As part of our Egypt itinerary in April 2019, Dan and I took a Nile River cruise with Emo Tours Egypt. While we are not cruisers at all (having only cruised once previously), we choose a Nile River cruise because it seemed like the easiest and quickest way to get between Luxor and Aswan, while seeing the sites in between. We very, very much enjoyed our cruise and cruising the Nile is SO GORGEOUS. But, there were certainly some things that surprised us about the cruise, probably because there is not a lot of information online about these cruises except “rah rah, you have to do it!” So, here is my complete review and guide of our cruise down the Nile River!
PROS: Easy way to get from Luxor to Aswan while seeing some sites in between, cruising down the Nile is amazing, generally safe and comfortable, Emo Tours Egypt tour guide was fantastic!
CONS: The food, limited activities on the ship, limited interaction with Egyptian culture.
EMO TOURS AND THE CRUISE SET UP
We booked our cruise with Emo Tours Egypt, because its one of the highest rated tour companies in Egypt on TripAdvisor, and it was recommended by a fellow blogger friend. Emo Tours Egypt offers 2 options to cruise down the Nile – from Luxor to Aswan over 5 days, or from Aswan to Luxor over 4 days. Both hit the same sights. We opted for the longer cruise in the thought that we would see more, but looking back, you just have more time “in port” (see below), which was certainly skippable. As such, doing this trip again we would probably do the 4 night cruise.
We easily booked our tour online via the Emo Tours Egypt website, taking advantage of its SAVETHISWAY 10% discount! The base price of our cruise was $1,080 USD per person, which includes the guided tours described on Emo Tours Egypt’s website, lodging, transportation to the ship and to the airport after, and all meals on the ship (see below for more information). Emo Tours Egypt also offers some optional extras that tourists can add on at an additional cost. We added on a day trip to Abu Simbel, the Sound and Light Show at Karnak Temple, and King Tut’s Tomb in the Valley of the Kings. With the add-ons, our trip totaled $1,110 US per person. Note – its best to add on the “extras” when booking in my opinion. There was not really an option to “add on” once we were no the tour.
What we did not realize when booking our Nile River cruise, is that Emo Tours does not run the cruise. Instead, Emo Tours books your passage on a third party cruise ship, which cruise ship is totally separate from Emo Tours and will be booked with other travelers not working with Emo Tours, which was surprising to us. However, what you do get with an Emo Tours booking, is your own personal guide who comes on the cruise with you (staying in a room with another guide) and organizes and guides all of your tours off the boat (i.e. what is advertised on the Emo Tours Egypt website). This ended up working out very well for us, but it was a bit strange to find out on arrival… That being said, our guide, Ashrf, was completely awesome and organized everything perfectly! This is also a pretty common set up on these types of cruises down the Nile, and most passengers had a guide accompanying their group. I wouldn’t really recommend a Nile River Cruise without one.
CHECK-IN AND THE START OF OUR CRUISE
We did not hear much from Emo Tours between booking and our cruise – just one email regarding our day trip to Abu Simbel. The night before our tour started,, our guide, Ashrf, called our hotel in Luxor to ask what time we wanted to start the next morning. We choose 9 AM, as that’s when we thought the tour started, and we did not know that we had a choice. Ashrf arrived right on time and loaded all of our luggage into a car. He then explained that rather than going straight to the ship as expected, we would first do our Luxor tours for the day. As such, we proceeded to tour the Karnak and Luxor temples and stop for a sugar cane juice. Our driver stayed in the car with our luggage during the tours, while Ahsrf went with us and acted as our guide. Luckily, we were dressed appropriately for the tours and were not in cruise-wear. I would confirm with your guide the plans for the day before getting dressed…
Around 1 PM, we finished with our tours and were driven to the ship, which is located in the Nile River right in front of Luxor Temple (see the cover photo!). Our guide helped us down some old stairs to the large heap of boats moored 4 deep and we proceeded to board the first boat, walk through it and board a second boat walk through that and board a third boat. Our ship was the third boat – the Nile Dolphin. The whole getting there was quite confusing but appeared to be standard procedure. Upon arrival, we sat while Ashrf took our passports (and kept them until that evening) and checked us in. We were shown to our room about 15 minutes later.
Our room was room 410 on the fourth floor of the ship. It consisted of decent sized room for a ship that included a small hall with the bath on one side (decent and the shower was totally fine) and a fair sized closet with a safe, then a main room with a double bed, a dresser with a large mirror, and a small sitting area with a table and 2 chairs, an old school TV, and a mini fridge. We, like all rooms, also had a stunning floor to ceiling window overlooking the Nile that actually opened! By far, the best part of the room. We proceeded to lunch after confirming that our room was correct.
