Today’s post is the last of the series related to our recent trip to Bulgaria. I often find myself researching rather obscure airlines and properties with few reviews. Most of the time I just go on whatever information I can find as well as my gut instinct. Thus, I like to post reviews of such places when I can so that others can be informed if contemplating the same companies.
We flew Bulgaria Air from Frankfurt to Sofia and Sofia to Burgas (on the return: Burgas to Sofia and Sofia to Frankfurt). I ended up choosing this carrier since it is not possible to fly from Sofia to Burgas on any other airline, and I was not able to find affordable, suitable itineraries that flew directly to Burgas (or Varna).
Upon check-in at Frankfurt Airport, I was informed that I may not take the car seats on board. This is the first I have ever heard of this. When queried, the reason given was that the aircraft was small and the seats would not fit. Bogus. Yes, the aircraft was small, but the car seats definitely would have fit with the arm rests raised.
I requested to have the seats gate checked (we wanted to carry on our luggage and not check anything). This request was denied. No reason was given other than it “wasn’t allowed.” However, we could gate check our stroller. This made no sense at all. Furthermore, no information regarding allowance of children’s items (other than the infant baggage allowance) is listed on the Bulgaria Air website. Be forewarned: it’s hit or miss depending on the check-in agent.
Also, for the first time ever, I was required to weigh my carry on luggage. I’ll admit, I’m a stuffer, and it was definitely over the 10kg mark. (Side note: The check-in agent at Frankfurt told me I could only have 7 kilos of carry-on luggage which is in direct conflict with the website’s information.) I was forced to check our carry-on suitcase along with the car seats. No good.
All passengers on all four of the Bulgaria Air flights were shuttled by bus to and from the aircraft. This is quite a pain with kids when the bus only has a few seats (and you are lugging more than your fair share of junk around).
On board, we were given a seat belt for Screech that linked him with Doc Sci. Other than this, no other concessions were made or attention given to children. I realize this is pretty much the norm nowadays which makes me appreciate when other airlines (such as Swiss) go above and beyond.
All four flights served a snack and drinks. Flights to/from Frankfurt served sandwiches, and flights to/from Burgas served chocolate-filled croissants. Drinks offered included: Coke, fruit juices (apple and orange), water, beer, and wine.
Both times we flew through Sofia, we had to go outside security and enter again before our connection. I’m sure I don’t have to elaborate on what a stressful ordeal it is to go through security twice in a matter of hours with an entourage.
The planes themselves were rather old and some had the dreaded mis-matched seats. Nothing as bad as Pulkovo Airlines, but the aircraft definitely showed its age. The lavatories barely had enough room for me and T-Rex to stand, and not one of the planes had a working flusher on the toilet. Mmmmm.
On the return, we revised our check-in strategy. I took the stroller and two car seats only to the check-in desk. I left my big pack and the suitcase with Doc Sci out of sight from the agent. We had already checked in online, so I sweetly begged to gate check all three items. The woman thought I was nuts, but I pressed, explaining we had a very tight connection in Frankfurt (which was the truth). I was granted three gate-checks, and I swiped a stack of “approved cabin baggage” tags from the desk.
When we lined up for bus-to-plane boarding at Sofia, the gate agent there eyed my things. She then gave me reprinted boarding passes that moved us from Row 5 to Row 11. When you only have one hour to get two kids, three bags, two car seats, and one stroller from the aircraft through passport control and customs, and a then make the long walk to the train station, the truth is that six rows (half the plane, actually) makes a difference. I protested, but she would not move us back to Row 5. No reason was given for the change.
The snarky gate agent then ever-so-smartly informed me that my gate-checked items were tagged incorrectly. I told her to take it up with her colleagues in Burgas.
To summarize, this airline is by Bulgarians, for Bulgarians. It exists because the company knows it is the only carrier to go to certain domestic destinations. A definite lack of unity and conformity to regulations makes flying with Bulgaria air a headache. In short, they don’t have their act together.
Hotel Bulgaria (Burgas)
This hotel was chosen for us by the bride. Her brother works at the hotel and was able to get her guests a great rate.
