Cruising the Nile, Sonesta Style

Nile River Cruise, Egypt
The Nile River with fishermen, the banks with agriculture, and the desert with mountains of limestone.

If you know anything about us, you might say Sonesta Nile Cruises was taking a risk inviting us to enjoy a 4-day 3-night river cruise from Aswan to Luxor, Egypt. Tom has a reputation for abandoning ship before the vessel pulls away from the dock. We’re both virgins when it comes to river cruising, and barely baptized in the ways of luxury travel. So, of course, we’re a perfect match for a luxury Nile River cruise line.

To steal from “Casablanca” and another corner of Africa, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Our cabin in Sonesta’s Star Goddess ship was a two-room suite with a balcony. We could sit outside, relax on a comfortable small sofa, work at a desk, or nap in the comfy twin beds. Or, to be encouraged, just stare out the window. The TV swiveled between the living area and bedroom. The bathroom was not too tiny, and fully equipped with shower and tub. I compared our luxury Sonesta river boat with every other I saw along the way, and saw no others with the sweet, exterior, open-air balconies from each cabin.

Sonesta Nile Cruise
Sonesta Star Goddess Beethoven Suite has plenty of room to lounge and watch the river.

Though we could have happily lounged in our own space, the boat has plenty of other spots to relax and enjoy the scenery.  The sundeck on top (5th tier) is arranged forward around a pool, and aft with seating in front of a service area used for daily tea time or happy hour. On the fourth level is a jewelry shop and a spa with treadmill, rowing machine, hot tub and sauna. The third level includes a small library space and quiet seating by the picture windows. The lobby is in the center of the second level, and in front of that is the lounge. The dining room is on the lower level. Our table next to the window allowed us to look out at the water surface at eye level.

Sonesta Nile River Cruise Egypt
A bird joins us on our Sonesta Star Goddess balcony for a look at the Nile at dusk.

But that’s all interior. What is cool about the Nile Cruise is, of course, the amazing Nile River. How amazing to see the river: deep, full and strong. (Aswan, where we started, is 180 kilometers from Luxor.) The river banks of grass and palms quickly change to the crops beyond: sugar cane, alfalfa, garlic, onions, cabbage. The muddy islands with granite outcroppings are bird sanctuaries. And then, abruptly, the bare desert extends from the green, climbs up limestone mountains, and carries on as far as you can see. It’s stark and lush all at once, the bare desert a backdrop to birds dancing in the green and donkeys lapping at the water. In my mind, it’s a luxury just to lay eyes on this strange scenery.

Nile River Cruise, Aswan Egypt
Tom and our guide Hany Shfik standing on the High Dam in Aswan, Egypt

It’s inevitable the views will make you wonder what it looked like all those millennia ago, or consider how the river flowed even a hundred fifty years ago, before the dams. Our first excursion, in Aswan, included a drive across the Old Dam and a visit to the High Dam. The first was built in 1902 by the British. The High Dam was completed in 1970, financed by the Russians, and built big. It created the enormous Lake Nasser and caused the famous Abu Simbel temple, not to mention many communities, to be relocated. Of course the High Dam provides power and prevents the unpredictable cycle of floods. Without the silt left by flood waters, though, agriculture has taken to chemicals to maximize production.

We were treated to four excursions from our floating home base. These, too, were top notch. We were fortunate to be in the company of a small but attentive group of fellow travelers and an expert guide, Hany Shfik ([email protected]). His services were arranged by Sonesta, who also provide tours in Spanish, or in other languages upon request. Our group of ten included a mother and daughter from Pakistan, and a family group of six from Hong Kong/Taipei/Burma.

Nile River Cruise Philae Temple Aswan Egypt-1
Our first temple visit and introduction to the pervasive Egyptian engravings of Philae Temple near Aswan, Egypt.

The stars of the Nile River cruise are the temples, and other posts will feature specific sites we saw during the Sonesta Nile Cruise. The river’s presence is felt during each tour. The temples have been excavated from mud, silt, and sand, the constant effects of wind and water.