THE NILE DOLPHIN SHIP
The Nile Dolphin is one of many, many ships that sail between Luxor and Aswan, and back, weekly. Literally, the boats are everywhere and when in port, stack 4 or 5 deep (hence why we walked through 3 boats to board the Nile Dolphin in Luxor). While there are small differences in each of the ships, they are all very similar and offer similar services. In fact, we did not even know which ship we were booked on until we got to the ship. Rumor has it that there is not much difference in the quality or price of any of the ships and booking can depend on which ship is full, running on the day you want to leave, etc. However, there is one pristine ship called the Steam Ship Sudan, which is supposed to be much nicer. We passed it once on the river, and it did not look that much nicer…
In any case, the true beauty of these ships are the views sailing down the Nile. The worst is in port when you are 4 deep and you have to keep your curtain closed to avoid looking into someone else’s room on the next door ship…
The bottom floor of the Nile Dolphin was home to the dining room, and that’s about it for guests.
The second floor holds the main entrance, as well as the checkin desk and some rooms. The third floor is home to the limited shops – a jewelry shop, an “Egyptian” clothing shop for Egyptian night on the ship, as well as a few souvenirs (like towels and hats), and a small souvenir shop. Prices were reasonable, but keep an eye on the jewelry shop. Prices are negotiable (like 40% off negotiable!). There is also no place to buy toiletries, etc. on the ship, aside from the complimentary bottles of shampoo and soap in your cabin. Bring your own stuff, including sunscreen. These shops are also only open when the ship is sailing.
The fourth floor houses rooms, including ours, and the bar area. The bar is generally open from about 11 AM – 11 PM (but no set hours, shorter when in port) and servers from the bar serve on the pool deck. It was never that busy during our trip.
And finally, the fifth floor is home to the pool deck. We spent most of our time on the 5th floor pool deck. While the pool was about 1 foot deep, it was a nice space to relax and watch the Nile go by.
For many cruisers, a Nile River cruise will probably be a bit different than usual, particularly in the activities department. Meaning that, there really are not many activities hosted by the ship. The Nile Dolphin did post an itinerary on the first floor every day, but that was about it.
Each day we went out with our Emo Tours Egypt guide and then just came back and hung out on the ship. The best and most frequented “activity” on the ship is the top-deck pool area, and most Nile River cruise ships seemed to have the exact same set up. In short, the top deck is divided into 2 parts. The first, a pool area with a small, shallow pool (not ideal for swimming) with sun loungers and umbrellas. The second part is covered with tables and chairs, for board games, reading, and relaxing.
Afternoon Tea is served on the days “at sea” on the top deck and consists of tea, coffee, and a small sweet snack. This was a nice treat to break up the afternoon.
One evening, our first full day at sea, there was a 30 minute cocktail hour before dinner. The cocktails on offer were very sweet and colorful (and strong) ouzo based. Nothing more except for the non-alcoholic versions of the same cocktails. While the cocktails were not the best, it was nice to get the ship together for an event.
Each night after dinner, there was supposed to be an “event” in the bar area. On more than one night the event was a “disco,” but no disco ever happened. Aside from the disco, after the Egyptian Dinner that was a Galabia party, where you wear your finest Egyptian clothing (from ancient to present, all sold on the ship) and dance. Most of the ship participated in this event and that was fun, but the whole dressing up bit seemed offensive…
On our last night we also had a belly dancer and a performance by a group of Nubian musicians. This was an odd pairing that went on for a bit too long. Nevertheless, it was interesting for about 30 minutes.
In terms of other activities, there is a “spa” service on board. Prices are set. I did foot reflexology and I very much enjoyed it. Spa services seemed to only be available on days “at sea.” The reflexology was performed on the pool deck or in room – I opted for the pool deck.
Finally, there are three shops on the ship – a jewelry shop, an Egyptian clothing shop, and a souvenir shop. These store were open when at sea and occasionally in port. Prices in the jewelry shop are definitely negotiable, cutting off as much as $40 US. I preferred to shop off the ship, but these will do the trick in a pinc\h.
Passage on the Nile Dolphin includes 3 meals a day – breakfast from about 6:30 – 9:00, lunch mid-day (time varies depending on port schedule), and dinner (time also varying depending on port schedule). Each meal was served buffet style with a decent variety of options fitting most diets (except vegan). Also, you have assigned seating at each meal; wherever you sit for the first meal is your spot for the rest of the trip!
