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Well, just returned from a trip to Sharm with eight of us staying at the Rosetta - Cheap and cheerful, but definately in need of some renovation now. Food not that good either although seemed to suit all the Italians and Ruskies. Booked the holiday through Crusader, who used Libra Travel and Excel Airways. Only small problem was finding out the flight details to pass on to our coach company for the pickup - didn't arrive until the tickets dropped on the mat 6 days before travelling. Flew from Manchester - handy that! MUCH better than that slog to Gatwick as we are based on the Wirral. Team made up from 1 First Class, 3 Advanced, 2 Dive Leaders and 2 Sports divers - all BSAC. Flight, arrival and transfers all went well and rooms were fine once they sorted out which language we were talking in - seemingly, scouse is not a universal language, so we had to revert to the Queens english.

We were picked up by Tina at 08.00 the following morning, a rather fit blonde Scandinavian lady who was to be our guide for the week - things were looking on the up and up!! Down to Red Sea College to get all the paperwork sorted, pick up weights and transfer all our gear to boxes for transportation to our boat "Sonya" for the week.

First surprise was that we had the boat to ourselves - Nice! Then we had the usual mainland dive site to settle us down and give our guide the oportunity to check us all out. No problem there. All the usual briefings about buoyancy, coral, surfacing drills and buddy diving were in there and I thought we would be allowed to buddy up from then on and do our own thing. WRONG!

This was to spoil our diving over the next five days. Tina INSISTED that we must all follow her on every dive. Well, as a keen underwater videographer, I can tell you that it's no fun trying to steady your buoyancy, your breathing rate and concentration for a shot, then have to look up, gather your buddy and chase after the pack, spot another sequence, try to control your breathing and buoyancy again and go through the same sequence over and over again. Put bluintly, there is nothing that screws up your breathing and air consumption than chasing about, trying to keep up with a group of divers who are just following a guide, particularly when you are trying to do some video work. It also pissed off a number of others in the group, even those who were on their first trip to the Red Sea. When questioned about this Tina explained that this was now the Law in Sharm and that all divers had to follow guides. However, I have to say, I put my foot down when we got to the Thistlegorm, there was no way I was following her on that one as I had some sequences that I had planned from previous visits which I wanted to complete, and I was dammed if I was going to pay all that dosh to get there and ruin my plans. She reluctantly agreed as I had dived the wreck 6 times before and I was after all a FCD and AI diving with my AD wife who was also using a Sea & Sea camera.

When it came to electing to dive on Nitrox only half the group had tickets which was overcome by Tina offering a special "intro to Nitrox" course for 20 euros, this consisted of a very brief talk on what nitrox was and how it was used and analysed. The candidates were then shown how to analyse their gas which was premixed so that the safe MOD was below the sea bed, so there was absolutely no chance of a problem. All this was fine and allowed the group to dive together and enjoy the benefits of extended dive times. On subsequent dives, when nitrox cylinders were ordered, these candidates had cylinders delivered with their names on and the mix written on the cyliders. The candidates checked their own mixes prior to diving in the same way as the rest of us and everything was fine until we came to settle our individual bills. Shock horror, they wanted to charge 20 euros for every nitrox fill these candidates had, despite the fact the instruction was only given on the first nitrox dive. The normal price being 8 euros for a nitrox fill. The resulting argy bargy, spoiled an otherwise good experience with Red Sea College and convinced us that it was just another way to extract more euros from us. Incidentally, this nitrox course is not in their price list, which begs the question, is this accepted by the relevant agencies?? I think not.

Anyway, on to the diving. Conditions were excellent all week and we dived all the usual sites, Shark and Yolanda three times, Thistlegorm twice, Dunraven twice, Jackson Reef once (once too many - 26 boats moored there) Million Hope once and a couple of mainland sites. No sharks, a few turtles, some dolphins spied from the boat including a few white Beluga (nice) Skipper of "Sonya" was great as were the crew. The food on board was fantastic and most of us managed to evade the Sharme el Shites until at least the Thursday.

Spent the last two days shopping and sunbathing then on the plane for the jouney home - or so we thought!

NOooooooo. A problem with the aircraft's flaps meant that a two hour sit on the runway turned into a two day delay in a five star Hilton hotel, all inclusive for all 233 passengers. They couldn't get us into the same hotel so we were spread amongst the four Hiltons in and around Sharm and Naama Bay. Not a problem in itself - quite nice really, but the lack of or conflicting information caused many people severe problems back home. When we were eventually rounded up and put onto coaches back to the Airport, we learned that our delay was the longest in the history of Sharm el Sheikh. All I can say is that all the different travel companies did all they could under difficult circumstances. Even Excel Airways did the best they could, without actually flying in a new aircraft. It's bound to cost them thousands of pounds in compensation, which is a bit of a shame, but that's what they have insurance for. Personal delay insurance only mounts up to £40 a head, which isn't much so I think I'll start putting my claim together now.

Great holiday, shame about being led round evrywhere on dives, could really do without that. Will not go back again for that reason. Do't mind the mandatory 30mtr depth limit as I think that is a realistic way of dealing with a real problem with so many divers visiting the area.

Regards

Geoff Oldfield
 

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I had heard this rule about being lead around, funny thing about Sharm, you could go back next week and the rules will be different. Basically the authorities love the money and hate the people, or at least that is the impession you get.
Some of the dive guides will relax a bit once they get to know you and sit above the group basically letting you get on with it.

Andrew
 

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Hey Geoff,

Sorry to hear about your 'troubles', and a pity it soured an otherwise enjoyable trip. Not done the 'Million Hope' yet and I'd very much like to.

Regarding the 'herding' issue with the guide: if you do go again, you may want to say words to the effect of 'we've no problem being 'guided', but seeing as a number of us have videos and cameras, why don't you guide from the middle of the pack, and keep tabs on where everyone else is?' Everbody wins.

