Background: We are a professional couple...mid 40's. This was his first river cruise and her 2nd, both with Uniworld. We've previously sailed on many ocean cruises, mostly with Princess. We consider ourselves somewhat well-traveled with usually at least one trip out of the country each year.
Pre/Post-Cruise Travel: We arranged our own round trip air travel to Cairo on Air France. We booked their Premium Voyageur cabin both ways. This is a three row section between regular coach (Voyageur) class and business (Affaires) class. It provides increased leg room and seat width over coach as well as the same amenity kit and upgraded blankets/pillows as business class. Also, drinks are free in this section but the meals are the same as coach. The shell seats are nice for the fact that the person in front of you cannot recline their seat into your space. However, the seats could use some additional padding and they were not comfortable for sleeping. Both flights were on time and we had no problem transferring at Paris-Charles De Gaulle with a 2 hour layover. We flew in a day early as a precaution against any flight issues and to give ourselves an extra day to adjust to the time change. We booked the extra night at the hotel through Uniworld to ensure that we would be met by a Uniworld representative and transferred to the hotel. Even though it was a significant cost premium over booking the extra night with the hotel directly, we're glad we did it. Our Uniworld representative, Ehab, was extremely helpful when Air France lost one of our bags. He handled all the communication with the Air France representative at the airport and provided them with all of our information so that they could deliver the bag to our hotel (which they did the next day). The return trip was not as smooth. Air France downgraded us on the first leg of the return due to the cabin crew strike. Although they compensated us with a 100 euro voucher, we were not happy sitting in coach when we had paid for a premium cabin. In addition, they broke the lock and zipper on one of our checked bags. It will probably be a while before we fly Air France again.
Pre/Post-Cruise Stay: We stayed at the Cairo Marriott Hotel and Omar Khayyam Casino. Uniworld offered us an upgrade to the Four Seasons about 4 months before leaving for a fee. After researching the two hotels, we decided that the change in hotels was not worth the amount they were asking. After talking with a few from our group who paid for the upgrade, we're glad we stayed in the Marriott. They visited our hotel the first day of the tour and said they wished they had saved the money and just kept the Marriott. I believe this will not be a choice going forward because Uniworld has changed the future itinerary to use the Four Seasons exclusively. The Marriott was a very nice hotel. I won't go into a lot of detail here because there are many reviews for the hotel itself on TripAdvisor. The rooms were just average but the grounds were very beautiful, the pool area was very relaxing, and we didn't get sick from any of the restaurants we ate at.
General Logistics: Uniworld did a fantastic job with all the logistics involved with this type of tour. The first two nights were in the hotel. Then, on the morning of the third day we flew from Cairo to Luxor where we embarked our ship. After seven nights aboard the River Tosca, we flew back to Cairo for the last two nights back at the hotel. We also did the optional tour to Abu Simbel which required a round trip flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel. All transfers, check-ins, flights, etc. went flawlessly. I don't know how much of that was due to Uniworld's experience and how much was due to the very low numbers of tourists visiting Egypt right now, but either way we were extremely impressed with their handling of all these arrangements.
Embarkation: We learned during the trip that only 35 of approximately 400 licensed ships were operating and that most were far from full. Our ship has a capacity of 84 passengers but there were only 20 or so guests onboard at any given time. The embarkation process was very simple since we had a small group and we were already travelling together from the hotel. We all arrived at the ship at the same time and were offered a welcome drink while we were provided some brief information about the ship by our Hotel Manager, Sam. We were then given our room keys and asked if we had traveled with Uniworld previously so they could note which guests are members of the River Heritage Club. We were shown to our rooms where our luggage had already been delivered while we were touring Karnak Temple that morning. The entire process was very smooth and they used the information about previous travel to deliver a tote bag, invitations to a cocktail party, and information about free laundry service for past guests.
Ship Info: The ship is beautiful as expected. Common areas are tastefully decorated and the lobby and lounge have a distinctly Egyptian theme.
