My wife and I are pretty well-traveled and in our late 60’s. This is our third Uniworld river cruise, with the other two taking place in Europe. For those who have traveled with Uniworld before, I’d rate their European cruises 5 (on a scale of 1-5, 5 being best) and Egypt 4. I hope the difference will become clear in the review. We had a wonderful time and felt safe everywhere.
Arrived in Cairo. Uniworld representative met us as we got off the plane and took us to claim our luggage. Fortunately we had obtained our visa before leaving home; otherwise we would have had to stand in a long line to purchase it before leaving the airport. Several other Uniworld guests arrived at the same time so we were escorted to the bus, luggage loaded and taken to the Four Seasons Hotel. Before the bus was allowed to enter the property, it was stopped and a bomb-sniffing dog walked around the bus. When we entered the hotel, we walked thru a metal detector and our carry-on bags went thru an x-ray machine. We checked-in and our luggage was delivered directly to our room. The room was excellent and overlooked the Nile. We ordered dinner from room service. The only meal at the hotel paid by Uniworld is breakfast. The free wi-fi at the hotel was excellent.
Following breakfast we had a meeting where we were given an overview of the cruise, introduced to the two Egyptologist (hereafter referred to as guide) who would be with us throughout the cruise, given our “whisper” listening device and given the opportunity to purchase several optional excursions.
The listening device allows you to hear your guide’s commentary even if you are fairly far away from him. It consists of a small transmitter that hangs around your neck and a pair of standard size ear buds. HINT: Bring your own ear buds so they are sized to your ears. The supplied ear buds come in one size and several people, myself included, felt they weren’t that comfortable. The devices differed from what we used in Europe in that they don’t need to be recharged each night.
The optional excursions:
Abu Simbel-$295 per person (Absolutely worth it even though it is an early-morning flight)
Luxor Sound & Light Show-$38 per person (We enjoyed it.)
Cairo dinner cruise-$73 per person (We didn’t do this excursion.)
Hot air balloon ride-$109 per person (I did it and it was wonderful even though you had to get up at 4 am)
Alexandria Excursion-$115 per person (Available to guests with extra nights booked. An all-day trip, about 3 hours driving time each way.) Uniworld dropped the ball on this excursion. We knew nothing about it until arriving in Cairo. Our plane reservations were booked so we couldn’t add an extra day. My understanding is that Uniworld works with Spring Tours, an Egyptian tour company, for this cruise and they handle the Alexandria excursion. It would have been nice to have known about this tour ahead of time so plane reservations could have been made accordingly.
Our tour group of 32 people (the majority of which were from the United States included four Canadians and one Australian) was divided into two groups, each with their own guide. The guide for our group of 14 was Mohamed Attia Abdalla and he was excellent. He had an excellent command of the English language, very patient, able to answer all of our questions, took wonderful care of our group and always pointed out the closest bathrooms. Both groups saw the same thing but not always at the same time and each group had their own bus. Again, the Uniworld difference shows. A group of 32 would have fit on one bus but Uniworld makes their groups smaller and uses two buses which gives you plenty of room to spread out and have your own seat.
We visited the Egyptian Museum, had lunch on our own at the Ritz-Carlton and then visited the Alabaster Mosque before arriving back at the hotel. We had dinner on our own in the hotel’s Chinese restaurant which was excellent.
We flew to Luxor. The airport security is very tight. You go thru two screenings, both with metal detectors, pat-downs and x-ray machines. Luckily your guide is with you to ease the process. In Luxor we visited the Temple of Karnak and boarded the River Tosca.
A morning visit to the Dendeara temple complex and an evening visit to Luxor Temple.
Early morning hot air balloon ride, Valley of the Kings and evening galabeya party onboard.
Visit Kom Ombo Temple, walk thru town, afternoon felucca ride and high tea at the Old Cataract Hotel.
Visit Aswan High Dam, Unfinished Obelisk and Philae Temple. Afternoon visit to Nubian village and evening Nubian show onboard.
Morning visit to Abu Simbel via a short flight.
Morning visit to Esna Temple and evening Luxor Sound and Light Show.
Fly back to Cairo, check into Four Season Hotel, evening Sound and Light Show at Pyramids of Giza.
Visit Memphis, lunch at Mensa House Hotel (on your own), Pyramids of Giza and Great Sphinx.
Transfer to Cairo International Airport for flight home.
