Hotel rooms in Casablanca are generally crappy and overpriced. I know this not because I’ve stayed in them all, but because when we had to go to Casablanca a few days ago, I asked all of my Moroccan and expat friends if they could recommend a good mid-range place to stay. While some of them told me where not to stay, no one actually was able to recommend a hotel. (Update: After I wrote this I was actually given a 4 star recommendation that looks quite nice – Idou Anfa Hotel Casablanca )
So, I turned to TripAdviser – what the reviews generally said was that no one is happy with their hotel choice in Casablanca. They are all overpriced, crappy, and generally not worth the money but since Casablanca is the business, commercial, and to some extent governmental center of Morocco (at least for – me the American Consulate is there), we are all forced to go there and pay the prices they demand.
In this case, I had a chance to do a third party review of a place that I would never have visited because just by the price, I knew it would be a bummer. However with someone else paying, I didn’t mind seeing if it might live up to the expense. We confirmed our stay for two nights at the Riad Jnane Sherazade in Casablanca and set off!
On the phone before we left, I asked the manager the best way to get there. He told me that if the taxi didn’t know the hotel, just give the street address. From that I assumed that it was a well known place. If that was the case, the taxi drivers at Casa Voyageurs were all pretending to not know. Nor did they know the street – Rue de Belgrade. We finally found a driver who knew the place who offered to take us there for 5x the price the manager had suggested (10 dirhams) and then a second driver who agreed to take us after he dropped off the lady in the front seat (who was going 10 kilometers away) and then charged us for her trip there and back so that we ended up paying 50 dirham anyway but with a longer drive. A word of warning – there is one honest taxi driver in Casablanca and he’s very old – he may not last much longer.
Anyway, we’d looked at the hotel’s website and despite the annoying automatic pretentious music it began to play and it’s flash heavy interface – the place looked great with big rooms, a lush private garden, balconies, plus games and reading material for guests. I figured we would try their in house restaurant one night and of course enjoy breakfast in the morning. Rooms were priced at $140 to $300 per night though if you choose to stay there, the link I’ve provided above will get you cheaper rates.
Upon arrival we were met by a friendly doorman. It started to sort of fall apart from that point. The touristic tax they included on the room was double the official rate, when I inquired about dinner I was told that we could pay 300 or 400 dirham per person (an outrageous amount for what they were offering in Morocco) and that even though the rooms were in the top tier of prices for Casablanca accommodation that not only was there no complimentary breakfast, but there wasn’t even complimentary water or coffee. Breakfast (a simple one I was told) was 17 Euros per person – which is roughly triple what a great breakfast costs at the cafe down the street. Even when I told them I was doing a review for a third party, their reaction was stolid – which on one hand I admire, but on the other was just such incredibly mercenary bad business practice that I’m certain my jaw dropped. Frankly, if someone tells me they are reviewing me – I would at least offer to provide them with complimentary breakfast so they could write about it (and a complimentary dinner for that matter) but these guys – no way. Old school bleach blonde Moroccan manager sucking down cigarettes in the lobby while the portly French affected Moroccan owner told me “Children aren’t normally welcome in our hotel”. To be fair, I saw that it wasn’t listed as ‘child friendly’ but didn’t realize they meant they didn’t want kids there. In my inquiry, I had mentioned we were bringing our month old daughter but no one had said it was any sort of problem.
While there was wifi in the hotel, they wouldn’t provide me with the password but did point out that I had a cable port in the room. This worked but eliminated any idea of working in the lovely garden or on the patio. The reading material in three languages consisted of old free airline magazines and French fashion magazines from the 1990′s. There were also a dusty set of French encyclopedias in the drawing room (which the owner and clerks smoked in but which, when I lit up a cigarette in, I was told to go out on the patio…).
I should really point out that despite the name – Riad Jnaan Sherazade isn’t actually a riad at all. Instead it’s a villa built in 1956 and decorated in the style of a Riad. The decoration is quite nice and so is the villa though it is in need of some thorough cleaning and a bit of renovation. While the website touted top of the line sheets and towels, I found them to actually be sort of course towels and the sheets to have a texture that I associate with a thread count of 150 or less. Most of my friends who own mid-high range guesthouses, riads, or hotels insist on a minimum of 250.
The balcony was large and looked out over a lovely garden where twenty or so businessmen were drinking and conversing in the evening. They were obviously having a private function as we seemed to be the only guests staying. While I debated whether to pay the outrageous price for dinner or breakfast, I found myself looking at TripAdviser where the majority of the reviewers mentioned the dinner as being ‘good’ but way overpriced and the breakfast as being a rip off. That was enough for me- if you are considering buying breakfast or dinner at Riad Jnaan Sherazade – I recommend you see what TripAdviser has to say first. Who knows? Maybe it will be worth it – but I wasn’t willing to chance it. We had two nights and I wanted to have enjoyable meals both times – which we did – elsewhere.
The mattress was hard. My wife and I both woke up with sore backs. The shower, tub, and dual washbasins in the bathroom were fantastic. Hot water, good pressure, and clean toilet.
The television was fairly dated and got the free local broadcast channels only – no satellite, no cable. It sat on what looked like an old wooden microwave stand. When I asked about the games they specifically mentioned on their website (Monopoly, Chess, Scrabble, and Cards) I was told that they only said they had them since most of their clientele are businessmen who don’t have time to play games. When I mentioned that they listed them on the website they told me “Yes, but we don’t have them.”
The price they list for the hammam was so beyond what the hammam next door charged that I didn’t bother to inquire why – maybe they include a happy ending for the businessmen – but I doubt it since nothing was free at this place despite the high prices. The mini bar in the room contained small bottles of water and bags of chips that sell for 5 dirhams listed at 50 dirhams (about 5 Euro or $7.50) each. A placard placed in the room said that it was against the regulations to bring in your own food or water. Since we didn’t want to drink the Casablanca tap water, we smuggled our own bottled water in like criminals. Some of the reviews on TripAdviser say that the desk actually stopped them from carrying bottled water to the room!!!
The air conditioning worked well. The plugin internet connection was fast. The room was quiet. The doorman, by the way, was great.
Overall – I would say this is a 3-star hotel (clean, quiet, no bugs, free internet) with 5 star prices (and they rate themselves as 5 star as well) and 1-star guest treatment. The main reason I say this is because of the mercenary nature of the pricing, the complete lack of value for money and the indifferent attitudes of the desk manager and owner. Even ultra budget hostels manage to provide coffee and drinking water and can tell you what is interesting in the area without having to probe like a detective.
We won’t be going back. Instead, we will be looking at the many other options among this Complete List of Casablanca Hotels