What to Expect On A Nile Cruise

When you think of Egypt, it’s almost certain that right behind the Pyramids, you think of cruising down the Nile. There’s something incredible about cruising down the same waterway the Pharaohs once did, seeing the temples along the way. However, if you’re used to big-boat cruising (or not used to cruising at all), you may not know what to expect from a Nile Cruise.

Amanda Plewes looking out at the Nile River

Nile Cruise Overview

The vast majority of Nile Cruises go from Aswan to Luxor, or the reverse. Almost all of them are for 3 or 4 night itineraries (marketed as 4 or 5 days, respectively).

The biggest thing to know is that the itinerary and sites seen don’t change with the 3 or 4-night option – the difference is how many sites get packed into a day.

One unique thing about a Nile cruise is the lack of cruising. The distances covered are really quite small, so you’ll spend very little time actually floating. Nile cruises are very much like floating hotels that happen to move. They have far more in common with European river cruises than your stereotypical cruise.

Amanda Plewes at Abu Simbel

Nile Cruise Boats

If you’ve cruised with big boats, this is another area you’ll be surprised. Don’t come expecting giant boats with thousands of people, theaters, and rock climbing walls. You’ll be lucky to have a swimming pool on your boat! (And no, there will not be water slides into the pool.)

Nile cruises hearken back to a different age of cruising – one where it’s about getting to know the other passengers and seeing the destinations. The boat itself is not a destination. Most boats are 3 – 4 floors tall.

Amanda Plewes in front of the Steigenberger Minerva

Most Nile cruise ships will carry up to 300 or so people. The good news is, when you meet fellow shipmates, you’ll be able to find them again!

You won’t find 24-hour buffets, either. Meals are served at set times, and seating is assigned. You’ll generally be seated with other parties (unless yours is quite large), so it’s a great time to get to know people.

The boats typically have a dining room, a salon/library, and the upper deck as public spaces.

On a sad note, thanks to tourism in Egypt being far down from its peak, you’ll see many unused Nile ships boarded up along the river.

Going through the Esna locks on a Nile Cruise

Nile Cruise Tours, Sites and Excursions

If you’ve been on a “typical” cruise through Alaska, the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, one thing that might surprise you with cruising the Nile are the tours included. When you book a Nile Cruise through a tour provider, you’ll frequently have a number of tours included. Most cruises bundle in most of the sites you’ll want to see as part of the cruise fare.

Like standard big-ship cruises, Nile cruises also offer excursions at an added fee. These can vary in type and fee. These tend to be night tours or city tours.

Amanda Plewes at Horus Temple in Edfu

Nile Cruise Sites Visited

When cruising from Luxor, the typical site visits included in your fare are:

  • The Valley of the Kings, with two tomb visits. Visiting King Tut’s Tomb is an added fee
  • Karnak Temple Visit
  • Luxor Temple Visit
  • Visit to Colossus of Memnon in Luxor
  • Hatshepsut Temple Visit
  • Horus Temple Visit in Edfu Frequently with a ride in a horse-drawn carriage to get there from the ship
  • Kom Ombo Temple Visit With optional additional fee to see the mummified crocodiles
  • Visit to the High Dam at Aswan
  • Philae Temple Visit with boat ride to the temple
  • Unfinished Obelisk Visit
  • It’s also likely you’ll be taken to a perfume shop in Aswan and an alabaster shop in Luxor. Both of these offer great kickbacks to your guides to bring you, so buyer beware. Generally speaking, you will not be allowed to opt-out of visiting these.

    Amanda Plewes looking at hieroglyphs in Kom Ombo

    Extra Nile Cruise Excursions

    Outside of the sites listed above, you’ll likely be given the chance to opt into other excursions for an additional fee. Frequently, the price will change depending on the number of people on your boat who want to go on each excursion.

