When Will Cruises Return to Egypt?

February 8, 2011
(1:52 p.m. EST) -- Amid protests, curfews and government travel warnings, cruise calendars have been cleared of calls in Alexandria and Port Said (for Cairo), Safaga, and along the Nile River for the next month. Now, passengers booked on spring and summer cruises set to visit Egypt are pondering the fate of their upcoming sailings.

Over the next six months, big-ship and luxury lines including Royal Caribbean, Cunard, Seabourn, Azamara and Princess Cruises will call on Egyptian ports as part of Mediterranean and Red Sea cruises. Inland, river operators like Abercrombie & Kent, Avalon Waterways and Uniworld are set to offer Nile River cruises, which typically feature pre- and post-cruise hotel stays in Cairo. So what do you need to know about a cruise in Egypt at this point?

While most lines, including Princess, Louis Cruise Lines and P&O Cruises, would say only that it was too early to comment on spring and summer sailings, a handful offered insight into the decisions to cancel cruises and port visits -- and how they'll know when it's time to head back. (For a full run-down of the officially canceled cruises, click here.)

"We use State Department travel status as a starting point, then go beyond to obtain on-site information to validate," said Steve Born, vice president of marketing for the Globus family of brands, which operates Avalon Waterways and its Nile River cruises.

Because the situation in Egypt is so fluid, Born noted that Avalon's goal is to make announcements a month ahead of cruise/tour dates. "That gives us the opportunity to make an informed decision while allowing adequate time for customer and agent planning," he said. "Each week while the situation remains unsettled, we'll meet to determine if we will extend our cancellation schedule."

Abercrombie & Kent, an upscale river and land-based tour operator which has had offices in Egypt since 1985, is likewise keeping a close eye on the State Department's Travel Advisories and Warnings. "We're also looking at the lifting of the curfew, phone and Internet working [check], airport open and functioning normally [open and operating], tourism sites open with normal security [most are]," said spokeswoman Pamela Lassers. "Right now, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues are being restricted by the curfew, so that's the big issue for our guests." Lassers added that today's reports were positive -- "normal traffic jams have returned," she said with a chuckle -- and that the line is anxious to see the situation resolved.

Bruce Good, a spokesman for luxury line Seabourn, told Cruise Critic that it is actively "researching alternatives to calls in Egypt on the affected itineraries, but we have not made any decisions pending developments in the next months." Seabourn's Egypt calls are set to begin at the end of March.

As noted above, with the situation on the ground in flux, most lines were loath to offer concrete plans for upcoming visits. "As we're not scheduled to call in this region until May, at this time, we haven't canceled any calls," said Princess spokeswoman Karen Candy. "Any decision we make will be based on the security and safety of our passengers and the advice of our security team, as well as various officials and government entities," she added, echoing a common statement from the lines. In a press Q&A issued on February 5, Costa Cruises stated that it "will re-establish original itineraries with calls in Egypt and Tunisia only when relevant authorities confirm stability and security conditions have been restored." Royal Caribbean, NCL and Cunard did not respond to e-mail requests for comment.

Despite the slew of cruise and tour cancellations and uncertain future, not every Cruise Critic reader has kicked Egypt off their bucket lists -- but many have adopted the cruise industry's cautious, wait-and-see attitude.

In fact, a recent poll on the Cruise Critic message boards asked readers if they'd consider a trip to Egypt at this point.

Of the 250 respondents, those who had already planned to visit mostly said that they'll wait until the situation stabilizes. Some 55 percent said that the unrest hadn't deterred their future travel plans, it had merely postponed them. More specifically, close to 19 percent said that as soon as the State Department drops the travel warning, they'll be visiting the Pyramids. Abercrombie & Kent noted a similar sentiment coming from its impacted passengers. "Though the majority decided to postpone their trips until the current situation resolves itself, some have chosen alternate destinations, including East Africa and the Galapagos."

14 percent said that Egypt remained on their travel wish list, but other destinations had now bumped Egypt down a few spots. 11 percent said a visit to the country was never on their list.

You can vote in the poll and share your comments here.

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor