Date of Trip: April 2013
Moroccan Discovery 2013, Odysseys Unlimited
Departure April 20, 2013, Group size: 24
Travel to Morocco booked through Odysseys Unlimited is by Royal Air Maroc’s flight out of JFK. The planes are reasonably clean, but show wear. In coach, the food service is very low quality for an international flight, the flight attendants are unsmiling and dour, announcements are in French, Arabic and totally unintelligible garbled English. Unlike other airlines, the in-flight entertainment system has identical fare in both directions, but with a sound level so low that using it is difficult and frustrating. While certainly acceptable for inclusive tours, on a personal level this airline would not be our first choice for future travel.
On arrival in Casablanca you are met by Seddik, your tour guide for the next twelve days. He is personable, friendly, efficient, speaks excellent English, is extremely well informed, and always available to answer your questions and assist with problems. We were surprised however that even at the end of almost two weeks he still did not know our names. Baggage Handling throughout the entire tour is excellent, delivery to your room at all hotels very prompt, pickup is from outside your room normally one half hour before departure. You identify and account for your luggage before it is loaded on the bus at all times. The bus is full size so there is plenty of room to stretch out, and is manned by a highly experienced driver and a helper. Bottled water is freely available on the bus at all times, and delivered to your room at the hotels. It was never necessary to purchase water.
You are taken from the Airport to your first hotel in the City of Rabat. The literature received beforehand warns against the drinking the water and urges care with other foods such as milk which is said not to be pasteurized. However on that first bus trip your guide will tell you that the water is safe although it contains minerals that your system may not care for, that the milk is pasteurized, and that all hotels and restaurants we will visit take special care with vegetables, salads, etc., and not to worry. Do worry! We took a quick informal survey on the bus on the last day, and it seems that 19 out of the 24 in the group and had gotten sick from intestinal disorders, some including myself severely.
The itinerary is published on Odysseys’ web site and will not be detailed here. Morocco is indeed a fascinating place, and as our first exposure to a totally Islamic culture, proved interesting and educational and an exceptional experience. As in most land tours, a lot of time is spent on the bus. Rest stops are made at appropriate intervals, the sound system is good, and the guide fills in some of the hours with the history of the area and incidental detail. The undulating camel ride into the Sahara dessert at sundown was certainly a highlight that will be remembered, if for nothing more than the exciting bone jarring ride in 4×4 overland vehicles to get there. Throughout, the thrust of the tour is aimed toward historical sites and the more primitive Berber areas of the country. To learn about modern Morocco, it’s industry or economy, you will have to look elsewhere — it is not seen on this tour, or ever mentioned by the guide.
A word of caution. This trip is not for the infirm. Several on the tour used canes and sometimes had trouble keeping up. There are a lot stairs to climb, steps everywhere especially in interiors, and long walks over rough ground — and sometimes it seems that all of Morocco is uphill.
It seemed that an excessive amount of time was devoted to certain areas of low interest basically to kill time. A major disappointment for some of us was that we spent only an afternoon in Casablanca, the first three hours of which were totally wasted when the group was disembarked at the city’s seashore and left on their own to find lunch – until 3 PM, when it was time to visit the Hassan II Mosque. The excuse given was that hotel rooms would not be ready. Considering that the Kenzi Tower Hotel is a 237 room commercial one where business folks leave early, it would seem that 14 rooms could have been gotten ready by noon for a tour company that furnishes a lot of continuing business. Thus the tour of the mosque, and the farewell dinner at Rick’s Cafe was all we saw of the most important city in Morocco.
Overall, the hotels used for the tour were excellent, as were the restaurants to which we were taken. Breakfast was always buffet style at the hotels and fantastic in the variety of foods offered and their presentation — a continuing delight. Many of the other meals were a matter of taste. We were not aware of Odysseys’ policy of set pre-ordered meals with no choices, so with the exception of an occasional buffet at the hotel, you ate what set before you. Several of us do not eat seafood, a couple of ladies did not eat lamb, and in those cases the Guide would immediately order an alternative. The French protectorate of Morocco from 1912 to 1956 gave it a second language and an infrastructure, but did little for it’s cuisine — at least telling from what we were served. Lemon and olives and almonds seem to appear in almost every cooked meat dish, couscous is a bland traditional Berber semolina dish and is ever present, and there will be small bowls of raw and cooked vegetables offered as a first course. I ate chicken four times in four different sections of the country and it always appeared exactly the same — overcooked with lemon and olives. The food is beautifully served, always brought to the table with a covered dome, and some of the restaurants were truly spectacular. Nevertheless, My wife and I resented never being shown a menu or given a choice — not even between a couple of alternatives, and have decided that dining is so much of the vacation experience, that we would not travel under such a set meal policy again.