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Review: Viking Princess

Cruise - River Cruise

Once in a lifetime experience

  • By SilverTraveller yorkshirecat

    76 reviews

    Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon

  • Apr 2013
  • Outside
  • Special occasion
  • Partner

162 people found this review helpful

Our 7 night stay on the Royal Viking marked the start of our three week “Discover Egypt” holiday to celebrate my partner’s 60th birthday in late April. We were upgraded from the Viking Princess, which was out of service, no doubt because of the decreasing number of tourists. We had booked an upper deck cabin to enjoy the best views and remain high above the tradesmen pulling alongside the ship in their boats touting their wares and shouting “better than Asda prices” through the lower floor cabin windows. We thoroughly enjoyed our experience and wished we could have returned there for the final 11 days of our holiday, just to sit on the deck cruising up and down the Nile, instead of travelling to the somewhat characterless El Gouna, after our three days in Cairo! Our cabin had full length, opening patio doors; generous-sized safe; hairdryer; powerful shower over a bath; two single beds; a table and two chairs plus a dressing table with stool. The laundry service is excellent (same day) and extremely cheap: several shirts, shorts and undies totalled about £3.00 in total. Fluffy towels are made into incredible towel art by the room boy – elephant, crocodile, reclining figure with sunglasses! The ship itself is kept very clean with the manager priding himself on health and safety with strong anti-bacterial hand gel dispensers everywhere and a member of staff ensuring all guests use the gel before entering the restaurant. Salads and fruit are safe to eat as all are soaked in water containing chlorine tablets before being rinsed thoroughly in mineral water. Despite all of this and the constant disinfecting of surfaces, there was no taste of chlorine or disinfectant in the delicious food (and I do have a very sensitive palate): breakfasts were buffet style with an egg station; fresh fruit and yoghurt; piles of fresh breads and pastries and various hot dishes. Lunch was often the best meal of the day with salads or soup for starters, meat, chicken or fish with potatoes, rice, pasta, and a tempting array of desserts. You are allocated to a shared table of 4 to 8 people with whom you remain throughout the week. We were matched with a couple who were younger than us: the husband, a scary-looking “goth” with multiple piercings, tattoos and an extraordinary haircut. Both proved to be absolutely charming and keen bird watchers. Most of the clientele during our week were extremely pleasant retired, adventurous people. So relieved not to share a table with the irritatingly pompous man who attempted to correct the pronunciation of the Egyptian guide’s own Egyptian gods!!! The top deck, with its bar, pool, wicker chairs and rows of sunbeds (no reservation needed) was an oasis of calm after a hot day trekking around the temples, with large bottles of cold water 10 EL (about £1.00) and cold Sakara beer 29 EL (about £2.90) and a charming, attentive barman. Free afternoon tea, coffee and cake were served when the boat was sailing. The views along the Nile are stunning – I rarely sat still whilst cruising: there was always something of interest in the constantly changing riverside scenery: camels, donkeys pulling carts full of foliage; fishing boats, felucca; children waving and jumping into the water; women washing clothes; amazing bird life; mosques; sunsets where the sun becomes a golden orb behind silhouetted palm trees. We avoided the on-board evening entertainment, preferring to be on deck in the warm night air. We travelled Wednesday to Wednesday which provided a more gentle introduction to Egypt and time to acclimatise and get used to fending off vendors. Guests arriving late Monday night found themselves having to get up at 06.00 the following morning for their trip to the fiercely hot Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Hatsheput’s Tomb and the Colossus of Memnon. Every time the coach stops you are besieged by vendors who are very much “in your face”. My tip is to wear a wide brimmed hat and reflective sunglasses that help avoid eye-contact and to keep repeating “No thank you” or La shokram” politely. Do not hold or look at any of their wares unless you might purchase – I looed at a cute pair of child’s cotton embroidered pyjamas hanging up high above our heads and within seconds the vendor had unhooked them and pursued me to the coach reducing their price from 5 EL (50p) to 1 EL (10 p). There are many bargains to be had and I missed out on a few as I went into “No thank you” autopilot. It is irritating and can be stressful for sole female travellers: the vendors are becomingly increasingly desperate as there are fewer tourists visiting Egypt. However, they are very poor people trying to scrape a living and I always try to remain polite. As soon as we had boarded, the