Boutique Chic On the Nile

The Oberoi Zahra luxury Nile cruiser

By: Carole Dixon

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Guestrooms The Oberoi Zahra is
setting new standards on the Nile.
The first small-vessel luxury boat with a contemporary flair is now cruising down the Nile on a seven-day voyage beginning in Luxor or Aswan.

Clients may have heard rumblings about the fact that cruises on the Nile have started to look more like an Egyptian amusement park afloat crowded, commercial and cartoonish. Well, the Oberoi is setting a new standard. As I entered into the spacious marble lobby with creamy leather furnishings and contemporary artwork, it felt more like a hip hotel than a cruise ship.

The entire vessel is filled with sleek, neutral-toned interiors and rich dark-wood furnishings. Graceful silver sculptures flanked bold Nubian Art and scenic black-and-white photos and lithographs line the hallways.

The ship felt airy and un-crowded with so many public spaces and only 27 cabins, including two grand suites encompassing a private deck and Jacuzzi. Every room features a minibar, flat-panel TV, CD and DVD players, complimentary Wi-Fi and butler service. Additional exclusive amenities include a small gym next door to four Zen spa suites.

Meals aboard Zahra offered much more than traditional buffet fare. Multi-course offerings for breakfast, lunch and dinner included lemon risotto with calamari, lentil kebabs and Thai fish cakes. Desserts were just as delectable.

After dinner, I often found myself climbing the glass staircase up to the only floating cigar bar-library on the Nile. Other onboard activities included a theater room set up for educational documentaries and multi-media presentations on the sites and cities along the route, such as the Luxor Temple.

On balmy evenings, the nautical-themed pool bar on the top deck was the perfect venue for watching ancient villages drift by. I found this style of viewing the country much more relaxing than a bumpy road trip through the Sahara and stopping at numerous military-style check-points.

Up until now, a visit to the Valley of the Kings meant jostling with a crowd and fighting with a few hundred other tourists to get a glimpse of Ramses’ tomb before hurrying back to the ship. But, the Zahra offers unique private docking facilities. Sightseeing excursions are made in comfortable, air-conditioned mini-vans. The vans carried only six passengers, which meant that we could really enjoy the excursions with our knowledgeable Egyptologist guides.

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Cabin interiors feature
contemporary decor.
Over the seven days of our cruise, we sailed north past 5,000 years of Egyptian culture from Aswan to Luxor. Along the way, we encountered crumbling small villages, sugar-cane fields and monumental sites such as the Temple of Horus at Edfu hailed as the largest and best preserved Ptolemaic temple in all of Egypt. We also saw exotic botanical gardens, the high dam and a giant obelisk. The only time we were really mobbed was in the shopping markets, but we learned to bargain quickly for carpets, cotton clothing and perfume.

One evening I tore myself away from the chef’s cooking for an excursion to Mango Island with the other passengers. The full moon popped out of the pitch-black night and illuminated the desolate desert’s golden hills as we drifted by on our small passenger boat. We arrived on a tiny island lit entirely by hurricane lamps and candle light with small wooden tables. The meal began with lentil soup followed by a dozen small clay bowls. The offerings included chicken curry, fish with mango, meatballs, aubergine, tahini, a delicious rice, almond and currant mixture and bread baked by the sun. As we dined, servers in long white robes appeared while singing and clapping as they approached the guests until one by one, we were all on our feet holding hands in a ring-around-the-rosey-style chanting jig under that bright white moon with the locals.

Traveler Information
It’s still essential when traveling to the Nile to land in Cairo and then transfer to either Aswan or Luxor (depending on which itinerary you book.) After such a long journey, a good recommendation for your clients is that they stay at least one night in Cairo at the 18th-Century Mena House. The property features a 40-acre garden, massive pool and picture-perfect views of the Giza pyramids from most rooms. The Mena House has four different restaurants, but if you only have one night, dine at The Moghul Room, which is well-known for the best Indian food south of Mumbai. Book a private tour at the front desk with Fathyi Yiahia and he will show you all the nooks and crannies of the old city, bazaar and the oldest pyramid of King Zoser, far from the chaotic crowds of the bustling city. In some cases, we were the only people inside the dusty temples and tombs admiring the painted frescos and hieroglyphics. Clients will emerge refreshed and ready to take on the Nile.


Single cabins aboard the Oberoi Zahra begin at $1,050 in low season (July-September) and go up to $6,200 during January through April (high-season). Double cabins are priced from $2,700 to $7,500. Luxury suites range from $4,700 to $11,700. Rates include day time excursions and airport transfers.