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Placer Sentinel

Aggressor Offers Egyptian Adventures by Land and Water

Oct 22, 2021 12:00AM ● By David Dickstein

Aggressor Adventures' Nile Queen makes Saturday-Thursday runs between Luxor and Aswan every week. Photo courtesy Aggressor River Cruises

Aggressor Offers Egyptian Adventures by Land and Water [5 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

If finding a dead moth on your bed pillow is the symbolic equivalent of “bon voyage” in ancient Egyptian mythology, then my river cruise adventure aboard the Aggressor Nile Queen would have been blessed by 3,000-year-old deities just hours before sailaway.

Alas, the winged cabin mate that was literally dead on arrival – mine – was there by accident, if not neglect, and contributed to an inauspicious start to this Middle Eastern escapade. The first clue was the tacky surroundings when Capt. Hagag Sayad welcomed guests onto his 47-meter, eight-cabin vessel. Donned in a traditional white galabeya, he proudly stood beside his floating office as passengers literally had to walk the plank. Perhaps I’m spoiled by other river cruise lines that roll out an actual red carpet at embarkation, but being made to carefully negotiate a path made of scraps of mud-stained wood along an unsightly and somewhat treacherous makeshift dock is not my idea of a grand start to a majestic journey.

Another first-impression faux pas: Every one of the framed black and white photographs was hanging crookedly on the walls of my stateroom and the lackluster common area that serves as the salon, lounge and dining room of the two-deck craft. One more: The furniture, picture window, toilet, shower and vanity inside the deluxe stateroom were shabby, and not in a chic way.

Six of the Nile Queen’s cabins are in the deluxe category, each with two single beds that cannot be moved and merged. The only spacious sleeping accommodations are found in the two master staterooms, which feature a queen bed and, we can only presume, no dead moths where you lay your head.

The hallway that leads to all the passenger cabins is carpeted in long shag, further dating a vessel that, to be fair, is intentionally not modern. The problem is the past we’re supposed to be connecting with isn’t the shag-crazy 1970s, but the more glamorous 1920s to 1940s when sail-powered, shallow-bottomed, barge-like dahabiyas such as this were common in the days of the monarchy when aristocrats loved to cruise the Nile in style.

There is a positive aspect to the outmoded cream-colored carpet, which, again to be fair, might have been in style in Egypt when the Nile Queen was built in 2009. The flooring happily leads to steps that take passengers to an upper deck that is much more inviting than the one below. The top level is quite lovely and functional with a shaded sun deck, hot tub, dining tables, chaise lounges, deck chairs and bar. What a special place to take in the river upon which Egypt is completely dependent for life-giving water and arable land.

The Nile Queen’s itinerary can’t help but yield dramatic views from the upper deck. Few will argue that the most intriguing of the legendary waterway’s 4,135 miles are the 129 between Luxor and Aswan. Aggressor ( makes the most of this route with stops that have guests retracing the footsteps of the very pharaohs we all learned about in school.

Of course, Aggressor’s Nile Queen isn’t the only ship in the sea, or river in this case. At least two dozen other cruise lines make the Luxor to Aswan run of four nights and longer. Price-wise, the Nile Queen is midrange at $1,729 and $1,849 for a deluxe and master cabin, respectively, double occupancy, through New Year’s 2025.

For Nile Queen passengers, a robust series of day trips to ancient ruins and archaeological treasures begin right after the first group lunch onboard. Saturday afternoon is spent visiting the 2,000-year-old Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple, the largest and most significant religious center in ancient Egypt. Sunday starts early for guests adding on a hot air balloon ride over Luxor. Then after breakfast it’s off to the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank to visit a selection of tombs open that day and the giant Colossi of Memnon statues. Next up is Queen Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple followed by the Valley of the Nobles, site of colorfully adorned rock tombs that appear freshly painted despite being thousands of years old.

Day 3’s schedule starts on the East Bank for a tuk-tuk taxi ride to El Kab, once the capital of Upper Egypt and the 7,000-year-old home of the temple of Nekhbet. Next up is the well-preserved Horus Temple in Edfu. The penultimate tour day has passengers paying a visit to Gebel El-Silsila, an ancient rock quarry site and source of the massive sandstone pieces used to build the temples that had been visited along this journey. After checking out Komombo temple and some mummified crocodiles, a refreshing dip in the Nile River and leisure time on Al Herdiab Island build up an appetite for a snack of falafel, Egyptian bread, cucumbers and tahina. An island-set Bedouin barbeque dinner and dance joined by the crew sounds like a satisfying way to end this bucket list adventure, but I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t there.