ship sailed for Edfu temple via the Lock at Esna. This is a madly riotous affair – the ship is effectively held captive awaiting the opening of the lock and the concrete banks bubble with vendors throwing their wares onto the deck or through any open cabin windows hoping holidaymakers will throw back money. If you are not expecting this, and are sat in your cabin, as we were that night, it could prove somewhat unnerving as it sounds like a riot has broken out! Fortunately I had read about this in Janet Wood’s excellent book “Travel Egypt; Nile Cruise”, so immediately knew what was going on. The welcome meeting had not thought to mention this – one of the disadvantages about being just 7 Wednesday arrivals. The vast majority of the holidaymakers who had arrived on Monday had obviously received a far fuller induction as we discovered when we joined the new Monday’s intake towards the end of our cruise when it was, we felt, a bit late to be given your tour guide’s mobile phone no in case of emergencies and to receive tips on safe sunbathing and the fact that reception holds small denominations of money (necessary for the loos where you have to pay for entry and paper, and to buy bottles of cold water on the coach – small bottles 10 EL – if you have forgotten to buy some from the bar the night before!) On Thursday we took a horse-drawn carriage ride to Edfu temple. Beware – your guide will have tipped the driver but they expect more. Our driver handed me the reins and wanted me to climb up next to him. When I refused, as I wanted to take pictures of the market and street scenes, he grabbed my camera and took a picture of us, for which he demanded to be paid “Two English pounds.” I gave him £1 and, because he persisted, my partner gave him an additional 10 EL (the equivalent of £1) but he chased us all the way to our boat, pulling at my shoulder demanding another English pound, whilst the “official” photographer who had snapped us when we first got in the carriage was thrusting a properly mounted photo of us both into my partners’ hands asking for, I think, 15 EL. I felt we had to buy the official photo as it would have cost him money to produce whilst also having to literally shake off the driver, ordering him to leave us alone. From then on I learnt to hang on to my camera. Everywhere you go, you will be approached by locals offering to take your photo for you or to pose for you, or show you some “special” aspect of the place you are visiting. Do not take up their offer unless you are prepared to reward them with some small change: normally 1 or 2 EL should suffice. They are normally good humoured and have taken the trouble to dress up and carry or use an ancient tool of some kind: personally I’d rather pay them than purchase endless souvenirs. Friday was the Temple of Abu Simbel – an optional tour costing £85 each if travelling the 300 km distance by coach (necessitates a 3.00 am wake-up call!) or £215 each by air. We had planned to fly but as we were the only ones interested in this option, we felt pressured to join the others on the coach. Oh how I wish we had flown! After a 3 hour trek through the dessert squeezed into a reasonably modern coach with a toilet but no seat belts, an armed guard in the front seat (take your pillows to make up for lost sleep) and a breakfast bag, we agreed the temple bordering Lake Nasser is fairly spectacular. However, on that day the Nubian villagers decided to riot and made a road block, trapping all the tourists in the area of the temple (only one road in/out). We had completed the tour and were on our way back, when our coach was forced to turn back. We sat in the temple café hour after hour, seriously worried we would have to spend the night there in the middle of the desert, but were finally set free after 7 hours and allowed to return. I suspect we were never in any real danger but I did feel a little uneasy sitting near a table of armed police, pistols and machine guns on the table in front of them as they drank coffee and awaited instructions. The tour company paid for our lunch, and although we missed our afternoon Felucca ride, it was offered to us the next day. On arrival back to the Royal Viking the staff seemed more concerned about hurrying us into dinner so we could see the Nubian dance troupe perform. The Nubians had not exactly endeared themselves to us by their actions earlier that day!!! Our fellow coach captives from the more up-market Alexander the Great were promised a special dinner and drinks would be laid out for them on the top deck. However, the manager from the papyrus factory that we visited the following day gave us each a free papyrus picture to say sorry on behalf of the people of Aswan. That was a nice touch. Saturday – The papyrus factory visit was interesting as you are shown how a papyrus plant is stripped and dried and turned into paper. It was preceded by a trip to the Unfinished Obelisk and the High Dam at Aswan – personally I could have lived without either. The visit to the Philae Temple was lovely, however, and involved a small journey by