor with contemporary amenities.  Plus it offered a very competitively priced all-inclusive package. We felt it offered the best of both worlds: all the mod cons of a five-star hotel, without losing the traditional style and flavour of a Riad.  The only forfeit was that it was not in the centre of town.  However, we could travel into the centre of Marrakech quite quickly and easily, using the hotel’s free shuttle bus service.

Before my trip I discovered that it would not be so easy to buy local currency from the UK. After enquiring at three bureau de changes and being told the currency was unavailable, I took to the internet, and from there found out that Moroccan Dirham (MAD) was a closed currency. This meant that there were restrictions on the amount of their currency that could leave Morocco. The best place to buy Dirham would be at the airport in Marrakech, although it is also possible to get a small amount from British airports too. I wanted to have some money on arrival in case of an emergency, so I decided to purchase a few Euros (which are valid in Morocco). I also managed to buy a few Dirhams at Gatwick Airport (You’re allowed to bring in or take out 1000 MAD (around £65). It’s worth noting that the exchange rate for purchasing Dirhams at Gatwick was considerably worse than the exchange rate available once in Marrakech.  100 MAD was equivalent to £8 at Gatwick, whereas in Marrakech 100 MAD was worth £12.  Best to wait until you get there to buy your Dirhams.

Arriving at Marracekh airport
Arriving at Marrakech airport

 

It was quite a short flight to Marrakech (only 3.5 hours), and since Morocco is in the same time zone as the UK, there was no threat of jet lag. We arrived at Marrakech early that evening. On leaving the airport I could immediately feel extreme, almost tropical heat. We were expecting to see a hotel shuttle bus for Eden Andalou (as we had seen online that they do an airport pick-up) but we could not find our bus, and assumed perhaps we needed to book this in advance.  We therefore jumped into one of the many taxis parked outside. We were unsure what the going rate was but knew that our hotel was only about 20 minutes from the airport.  Our driver asked us for 260 MAD (around £20). We found out later that this journey should not have cost more than about 150 MAD. When we enquired about the absence of the hotel shuttle bus, we were told that they did not have a shuttle to/from the airport (This is contrary to what was written on their website).  Looking out of the window on our drive  to the hotel, I was a little underwhelmed and did not find the scenery to be very picturesque.  Almost every building was a dusty sandy colour, with some being a pale terracotta.  There was hardly any trees or greenery.  I guess this is typical of very hot dry countries.

Eden Hotel Lobby
Eden Hotel Lobby

 

We were not however disappointed when we arrived at the hotel.  The lobby was spacious, sophisticated and colourful. We were welcomed with a glass of mint tea.  The porter gave us a quick tour of the hotel and grounds before taking us to our room, which was actually a suite. It was as clean, spacious and as attractive as in the pictures we had seen online. Each room had a separate alcoved lounge area with sofas and a coffee table. Our room was above the pools, but our privacy was protected by several olive trees.  My first impression of the hotel was that it was big. The grounds were vast and there seemed to be a number of areas to explore and wander, or just relax and chill. The grounds were peppered with olive and caper trees and other luscious plants. Inside, there were long corridors which led to separate Riads (rooms were situated around gardened courtyard areas). Some of these corridors were dark until you approached them (they had automatic lighting) which initially made me feel a little uneasy.

 

Our room at Eden
Our room at Eden Hotel
Fresh Mint Tea
Fresh Mint Tea
Msmen Morrocan Crepes
Msmen Morrocan Crepes