Stateroom -â€“ We booked a category 2 room on the 2nd deck. All rooms have French balconies but the category 1 & 2 rooms are slightly larger than the category 3 & 4 rooms. It was nice to have the large sliding door that could be opened for fresh air and stunning views while sailing up and down the river. The room was quite large compared to both ocean cruise staterooms and previous Uniworld experience in Europe. There was a lot of storage space for clothing and the luggage was able to fit nicely under the bed. The bathroom was quite large and included a separate shower and tub and a bidet. The bed was comfortable and we had no issues sleeping once we were fully recovered from the jet lag. There was a refrigerator on one side of the closet and a large safe box on the other. Two bottles of water were provided in the stateroom each night as well as on many tours. We had no shortage of water for drinking, brushing teeth, etc. The chairs were very comfortable...great for sitting and watching the scenery pass slowly by through the sliding door. The power outlets are 220V with European style receptacles so you'll need to bring an adapter to plug in any US plugs and a power converter for anything that must use 110V power without a built-in converter (e.g. curling irons, etc.)
Dining -â€“ Breakfast was included every day. Lunch and dinner were on your own at the hotel but included on the ship. Breakfast and lunch on the ship were buffet style and dinner was a la carte. While food is very subjective, we found all of the meals on the ship to be very good to exceptional. Like most buffets, it was difficult to maintain the temperature of the dishes sometimes but overall, the buffets were far superior to what we are used to. The a la carte dinners were excellent both in variety and preparation. Prior to the trip, we had read many warnings about mummy tummy. While many in our group did experience bouts of this, we escaped without any symptoms. It is difficult to say why we didn't get sick. At the beginning of the trip, we did avoid many of the things that we were recommended to avoid such as raw vegetables and fruits. But, by the end of the trip, we were eating just about anything they served on the ship. The only difference that we know of is that we took probiotics for two weeks prior to departure and continued them through the trip. Maybe this helped. Of course, we did not drink the water at the hotel or on the ship but we did take ice in our drinks on the ship (not at the hotel).
Service -â€“ The service onboard River Tosca was exceptional. Again, this may be due to the fact that the ship was only at about 25% occupancy, but our experience with the crew was fantastic. Every crew member was friendly and helpful. They went out of their way to ensure every guest was happy.
Nighttime Entertainment -â€“ Overall, the night time entertainment was good. You don't really go on a trip like this for the onboard entertainment. The sights are the attraction. In fact, most nights everyone is in bed by 10 pm because of the early morning wake up calls for tours. Even so, Uniworld does try to offer some cultural activities at night. One night there was a whirling dervish and belly dancer show. Another night, there was a Nubian show. And, there were galabeya parties on two separate evenings, where everyone dresses up in Egyptian clothing and dances to Egyptian music. The whirling dervish was fun to watch if you've never seen it before. The belly dancer, however, left a lot to be desired. The Nubian show was fun with good music and dancing.
Spa -â€“ River Tosca has a small spa on deck 3 with two treatment rooms and one masseur. They offered basic treatments and massages for a good price. A basic 50 minute massage was offered for about $50 US. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to take advantage of the services because of the busy schedule. However, we did get involved in a yoga stretching class on the top deck one evening that included some interesting instruction on Thai massage. Talk about an interesting way to get to know your fellow cruisers. Based on this limited experience, we're pretty sure the massage would have been worth the cost.
Tours: This is really what this trip is all about. Visiting all the ancient sights and hearing all the interesting history that is preserved on the temple walls. This is why we go to Egypt! And, we were lucky enough to visit at the right time. Since tourism in Egypt is way down due to the revolution, none of the sights were crowded and in some cases, we couldn't believe how few people we had to share them with.
Day 1 -â€“ Arrived at hotel. No tours. Relaxed by pool.