Change of Plans from Vessel to Vans

A cabin assignment error on Aggressor’s part resulted in my early debarkation from the Nile Queen. “You now have me sharing my single cabin with a stranger, and during COVID no less? – uh, no!,” was my reaction to the unpleasant surprise before sailaway. Shock and anger evolved into delight, however. After an apologetic Aggressor checked me into the lovely Sonesta St. George Hotel in Luxor and curated a fabulous alternate itinerary within 24 hours of the blunder, I found myself counting the same lucky stars as those studied by Egyptian astronomers 5,000 years ago.

The new schedule plus the four perfect pre-cruise days in and around Cairo clearly showcased Aggressor’s full-service in-house travel agency capabilities – and if there’s a holiday destination requiring expert handholding and professional organization, it’s Egypt. Trustworthy and savvy handlers, guides and drivers hired by Aggressor were godsends in this land of logistical challenges, bizarre rules and impromptu police checkpoints that several people said is a legacy of the Mubarak regime. These competent contractors also helped make sanity out of the sporadically enforced COVID-19 requirements.

With Aggressor doing all the legwork for a customized vacation, your adventure could begin with VIP arrival services at Cairo International Airport and a comfortable ground transfer to the exquisite Fairmont Nile City, where an exceptional four-night stay awaits. The following days will be spent living the dream by being picked up in the lobby each morning and taken by air-conditioned van to the most amazing spots on Earth starting with the Giza Plateau, home of the iconic trio of pyramids and the Great Sphinx all built between 2600 and 2500 BC. Day trips also should include Memphis and its giant reclining statue of Ramses II; Djoser’s Step pyramid, the oldest standing stone building in the world, in the ancient burial ground called Saqqara; the just-opened Grand Egyptian Museum that replaced the undersized and decaying Cairo Museum; the crowded and colorful Khan El Khalily Bazaar; monument-dotted El Moez Street in Islamic Old Cairo; and the Coptic Church of St. Virgin Mary, aka “the Hanging Church,” named for its location above an ancient Roman fortress gatehouse.

Shopping opportunities are omnipresent in Cairo, and so are swindling and gouging. This is definitely “caveat emptor” (“let the buyer beware”) territory. How nice that 3 Pyramids Papyrus Institute in the Giza district delivered on its supposedly solid reputation with minimal haggling during a fun and educational experience buying top-quality paper as made in ancient times.

An easy hour-long flight on your fifth day takes you to Luxor, ancient Egypt’s most important city affectionately and appropriately called “the world’s greatest open-air museum.” The key stops have been covered, but often left out of river cruise itineraries and should be added to a custom land tour is the Valley of the Queens, site where wives of the great pharaohs, including Queen Nefetari, were laid to rest from 1550 to 1070 BC.

If you’re experiencing antiquity overload, head to Hurghada, a growing resort area on the Red Sea coast. With air travel the way it is these days, you might as well get there by ground. Break up the 4 1/2-hour trek through the desert by having lunch with a Bedouin family, a bonus that can be arranged by your guide. Hurghada, a former fishing village and present-day scuba diver’s paradise, is rich in luxury properties, and it would be hard for any to beat Hilton Hurghada Plaza with its private beach, multiple outdoor pools, adjacent shopping mall, nightly live entertainment and exceptional restaurants featuring seafood, Turkish and Asian cuisine.

Worth leaving the all-inclusive property is a day trip to Mahmya, a private beach on the southern shores of Giftun Island. The hour-long boat trip each way is frills-free, but the time spent at this Caribbean-esque paradise offers snorkeling, a buffet lunch, bar service, DJ music and other activities that are all terrific. A walk around the marina and the neighboring fish market is also time well spent. Not so delightful are the Hurghada Grand Aquarium where poor conditions for the marine life and land animals will hinder any enjoyment for the good-hearted, and Hurghada Museum, a mediocre attraction recommended if that’s your only opportunity on the trip to explore ancient Egyptian civilization.

A stronger endorsement is a final Egyptian night spent at Le Passage, an excellent airport hotel next to Cairo International. Clean, comfortable rooms, a small handful of decent boutiques, restaurants with surprisingly good Chinese and Indian food, all at a good value, make this a solid and convenient choice over staying in downtown Cairo an hour away. No matter how you saw exciting Egypt by this point, be it by land, water or a combination of both, any chance to reduce stress on the way back home will undoubtedly we welcomed.