After freshening up we went down to the main dining area to have our evening meal.  The majority of people were eating in the outside dining area.  We headed inside to check out the buffet Buffet at Eden hotel) and was pleasantly surprised. There was a good combination of hot and cold foods: a vast salad bar with a variety of fruit and veg; a carvery table; fish, either fried steamed or baked; a pasta bar; a tempting deserts bar as well as soups, breads, chips and pizza (favourites for the kids or the less adventurous). The dinner offerings each day were very similar, however there were variations in the main dishes, i.e., a different carvery meat, a different tagine dish – either meat, fish or vegetables.  Lunch and breakfast buffets were equally appealing. For lunch there was usually a stir-fry station along with an outdoor BBQ station serving either kebabs, barbequed meat or fish. For breakfast there was an omelette station, a traditional msemen (Moroccan crepes) station. fruit salads, breads, cheeses, cereals etc.  Breakfast was my favourite meal.  I completely indulged. I would start with a cup of fresh mint tea to go with my crepes with honey and would follow this with pomegranate and cucumber juice to wash down my fully loaded omelette with toast.  If you are a lover of baked beans, bacon and sausage, they did have this there, but it looked and tasted wrong.  Morocco is mainly a Muslim country therefore I don’t believe the bacon or sausages were pork. If you were still hungry between lunch and dinner, poolside snacks (pizza slices, pasta etc) were available between 5-6pm.  Unlimited drinks were also available all day, including wines, local beers and cocktails (although very basic).  My favourite tipple was either the Pina Colada or the fresh mint tea. The only downside I had to my eating experience there was that whether you ate inside or outside, there was a possibility that birds (Robins) would be flying around your plate if you left it unattended. The other thing was that some of the meat dishes tended to be a bit Luke-warm if you were not one of the first to get to the tray

There was no shortage of pools at Eden. There are two full sized pools, one deep and one shallow at the centre of the hotel, as well as a smaller kids paddling pool. In the Aqua Park area there is also a swimming canal and smaller pools. The gym and spa area had an indoor heated pool too. However, you are charged extra to use this pool and therefore this was usually empty.  There is a very lively and friendly Animation team who meet poolside daily with a schedule of entertainment to included things like water polo, Zumba and aqua aerobics, all done to a backdrop of a DJ playing the latest hits. I had a go at playing something a little less active – boules, which was surprisingly fun. Crossbow shooting was enjoyable too.  There were also several activities and games for kids. The Animation team also had an evening schedule with games, live music, theme nights, belly dancers, you name it. This went on until about 11pm.  After that, if you so desired, you could party on at the Nightclub.

Shallow pool Eden Hotel
Shallow pool at Eden Hote

 

At Eden Aqua Park
Eden Aqua Park

One of my most enjoyable days at the hotel was the day we spent at the water park. We almost forgot it existed as it is set slightly apart from the main hotel. It can be accessed by the public, although as September was a little out of season there were no external visitors.  It was the perfect place to cool down from the burning hot sun, with its thrilling water slides, waterfalls, dingy rides and activities for all ages. There were plenty of adults splashing around like kids (my other half was in heaven). Alternatively, you could relax and chill in the sun under a palm tree.

What I liked:

-Suites were large attractive and clean. Bathroom had double sink and separate toilet/bidet area

-A variety of food and snacks. Water bottles were handed out freely

-Spacious grounds with plants and olive trees

-The staff and the Animation Team

-Good Wi-Fi coverage around the hotel

-Plenty of areas to chill, a selection of pools

-A good mix of cultures from around the world

-Regular free shuttle bus to town

What I did not like:

-All Standard rooms had two twin beds pushed together. Double beds were only available in Family suites (not ideal for couples)

-Corridors tended to be dark

-Hotel gave out little information about their facilities (and mostly in French)

-The hot buffet food was often luke-warm

-Flies, birds and cats often entered inside dining areas

We spent 10 days at Eden Andalou. All in all, this was an enjoyable stay. A few days were spent just chilling by the pool and soaking up the atmosphere.  Other days were spent travelling to the main town and the local souk markets. I thoroughly enjoyed this see my blog Marrakech souk markets for more info). We also went on a double excursions (see my separate blog Dunes and Desert quad bike and Camel ride combo. I would recommend this hotel for families as well as couples.  I intend to visit Marrakech again, albeit for a much shorter trip, and would be happy to stay at Eden Andalou Hotel Aquapark & Spa.


