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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
JW Marriott Day Use: Making Waves in Cairo
J.W. Marriott certainly holds the monopoly on artificial beaches in Cairo; the beach, as it’s referred to, is complete with a sandy shore and a wave pool. Surrounded by cliff-like rock fixtures and a sloping, sand-covered landscape, an artificial current generates gentle waves that gently break on the manufactured shore.
Once you’ve situated yourself in your beach-side cabana or hotel room, you must find your way through the maze of ramps and walkways that lead to the elusive beach; don’t be shy to ask for directions from the friendly staff. As midsummer heat waves rise off the walkways, the crowded Ring Road outside the hotel compound provides a constant reminder of the city with its distant road – pretend it’s the ocean calling; and your day at the shore becomes all the more authentic.
Large blue towels are provided at the pool’s entrance, and the beach is lined with large reclining beach chairs and striped umbrellas.
The J.W. pool is certainly a family place; most weekend afternoons find parents and their offspring enjoying the PG-sized waves. Paddle boards and large yellow inner tubes are also provided. Beside the wave pool beach, an elevated area features a full jungle gym in a few feet of water, with oversized shower heads generating a constant downpour. The platform slopes into a large pool that lets swimmers slide down on inner tubes for a brief thrill, into the pool below.
Suffice it to say that the J.W. Marriott provides a full day of family-oriented fun in the sun. Most importantly, it gives us a way to cheat those too-short-weekends when we can’t actually get out of Cairo– the sheltered atmosphere makes the pool pretty close to the real thing, or at least generates a few appreciative chuckles at its all-out attempts to bring the beach to us.
Waiters regularly make the rounds with the pool restaurant menu, which features a rather standard collection of sandwiches (in the 50LE to 60LE range), appetisers such as spring rolls, chicken nuggets and salads (40LE to50LE), as well as a Mövenpick ice cream cart. Prices are on the high side for standard diner food, so expect to rack up a bill of several hundred LE if you're ordering for the whole family.
Patrons are privy to the impeccable service that the Marriott is so renowned for. While enjoying a quiet lounge on our beach chairs, the soothing chorus of Ring Road traffic and artificial waves lulling us into a mid-afternoon slumber; a waiter brought us icy, pine-scented washcloths to help ward off the heat. Sweet luxury, indeed.
So, it’s hot and sunny outside, but you’re stuck in Cairo; listen very closely, because this is not necessarily a bad thing (gasp!). What could we possibly mean? Well, the truth is, the city is full of fresh and jolly options to spend the day by a pool – in this case, we're talking specifically about the Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah in Zamalek.
The hotel, in our opinion, is often overlooked as one of the nicer ones around town. Located on an almost secluded nook on the island of Zamalek, walking onto the premises instantly offers a feeling of relaxation and ease. Gliding past the spacious and polished reception, we made our way to the spa for a much needed day of lounging by the pool.
At 300LE* for weekdays, and 400LE* for weekends, visitors are afforded access to the spa and a place by the pool for as long as they please. Unfortunately, this price does not include any food or drink, so yes, in a sense, this is a splurge – but one that’s worth it.
The pool itself is not that large, but its location and positioning within the hotel are more than ideal. With a choice of regular sun-beds – though these come cushioned with a head rest – one can also choose to sit in more private, shared quarters; what we shall refer to as a ‘sun-couch’. Placed directly along the Nile, the serenity of the view, matched with the openness of it, are divine; a section of the pool overflows, looking directly onto the water, making for a perfect spot to doze in.
Unlike many other hotels, the pool at the Sofitel stayed sunlit late into the day, which when you’ve only got one day, is important.
The service was very pleasant and staff were quick to meet our requests. We sampled a few things on their menu, starting with a ‘banana blast’ smoothie (54LE) – banana, raspberry, strawberry and orange juice – which proved to be a good choice; fresh, cold and, of course, nice and healthy.
After a few hours of lounging and occasionally dipping, we moved onto having some lunch. The choices of a pizza margherita (58LE) and whole wheat pasta with gorgonzola sauce (56LE) were also satisfying, though we failed to understand how the former stood at a higher price. We also ordered a bottle of Omar Khayyam white wine (170LE), which came on ice and was a great addition to our day of relaxing in the lovely sun.
The pool was pleasantly full, without being overwhelmingly packed, and the crowd of people varied between young couples, some tourists and a single family with a couple of children. The atmosphere was comfortable; no stares or awkward glances given – worth noting in this city.
There is no doubt the Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah will provide you with a satisfying, wholesome day out by the pool, but just be prepared to spend a little.
*These were the prices at the time of the review and are subject to change.