We recently returned from our Nile River cruise on the Viking Ra, October 1.
It was an amazing, eye-opening experience! We traveled with dear friends, booked the cruise almost 2 years ago while on another cruise. Our husbands were thrilled, almost giddy with excitement at the thought of seeing the pyramids. The wives were a bit apprehensive and remained so until we arrived in Egypt. Yes, we did have armed security on the bus with us. In several locations we had police escorts in front and/or behind the bus. But really, at no time did we feel unsafe. Not even when some news outlets were exaggeratedly or falsely reporting "chaos" in Cairo the first few days we were there. We were in the location cited... No chaos! We were, however, unprepared for how extremely poor, beyond anything we had ever seen before!, Cairo and Egypt in general is. There is an enormous, enormous difference between what you see driving around and what you experience. Also, maybe because of the sand storms? it just seems so much...dirtier? I understand, I mean, how do you clean up after a sand storm? Especially since there will be another one right around the corner. But they also tend not to finish buildings, which lends an almost post-apocalyptic feel to the landscape.
The Cairo hotels, the Nile Ritz Carlton pre-cruise and the Intercontinental City Star post-cruise were wonderful. Although the buffet was more extensive at the Intercontinental, I thought the food was better at the Ritz. Both rooms were beautifully appointed and very comfortable. Both had tight security.
Anyway, the cruise and the ship. The program directors (PDs) and other ship staff are amazing! Our PD, Ahmed (they split you into 2 groups), was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. His love of his subject (both are Egyptologists) and joy in sharing it shone through. He made the sites we visited come alive for us and adding immensely to our enjoyment of the trip.
The rest of the staff, well, it's Viking. They were a mix of local and international. I did notice a few minor things that frankly I think would not be quite up to par with Viking European river cruises or their ocean cruises, but as I said, minor and everyone is extremely eager to please. And they really did a better job than some mainstream cruise lines I've been on.
Our suite, on deck 2, physically, was lovely. As pictured and described. Two rooms, living room with small sofa, chair and coffee table, and a desk and chair. Closed storage shelves that we used for more clothing storage. Mini bar and TV. One thing I particularly liked was the storage cubbies by the door. We kept our hats, sunglasses, umbrella (for shade), my purse there, ready to to out the door. Also kept the hair dryer in one as they are next to the desk and I used that plug. Bedroom was nice, but a Queen bed, not a king. Hubby and I are both... large and used to a king but it was fine. Bedside tables have 1 small drawer that was difficult to open (both of them, maybe weather related?). I would have liked more closet space because I had longer hanging tops, not tunics, but hip length and they didn't fit next to or over the safe on the short side. Hubby's shirts didn't either. 2XL run long. But we managed to share. The bathroom was very nice. The rooms are smaller than they appear in Viking's photos, but certainly comfortable.Now for the negative, and it's a biggie! We were pretty much unable to enjoy our cabin anytime we were sailing! Sleeping was difficult. Whenever we were under way, there was a STRONG fuel odor in our cabin. Some nights of woke us up coughing, and we both use CPAP machines (changing the filters as soon as we get home). I finally complained and when they came and checked to see if it actually did smell, they asked if we had opened the balcony door. No. So an engineer came. His solution was to turn the AC fan to high, thermostat down to 50, and leave the bedroom and bathroom doors open. After 10 minutes turn the thermostat back. Surprisingly, that worked. For about an hour. Our friends, one cabin back opposite side, had the same issue. For another couple, one deck down, it was so bad, they were moved into another cabin! Did I want to spend all day in my cabin while we were sailing? Well, obviously not. But some days, I might have appreciated a nap, but I could not be in there because of the smell. And it was obnoxious to be awakened, gagging, on the stench of fuel on multiple nights.
