Nile Cruise Basic Overview
A typical Nile cruise will start in Luxor and include the popular sites of Dendera, Esna, Edfu, and Kom Ombo before disembarking in Aswan. Some tours fly direct to Aswan (or you can take a train) and work their way north down the Nile to the same sights. Most cruises will last at least 4 nights. The best time to go is from October to April when it's not unbearably hot, and some of the locks are deactivated. See more about Best time to travel to Egypt)
There are many boats to choose from (more than 200 during peak season) and your budget will determine how luxurious your trip can be. The more luxurious cabins will be large, have AC, a private bathroom and a TV which can cost up to $300 a night. Most cruise ships will have nightly entertainment on board; this may include shows with belly dancers, whirling dervishes, and Nubian dancers (participation is encouraged). A "Disco Party", and a "dress like an Egyptian party" (wearing gelabas) are also a popular. Most cruise ships have a small swimming pool on board so you can cool down after a morning of temple viewing in the sun.
The days start early to avoid the intense heat of the afternoon. An Egyptologist will accompany you to the various temples and explain what you are seeing. Cruise ships tend to be on a similar schedule so be prepared to cross over on other boats to get to land and to share the sites with hundreds of others. Side trips to go hot-air ballooning, visit Abu Simbel and Dendara (if not on the scheduled itinerary) are well worth it.
Some of the nicest luxury cruise ships include: The Oberoi Philae Nile Cruiser with 54 cabins, each with their private balconies for great views of the Nile banks. Abercrombie & Kent's Sun Boat III has 14 luxuriously appointed cabins and 4 suites, decorated in an art deco style. The boat is smaller than most other luxury cruisers on the Nile so you have a more intimate experience.
If a floating hotel doesn't appeal to you, check out the traditional sailboats (felucca or dahabiya) instead. This is how the Victorians sailed the Nile and it's a very eco-friendly way to travel. For the budget traveler a Felucca is a great option, but can be basic. You'll be sleeping on the deck and toilet facilities are minimal. For those who enjoy luxury but like the idea of a small sailboat, check out The Royal Cleopatra or the Sonesta Dahabeya. Because Feluccas are smaller than a cruise ship they can dock at more sights and offer a more exclusive experience.
Why Cruise the Nile?
- A Nile cruise is special because you get to see these wonderful ancient temples and monuments from the water. At night they are lit up and it's breathtaking to see.
- A cruise is relaxing despite the early morning starts. It offers a lovely glimpse into rural life from the comfort of your cabin. Egypt is a bustling, hustling place and to be able to enjoy it from the tranquility of a boat, makes for a nice change of pace.
- Arriving at the historical sites as part of a large group can make some people feel more comfortable especially if there are lots of persistent hawkers around.
- Most cruise ships will have a highly knowledgeable Egyptologist to guide you through the sites which is important because it adds interest to what you are seeing, and after two or three stops you'll be getting your Gods confused.
Why NOT to take a Nile Cruise
- A Nile cruise takes up a good chunk of your Egypt vacation, especially if you only have ten days or less. There is so much to see just in Luxor alone, a few extra days there and a chance to visit Abu Simbel may be more rewarding.
- You can see the sites on a typical cruise itinerary by land if you want to. There's a train from Luxor to Aswan that is comfortable and takes just 3 hours. You can also hire a car and stop off at Kom Ombo and Edfu along the way. Some of the best temples like Dendara and Abydos are not even part of most cruise itineraries.
- If you are a keen Archaeologist/Historian you'll certainly want to spend more time than a cruise ship allows to visit every site. If you travel independently you can also time your visits to avoid the cruise ships and tourist buses and get a more personal tour of the sites with a private guide.
- The nightly entertainment on board a cruise ship, dress parties, and belly dancing is not everyone's idea of a good time. Nor is spending a week with other tourists on board the most intimate way to experience Egypt.
- Since cruise ships have to go through locks (usually April - June), there can be significant delays and a lots of waiting in cruise ship queues. Similar clusters of ships can be found at the main sites which is not ideal.
- If you are traveling to Egypt with small children, a Nile cruise is not ideal, the temples will bore them and there is not much to do on the boat.