Although I have booked a number of passengers onto the MS Grand Rose, I had never seen her before myself. Therefore when Red Sea Holidays offered me the chance to spend three nights onboard, I grabbed the opportunity.
Whereas a few years ago most Nile cruise operators used flights from Gatwick and Manchester to Luxor, there have been some changes recently. Now Red Sea Holidays uses scheduled EgyptAir flights from Heathrow, which depart on a Monday. One great extra they include is complimentary access to a Departure Lounge at Heathrow, which is where I met up with Danielle from Red Sea Holidays, and the other travel agents who were travelling with us. It was great to relax and have a few drinks and snacks, away from the busy departure lounges.
Our flight with EgyptAir was good, with plenty of leg-room in economy. The food served was pretty good, although they do not serve alcohol onboard their flights.
On arrival at Luxor airport we were met by friendly staff and shown exactly where to go, and how to deal with the tourist visa which costs £15 each. We were then driven to the boat which was moored in the town centre. It was after midnight when we arrived, so it was straight to our cabins for some sleep.
It was an early start, to miss some of the midday sun, with breakfast at 07.00, before heading out at 08.00. Our first stop was Karnak Temple, which is about 3k from Luxor (or Thebes as it was known in ancient times), on the right, or East, bank of the Nile. This is actually an enormous complex with 3 main temples, dedicated to Amun (aka Amun-Re, Amon or Amen), Mut and Montu. The great temple of Amun is the largest temple supported by columns in the world, with a hypostyle hall which is 120m long, and over 50m wide, with 134 massive columns.
We then got back on the coach for the short drive to Luxor Temple, which is dedicated to the Theban triad of Amun, Mut and Chons. There was originally a straight avenue between Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple, which was lined on each side by large human headed Sphinxes, carved from sandstone. A lot of work has gone on in recent years to uncover and restore these, and it is hoped that eventually you will be able to walk the 3km avenue between the temples.
We were back onboard before midday, for an enjoyable lunch. Then, while the other passengers relaxed with a refreshing drink, we had a presentation about Red Sea Holidays, and a tour around the boat. Then it was our turn to relax, enjoy a cool drink, and I must admit that I then had a short sleep, following the late night and early morning.
I met the others in my group at 18.30 for dinner, which was a very enjoyable hot buffet, after which we strolled the short distance to see the Sound & Light show at Karnak Temple. I had heard both good and bad reports about these shows, so was anxious to see what they were like. While I did enjoy it, I have to admit that that I had expected more, with perhaps laser lights.
We then headed back to the boat for the evening entertainment, which consisted of Belly Dancing and a Tanura (or Whirling Dervish) Show. Being an All Inclusive boat, there were no problems over whose round it was, and we finished off a very enjoyable day.
Another early start, with breakfast served at 06.00. We then boarded the coach at 07.00 for our journey to the West Bank of the Nile, to visit the Colossi of Memnon, Valley of the Kings, and the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.
The Colossi of Memnon consists of two massive stone statues of Amenhotep III, which were built 3,400 years ago to guard his memorial temple. However, the statues are all that is really left at the site now. The Valley of the Kings, which is now a World Heritage Site, is situated on the mountain-side, and contains the tombs of many Pharaohs, including those of Tutankhamen and several Ramses. The entrance ticket you are given by your tour guide gains you access to 3 tombs, which you can select from those open to the public. There is an additional charge for entry to the Tomb of Tutankhamen.
The Temple of Queen Hatshepsut (aka Deir El-Bahari) was built around 1480BC, and is dedicated to one of the most successful female Pharaohs. The temple consists of 3 terraced courtyards, and is reached along a 100 foot causeway.
Although not part of the normal tours, we were lucky enough to go and visit the recently opened replica of the Tomb of Tutankhamen, which is situated near the house of Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb back in 1922. The tomb is an exact replica in both size and design, and has been built to protect the original tomb from damage. We also got shown around Howard Carter house, which has been preserved like a museum. We then returned to the boat for lunch at 13.00, and we set sail for Esna. Then we had a leisurely afternoon watching life on the Nile, and enjoying a few cold drinks from the bar.
My group met for drinks at 19.00, before going for another very enjoyable dinner. This evening’s entertainment was the Galabiya party, where everyone is encouraged to dress up in a traditional Egyptian Galabiya. It was a great evening, and everyone joined in. Almost every passenger on the boat, including our group, joined in and wore a Galabiya. They can be purchased for very little cost onboard, and can be taken home ready for your next fancy dress party or taken back on your next Nile cruise as I did.
All too soon the trip was drawing to a close for my group, and we met for breakfast at 06.30, before leaving the boat at 07.00. We were driven back to Luxor, and given a tour of the Luxor Museum, followed by a nice boat trip across the Nile, before heading for the airport for our afternoon flight. As the direct flights between Luxor and Heathrow only happen on a Monday, we had to fly via Cairo, so arrived back in Heathrow late evening.
The rest of the passengers onboard were obviously staying for the full cruise, and the rest of their itinerary was due to be as follows: -
In my view a Nile Cruise offers exceptional value for money, giving a good mixture of relaxation and a very interesting lesson in ancient history. It is something which everyone should consider doing at least once. One thing to bear in mind though is the high temperatures in the summer. If you love the sun then it shouldn't be a problem but, if like me, you don’t really like it too hot, you should think of perhaps going between late October and early April.
Originally built in 2005, the MS Grand Rose was given a refurbishment in 2010. She has been awarded a 5 star rating, by the Egyptian authorities.
There are 5 decks, with 60 passenger cabins and 2 suites. All the cabins have a Nile view, and while most have a double bed, there are a few with twin beds. All have ensuite shower and WC, with a range of toiletries provided, air conditioning, satellite television, safe and hair dryer. Standard cabins have a small lounge area and large window. Middle and upper deck cabins benefit from a larger, panoramic window. Suites have a larger open plan lounge area, and an additional panoramic window.
Facilities on the boat include: -
The food served onboard is of a good quality, with plenty of choice to ensure that there is something for everyone.
The price you pay for your Nile cruise includes your return scheduled flights from Heathrow to Luxor, a VIP Departure Lounge pass at Heathrow, resort transfers, 7 nights “All Inclusive” accommodation, and the following excursions, which are all escorted by an extremely knowledgeable Egyptologist.
Optional excursions can be purchased onboard, such as one of the Sound & Light shows at a Temple, the Aswan Nubian Village & National Park trip from Aswan, by road or by air, to visit Abu Simbel.
Tipping or "Baksheesh" is a way of life in Egypt, and expected for nearly all services. To make life easier, the guide / Egyptologist onboard offers to collect a voluntary sum of £20 per person for the 7 night cruise, and then tips drivers, porters, temple guards, boat’s crew etc on your behalf. I personally find this much better than having to decide who and how much to tip, as well as trying to have enough small denomination banknotes. This doesn’t include the Egyptologist, but I am sure that you will want to give them something, as they do go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that you enjoy your time on the Nile.
If you want a longer holiday there are a number of options you can consider, such as adding 3 nights in Cairo, either pre or post cruise. You could also combine the Nile cruise with 7 nights at Luxor, perhaps at the Jolie Ville Kings Island, or at one of a number of Red Sea Resort hotels. When you are staying at the Red Sea, there are a good number of activities to consider which include golf, snorkelling and diving. There are diving packages of all levels available ranging from those with no experience, those already qualified, and even where you want to obtain your diving license.
For more information about all the options for Nile Cruises, and Nile Cruise & Stay Holidays, call Ian at Nile Cruises with GoCruise on 01455281770 or 08002922850.