Ian Warren – 23-01-2011 – Presidential Nile Cruises - Nile Odyssey
Monday – Luxor
We arrived in Luxor airport late afternoon and were met in the arrivals hall by a rep from Longwood. He directed us to the bank booths where we needed to buy our entry visa. These cost $15 each but we paid with a £10 note each. We then had to wait about 45 minutes for our luggage, before we were led to a small mini bus. All the cases were stacked on the roof and the chaps who put them up there gave us our first experience of being asked for tips (baksheesh).
After a relatively short drive we arrived at the Nile Odyssey, and we were shown to our cabin which was 226 on the middle deck. The cabin wasn’t luxurious, but was more than adequate.
We then went to dinner which was waiter service; however there wasn’t a choice other than vegetarian. The food was quite nice though.
I noticed that there were a few children onboard. While most UK companies don’t accept children for Nile cruises, companies in other countries may well do. They weren’t a problem but it is worth bearing in mind if someone specifically doesn’t want to be on a boat with children.
That evening the entertainment was a belly dancer and we then had an early night as it had been a very long day.
Tuesday – Luxor
Breakfast was a buffet with a reasonable selection, and at 09.00 we went to the welcome meeting where we met Medhat, who was the Egyptologist who would be with our group all week. He explained that Baksheesh, or tipping, is a way of life in Egypt. To save problems with having to tip coach drivers and all the other people who would help us off the boat during the week, he collected 80 Egyptian pounds (c£10) per person, and then he took care of this for us. He always made a point of thanking the relevant person during the tours and handing over an envelope in front of us. Gratuities for those onboard were down to us, but the suggested amount was £2 -£3 per person per night (but paid in Egyptian pounds). This could be put in an envelope and placed in a box at reception, and would be shared out between all the staff on the boat. The handout also suggested that if you wanted to tip the Egyptologist the suggested amount was £2 per person per night, also paid in Egyptian pounds, and to be handed direct to him.
At 10.30 we left the ship for our first excursion which was to the Luxor museum. Medhat accompanied us on this trip, and all the other included excursions during the week. It isn’t a massive museum but was very well laid out, and Medhat had a knack of making things interesting. We were back on the boat at 12.50 for lunch at 13.00, which was a buffet with a big selection.
We were back on the coach at 14.30 for our visit to Karnak Temple, which was dedicated to Amun. We were amazed by the size of everything and apparently it was large enough to hold the Notre Dam de Paris.
Our next stop was a Papyrus ‘Museum’. Basically it was a shop selling Papyrus products and we were given a short demonstration of how Papyrus is produced.
At 17.45 we arrived at the Temple of Luxor, which was dedicated to the Theban triad of Amun, Tut and Chons. It was starting to get dark as we arrived and it looked very impressive with spotlights everywhere. It is quite amazing how much of the original carvings are still so clear.
There used to be a 3k long avenue joining the temples of Luxor and Karnak, but most of it has been covered by silt from the Nile floods over thousands of years, and has been built on. There is work going on to dig down and reinstate this avenue, with many houses and even some churches being demolished in the process.
We were back onboard at 18.45, giving us time to get ready for dinner at 20.00. This was followed at 21.30 by a much better belly dancer, and a whirling dervish.
Wednesday – Luxor to Edfu
We received a wake-up call at 05.30am and then had breakfast, as our excursion departed at 6.30. This morning we were visiting the Valley of the Kings on the West bank of the Nile. Temples were built on the East bank (where the sun rises) and tombs were situated on the West bank (where the sun sets).
Our first stop was just for 10 minutes at the Colossi of Memnon, which are two gigantic statues, 20 metres high which were cut out of single blocks of sandstone, and represent Pharaoh sat on his throne. As we looked into the sky we could see the hot air balloons slowly drifting towards the Valley of the Kings, having watched the sun rise. These trips are available as an optional extra, and cost approximately 1,390 Egyptian pounds for a couple.