The itinerary in brief

Day 1 Temple of Philae. Located between the two dams, this complex was moved and rebuilt block by block to recover it from the Nile–after it had already been submerged for decades.

Day 2 Kom Ombo Temple, Edfu Temple

Day 3 Luxor West Bank, including Valley (tombs) of Kings & Queens and Hatshepsut Temple

Day 4 Luxor East Bank, including Karnak and Luxor Temples.

Meals and entertainment were also included in the river cruise. We bowed out of the entertainment options, preferring to take in the river. Meals are all buffet style. Salad selections were good, meat and fish were generally overcooked for our taste, but the service was fine and friendly.

Hany, our guide throughout and educated as an Egyptologist, provided continuity and context. It was fun learning the essential Egyptian gods and kings and bits of hieroglyphics that helped us understand the sites' significance. The temples are huge, and only in person can you comprehend the scale, the symmetry, the progression from outer to inner sanctuaries, the precise construction, and precision carving. In some cases, even original colors remain, giving a hint of the original beauty of these monuments.

Kom Ombo Temple Egypt
With the background carved away, the gods Isis and Sobek stand in high relief before the King.

 

Kom Ombo Temple Egypt Nile River Cruise
Other carving, like the figures here, are cut deep into the stone, with familiar Egyptian symbols surviving these 2000 years.

Working in consort with Sonesta, guide Hany also helped us navigate our way through the four days. He was clear, personable, and helpful with individual plans. In the Egyptian environment of constant haggling, Hany prepared us for vendors, advised us as to tipping, and generally protected us along the way. He was happy to adapt the tour to our small group's wishes.

For anyone wondering what you get for your money, we can tell you this Nile River cruise allowed us to see and enjoy places we might otherwise not have visited on our own. This sort of tour is highly recommended for those wanting reliable and thorough information in the ease of a luxury river trip. Check out the cruise in action on Sonesta's Facebook page.  You might want to make reservations now. As of this writing, Sonesta is offering 50 percent discounts through the spring, as Egypt is just beginning to emerge from its tourism dive of the past four years. Good timing for us!

Sonesta Nile Cruise Egypt -2
A side trip through the backwaters of the Nile River near Aswan, where wildlife and Nubian villagers meld with the scenery.

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35 thoughts on “Cruising the Nile, Sonesta Style”

  1. I flew from Luxor to Cairo and to this day, that flight was the worst/scariest I’ve ever been on. The Nile cruise sounds really nice, and of course, the Aswan temples are amazing.

    • I’m glad to say we had no such experience. We flew EgyptAir from Sharm El Shiekh to Aswan, and Luxor to Cairo. All good. As for the river, I didn’t want that leg of the trip to end.

      • Hi Mrs Kristin Henning , it was lovely having you on board Sonesta Star Goddess, on which for sure we value sharing your experience with all the readers .
        looking forward for welcoming you any time .
        should any one intrested for a cruise please feel free to contact me any time
        [email protected]
        Heba Amer
        Director of Sales & Marketing
        Sonesta Nile Cruises .

  2. I confess, cruises are not at the top of my list, but there are just some places that can only be seen well from that vantage point. (We took a cruise on a small boat through the Galapagos Islands). The Nile may well be one of those places and your trip sounds just delightful.

  3. I like to take boat trips but I have never been on a cruise – they do not appeal to me. But a river cruise is something I would definitely consider. It does allow you to visit places that would otherwise be difficult to arrange to visit on your own.

  4. I’m with Yasha, not something I’ve ever wanted to do, but reading about all these luxurious river cruises is changing my mind. There’s something to be said about a small boat and moving hotel room getting you to off the beaten path destinations. I think I might be coming over to the other side.

    • I’ve only been on one other cruise – in the Caribbean – back in the 1990s. I remember standing in line a lot. This is much smaller, of course, and totally chill. I recommend you give it a try!

    • If Tom can do it, so can you! Haha, he didn’t hesitate for a second to cruise the Nile River. At any rate, it felt much more adventurous (and flexible) than being stuck on an ocean liner.

