Uniworld’s Nile River cruise in early February 2017 was a wonderful 12 day experience. This trip included 4 nights in Cairo at the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel and 7 nights on Uniworld’s MS Tosca Nile River boat. The boat sailed from Luxor to Aswan so we had to fly round trip from Cairo to Luxor and back again. There were some optional tours offered – Alexandria for early arrivals, Abu Simbel for $300 US, Karnak Sound and Light show for $38US, and a Cairo Nile River dinner cruise for $73 US.
Now is an excellent time to do a Nile River cruise as Egypt has recently devalued its pound resulting in a favorable exchange rate for tourists; a trip in the early months of the year takes advantage of cooler temperatures (20-24 degrees C daytime with cooler early morning and evening temperatures); Egypt is safe for travelling in organized groups – even so tourist police accompany travelers; Uniworld offers an excellent busy itinerary using good English speaking Egyptologists; and MS Tosca, Uniworld’s river boat used exclusively by Uniworld, has excellent accommodation and food. No one got digestive problems on our trip. Additionally, if you like small group travel, now is the time to go as we only had 23 North Americans on our trip. The boat has accommodations for many more. There were several travellers in our group who had their tour dates changed in order to make a viable tour group for this departure date in February.
Uniworld delivered on its advertised itinerary with only a few changes. We were bussed from Luxor to see the temple at Dendera which was more interesting than sailing on the low river as I got to see the villages and people up close. Secondly, Esna Temple was substituted for Edfu Temple because the company did not like how the horse and carriage people treated their horses – a necessary transportation as walking to the temple from the dock was not an option. Thirdly, we made additional visits to local craft shops not included in the printed itinerary. These visits usually started with a demo about the making of the product followed by shopping time. Craft shops visited included a carpet making school, an alabaster shop, a papyrus shop, and a perfume essence shop. There were no guided tours of bazaars. Most of us were satisfied with the goods offered by the vendors in front of each attraction as well as the tourist souvenirs the ship had for sale in its gift shop.
The itinerary was a busy one with little free time on the boat – so it was a good use of our sightseeing time. From Cairo we were bussed to see the Egyptian Museum, the Mohammed Ali Mosque, the Giza pyramids, the sphinx, and solar boat museum; then on to Sakkarah to see the Zoser pyramid complex; next, to Memphis to see Ramses II statue and the alabaster sphinx. We also had an evening outing to the Giza pyramids to view the Sound and Light Show. We flew to Luxor on Egypt Air where we boarded the River Tosca. In Luxor we had a guided tour of Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple, and Dendera Temple. We visited the Valley of Kings to see 3-5 tombs, Hatshepsut’s temple, and a photostop at the Colossii. Next we sailed to Kom Ombo to see the temple and then sailed to Aswan for 2 nights. Here, we visited a Nubian village, sailed in a felucca to see the birdlife in the marshes and enjoy afternoon tea in the Old Cataract hotel, saw the High dam (a photostop), the Philae Temple complex, and the unfinished obelisk. We opted for the Egypt Air flight to Abu Simbel for a morning visit to the temple there and were back on the boat for lunch. On our return sail to Luxor we stopped at Esna to visit the temple. We returned to Cairo by air.
At each attraction we had 2 hours visiting time. The Egyptologist, Ahmed Taher, a young local man with excellent English and ability to talk interestingly about the reliefs, temple construction, the timeline of the pharaohs, the gods, used about 1 hour to point out interesting reliefs and then allowed us to roam around the sites for an additional 1 hour. This was a good balance for me. IMO, it would be an idea to do some pre-reading about ancient Egypt and the sights to be visited.
The temples were usually in a ruinous state with incomplete reliefs that no longer had any color or just spotty coloring. Even so it was amazing to see these reliefs which were usually large – 4-5 feet inside the temple walls and much larger on the outside pylons. It was also interesting to compare the relief drawings done at different times in ancient Egyptian history - from the time of the true earlier pharaohs to the more recent Greco-Roman pharaohs. The size of these temples and the huge slabs of stone that were used to construct them were also an amazing sight.
At the Valley of the Kings, we could choose which 3 tombs we wanted to visit as 3 tombs were included in the entry ticket. There was time to see at least 2 others, but these needed to be paid for from our pocket at the ticket window. Each tomb, depending on how long one lingered, took about 12 minutes to walk through. The tombs were well maintained with board walks, wide tunnels that were brightly lit (no crouching), and the hieroglyphics and images had good color. Usually there was a huge empty granite sarcophagus in the burial chamber. The walls were filled with images of the funeral procession, the gods that will provide protection in the afterlife, the offerings made, and the hieroglyphics are the prayers for the dead. The pharaohs expected to be resurrected and spend time in the heavens – their mummified remains view a starry filled sky – their destination.
