(January 28, 6:15 p.m. EST) -- Cruise lines and tour operators continue to make itinerary changes as the security situation worsens in Egypt, during what is the peak season for Nile cruises. Two MSC ships, MSC Splendida and MSC Magnifica, were expected to call at Alexandria over the next few days, but they're being diverted. Magnifica will now call at Limassol, Cyprus, and Haifa, Israel, on Sunday and Monday, respectively. Splendida will call at Izmir, Turkey, on Monday. Likewise, NCL's Norwegian Jade was due to overnight in Alexandria on Sunday. It will now call at Istanbul. We've spoken to a number of river-cruise tour operators, including Discover Egypt, Avalon and Cosmos Tourama. All report that they're monitoring the situation. Cosmos Tourama is not offering its usual excursions to Cairo from Luxor and Aswan, keeping passengers instead in Upper Egypt, where there's less trouble. A spokesperson for Uniworld alerted Cruise Critic members on a board forum Friday afternoon that the line had reviewed then revamped its policy regarding the Egyptian unrest. According to the post, "Effective immediately, for those guests booked to travel with us to Egypt between now and February 28, 2011, we will allow them to cancel and re-book on any 2011 Uniworld program. The full value of the canceled booking will be applied toward the new booking." It said passengers must rebook by March 31, though it's unclear whether it has canceled the cruises outright.
Thomson Holidays has already canceled excursions to Cairo for its land-based holidaymakers. Thomson Cruises' Thomson Celebration is due to call in Port Sokhna (which is three hours from Cairo) on Sunday night/Monday morning and the cruise line tells us it has yet to make a decision on shore tours to Cairo and is monitoring the situation.
Riots and protests erupted today after the early-afternoon Muslim prayers, according to the BBC, with crowds clashing with police in Giza (the Cairo suburb where the pyramids are located), Suez, Alexandria and Aswan, all popular destinations with travellers on either river or ocean cruises. The Egyptian government cut off mobile phone networks and Internet services to slow the spread of calls for more violence, and curfews were imposed in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. These protests are occurring just a fortnight after similar outbreaks took place in Tunisia, causing cruise lines to cancel calls there. Late in the day Friday, the U.S. State Department posted a travel alert stating that Americans should "defer non-essential travel to Egypt at this time." Meanwhile, the U.K. Foreign Office has a notice on its site advising against "all but essential travel" to the area. It's important to remember that these demonstrations are not directed at tourists, but at the Egyptian government.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor