Strap in for a heavy-duty review. Don’t give up on me half way through here. This is a long review, you can skip the fun part at the beginning here and move right on to the “meat and potatoes” if you so choose
Before we begin here’s your back-story. You know you do this by the way, because you’re reading this. That makes you my people and I know my people. I can prove it in 4 easy steps.
Step One: Sit down at the dinner table with the family and wait for the kids to start complaining about the delicious healthy meal you spent hours slaving over the stove to make their ungrateful little asses.
Step Two: Then, right on cue, while one parent scolds them about not eating that slice of pizza bust out your iPhone.
Step Three: Go to the gold standard for travel reviews, Trip Advisor, where you will find the top three Egypt tours in Cairo because that’s what you do when you’re looking for a tour.
And this is how you ended up here reading this by doing your due diligence to find out about Tailor Made tours!
Regardless I did the same thing and I proceeded to read way too many reviews over many condescending looks. I doubled down on my review reading by searching “is Egypt safe to visit with kids” to see if it was even really safe. I can’t tell you how many “help me with your kids please!” comments I was ignoring on a daily dinnertime basis.
(Ladies you do this too. Don’t pretend like you are paying attention to us while your reading your phone at the dinner table. It’s ok, drop the charade. We just aren’t that interesting, especially after 10 years of marriage)
Step Four: I Email the top three tour reviews that look friendly for the kids. One of which never responded to my emails, the second one stopped responding after a bit and the third one kept in constant contact with good feedback. Dare I say impressive, friendly well thought out responses? This was of course Tailor made Tours, hence the review. After many back and forth emails Walid and I had a customized tour just for our family! How fantastic is that! He really knew how to tailor the tour to the family of four with young kids and made a point to warn me about exhausting the kids. At the end I can say that it was the most well thought-out, planned guide experience we have had aside from Rome. I made the arrangements with Walid and they refused an upfront payment because they quote “trusted me”. As a businessperson myself this raised an eyebrow, as a dad I thought it was a nice gesture.
We had one day in Cairo and I am a big fan of private day tours it gives us the opportunity to avoid making costly mistakes and just enjoy the places we go and gives us help with the kids. Every so often though something happens and it all hits the fan. Isn’t foreshadowing fun!
The meat and potatoes
Cairo was a birthday present to myself as my wife was not entirely pleased with the idea of flying to a country that lacks a government and is decked out in terrorism warnings. Regardless, we flew in, got up bright and early, and headed to the lobby of the Four Seasons at the First Residence 10 or 15 minutes early to make sure we didn’t hold anyone up. Actually it was because I was like a 4 year old running downstairs for Christmas morning. 30 minutes later I began emailing. No response… “Hmmm that’s not good.”. Then I texted, and finally I called. Nothing. At this point I started to boil, I don’t panic I rage and then immediately move on to fix the problem. Imagine the children running downstairs on Christmas morning after the Grinch came and stole all your presents and trashed your tree. That’s how I felt. Moving on I began mentally planning the day myself. We sat and took up most of the chairs in the very small lobby of the 4 seasons in Cairo surrounded by police, army and other security officers (Not in a bad way the place was SECURE). The employees at the four seasons were incredibly helpful in my initial planning efforts offering cars and tours and whatever they could.
Then Walid called me back. I had a bit of a difficult time understanding him through the bad cell connection and his accent. I told him no one was here at the scheduled time for our tour. He told me he would call his people and find out what was going on, which he did, within 10 minutes. He told me there was an accident with our tour guide and he was working on finding another guide and some transportation and he would call me back again.
After what seemed like an hour but what actually probably more like 10 minutes my blood began to boil. I had wanted to see Egypt all my life I had one day to do it in and these people completely forgot about our tour after 10 or so emails and confirmations. I take full responsibility for NOT sending an email a day or two before or calling. This is standard practice in the business world I don’t know why my better judgment failed me at this particular time.
I got some quotes for a Four Seasons personal driver to take us around for the day. They are not cheap. For the record, I had heard some serious cons about he taxi drivers in Egypt so I was reluctant to just grab a cab.
