Nile Cruise – What to Expect
Ever since Agatha Christie put her famous detective Hercule Poirot aboard the steamship Karnak in Death on the Nile in 1937, a Nile cruise has been an integral part of almost all Egyptian journeys.
While it’s unlikely anyone will be murdered on your Nile cruise, there is still more than enough that is exotic, arcane and at times outright ridiculous, to make sure that the trip from Aswan to Luxor is a must-do part of your itinerary. Come along with us on the Radamis II and I’ll tell you why.
Our trip to Egypt was organized by Canadian travel company Adventures Abroad and after stops in Cairo, Alexandria and Aswan, the next part of the tour was a three day Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor. Three day cruise is a bit of a misnomer because there is actually only two days of sailing with a one night stop in Edfu. The other two nights are on board at Aswan and Luxor. Pretty well all the boats that make the Aswan to Luxor run follow the same schedule and as we found out that can lead to chaos at the Kom Ombo and Edfu, but more on that later. Tourists who just book a Nile cruise package as a stand alone trip will get a tour of the major sites around Aswan and Luxor as part of the itinerary. With Adventures Abroad we visited these sites, as well as Kom Ombo and Edfu, with our amazing Egyptian guide Ahmed Hashem and veteran tour director Martin Charlton. We were a much smaller group than those who were taking the cruise ship tours.
For some reason I seem to be progressively advancing to larger and larger vessels as I get older. I’ve gone from kayak (one) to canoe (two) to Turkish gulet (eight) to Dutch barge (twelve) to Croatian motor yacht (twenty-two, but only four of us on board) and now to full blown river cruiser. The Radamis II has 75 cabins and can hold up to 150 passengers. By my standards it’s enormous, but compared to today’s floating city cruise ships, it’s just a baby. The Nile cruise ships are all seemingly built from one or two sets of blueprints as they pretty well all look the same. Here’s the Radamis II tied up at Luxor and as you can see it’s not going to win any beauty contests. However, it is rated as a 5-star ship by the Egyptian government and frankly, we had no complaints; in fact Alison and I got one of two best cabins on the boat.
The Radamis II has two upper decks for passengers as do most other Nile cruise ships. The top deck was occupied entirely by the Adventures Abroad group, a group of Chinese tourists and a smattering of Brits and Aussies. The lower deck was occupied almost exclusively by Egyptians, some in couples, but also many families, including multi-generation ones. I found it to be a very interesting mix of guests.
All of the top deck cabins were similar in size except for the two most forward ones which were considerably larger. I don’t know if it was the luck of the draw or what, but we got one of the two large forward suites. It might be because we’re Nova Scotians as the other suite was occupied by the only other Nova Scotians on the tour – you know we are such nice and deserving folks. That’s Alison outside the other couple’s suite. I’m sure you can appreciate that I didn’t want to swim out into the Nile to get a picture of ours.
None of the suites had balconies, but the next best thing was this small lounge area just outside our front door – the two forward suites were the only ones with an inside and outside entrance.
This is the interior of our suite which had a distinct sitting area, fridge and TV with BBC.
This is the bed, which was quite comfortable.
By small ship standards the bathroom was also quite spacious with hot water that worked, not a given on some ships in third world countries.
This is the outside deck with small swimming pool and hot tub, which we didn’t make use of.
However, the chaise lounges saw a lot of use by all groups and were a perfect place from which to watch life on the Nile or to catch a few rays or an afternoon nap.
I don’t know why, but I forgot to take any pictures of the restaurant or the bar/lounge areas. Suffice it to say that the food service was all buffet style and included a mix of different cuisines. Unfortunately some of the best looking items, like the fresh fruits and vegetables, were also the ones we had to avoid or else risk getting traveler’s diarrhea or worse. Ahmed came up with a system whereby he would inspect the items on the buffet and declare an item either good or very good. Good actually meant bad and very good meant just that.
The quality of the food was similar to the buffets we had experienced in the Egyptian hotels and there were always enough choices to satisfy most palates. The one thing I did learn very quickly was to get your desserts at the start of the buffet. The Egyptians make great desserts and the Egyptian people love them enough that the first thing they did when the buffet opened was to charge the dessert table and wipe it out.
You could buy beer and wine at the bar and take it to your table or your room. Prices were not unreasonable, but the wine selection was pretty slim.
OK, that’s the story of the Radamis II, now let’s get on with the cruising.
The Nile Cruise from Aswan to Edfu
As I’ve mentioned on previous posts, tourism in Egypt has declined drastically over the last few years, particularly among western tourists. Nowhere is this more evident than in the number of Nile cruise boats lying idle in Aswan and Luxor. For every active boat there were at least three or four tied up and going nowhere. That might make you think that the places you would visit on the cruise would be relatively uncrowded; unfortunately not so. The reason is that the active ships pretty well all leave Aswan at the same time and arrive at Kom Ombo and Edfu at the same time. At no time during our short cruise were there no other ships in sight, but that really wasn’t a big deal. It did not detract from what, for me, was the most interesting part of the trip and that was just observing the rural Egyptian way of life that in some ways has remained unchanged for thousands of years.
Here’s an example. This is a hieroglyph of a felucca that is thousands of years old and yet you can see the same boats, virtually unchanged in design, plying the waters of the Nile today.
Here’s another, a man riding a donkey with two cows in tow that no doubt are among his most valuable assets. Did he just buy them or is he going to market to sell them? Maybe he’s just moving them to a better pasture. These type of scenes are as old as the history of domestication and to me are as important to understanding the Egyptian way of life as the more vaunted monuments.
And another. Teams of two would work the river, one rowing and pulling a small net, the other beating the water with a long stick to scare the fish into the net. It’s a technique that at first seems ludicrous, but in reality has worked for thousands of years. It also looked like bloody hard work and dispelled any notions that Egyptians were not industrious.
So, even if you have no interest in visiting the temples at Kom Ombo and Edfu, there are still very good reasons for going on a Nile cruise.
By late afternoon the Radamis II arrived at Kom Ombo which was already aswarm with other boats discharging hundreds of people all headed to the same place – the Ptolemaic temple dedicated to Herwer and Sobek. You can see them in the background and that’s as close as we got as we decided not to fight the crowds and enjoy some quiet time on deck. You could actually hear a roar from the shouts of the hawkers, caleche drivers and others who rely on the decreasing number of tourists for their livelihood.
After those who did choose to go ashore returned, the Radamis II continued downriver to Edfu where we arrived after dark. On the way there was this gorgeous Nile sunset. When the sun got below the clouds in the west, its rays reflected off the underside of the clouds and then in turn seemed to refract onto the river giving it this almost purplish pink appearance that was truly beautiful. This picture does not do it justice.
We stayed on board for a latish supper followed by this appearance by a belly dancer. I apologize for the quality as it was taken from an iPhone in low light, and also, I was a bit … distracted shall we say.
And so ended our first day of cruising on the Nile. I’ll take up the Nile cruise again in my next post. In the meantime, here is a link to the Egypt photo gallery with over one hundred and fifty pics from this amazing trip.