Day 2 -â€“ We met our local Cairo guide, Mohamed, and our tour manager, Ahmed, at 8:00 am. After a brief orientation, we left for the Citadel of Salah al-Din and the Muhammad Ali Mosque (aka Alabaster Mosque). Be sure to dress conservatively for the mosque and wear socks if you don't want to pay $1 US for shoe covers before entering. We just removed our shoes and carried them with us, but others utilized the covers. After leaving the mosque, we visited the famed Egyptian Museum. After a 1 hour guided tour from Ahmed, we were allowed 2 hours to wander around the exhibits on our own. Unfortunately, they do not allow cameras inside so you can't get any pictures of King Tut's mask. And, since the revolution, they have closed the museum store so if you want any pictures/books of the artifacts, you'll have to watch for them at the other sights or check out the ship's store. Still it was one of the most interesting visits of the trip. We paid 100 LE (~$17 US) per person to enter the Royal Mummy exhibit with a total of 22 mummies on display. We felt it was worth the extra cost. It was very interesting to see the progression of techniques from the oldest mummies to the later ones. We returned to the hotel at 2:30 pm and the rest of the day was free time.
Day 3 -â€“ We left the Marriott at 5:00 am for a 45 minute flight to Luxor at 7:15 am. After landing in Luxor, we went straight to Karnak Temple where Ahmed led a 1 hr guided tour and then left us for 45 minutes to explore on our own. This temple is very large but the most interesting section runs from the main entrance back to the Holy Lake. From there, it was about a 15 minute bus ride to the River Tosca. That night, we purchased our galabeya outfits for the parties later in the cruise. We paid $20 US for his and $30 US for hers complete.
Day 4 -â€“ We left at 7:00 am for the 1 Â½ hour drive to Dendera. This is the longest stretch on the bus. This temple was very interesting. It is extremely well preserved. The ceiling is partially restored to remove the soot that has built up over centuries of open fires as people have used the temple for shelter while traveling up and down the Nile. The colors are very vibrant. We were able to ascend the stairs to the roof and take in the view. This temple also has a very interesting relief of Cleopatra and her son, Caesarian, on the outside. This is the only image of Cleopatra in all of the temples we visited. This temple also had a small crypt underneath that we were able to enter to view some colored reliefs up close. Beware that if you plan to descend into the crypt, you will need to squeeze through a tight space at the bottom so it is not recommended for those with a bad back or bad knees. And, you will be expected to tip the man at the top of the steps who will help you in and out. At 4:00 pm, we walked to the Temple of Luxor. It is known by the locals as the three churches temple because it contains an ancient Egyptian temple, an old inactive Christian church, and an active mosque. Most temples were visited in the morning so it was nice to see a beautiful sunset at the Luxor temple. On the way back to the ship, we stopped at a Papyrus gallery for a quick demonstration of the process and some shopping time. The sales pressure was a bit strong here, but not overbearing. We purchased a 5"X7" hand painted picture of King Tut's mask on papyrus for 200 LE (~$34 US).
Day 5 -â€“ We left the ship at 7:00 am to go the Valley of the Kings. Again, no cameras allowed here but for about $3 US, you can buy a set of photos from inside several of the tombs. The Uniworld package includes admission to 3 tombs of your choice (out of the ones that are open for visitation). Ahmed recommended the tombs of Ramses III, Ramses IV, and Ramses IX so those are the ones we visited. This is where the reduced crowds were really noticed for the first time. Ahmed mentioned that on past tours, his guests would have to wait 20 minutes to get into each tomb. We had no wait for any of the tombs and there were very few others inside with us. The tomb of Ramses IV still contains his original sarcophagus. The colors inside the tombs are very well preserved. For an additional 100LE (~$17 US), we also entered the tomb of King Tut which still holds his mummy which is exhibited in a glass case for viewing. The tomb itself is quite small with only a portion of three walls painted because he died so young. Even so, we are glad we went in if for no other reason than to say we've been inside King Tut's tomb and seen his mummy. Then we visited the funerary temple of the only queen to be entombed in the Valley of the Kings, Queen Hatshepsut. It has been remarkably restored by a group of Polish archeologists. On the way back to the ship, we had another shopping stop at an alabaster workshop and a quick photo stop at the Colossi of Memnon, two massive statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III standing 60 feet high and weighing 400 tons each. Impressive, to say the least.
