Below is a review of our time in Egypt and on the Nile River with Uniworld which was on our bucket list for quite some time now! Finally we can, with BIG smiley faces say, “Check mark!”
AND now we get to tell you ALL about what we did and experienced so you can know what to expect and make the right decisions for you.
Don’t forget to read the very bottom “important tips” section as it will enhance your trip and help eliminate the mistakes and regrets we had during our trip.
This 11 Night River Cruise itinerary with Uniworld…
…started off with 2 nights at the “Four Seasons Nile Plaza Hotel” in Cairo, then it was followed by a flight to Luxor to spend 7 Nights onboard Uniworld’s lovely “River Tosca” ship and then we flew back to Cairo for an additional 2 nights at the “Four Seasons Nile Plaza” Hotel before flying back home. (FYI, everything listed above is included in Uniworld’s price)
A quick note… You DO NOT need to pre-purchase your travel visa before arriving to the Cairo airport. (As of this writing, make sure to confirm that before you head over there) We walked into the airport and simply paid $25 USD cash per person and they handed us our visas. It’s simple & no ID is required. You get them at any of the Bank tellers once you enter the airport, so don’t worry about purchasing it back home, just have USD cash available to pay. (**NOTE: Since this writing Egypt has launched a website https://visa2egypt.gov.eg/eVisa/Home where you can do an eVisa for the same price so probably best to use that to avoid any potential lineups at the airport)
Cairo, Egypt… Africa.
Cairo is the largest city in Egypt and the country’s capital. The city’s population in 2016 was estimated to be as high as 12 million making it the largest city in Africa and the Middle East, and the 17th largest metropolitan area in the world.
No doubt Cairo has it’s fair share of rubble and pollution but spending a few nights here is worth the visit; especially to see the magnificent gifts she has to offer… the famous Egyptian Museum, the mighty Pyramids and Sphinx, the Citadel of Salah al-Din, etc.
As mentioned, Uniworld put us up at the Four Seasons Hotel (with Nile River view rooms) which is one of the very best hotels in the city. The staff are English speaking and the prices are reasonably inexpensive for room-service, etc. so we were happy to make it our homestead for 4 nights in total. Here is a picture from our Nile River room…
Tip: Before we started our official touring with our group we decided to go to Cairo’s famous “Khan el-Khalili ” Market but if we had our time back we “would not” have went simply because it was overwhelmingly overcrowded. We now understand why Uniworld does not take guests there as part of their itinerary.
Here are some of the highlights of what we saw in Cairo the first 2 days…
Cairo’s Citadel of Salah al-Din, Mosque of Muhammad Ali and the Egyptian Museum
Egyptian rulers strategically built The Citadel in the very spot it sits today perched on a hilltop with incredible views overlooking the city. Here is Nancy getting ready to visit the inside of this picturesque monument…
…and within this large structure houses the stunning Alabaster Mosque or great Mosque of Muhammad Ali. It truly is stunning in real life too…
The Egyptian Museum is amazing, you won’t believe your eyes! It is a massive building filled with 5,000 year old artifacts including mummified human bodies & animals, King & Pharaoh statues from the many eras, caskets and SO much more…
Because you are staying at the beautiful and prosperous Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo with Uniworld, it is a bit pricey but we do recommend you take Uniworld up on their Extra Pre-night hotel stay.
Please, if you can, fly in one day early to climatize and get over the jet-lag because the people who fly in day of will not have much rest before the following “full day” of touring and you will want to feel refreshed so you can enjoy it to the fullest…
…nothing worse then taking a “vacation of a lifetime” but being too tired to fully appreciate the scenery. It’s a long flight, so we highly recommend it!
After 2 nights at the Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo we took a short 1 hour flight to Luxor to cruise the Nile River for 7 nights onboard Uniworld’s luxurious “River Tosca”…
The Nile River & Our River Cruise Experience:
“Gifts from the Nile”
Cruising on the Nile River is not only scenic but serves a BIG advantage because it takes you from one extraordinary place to the next while you sit back and enjoy the pampering onboard along with the views.
PEOPLE- we are talking about visiting one of the worlds most fascinating and phenomenal civilizations! 🙂
Egypt was a place we learned about in school as kids and to “this day” are intrigued by words like Pharaohs, mummification, tombs filled with treasures, King Tut, etc.
In the flesh now as adults, we get to see things on this particular trip that have puzzled and entranced archeologists and historians for lifetimes over and has been a place we longed to visit since we were children!!
A great thing about doing this trip on a river cruise ship is that by unpacking once, you spend less time packing and unpacking, less time on buses to get you from place to place and MORE time on land exploring the ancient sites… which is why we are here in the first place, right? 🙂
Want to learn more about Uniworld’s “River Tosca” and see the ships interior including the staterooms? Click here to see our videos and photos of the River Tosca ship.
