Being out 40th anniversary we chose to splurge and get the Royal Suite (202). While it was definitely bigger, and had more impressive views, it was a big disappointment (and not worth the expensive upgrade). The shower leaked horrendously. The soft furnishings were warn and in need of replacing (drapes, furniture, carpets), the marble floor was outdated and generaly there was a poor fit and finish throughout. There was nothing luxurious about it (except your view of the Nile from your comfy bed). The sitting are was the worst - it is in desperate need of updating. You often have to keep the front window blinds closed as that’s the forward crew deck. While it was nice to have a mini fridge, it was plunked in the corner or the room. Again although they supplied extra things like the stocked bar fridge, coffee, tea, small decanters of three hard liquors, they were all presented very cheaply (instead of being on lovely trays or in nice baskets). Bath shampoos etc were locally sourced, which is great, but they smelled awful. Cheap little sewing and shoeshine kits. They could use some help from The Four Seasons in how to outfit a room. Tiling in the bathroom needed regrouting. Towels not that luxurious. But the main issue was with the leaking shower stall (I had a flood the first day). Apparently the other suite -201- has the same issue. I suggested they put a bracket for the hand shower on the wall in the bathtub and use that instead. The room doesn’t have drawer space in the bedroom (another disappointment) so you use the hall closet shelves (cheap, painted white doors with old mismatched hangers), (As there is already a desk in the lounge area they should switch out the one in the bedroom for a chest of drawers. There was plenty of space to store luggage under the bed. The room also adjoins if you had children accompanying you). There is a safe and a blow dryer. Electrical plugs are two-pin 220V. Bottled water is always available (and highly recommended to drink - because of the chemicals they place in theirs). It was nice having butler service which included free laundry, fresh fruit, cookies and chocolates in your room. You also get un upgraded wifi booster. Every evening at 6pm the butler comes and makes you a signature cocktail. Ours - Abe - was very attentive. They do clean your room very well. Although tips are included you do feel obligated to tip your butler for his exceptional service. Also, choose your cabin on the starboard side of the ship as we were frequently rafted on the port side against cement walls or other ships.
In general, the whole boat itself needs renovating. Although listed as being “inaugurated in 2009” it looks like it was built in the 1990s). The dark traditional furnishings (with their incredibly uncomfortable deep seat sofas and chairs that require you to fight for pillows to place behind your back) need replacing.
The upper deck is nice. We cruised in January so it was cold. It would have been nice if the pool was heated during these off seasons. Although we used the proved towels to keep warm, lap blankets would be nice for chilly afternoons and evenings.
There is a cute gift shop that sells some quality stuff. They also sell the native Egyptian dresses & outfits for men for their Egyptian night party (I highly recommend joining in).
The crew really made up for what the boat lacked. All incredibly friendly and attentive (I swear they must all review our passport pictures as part of their training as they knew our names!). Again, although tipping is included you do end tipping some individually.
Some complaints I heard from other passengers who had cruised other Uniworld itineraries was that they were upset that the wine and beer was only complimentary at meals (and not in the lounge and in deck). And that it did not include cocktails. Some were also saying the wines served were not as good. I also found the food be be just average. In particukar, thei English tea was a joke (tea bags dipped in your cup of hot water; no scones with jam and whipped cream).. Seating for meals is open. There were no table cloths on the tables at breakfast and lunch (which are nice buffets). Evening ambience not great. But again, the servers and waiters were incredible.
The absolute best part (which increased my overall score from a 3 to a 4) was the itinerary. It will blow your mind. You are totally immersed in the Egyptian history and culture. Our tour guide (Egyptologist) was an oarcheologist. His name was Assem Omar. He had such interesting facts you couldn’t easily find yourself. His descriptions at the temples and museums made the artifacts come to life.
Now, some practical things: Dress in warm layers. January was cold and windy..Sunglasses (although not often used for sun are great during sand storms). Bring an umbrella (if planning on visiting Alexandria as a pre/post excursion). Thermal underwear, thick socks, gloves and scarves were useful. In fact, if you are trying to pack light, for women a good trick is a long sleeve thermal T-shirt under your coat accessorised with different scarves each day. You tend to wear the same things off the boat so the scarf switches it up a bit. (As an aside, we never had to cover our heads in mosques). . On board the ship in the evenings the look is business casual (resort casual I imagine in the summer season). No one dresses up. Closed-toe, sturdy walking shoes are mandatory as there is A LOT of walking on uneven, dirty (and sometimes wet) streets and sandy temples (I ended up throwing mine away at the end).
