A 7.45am pick up awaited us on our 3rd morning in Hurghada for an exciting trip to join our boat for a Nile Cruise. What we hadn’t thought of however was researching the length of the trip (a quick Google maps search informed it was 4 hrs)……. Only the transfer bus we were on took 7 as we were one of the first to be picked up! We and a family of 4 Canadians were the only ones who spoke English but were stuck on a bus where the guide talked for hours in German. It wasn’t a fun experience and we felt like we would never get there but eventually arrived in Luxor to board our boat for the week, the MS Royal La Terrasse.
We were initially booked on another boat but were informed that it had been taken out of service and we would be on this boat which was an upgrade. As people who had never been on a cruise before we had no idea what to expect but we boarded with an open mind and were shown to our cabin which was a little dated but more than adequate for our needs.
Then it came to dinner time.. an interesting experience (more about that later). We had a chilled evening with some wine on the top deck and settled down for the night.
Day 1: Luxor
Early on the second day we set off on our first excursion of the trip, still in Luxor. We had an early start, 7am, and it was a 45 minute drive to our first destination of the day. We were placed in our tour group for the week which luckily for us was small with just us and the Canadian family we met on the way to the boat on the coach; Jan, Dwayne and their boys James and Chris. Our tour guide, Yousef, introduced himself and determined he would call us all ‘family’ from now on! The first stop was Valley of the Kings. When we arrived at the Valley, the first part involves looking at a model of the valley and then getting on a small electric bus which took us to the tombs.
Perhaps the most famous tomb in the Valley is King Tutankhamun, the only Royal Tomb to ever have been found complete and probably the most famous. The Tomb was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter and his excavators. A curse on the Tomb has been widespread since the discovery; stating that an evil spirit has punished those who have disturbed a sealed tomb and there have been several people who are alleged to have died since they have been there. It has mostly been dismissed as a myth with no real evidence. Taking advice from our guide we did not visit inside the tomb; not because of any curse but because it is apparently very overrated, an additional charge and the other free tombs were much more impressive. Instead, we stood outside!
We visited 2 other tombs however which were recommended to us. The first one we saw was Rameses III, one of the longest tombs in the Valley of the Kings, with side rooms.
The second tomb we visited belonged to Rameses I, founder of the 19th dynasty. The tomb was discovered in 1817 but remains somewhat unfinished. It is thought that Rameses only ruled for approximately 2 years before his son took over. The hieroglyphics within this tomb were really clear, colourful and well preserved.
After our trip to the Valley of the Kings we got back in the bus and stopped at an alabaster factory, clearly aimed at tourists with a little show put on by the workers which was quite amusing. Despite this clearly being a lure for tourists there was no pressure to buy but we were welcomed to look round. We then headed to the Temple of Hatshepsut. The temple is a mortuary built during the reign of Hatshepsut in the 18th dynasty. Consisting of 3 massive terraces it is considered to be a masterpiece of ancient architecture. I have to say it was pretty impressive!
The last stop of our tour today was The Collossi of Memnon; two massive statues of Pharoah Amenhotep, found in front of the ruined mortuary temple of Amenhotep III. The statues have stood since 1350bc and have greek and latin inscriptions. They were pretty imposing!
We returned back to the boat and set sail! a chilled evening on the boat with some dinner, a bit of a nap and some socialising whilst we sailed slowly overnight passing past the nile pumping station towards Edfu.
Day 2: Kom Ombo Temple
After a rather misty and murky start to the morning on the Nile we carried on sailing down river towards Aswan and docked next to Kom Ombo Temple at around 3pm. We departed shortly after with Yousuf to see not only the temple but a stuffed crocodile museum! The Kom Ombo Temple is a unique double temple dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile god and Horus, the falcon headed god. There are several depictions of Sobek and Horus throughout visible in the hieroglyphics. The crocodile museum was small and a little odd….
There were shops selling various goods and vendors trying to entice you to buy their goods. We learnt quickly to say a polite no and continue walking assertively away! We headed back to the boat for the evening enjoying the view from the top deck and a beautiful moonlit night.
Day 3: Aswan
It was an early start the next morning following an overnight sail to Aswan with a 6.30am wake up for breakfast before we headed out to the Aswan Dam, including Low Dam and High Dam. Leaving at 7.30am we drove for an hour and a half before reaching the dam and it was very hot! We were informed that it is illegal to photograph the actual dam for security reasons so we have pictures from either side. The dam is famous because its aim was to increase hydroelectric power and reduce flooding from the nile and increase agricultural output. The lower dam was completed in 1907 and the higher dam in in 1970.
The construction of the dam was controversial for many reasons; according to http://www.watertechnology.net it had been controversial right from its inception. The project was hit by financial controversies before its implementation when the US, the UK, and the World Bank backed out from their decision of partially funding the project.It created tension between various countries and contributed to the Cold War, when Egypt decided to fund the project by nationalising the Suez Canal. The project came through after the then Soviet Union funded part of the project. The dam also witnessed various oppositions due to environmental issues. The River Nile was the main source of providing silts required for irrigation along the course of the river. Issues concerning aquatic life were also raised.The dam’s site also submerged certain historical sites and caused the relocation of about 100,000 inhabitants.