While we very much enjoyed our time on the Nile Dolphin, the food was not the greatest, at all. Most meals, with the exception of 1 “Egyptian Night” was Western and while edible, was pretty bland. I definitely feel like we missed on on some good Egyptian food on the Nile Dolphin.
For breakfast most mornings, there was a made-to-order omelette station, beef bacon and sausages, a sort of cream of wheat dish, cereal, breads, and a cold section of fruits, vegetables, and yogurts. There were probably a few more things on the breakfast buffet but, not being a big breakfast eater, I stuck with cereal. There was also an included juice, tea and coffee bar each morning. Also, if you are leaving super early any mornings (like at 4:30 to go to Abu Simbel!), the ship will make you an included breakfast box to go, which is surprisingly good! Ours included several types of bread, a banana, yogurt, and a mango juice box.
For lunch and dinner, the options changed every day. However, the meals generally consisted of a soup (always tasty), a tomato sauce and pasta dish, rice, a beef dish, a chicken or fish dish, a potato dish, and a couple vegetable based dishes. There was always a bread station with several types of bread and a cold station, with salad, vegetables, and some Egyptian style sauces. There is also always a separate dessert buffet with a variety of cake/brownie type desserts. Of note, no drinks are included with breakfast or dinner. Instead, you order from the menu on the table and pay by the drink. The standout dishes from our cruise in my opinion were the fresh white cheese served next to the pasta each night (SO good), a chicken shwarma dish served one night, the Egyptian bread with tahini sauce served each meal, and some tasty frites that were served on night. The fried chicken and fried fish also seemed to be crowd favorites.
The only included drinks on the boat are coffee, tea, and juice at the breakfast buffet and Afternoon Tea. And, that one 30 minute cocktail hour one evening. Otherwise, you have to purchase all beverages from the little pink menus floating around. I forgot to take a picture, but prices were generally reasonable, except for hard liquor. That was quite expensive.
On the menu are bottled water, Coke, Sprite, Coke Zero (the only diet soda), some juices, some coffee beverages, and beer, red, white, and sparkling wine, and some hard spirits. Some wines are sold by the glass and others only by the bottle (i.e., the sparkling wine). I found everything to be reasonably priced except the hard liquor. Drinks were served at all hours of the day. We typically ordered at a meal, on the pool deck where servers are walking around, or in the bar area. No one seemed to care at all that we were drinking alcohol.
Concerned about the selection on the ship before leaving home, I emailed Emo Tours Egypt and asked if we could bring Duty Free alcohol aboard and Emo Tours said that I could. On arrival, there was a sign at the front desk stating that all alcohol brought on board had to be handed over to the front desk for the duration of the cruise, to be returned at the end. However, there was another notice in the menu that outside alcohol incurred a corkage fee. In practice, neither of these really seemed to hold true. Our bag of duty free purchases was taken to our room without question and we just enjoyed our purchases in our room. We also purchased some soda and waters and chips when off the ship almost every day and stored in our small fridge for when we wanted them.
OUR NILE CRUISE ITINERARY
On our FIRST DAY, a Monday, after officially boarding the Nile Dolphin, we enjoyed lunch onboard and lounged around on the sun deck until 6 PM when it was time to leave with our Emo Tours Egypt guide, Ashrf, for the Karnak Sound and Light show, which was just so so (meaning I would not do it again!). We returned to the ship after the show and did not see our guide again until the next morning. We spent the evening having dinner and a drink in the bar area. Note that if you do the Karnak Sound and Light Show, make sure to confirm that dinner will still be served when you return to the ship, or plan to eat off the ship in Luxor. That is what I will do next time. Luxor has good restaurants!
On Tuesday, our SECOND DAY, and first full day on the ship, we left the ship early around 7:30 AM (early departures are very common in Egypt to beat the heat) with Ashrf to tour the West Bank of Luxor. Other cruisers stayed on the ship, while others explored on their own, and others went off with their own guides. For our West Bank tour, we toured Colossi of Memnon, the Temple of Hatshepsut, and the Valley of the Kings with Ashrf. These sites were really awesome and very highly recommended.