    These include (but are not limited to):

  • Abu Simbel Visit, leaving from Aswan. This is one of the more expensive tours and typically ranges from $90 – $120/person. I highly recommend checking out Egyptian Sidekick and arranging your own excursion.
  • Karnak Temple Sound and Light Show, in the evening at Luxor. This typically costs about $30 – $50/person
  • Luxor Town Tour, which is typically $20 – $40/person and frequently involves horse-drawn carriages and stops as local shops
  • Valley of the Kings Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride, when you’re docked in Luxor. This runs about $100/person and is highly recommended.
  • Nubian Village Visit, leaving from the dock in Aswan. If you want an Instagram of you holding a baby alligator, this is the place. It’s typically $30 – $50/person
  • Sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings

    Tipping on a Nile Cruise

    Welcome to Egypt – absolutely everyone believes they deserve a tip. Your guide will generally arrange the tipping for the drivers along your route and for your tours. Make sure to bring small bills to give your guide, who will put it in a tipping kitty for your tour. Or, your guide will instruct you for how much to tip them. Generally, it’s about 20 Egyptian pounds per round-trip to the boat.

    You will be expected to tip the people on the boat. It’s a smaller tip than usual in the US or for the big boats. It’s typically acceptable to tip about 100 Egyptian pounds per person per day (about $5/day) to the crew. Envelopes will be provided on the last day to give this amount.

    Your tour guide will also expect a tip at the end. In fact, if you don’t tip them, they will believe they’ve done something terribly wrong. Tipping the tour guide can be a bit of a question mark – some people on my cruise believed they deserved more than the crew, some people believed they deserved much less. I split the difference and tipped my guide the same 100 Egyptian Pounds/day that I tipped the crew. He seemed fine with that amount.

    The Nile at sunset

    Dress Code on a Nile Cruise

    The dress code on a Nile cruise is far more relaxed and unstated than a typical big-boat cruise. In Egypt in general, women will want to be covered. The boat does not have a true dress code, but make sure not to wear shorts or bare shoulders to dinner. If your boat has a swimming pool, you’ll want to wear a cover-up from your room to the pool.

    Amanda Plewes at Hatshepsut Temple in Luxor, Egypt

    Cabins and Staterooms

    There are some options for Nile cruise cabins and staterooms, but far fewer options than a bigger boat. All cabins have windows facing the outside, and virtually all cabins on a boat will or won’t have balconies. You’ll find either one king-size bed or two twin-sized beds. The hot water and creature comforts are generally flowing! The staterooms also have great AC, and may or may not have windows that open.

    Amanda Plewes at Karnak Temple in Luxor

    A Typical Day on a Nile Cruise

    When you select the 4-night/5-day option, you’ll have a decent amount of downtime during the day. You’ll typically be on tours for about 4 – 6 hours per day, and then you’ll have the rest of the day to yourself. You can explore the town you’re docked in on your own, or spend it relaxing on the boat. You’d have plenty of time for a must-read Egyptian book.

    Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are at set times. Each day, generally at or before dinner, your guide will give you the next day’s itinerary and time you need to meet for the tours. If you have a small group, you can generally have some input as to when you leave. This can be helpful in the scorching heat of the summer when you want to leave early to beat the heat!

    Most nights, the crew will put on some sort of show or occasion, but beware these can frequently be somewhat cheesy. They are fairly fun, though.

    Amanda Plewes at Luxor Temple

    Should You Go on a Nile Cruise?

    Almost unequivocally, yes, you should go on a Nile Cruise. It’s one of the most economical ways to see all of the incredible temples and historical sites along the Nile. While it might seem expensive up-front, when you add up how much hotels, tours, and drivers would cost, you’ll almost always come out ahead. Plus, you get the experience of sailing the Nile!

    Even if you have motion sickness, don’t let that worry you too much. Most of the time, the maximum amount of time the boat is cruising is 3-4 hours, and there is rarely turbulence along the river.

    A Nile cruise is truly one of the most magical ways to see Egypt, and it’s something you’ll remember for a lifetime!

    Amanda Plewes cruising the Nile

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    What to expect from a Nile Cruise

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