The four seasons front desk was kind enough to call Walid for me as they spoke the same language so there was little that could go wrong in the way of communication. They relayed a message from me that said “we were going to take a car to the pyramids and if his guide showed up that would be fine otherwise I wasn’t going to waste another minute of my one day in the lobby of the hotel with my increasingly bitter family”. Again we got the accident story, and Walid immediately called me again after hanging up with the Four Seasons Concierge. His solution was to have a guide meet us at the Egyptian Museum within an hour. He was clearly panicked by the tone of his voice and the content of the conversation. As a small business owner I understand this panic mode. As a customer I understood that he was doing his best but at that moment in time his best wasn’t good enough, as I didn’t have another day and my wife already pissed that were in Egypt to begin with (Long Story, entirely my fault)
This was …unfair on my part, as I know better. But I was furious. I tried to be as calm cool and collected as possible but I’m sure my anger translated more in tone than in in the actual words. Walid, to his credit, kept his calm and we hopped a car to the Egyptian museum. He had asked us to wait for a half hour and then leave or roam the gardens for 30 minutes so the guide would get there at the same time as we would (the 4 seasons is 30 minutes from Tahrir square where the Egyptian museum is) and then the car would meet us afterwards. And complete the tour we had planned.
I reluctantly agreed.
We took a car from the four seasons, a sweet Hyundai which was half the price, at 30 us dollars, of the Mercedes. Our driver offered to give us a makeshift tour after hearing our story. We declined, obviously looking to make a sale he asked us why we trusted someone to show up at the museum if they couldn’t be bothered to show up for the tour in the first place. This was a fair criticism and also a soft sell. He gave us his number and let us know he would be available all day to fill in as a guide if all else failed. I took his card and told him we would most assuredly take him up on this offer if my better judgment on the “benefit of the doubt” failed us.
We arrived at the museum in 15 minutes as all drive times in Cairo are totally dependent on the traffic, which is INSANE. Picture an all day free-for-all of rush hour in Las Angeles or New York City with twice the people and without rules.
We waited outside in the garden with many well-armed army and police officers. After we killed 15 minutes I gave up. As we started to walk into the museum I got a call from Walid. Our replacement guide Hambdy, had arrived and not a minute too soon. I took a deep breath and swallowed my inner asshole.
Hamdy was on his day off and I imagine was none to thrilled to be there with us, though you would never know it. I have Been there and done that, it’s no better to be called in on your day off than it is to be forgotten by your tour company. He asked us if we had purchased our tickets, which I had already done, and he pointed out that we needed to buy another ticket to bring a camera inside the museum and that the ability to take pictures was brand new to the museum. We had been told this already by a gentleman at the front, who also offered us a tour. We went though the metal detector and the bag scanner you have to go through to get into any building in Egypt at the moment and were stopped by security. Apparently the photography ticket is per camera. This includes cell phones. Hambdy took care of it and offered to either lockerize the second camera or grab us another ticket. I’m not a fan of leaving a 3500-dollar piece of equipment in a locker so we opted to keep the second camera with us. He ran back and got the ticket for us (Thanks Hambdy) and we were on our way.
Do not go to the Egyptian museum without a guide. The museum itself is a warehouse from 1900 with a bunch of glass cases and index cards that had typewriter text on them. Most everything in here lacks a real description on their cards, mostly there was nothing more than a name. We would have been completely lost in this big old storage warehouse without a guide. Honestly the place is neat, it reminds me of a museum that Indiana Jones would have had a hand in. the whole thing is just from that era. It’s also not air-conditioned except in certain rooms. Those certain rooms contain the Royal Mummies and King Tuts jewelry, sarcophagus and death mask. The extras cost money FYI. You’re looking at 20 US dollars per person to be pain in Egyptian pounds.
Hamdy did a fine job leading us on the journey of Egyptian culture though the museum and clearly was strongly nationalistic towards his Egyptian heritage which made the tour that much more enjoyable. You really need several hours in this museum. It has the largest collection of Ancient Egyption antiquities in the world! Seeing Ramses the second in the “flesh” blew my daughters mind. For those that care he would have been the Pharoah at the time of Moses, if your into that sort of thing. They had mummified crocodiles and dogs and snakes and all kinds of trinkets and treasures of the various dynasties. On our way out of the museum we were approached to purchase some papyrus paintings. We declined; they followed us… all the way to the car until Hambdy waived them off.
The van was a spotless newer Hyundai van with 3 rows, ice cold A/C, and cold water in a cooler with our names on it. It was a pleasant surprise. I expressed my feelings on shopping, which is to “not do it on vacation”. Hambdy gave us some information on the touts. The best way to deal with them is to ignore them he said. From there on out we followed his advice and stuck with him and our experience with aggressive street vendors was much diminished. This, in and of itself, was worth the price of admission.
Around lunchtime we headed to the Pyramids. Hambdy stopped and at either his or more likely, Tailor Made Tour’s expense, grabbed some falafel and fries for the kids as well as for us. We ate in the van before heading on to the pyramids.
Words cannot describe the pyramids … I’m not going to try, if you are reading this you know what you are going to see. But I will say they are breathtaking.
