Voyage to the Pharaohs: New Nile River Vessels and Sailings

Americans are fascinated with Egyptian history and culture, and, so, the Nile River has become a popular draw for river cruisers. Expected to open in mid-2024 is the new Grand Egyptian Museum on the Giza Plateau, convenient to the ancient Pyramids of Giza. Once the museum opens, travelers can explore it on a pre-cruise stay, tour other Cairo area sites, and then head to Luxor for a Nile cruise. Then they’ll typically return to Cairo for one night prior to an international flight home or to another destination.

Later this year, AmaWaterways will launch its new, 82-passenger AmaLilia, named after Egypt’s sacred blue water lily flower. This new river vessel will offer 41 well-appointed staterooms, including 13 suites. Most accommodations will sport the line’s signature twin balconies (both a French balcony and outdoor private balcony).

Luxury Travel Advisor would suggest booking the 522-square-foot Owner’s Suite. For terrific Nile River views, guests can head to the French balcony within the bedroom area and a separate private outdoor balcony in the middle of the suite (between the living area and bedroom area.) This suite’s sumptuous marble bathroom will offer double sinks, a bathtub and separate multi-jet shower. Special benefits with this suite include free laundry service, a mini fridge stocked with nonalcoholic drinks and an arrival gift.

AmaLilia’s Main Restaurant will offer guests both Western and local dishes infused with Middle Eastern spices. Guests will enjoy unlimited complimentary local beer and wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner on board. Also, on one evening, guests can “sample their way” through The Chef’s Table’s multi-course tasting menu. As for personal pampering, guests can opt for a massage, manicure, pedicure or haircut, as the new vessel will have both a hair and nail salon and two massage rooms. Guests also can head up to the Sun Deck to enjoy Nile River views, a refreshing pool, comfortable lounge furniture, umbrellas and a bar.

River Tosca
River Tosca will sail three Generations sailings in Egypt in 2024. The departures are planned for December 14, December 21 and December 28. (Uniworld Boutique River Cruises)

AmaLilia and sister vessel AmaDahlia, which launched in 2021 and serves 72 guests, both will operate the 11-night “Secrets of Egypt and the Nile” itinerary in 2024 and 2025. Guests will enjoy a three-night, pre-cruise Cairo hotel stay, then sail seven nights on AmaWaterways round-trip from Luxor, and spend one night post-cruise in Cairo. Intra-Egypt air between Cairo and Luxor is included in the cruise fare. AmaWaterways uses the luxurious, riverfront St. Regis Cairo for those pre- and post-cruise stays.

Throughout the journey, one Egyptologist will accompany every 25 guests, assuring an intimate touring experience. Travelers will explore such ancient sites as the Temple of Luxor, the Valleys of the Kings and Queens, the Great Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza. In addition, AmaWaterways will provide guests with several exclusive experiences, including a private tour of Queen Nefertari’s tomb and a private lunch at the Abdeen Presidential Palace. That 19th-century palace served as Egypt’s seat of government from 1874 until the July Revolution of 1952.

In 2022, Viking’s 82-passenger Viking Osiris launched on the Nile, and in 2023, sister Viking Aton debuted. Later this year, another sister vessel, the 82-passenger Viking Hathor will make its debut. Created with a distinctive square bow and the line’s signature Scandinavian interior design, these sister vessels offer the indoor-outdoor Aquavit Terrace, a guest favorite.

Abercrombie & Kent
A&K’s “Egypt & the Nile 2024 Luxury Small Group Journey” will featurea four-night Nile River cruise. (Abercrombie & Kent)

Top accommodations? Each vessel has two 525-square-foot Explorer Suites, No. 501 and No. 502. They offer a spacious living room area plus a separate bedroom with a floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door that opens to a private veranda. A queen-size Viking Explorer Bed can be configured into two twin beds, outfitted with luxury linens and pillows; plus, the bathroom has a glass-enclosed shower, bathtub, double-sink vanity, heated floor and anti-fog mirror.

During Viking’s 12-day “Pharaohs & Pyramids” itinerary, travelers sailing on those three new ships will enjoy a three-night, pre-cruise stay in Cairo, and visit such iconic sites as the Great Pyramids of Giza, the necropolis of Saqqara (or Sakkara) and the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. In Cairo, we’d head out on Viking’s guided “Khan El-Khalili Market and Dinner” excursion. Soaking up the aura of Old Cairo, guests will visit the open-air Khan el-Khalili bazaar to peruse stalls brimming with brassware, lanterns and jewelry. Bargaining is “a must” to get the best deal. Afterward, Viking will take guests to a local restaurant for an authentic Egyptian dinner experience.

After a flight from Cairo to Luxor, guests will then tour the Temple of Luxor and the Temple of Karnak, and board their river vessel for an eight-day round-trip Nile River cruise. Special perks include Viking’s Privileged Access to Nefertari’s tomb in the Valley of the Queens and Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Guests will also take excursions to the Temple of Khnum in Esna, the Dendera Temple complex in Qena, the temples at Abu Simbel and Aswan’s High Dam. They’ll even get to know the “locals” by visiting a Nubian village and its traditional elementary school. Then, it’s back to Cairo for a final night.

