I appreciate the fact that Morocco Tours/ExperienceIt! Tours wants to know how they did and what kind of experience your client had on their trip to Morocco. I believe in this kind of feedback and am glad to provide comments that, though lengthy, will hopefully be helpful. I’ll try and organize them into a useful format.
Overall, the trip was a huge success. Everything worked out great. No one got sick. Weather was perfect. Accommodations were very good to excellent. Food was what we had hoped for. And our driver and city tour guides were terrific as well. We loved the architecture and artistic details such as the beautiful mosaic tiles found everywhere. As you of course know full well, Morocco is a wonderful country to visit. It’s different and ‘exotic’ enough, yet not so far outside ones comfort zone that one feels constantly uneasy. It’s a Muslim country but all in all a pretty progressive one. It helps that nice accommodations and restaurants are readily available, and most everyone with whom we had one on one contact was gracious and helpful.
SALES and ADMINISTRATION
I’ll start at the beginning. Kit, I remember when I first spoke to you. I had done some extensive research up front and had made a list of four tour companies that I wanted to contact. I successfully reached two. One, in California, I was not able to reach someone “live” and so gave up after three or four tries. And then I called Morocco Tours. When no one answered, I hung up and would have tried again later. But no sooner had I hung up the phone I received a call back from you, Kit, when I hadn’t even left a message (caller ID). Good sales move on your part; and I appreciated the desire for my business.
From then on all my contacts with Morocco Tours, which means with you and Ruth, were terrific. You were always polite, knowledgeable, available to answer all my questions, and, on the rare occasion when you didn’t have an answer, you said so and, if appropriate, would get an answer. Remember the camel ride? The one thing my 28 year old daughter was looking forward to the most on this trip was riding a camel(!) Since we were going to be nowhere near the desert, finding a camel to ride was not a sure thing. But you called your contacts and found that in The Palmeraie in Marrakech camel rides could be found. Sure enough, we found that and properly suited up in our djellaba for a 30 minute ride through the palm grove. Corny maybe, but priceless nonetheless. Likewise, I wanted to see a good botanical garden and you suggested the Majorelle Gardens, also in Marrakech. Though small, it was very well done and the girls and I enjoyed our short visit there. By the time our itinerary was finalized, I was confident that the trip we had put together would be what we were looking for.
At this point, I was handed off to the administrative side of things, in the person of Ruth Wheeler. It was nice that you and Ruth were in contact with each other and I felt like I was working with a team from Morocco Tours, not just two separate people who weren’t really tuned in to what the other one was doing. I never spoke with Ruth on the phone, but did exchange numerous e-mails over the course of a couple of months. Ruth was delightful. Always professional, the tone of her e-mails was very cordial and friendly. This part of the experience as well went very smoothly and gave me confidence that all the details were being attended to.
I liked the itinerary we ended up with: a night in Casablanca at the beginning and end, only two nights in Fes, instead of three as originally recommended, and then three nights in Marrakech. All of us much preferred Marrakech to Fes for a variety of reasons. Fes, of course, is a more ancient, traditional city while Marrakech was larger, livelier, had more things to do, more variety of restaurants if one wants to take a break from a more restrictive atmosphere such as you’d find in Fes, and a generally more open feeling. I would strongly suggest that you make three nights in Marrakech and two in Fes your default schedule.
By the way, you had asked if we had any particular highlights from our trip. There are many, but one of the most vivid would be our tour of the souks in the medina in Fes. It was like stepping back into the Middle Ages. Those tiny, dingy, cramped, poorly lit stalls with all manner of goods for sale … and then the tannery… it was quite an amazing sight.
As you know, our driver was Mounir Lafhal. He was fantastic! I cannot over-emphasize how critical Mounir was to the success and enjoyment of our tour. He was delightful, easy to get along with, spoke and understood near flawless English, was punctual, polite, knowledgeable and helpful in all sorts of ways, e.g. “What percent of women wear head scarves?” “How integrated are Berbers into regular Moroccan society?” “How much do I tip the belly dancer?” We of course spent many hours in the car together and he was always sensitive to our needs and temperament at the moment. And, Kit, you were right, those drivers are exceedingly proficient in the art of waiting! That said, my daughters and I were very glad one evening when Mounir returned to our restaurant to pick us up and was able to join us for some fun moments, as our meal was still in progress and the local entertainment was yet to perform. Mounir easily gets 5 stars! Again, Mounir was an exceptional driver and we were fortunate to have him.