We then arrived at the Valley of the Kings, and were taken on a small ‘land train’ up into the mountain. Medhat again gave us lots of information and our ticket allowed us to visit three of the tombs which are open. The only one not included in the entry price is that of Tutankhamen, and that would have been an extra 100 Egyptian pounds. We visited Ramses 4, Ramses 9 and Tutmoses 3. This last one had a large number of steps to climb up to get to the entrance, and then went deep into the mountain. The carvings and colours were spectacular though.
It is worth noting that the use of cameras or videos is prohibited everywhere within the Valley of the Kings. However, your guide can arrange for you to purchase a pack of 40 photos from the main tombs for 40 Egyptian pounds.
At about 09.30 we left and drove to an Alabaster shop. This was actually quite enjoyable as the staff gave a very funny demonstration, and we were then given mint tea to drink while we looked around.
We arrived at the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut (also known as Deir El-Bahari) at about 10.40, and again got on a ‘land train’ for a short ride. For me this was one of the most visually stunning of all the sites I visited, and consists of a number of vast terraces cut into the mountain.
At 12.30 we were back onboard, with lunch following at 13.00, and we then set sail at 14.00. Having just been a hotel for the last couple of days, the Nile Odyssey was now a boat again.
Afternoon tea (tea, coffee and a few cakes) was at 16.30, and it was nice to sit on deck and watch the wonderful scenery as we made our way along the Nile towards the lock at Esna. We also spent some time in the small shop trying on Galabeyas for the party night.
At 19.00 we arrived at the lock, and even in the pitch dark there were small rowing boats alongside with the locals trying to sell us rugs, Galabeyas etc, which they throw up onto the ship. The cocktail party was at 19.30 followed by dinner at 20.00. This evening’s entertainment was just one game of bingo, so it was another early night after a long day. The boat arrived in Edfu at some time after we had gone to bed.
Thursday – Edfu to Aswan
At 07.00 we had our early morning call, as we were leaving on an excursion to the Temple of Horus at 08.00.
Edfu’s main claim to fame in Egyptian history is that in this otherwise unimportant town, there is the best preserved temple in the whole of Egypt.
We were back onboard at 10.00 and set sail for Kom Ombo. We relaxed on deck in the sun until lunch at 13.00, having bought our Galabeyas. Afternoon tea was served at 16.00.
Our next excursion left at 16.30 and was to the Kom Ombo temple. This is situated less than 3 minutes walk from the boat, so was nice and easy. It is actually a double temple, with one dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile headed god of fertility and the other dedicated to Horus, the solar god of war. After the tour there was some free time to run the gauntlet of the street vendors, and Medhat took a few of us to visit a local coffee shop, which also had the Shisha (hubbly bubbly pipes). At 18.15 we set sail for Aswan.
At 20.00 it was time to go to the Egyptian Gala Buffet, dressed in our newly acquired Galabeyas and head-dresses. We had decided that we may well look silly, but would have looked even worse being the only ones not to have joined in. Dinner was followed by a party with music and ‘silly’ games, but it was a good laugh. We arrived in Aswan late at night.
Friday – Aswan
Wake-up call at 05.45 as we were leaving on our excursion at 06.45.
At 07.10 we boarded a small boat for the trip out to the island of Philae, to visit the temple dedicated to the goddess Isis. Following the construction of the old dam in 1904 this temple was under water for most of the year. After the construction of the high dam it was necessary to do something to preserve the temple, so it was dismantled stone by stone, and then re-built on a nearby island. The task took 10 years to complete, and if I hadn’t been told I would never have guessed that it had been moved, as it was one of the best temples we visited.We then had a short time to look around and buy souvenirs in the shops. This was great as they had set prices without being hassled by the vendors. It was then back on the boat to the mainland and on the coach at 09.00, for the short ride to an aromatherapy and perfumery store. We were given drinks and then a presentation on how they produce the aromatherapy oils which are used by perfumery houses all over the world. He invited people to name their favourite perfume, and they then passed around the relevant essential oil. We were told the names of the oils which corresponded with the main perfume brands, and given details of the prices. Quite a few people bought here as the value was apparently very good.
Back on the bus we went for a drive over the old dam and then onto the high dam. We were able to get out here for a look around and to take photos, but videoing is prohibited on both dams.
