Cruising Like Cleopatra

A&K’s Sun Boats recapture the splendors of Egyptian royalty

By: Janice Mucalov

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Abercrombie & Kent’s Sun Boat III is one of
the most luxurious on the Nile.
Children laugh and play along the riverbanks under the watchful eye of women washing clothes nearby. Farmers in flowing robes plough fields with buffalo and goats graze on lush grasses.

These peaceful, almost-biblical scenes are just part of the picture of life harkening back thousands of years that clients see on a Nile River cruise between Aswan and Luxor.

From time immemorial, the Nile has ferried boat traffic up and down its grand length from the gilded royal barge on which Cleopatra and Julius Caesar holidayed to humble fishing skiffs. Among the 300 cruise vessels that ply the Nile waters today are Abercrombie & Kent’s Sun Boat III (for seven-night cruises) and Sun Boat IV (for three- and four-night cruises).

Smaller than the average Nile cruiser, the 36-passenger Sun Boat III was fully renovated in 2005. Described as the “Jewel of the Nile” by Architectural Digest, its oversize canopy beds, teak flooring, gauze draperies, brass lanterns and hand-carved mahogany furniture reflect a British colonial style with Bedouin influences. Its luxurious upper sun deck boasts a swimming pool surrounded by pots of palms and papyrus and white-tent cabanas for lounging in the shade.

The larger 80-passenger Sun Boat IV was extensively refurbished in 2006 and features chic art-deco interiors.

After joining the Sun Boat III in Aswan, the first activity is sailing on a felucca (a traditional wooden Egyptian sailboat) around the Aswan islands. Our Nubian boat captain pilots the rudder with his foot while playing a banjo.

We see fishermen beat the water with poles, then catch the 18-inch Nile perch that jump into their nets. In the distance, two camels stand along a sandy ridge at the edge of the Sahara Desert.

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The pool on A&K’s Sun Boat III
The highlight of the cruise is visiting Luxor. Our first stop is the Temple of Karnak, which we also revisit later in the evening for a dramatic sound and light show. As we wander among the 134 lotus-adorned columns in the temple’s Hypostyle Hall (the largest room of any religious building in the world), I can’t help but think of Agatha Christie’s “Death on the Nile.” We also tour the beautiful Temple of Luxor, originally linked to the Temple of Karnak by a two-mile-long avenue lined with huge stone sphinxes; many of these statues remain.

Luxor, the ancient city of Thebes, is also home to the magnificent tombs found in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. As Abercrombie & Kent guests, we’re treated to a visit to the tomb of Queen Nefertari, normally closed to the public (because of damage to the paintings from viewers’ breathing). Nefertari was the favorite wife of the great pharaoh Rameses II, who ruled Egypt for 67 years, and her tomb one of the best preserved in Egypt matches her renowned beauty. We stand in awe in front of pictures of the young queen playing games and offering gifts to the gods, marveling at the brilliant untouched colors that have survived the passage of time.

Back on board, the ship’s kitchen turns out delicious meals. Lunch one day is taken on deck fresh salads, barbecued shrimp and chicken and sinfully rich baklava. One night, we enjoy an Egyptian-style banquet, where everyone dresses up in long-flowing galabiyyas and dances to Arabic music.

Abercrombie & Kent is known for its service, so clients need only ask to receive what they want. Eggs Benedict for breakfast? Right away. Room service? Of course.

After Luxor, the Sun Boat III leaves the beaten path for Denderah and its temple of the cow goddess Hathor, where Cleopatra once worshipped. Abercrombie & Kent’s two vessels are among the few that can navigate this pastoral shallow section of the Nile between Luxor and Denderah. Standing on the temple roof, we look down on a vast brick pool in which Cleopatra once swam and where date palms now grow.

Centuries have passed since the pharaohs sailed the Nile. But their monuments and rural river scenes remain the same for clients to enjoy today.


Abercrombie & Kent

Commission: 10 percent

Sun Boat cruises are part of Abercrombie & Kent’s Egypt land-tour packages. A 12-night Pharaohs and Pyramids tour that includes a seven-night Sun Boat III cruise costs from $7,280 per person, plus air.

An onboard Egyptologist accompanies all tours.

For 2008, Abercrombie & Kent uses charter flights within Egypt so clients avoid the early 4 a.m. scheduled carrier departures.