Here is a toast to you from the River Tosca sundeck! 🙂
WHAT WE SAW IN LUXOR
After landing here from Cairo and being welcomed onboard the ship, we docked here for 2 nights so we could visit all that Luxor had to offer… no way to see it all in one day!
The city of Luxor houses some of the most historic sites in Egypt and we were so thankful to have our knowledgeable Egyptologist, Mohamed, to bring it all to life for us.
A bonus was that Mohamed stayed with us the entire trip from Cairo to Cairo. Facts or stories didn’t get repeated (like it can on other tours when they switch guides) and each new fact he taught us was to build onto the next. We felt like we learned so much and because we got to know our guide well, it was a very personalized experience!
Here are the Temples and sites we saw while in Luxor with Mohamed. Wait till you see the pictures below!
“The Temple of Luxor”
An ancient Egyptian architecture complex that was constructed approximately 1400 BC. It is a massive temple that had begun to be excavated in the late 1800’s.
We went there at sunset and had a viewing at nighttime which is WAY better then in the daylight to give it the mysterious feel it so deserves.
Here are a few pictures…
…including the “Avenue of Sphinxes” at Luxor Temple that once connected Luxor Temple to the Temple of Karnak about 2.5 kilometers, or 1.5 miles long . This road was built in 380 to 363 BC, by the Thirtieth Dynasty and thankfully parts of it still exist today.
“The Temple of Hathor” in Dendera
A drive to the city of Dendera from Luxor took us to this complex that is one of the best preserved in Egypt. The entire complex is approximately 40,000 square meters in size and dates back to the 4th Dynasty 2494 BC. WOW!!!
Two-thirds of this temple was covered in sand from the river and dam at one time. Still today Egyptians are working to clean the structure up which is why we can see color on the carvings today, have a look at these columns. Oh! And notice the massive size compared to the people below…
This temple is particularly special because it is the ONLY temple that 100% confirms that the statue carving on the temple wall is in fact Cleopatra because her name is written in a cartouche on the outer wall of the Complex. Here is the carving…
Karnak Temple is the largest Temple EVER built; it’s the size of a small town. It has part of the Avenue of Sphinxes (see picture below), a lake, it holds the oldest writings ever written and so much more!
Just to try to describe the grandeur of the place, one of the granite made obelisk’s weighs 323 tons and check out how Nancy looks like an ant compared to the statue below!! lol
On our drives to and from these temples we would pass small villages and we could see homes made of mud bricks and palm leaves which were used to keep the rain out and to serve as a ceiling. Outside every home were several animals for farming, etc. including water buffalo which produce milk for the families.
Looking about as a North American, we would assume the people here are very poor but we have learned that it is only in the eye of the beholder because the locals see it very differently. They have what they need to survive and take care of each other which is abundance in their minds. Life here is certainly not about shiny things and collecting stuff.
“Colossi of Memnon”
We stopped here for a picture on the way to the next two sites. These are two “ginormous” Pharaoh Amenhotep III statues that are 60 feet tall and seated on the thrown!! They are 3,400 years old to date. We snapped a fun pic while there…
“Valley of the Kings”
One of the most famous archeological sites in the world!!
For a period of approximately 500 years, this is where the rulers (Pharaohs and powerful nobles) of Egypt were buried back in the 16th to 11th Century BC.
The valley is known to contain 63 tombs and chambers but the Egyptian people are always excavating to find more hidden treasures and restoring luster to the found.
Not only were they placed here after death but the time that went into creating the tombs must have been great because the vaults or tunnels were dug deep into the earth to protect the casket and on top of that, the walls inside were decorated down to the smallest detail with carvings, drawings and colors, all to honor their leaders. Wait till you see it for yourself!!
We got to walk into the tombs but you’re not allowed to take pictures so here is one we secretly took walking into the Valley and the aerial is a replica:
This temple is considered one of the most beautiful temples in Egypt possibly because it was owned by a woman Egyptian Pharaoh called Hatshepsut who was considered one of the most influential rulers of ancient Egypt. The temple is carved into the side of a cliff base and you can’t help but be in awe at first glance!! The semi-ruined state of the Temple looks like this today…
WHAT WE SAW IN ASWAN
“Kom Ombo Temple”
We could see this temple from the ship and the walk to it was less then five minutes.
Kom Ombo was constructed in 180-45 BC and is unique because it was dedicated to two Egyptian gods (usually it’s just one) and when you walk through the temple ruins you can see where both chambers were built and stand still to this day, although they do not have walls around them anymore.