That way she'd be best placed (rather than being at the front and having to scream back towards the rear if that's where an incident had occured) to address any incident? Also, she could meter the speed of the group and keep station whilst still effectively 'guiding'?

Failing that, and seeing as you're paying her wages, you might try the 'OK, I'll see you back on the boat' and just do your own thing anyway - once she's bubbled that the group don't want to hare around a dive site, she'll soon click and stay 'guiding the group at a comfortable pace and station.

After all, the whole point about a dive is NOT to dive as a group; it's to dive SAFELY, and if that means her hanging back so your team can get the shots they want, then that's the way she should guide the team. She can easily give direction and hand instruction to a switched-on dive group whilst still being in amongst it and not charging off from the front.

Have a good claim.

I'm not hearing good things about Excel airways, especially their 'zero-tolerance' for, and hefty excess charges for, excess baggage! OK, they may now have effectively a '1st, Club and Econ' class cabin layout (whereas Monarch had only 'cattle' and Premium' class), but does the extra weight allowance come with any higher-paid seat ticket? How did you find them?

Cheers,
 

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Being led by the dive guide was the case last year when I went, and TBH, I can see why a company would want to insist on doing that in these days of excessive legislation.
As for your plane hassles,  we didn't even get a hotel, we went halfway to Egypt and turned around then circled Gatwick for 4 hours to burn fuel to reduce the chance of exploding when we landed minus one tyre !
(cue Monty Pythons  "Four Yorkshiredivers sketch  
 )
 

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<font color='#0000FF'>Bren

I was looking at Excel's website the other day as I am going on AndyP trip to the Redsea in April.

This is what they say about diving equipment and weight allowances:

"Diving equipment-Passengers taking diving equipment on all flights (Excluding Eqyptian flights) are now allowed 10 kilos excess baggage free of charge in addition to their normal 20 kilos luggage allowance. Please be advised that all excess baggage is subject to space and availabilty on the day of departure. All Egypt bound flights such as Luxor, Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada are weight restricted, so we are unable to grant any extra allowances for these flights. If tanks are carried please ensure that these are emptied and the cylinder valve is loose. Large groups of divers must inform the Special Requirements department at least one week prior to departure."

Bearing in mind that most people on these flights will need some extra weight allowance, I really don't know why they just don't increase the cost of the ticket, that way they could buy extra fuel and we wouldn't even notice the cost.

I know that I will be packing my bag with what I need and if they make me pay then so be it, I have never been charged yet except for a Silkair flight to Manado and then they did us a deal.
 

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Hi Bren, Excel staff were fine both on the way out and on the way back. Seating was a bit cramped but only to be expected on a package deal. The crew on the return trip were crapping themselves prior to our return departure, thinking they were going to have a plane load of angry beligerant passengers. To their surprise everyone was sympathetic with them as they had an even worse stopover than us. They were put up in a two star hotel, with no change of clothes, put on a two hour standby and even had to stand around in towels whilst their uniforms were dry cleaned because they had no change of clothes. The cabin meal on the return trip was also "interesting" as they carry the return flight meals on the way out. The two day delay meany that all the food had to be thrown away and a hotel was commissioned to steam clean the dishes and make up a chicken meal specially for the airline - you could tell it was Egyption too!!!

Had no problem with baggage as when we checked in at Manchester, I just presented myself as group leader and the check in clerk simply collected all the passports together and added the baggage allowance together for everyone so no one was penalised.

Would definately use them again. No airline is immune from problems and I think they handled their problem in the best way they could.

Geoff
 

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Fiona, don't panic, you WILL get your extra baggage allowance in Manchester. We all did. I read the same note on Excel's web site and worried myself sick about the excess - 24 kg of video equipment, 23 kg of diving equipment for two people and that didn't include any clothes! You'll be fine.

Geoff
 

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<font color='#0000FF'>Yes, sorry Geoff was just about to mention that I ws going to edit previous post, we are having trouble at this end today and everything is running very slowly, we have some major virus in our Bristol office which has spread to Chalfont, been sat here now since 8am and done nothing except browse the web albeit slowly.

I have been with Excel before and I didn't have any problems checking in and I always have more weight than I should, I was just quoting from their web page, I just wish they would take us all in to account.  I have also paid for extra legroom seats with no problem - I know don't laugh why do I need extra legroom!! it's just I like to be able to move with my duff knees


I was interested in Bren comment about different cabin classes didn't see anything about that on the website though.

Fiona

PS glad you had a good holiday Geoff
 

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[b said:
Quote[/b] (Geoff Oldfield @ Oct. 01 2003,10:20)]When questioned about this Tina explained that this was now the Law in Sharm and that all divers had to follow guides.
Maybe this was just Tina's law (to make her guiding even more easy than it already is)

We got back from Sharm a week ago and did a few days diving with Emperor divers. You still had to do the first days boat diving on a 'local' boat as a check out although we made sure that it wasn't going to the reef outside our hotel.

After that the guides / guide  who were with on the boat said it was up to us. They gave the briefing on the site and then you could either do your own thing or follow them. The only requirements were that you didn't go below 30mtrs, dive time didn't exceed 1hr and you had a buddy.

You couldn't really fault the Emperor divers service. Especially as we were 'walk in' clients who only wanted to do a couple of days boat diving (we had all our own gear). All the pick ups from the hotel were on time and they'd even drop you back at the hotel at the end of the day.
 

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I'm with Ian.  I used Emperor and highly recommend them.  We also started by being lead, but the guide was always tolerant and was happy for us to do our own thing after she'd checked we knew what we were doing.

Flights with Britannia I think and were surprisingly good.

HTH
 
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