Dimensions in Travel agency owner Jill Romano and her husband Bob loved their visit to Egypt in October 2019. They were part of an advisory board of top travel agency owners hosted on the trip by Abercrombie & Kent.
DAY 1 (SFO - Cairo): We arrive in magnificent Cairo. Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) provides us with a VIP Meet and Greet. They whisked us from the terminal gate straight in to a car to a lounge to wait for them to process our visas. Love it!
Our hotel was the riverfront Four Seasons Nile Plaza which offers great views over of the City. All vehicles must stop at entrance for inspection and all handbags are checked carefully but respectfully at front door. It is a beautiful, grand hotel, the rooms are quite large and they offer a very extensive buffet breakfast. There is a small shopping mall adjacent to the hotel accessible via a private entrance.
An A&K Tour Manager traveled with us every day plus our local tour guide and one security officer (yes, well hidden, but still obvious gun). We saw security everywhere in the city and many checkpoints - it’s the world we live in. However we found the Egyptian people to welcoming and gracious.
DAY 2 (Cairo): This morning, we visited Sakkara, a necropolis (cemetery) for the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis and site of the first pyramids. We viewed the famous Step Pyramid of King Djoser with its six tiers representing the pharaoh's stepladder to heaven and admired the beautiful tomb art which offers us great insight into the lives of the ancient Egyptians. We marveled at the Serapeum of Sakkara, burial place of the Apis bulls, sacred animals said to be incarnations of the deity Ptah. Ponder along with scholars as to why the sarcophagi are so much larger than the animals themselves.
We returned to our hotel for lunch and an Advisory Board meeting. While the board convened, travel companions who were not agency owner joined a local expert for a walking tour of Islamic Cairo. They explored the Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan, built in AD 1356. Tonight, we celebrated the beginning of our journey at a special Welcome Dinner at the home of Amr Badr, the Managing Director of Abercrombie & Kent, Egypt & Middle East. Joining us were prominent Egyptian leaders in the arts, history, theatre, politics and tourism. It was quite an evening!
Day 3 (Cairo) Off to visit see the Sphinx! Normally, all tour buses must stop and guest clear a security area, then back on the buses before continuing to the site. A&K guests are able to bypass this. We begin with private access to the paws of the Great Sphinx, close enough to touch them, as well as a special one-hour onsite lecture by Dr. Zahi Hawass, the renowned Egyptian archaeologist and former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs.
Then we go on to explore the Giza Plateau, site of the pyramids of Mycerinus and Chefren as well as the Great Pyramid. Built in the Fourth Dynasty (approximately 2690 BC), the Great Pyramid is the only survivor of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. We did the Ride Like a Local program on camelback and visited the Solar Boat Museum, the site of Cheops' funerary boat, the world's oldest intact ship.
We transferred to the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM to open October 2022) which houses more than 100,000 artifacts from prehistory through the Greek and Roman periods. While the massive building is not yet open to the public, we were granted hard hat access to the Restoration Laboratories, where scientists and artists are working to restore priceless relics.
At the Marriott Mena House Hotel, we enjoyed lunch and the the restaurant offer breathtaking views of the towering pyramids and the hotel's lush, landscaped gardens. We attend an afternoon Advisory Board meeting at the hotel. As the historic wing is currently closed for renovation, A&K does book the newer wing for all their travelers who stay here. While they have no views of pyramids, Mena House is still the closest hotel to the Pyramids. This evening's special dinner was at the historic Abdeen Palace, one of the official residences of the President of Egypt and former home of the nation's kings, where we were joined by a special guest speaker on Egyptian culture. We had the chance to visit the Throne Room and Winter Garden. The hotel is only open for state functions, not the traveling public.
Day 4 (Cairo): This morning, we explored 7,000 years of history at the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, home to the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts, including treasures from Tutankhamun and items dating to 4000 BC. We also viewed its famed Mummy Room, featuring the remains of Egypt's pharaohs and nobility, including Ramses II who was one of Egypt's most powerful pharaohs. There is NO air conditioning in the museum, so bring a fan and bottle of water. When the GEM opens, curators will be moving many of the artifacts (in particular the pharaohs) and will host a grand celebration through the city.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we joined a local Jewish expert at a restored, century-old synagogue to discuss Egypt's Jewish diaspora. Up until the early 20th century, 80,000 Egyptian Jews lived alongside the nation's Muslims and Christians. Today, this number has dwindled to less than a dozen. The association Drop of Milk seeks to preserve the story of this diaspora and its fading legacy.
This evening we gathered for dinner at a local restaurant with stunning Nile River views.
Day 5 (Cairo - Abu Simbel - Aswan - Sanctuary Sun Boat III) Early this morning, we took a 45-minute charter flighttoAbu Simbel, site of the magnificent temple of Ramses II. There are actually two temples, the Great Temple of Ra-Harakhte, fronted by the four colossal statues of Ramses II (each nearly 70 feet tall) and the Temple of Hathor, dedicated to Ramses' beloved wife Queen Nefertari. When floodwaters from Lake Nasser and the High Dam project threatened to leave the temples permanently submerged, they were cut into pieces, raised up the hillside from their old lower location and then reassembled around a concrete dome on the new site.