Perhaps for different reasons, we enjoyed all three of our hotels/riads. Hotel Le Doge in Casablanca was a delightful, boutique hotel run by a charming gentleman from Lyon, France. We ate there our first evening and the food was really excellent. The room was large and the decor very nicely done. And it’s within walking distance of the main street in town. Though I wouldn’t call it luxurious, all in all it was a good choice.
Although I’d give it 3 1/2 or 4 stars (as expected) Riad Myra in Fes was unique and to us seemed to provide a truly authentic riad experience. From the location and entrance off the alley to the central courtyard, absence of windows and a Moroccan staff whose English skills (and my Arabic/French for that matter) led to some interesting exchanges — it was certainly the most uniquely different place we stayed. Not sure I’d go there again, but it was memorable nonetheless.
As you and I had planned, truly the best was saved for last with La Maison Arabe in Marrakech. This was without doubt one of the best hotel experiences I’ve ever had in my life! In all respects, this place was just terrific. Undoubtedly due to Saliha’s call to them (as far as I can tell) when we checked in we were escorted to the Royal Suite!!!….so that may have something to do with its high marks. First floor with two twin beds a bath and a large sitting area. King size bed on the second floor with its own full bath. (Bed problem solved!) And a private sun deck on the third floor. Regrettably, we didn’t have time to use the Jacuzzi tub up there. I fully realize how lucky we were to have this as the place to lay our heads for three nights.
But aside from the over-the-top accommodations, even if we had been given a standard room, I’d still rave about this riad. It’s really beautifully decked out in detail and decor. And the front desk staff in particular could not have been more gracious or helpful. Their premier restaurant was a real treat. And the cooking class you suggested was great fun. First class facility, open to the deck/pool/casual dining area, it was led by a professor of English who happens to have a passion for cooking. There were eight Americans in our class, two young British women, and a young couple from Brazil. It was very well done and of course we ate the product of our labors for lunch out by their small pool. By the way, the riad’s other or main pool is a 20 minute shuttle ride away. We went there one afternoon for a couple of hours. No swim-up bar, no belly flop contest at 4:00, it was a beautiful, serene oasis in its own right.
The location of La Maison Arabe was great too, as we were able to walk to the artisan shops and Jemaa El Fna, where the girls duly had a snake draped around their neck and tried to contain a baby monkey.
La Maison Arabe was definitely a 5 Star property, but for us I’ll give it 7, based on the royal accommodations we were given.
All our restaurant choices worked out well. We loved the food in Morocco and had some excellent meals in some neat, memorable places. As mentioned, we had excellent dinners at Hotel Le Doge and La Maison Arabe. One evening in Marrakech we followed the recommendation of the front desk manager, Adil Chaif, and went to Le Comptoir. It was a fun fun evening. On our last night, in Casablanca, we went to Rick’s Cafe. It sounds touristy, which of course it was, but it was a very nice place, beautifully decorated and the food was quite good as well. I’m glad, Kit, that you recommended it. It was a good place to go on our last night in Morocco.
Our guide in Fes was a gentleman named Mohammad — I realize that doesn’t narrow it down a lot. His nickname we learned was “Momo”, and he apparently (so he told us) was the guide for Hilary and Chelsea Clinton when they toured Fes, as well as other notables such as Yo-Yo Ma and Robin Williams. He was an excellent guide, as personable as he was knowledgeable.
Then, in Marrakech, a man named Yousef was our guide. Again, very nice, personable and friendly with excellent English skills.
Apparently Mounir selected them both and I think each was excellent.
In addition to the usual guide books available, I ran across one called Morocco – The essential guide to customs & culture. It is not a guide book per-se, but is part of a series of books under the Culture Smart label that endeavors to acquaint readers with the ins and outs of the customs and cultural norms of particular countries. I recommend it.
In closing, I was very pleased with our trip to Morocco and all that Morocco Tours did to put things together and make our trip a success. Kit, you and Ruth each did super jobs and I thank you both. In fact, I don’t know where this e-mail will go, but I hope the head of your group will see it so he can give you both a figurative pat on the back.
Yes, I’d of course recommend Morocco Tours/ExperienceIt! Tours to anyone considering a trip to Morocco and in fact have done so already.
–Bob, Lindsay, & Meredith (USA), May 2013