		
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Review: Dunes & Desert quad bike and camel ride combo, Marrakech

Looking out onto the Atlas Mountains on the quad bike

My boyfriend and I spent an exhilarating day with the Dunes and Deserts excursion group in Marrakech. One of the things I wanted to do in whilst in Morocco was to ride a camel. I had sat on a camel before on a previous holiday, but had never actually ridden one. After perusing the excursion options advertised at our hotel, we narrowed it down to three things that we definitely wanted to do: camel riding, quad bike riding and a day exploring the souk markets. There seemed to be many variations of these three events. As well as tours of Marrakech, the surrounding mountains and overnight stays in other Morocco cities. We decided to head back to our room to review all the options in more detail, when by chance (maybe fate) we bumped into a couple who had just returned from an all-day combined camel riding and quad bike excursion. They were absolutely raving about it and suggested we do the same excursion. The company they recommend was not any of the three advertised at our hotel. They found it online. We investigated more and found that It had brilliant reviews on TripAdvisor. It seemed to be better value for money than any of those we had already looked at. We also checked their website and after reading the recent reviews there, we were convinced that they were the best excursion company to book with. We chose their Quad & Camel Combo package. Their all-day adventure combo included 2 hours Camel trekking through the desert in the morning, lunch, then a two-hour quad bike riding to and from the mountains. The cost of this package was 95 euros per person. This included hotel pick up and return. Lunch, refreshments, water, all safety gear etc.

On the morning of our excursion we waited in our lobby at 8.30 for our taxi driver. He arrived on time – good start. It was a mini bus and the driver informed us that he needed to make three more stops. So en route we picked up three couples at three different hotels. The people in our mini bus were to do the same excursions as us and soon become our buddies for the day. Once we got to the Dunes & Desert base location, we were led to an outside area under a tent where mint tea and water was available. A team member then sat with each couple and explained the itinerary, the rules for the day and gave us safety advice. Lockers were available to secure our belongings if needed. We were doing a double excursion and I realised then it was going to be a long day. After signing the agreement and insurance forms, we were provided with a traditional head wrap (tied for us by one of the team) and then introduced to our camels.  There were six camels tied together all in a stooped position. My camel’s name was Kadeesha.

Traditional head wrap in Marrakech
Traditional head wrap for camel ride in Marrakech
stooping camels
Our stooping camels were ready and waiting

We mounted them one by one, and then they all stood up. They were reasonably easy to mount but the motion of the camels moving from seated to standing was a little scary as there was a distinct forward jolt. When the camel started moving I initially found it to be very jerky and found myself gripping the safety bar very tightly and clenching my thighs in order to stay in position. Eventually I got used to the rhythm, relaxed a bit and could even take a photo or two with one hand.  We were escorted by two local guides, they walked along-side the camels and guided them, whilst keeping us entertained with conversation. They also had cameras of their own and took a few photos of our group and some individual photos. After about 35 minutes of trekking through the desert and passing the occasional palm grove, we arrived at the home of a local Berber family.  This was a relief for me as it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere and I was by now extremely hot from the burning sun.  I recommend wearing a high factor sunscreen and something that covers your legs and feet.

Marrkech Morroco
Jolty camel dismount

As we dismounted, again a sudden jolt, I noticed that my legs were trembling. Apparently, this is because I was tense and had been clenching too much whilst trying to stay balanced on the camel. Some of the others experienced the same also. We were asked to wash our hands before being allowed to enter the sheltered area outside their home.  Floor cushions were laid out around three low tables.  We were introduced to the owner who served us fresh mint tea – something I came to love in Morocco. There was also plenty of refreshing cold water and delicious Moroccan crepes with syrup (called msemen). We used this opportunity to get to know the other couples who were on our convoy. Our host also entertained us with stories and told us a bit about the area and some Moroccan traditions. He was quite charismatic.

 

Berber man serves mint tea in Marrakech
Tea break outside Berber home
our host entertains us as he serves Morrocan mint tea
Our host entertains us as he serves Morrocan mint tea

I felt content after our tea break, and at that point didn’t relish the idea of getting back on the camel to do the 30 minutes trek back to base. But it had to be done. Actually, the journey back felt quicker and more relaxed.  Once there, we were given water and were able to freshen up quickly before starting the second part of our day.

