I took the same trip that has been discussed at length in accompanying reviews of the Uniworld Nile October 12-28 cruise, only in my case it was the December 5-16 trip (7 nights on board Tosca). I considered the trip a wonderful marvel in ... Read More
I took the same trip that has been discussed at length in accompanying reviews of the Uniworld Nile October 12-28 cruise, only in my case it was the December 5-16 trip (7 nights on board Tosca). I considered the trip a wonderful marvel in nearly every way, and that it exceeded my expectations at almost every turn. There was only one significant (but not major) disappointment and many unexpected bonuses.
A splendid fellow met me at Cairo airport (I arrived by myself, meeting my cousin later that night at our Four Seasons Nile hotel after she arrived on a separate flight), whisked me through the visa station in nothing flat, then through baggage claim and passport control and onto my waiting van. I could not have asked for better help at that crucial first step into the country, which would really have intimidated me if I'd had to do it by myself. And I had a similar degree of assistance getting to the right place at the right time for my return flight 12 days later.
I found the River Tosca to be elegant and charming, with amazingly excellent food. Our group was tied for the largest of the season with the one before us, with 20 guests and an additional complement of 4 Norwegians who were traveling with their own guide and transportation, and with whom we had no interaction whatever. We were 6 Canadians, 2 Australians, and 12 Americans. Our guide was named Mohamed and he was absolutely superb: knowledgeable in the extreme, friendly, helpful, warm, genuine, and with a pleasant dry wit. And very easy to understand. Basically just about perfect! And with the Tosca's 40 cabins and a maximum occupancy of 82, we had plenty of room to spread out in.
I considered our cabin, 208, to be luxurious even though it was not one of the more expensive ones. There was a lot of space, the beds were comfortable, the appointments were all understated elegance as far as I was concerned, and the bathroom was enormous, with separate shower and bathtub. Nothing not to like!
Staff made it clear from the outset that if there was something we wanted that wasn't available, they would make it available. In addition to wonderful lunches with many options to choose from each day, a smaller light lunch was served on the top (outside) deck many days which was a pure delight. Live entertainment was provided in the sumptuous main lounge on several evenings, including folk dancers featuring an astonishing whirling dervish with lighted skirts that seemed at times about to take off into outer space like a spinning UFO. Other nights documentary films relating to our journey were screened.
We visited all the major highlights of Ancient Egypt as far as I was concerned (again, refer to full itinerary link, above, if interested). Everything was beautifully organized and because there are so few tourists there now, we never had to deal with long lines or dense crowds! There were a few busloads here and there of foreign tourists but mostly we just saw lots of schoolchildren at the historic sites, mainly primary schoolers, and even a troop of Egyptian Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts at the temple of Hatshepsut. They waved and shouted "Hello! Hello!" to us and giggled with delight when we waved and replied "Hello!" back.
A couple of things did not go as scheduled:
Because the river level was so low, we did not sail from Luxor to Dendera per our planned itinerary. The boat, we were told, could not dock there because of this. So instead we went by bus, a 90 minute drive in each direction. This was an unavoidable disappointment, but we saw an awful lot of the countryside during that ride and it was fascinating to ride through many towns and villages (all with armed checkpoints at both sides, of course) and the countryside with its farms and open spaces. I considered it almost an even tradeoff, although along with everyone else I felt it made it seem like we just didn't do that much actual cruising on the river.
Also, we did not go to Edfu as had been scheduled. Because some people on previous sailings had complained long and loud about the poor condition of the horses used to pull the carts up to the temple and back, now nobody can go. The politics of the local situation are such that if the travel company hired a car or van or bus to bypass the horse cart drivers, it would be like crossing a picket line during a strike and things would get ugly; this was the explanation given. Regardless of what you think about all that, it is presently the case; so the October sailing was the last one of the season to actually get to Edfu.
Instead they shunted us off to the nearby town of Esna and its temple. Now many have opined that the Edfu temple isn't all that big a deal, and I can easily imagine that to be the case. However, it is considered a highlight of ancient Egypt due to the state of its preservation, if nothing else, and nobody tries to say the Esna temple is in the same class. I regarded it not so much as an alternative to Edfu but rather as a consolation prize, and I said so to Mohamed. Perhaps, not having seen Edfu to make a comparison, this was unfair; but they had to take us somewhere, and Esna was nearby. Its temple has some unusual columns and nicely preserved colors inside, but its main distinguishing feature in my memory was the tremendous number of pigeons roosting on its exterior and the metal nets they've wrapped around the building to keep them from fouling the interior as well.
We also got to spend time walking around through the town, which was interesting if not particularly pleasant. A quick stop at the Coptic Christian church in Esna was really the highlight of that visit for me. Some in our group really enjoyed the town, making the point that it was a more authentic experience of how ordinary Egyptians really live than our brief visit to the Nubian village home of someone whose residence was a tourist showcase.
Fair enough, but we saw a good deal of the rest of that Nubian village, too; which was perfectly authentic and perhaps more charming if only because of its rustic nature. A half dozen or so of our group climbed up on the roof of the little river launch which had taken us there that afternoon to revel in the cool evening breeze and glorious Nile sunset on our peaceful return to central Aswan where the Tosca was docked, making it one of the standout experiences of the journey not connected with the iconic antiquities that were the trip's main focus.
In conclusion the trip in its entirety was a fantastically wonderful experience, unavoidably tinged by sorrow over the state of the Egyptian tourist industry in particular, and tension over the security of the whole country generally. But in hard-nosed practical terms, this is the time to go and get a great value, without all the crowds of happier times past, and each and every tourist who actually shows up is treated almost as a visiting dignitary. 5 stars for Uniworld, our splendid guide Mohamed, the River Tosca, and all who sailed within her.
A weather-related postscript: Some of the October sailing people mentioned uncomfortably high temperatures at some locations. In early December our nights were almost uniformly in the low to mid 60s, days in the 70s. We had bright sun and clear blue skies the whole time except for the briefest of showers one evening at Aswan and a heavy thick fog our last morning in Cairo following 2 days of heavy rain before we got there, which was highly unusual for this time of year. Temperatures were somewhat warmer as we moved south, but in fact I only wore my shorts one day of the entire trip.
A mobility-related postscript: There is no elevator on the River Tosca, and the places we went would never be certified ADA compliant. Nevertheless there were a few members in our group using canes and/or walking sticks, who had recently received knee replacements or in one case suffered from acute arthritis, who muddled through successfully at every site we visited. You have to know your limits, but you don't have to be an athlete to get the most out of this itinerary. Read Less