After lunch, we boarded our charter flight to Aswan, the launching point of our Nile cruise. The Sanctuary Sun Boat III is an intimate river yacht representing the ultimate in luxurious Nile cruises. This elegant Egyptian vessel carries up to 36 guests in beautifully designed accommodations on four decks. It has 18 beautifully designed unique cabins with two royal suites and two presidential suites. Modelled on the opulent era of the 20s and 30s, Sanctuary Sun Boat III offers delicious sumptuous meals in the restaurant, afternoon tea in the stunning lounge, and refreshing cocktails on the sun deck. . The reception staff offered us chilled fruit juice and assisted with check-in.
Later we did the Ride Like a Local program in a traditional Nile felucca (sailing boat) around Elephantine and Kitchener's Islands with an opportunity to view the splendid Aga Khan Mausoleum high above the river. We returned to Sanctuary Sun Boat III for a cocktail reception and a gourmet dinner.
Day 6 (Nile River Cruise aboard the Sanctuary Sun Boat III - Luxor) We began our day with a motorized boat ride to Philae Temple on the island of Agilika. This sacred complex was dedicated to the Goddess Isis and reflects a fusion of three great civilizations: Egyptian, Greek and Roman. The temple was dismantled and then painstakingly reassembled when the Aswan High Dam was constructed in the 1960s. The dam spans the Nile River, more than two miles across and incorporating 16 times the amount of material that went into the Great Pyramid at Giza. It provides irrigation and hydroelectric power to much of Egypt. Afterward, we enjoyed lunch as we cruised to Kom Ombo (Hill of Gold) to visit the Greco-Roman temple dedicated to Haroeris (the sun god) and Sobek (the crocodile god), who was considered by some ancient Egyptians to be the creators of the world.
Back on board, we enjoyed time to relax, admiring the scenery as we sailed towards Luxor. Later we joined our chef for a cooking lesson featuring Egyptian specialties, followed by afternoon tea and a scenic sundowner. Tonight, we attended a festive Egyptian-themed costume party onboard the boat. We savored a buffet of local cuisine, danced and listened to music, and since we wished to look the part, we tried on complimentary galabeyya (traditional Egyptian robes.
Day 7 (Luxor) After an early breakfast, we visited the Temple of Karnak, via motor boat across the Nile to the west bank. Then we went onto the Valley of the Queens. The site's highlight, the beautiful tomb of Ramses II's beloved wife Queen Nefertari, is said to be the finest tomb in Egypt, with vividly colored artwork and a ceiling painted with stars.
We continued to the historic Valley of the Kings to marvel at the tomb of Tutankhamun and the superbly preserved tomb of Seti I, with its art-filled walls that set the precedent for all the tombs that followed. We also enjoyed special, private access to the tomb of Amenhotep II, not currently open to the public and we also had a choice to see Ramses VI and we were the only ones in the tomb - incredible! . Discovered in 1988, the tomb is considered one of the most important in the Valley of the Kings. It is particularly renowned for its vivid illustrations of the netherworld.
Later, we had a private visit to the home of Howard Carter, famed archaeologist credited with the profound discovery of Tutankhamun's intact tomb. View many artifacts actually owned and used by Carter, including his cameras and darkroom equipment, which he used to catalog the astonishing treasures uncovered in the tomb.
We continued with a photo stop at the fabled Colossi of Memnon, two enormous seated statues of Amenhotep III, known in Ancient Greek times for their haunting voices at dawn. From here, we returned to our motor boat by bike (or vehicle).
This afternoon, we chose from two Design Your Day options:
East Bank of Luxor - Continue exploring the Nile's east bank at the Temple of Karnak, a sprawling monument bearing the mark of 30 pharaohs. Over the span of centuries, each ruler added their own monuments to the temple, making it the largest open-air religious site in the country. Proceed to Luxor Temple, ancient Egypt's most significant religious center.
Funtasia Cultural Center - We all visited this wonderful school and I highly recommend it for all my clients. This is a project supported by A&K Philanthropy and offers after school programming for local children, ranging in ages from 4 to 16 years old. The center focuses on strengthening confidence, communication and collaboration with young people using tools such as the arts, gardening, poetry, nutrition, health and coding. It is taught by locally trained facilitators. The aim is to prepare youth for a life of meaningful connections with people, for the job market of tomorrow, and to use creativity as a means to finding solutions to their challenges.
We returned to 'Sanctuary Sun Boat III for afternoon tea. Tonight's farewell dinner was a gala affair, with white-gloved waiters serving gourmet cuisine.
Day 8 (Luxor - Cairo) Early in the morning, we bid farewell to Sanctuary Sun Boat III. After disembarking, we flew by charter flight to Cairo, where we enjoyed lunch followed by a visit to the Azza Fahmy Jewelry Gallery. Join the famed jewelry designer for a behind-the-scenes look at the intricate craftsmanship incorporated into every piece of her handcrafted jewelry and a discussion on how she gained access to the historically male-dominated field of jewelry making in 1967.
We spent the rest of our afternoon at leisure or shopping at Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, one of the city's major souks (open-air marketplaces).
Tonight's farewell dinner was a private affair at the Madam Sadat’s home. She personally greeted everyone and welcomed us in to a lounge space where she spoke candidly for about an hour, then we were treated to a buffet of traditional Egyptian dishes.