The quad bike ride to the mountains

We were provided with protective goggles, helmets and gloves.  Our guide (Mohammed) then gave us a safety equipment briefing and instructions on how to operate our Yamaha quad bike.  He demonstrated how to start, stop, turn, and the best distance to stay from the person in front.  We were to follow him.  On his bike I could see that he had a cool box with water and I am hoping some sort of first aid kit.  We started off quite slowly and I was tentative at first but after a few minutes I got the hang of the it. The road was dusty and a bit rocky in some places and Mohammed therefore took us on some winding routes through the desert.  I found it quite thrilling and enjoyed the adventure of whizzing through the desert.  After riding for about 15 minutes Mohammed stopped and informed us that he wanted to increase the speed as we headed towards the mountains.  As the terrain would be more rough and rocky he asked the women if they wanted to share a bike with him for this part. I was in two minds and a little put out that he asked, as I felt that the women were managing just as well as the men, but in the end decided that maybe it was best, since I did not know what was ahead.  I therefore got onto his bike. He sat behind with me in control, but he was there to help me manoeuvre any tricky landscape.  Whilst riding along I definitely got the impression that he knew every nook and cranny of the desert. He was able to warn me in good time of any rocky or dangerous areas. We sped through the desert, up to towards the mountains.  This was the best part of the day for me.  Once at the mountains we stopped for refreshments and spent some time there just taking in the view.  We were at the foot of the Atlas Mountains and from there we could see jbilets and could just about see The Kutobia mosque in the main city of Marrakech.  On our return ride we stopped off at the Berber family home again.  This time we sat down for lunch. It was, a traditional Moroccan meal.  We started with salad and Moroccan bread, then tucked into a tasty beef and vegetable stew, cooked and served in a tagine, which was followed by fresh fruit.  There was also plenty of mint tea, soft drinks and water.

Tagine beef stew in Marrakech
Lunch outside Berber home
Safety helmet and goggles
Safety helmet and goggles

The last leg back to base took about 20 minutes.  By this time everyone in our group was confident on their bikes.  As we sped back I felt an adrenaline rush.  I did not want this part of the day to end.  Once back, they helped each of us to remove our safety equipment.  Our clothes were now thick with dust, a dirty brown colour.  Be sure not to wear your any clothes/shoes that you are precious about. Luckily, we each got dusted off with an air compressor by one of the crew. This helped to remove most of the dirt.  Within a few minutes, our taxi arrived to take us back to our hotels. All in all, this was a very full and exciting day that I will never forget.  We made a few friends and had a great adventure.  I loved it.

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Gridlock in the aisles

On my recent flight to Marrakech there seemed to be more than the usual aisle dancing going on; a tussle between passengers desperate for the loo and flight attendants serving meals and drinks.Whilst this is a normal occurrence on flights, it was exacerbated on mine because there was an error with the card machine being used to process payments for food. Therefore, instead of passengers just swiping their cards, each had to fill out a debit/credit card payment slip by hand (name, card number, date etc). The food on offer was M&S sandwiches and snacks. Nothing hot. Yes, I was sitting in Economy and yes, you had to pay for food onboard. I’m not sure how long BA have been doing this budget-flight type of service, which also included (to my surprise) paying for your checked-in bags (I think it’s only for short haul flights), but I am glad I realised this before boarding, and had time to purchase something to eat before getting on the plane. Anyway, I digress, there is only one aisle on an A320 plane, so when there is food trolley at one end, a drinks trolley at the other end moving at no pace, coupled with frustrated passengers wishing to stretch their legs or use the bathroom, it makes for very tense atmosphere. I witnessed a few restrained eye rolls and muttering under breath from the flight attendants as passengers with young kids demanded immediate access to the bathroom. Every time they allowed passengers to pass, the food service was delayed another 10 minutes. To make matters worse, passengers who were seated were becoming agitated with the commotion and irritable as they were now hungry and it was apparent that delivery of their food would not be imminent. It occurred to me that a simple solution would have been to allow passengers to use the bathroom at the front of the plane (the first class area) but this was not allowed until we were within about 45 minutes of landing.

Suffice to say that there was no time for the Duty Free trolley, so that Revlon lipstick pack I had my eye on could not be purchased (see my review of Revlon Super Lustrous Lip Cube here). The upside of the flight was that it was reasonably short from London (3 hours) therefore once we had landed, and got a whiff of the heat, it seemed all was forgotten. Smiles and excitement returned to all faces. The aisle was now the pathway to an adventure holiday, with all people moving in the same direction.