The shore excursions were handled very well. My husband's favorite excursion was the trip to Giza to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx. He had dreamed of it for so long and to actually finally do it was amazing! My favorite was Nefertari's Tomb. To see those amazing carvings and paintings, in situ, still so vibrant and beautiful, so many thousands of years later, well, words fail me. Everywhere we went, we had to brave the "Valley of the Vendors" and let me tell you, they are aggressive! They will follow you to the steps of the bus!
We did several of the optional excursions as well. I felt the market and dinner was a bit overpriced. We had a short walk with our TD through part of the market then were on our own. We four walked for a few minutes, then our husbands went into a tiny shop while my friend and I waited outside. The security guard came by with a few of the group, He waited until our husbands came out and basically gathered us up to go with him. So we did (if your security guard indicates you should stay with him, maybe you should listen to him, right?). Dinner was good, but not great.
Both my friend and I are scared of heights, but our husbands insisted we all go on the hot air balloon ride. In fact, my daughter told me I could not come home if I didn't do it! LOL Anyway, we did. We stood behind our husbands so we could not look down, which made it OK. We both had a little concerned when our pilot took us up higher than a lot of the other balloons, but settled fairly quickly. I got my pictures and after about 15 minutes was done and ready to get off. The ride went on for 45 more minutes! We both agreed we were glad we did it, but wished it had been just that 45 minutes shorter. However, our husbands loved it.
Be warned before reading on, this may come under the heading of TMI. One thing, well, 2 things, you might want to take along with you. Immodium and electrolyte packets (they make Pedialyte for adults in packets). About half the ship was affected with...intestinal symptoms, and I don't mean stomach. Pharaoh's curse? If you forget or don't bring any Immodium, ask at reception. Totally different from an ocean cruise. They have anti mal pills that they will give out 4 or 6 at time. Ask as soon as you need them! They put bottled water in the bathroom. Use it to brush your teeth! I didn't to start with and regretted it. My husband and friend had no issue. Most people were able to carry on. A couple missed shore excursions. I missed Abu Simbel! Not just that. I found the heat brutal and the first 105° day developed a blinding migraine. Barely made it back to the bus. Temps at Abu Simbel were 110°. I hated missing it but was afraid that between the symptoms I was having and heat and possibility of another migraine, I just couldn't risk it. The rest of my party went and loved it. They all tolerated the heat better, but all said Abu Simbel almost did them all in. They looked wrung out when they got back. One woman actually did get a migraine from the heat/sun. she got back to the ship, took meds and we didn't see her until the next day. If you are sensitive you heat, plan accordingly.
I know there has been a lot of chat about the alcohol on board. I am not much of drinker. I had a gin & tonic at the cocktail parties. I thought it was fine. The rest of our group had wine, both red and white with lunch and dinner and seemed to enjoy it. I know they were concerned because I told them what I had read, but no one seemed to dislike it. I found the food quite good, except no pork bacon or sausage, which I enjoy when I travel because I don't eat it at home. Just as well, I suppose. Of course, due to the number of passengers, choices were limited but to be expected. I did not find it to be a problem. And there was ginger tea and chicken soup available for the more ill amongst us.
Remember hat, sunglasses, sunscreen even if you don't normally wear them. I think almost everyone had a hat and one man asked me if I'd gotten my hat in Luxor. His wife said he didn't want to bring one and now wanted one! Both of our husbands bought crushable Panama style hats with a wide brim (they normally wear ball caps), and my friend wore a hat, which she never does (I always do, migraines, remember?). Maybe a cooling towel? We had them. Maybe they helped a little. Or it was psychological.