The temple has a crocodile mummies museum next to it (it’s free to enter) as they were found around the temple itself when it was discovered and this makes perfect sense because ancient Egyptians associated crocodiles with gods.
Here is Shawn enjoying a walk about Kom Ombo Temple…
“Felucca Ride followed by High Tea at the Old Cataract Hotel”
What a treat to take a Felucca ride on another sunny afternoon. A Felucca is a traditional boat with large sails and no motor that was commonly used on the Nile River by ancient Egyptians, now they are used to take tourists on Nile River outings.
The views were incredible and it was a smooth ride… don’t we look relaxed and like we are having a great time?!! 🙂
Then we had high tea in the “Old Cataract hotel” (behind us in the picture above) that dates back to the Colonial era where Princess Diana and Winston Churchill stayed. This hotel was depicted in Agatha Christie’s famous “Death on the Nile” novel.
The views of the Nile while enjoying our high tea and treats was super nice too!
Temples of Abu Simbel””
We took a short 40 minute flight from Aswan to see the famous temples of Abu Simbel and are SO glad we did! The two 3,500 year old temples were carved into the sandstone cliffs alongside Nasser Lake. It is an UNESCO Heritage site and is truly one of THE Best Temples to see. (and that’s saying something!!)
The carvings and details inside are still intact and you can still see the colors the ancient Egyptians used to paint the inner walls so very long ago. It’s truly a place NOT to miss.
***There is an additional fee of $324 USD per person (which includes the flight and entrance fee) to see it but well worth it in our opinion. Of our entire group, 95% of us went to see it. Check out our pictures below…
“Bird Watching Boat Ride and Nubian Village Visit”
This was a great afternoon excursion! We boarded a boat from our river boat (literally) and headed slowly down the Nile while our local guide told us about the birds and the vegetation in the area. We saw kingfishers, vultures, herons, sun-birds and many more.
Then we stopped in a Nubian village where we were invited into a local’s home to see how they live and to enjoy some hot tea. It is fascinating to see sections of this modest home with no roof (see those and many other pictures in our Gallery) and crocodiles living in cages in the home, check out Shawn holding a baby one…
“Visit to the Unfinished Obelisk, Philae Temple and Aswan High Dam”
The unfinished Obelisk is “something” to see because it shows you how the Egyptians carved all of these Temples, Pharaohs and Obelisk’s from rocks. Have a look at this unfinished carving.
We learned they used tens of thousands of men to move and transport the rocks for each project. We also learned it was a positive experience for the ancient Egyptians to work together to build these magnificent formations as a sense of community. Not to mention the fact that there were “expert” tools people to create such incredible structures… see how smooth the rock is above?
The Dam, which we crossed and stood on, once completed in 1971 changed everything for Egypt. It provided water, electricity and the ability to control floods. The economy and culture was significantly affected for the good including the prevention of droughts and famine. It was nice to take a visit to see it knowing the major effects the dam has made for the Egyptian people.
Philae Temple was restored by the combined efforts of the Egyptian Government and UNESCO that took 10 years to complete as it was covered in water and buried in rocks.
What We Saw in Edfu
We walked off the ship and 5 minutes later we were standing in front of Esna Temple.
It was built of red sandstone and has been partially excavated. It sits 200 meters from the river and some 9 meters below street level.
Then we walked through a local village to see how they lived day to day (which made us feel very lucky to have clean streets, fresh water and beautiful homes in North America). We saw a 200 year old sesame oil factory that is all produced by hand and we walked about the small streets where merchants and locals went about their daily lives. Very interesting!
Back in Cairo for our Last Two Nights of our “Splendors of Egypt & The Nile” River Cruise Tour with Uniworld, here is what we did…
After our short 1 hour flight back to Cairo from Luxor we headed back to where we stayed in the beginning of the tour- The Four Seasons Hotel… after a short rest we went to visit the Pyramids Of Giza Sound and Light Show under the stars.
To be honest, it’s a little hokey pokey but fascinating all in the same breathe.
The sky is pitch black and then all of a sudden the dark sky fills with color highlighting the Pyramids- exactly like the picture above. It just so happened to be our “very first glance at them in real life” so immediately we had goosebumps head to toe!! Then as you pinch yourself, you realize a story is being told about them during the show. 🙂
Our last full day in Egypt we went back out (approx. 40 minute drive from the hotel) to see the Pyramids and Great Sphinx of Giza in the daylight. They are breath taking to see in person, just look at that below!!
We marvelled at the size, heard from our Egyptologist all about them, which is super interesting, and we walked through the inside of one of them!!
