After last year’s totally trouble free trip to Turkey we were hopeful of the same for 2012 and we wouldn’t see a repeat of the troubles we had in 2010 – cancelled flight, ash clouds, changing dates etc. All was going well until our Birmingham flights were cancelled and we were told we’d have to go to Gatwick, not the end of the world unless you’ve booked Travel Lodge rooms pre and post flight on their advanced booking option. They’ll let you change dates if a flight is changed but not hotels, so we ended up with empty rooms in Birmingham and full ones in London. We did get a cash payment from the tour company for the aggravation and this off set the duplicated costs, and bought a beer in the hotel as well.

For the last 5 years or so Emma at Holsworthy Travel has arranged our trips for us and this year was no exception Holsworthy Travel. Using Red Sea Holidays 12 of us were booked to stay at the Siva Grand Hotel – Siva Grand. We used this venue as for the first time we had arranged a mixed group of divers, their families and a couple of extra non diving families. We were assured that the hotel had kids pools and other kids facilities required when you have a group including 3 – 9 year olds. Holsworthy travel worked hard to ensure the group received the group discount yet everyone was able to book as separate references to ensure bills, rooms etc were kept simple; our advanced party booked July 2011 yet the last member of the group joined the week before departure. We were all in the same hotel block with most of the rooms adjoining, the only disappointment is we ended up being split up on the plane, but that’s our fault for booking in at different times as we all arrived separately (some staying the night before and some driving in the morning).

Two of us booked car parking with Air Parking LTD. They offered a meet and great service, and after using similar services before we were hopeful of a similar experience! As per our joining instructions we phoned 20 minutes before arrival. Granted we were running early as we had allowed extra travel time for the snow that was forecast but in the end wasn’t required. We called at 0630 and had our first vehicle picked up at 0650 with the driver stating that he was aware of our 2nd car. We phoned again at 0700 and was told it’ll be 10 minutes, we called again at 0715, 0720 and again at 0730 with a driver finally arriving at 0740. Each time we were told the driver was on his way. This meant we were stood in the drop off area for 60 minutes, in freezing conditions with very unhappy young children.

Upon landing back in the UK on a delayed flight we again phoned the required number to be told we were late and there was a surcharge. We were also told that the vehicles would be 20 minutes. When the drivers arrived 40 minutes later we were wondering if we were going to have the same issues as at pick up.
Both cars arrived and we started to load them. At this point I noticed damage to the rear of one that we weren’t aware of before dropping the car off. We were not aware of any damage prior to driving to the airport as the car had only been delivered to us the Monday of the week. The pick-up driver reported no damage to us when the vehicle was collected and the layer of parking dust had been disturbed where the damage was. The drop off driver refused to take any action other than take a picture, they refused to call the office and told me my only recourse was to contact the office upon getting home. At this point he then demanded £20 for the late return (we had to land on the way home!) I refused to pay this until the damage was looked into but he refused to issue a receipt for any monies, wouldn’t action our damage complaint and refused to hand over our car keys. One of the drivers kept asking if ‘ we wanted a fight’ and this did not help the situation in any way.
Due to having young children in the car we had no option but to pay the monies that felt like extortion as the drivers then handed out keys and walked off with no receipt issued. I will never use this company again and a dispute has been raised with both Air Parking LTD and Sky Park Steve (the booking agent).

The outbound flight was fine, the plane clean and fairly tidy and the food not too bad. The only thing we found odd was the sales procedure on board. The staff ran a trolley down the plane offering snacks, drinks etc. Some people obviously didn’t know what they had booked food wise as they tucked in to the toasted sandwiches, crisps, chocolate etc. Once this service had been through they started with the in flight meals, with some people grumpy that they had just bought food – moral of the story – know what you’ve paid for!

