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The Oberoi Philae Nile Cruiser // © 2010 Oberoi Hotels & Resorts
Baker recently spoke with TravelAge West to share the knowledge he gained from his research, stressing that, while he is not a tour operator, he wanted to help other agents sort through the great deal of confusion surrounding the Egyptian river cruise market. In particular, he said, many agents are confused about the common practice in Egypt of rating all vessels as five-star, which he called “a huge misnomer.”
“With several hundred boats cruising the Nile, there is a lot that needs to be understood about everything from the length of the cruise to the type of boat, quality of operator and, most importantly, the safety experience for the American guest looking for a floating-hotel experience that offers safe water and decent food preparation,” Baker said.
He emphasized the importance of using reliable tour operators such as Tauck, Abercrombie & Kent, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Insight Vacations.
Choosing the Right FitBaker said that, in his research, he found that most Nile boats are of the same length and have the same number of passenger decks, so a boat with a lower guest capacity, such as under 120 passengers, will offer bigger cabins and more space.
While inspecting potential river cruise partners, he paid close attention to everything from staterooms and public spaces to kitchens and the handling of all water and food. His two favorites among the Nile’s top-quality boats in the premier, five-star category were the American Express franchise-owned Amarco II (named best boat on the Nile by the Egyptian minister of tourism in 2009) and Galaxia Tours’ deluxe five-star, Amarco I. His reasons for choosing both had to do with each ship’s ultraviolet water purification systems and food purification systems for all soft foods, fruits and vegetables.
“These systems are unique to these two vessels,” Baker said. “It’s important for travelers to know this, as most other Nile cruise boats do not have these features.”
The Amarco I, Baker noted, also has handicapped facilities, and both boats have elevators, which is also unusual among Nile River cruise experiences.
Matters of TimeWhen it comes to cruise length, Baker’s preference is for the seven-day Nile cruise rather than the shorter itineraries.
“I like a pace that allows you to digest the amazing sights you will experience — one that allows the traveler to do some independent sightseeing away from one’s own tour group, such as shopping or going back to take in sights that are particularly of interest,” he said.
Because Egypt is home to several thousand years of exceptional history and sights, he noted, the experience needs to be one that allows guests to have adequate rest, enjoyment and time to take it all in.
“Three days is too short and does not include the amazing temples of Abu Simbel in Upper Egypt near the Sudan border — a must-see,” he added. “The four-day cruise allows for this visit at the end and on the way to Cairo, but a seven-day program allows for more time in Aswan with an optional visit to a Nubian village with a camel ride across the dunes, a visit to a Nubian home, doing some spice shopping, having a swim in the Nile along a pleasant gold sand beach. All of this cannot be seen or done in a shorter visit.”
Top Picks for the NileIn his research, Baker found the following boats to be of the highest quality. However, he noted that he did not inspect Uniworld’s new River Tosca, which was not yet available for review during his visits, or Abercrombie & Kent boats, which he described as “all magnificent and in a class of their own, catering to the most affluent American and British travelers.” Also, this ship Alexander The Great, which is used for upscale travel and is unique in its design, was not reviewed.
Premiere Five-Star ShipsThis category is the highest-level group, catering to guests who are accustomed to traveling on lines such as Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises and The Yachts of Seabourn.
Baker’s top picks in this category included:
Amarco II (70 passengers)www.amarconilecruise.com
The Oberoi Philae – Nile Cruiser (116 passengers)The Oberoi Zahra, Luxury Nile Cruiser (50 passengers)www.oberoihotels.com
Sonesta Moon Goddess (100 passengers)Sonesta St. George I Nile Cruise (118 passengers)Sonesta Star Goddess (70 passengers)www.sonesta.com/nilecruises
All boats are the same length, except for the Oberoi Zahara, which is 60 feet shorter than the other Nile cruisers. Baker also said the Oberoi Philae is in need of some upgrading, although she has excellent food and service in fine Oberoi style.
“[The Oberoi Philae] is like a fine old shoe — well-worn but incredibly comfortable,” he added.
Deluxe Five-Star ShipsThis category includes the Amarco I, which Baker rates as the best in this class and almost regards as a premiere five-star boat. The other ships in this category, he said, are recommended for travelers who traditionally sail on lines such as Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Lines.
Amarco I (98 passengers)www.galaxiatours.com
Beau Soleil (140 passengers)www.ms-beausoleil.com
Mirage I (124 passengers)www.miragecruise.com
Queen of Hansa (128 passengers)
Radamis I (140 passengers)Radamis II (158 passengers)www.radamis.com
Sun Ray (132 passengers)www.traveline-eg.com
TiYi (118 passengers)
For more information, agents are advised to contact a booking channel such as Ewaterways at www.agents.ewaterways.com