After a short stop we moved on towards the Philea Temple. The temple is located on Agilkia island and so to access it we had a short boat ride from the marina across the water.
The Philea Temple Complex is located in the reservoir of the lower dam. Interestingly this was not its’ original location; it was located on Philae island however following the construction of the High Dam the temple was dismantled and moved to Agilkia Island following a campaign to preserve it as part of the UNESCO Nubia Campaign Project. The centre was Egypt’s ancient centre for the cult of ISIS and the Temples of Philae were idolised from the Pharaonic era through the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine periods. There is a rich history you can read more about here .
Our morning tour was nearly over; we headed back across the water to the marina but had one last stop before heading back to the boat; an essential oil factory. This was yet again another tourist trap but actually no real pressure. We did buy some essential oils for joint issues; not holding out for a miracle but you never know!
That night we had a traditional Nubian show in the bar which was an experience to say the least and ended up with lots of dancing It was quite interactive which was good and ended up with some pretty funky dance moves going on!
Day 4: Aswan, Kom Ombo and Edfu
Yesterday afternoon there was an optional cruise to visit a Nubian village; following our busy morning tour we decided against it and after feedback from others who did it we were glad. Instead, we agreed with Jan and Dwayne that we would go by ourselves early in the morning; it seemed doable, there was a boat across to Elephant Island and it is nice to have a look around independently. After breakfast and following some Google research we headed down the road and found the public ferry across to Elephantine Island. The jetty was right behind KFC and down some steps It was 5 egyptian pounds to cross (approximate 20p!). A very quick 5 minute ride and we were at Elephantine to explore the most accessible Nubian village.
There wasn’t too much going on; everything was closed and whilst it was worth a visit there were a lot of animals including goats wandering about. We made our way across the island where we were able to catch another small boat to reach the Aswan Botanical Garden, which we had read was worth a visit. There was noone at the quay but eventually someone came up and organised for us to have a return trip, including waiting for us whilst we looked around.
It was a lovely bit of calm away from the hustle and bustle of the city and had an amazing variety of fauna and flora as well as a great place for bird watching. Worth a visit in our opinion. We headed back to the boat and paid a little extra to be taken directly back to the jetty in Aswan before a short walk through the shops on our way back to the boat.
We set sail at 2.30pm heading back to Kom Ombo for an evening stop. We decided to get off for an hour and have a walk through the market at night. Unfortunately we couldn’t get back in the temple for the evening so we took a few pictures from the outside before heading back to the boat for our night time sailing to Edfu.
Day 5 – Temple of Esna
We docked in Esna for the morning and departed to visit the Temple of Esna. The temple is dedicated to the ram-headed deity Khnum the god of the source of the Nile, his wife Menhit and son Heka plus the goddess Neith the ancient goddess of war and weaving. It was an interesting place, constructed somewhere between 40AD and 250AD.
According to the writings on the walls the ancient egyptians had very strict rules to abide by when entering this temple. Attendees were expected to cut their fingernails and toenails, remove other body hair, wash their hands, dress in linen and have no sexual intercourse for several days. Luckily as visitors these rules did not apply to us! We headed back to the boat and set sail for Luxor where we would remain for the remainder of our cruise. We had some extra visitors by our boat tagging a lift and also had some interesting sales techniques including men in small boats throwing goods such as blankets up on deck and if you wanted it you threw down the money in the bag. It was amusing and I did buy a small rug.
That evening we had a belly dancing show in the lounge bar. This was really amusing especially for Chris who was subject to the attentions of the dancer and didn’t know where to look! Nigel spared his blushes also got up and had a dance with her.
The belly dancer was following by a spinning man, something we had seen before when we were in Dubai. It was a fun night and we had quite a few giggles.
Day 6 – Luxor & Karnak Temples
Our last full day and a very early start ensued with a 5.30am alarm call to head off to the Luxor temple arriving at 6.30. The good thing about going this early was that when we reached the temple we were the first people there and had the place mostly to ourselves. Luxor Temple is unique in the fact it is not dedicated to a specific god or deity but was thought to be the location of where many Pharoah’s were crowned, either in real life or virtually. It was an impressive complex and the Avenue of the Spinxes was one of my favourites. You can read more about the history of Luxor Temple here.
