When I found out I was going to Egypt in early 2011, I had no idea what to do during my visit. One thing I kept being told was a ‘must do’ was a cruise down (or up) the Nile. So, always being a doer of the “most dos,” I signed myself up for a four day/three night cruise up the Nile from Aswan up to Luxor on the MS Beau Soliel, one of the many large river boats.
I’ve already written about the famous historical (indeed Ancient) sites you will see on a Nile cruise, but now its time to get down to brass tacks. What its really like embark on a journey down the world’s longest river on a floating geriatric ward. (I kid…but seriously lots of old people).
(Side note, I wanted to double check that the Nile was in face the world’s longest river. In the process of typing in “World’s Longest River” google suggested that I might actually be looking for the “World’s Loneliest Whale.” So apparently that’s a thing)
The first thing I didn’t realize when I had originally decided on a Nile cruise was that the boats were more like giant floating hotels than organized cruises. The boat itself was responsible for food and lodging. Everything else had to be organized through another tour company that contracted with the ship. Like most boats, the Beau Soliel was on a never ending circuit between the two cities with scheduled stops at site seeing spots along the way. Passengers got on and off at different times depending on their tour schedules. Being a female traveling alone, I had decided to coordinate with a tour company. I’m not usually into organized tours but it seemed like the safest option for this trip.
The first thing to keep in mind when booking a Nile cruise is that everything is negotiable. One thing that is for sure is there will be people on your boat who paid more and people who paid less. The fees are pretty much on the whim of the tour organizers. My package included airport transfers, flights, extra nights in Aswan and Luxor, the cruise, as well as guided yours of the relevant sites. I asked to add a trip to Abu Simmel and was quoted at $150. I told them I would pay $60 and they accepted it no questions asked. Moral of the story is to bargain.
Don’t worry about departure dates and tour lengths that are on a company’s site. Trust me, they can find you a boat that leaves on any day and sails for any length of time. Several passengers on my boat were taking the boat from Aswan to Luxor and back again just to enjoy being on the river for three more days.
I checked into the ship at around noon the next day. It quickly became obvious that I was by far one of the youngest passengers on this journey, but I wasn’t going to let that deter me. After a week of fog and drizzle in Cairo, I was beyond excited to grab a book, a beer and a deck chair to soak up some sun.
The boat was made of up five decks. The entrance was on the second deck was a lobby with the reception desk. There was also a lounge/bar area where the nightly entertainment took place. Entertainment included dancing performances and chances to dress up like ancient Egyptians. The bottom deck contained the dining hall and the third and fourth decks contained the passenger rooms and a couple of small shops. The deck on the top of the boat, which was my personal favorite, had a shallow pool, a hot tub and a bar as well as some snazzy faux grass. Unfortunately the hot tub never worked once and the crew didn’t seem overly concerned by this issue.
Meals were served on the ship three times a day. Dinner wasn’t served until 8 pm so I had plenty of time to read and sip my super overpriced beer. Guests weren’t allowed to bring outside drinks onto the boat (I later found out that rule was widely disregarded). Since I was traveling alone, I was assigned a seat with another single traveler – a 60 year old man from the UK. There were another group of travelers my age who seemed oddly distant the first two days. When we later ended up hanging out I found out it was because they had assumed my assigned dinner partner was my sugar daddy.
My cabin was located at the end of the ship by the motor which gave my room a slight rumbling noise throughout the trip. Although some of the cabins had large windows that opened up to a small balcony, my room had only a normal window and double beds. There was also a small bathroom, TV, and mini fridge. The room also came specially equipped with towel animals that wore my sunglasses even at night (because the sun never sets on a badass towel swan).
What surprised me the most, was how little the boat actually moved. Most of the time was spent docked at one of the ports visiting the sites. Between stops the ship probably was “at sea” for around 3 to 4 hours. Although the Nile views were amazing during the time spent cruising, we were usually docked side by side between other boats meaning that my ‘view’ was usually some else’s room. In the picture below, you can see how the ships dock side to side while at one of the schedule stops.
But for a few hours a day I could sit on a deck chair, wrapped in a towel and sip a cold beer as I watch the Nile banks float by – it was unreal.
The basic daily schedule was to wake up at around 7 or 7:30, get breakfast, and then head out for the morning tour. Some of the temples were located just off the dock so the visit last no longer than an hour. One stop required a horse and buggy ride to reach the ruins. After a morning of touring, I would head back to the boat to eat lunch and shower (you get pretty hot and dusty at thousand year old ruins). After lunch I would head off the boat to do some quick shopping and poking around before I headed up to my favorite deck chair to watch the scenery when the boat started its journey.
Although Egypt was certainly manageable during the day as a solo traveler, I did attract a lot of unwanted male attention. One common tactic was to tell me that they worked on the boat I was staying on (which they had no way of knowing which one I was on). I’m not sure why they thought that would make me more likely to hang out with them, but it was easy enough to smile and claim I was “meeting my husband/friends/parents across the street.”