Now . . . Public toilets! You must be prepared with sani-wipes to wipe down toilet seats, packages of Kleenex (as toilet paper is rarely provided, and if it is, a man or woman with grubby hands is dispensing it out to you at the door). There is usually a sink to wash up but rarely soap or paper towels to dry your hands. Hence, more sani-wipes required! And finally, the person “helping” you needs to be tipped (5-10 Egyptian pounds, or failing that $1 USD.)
Take a nap sack on the tours but leave it on the coach (it’s very safe). Then have a smaller side bag/purse to just put what you need for that couple hours of touring ($1 USD and/or Egyptian pounds, Kleenex, Sami-wipes, iPhone, credit card, sunglasses). Be aware of pickpockets! Always have your hand on your bag, especially in crowds. No need to bring bottled water off the boat as it’s always available on the coaches. Note: some temples and museums do not allow photography unless you purchase a camera ticket (and they do check to make sure you have one)
That takes us to currency. It is handy to have some SMALL denominations of Egyptian pounds (They can be obtained from the ATM machines at the Four Seasons Hotel). They do also take USD in tourist market places. However make sure your US currency is in NEW small denominations. Apparently the Egyptian banks will not accept bills that are old, torn or written on, so the vendors can’t trade them in. One previous post suggested taking lots of $1 US bills. In addition to some larger bills, I took 50 $1 bills and that was barely enough. Credit cards are accepted in higher end shops.
Speaking of shopping, personally I did not find much to my liking, except the Egyptian cotton sheets. Ask your tour guide about them (you order in advance and you pick them up when you visit the papyrus making factory.
One word of caution about the street vendors and “guides” at the tourist attractions . . They get progressively more aggressive. The vendors obviously want to get you into their shops. If you are not interested, don’t make eye contact and just keep walking and saying “No thank you”. My husband made the mistake of commenting on how nice an object was that was thrust in our faces. Bad move! That vendor followed us out of the market trying to get us to buy it. At that point, unfortunately, you have to be more forceful. They sometimes force a “free gift” into your hand or tuck it under your arm (and I mean forcefully!). Just take it and drop it on the ground, as it’s obviiysky not going to be free. Be careful too as a lot of their wares are made in China. If you are seriously interested in something, enlist the help of your Egyptologist who can verify authenticity and help you negotiate prices. It’s really a shame they are like that. We did take us to one market where the vendors prided themselves in not bothering you and I know they got more sales from our group.
The locals that hang out in some of the temples and exhibits try to be nice and help you select the best location for photos or offer to take photos with your phone. But beware! They will ask for money (sometimes holding your phone ransom until you pay). Even our armed security guard (paid already to protect us) kept hinting for a tip after taking a few pictures of us). The worst was at the pyramids. They are continually in your face, almost ruining your experience. In hindsite I should have been more forceful and told them point blank we wanted to be left alone and that if we needed their help we would come look for them. (I’m not sure even that would work but it’s worth a try).
Regarding security, we felt very safe. We usually had a plainclothes, armed police officer ride with us. We took approved, secured routes (manned with police checkpoints and bomb sniffing dogs). You go through X-ray machines at each site (including the Four Seasons).
Tours: All excellent (with the exception on the Karnak and Pyramid light shows). I recommend all the other optional tours. We were interested in going hot air ballooning over the Valley of the Kings and although it wasn’t a Uniworld excursion they kindly made arrangements for about twenty of us to go. Unfortunately, it was cancelled twice due to high winds. I would recommend it though as I was VERY impressed with the qualifications of their pilots. (They are commercial pilots. They can’t carry passengers by themselves until they have 1000 solo hours).
Although the pace of the tour was busy, I personally didn’t find it too onerous. Most mornings were 7:30 pick ups. Often we returned to the boat for lunch and a rest then went out again.
In all an incredibly well planned, stress free vacation. All transfers were impeccably organized. No “hitches” along the way. The Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo was lovely (We did expect an upgraded room however but didn’t get one). Also, the hotel does not have a proper gift shop to pick up any forgotten personal items.
I hope you find this review helpful. O