Our voyage on the River Anuket (a-NOO-ket) was our first river cruise. All our prior sailings have been on ocean-going cruise ships. We had no expectations for a luxury cruse and were not disappointed. It was comfortable but not a luxury cruise experience.
In summary, it was a unique and fulfilling experience and we felt we made a good decision. The Grand Circle concept of Program Directors that accompany the group from the minute one steps off the plane until the trip is over is excellent. The PDs are all certified Egyptologists and fully qualified on all aspects of Egyptian history and mythology … to the point where they are able to read hieroglyphics.
The trip began with five nights in Cairo at the Cairo Marriott, which is an excellent facility. In our opinion, this is probably at least one night too much but appears organized to provide time for optional tours. The many optional tours were the most frequent complaint we heard on the trip, but to be fair it also provides opportunities to rest (or save money) for those so inclined.
This being a cruise review, I will only provide itemizations of the excursions. The Cairo Museum was an excellent overview of what was to come. The Giza plateau with the Pyramids and Sphinx kicked-off the ancient spectacle followed by Sakkara where Egyptian monuments all started. The trip, therefore, starts at the earliest periods and subsequently moves on upstream on the Nile to later periods.
The transfer up-Nile starts with a 02:00 AM wake-up call for the early morning flight to Luxor where we boarded the River Anuket. The first view of the Anuket is not remarkable, but all Nile riverboats look like giant floating shipping containers with windows.
The first impression aboard is of the brass and marble lobby with a golden throne flanked by a "Tut-like" pharonic statue and Anubis, the Jackal-headed god. The grand impressions, however, stop there. Everything else is a "number of clicks" below modern cruise ship standards. The exception is the size of the cabin which, at 235 sq. ft. (all usable), was a pleasant surprise.
Now, I had not expected the quiet solitude of a modern cruise ship but was a bit startled by the amount of vibration and engine noise aboard. Our cabin was aft on the third deck and, even at the dock, the vibration and noise of the generators were constant and unsettling … if you consider this voyage, choose a cabin as far forward as possible. When the engines start-up for sailing one definitely knows it, but this should be expected aboard a motorized vessel. Fortunately, most sailing is done during the day.
A cruise review would not be complete without comments on the cuisine. It can best be described as interesting, nourishing, and in adequate quantities but definitely not high cuisine. The desserts were generally quite good, Egyptian wine of a quality below supermarket box wine.
A comment on the demographics is necessary. Now, I am a holder of a Medicare card and, therefore, not a youngster. I am unaware whether our voyage was an anomaly but, originally being the travel arm of AARP, GCT seems to attract the older crowd. We were in the estimated youngest quartile of our voyage. Although the trip write-up includes cautions to those with mobility problems, many of the passengers had problems aboard (no elevators) and on the uneven and sometimes hilly conditions ashore. To be fair, there was very little grumbling and it is gratifying to see some of these game individuals giving it their best for a chance to see these wonders of the ancient world. They were, in fact, truly amazing wonders that have lasted upwards of 5,000 years.
At Luxor and on a sailing and overnight to Quena the Luxor temple, valley of the Kings & Queens, Karnak temple, and an optional tour to Dendera were the featured events. All of them were spectacular, as was the optional hot air balloon ride for an aerial view of some of the sites at Luxor.
The voyage continued with a sailing to Esna, Edfu, and Kom Ombo. Temples at Edfu and Kom Ombo were featured, the latter an unusual visit in the evening where the lighted temple was quite dramatic.
The final leg was the sailing to Aswan. The events included a felucca ride, a visit to the high dam, and the Philae temple, which was relocated from the rising waters of the dam to an island. The final excursion was an optional to Abu Simbel, the epic scale temples for Ramses II and his wife that were similarly relocated from the rising waters.
One would suspect that getting "templed-out" would be a problem, but this was not true. Our remarkable PD/Egyptologist, Ihab, provided the story and purpose of each as described in the hieroglyphics, architecture, and relics that made each one fascinating and unique.
To conclude, we have been on cruises where the ship is the destination and others where the ship is the method of transportation. GCT Ancient Egypt and the Nile was of the latter type and, in our opinion, was the best decision to see the "wonders of Egypt".