The stop at the Giza pyramids allowed us to walk into the smallest pyramid (takes about 25 minutes with some crouching), a 30 minute camel ride ($20 US), a 20 minute visit to the solar museum (pay 110 LE out of one’s pocket for this optional visit), and some time to walk around the pyramids to closely examine their construction. Seeing the pyramids up close made me marvel at their construction using 4 foot tall stone blocks. The sphinx was a photostop as was its memorial temple – just slabs of stone and rectangular columns – nothing special. The Giza pyramids sound and light show was included in our itinerary. The 1 hour show starts at 7pm, is in English, and guests sit on plastic chairs. Sit on the far right hand side facing the Sphinx as that is where the “screen” for the show is. The show talks about the building of the Giza pyramids, the pharaohs who built them and why they built them. Evenings are cool in Cairo so dress warmly for this show.
Zoser’s step pyramid complex in Sakkara was a short stop. Here we also saw Unas’s pyramid and temple complex but not the Imhotep Museum. In Memphis we saw the prone remains of a huge broken statue of Ramses II and the smaller alabaster Sphinx.
Uniworld tends to use river docks outside of the central part of the village, the exception being Esna and Kom Ombo where we walked to the temples. Thus it was rather impossible to walk into town to see museums in Luxor and Aswan on one’s own. A greyhound type bus (good condition, comfy seats, toilet on board) was used to take passengers from the dock to the temples/attractions. We could safely leave our totebags on the bus while we went sightseeing. The driver was tipped on his last day with us in Luxor as he dropped us off at the airport at the rate of 3$ US per day.
Tipping expected for Tosca crew was $8-$10US per day and was paid when we left the ship in Luxor. The Egyptologist expected to receive $8-$10US per day as well and was paid the last day of the trip in Cairo. The company provides envelopes to place these tips in.
Uniworld has exclusive use of the MS Tosca. It has a dining room below the 2 decks for staterooms. The sundeck is located on the top deck with loungers and a small pool with cold water but looked inviting and clean. The sundeck was a great place to relax in the late afternoon before getting ready for dinner, but when the boat was sailing, it was rather cool and windy up there. The ship provided excellent accommodation and we had no complaints. The ship had a reputation with our Egyptologist as being one of the best ships on the Nile for accommodation and food.
The ship had a spacious lounge with many seating areas each with a coffee table holding lovely picture books of Egypt. Another small room held a few shelves of fiction paperback books; puzzles and games were included in this library area as well as a computer. Free wifi was available throughout the ship, but service did vary. The small gift shop was an alternative way to buy tourist souvenirs and the selection was great from T-shirts, traditional Egyptian folk dress, tote bags, statues, alabaster objects, gold jewelry. The owner had shops in Luxor and Aswan so could supply sizes, colors, and special jewelry orders.
The ships’s dining room was spacious with a variety of table sizes, but our small group used the tables set for 8. Breakfast and lunch were buffets while dinner, from 7pm-9pm, was a la carte with 4 courses offered. The buffet had pre-prepared hot/cold foods, but also a station where the chef prepared individual requests. There were lots of foods to select from ranging from different meats and vegetables a good variety of salads, and sliced fruits. Everything was delicious! Chicken breast, grilled salmon, and beef were available each night in case you didn’t like the entrees that were offered. Wines ran about 250 LE a bottle. Afternoon tea each day included delicious finger sandwiches often with smoked salmon or caviar as trim and plates of cookies and squares as well as sliced fruit. Service and food were excellent. As we left the ship for morning excursions, the ship manager even encouraged us to take along whole fruits to tide us over until lunch and bottled water was also offered. On our return from excursions, the welcoming crew offered our hands a squirt of sanitizer, a cold wash cloth, and a cold drink. Our welcome aboard the ship drink at the beginning of the cruise was a champagne cocktail. Other alcohol drinks available at the bar in the lounge had to be paid for. Dress throughout the ship was smart casual with women opting for trousers and tops and leaving at home dresses and high heels. Men didn’t wear jackets for dinner.
Fitness and Spa:
There was a masseuse along who provided massage services. He also looked after the fitness machines (a couple of bikes and walking machines). This fellow provided 1 keep fit session on the sundeck one morning while we were sailing. These services were not ones I used.
After dinner was over at 9pm, there was local entertainment for about 30 minutes. Singers, dancers, a whirling dervish entertained those who could still keep awake.
Embarkation and Disembarkation:
A Uniworld company representative met us as we exited the plane at Cairo airport. He accompanied us through immigration, baggage pickup, and passport control. We were glad we had purchased an Egyptian entry visa at home as we certainly did not want to stand in line for it after our long flight. We were the only couple to be transported to the hotel in the minivan, but upon leaving we had additional couples who also had early flight departures. Transfers went very smoothly with the representative dealing with overly assertive airport personnel. The airport is new and is a nice place to wait for departures. Buying food is not an option at the airport – dubious hygiene practices. Wash room attendants expect a tip so keep some small Egyptian bills for the airport. Know that the airport double checks its security of all passengers. That means removing not only outer jackets, but also belts, shoes, hats, jewelry, wallets, handbags, electricals, hand luggage, luggage to be checked in –all go into bins/the conveyor belt and pass through the X-ray machine. Then each passenger gets a full body frisk before picking up one’s belongings. A guard wanted to look inside my purse to examine the money I was leaving with. One guard had trouble reading my ticket/flight information. Thank goodness for the Uniworld rep who quickly sorted out these guards.