There were lots of aggressive vendors at the pyramids. Hamdy informed us that they are getting more aggressive because there are so many less opportunities, read, tourists. This is a sad state of affairs. The pyramids are incredible.
Pro tip #1: You have to buy another ticket to get into the pyramids and the smaller pyramids cost less than the larger ones.
Pro tip #2: The sphinx closes at 4pm or sometimes a few minutes early on what I like to call “Hawaiian time”. Our tour started late so we missed some time to spend at the pyramids and on the camels. But we didn’t let this diminish the experience.
Pro Tip #3: Speaking of camels, there are lots of people trying to sell you a camel ride. Go with the approved vendors at the edge of the pyramids or just follow the tour buses. Either way there is a set price for the camel rides with a sign over there, which you won’t find anywhere else. No one wants to ruin their trip being stuck on a camel until you pay extra to get off. Thanks again to Hambdy for giving this information. Oh, and have 10-20 USD per person for this depending on your tipping habits.
Pro Tip #4: Everyone in Egypt wanted a tip for everything. And everything is ala carte. Keep lots of cash for these purposes in small bills.
Pro Tip #5: Once you get out of Egypt you can’t get rid of your Egyptian pounds.
Behind the Pyramid of Pharaoh Khufu there is a nifty little Museum with one of Pharaoh Kufus ships in it. This is a MUST see. The boat is amazing and the museum is designed in such a way that as you walk up the levels you get to see the ship from every possible angle. Again, have 20 USD a head handy for this, in Egyptian Pounds of course. Yes, it’s worth it. From the Pyramids we went to see the sphinx. This was short and sweet and we took a few fun photos and moved on.
After the pyramid tour what I gather was to be our original guide made an appearance and Hambdy left. Unfortunately my memory fails me and I cannot for the life of me remember her name but I believe it was Laila. By this point the kids were tired and we already had a connection with our guide so it was questionable on Tailor Made Tours’ part to replace the guide halfway through the tour. However, I understand why this was done as Hambdy did his job, on his day off, and I thanked him for coming in to take care of us. The woman that succeeded him was quite friendly and did her damnedest to make up for whatever the “accident” was. I didn’t ask what happened, and no one told me. My gut tells me it was a scheduling issue and someone dropped the ball. But it really is irrelevant I guess. Walid called several times during the tour to make sure we were OK and enjoying ourselves. He REALLY seemed to care, a lot. I must say I was impressed. He went so far as to offer us a Nile cruise on his dime, which we accepted. That is of course until the kids started to go vastly down hill in the two hours of traffic we sat in from the pyramids to old Cairo. We had to decline the river cruise much to my dismay. Instead of a Nile Cruise we headed straight to Old (Islamic) Cairo.
Old Cairo was like entering a 1930’s bazaar, Here’s your Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark reference! Our wonderful guide bought us some sugar cane juice and ice cream and really sugared up the kids. This helped. Happy kids make for a happy experience and nothing perks up a young one quite like sugar!
We went for a nice hour long walk through the old city learned some history met some very nice local people in the market learned about the architecture and the food and history of the people. She was a walking talking library of information. More importantly she was AMAZING with the kids. Amazing! The poor girl had to take a tired family of four with two hot, tired young children aged 5 and 8, sit with them in traffic for two straight hours and then give a history tour. That’s about the hardest thing you can ask of a guide. She pulled it off, with style and aplomb. Once again I was very impressed. The kids ended the day exhausted but happy. Tailor Made Tours really did a fine job once they got their act together.
Conclusion: If you have made it this far, good on you! I’ll try to keep this brief.
This is a bit of a hard one for me to write. The guides were great, better than great given the circumstances. I have had some bad tour guides, I had one in London I had one in France so don’t think I rate all the guides this way. But at the end of the day I can’t help but think how much better it would have been had it not started so badly. Walid really, really seemed to care and made a remarkable effort to rectify whatever wrong had occurred. Tailor Made tours offered to comp the entire tour on top of everything, which I declined. Both Hambdy and Laila were fantastic guides I would recommend them both in a heartbeat. They certainly did a phenomenal job and even more so considering the scheduling shortcomings and starting your day with unhappy customers. We never felt concerned for our safety. Which I’m sure had a lot to do with the guides and my wife agrees. She wants to go back ASAP but not without the guides. Part of this I’m sure is a language barrier. Never the less in the end the real question is “would I recommend Tailor Made Tours to a close friend or you the reader?”. Yes, despite everything, I would recommend this tour. My one caveat here is to avoid making the same mistake that I did and definitely email and or call the day before just to shore up the pickup times and avoid any surprises.
Additionally, a big thanks to the Four Seasons for their wonderful staff!