We also took a camel ride for $10 USD each for 30 minutes and got this shot which you’ve seen already, what a time we had…
The past two days seeing the Pyramids were monumental for us. It was something special. It’s a wonder we didn’t have bruises from needing to pinch ourselves to wake up!!!
HOW TO DRESS IN EGYPT:
As the saying goes “When in Rome…” and as a sign of respect for the Egyptian culture it is a good idea for ladies to wrap in loose clothes (Nancy felt most comfortable like this). Scarves (which you can buy for $1 USD over there) are great to quickly wrap up when getting off the bus to enter temples and walking into local villages. Generally, men and women should cover their shoulders and knees at the very least… but of course, you choose what is best for you.
In the hot months you will want to cover up your skin anyways because you will be outside often and sunscreen will likely not be enough protection, so this kills 2 bird with one stone, so to speak. 🙂
The Egyptian people, we found were very kind, very hospitable and were as curious about us as we were about them. Many locals and children asked to have pictures taken with us like these below, and yes, we did feel like rock stars 🙂
On top of that, the security here is very good and the laws are super strict on their citizens.
In Egypt the young have a “give back mentality” so many locals volunteer to become police and because of this- the police force is big and you can feel a very strong presence everywhere you go.
Safety is of the most importance here in Egypt and the news stations at home, in our opinion, need to make news to keep people watching and unfortunately much of what they print and broadcast is overblown and many times completely inaccurate…
…what we experienced here in Egypt and what is presented in the news are two completely different things.
With Uniworld we had a police car follow our bus for extra security and it did make us feel safe but many of the guests said they thought it was unnecessary and we also agreed.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Egypt’s education system is top notch and it’s free so the number of locals who have a PhD is commonplace.
- Islam religion is based on free choice, is very flexible including tolerance of all religions.
- Muslims voluntarily give 2.5% of their savings to charity.
- Fasting of Ramadan- includes not even having water from sun rise to sunset. The reason they do it? To have empathy for poor people and to learn self control.
In Cairo and around Egypt the locals like USD and accept it “everywhere” so you DO NOT need to change money to the Egyptian pound… unless you want to.
We did bring one hundred $1 USD bills for tipping and souvenir purchases (2 coke for $1 and 2 chips for $1, two silk scarves for $4 and so on- very cheap in Egypt!!) and recommend the same for you. If you are a BIG shopper, then bring more. We consider ourselves conservative.
HELPFUL & IMPORTANT TIPS: (***Please read this***)
Tip: Checking into the Four Seasons Hotel, double check with the reception to be sure you get a NON-SMOKING room if you want that as they do not automatically assume you want it. They are very accommodating, so just ask at the front desk.
Tip: The lovely River Tosca ship does NOT have elevators, so this ship and itinerary with Uniworld is not suggested for those who cannot climb a set of stairs and can comfortably walk for extended periods of time.
Tip: If we had our time back we would have packed a bag of trail mix, jerky or similar protein snacks in our suitcase for day tours as sometimes it was a while between breakfast and lunch. So bring something with you from home!
Tip: Bring toilet paper from the hotel with you on each tour as there are many washroom breaks but many times no toilet paper.
Tip: ***The people here rely on visitors to make a living and the past few years tourism has been really low here and the people are suffering. Please feel free to give here. Besides the bigger purchases we made on credit card we also brought $100 USD in one dollar bills and we bought little knick knacks as much as we could to support them. Selfishly if feels good to give, so feel free to do the same if you feel inclined. 🙂
Tip: When in Luxor, there is an optional hot air Balloon ride that you can take for $120 USD per person. Take it!! We didn’t (as most guests onboard didn’t) but regretted it for days after. The reviews from the few guests who did it were “unforgettable” as they described it.
Tip: Comfortable walking shoes are necessary for this itinerary as you will be walking over uneven ground.
Tip: You will need to barter for purchases in Egypt as they start with really high prices. But please only ask for the price and barter if you are serious about buying something…this is good etiquette. Rule of thumb: ask how much and give them at least 1/4 of what they ask for… your guide will give you advice at each place. Nancy bought 2 beautiful bracelets for $3 each, small silk scarves for $1-2 each and a med-small wooden Pharaoh head for $5 for example.
So there you go, that was a taste of what we experienced while sailing the “Splendors of Egypt & The Nile” River on Uniworld River Cruises.
Check out our pictures & video gallery here to see more of what we experienced, what the “River Tosca” looks like, what the room choices are and to overall learn more. Don’t forget to read all the captions under each picture for more great information!
And as always, any questions about this sailing, to book it or to book any other River or Ocean Cruise or Tauck Land Tour Contact Shawn and he’ll help make your next Dream Vacation a Reality! ?
We appreciate you!
Nancy & Shawn
Your Trusted Cruise Experts!