Uniworld uses the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel Nile Plaza in Cairo which was one reason I opted to use Uniworld. This hotel is centrally located to the Egypt Museum and the pyramids thus reducing travelling time. It also is located in a posh embassy area along the Nile with rooms offering excellent Nile River views both during the day and night time as well as the setting sun.
Our hotel room was clean, spacious, with comfy beds using crisp white linens and duvets; the bathroom was spa like with soap bars at every washing area and fluffy white towels. Terry cloth gowns and slippers added to the spa like touch. There was a safe, coffee/tea making facilities, complimentary bottled water, a small fridge for cold pop, and even adaptors for the appliances that didn’t fit the electrical plugs. The room had a large work desk, 2 desk chairs and a comfortable upholstered chair with ottoman. The flat screen TV had many channels offering programs in a variety of languages and a sheet provided this station information. The balcony was spacious and came with 2 comfortable chairs that had thick seated cushions.
The hotel had several elegant dining options at reasonable prices, but we chose to have Room Service deliver our dinners and only used their restaurant for magnificent buffet breakfasts which were included in our package. Breakfast boxes were handed out as a poor substitute for the buffet breakfast on our early morning departures to the airport. Dinner entrees for fish, beef, chicken, lamb arranged from 155 to 270 EGP. Room service was excellent and prompt (within 30 minutes)! Meals were wheeled in with a red rose bud in the vase and a table clad with a white tablecloth and cloth napkins. The food was hot being retrieved from a warming oven under the moveable table. Servings were generous. Even a bread basket was included on the table. We dined either on our balcony or beside the sliding glass door with views of twinkling lights out across the Nile. Room service dinners were an excellent option for tired travellers.
Another advantage of this hotel was that it had a small bank branch on its premises as well as 2 ATM machines for getting Egyptian money. IMO, it’s best to come with American dollars, GBP, or Euros in hand to exchange rather than using a bank card to withdraw money. The small bank, open from 11am -8pm, had a variety of lower bill denominations which were more useful than too many 200 EGP notes. Be prepared to offer a small tip (1 to 5EGP notes) to bathroom attendants at each stop on the trip.
This hotel also had a spacious pool area with inviting aqua colored water and loungers. A poolside grill restaurant was conveniently located here. Staff spoke English, were numerous, and very helpful.
The hotel used sniffer dogs to check incoming vehicles and every guest went through airport security type checks for bags at the entrance. This hotel was an oasis and I only wish we could have had more time to make better use of its facilities. I loved their multiple extravagant flower arrangements on the table facing the entrance – 4 dozen roses tied in one bunch which were repeated several times with different vases interspersed with other flowers! It was a wonderful Valentine display!
Uniworld has an excellent product with its Nile River Cruise. The itinerary was wonderful, the stateroom was comfortable with no issues, the food was varied, delicious, and timely, the service was outstanding, the Egyptologist was personable, informative, efficient and well organized. Do not hesitate to book a Nile River Cruise through Uniworld even though company representatives focus more on their European destinations at their presentations.
There were two floors for staterooms. One passenger who had a room on the third floor confided in me that she could hear footsteps when people walked on the sundeck above her room and sundeck furniture being pulled across the floor as well. I would not recommend the end rooms on the second floor close to the back of the ship where the noisy motor is.
Our room was in the middle of the second deck – 214. It was a perfect retreat after a busy day. The staterooms seem to be the same size and the ones I saw indicated similar furnishings and layouts were used. The staterooms were spacious, clean, bright, with comfy beds using thick mattresses and crisp white linen sheets and duvet with lots of pillows. The bathroom was spa like with a separate tiled narrow shower stall with a rain shower head and a tub with a hand held shower. Toiletries included shampoo, hand lotion, bars of soap. Towels were white and fluffy. Terry cloth gowns and slippers were nice to slip into after a shower. There was plenty of storage for clothes – drawers and a roomy closet – so the suitcase was stored under the bed the whole trip. In the closet area, a good sized safe was located as well as a small fridge. Bottle water was complimentary and was generously supplied. The outlets allowed American chargers and curling irons to be used without adapters. Tea and coffee were available 24 hours in the Reception area. Our room was very comfortable with no issues at all. There was a flat screen wall TV, but I didn't use it to see what programming was available. The daily program for the next day was printed out and placed on our bed during turn down service so we always knew the breakfast times, departure times, and the sights to be visited for the following day. Wake up calls could be arranged with the Reception desk.