As I packed for my Nile River cruise on Uniworld's River Tosca, my parents fretted, nervous about my two-week stint in a country still in transition from its January revolution. "Are you sure it's safe?" my dad asked. I assured him that he needn't worry, little knowing that images of Egyptians being mowed down by Army tanks would be broadcast during my stay.
Yet for the most part, I was right. Within the tourist bubble, Egypt remains safe to visit. You'll need an ability to go with the flow, however; protests, strikes and riots are still occurring, and probably will continue until the country holds presidential elections in 2012. The American embassy in Cairo sent out an alert to people registered with the State Department to stay away from areas where demonstrations are going on, as did the British Foreign Office.
The selfish benefit to Egypt's upheaval is that most tourists are gone. Of the 400 riverboats licensed to ply the Nile, only 150 are operating now, none with more than 50 percent capacity, River Tosca's hotel manager told me.
Our ship was no different. While River Tosca holds 82 passengers, we never had more than 20 onboard -- which meant we were treated like pashas. No fighting for a lounge chair here; I even received a free spa treatment, simply because the masseuse was bored. You'll never wait in line while visiting the ancient sites, and you'll have the full attention of your tour's Egyptologist. Never have I received such attentive -- and thankful -- service.
There were some downsides. Our low numbers meant we couldn't take our ship up to Dendera, as the Egyptian security forces that patrol that section of the Nile have pulled out (we spent three hours in a van, roundtrip, instead). Another day, an air traffic controllers strike in Cairo held up our excursion to Abu Simbel for several hours, which caused us to reach the temple at the hottest part of the day.
And then there are the touts. At every tour stop, we were accosted by street vendors, some so aggressive they made a few passengers cry. Our guides were loathe to interfere, as violence between touts and tour operators has taken place in Luxor. I armed myself with "La, shukran" (no, thank you), but it still felt like we were running the gauntlet.
I did feel uneasy as I watched the October 9, 2011 violence unfold in Cairo on television and Twitter. But our Uniworld guides assured us that we'd be fine as long as we avoided the downtown area. Our excursion to the Sound and Light show at the Pyramids went on as scheduled (although the seats were only one-third full).
A survey of my fellow passengers found that none felt unsafe during the trip and all were confident in Uniworld's ability to take care of us if security concerns had arisen. So if you're looking for a chance to experience Egypt's wonders without the crowds (and have the run of a riverboat), now's the time to come.
--by Chris Gray Faust. Travel writer Chris Gray Faust is the editor of the award-winning travel blog, Chris Around The World.