WHAT’S IT LIKE? This five-star hotel opened five years ago and offers a wealth of facilities for both leisure and business travellers alike – from swimming pools and diving to meeting space and charming hospitality. When I visited, it was low season, which meant the property appeared very quiet – there were only a few sunbathers occupying loungers and the pools were empty. That said, at breakfast and dinner a lot more people appeared, which suggested that because the property is spread across so much land, guests are less likely to bump into each other during the daytime.
Upon arrival by car, there is a security check before vehicles are allowed to enter the driveway, and guests are brought to the entrance past neatly planted gardens and illuminated palm trees that look especially beautiful at night. The expansive lobby faces the sea through floor-to-ceiling windows, and to the right are several sets of escalators that take people down to Ramses restaurant one level below reception, followed by Silk Road, then the ballroom and then Mezzaluna, which is on the same level as the main swimming pool at the back. Staff can also whizz you about by golf buggy.
Rooms are built in low-rise blocks to either side of the main building, and are connected by immaculate pathways that wind throughout the peaceful resort and lead down to a narrow strip of manmade beach. Everything looks manicured and well cared for, and staff always greet you as you pass – sometimes by name.
WHERE IS IT? The Rotana is ten minutes’ drive from Sharm el-Sheikh International airport, and backs on to Shark’s Bay, on the Red Sea. It is also five minutes from the Maritim Jolie-Ville Congress Centre (maritim.com). There is a free shuttle service to Naama Bay that departs three times a day.
ROOM FACILTIES All rooms except those in the Classic category have LCD Samsung flatscreen TVs, plus free tea and coffee, mineral water, minibars, safes, and wired internet (US$13 for two hours or US$35 for 24 hours) – although this didn’t work for the entire time I was there. However, in the hotel’s defence, it was, apparently, the same for all the hotels across Sharm during this unfortunate period. Starting from 28 sqm, they are light and spacious, with higher category rooms offering balconies and views of the sea (Classic rooms overlook courtyards and gardens).
Some rooms have baths, while others have walk-in showers. I was pleased to find my Premium King room had the latter, along with a workdesk, robe and slippers, platter of fruit and armchair. However, I was confused to find an item of clothing missing one evening so phoned reception as I guessed that housekeeping had accidentally put it into the laundry – I was right, as the next day I found it returned to my room washed and pressed.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS During high season, Ramses is open for all-day dining, but when I stayed it was for breakfast (7am-10.30am) and dinner (6.30pm-10.30pm) only. The expansive venue has a buffet set-up, with a generous spread of hot and cold options – as a vegetarian, I was particularly impressed by all the delicious salads, hummus and freshly baked bread, but there was also a pasta station, and plenty of roast meats, stews and seafood too.
I ate in Ramses most of the time, except for the last night when I decided to try Silk Road, which was a more serene affair (no screaming kids to contend with). Open from 7pm to 11pm, it specialises mainly in à la carte Chinese and Indian cuisine, and I had a thoroughly delicious vegetable korma and creamy saag paneer. I stopped by the Sky Lounge for a postprandial drink afterwards and read a magazine at the bar, however, there wasn’t much atmosphere despite the loud music as only a handful of people were keeping me company. It was a lovely open-air setting though.
The poolside Italian eatery, Mezzaluna, serves lunch (12.30pm-5pm) and dinner (7pm-10.30pm), and I discovered they do a flavoursome penne arrabiata with rich tomato and olive sauce as part of a simple set menu during the day. Other venues include Pulse bar (open from 8pm), C Lido beach restaurant (9am-6pm), Bedouin Corner (6pm-10.30pm) for snacks and shisha, Isis lobby lounge (8am-11pm), and the Palms Bar and Grill (9am-11pm in summer, until 6pm in winter) overlooking the sea.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES There is a 24-hour business corner on the lobby level with three PCs, a photocopier and webcams. However, guests have to pay to use the internet, and when I was there it was down across the town so they had to plug in a dongle to get me logged on. That said, they didn’t charge me on that occasion. Wifi passes can be purchased from reception for use in the public areas only.
There are three meeting spaces (the Pharaohs) on the lobby level that can be combined to create a 200-capacity hall, theatre-style, while the Cleopatra ballroom can seat 280 delegates for a dinner. All have natural daylight and are pillar-free. There is also an outdoor ocean-facing amphitheatre and the Royal Villas, which can be hired for more exclusive events.
LEISURE FACILTIES The hotel has several outdoor lagoons that are the equivalent to three Olympic-sized swimming pools – these include one smaller heated pool and an al fresco spa bath, along with dozens of loungers and cabanas dotted along by the sea. However, because this stretch of coast has a coral reef, there are no natural beaches so you have to dive straight into the water off a jetty if you want to swim or snorkel.
I had an excellent 50-minute Balinese massage (US$100), which was wonderfully relaxing and rejuvenating, in the on-site Zen spa – this has nine treatment rooms and is open daily from 9am to 9pm. There is also a gym with lots of natural lights, tennis courts, a playground for children and the Camel Dive Club (cameldive.com). I tried some parasailing, which was really fun, and an hour of snorkelling with one of the highly professional Camel Dive instructors. The reef is stunning and teeming with wonderful coloured fish and corals, and any anxiety I had was swiftly alleviated by the calming presence of my instructor.
VERDICT With great Red Sea diving and watersports, and extensive event space both inside and out, The Rotana makes a luxurious yet affordable option for those looking to book meetings and/or incentives in Sharm el-Sheikh. The service is also very good from the friendly staff.
HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 526 rooms across eight categories (Classic King, Classic Twin Garden View, Premium King, Premium Twin Front Sea View, Deluxe, Deluxe Twin, Grand Deluxe King and Grand Deluxe Twin), 26 suites across five categories (Premium, Grand, Club Rotana, Club Rotana Twin, Club Rotana King) and eight four/five-bedroom Royal Villas.
ROOM HIGHLIGHTS The large balcony facing the sea and the comfortable bed.
PRICE Internet rates for a flexible midweek stay in May started from £136 for a Classic room on an “ultra all-inclusive basis”.
CONTACT Grand Rotana Resort and Spa, Shark's Bay, Sharm El Sheikh; tel +20 693 602 700; rotana.com