A cruise on the Nile River makes for an exciting – and surprisingly affordable – family trip to Egypt. Here's an account of how history can come alive when you fix in some fun and good food. A cruise on the Nile River makes for an exciting – and surprisingly affordable – family trip to Egypt. Here's an account of how history can come alive when you fix in some fun and good food.
There are cruises and then, there are voyages. This sailing is entering its sixth millennium and not yet showing its age. Those of you who have experienced the opulence and excess (and great fun) of the 20th century's floating playgrounds must be prepared for something completely different on a Nile River cruise in Egypt. This granddaddy of all cruises is not to be missed.
The Nile meanders from equatorial Africa for over 4,000 miles, north from Uganda and Ethiopia through Sudan and Egypt to the Mediterranean. The stretch plied by cruise boats goes from Aswan, just below the Aswan High Dam that creates Lake Nasser, north 100 miles or so to Luxor, known in ancient times as Thebes and home to some of the richest archeological sites in the world. You can cruise from either end, but I would recommend going with the flow. That means starting in Aswan and going north "down" the river. There are also Lake Nasser cruises, but that's another story.
Rolling Down the River
You'll have to fly into Cairo and either connect to Aswan or stopover in town for a few days of sightseeing. If you go straight to Aswan, you'll overnight on land, then board the boat for a leisurely day's tour of the Aswan area. Try to fit in a side trip to Abu Simbel, a short flight away. In an international rescue effort in 1960, these impressive temples were excavated and moved vertically 200 ft./60m up the cliffs to escape the rising waters of Lake Nasser.
The Nile cruise boats are much smaller and slower than their giant Caribbean counterparts, but completely comfortable. Typically, they have 60-75 cabins, all with outside windows, some even with small terraces. At most, the cabins can accommodate only three people, so a family of four would require two cabins. Buffet meals are served on board and most boats have at least a "splash" pool for a cool respite from the heat.
Did I mention the heat? If you can go in December or January, it's hot. If you go during the summer, it's very hot (90-100°F or 32-38°C).
By the second cruise day, as the boat moves down river, you'll get used to the dry heat. The boat stops at several sites, one of them the Temple of Sobek, the crocodile god. It is the river journey itself that is as interesting as the sites you will visit. From the top deck, the panoramas of timeless Egypt pass before you. Small villages dot the banks, with children and women washing clothes in the river, men working in the irrigated fields beyond. The lovely nativefeluccas sail everywhere on the Nile and watching them is endlessly fascinating.
Usually, the third and fourth nights are spent at Luxor, where sightseeing presents the biggest physical challenge. The Valleys of the Kings and Queens contain the empty tombs of the greatest dynasties of Egypt. Most were looted through the centuries, though King Tut's tomb was one of the few to survive intact. You'll walk through some hot and cramped spaces, frescoed with fading but still colorful paintings and hieroglyphics from 3500 years ago.
The temples at Karnak and Luxor are enormous, just astounding in their scale and beauty. Kids who have studied Egypt's ancient civilization may not be engaged at every moment, but they cannot be unaffected by the experience. And there's always the pool back on the boat.
The nightly onboard entertainment consists of lively music, belly dancing and silly costumed skits by the passengers. While bordering on the corny for an adult, kids love it. You'll leave the boat on the morning of the fifth day, and can return to Cairo or, as many European families do, move on to the beach resorts of the Red Sea.
Doing Egypt with Children
While Egypt is not the family destination that jumps to the head of everyone's Top-10 list, it is one of the world's truly great, classic travel experiences. It's not a trip for toddlers, but for kids about 10 years and older, Egypt will provide an unforgettable journey into the past and present.
To appreciate the present, don't leave the country without spending two or three nights in Cairo. The vast pyramid complexes and the Sphinx found in Giza (on the city's southwest outskirts) deserve a day's exploration. Contemporary sightseers of all ages will be awed by the scale of the structures: the Great Pyramid of Cheops is 481 ft./144m tall and 755 ft./226m across each face. Children, especially, strain to imagine the construction methods required to build these ancient wonders without machines or electricity. When in Giza, be sure to plan lunch at the venerable Mina Palace Hotel.
