Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cruising the Nile in Style, Off Season

When we booked a Nile cruise in August (where temperatures are consistently over 100 degrees), I never expected the transportation to be a highlight.  

Luxor templeThe Oberoi Zahra, Luxury Nile Cruiser, designated the Best Five Star Cruiser on the Nile, is far and away the best way to see the sites in Egypt. From the itinerary to the food to the modern style of the ship itself, a week on the Nile in the Oberoi Zahra is an unforgettable experience.  Here are a few reasons why...

#1 The Ship 
Only 25 huge cabins. Modern design. Hardwood floors and giant windows in each room. This is not your normal cruise ship, it’s a floating W hotel, and then some.
Photo courtesy of Oberoi Hotels

Once you tear yourself away from your cabin there is a lot more to see…

Roof deck pool – The perfect place to be when cruising.  You’ll hear the minarets during prayer time, get firsthand views of towns along the Nile and watch people living life on the shore. And you will always have cold bottled water at hand or blended icy cold fruit or coffee drinks. 

Spa – Half of one floor is dedicated to a spa for everything from manicures to haircuts and couple’s massages with a view of the passing scenery.

Lounge – The bar feels like a den with comfortable leather chairs, music, mixed drinks, board games, and even computers if you want to stay connected.

#2 The Food
Every single meal was fantastic. The options changed daily, but favorites were always available. For breakfast, expect fresh watermelon juice and just-baked pastries, plus egg dishes made to order. Lunches are three-course meals starting with refreshing gazpacho, then a choice of salad, grilled fish or even hamburgers and dessert. The extraordinary four-course dinners – regional dishes, steak, seafood, lobster – offer five mains to choose from each night, lovely wine selections and perfect service – helpful, charming, but not intrusive. 

#3 The Itinerary
Since the hottest time is midday, the clever itinerary is planned to have morning and evening excursions while cruising between locations during the day. There are two itineraries, each eight days / seven nights, either from Luxor to Aswan or vice versa. You won't miss a major site and will often see them at the optimal time of day or night, sometimes in a private tour after normal visiting hours.

Temple of Philae 
The Temple of Philae or the temple of Isis, situated on an island, was visited both for a tour during the day and a light show at night. Its immense size is one thing, but it is also beautifully designed. And yes, the sound and light shows may be a bit cheesy, but often the only way to see the sites at night, and for that, they can't be missed.

Abu Simbel
Visiting Abu Simbel is a supplemental daytrip which includes a flight, but is one of the most intriguing sites because of the work it took to move it when the Nile dam was erected.  The entire face of the mountain was cut off and moved to this spot, right on the river.  The sheer scale is mind-boggling.

Temple of Hatshepsut 

This huge temple, set against a mountain, feels like an art deco building, but in fact is one of the oldest. Controversially, it was substantially restored in the 60s. Regardless, it is a stunning sight both inside and out.

Temple of Edfu
Each temple offers something a bit different. The Temple of Edfu had incredibly preserved carvings and the colors of the paints are still visible on the walls.

Karnak Temple 
Karnak temple at night is stunning although the sound and light show is incredibly long and boring. Also in the area, the Luxor Museum should not be missed due to the vast collection of artifacts you can see up close.

Valley of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings holds the famous tomb of King Tut, but each of the dozens of tombs are an incredible feat of construction on a massive scale.  Dug meters deep into the earth then packed with everyday items and painted before the kings and queens were laid to rest.  Incredible.

Luxor Temple
The twin of the obelisk seen at the Luxor Temple can be found in the Place de Concorde in Paris, thanks to Napoleon.

Temple of Dendara
Escorted by police to a private tour of the Temple of Dendara at night is an experience in itself, but the setting and having it all to ourselves was even better.

Tack on a few extra days for exploring Cairo and the Aswan dam region to visit pyramids and take a camel ride in the desert.

Camel shadow


Find out more about Oberoi Hotels and the Zahra on

Suggested reading: By Pulitzer Prize winning Egyptian author, Naguib Mahfouz, this fictional trilogy gives a detailed account of a family's life in Egypt.
Palace Walk (Cairo Trilogy) (9780385264662): Naguib Mahfouz: Books
Palace of Desire (Cairo Trilogy II) (9780385264686): Naguib Mahfouz: Books
Sugar Street (The Cairo Trilogy, 3) (9780385264709): Naguib Mahfouz: Books