On our trip, our TDs took care of the bathroom attendants. We just flashed a V sign for Viking. But they give you a limited amount, maybe a couple of squares. I took the ends of about 10 rolls, flattened, in a large ziploc. I took a snack size ziploc put one a day in to carry in my purse. The TD suggested getting some from the ship. Our last day, a group of us went to the Grand Egyptian Museum. Warning: all purses, backpacks, etc. must be left on the bus! And no pictures allowed in the conservation area. We made a pit stop before the tour. Our guide had to get paper towels (not TP!!) for us to use! In the museum! Granted it's the conservation area and the museum is not open but employees have to bring their own?! One woman commented that we all have TP, but it's in our purses on the bus. BTW, personally I do not recommend this excursion. WAY overpriced to see 3 conservation labs (NO pictures) and the (construction zone) entrance hall with the statue of Ramses II. My husband says he agrees it was way overpriced, but he does recommend it.
And your feet and shoes will get filthy! Mostly just sand, dust, dirt, but sometimes you need to mind where you walk. Be aware if you have germophobic tendencies, you may want to take along your favorite wipes and save sandals for the boat. My friend alternated 2 pair of leather flats that she doesn't know can be saved. They look so worn and scuffed. They weren't brand new, but not old. I wore a pair of Rothy's (with a different insole). I actually rinsed them several times after a morning excursion and they dried by evening. Couldn't wait to wash then once I got home. SO glad I didn't wear my Tieks as usual, they'd have been destroyed.
OK, now that I've written a novel if anyone still has anyone questions, please ask or PM me. Let me end with saying again that it was an amazing trip and the experience of a lifetime, something I never thought we would actually get to do!
Cruising on the Nile River is fascinating. To see the date palms, all the beautiful green on the banks of the river, and the Great Sahara beyond...It's something I've read about, and quite frankly, never quite really believed I would ever see! There is a special beauty and I feel very privileged to have experienced this trip.
See above for greater detail. I found this hard to rate because the cabin and bathroom LOOKED very nice, but the problem with fuel smell while sailing was a serious concern.
One interesting thing we did learn on board is that the Ra is actually at least 30 years old and was refurbished to Viking standards. When we booked our cruise we were told it was a new ship being built. Perhaps only the passenger areas were rerurbished and an outdated ventilation system explains the infiltration of a fuel odor? Traveling with 2 engineers, there was talk of carbon monoxide infiltrating the cabin and questions about whether there were carbon monoxide detectors available, questions which were not understood or answered.
Tour to each of the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Although we did not go into the Pyramids (because of health/heat/crowding concerns), we did go by bus to each of the Pyramids and to the Sphinx to walk around and take pictures. Our TD gave us information on the bus before we got off so we knew what we were looking at (I am still amazed at his breadth and depth of knowledge!). There was an opportunity for a camel ride as well.View All 20 Pyramids Reviews
Interesting tour to the Step Pyramid and Djoser Funeral Complex. There was the opportunity to go into a tomb. Small, cramped tunnel, not for claustrophobes so I did not try it. Included a stop at a rug making school.View All 7 Sakkara Walking Tour Reviews
This optional excursion was (IMO) a bit overpriced. A fairly typical market experience with vendors somewhat aggressively trying to get you to purchase. Dinner was good, not great, but enjoyable.View All undefined undefined Reviews
This day started with a super early wake up call and the flight to Luxor. We went straight from the airport to the Karnak Temple. It was also our first 105° day, which I did not handle very well (migraine from the heat). The temple was very interesting. Again, SO much information from our TD!
Also included was a stop at the Luxor Library for a video about the historical timeline. The parts I saw were interesting, but I, along with many others, succumbed to the early rising and (unfortunately) snoozed on and off during most of it.View All 6 Karnak Temple Reviews
This was an evening excursion and it was great! So beautiful to see the temple lit up at night! We arrived before sunset and started our tour. The sun set during the tour and we were able to get some magical photos. Also, the blistering heat had dissipated.View All 5 Luxor Temple Reviews
Queen Nefertari's Tomb
MY favorite excursion. We went early in the morning, first stop, to avoid the heat and crowds. You are allowed in for 10 minutes, a limited number at a time. The wall paintings are incredible. To think they have survived ~3000 years is mind-boggling. Totally worth it, I thought.View All undefined undefined Reviews