I’m sure at some stage in your life someone has hurled at you the trick question “name a famous Belgian?” If like me reflex produces the answer Hercule Poirot you’ll know the frustration you feel only to be told he is a fictional character created by Agatha Christie, so no points to you……
It was with thoughts of the newlywed detective setting off on his luxurious cruise down the Nile that I boarded the MS Grand Rose for my own trip back in time. First impressions are really important to me and taking in the beautiful hardwood reception area and sparkling marble floors I had a feeling this was going to be something special.
When I first suggested to Lisa and my teenage daughters that a Nile Cruise would be the perfect half-term holiday for us the lack of enthusiasm was overwhelming. I worked on them for several weeks before finally they agreed to give it a try. I think their initial resistance was understandable, they had no idea what this type of trip involved and if I’m honest I’m not sure I did either.
So late-October we left a dank and miserable Heathrow armed with a massive suitcase each. We weren’t sure what clothes would be appropriate, so when in doubt pack everything. With the benefit of hindsight there was no need to stress over dress code. The atmosphere on the Rose was relaxed and smart jeans and a polo-shirt was quite acceptable, although it was nice to dress-up a little for dinner and most passengers made an effort. I think in that respect the girls put the boys to shame.
Landing in Luxor we immediately noticed the heat. This may sound rather silly, but I don’t think any of us had thought of this as a sunshine trip. I felt rather stupid waiting for our cases crammed with jumpers and jackets to take their twirl around the baggage carousel. These clearly weren’t going to see the light of day over the week ahead. I noticed there weren’t too many porters rushing towards us to help with the bags, I think they had realised that there were many lighter pickings on offer.
We were met prior to passport control by the representatives of Red Sea Holidays who speedily arranged our Visa’s and got us through the chaotic arrivals hall to our transfer bus with a minimum of fuss. As we edged through the local traffic the sights and sounds of daily Egyptian life buzzed around us helping pass the short journey to the banks of the mighty River Nile. We were instructed to board the boat leaving our suitcases behind which was a little unnerving, but incredibly despite the appearance of total disorganisation at the portside our luggage was waiting when got to our cabins later that evening.
Nile Cruise boats resemble ornate double decker buses although they actually have a couple of extra floors. I know with ocean going liners a lot of store is put upon having a high floor, midship cabin, but I really don’t think on a boat the style of the Grand Rose your cabin position makes a whole lot of difference. The view from the cabin can often be obstructed by other boats when in port and the best sensation and views are from the outside area of the top-deck when it is cruising. It takes a while to get used to the way the boats stack up against each other at each port of call and often you have to walk through the reception of a couple of others to reach home.
We assembled in the elegant and well-furnished bar to enjoy a welcome drink and meet our fellow passengers. Like oil and water the representatives of each nation grouped together and we are soon chatting away with the twenty or so British guests. It was immediately apparent that my daughters were the youngest on board by some distance, but everyone seemed so friendly and it really didn't make any difference.
After a quick safety drill we were shown to our cabins. The “oldie worldie” feel continued with plush carpets, lots of dark wood and remarkably well equipped bathrooms. Our rooms were on the mid-floor and this seemed rather convenient half way between the sundeck and the ground floor restaurant. Having already enjoyed a couple of cocktails courtesy of the great value all-inclusive package we dressed, perhaps overdressed a bit, for our first dinner.
The dining room exudes the same air of refinement and although I am not keen on buffet food for every meal I really enjoyed every breakfast, lunch and evening meal. The MS Grand Rose is probably not a great idea if you are watching your weight, but if you are able to resist the vast array on offer and head for the salad bar all tastes and appetites are well catered for. Seating is casual, but we are all creatures of habit and we spent the week rotating tables in the newly established “British” corner of the restaurant.
The crew are attentive, but not overbearing. You are told when you first board that all tips and gratuities are optional. It is however strongly “suggested” that you make a "one-off tip for all" contribution which will be shared amongst all the staff. I went with the flow on this, but my own advice would be to leave a little tip under your pillow (Egyptian tradition) for your cleaner a couple of times and keep a bit back to reward a particular favourite waiter on the last night. I made the mistake of giving a barman a small tip early on and then having to avoid his limpet-like attention for the duration.
This strangely is not a spending holiday. The boat is all inclusive and plenty enough trips and excursions are included within the price. There is a free safe in each cabin and I feel a few hundred pounds of currency and your credit card will see you through. Single US dollar bills are an excellent and commonly accepted tipping method so perhaps some small denomination dollars in your fund will save carrying around lots of coins.
Mornings start very early and we needed a wake-up call from reception to make sure we were up and ready for each day’s first excursion. These are expertly guided by an English speaking Egyptologist who will be with you for the whole week. He will soon seem like a friend and definitely one of the gang. There is no attempt to mix nationalities so you very much feel like an extended family enjoying the sights together.
The early start is designed to avoid the midday sun and you grow to appreciate this is a good move. Shorts, t-shirts and sturdy sandals are the order of the day and of course a good supply of water. (Bottled water is free as part of your all-inclusive). Because you are cruising down the river each archaeological site is close-by so a short walk or minibus ride is all it takes. The added bonus to this is that you return late morning to the boat for lunch and the chance of some relaxation before heading out on that afternoon’s adventure.
I will make no attempt to describe what we saw. I will simply say it was the most breath taking experience of my life. I was worried the girls would find our holiday boring or feel like they were back at school, but not a bit of it.
A Nile Cruise is quite simply a must do.
Errors and omissions excepted.
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