If finding a dead butterfly on the pillow of your bed is the symbolic equivalent of “happy voyage” in ancient Egyptian mythology, my adventure on a river cruise aboard The Aggressor Nile Queen was blessed by 3,000-year-old deities just hours before sailing.
Sadly, the winged cabin companion who died upon his arrival – I – was there by accident, if not by negligence, and contributed to the ominous beginning of this adventure in the Middle East. The first clues were the shoddy surroundings when the captain welcomed guests aboard his 154-foot-long, eight-compartment ship. Wearing a traditional white galabiya, he stood proudly beside his floating desk as passengers literally had to walk on the plank.
While other river cruise lines roll out real red carpets on departure, Aggressor looks fine with having guests negotiate a path made of scraps of mud-stained wood along an ugly and somewhat treacherous makeshift pier. If these are normal operations, this is not my idea of a great start to a great journey. Then again, some might find this charmingly rustic and raw.
Six of the Nile Queen cabins are in the deluxe category, each with two single beds that cannot be moved or combined. The only spacious sleeping quarters are in the two main halls which have a queen bed, and we can only assume there are no dead butterflies where you lay your head.
The entrance to all the passenger cabins is long carpeted, dating from a ship, to be fair, it is intentionally not modern. The problem is that the past we’re supposed to relate to isn’t the crazy squiggly rug of the ’70s, but more of the ’20s and ’40s when sail-powered, shallow-bottomed, barge-like dashes like these were common in the days of monarchy when aristocrats loved to sail the The Nile River in style.
There’s an upside to the outdated cream-colored rug, which, to be fair again, may have been retro-styled in retro-respecting Egypt when the Queen of the Nile was built in 2009. The floors lead happily to steps that take occupants to the upper deck space. More attractive than the deck below.
The Nile Queen itinerary can’t help but get thrilling views from a rooftop deck adorned with a hot tub, lounge chairs and bar. Few would argue that the most intriguing, legendary 4,135-mile waterway is the 129 between Luxor and Aswan. Aggressor (gressor.com) takes advantage of this route with stops that let guests follow in the footsteps of the pharaohs we all learned in sixth grade.
Of course, the Queen of the Nile is not the only boat navigating the waterway on which Egypt is completely dependent on life-giving waters and arable land. No less than twenty other cruise lines make from Luxor to Aswan operating for four nights and longer. Price-wise, the Queen of the Nile falls in the mid-range in advertised prices of $1,729 and $1,849 per person, for double occupancy, for a luxury cabin and a master cabin, respectively, through winter 2024.
For Nile Queen passengers, a robust series of day trips to ancient ruins and archaeological treasures begins after the first group lunch on board. He spends his Saturday afternoon visiting the 2,000-year-old temples of Karnak and Luxor, the latter considered the largest and most important religious center in ancient Egypt.
Sunday starts early for guests who add a hot air balloon ride over Luxor. Then after breakfast, head to the Valley of the Kings to visit a selection of the open tombs of the day and the giant statues of Memnon. Next is the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut followed by the Valley of the Nobles, a site of colorfully decorated rock-cut tombs that appear to be newly painted despite being thousands of years old.
Day 3 schedule starts from the East Bank for a tuk-tuk taxi ride to El Kab, once the capital of Upper Egypt, followed by a visit to the well-preserved Temple of Horus in Edfu. On the penultimate day of the tour, passengers visited Jebel al-Silsila, an ancient rock quarry site and the source of the massive sandstone blocks used to build the temples visited during this trip.
After visiting the Kom Ombo temple and some stuffed crocodiles, it’s time to take a swim in the Nile and spend some free time on Herdiab Island. An outdoor Bedouin barbecue dinner marks the last night of the cruise.
When you are in de Nile
If sailing over the Nile doesn’t float on your boat, Aggressor can customize an itinerary that includes many of the same locations as the River Adventure just by truck. The land experience also begins in Luxor. The main stations are already covered, but what is often left over from the river cruise itineraries and should be added to a customized road tour is the Valley of the Queens, a treacherous site where the wives of the great pharaohs, including Queen Nevitari, were set. The rest are from 1550 to 1070 BC.
If you’re overwhelmed with ancient ruins, head to Hurghada, a rapidly growing resort area on the Red Sea coast. Getting there by land lets you split the 4 1/2 hour desert trek with lunch at a Bedouin family’s home, a bonus that your guide can arrange.
A former fishing village and today’s scuba divers’ paradise, Hurghada is so rich in luxury properties that it would be hard for anyone to beat the all-inclusive Hilton Hurghada Plaza Hotel with its private beach, swimming pools, adjacent shopping mall, nightly live entertainment, and exceptional restaurants. Check out where they get their seafood by walking to the nearby marina and the adjacent fish market.
A popular day trip destination is Mahmya, a private beach on the southern shores of Giftun Island. The hour-long boat trip in each direction is no-frills, but anything but a Caribbean paradise that offers snorkeling, buffet lunch, bar service, DJ music, and other great activities for families, couples, and singles.
Cairo: Gateway to the Nile
If there is a vacation destination that requires experience in hand and professional organization, it is Egypt. Trustworthy and intelligent handlers, guides and drivers are gods in a land of logistical challenges, strange bases and impromptu police checkpoints that many locals said were legacies of the Mubarak regime.
Whether it’s the start of a river cruise or a road trip, an elegant way to start is with an organized transfer from Cairo International Airport to the fabulous Fairmont Nile City. A four-night stay is optimal. Live the dream by being escorted into the lobby each morning and then escorted in an air-conditioned van to the most amazing sites on earth starting with the Giza plateau, home to the iconic Triple Pyramids and the Sphinx all built between 2600 and 2500 BC.
Day trips should also include Memphis and its giant reclining statue of Ramses II, and the monument-laden Al-Moez Street in Old Islamic Cairo that leads to the bustling and colorful Khan El Khalili Bazaar.
A must visit in November is the Grand Egyptian Museum which is located less than a mile from the Pyramids of Giza. The 5.2 million-square-foot museum will open years after its originally planned opening, replacing the smaller and decaying Cairo Museum, and will be the new permanent home of what is perhaps a famous artifact of ancient Egypt.
The golden funerary mask of King Tutankhamun was the centerpiece of a massive world tour of his antiquities that smashed attendance records when it swung in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the 1970s. Another Tutmania tour launched with a world tour in 2018, though the famous mask wasn’t among the treasures when it passed through the L.A. Worthy of note, the silver lining at the museum’s late opening now comes on the centenary of the discovery of a tomb King Tut in 1922.
Whether it’s the end of an adventure on water or land or a combination of both, a good choice for last-night accommodation is Le Passage next to Cairo International. Clean, comfortable rooms, a small handful of decent boutiques, and restaurants that serve surprisingly good Chinese and Indian food make this a solid and convenient option to stay in downtown Cairo a hectic hour away. Regardless of how Egypt experienced at this point, any opportunity to reduce tension on the way home would undoubtedly be welcome.