The Egyptian Museum and the Old Quarter of Cairo are certainly worth another day of your time. Cairo is a vibrant, over-crowded and completely fascinating city — reminiscent of the movie cities in The English Patient, Aladdin, and Indiana Jones, but unlike anything most people (child or adult) will have seen. A visit to the Cairo train station should be part of your journey back through time.
If you're looking for a place to stop and digest the wonders you will have seen, there are numerous Red Sea resorts in Hurghada. Sharm El Sheikh, across the Gulf of Suez at the tip of the Sinai peninsula, is one of the world's best diving spots. Cruisers can travel from Luxor northeast to the beach, then return to Cairo.
Chris Baum, V.P. of Sales and Marketing for Sonesta Hotels, Resorts & Nile Cruises, just returned from an Egyptian journey with his wife and 9-year-old son, Hunter. Though initially nervous about cruising with such a young child, Baum reports that the trip was a great success. "Hunter had a wonderful time and paid more attention to the tour guides than many adults. He retained an impressive amount of information and loved the nightly entertainment on our boat."
What were Hunter's favorite memories of the trip? The mummified animals at the Cairo Museum, the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx, the crocodile temple of Sobek, and the onboard pool.
Trip Planning with the Experts
A trip of this complexity is best organized well in advance. There are excellent guided group tours available through travel agents, and institutions such as the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History. You can also customize a family tour through your travel agent or American Express Travel Services. Our family travel agent uses Nabila Tours (800/443-6453) for her clients, with consistent success. For 2007, their 11-day cruise of The Nile and the Red Sea starts at US$1,145 per person and 4 to 8 day, Nile-only cruises are available.
The Sonesta (1800 766 3782) and other hotel chains have their own deluxe Nile boats, as well as numerous hotels throughout Egypt. On the Sonesta Sun Goddess, for example, triple occupancy cabins run US$90-US$200/N per person with a few special fare sailings between May and October. On some of the older boats, the rates run even lower per person, but triple occupancy is usually the maximum.
In past years, there have been periods of terrorist activity aimed at tourists. You should consult the U.S. State Department or your home government's Egypt representative for travel advisories, before finalizing your travel plans.
Don't worry — you won't be gouged by outlandish prices because Egypt is a surprisingly affordable destination. I would definitely recommend a guide, car and driver in Cairo. It will make the exploration safer, more comfortable and more rewarding. By the way, spring break rates are highest, with about 20% off during the fall, winter and spring months, and another 20% off in summer, but you'll go when vacation schedules allow. These rates include all meals, sightseeing activities and taxes for three passengers of any age, who want to journey to the dawn of the sixth millennium.
By Kyle McCarthy
Take US$2.5 million, add a willing government, 5,000 years of rich history, the computing power of IBM and a number of experts from several fields and you get Eternal Egypt, one of the Seven Wonders of the Future World.
"This partnership has joined one of the world's oldest civilizations with the latest innovations in IBM technology," said Dr. Ahmed Nazif, Minister of Communications and Information Technology at its launch in February 2004. After years of development, Eternal Egypt has produced multimedia animations, 360-degree image sequences, virtual environments, high resolution images of ancient artifacts, 3D scans and panoramic views of present-day Egypt captured by web cameras at such locations as Karnak Temple in Luxor and Qait Bey in Alexandria.
In preparation for your trip to Egypt, or for a day at the Universal theme parks’ new "Revenge of the Mummy" ride, or just to help with homework, visit the website www.eternalegypt.org and enter a virtual reconstruction of Tutankhamun's tomb as it looked the day Howard Carter discovered the chamber in 1922. In conjunction with the site, handheld digital guides in English, French and Arabic have been produced to enable visitors to take thematic tours of the site's virtual museums or to explore them by room, artifact or picture. Additionally, mobile access guided tours of the Temple of Luxor and the Pyramids of Giza were created, enabling visitors to access the same information available on the digital guides and EternalEgypt.org, but through their cell phones while touring various locations. The trilingual website, with its interactive map, timeline and an innovative "Connections" function (which explores the relationships between the objects, places and characters of Egypt's past) is the project’s main treasury, one you will dip into over and over.
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