We hopped back into the bus to Karnak Temple. The Temple dates from around 2500BC to around 100AD and is the largest religious building ever made. The site covers 200 acres and was a place of pilgrimage for over 2000 years. The Egyptians believed that towards the end of annual agricultural cycle the gods and the earth became exhausted and required a fresh input of energy from the chaotic energy of the cosmos. To accomplish this magical regeneration the Opet festival was held yearly at Karnak and Luxor. It lasted for twenty-seven days and was also a celebration of the link between pharaoh and the god Amun. The procession began at Karnak and ended at Luxor Temple, one and a half miles (2.4 kilometres) to the south (Discovering Egypt)
We had one last stop before going back to the boat and that was to the Papyrus Gallery. We were shown how to make papyrus and also the opportunity to buy one if we wanted to. We bought one for the wall at home which is is luminescent at night or when light it shone on it.
Day 7 – Departure day
We were given the options of different excursions throughout the week available from our guide Yousef. One of the options was to visit Cairo. It wasn’t cheap and involved flying from Luxor to Cairo and then flying back into Hurghada the same day. We decided to do it because we were keen to see the pyramids and we weren’t likely to be back in Egypt any time soon. This resulted in a very early departure for us with a transfer to Luxor airport at 4am. You can read about our day trip to Cairo here.
Our thoughts on the week
What we liked
The food was really tasty and a good variety in each meal so there were no complaints about that. It was buffet style and so you could help yourself to whatever and however much you wanted. There were 3 courses available each sitting. There was a drinks package available which we didn’t take up and were glad we didn’t. We did buy some wine and some beer but our bar bill at the end of the week was nowhere near what we would have paid for just one of us with the drinks package.
The tip system was controversial for a lot of people; however it was pretty reasonable for the staff for the whole week. We were asked to pay $28 each at the beginning of the week when we boarded and that was it. The housekeeping was really good and we had different animals created every day in our cabin with the towels which always made us smile.
The boat was clean and generally well maintained; although I did have a piece of metal from the air conditioning unit land on my head one night; luckily no injury and it was attended to immediately. The staff were generally friendly and helpful.
The excursions and our guide were also a highlight. We did pay extra for the excursions package so we could see as much as possible. Our guide Yousef was extremely knowledgeable and very patient with our group who did have a tendency to wander off sometimes. He was always cheerful despite our sometimes grumpy early morning demeanours. We liked the fact the excursions were early morning to prevent being in the heat of the day and this often meant we were in places near enough by ourselves.
What we didn’t like
On the first night we went to the small dining room and sat down at a table for two. Unfortunately despite the emptiness of the dining room we were informed that for the entire week we had to sit with other English people. No offence to other English people but when on holiday we like to mix with different people of different cultures and nationalities; plus the fact it was our anniversary we wanted to sit just the two of us at a table together.
We were informed this was not possible as the table we sat at were for the 2 italians on the boat (who subsequently never showed up for dinner). As you can imagine we were not impressed by this but we sat with the English anyway and one was blatantly and quite openly racist which made for uncomfortable mealtimes. We spent the rest of the week trying to avoid the racist person and her husband by timing our meal sittings around them. The downside of a small boat is that you are with the same people for the entire time with no escape. We asked to sit with Jan, Dwayne and the boys but this was refused until the last night when the other people had departed.
The boat is a 4 star, 67 cabin cruise ship, first launched in 2008. It appears as if it’s had not any kind of refurbishment since then, with some of the decor looking a little tired by now. It could have done with a lick of paint thats for sure but it was clean which was the main thing. One thing to note is that the swimming pool on the top deck was so small it was more of a dip pool and be very cautious of walking on the astroturf on the top deck in the sun without sandals on as it burns!
There was also no lift which was problematic for me at times and limited the amount of moving around the ship for other people such as the one lovely gentleman Bill at our dinner table. He had to stay on the nearest floor to the dining room, still had to manage some stairs and only once managed to make it up to the top deck.
Another thing also be aware of is that although there is a reflective coating on the windows of the cabins meaning people from outside cannot see in, this only works at during the day. I discovered much to my embarrassment after coming out of the shower in the evening that you can see in with the lights on after some men on the dock were shouting and waving at me (cringe). In addition we did share our balcony with a brown widow spider who we affectionately called Bob. He kept out of our way and us his so no nasty bites ensued.
We were very glad we did the cruise and saw the amazing sights we did. Living on a river boat for a week can feel slightly claustrophobic, especially if you aren’t too fond of your fellow cruisemates however it is one to tick off our list and we saw some of the best historical sites in the world. We would not do it again but would recommend anyone considering it to do a shorter cruise of 5 days as you would see just as much with less sailing time. Our cruise was typical, Luxor to Aswan and back. A distance you could cover by car in around 3 hours each way, and only slightly longer if you use the most common form of transport in the area, a donkey and cart! For a world famous cruise itinerary, there isn’t much sailing involved, you don’t actually go that far. We were aboard around 24 hours before we first set sail, others had to wait 2 1/2 days! We definitely got a better deal than the Wednesday sailors.
The company of Jan, Dwayne, Chris and James who we spent most of the week with both during excursions and in the evenings certainly added hugely to the enjoyment of our cruise. They were lovely people who it was our great pleasure to meet and we hope to catch up with them again in the future when our schedules allow.
Carol & Nigel x