Companies are seeing an increase in demand for cruises on the Nile River. // © 2017 Abercrombie & Kent
Feature image (above): Scenic is offering an 11-day itinerary of Egypt that includes a five-day sailing onboard the chartered Sanctuary Sun Boat III. // © 2017 Scenic
Once upon a time, the Nile was one of the biggest centers for cruising in the world; now there are signs that it is beginning to make a comeback. River cruise lines are adding more capacity on the great river, as well as cruise-and-tour combinations of Egypt with Jordan or Dubai are selling very well.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection reports that 2018 advance bookings for Egypt are more than five times what they were this time last year. The company’s 12-day Splendors of Egypt & the Nile itinerary travels roundtrip Cairo, sailing on the 82-passenger, all-suite River Tosca. Highlights include visits to the temples of Karnak and Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, the Great Sphinx, the Pyramids of Giza and an exclusive home visit to experience Nubian culture.
Stefanie Schmudde, director of product development for Abercrombie & Kent (A&K), says the company has seen significant increase this year and even stronger growth into 2018, with many departures already selling out. As a result, A&K has added four new dates in the first and second quarter of 2018 for its 10-day Egypt & the Nile Luxury Small Group Journey.
Schmudde says the growth isn’t limited to just Egypt, but encompasses the greater Middle East region as well. As a result, A&K is offering two new departures of its Petra to the Pyramids & a Nile Yacht Cruise journey, which combines Jordan and Egypt.
“Egypt has been a bucket-list destination for centuries, but to visit now is a truly memorable experience,” Schmudde said. “The sites are crowd-free, which is something that people won’t forget. In the past, you’d be surrounded by hundreds of other tourists. Now, Egyptians are more inclined to talk to visitors about their lives, hopes and fears.”
Responding to consumer interest, two additional river cruise lines — Viking River Cruises and Scenic — are entering the Egypt river cruise scene next year.
This spring, Viking announced that it will be launching a Nile ship, the all-suite Viking Ra, next March. In October, Tor Hagen, founder, chairman and CEO of Viking, said the company would soon be adding a second vessel. Viking is the only foreign company to own and operate on the Nile.
Viking Ra has been stripped down to the steel for a complete renovation to match the Viking style, and will offer accommodations for 52 guests on a new 12-day Pharoahs & Pyramids cruisetour that begins and ends in Cairo. Three days in Cairo at the start of the itinerary will allow guests to visit sights such as the pyramids of Giza and the city’s largest outdoor market.
After flying to Luxor and seeing the temples of Luxor and Karnak, clients will take an eight-day cruise to Aswan. This includes special access to the tomb of Nefertiti in the Valley of the Queens; excursions to the Temple of Khnum in Esna the Dendera Temple complex in Qena; and a visit to a colorful Nubian village where guests can experience a traditional elementary school. The trip will end with a flight to Cairo for a final overnight.
Viking’s Culture Curriculum includes a Nubian evening event onboard and a local experience riding a camel.
“Egypt is one of the most intriguing countries in the world, and it remains a top destination for many of our guests,” Hagen said. “For two decades, we have led the industry in river cruising with our innovative ship design and itineraries that bring our guests closer to the cultures of the world. We are committed to Egypt, and with the introduction of Viking Ra, we look forward to providing our award-winning service to our guests on the Nile — and to their experience of this culturally rich region in the Viking way.”
Scenic is scheduling cruises to the Nile in an 11-day cruisetour, Treasures of Egypt, which combines a five-day sailing onboard the chartered 36-guest Sanctuary Sun Boat III with six days of land-based exploration. There is also a 20-day option that combines Egypt and Jordan trips as well as a mega trip (34- and 43-day versions) that begins in Cape Town, visits several of Africa’s must-see sites including Victoria Falls and the Masai Mara, and ends with the 20-day Egypt/Jordan itinerary.
The trip is roundtrip from Cairo with the cruise running between Luxor and Aswan. Guests will visit the main sites such as the temple of Karnak, Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, the pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Giza; they’ll also learn about the pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings. They will visit a Nubian village and see the World Heritage temples of Ramses II and his wife Nefertari. Onboard entertainment will include a belly dancer and whirling dervishes.
Joni Rein, vice president, sales and marketing USA, said pent-up demand drove the decision to go into Egypt.
“We did a lot of due diligence before we made the decision and found considerable advancements in security,” she said. “We’re using the same ground people and bringing 36 guests on any tour date.”
She said that for Scenic, U.S. guests booking Egypt are coming from the Midwest — especially Illinois/Michigan (50 percent), California (25 percent) and Florida (10 percent).
The demographics remain in line with Scenic’s European river cruise product: Clients are 54-plus years of age, have a high disposable income and are well-traveled and adventurous.