The property has two main types of rooms: a suite and a regular room. We chose a suite both times (rate was about 60 euros/night with breakfast), because it had a door that closed to the bedroom and two (!) bathrooms. This made it easy for us to put the boys to bed in one room (and T-Rex could get up to go potty without coming in our room) while we hung out in the other room. The suites do not have kitchens, but they do have a minibar refrigerator (not very cold), coffee/tea-making items, and air conditioners.
Breakfast consisted of a few hot items (eggs, sausage, crepes), meats & cheeses, fruit, yogurt, a wide variety of pastries and fried items, yogurt, two kinds of cereal, coffee/tea, bread, cake (!), and chicken noodle soup (seriously!). The food was decent with good variety. We ate dinner once in the hotel’s restaurant, and the food was very good. I can’t comment on prices as we were given the meal as a welcome gift.
The location of the hotel is excellent. It’s right on the intersection of the two main pedestrian streets in Burgas. A walk to the Black Sea beach (and sea park) is about ten to fifteen minutes. Within five minutes, it’s easy to spot a variety of restaurants with all different types of cuisine.
We received excellent service at this hotel, though this may be due to who we knew.
Pomorie Bay Apart Hotel
I searched high and low for an apartment (one or two bedrooms) in Pomorie. Pomorie Bay Apart Hotel was by far the most affordable option I could find. As the rest of the wedding guests stayed at the Grand Hotel Pomorie (super swank), we also wanted something nearby that property. Pomorie Bay Apart Hotel fit the bill.
I made my booking through Hotels.com. The listed rate was in euro, so I called the customer service number and asked if I could pay in cash upon arrival (remember the whole currency exchange thing and fees associated with it). I was told no, but that they would convert the rate to dollars for me. I checked the rate offered with the rate on xe.com. I was given a good rate, so I went ahead and made the reservation.
A few things to note… First, the English competency at this hotel is low. Everyone spoke Russian. It’s been years since I’ve spoken Russian, but the little I remember helped tremendously. Also, when we arrived, it was named Pomorie Bay Apartments & Spa. This seems to be a property of time shares and only a few units are rented out (ours had a huge sign on it in Russian proclaiming it was for rent and listed a phone number).
Second, our room was described as having an ocean view. A great view is low on the priority list for me when traveling with kids. I just need to have a safe, clean place with a door so we can all get some sleep. I also usually want a kitchen of some kind and a washing machine available. View is definitely not as important as these amenities. However, for those that do care, I should point out that yes, you can see the Black Sea, but you’ll have to avert your eyes from the construction site that lies between the property and the water. As the construction finishes in the years to come, this may no longer be an issue.
We requested a baby cot. When we arrived, it was not in the room (this is typical). When it was delivered, it had no sheets. I thought some would be delivered later, but no. It took quite a feat of language to explain to the night staff that we needed a sheet for the baby cot.
My main beef with this property is that the hotels.com website states that every unit has a washer. I knew this couldn’t possibly be true because it’s not in the pictures (and when a washer is available, it’s always in the pictures). I questioned the customer service representative about it, and he assured me if it was on the website, then it was true. False. No washer in the unit. At the hotel, I asked about a laundry room, and I was told that this service used to be available to guests. Apparently, the staff had too many problems with the use of it, and so it was no longer possible for guests to access the room.
I insisted that availability of a washing machine was advertised online. Only then did the day shift manager agree to allow me to use it. However, I could only do laundry after 6pm. I was okay with that and returned around 8pm only to get in another language tussle with the evening staff. A few phone calls later, I was permitted to use a washer in a vacant two-bedroom unit. This was rather awkward, but acceptable.
The next day, I asked to do one more load but pleaded to do it during the day because we had a wedding that evening. “Wedding” was the magic word. The woman was so excited she decided it was fine to do one load during the day. Unfortunately, this turned into a multi-hour process because there is one washing machine for ALL the laundry in the entire building. Wow. Word to the wise: don’t plan on washing clothes here unless it’s in the sink.
Overall this is not a bad place to stay as long as you are aware of certain caveats. It was relatively clean and daily maid service could be requested (included in price for us). I wasn’t sure why the kitchen didn’t have a sponge and soap. When we returned to find our dishes clean and on the drying rack, I figured it out. I certainly like having my dishes done for me!