Review of Uniworld’s Splendors of Egypt and the Nile arriving in Cairo on January 6, 2018.
There are several aspects of the trip for which we would like to laud Uniworld, Spring Tours and the Tosca, but also some opportunities for improvement that we have shared..
Having an airport attendant meet our arrival at Cairo and airport transfers to and from the hotel was very much appreciated and started and ended the experience on a positive note. The Four Seasons in Cairo is lovely – large suites or rooms with balconies. Great dining options in the hotel, too. We especially liked Bella and The Bar. Go a day or two before the tour to acclimate to the time change.
Special kudos and eternal thanks to our Egyptologist, Mohammed Attia Abdalla. He was supremely knowledgeable, generous and patient while sharing his vast store of information, as well as being gracious, kind and caring. He taught us so much about Egypt’s history, symbolism, religion, culture and the geopolitical situation. He told us several times how he and all Egyptians love their country, and kept us enthralled and entertained. He has a great sense of humor and gave us a tremendous feeling of security. When my husband fell ill, he was the one who located and took us to a pharmacy and explained to the pharmacist what we needed, and later identified and called a doctor. He checked in with us continuously. We were very grateful that he skipped a lot of the sales opportunities – no alabaster or perfume factories for us, thank heavens! Just one stop at a papyrus factory and one for carpets. All of the staff on the Tosca were superior, but Attia is one-of a kind.
As for the rest of the staff on the Tosca: they were happy, caring, competent and very kind to everyone. A delightful group! Welcoming, well-trained and excellent service providers. Nice big rooms, although the satellite TV reception was wonky and unreliable (if you even care about TV). Lovely common areas, with the exception of the low, uncomfortable wide sofas. Made for people who don’t need back support – since your back couldn’t possibly reach the back of the sofa unless you were 10 feet tall. And very, very low....you can sit down, but you may not get back up!
The itinerary was excellent, although we HATED all the early mornings. I forgot to mention in my letter to Uniworld about the last day of our cruise when we had an crazy early wake-up call to take a flight back to Cairo, only to sit in the lobby of the Four Seasons for 5 hours waiting for our rooms to be ready.
But having the opportunity to see the Egyptian museum, the temples of Luxor, Karnak, Hatshepsut, Hathor and Ramses Ramses everywhere, was amazing. My husband said that the giant enormous ego of Ramses II, who put gigantic statues of himself all over Egypt, reminded him of a certain American president. At the Valley of the Kings your ticket allows you to visit three pre-determined tombs. Pay extra and go into the tomb of Seti I, Tutankhamun and whatever Ramses tomb is also optional. Well worth seeing any tombs that are open – they are all amazing. We felt like the tour guide “undersold” the Tut tomb. You really need to see it! The Pyramids and the Sphinx are timeless treasures, and although I climbed all the way to the top of the Great Pyramids, my quads were screaming. The camel ride was a fun photo and memory.
All of us paid extra to go to Abu Simbel (well worth it!)and a few did the Hot Air Balloon ride the morning we visited the Valley of the Kings. Everyone who did was thrilled that they took advantage of these opportunities. You can skip the sound and light show at Luxor, since you will see one at Giza the next day.
Tips for YOUR trip to Egypt (now is a GREAT time to go!):
Your first day at the hotel, get some Egyptian pounds and ask the front desk for 5s (get plenty!), 10s and 20s. Anytime you need to go to the bathroom, except at the large hotels, there will be someone standing outside looking for money (5 LE is the "going" rate). You will also need them to give you toilet paper. A 5-pound note is worth about a quarter, so just plan ahead and keep a supply of 5s and you’ll be fine. I had also read a recommendation to bring a stack of $1 bills, so we did. We went through them all for small purchases and tips.
Expect to tip everyone. Even the smallest service will be followed by an outstretched hand. If a local poses for a picture, offers to take a picture or shows you something, walks with you, lends a hand or provides any type of service at all they will expect a tip. By the last day at the Pyramids I had run out of Egyptian pounds and dollar bills so the camel guy didn’t get a tip. I still feel bad about that! Remember, a 20-pound note is worth just over a dollar, so carry 5s, 10s and 20s at all times. Very few places (not even the pharmacy) accept credit cards, and those that did only took Visa or Mastercard.
The people are lovely and friendly, and very welcoming, but they are also very poor. 60% of the population has an income equivalent to about $100 US per month. After visiting any monument or temple expect to be mobbed by vendors selling goods. It is their livelihood, and there aren’t many tourists so you certainly understand and empathize, but it can get annoying. We headed for kiosks/stores of those who weren’t quite so aggressive, and made purchases there.
Uniworld needs to update their brochure to stipulate that the Tosca does not have any sort of medication available – not even an aspirin. Other cruise ships we’ve been on freely dispensed non-prescription medications like aspirin, motion sickness pills or remedies for tummy trouble. But apparently it is Uniworld’s policy that customers are on their own. Bring any and all medications you may need. Cold and flu, aspirin, Advil, Motrin, bandaids and antiseptic cream – having your own fully-stocked first aid kit is a must. Hand sanitizer was everywhere onboard, but having a small bottle or wipes with you will be helpful. Not all of the bathrooms at tourist sites have running water.
The brochure stated that customers would get a single bottle of water a day. In fact, at the Four Seasons in Cairo, and onboard the Tosca and the tour bus each day the staff were very generous with bottled water, and onboard there was also iced tea, sparkling water, coffee etc. Local beer and wine were reasonable, although mixed drinks are expensive.
The Tosca needs to improve in-room amenities. They offer a special line called Nefertari, created by an Egyptian dermatologist for her daughter who had many allergies. Shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and soap. It is awful stuff, and the shampoo left our hair tacky and feeling unclean, while the rose soap was much too flowery a scent for my husband. Every customer was complaining about it. But we loved the L’Occitane at the Four Seasons. So bring your own shampoo and conditioner.
The food onboard was not very special. Breakfast was fine, and I very much appreciated the rotating selection of fruits. Some of the options on the lunch buffet were strange or not recognizable. At other times they offered western options which were interpreted in unusual ways. One day was pizza and hamburgers and while the pizza was ok - vegetarian only but without tomato sauce - the hamburgers were tiny and overcooked. At dinner, some of the veal or beef entrees were tough and inedible. All of the fish entrees, on the other hand, were delicious, although there seemed to be a lot of repetition in the choices. The plating and presentation of the dinner entrees was lovely.
Overall, this trip gave us memories for a lifetime and was a wonderful experience. Our fellow travelers were very experienced, mature, and a great group of people. I wish that this trip was all-inclusive, as most Uniworld river cruises are. Again, the prices onboard for beer and wine and laundry services were very reasonable. We recommend Uniworld and the Tosca, and this particular trip to Egypt. Go now, before tourism rebounds! There were no lines for anything we visited. It was sad, to be perfectly honest. The sights were absolutely awe-inspiring and I learned something new every day. We felt safe and protected and were never concerned about security, thanks to all of the precautions put in place.