Red Sea Holidays (RSH) seems well organised and they soon pushed us into a RSH line upon arrival. Having checked before arrival a number of us had $15 in the passport ready for the visa stamp. However when we got to the front of the line we were told it was Sterling or Euro only. I was all up for arguing as it’s supposed to be $15 (the visa is stamped so) but others in the group handed over Sterling before I had chance – I’m guessing that the Sterling exchange rate was higher at the time

The transfer was cool ( air con’d bus) with a good explanation of which bus to get on (there were loads) and an ok welcome and introduction to the area. We weren’t far away from the hotel and we were soon dropped off. The bell boys at the Siva took control of the bags and we were very efficiently checked in and bags delivered. The hotel was light, clean and well maintained. There were loads of staff, each with their own role, and all seemed happy to help. We’d booked in All Inclusive (for the first time) and found it really handy with the amount of kids and non divers in the party. The hotel had a range of restaurants and bars as well as snack points, beach bars and grill and a swim up bar. All seemed to serve something slightly different which worked well, unless you wanted the waffles bar when you were on the beach!
We enjoyed the food and no one had trouble with the Pharaoh’s revenge. The staff wore gloves when preparing food and they only had out what was needed, topping up regularly. By using different restaurants we were able to ensure no one got bored with the food (except rice!) and the kids were more than happy with the separate kids buffet at two of the restaurants.
The evening entertainment was ok and the kids enjoyed the junior disco. The hotel is part of the Grand Hotel which is just up the road and the entertainment here was supposed to be better but we never used the free shuttle bus, preferring to stay where we were. Day time kids club was fun, according to those that went, outdoor climbing frames had sun covers and water points were at both. The bars served a wide range of drinks for all tastes and measures were, large to say the least.

We booked diving with Diamond Red Sea - diamondredsea as a member had used them before. We were picked up on time and taken to the centre. Bags were dropped and kit loaded into a box for the boat. Diamond uses charter boats in the harbor during the off season as numbers are low. We dived off Serena most of the week. She was built like the other boats in the area with a large dive deck, a comfy cabin with plenty of seating and a large upper sun deck. The only thing lacking was enough seating on the upper deck but then this isn’t unusual. The food served was simple but tasty and there was tea, coffee and water available. They did run out of water (bottles) each day but this was usually on the journey home and if you looked around there were a number of half drunk bottles where people had opened another rather than walk and find their other one.

The boat wasn’t busy for most of the week as there was only 6 or 8 divers and three or four guides on board. Mid week the boat went off to the Thistlegorm and we stayed behind as we really didn’t want the 0430 start! Instead we dived off Funny Divers, a boat with the same name as the centre that owns her. A bigger, newer, plusher boat but due to this it was busier and we took longer to do the day’s activities as we waited for everyone else to do their thing – food was the same though

We dived a range of local reefs; Marsa Abu Galawa, Gotta Abu Ramada East, Gotta Abu Ramada West, Fanous West, Small Giftun, Turtle Bay and the highlight of the week El Mina.

Most of the reefs produced a wide range of fish and other life. There was plenty to see from large morays down to ones the size of your thumb, lion fish and stingrays.

El Mina was the dive of the week. It translates as harbor wreck and is still within the limits of the departure port. She was a minesweeper sank during the 1969 6 day war and sits at around 30m. She still has guns, ammunition and towed area equipment on board and makes for a great break from the fish. There are loads of lion fish on the wreck and plenty of smaller sea life around in the scour. After a week of fish and rocks she made a great dive.

All around a very enjoyable week with 12 happy travelers and apart from the car service, very well organsied and executed. Will we use Holsworthy travel again? We already are as they are looking at our 2013 options, they look after the bookings well provideing a simple yet effective service. Read Sea Holidays and the Siva Grand hotel lived up to our expectations and ensured we had a good weeks holiday so we’d certainly go back there should we be in Hurgada. Diamond Red Sea run a very good service offering simple diving, adventerous diving and what ever cousres you need (PADI wise). We’d dive with them again and would happily recommend them to any one diving the area, however I can’t see us heading to Hurgada any time soon – there are only so many trumpet fish, clown fish and the like you need to see in a lifetime  Never going near Air Parking LTD again though.