boat and drinks at a café with stalls where we could, at last, look at souvenirs and clothing without any hassle. The optional bird watching trip in a small boat along tributaries of the Nile and a visit to a Nubian village provided a serene afternoon – the guide was knowledgeable about trees and bushes, as well as the birds. The Nubian village provided a marvellous opportunity to see and photograph beautiful sunbirds; hold a baby crocodile; feed baby camels and climb up a sand dune to see the spectacular view. Visiting this village did not feel like an intrusion into people’s lives (as we felt it had done on similar trips visiting villages in Thailand, Gambia and Mexico.) We were given delicious spicy Nubian coffee and came away feeling nicely chilled and Nubians forgiven! Cost £18 each Sunday was a day of rest but I took up the invite of a tour of the ship: kitchens, engine room and captain’s bridge. It was comforting to see the ship’s captain resplendent in his robes: no sat nav – the navigation of the Nile is in his head! In the evening we went on the optional sound and light show of the Temple of Karnak. Do take a torch as you have to stumble across a large former car park full of broken pavements and raised lights that are helpfully turned off on the way in (to help night vision?) One guy in our party barked at a young girl “Don’t be silly – turn off that torch! You’ll ruin your night vision!” Fortunately enough people took torches or had a phone app for torch to help light our way and avoid anything more than a few stumbles. Cost of trip £27 each and be prepared to be besieged by vendors again! There was a lot of waiting around – I’d advise taking a shooting stick if standing might be a problem – chairs or low walls are few and far between. On Monday we visited Luxor temple and Karnak temple. All very interesting – we marvelled at the lifelike statues and the chubby, boyish face of Tutenkhamun and his young wife. We should have visited a perfume store and a jewellery store but as there were only 7 of us, the Monday arrivals having already done this tour, they were not interested in opening up just for us. Tuesday proved to be the highlight of the trip for us – the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, followed by a visit to Hatsheput’s tomb and the Colossus of Memnon. We actually preferred the valley of the Queens, which was virtually deserted and contained stunningly beautiful, vividly-coloured complete paintings of figures, birds, boats. At the Valley of the Kings you are given a ticket that covers three of the Tombs – your guide recommends the ones to see. You need to pay an additional 100 EL each to get into Tutankhamun’s tomb, which is empty except for his sarcophagus and mummy. We had not brought sufficient money with us so were unable to enter. His treasures are in the Egypt museum in Cairo, which we visited a few days later and are absolutely stunning. No photography is allowed and no touching of the carvings. It was fiercely hot but a train takes you from car park to the Tombs (after you have run the gauntlet of the inevitable market vendors!) At some point in the week was a Galabaya party (when you dress up in Egyptian robes) but we missed out because our guide omitted to tell us and it was not on the weekly itinerary. If it’s an important part of the experience for you –make sure you find out when it is. It seemed to be more of a farewell evening for those who had been together all week – not for us Wednesday arrivals! At the end of the cruise, we were invited to give tips of £14 each to cover the 80 crew members, as the £7 each we had given at the start of the cruise was for tipping drivers and boat captains on the excursions. Apparently the money is counted out and the lower paid crew members are given the most whilst the managers take nothing. We also tipped our Guide/Egyptologist, Radwan, who had provided a knowledgeable service throughout the week. All tips were in English money and we felt we could have managed with very little Egyptian money, had we not been travelling on to Cairo, where Egyptian currency was more the norm, and then El Gouna, where they seemed happy to take Euros and Dollars. We are so glad we experienced the “real Egypt”, as opposed to many of the somewhat characterless, sanitised Red Sea AI resorts. Although we have travelled widely and are used to making our own, independent travel arrangements, we were a little wary of doing this in post-revolution Egypt and Discovery Egypt put together an excellent package for us. We were able to visit the sites in relative peace and quiet and when we moored we rarely had other boats moored alongside us. However, it was sad to see the cruise boat “car parks” along the Nile with dozens of boats moored up unused. Hopefully, if the political situation stabilises again after the current (July 2013) round of unrests, more people will feel encouraged to make this once in a life time visit. I certainly felt safer in Egypt than I have in some city centres in England!

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