Highly recommended? It’s one thing to view the Nile and Valleys of the Kings and Queens from ground level, but quite another to see those from the air. In Luxor, we’d opt for Viking’s “Hot Air Balloon Ride.” Operated by a seasoned balloonist and guide, the balloon will take guests soaring above the Nile’s west bank at sunrise—providing travelers with a lofty perch for views of the ancient temples and burial sites.

Abercrombie & Kent
Cruising the Nile also gives guests an opportunity to experience the sights and sounds of Egypt during their time on land. (Abercrombie & Kent)

In addition to those three sister ships, Viking also operates Viking Ra and Antares. In fact, Viking will have six ships sailing the Nile by 2025 with the addition of Viking Sobek, now under construction.

For families looking to book a trip to Egypt, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises’ "Generations Collection" sailings are conveniently planned around school breaks and offer activities and amenities tailored for children. That family-friendly collection expanded to Egypt for the first time in 2023. Following success with that effort, for 2024, Uniworld plans three additional Generations sailings in Egypt onboard the 82-passenger River Tosca. Departures for the cruises are December 14, December 21 and December 28.

The itinerary mirrors Uniworld’s popular 12-day “Splendors of Egypt and the Nile” itinerary but the river line has added other experiences aimed at keeping the entire family entertained. So, yes, families will visit such “must see” sites as the Pyramids of Giza, Valley of the Kings and the Temples of Karnak, Luxor and Hatshepsut. But they’ll also take part in a family-friendly football match with local children and some of the ship’s crew; go sand-dune boarding and swim in the Nile River; explore the river area by bike and traditional felucca (an Egyptian sailboat); and make a behind-the-scenes Captain’s wheelhouse visit.

The all-suite River Tosca is elegantly designed with interior wood finishes, has cozy public spaces decorated with local Egyptian wares, and offers a sprawling Sun Deck with shaded cabanas and a swimming pool. Sumptuous suites offer plush bedding with Egyptian cotton linens. The staff-to-guest ratio is almost 1-to-1.

Abercrombie & Kent
Guests of A&K enjoy exclusive access to Pyramids and dinners within ancient temples, arranged by well-connected “fixers”. (Abercrombie & Kent)

For guests considering a "Generations Collection" sailing on the Nile, it’s important to know that for all Uniworld sailings in Egypt, guests must be four years of age or older. Guests who are less than 18 years of age must be accompanied by a parent or guardian and booked in a cabin with someone who is 21 years of age or older.

In 2025, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic will debut a new nine-day “Exploring Egypt” expedition round-trip from Cairo that traces the highlights of Egyptian history from Pharaonic to Islamic times. Travelers will spend four days sailing the Nile aboard a newly chartered ship, the Sun Goddess—a stylish vessel that we say channels a boutique Cairene hotel. They’ll also visit Abu Simbel.

In addition to this new expedition, the line has added more 2024 departures of its classic 12-day journey, “Passage Through Egypt” on the Oberoi Philae.

Abercrombie & Kent’s longstanding relationship with the Nile region dates to 1977 when founder Geoffrey Kent, inspired by an encounter with David Niven on the set of “Death on the Nile,” launched the company’s first Nile River cruise. Today, the line offers voyages on four Nile ships—Nile Adventurer, Sun Boat III, Sun Boat IV, and Zein Nile Chateau. What’s new is that A&K recently announced that it’s building a new, fifth vessel. That yet-unnamed riverboat will debut in fall 2025.

This new vessel is expected to offer facilities and services akin to a high-end, floating hotel. For example, it will have both indoor and outdoor restaurants, a spa, gym, elegant social spaces, a swimming pool and sundeck. Each of 32 spacious cabins will offer floor-to-ceiling windows, Juliet balconies above the water, elegant appointments, marble bathrooms and 400-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets. In two presidential suites, guests will relax in their own outdoor hot tub on their private deck.

AmaWaterways will launch its new 82-passenger AmaLilia this year. The ship’s Main Restaurant will offer guests both western and local dishes infused with Middle Eastern spices. (AmaWaterways)

If guests desire to sail in 2024 (before that new vessel is launched), A&K’s “Egypt & the Nile 2024 Luxury Small Group Journey” features a four-night Nile River cruise on Sanctuary Sun Boat IV, which offers an Art Deco-inspired interior, 40 air-conditioned cabins, fine dining and an onboard cooking class during a Chef’s Table experience. Ashore, guests will learn from Egyptologists, plus A&K Access will grant guests private access to Queen Nefertari’s tomb with its colorful wall artwork. One plus? A&K’s guests will have access to well-connected “fixers” who can arrange anything from private after-hours access inside the Pyramids of Giza to intimate dinners within ancient temples.

Other river lines or tour operators also offer vacations that include a Nile River cruise. For example, Tauck offers two itineraries that each feature a multiple-night Nile cruise component. The first is the 13-day “Jordan & Egypt: Petra to the Pyramids” itinerary, which includes a three-night Nile cruise aboard either the Oberoi Zahra (for standard sized groups) or the Oberoi Philae (for special small group departures averaging 24 guests).

The second is the 10-day “Egypt: Jewels of the Nile” with a four-night cruise aboard either of those two ships, again varying by group size. Both Tauck itineraries include a private, after-hours visit to the Valley of the Kings and the tomb of King Tutankhamun. And with the upcoming opening of the new Grand Egyptian Museum, all travelers will soon have new ways to explore the grandeur of ancient Egypt, coupled with a relaxing Nile River cruise.

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