At 10.50 we were back on the bus and headed back to Aswan. We then went for a sail on a Felucca, which took us back to our boat at 12.20, ready for lunch at 12.30.
Some passengers left the boat now as they had only booked half the cruise, and were going to stop in Aswan or fly off to another destination. More people joined the ship for the cruise back to Luxor.
We had decided to have a relaxing afternoon, so went for a walk before returning and sitting on deck with a drink. For those who wanted to do something else there were a couple of optional excursions. The first was from 14.00 – 16.00 which included a city tour and a boat ride out to Kitchener Island, known as the ‘Botanical Garden’, and you also see a lot of bird life. The second, which was from 16.00 – 18.00 (so you could do both) took you around different parts of Aswan, then to the Nubian House Cafe, and then to a spice market. Both excursions cost 225 Egyptian pounds per person, and I was told that they were very good, especially the first one.
Dinner was at 20.00, followed by a Nubian show at 21.30. This consisted of some dancers and musicians, although the music was quite loud.
Saturday – Aswan to Edfu
No wake-up call for us today, as breakfast was being served until 09.00. We then spent the morning reading on deck.
For those who had booked to visit Abu Simbel there was no lay-in. They had a wake-up call at 03.30, grabbed a quick coffee, picked up their ‘packed breakfast’ and set off at 04.00. They were at the temples from just before 08.00 until 10.00 and then drove back again, arriving at the boat just after we went into lunch at 13.00. The general consensus of opinion was that they were very tired, but that it had been worth it. The cost was 790 Egyptian pounds per person.
At 13.45 we set sail for Kom Ombo, and we sat on deck and watched the passing scenery. Afternoon tea was at 16.00 and we then arrived at Kom Ombo at 16.30. As we had visited the Temple of Horus on Thursday we just went ashore for a short walk. The street vendors were out in force, but we didn’t succumb to them. The boat then sailed at 18.30.
Because there were new passengers onboard, there was another cocktail reception at 19.30, followed by bingo again. We arrived in Edfu late at night.
Sunday – Edfu to Luxor
No early call today and breakfast was 06.00 to 08.30, and at 09.30 we set sail from Edfu.
We had a ‘departure meeting’ at 12.00 when Medhat told us all about the details for leaving on the Monday. He advised that as the cabins we had weren’t needed until that night for new UK guests, we could keep them until midday.
Lunch was at 12.30, during which we arrived at Esna, and at 13.30 we set off for the short walk to the Temple of God Khnum. The only part of this temple left is the hall of columns, but the carvings are still in very good condition, even on the ceiling. It is thought that more of the temple is under the nearby houses so they may excavate for it in the future.
We left Edfu at 14.30 and headed for Luxor, going through the lock at around 16.30. It was interesting to watch on deck, as it had been dark the first time we went through it.
As new passengers joined at Aswan, we had another Egyptian buffet for dinner, followed by another Galabeya party. We joined in again as we already had the Galabeyas.
Monday – Luxor
Breakfast was served until 08.30, and we could keep the cabins until 12.00. After lunch the coach came to pick us up at 14.10 to go to the airport. The flight took off just before 18.00 and landed back at Gatwick some 5½ hours later, to be greeted by the pouring rain.
Overall we had a really enjoyable holiday, and in fact enjoyed it a lot more than we thought we would. There were a lot of temples to see but Medhat put everything across in such a good way, that by the end of the week we were picking up quite a bit of knowledge on Egyptian history and hieroglyphics. We talked to people in other groups, and they also found that their Egyptologists were very good.
There are well over 350 river cruise boats on the Nile, so there is plenty of choice. While we were there we also visited some other boats and found Royal Viking, Royal Ruby and Viking Princess to be very good quality.
Please bear in mind that even although you normally fly out on a Monday and board your boat; they don’t all sail on Wednesday afternoon. Some leave on Tuesday or Wednesday morning, meaning that the excursions can be done in a completely different order. However, over a 7 night cruise you will do more or less the same excursions.
Many of the prices shown above are in Egyptian pounds, and the exchange rate when we bought ours was about 8 Egyptian pounds to £1 sterling.