The historic Cecil Hotel is one of my favorite small hotels in Alexandria. My overall recommendation is to definitely stay at this hotel while in Alexandria if your preference is a boutique historic hotel, as it’s the best option in central Alexandria for its category when weighing its pros and cons.
The best features of this property are its location, history, and boutique appeal. However, the hotel does have a few drawbacks, chief among which are the insanely loud, cheap-sounding music that plagues the otherwise-sophisticated bar after 8:30pm, as well as the hotel’s tacky policy of begging guests for online reviews at checkout. But if you can avoid the bar after the bad music starts and just politely smile when the inevitable unprofessional request for an online review comes, you’re in for a real treat for your stay in Alexandria.
First, let’s talk about the Cecil Hotel’s history. While it is currently managed and branded by Steigenberger (a mid-market German hotel brand for those not from Europe or the Middle East), the Cecil Hotel has a long and storied history at the center of Alexandria’s own modern history spanning at least the past century. The property is perhaps most famous for being the residence and headquarters of the commander of the Allied forces in Egypt during World War II, General Montgomery, after whom the elegant bar is named – Monty’s. But the Cecil has also hosted countless dignitaries and celebrities over the years, including Josephine Baker, Elizabeth Taylor, Om Kultoum, Agatha Christie, Winston Churchill, and Al Capone.
One of the reasons that this property has attracted such a star-studded guest list over the past century is because of it’s enviable location both in the heart of Alexandria’s stretched-out coastline and its position right on the seaside Corniche overlooking the Mediterranean. The city’s Misr Railway Station is only a 15-minute walk from the hotel’s front door (cab it if you have luggage though), and the Mediterranean Sea is literally across the street, viewable from not only the sea-view rooms from but from all rooms on the side overlooking Saad Zaghloul Square as well.
Unlike other historic hotels in the center of Alexandria, the Steigenberger Cecil Hotel has been beautifully restored and is well maintained. The two historic elevators in the center of the building have a particular charm that harken back to the days when literary elites, foreign officers, and global film stars would pass you getting on and off of them. The rooms are spacious and bright, with the sea-view rooms and the sea-and-square-view rooms (my personal favorite) being worth the investment of a few extra dollars for the upgrade.
The local staff at the Steigenberger Cecil Hotel are noticeably extra friendly. The quality of a hotel isn’t always a guarantee of the quality of a hotel’s staff in Egypt, and I’ve stayed numerous of Egypt’s top hotels that charged quadruple what the Cecil charges per night but which had staff who acted as if you were checking into a prison. This hotel’s staff, however, are truly a friendly and professional bunch, no matter the time of day or night and whether they recognize you as a regular or not. I’ve always found them to be top quality when it comes to their interactions with guests at all stages of a stay.
This is one of the reasons why it really disappointed me to learn that this hotel is one of the many hospitality businesses in Egypt that makes the staff ask its guests for online reviews. This practice is characteristic of ultra-low quality establishments, and the Cecil Hotel should be well above that level. Usually you see this in one-star and two-star properties across Egypt, but not in four-star and five-star properties where the Cecil Hotel belongs.
Furthermore, I have even heard that staff performance is partially evaluated based on whether they get any personal, by-name mentions in online reviews and how many they rack up. If this is true, it would be a truly horrendous reflection on the hotel’s management and on the property’s reputation and brand. The good news about this negative aspect, though, is that it’s only a reflection of the management’s judgement and doesn’t detract from the hotel’s own charm.
The only thing that does take away from the charm of the hotel, though, is the consistently atrocious choice of evening “entertainment” in the otherwise beautiful first-floor bar. If you stumble into the bar area during the day or early evening, you’ll find a very elegant, wood-paneled room befitting a hotel as storied as the Cecil. However, make sure you flee before 8:30pm, because that’s when they break out the out-of-tune, cheap karaoke machine and hand the microphone to a changing set of local singers who are forced to perform on this cheap equipment that’s always turned up way too loud for the size of the space.
Fortunately, the bad taste in acoustics and cheap sound equipment is also something that can easily be remedied by better management decisions. I’ve always found the bar staff to be exceptionally friendly and interactive, just as they should be in a classy historic establishment. But depending on when you’re reading this and when you’re hopefully trying out the Steigenberger Cecil Hotel in Alexandria on your upcoming trip, still do poke your head in the bar in the evening to see if things have improved. When they do, this will be a truly special spot to spend an evening having drinks and reading about the history of this incredible little hotel at the heart of Alexandria’s bustling Corniche.