Day 6 -â€“ We opened the curtains on our large window and were welcomed with an amazing view of Kom Ombo Temple just steps from our dock. We left at 7:00 am for the short walk over to the temple. This temple is interesting in that it is dedicated to the crocodile god, Sobek. The reliefs were quite different from what we had seen previously. After the usual guided tour from Ahmed, we decided to walk around the back wall during our free time. We're glad we did. There were several amazingly deep reliefs that were extremely impressive to see. On the way back to the ship, we decided to take a quick pit stop at the snake charmer and get a picture with two cobras, one around her neck and one standing up in front. Fun! Where else can you do something like that? If you decide to do it, don't let him press for too much baksheesh (tip). One 10 LE note is more than enough and even less if you don't sit and hold the snake. After everyone had returned, we sailed the short distance to Aswan. After arriving, we left to tour the unfinished obelisk at the granite quarry, the Aswan high dam, and Philae temple. At the granite quarry, it was interesting to see the process they used in ancient times to carve the massive blocks and break them free from the hillside. Although it did create the largest man-made lake in the world, the high dam was not so interesting but, luckily, we didn't spend much time there. We then took a small boat to the island of Agilqiyyah where the Philae temple was relocated after the construction of the high dam flooded its original location, the island of Philae. The most interesting thing about this temple is the incredible engineering/archeological feat of deconstruction and reconstruction in its new location.
Day 7 -â€“ We left the ship at 5:30 am for our optional tour to Abu Simbel. The flight was about Â½ hour and we traveled directly to the temple from the airport. Abu Simbel is in the far southern part of the country so even at this early time in the morning, it was very hot. It is another temple that was relocated due to the flooding caused by the construction of the high dam and it is even more impressive than Philae temple because it is built directly into the side of a mountain. If you visit, be sure to check out the little side rooms on the right near the front entrance. In one corner you can see where the reliefs were drawn on the wall but not yet carved. It is believed that all work on the temple just stopped when King Ramses II died. There is also a second temple that was relocated to this site. It is the temple for Queen Nefertari, one of the few temples ever built for a non-ruling queen. Although quite expensive ($295 US per person), we feel that this optional tour was worth the price. In the afternoon, we took a very serene trip to the Movenpick hotel via a traditional felucca sail boat. We enjoyed tea and cake on the 13th floor of the hotel's tower and took photos of the city and the amazing Egyptian sunset.
Day 8 -â€“ We left at 7:30 am for a 1 hour boat ride to a Nubian village. Along the way, we saw a lot of birds, water buffaloes, camels, donkeys, and other various wildlife. Upon arrival, we toured a traditional Nubian home, complete with crocodiles in a tank in the living room for good luck. On the way back out to the boat we were surrounded by children trying to sell Nubian dolls or just get a hand out. Very cute kids. Hard to resist. On the trip back, we stopped at a new hotel in the village for tea and cakes before disembarking in the city for a quick ride to another shopping stop, an essence factory. They had beautiful hand blown glass bottles and pure essence oils for all of the most popular fragrances and to treat a variety of ailments.
Day 9 -â€“ We left at 6:45 am for a tour of the Temple of Edfu. Since the revolution, Uniworld has been compelled to use local caleches (horses and buggies) to transport guests to the temple. Many people have commented on the poor condition of the buggies as well as the malnourishment of the horses and aggressiveness of the drivers. We consider ourselves lucky because the horse for our caleche, Mario, was small and skinny but not as noticeably malnourished as some others. Also, our driver was very nice allowing each of us to sit up front with him and drive the caleche for a portion of the trip. He was not overly pushy about a tip. That's not to say he didn't ask (several times), but after talking with others in our group, I think he was definitely on the less aggressive side of the scale. The temple is dedicated to the falcon god, Horus, so there are some very well preserved falcon statues at the entrance. Some of the excitement for the temples had worn off by this point but it was still interesting to see. Be aware that Edfu is one of the poorest places you will visit on this type of trip. You need to adjust your expectations and guard your belongings accordingly. A small container of over the counter medicines and a tube of Chapstick clipped onto a bag we were carrying were expertly removed without us knowing. Luckily, it was nothing important. Just beware.
Day 10 -â€“ We said our goodbyes to the River Tosca and her crew at 7:00 am for a 9:00 am flight back to Cairo. We had plenty of relaxation time in the afternoon before leaving for the Sound and Light show at the Pyramids at 5:30 pm. The bus ride was about 1 hour each way in Cairo traffic and the show lasted 50 minutes. It was interesting to hear the history while taking in these ancient icons. We arrived back at the hotel about 9:00 pm.