The M/S River Tosca
This is a beautiful ship with a capacity of 82 passengers. On our cruise there were only 32 people so nothing ever felt crowded. When we boarded, Hotel Manager Sameh Mohamed gave a talk on the facilities on board and said that this ship was completely rebuilt to Uniworld’s standards and it shows. It is elegant but not as over-the-top as are some of their European ships. This was the most beautiful ship I saw on the Nile. I’ve never been on a ship with a cabin as large as we had. Plenty of storage space including a huge closet. Queen size bed was very comfortable. Two chairs, desk with chair. Bathroom included separate tub and shower. The ship has a large lounge area with chairs and sofas, a library, dining room with tables for six or eight as well as tables for two and a spa. The upper deck has a swimming pool, lounges, tables and chairs as well as a large shaded area. I would suggest getting a cabin on the starboard (right) side of the ship because the few times we were docked next to another ship, the starboard side was facing the Nile. The wi-fi was acceptable most of the time but I had my own hotspot which worked very well.
The provided bath products are Nefertari which is an Egyptian company. Some of the guests, my wife included, didn’t care for the shampoo as it contains olive oil. I can understand using an Egyptian company and supporting the local economy.
Alcohol is not included on this cruise but the cost of drinks on the ship is very reasonable. We had laundry done twice at no cost since we’re River Heritage members but the cost was very reasonable.
Every member of the crew was friendly and helpful and went out of their way to make sure everything ran smoothly as is the Uniworld way.
Breakfast and lunch was buffet while dinner offered choices from a menu. Breakfast included cereals, eggs cooked to order and other hot dishes but there are no menu choices as in Europe. Lunch included salads, several hot dishes and desserts. Dinner included choices of appetizers, main dishes and desserts. The food was well-prepared and delicious. Some differences from Europe: The orange juice at breakfast was not fresh-squeezed; it tasted more like Tang although it was well-mixed. There were fewer dinner menu choices than offered in Europe. In Europe, every dinner entrée was beautifully plated. On this cruise only a few entrees were plated that way.
Each evening you received a daily program listing the next day’s activities but there was no discussion about the next day’s activities during the cocktail hour as there is in Europe.
Suggestions for improvement:
Uniworld should inform you that the Alexandria excursion is available as an optional extra so plane reservations could be made accordingly. Tips should be included as they are in Europe. Upon our return to Cairo from Luxor, everyone had to wait about three hours in the smoke-filled lobby of the Four Seasons until our rooms were ready. Uniworld should arrange for a morning tour or a comfortable smoke-free conference room in which to wait.
In Egypt you tip everyone. Bring $100 in $1 bills for initial tips. At the Four Seasons, use the hotel ATM to withdraw Egyptian pounds. Go to the bank in the mall attached to the hotel and exchange the large bills for five pound Egyptian bills (you will need plenty of five pound bills to tip the bathroom attendants). You cannot exchange U.S. dollars for Egyptian pounds at the bank. The exchange rate is set by the government. Aboard ship you can exchange U.S. for Egyptian. Most street vendors will accept Egyptian or U.S. dollars. Credit cards, U.S. or Egyptian can be used for the hotel, extra-cost excursions and your shipboard bill.
We felt safe everywhere we went. One of our two buses carried an armed security guard and at every monument, airport and hotel we went thru at least one or more metal detectors. Police officers and military were visible everywhere and I think Egypt is doing its best to restore tourism. Everyone we met was friendly and happy to have us in their country.
I had the opportunity to experience Uniworld’s exceptional service. While stepping aboard a felucca I slipped and twisted my left leg. By the end of the sail my leg was extremely swollen. Our guide assisted me back to the ship and immediately had my leg checked to make sure nothing was broken and got ice on it right away. Hotel Manager Sameh arranged for a local doctor to come to my cabin that evening to check my leg. After an examination he gave me an injection for pain and several prescriptions. I stayed aboard the next morning and the doctor returned to check on my condition. All of this for only $110. I resumed activities that afternoon but every crew member I saw the rest of the trip asked me how my leg was doing. The personal service that you receive from Uniworld keeps us coming back.
This is not a trip for the mobility challenged. Our guide explained that December and January are the best months to visit weather-wise but the Nile is at its lowest level which means that you must go up and down a lot of concrete stairs to reach the ship from street level although there were crew members to assist. At the monuments you’re walking over a lot of uneven ground.
They’re extremely aggressive and you will encounter them when you exit every monument. If you show any interest or engage them they will follow you back to the bus. If you want to make a purchase, our guide suggested a starting price of half of what they’re asking. Our guide bargained with vendors several times for members of our group.
Outside photography is permitted everywhere. Inside most of the monuments photography without flash is permitted. In several locations a photography permit is required at an extra cost. Our guide would tell us, we’d pay him and he’d purchase the permit.
I’ve never been on a ship with a cabin as large as we had. Plenty of storage space including a huge closet. Queen size bed was very comfortable. Two chairs, desk with chair. Bathroom included separate tub and shower. Floor to ceiling windows with sliding door that opened to outside.