  5. Kristin, I think you could have done all those things without being on a Nile cruise, but I definitely think it was easier this way. We didn’t take a cruise…and I’m still not convinced to change my mind, but I did enjoy the Nile tremendously! The idea of just sitting and watching the river for hours really sounds nice.

    • Corinne, you’re right. In fact, the wording of the last paragraph had been bugging me and it’s been edited. Without a tour, we probably would have made an effort to get to Abu Simbel (did you see it?) but might have missed Kom Ombo and Edfu. At any rate, we were rested and ready to delve into the sites from our cushy cruise. And, since I grew up on the Mississippi, I won’t stop trying to convince you that there’s nothing comparable to a view of the world from the middle of a river. :)

  6. This Sonesta Cruise looks like an ideal way to experience the Nile, especially with a balcony suite. The photos of the temple carvings are amazing, still so clear.

  7. Deborah and I recently returned from the same cruise (with a different cruise line) that was organized through Samir Fayek of the Windsor Hotel in Cairo. Great tour with a personal guide arranged by Samir at each site. If going through Cairo, it’s worth a stop at the Windsor—the facilities are a bit dated, but the colonial English vibe still lives, particularly in the Barrel Bar. It’s sad that the Egyptian tourist industry has taken such a dive since the revolution, but it certainly worked to our favor in terms of our buying power.

    • R.D., it’s great to hear from you, and I’m so glad you had a good experience on the Nile, too. I’d been wanting to visit Egypt for a long time, and now I’ve got a list of places I want to visit next time. Thanks for the note.

  8. I once cruised the Nile, too, though on a different ship and line. I enjoyed reminiscing through your posting. One thing you had that I didn’t is an outside balcony. Still, I really enjoyed watching the scenery and spent a lot of time on the top deck watching in the open air.

    • Carole, I’d been waiting a long time to visit Egypt. Now that we are home, I wish we’d had more time there. Besides pollution in Cairo, it all lived up to my expectations, and then some.

  9. This river cruise of the Nile would be a fabulous reason to brush up on the history and myths of the gods. The luxury aspect of your river cruise definitely appeals to me (even though it doesn’t appeal to my budget!) and this cruise sounds memorable especially at 50% off!

    • Anita, I hope you’ll give it a try. When you think about all food and tours included, it’s not too pricey. And as R.D. commented above, this is about the best time ever to visit, as prices reflect Egypt’s intention of getting back on tourists’ top lists.

  10. It sounds as though you really were a perfect match for a luxury Nile River cruise line and the Sonesta Nile Cruise sounds perfect. It sounds as though a river cruise is an ideal way to avoid the traffic of land based tours. We’re headed on our first river cruise — Venice with Uniworld – so we’re also looking forward to exploring the sights in a new way.

  11. thanks dears , it was a pleasure meeting you and to be your tour guide on the star goddess ,i had a good time as well .you are a nice company , i like your pictures .
    hope to see you soon ,you will be always the most welcome in Egypt.

  12. We just returned from a tour to Egypt and Jordan which included a four day trip on the Sonesta Moon Goddess. Our accomodations didn’t seem quite as luxurious as yours but we had a wonderful time and met some interesting people. It looks as if we did the same side tours as you did and that was amazing too. We are heading to Vietnam and Cambodia in August and will include a 7 night cruise on the Mekong. We have also cruised on the Yangtze and the Zambezi. Cruising is awesome.

    • Another river dream of mine is (was?) to travel the Yangtze. Is it too late? I’d love to hear more about your travel there. Have a great trip down the Mekong…sure to be fascinating.

  13. Hi, Kristin. I don’t think it is too late to cruise the Yangtze but it might be a lot different now. We did our cruise back before the great dam was completed so the water levels were a lot lower. When we stopped at the Red Pagoda, we had to hike up a hill to get to the base of it. The Chinese government has now built a wall around it to protect the 500 year old structure from the rising water. I don’t know if you can climb to the top of it now like we did. Also, we took a short cruise on a smaller boat up a tributary of the Yangtze because the cruise ship was too big to go. Now I believe they are taking the cruise ship up the tributary. I’m glad we got to see what we did when we did but I’ll be you’d still enjoy it today as it is. Our dream river is the Amazon.

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