Day 11 -â€“ We left the hotel at 7:30 am to begin our tour of the Pyramids, Memphis, and Sakkara. We had four stops at the pyramids. First we stopped in an area called the panorama for great photos of all three pyramids and a 15 minute camel ride into the desert for photos ($10 US + $1 US for tip). Second, we went to the Small Pyramid where you can go inside if you want to (included in Uniworld tour). Be aware that the descent into the pyramid is quite steep with a very low ceiling so if you have knee or back problems or suffer from claustrophobia, you might want to skip this part of the tour. Third, we stopped between the 2nd Pyramid and Great Pyramid for more great photos and you can actually touch all three pyramids. Finally, we went to the Sphinx for amazing photos with the Great Pyramid in the background. After leaving the Pyramids area, we visited a cotton goods store for our final shopping stop of the trip. They had 100% Egyptian cotton bed sheets, shirts, table cloths, etc. We resisted the urge to buy this time but overall, we thought all of the shopping stops were appropriate and well selected by Uniworld. After the cotton shop, we stopped for lunch at an Egyptian barbecue restaurant ($13 US plus 15 LE for sodas or 30 LE for beer). Then, we were on our way to the ancient capital city of Memphis for a short visit to a small museum of artifacts uncovered in that area. The most impressive piece is a giant statue of Ramses II that is still in amazing condition even though it was found lying on the ground. They have left it the way it was found and built a building around it for viewing and to protect it. And finally, it was time to visit our last destination, the step pyramid of King Zoser in Sakarra. It was very interesting to see all of the smaller pyramids all over the desert and the Great Pyramids of Giza in the far distance.
Summary: This was a trip of a lifetime! It is still hard to believe we were actually there, that we actually saw and touched things that are so ancient. It's amazing to think that people were standing in those exact same places over 4500 years ago. Uniworld does an amazing job showing you these wonderful sights in style and luxury. We never felt unsafe and we were always comfortable with our Uniworld guide, Ahmed. We would not hesitate to recommend this itinerary to anyone considering a trip to Egypt to see these fantastic sights.
1. Vendors can be very aggressive. In most instances, a continual "no" as you keep walking will eventually work. But, in a few cases, we were forced to become less polite. In our experience, the best approach is to go in ready for the worst and don't let them get to you.
2. One LE is expected as tip in most public restrooms. If they demand more, simply refuse and offer just one LE as you walk out. One LE coins are difficult to get so try to get them as change where you can. You can also ask for change at a bank but in our experience, they will often say they do not have any. Also, you can ask your guide to get some coins and he may be able to get some at some of the sights.
3. Don't fall for the "free" gift routine that many vendors will try on you. Don't accept anything they offer for free. Eventually, they will chase you down and demand money. If you do end up holding one of these "free" gifts, either politely hand it back or, if they won't take it back, respectfully place it on the ground and walk away. Or, just carry it with you until they chase you down and then give it back.
4. People at the sights (including tourist police) will try to get you to take their picture or they will try to lead you somewhere to show you something special. Go ahead if you would like but be aware they are just trying to get a tip. If they show you something you find very interesting or if you really want a picture of them, go ahead and tip. Otherwise, ignore them and look at things at your own pace.
5. There is no WiFi on River Tosca. The only available internet access is via USB air card which may or may not work with your laptop. They do have laptops for use if you don't have a device that can hook up via air card (e.g. iPad) but reports from others in our group is that the internet is extremely slow no matter how you connect.
6. We had good cell phone signal everywhere we went. As long as you have international service, you should have no problem making calls or sending/receiving texts.
7. A good precaution against mummy tummy is to take a probiotic for two weeks before leaving and all during the trip. If you do get sick, Gatorade powder to be added to bottles of water can help with dehydration. Also, Antinal really seemed to help several people who got sick on our trip. From what I know, it is not available in the US, but they were able to have our guide go out and get it for them in any of the big cities in Egypt (Cairo, Luxor, Aswan).