We returned to the Nile Dolphin around 1 PM and boarded just (literally, just) before departure from Luxor. For me, this was when the cruise really started. Leaving the other ships in port and sailing down the Nile is completely awesome, and wayyyyy better than sitting in port with a million other boats! Our schedule for the remainder of the day was simply sailing, and going through the Esna dam and lock around dinner time. The Nile Dolphin hosted 30 minute cocktail hour just before dinner, which offered finger foods and some rainbow colored adult beverages made with ouzo. Interesting choice…
On DAY THREE, Wednesday, our morning again started early to visit the temple of Edfu promptly at 9:30 AM, right when the ship pulled into port, with Ashrf. This is one of the times when we were really, really thankful for our guide, as it would have been nearly impossible to visit the temple of Edfu and return to the Nile Dolphin without a guide in 2 hours. For example, the Temple of Edfu is not close to the port, so Ashrf arranged for a horse carriage to take us to the Temple of Edfu and back, all in 2 hours!
We returned to the Nile Dolphin around noon for lunch and a sail further down the Nile to the Temple of Kom Ombo – the Crocodile Temple! Unlike Edfu, Kom Ombo is right next to the port, so you could explore the Temple of Kom Ombo on your own. In our case, trusty Ashrf guided us around and then, for an extra fee, we went to the crocodile museum to view mummified crocodiles! Really cool!!
Back on the ship, the entire boat dressed up for what the Nile Dolphin calls “Egyptian Night,” which consisted of an Egyptian dinner (that was delicious!) and an Egyptian party where guests dressed up as ancient Egyptians. The dinner was fab, but the dress-up party was a bit uncomfortable…
On DAY FOUR, Thursday, we woke up in the gorgeous town of Aswan, parked alongside a million other Nile River cruise boats. After breakfast on the ship, Ashrf and a driver took us around Aswan to see the sights, including the Aswan High Dam, the Philae temple, and the Unfinished Obelisk. All of this was totally arranged by Ashrf and this would be very difficult to do on your own, especially in a couple hours. Side note – for touring Aswan, get out early because its extremely hot in Aswan!
After lunch back on the ship (well, I snuck down the road to McDoanlds) and some rest time that we used to go across the street to have some shisha at a local mall, Ashrf took us on a tour of the local Aswan souk! This was a fun experience that Ashrf really put a lot of effort into. Another bonus of our Emo Tours Egypt guide!
Our day ended back on the boat with dinner and a Nubian musician and belly dancer show (I know, odd combination).
On our final, FIFTH MORNING, we checked out at 4:30 AM (!!) for a 3.5 hour drive to Abu Simbel with Ashrf and a local driver. Abu Simbel, a temple near the Egypt/Sudan border, was one of the optional extras that we booked through Emo Tours. Ashrf checked us out before we left, and the Nile Dolphin provided us with a breakfast bag (it was surprisingly good!). I am going to do a separate post on Abu Simbel, but it was one of my top things that I did in Egypt and 100% worth the 3.5 hour drive each way! After our tour, Ashrf drove us back to Aswan. We were supposed to be dropped off at the airport, but, instead, Ashrf arranged for us to leave our luggage with our driver so that we could spend some time at the Old Cataract Hotel before catching our flight, where we had lunch, some drinks, amazing views, and shisha!
Taking a cruise between Luxor and Aswan was perfect for our trip, and it was a convenient way to get between the two cities while seeing the sites in between. Our guide was great and made everything super easy for us. What I did not like was the Nile Dolphin food, the quality of the ship (it could have been a bit nicer!), and the nightlife on the ship.
TIPS FOR TAKING A SIMILAR CRUISE DOWN THE NILE RIVER
- There is often no (working) ATM on the ship. Get cash in Luxor or Aswan.
- There may not be a (working) credit card machine to pay your bill at the end of your trip. Have cash. This seemed to be a common theme…
- If you do not have a tour company/guide, plan your offshore activities well in advance. Stops are short and quick and there is not enough time to lolly around and figure it out.
- We, in our mid-thirties, felt like we were the youngest people on the boat by decades. For whatever reason, Egypt is popular with the older crowd.
- Wifi onboard is expensive and not great, if it works at all. Don’t plan to use the wifi to get anything done.
- You can leave the ship to eat, drink, shop, etc. when its in port. We left several times in Aswan, and I wish we had left for dinner in Luxor.
- You can wear whatever you want on the cruise.
- Bring your own toiletries on the cruise ship. There is like no where to buy them between Luxor and Aswan.
- Print out your itinerary to ensure that you hit everything planned, especially if you book extras!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Emo Tours Egypt: The tour company that we used to book the Nile Dolphin. Use the code SAVETHISWAY to save 10%.
The Nile Dolphin: The ship’s website.