Our cruise consisted of 7 nights accommodation on Full Board basis on the M/S Serenade from Wednesday 29 August until Wednesday 5 September.
We were a party of 6 people in 3 cabins. Our cruise accommodation was booked through Sunshine.co.uk website which, according to their website “the planned itinerary for this 7 night Nile Cruise, including the full sightseeing package, is as follows“:
Day 1: Check in and stay overnight onboard in Luxor .
Day 2: Visit the East Bank, Luxor and Karnak temples. Afternoon – free leisure time. Stay overnight onboard in Luxor.
Day 3: Visit the West Bank, The Valley of Kings, the Hatshepsut temple and the Colossi of Memnon. Sail to Esna. Stay overnight onboard in Esna.
Day 4: Visit Esna Temple and sail to Aswan. Stay overnight onboard in Aswan.
Day 5: After breakfast visit the High Dam and the Temple of Philae. Afternoon – free leisure time. Stay overnight onboard in Aswan.
Day 6: Optional trip to Abu Simbel (not included in the excursion package). Afternoon sail around the island of Aswan on a motorboat. Return to the cruise ship, sail to Kom Ombo and stay overnight onboard.
Day 7: Visit Kom Ombo temple. Sail to Luxor. Stay overnight onboard in Luxor.
Day 8: After breakfast, check-out and disembark.
The reality and our experience is here below:
We were all happy with our cabins and our location within the boat plus we had the added bonus of being on the free side of the ship (even numbers) as there was no other boat moored against us on our side.
Cabins: spacious, bathrooms are sealed units, comfortable beds (one spare pillow and 2 extra blankets, safety deposit box and 2 life-jackets are located in the wardrobe). Large slide opening windows (almost floor to ceiling) with balcony rail (no actual balcony) offer fantastic views – even when lying in bed! No toiletries are provided in the bathroom (ie no soap, shower gel, shampoo etc) which you would generally receive from what is described as a 5 star Nile cruise boat. There is a liquid soap dispenser by the sink and it’s hit and miss if there is any inside it but none is provided in the dispenser inside the shower. The shower was good, water was hot and plentiful. All was very clean and tidy.
The food is of a fairly good standard but choice/variety is very limited to the point of boring after 2 or 3 days.
Breakfast: cereals (sometimes sweet rice), fruit, tomatoes, cucumber, cold meats, plain yoghurt, eggs (fried, omlettes cooked to order or boiled), bread (white and brown), toast (never hot – cooked in advance and always cold/hard), small croissants and mini pastries.
Note: on the days that excursions leave in the very early hours (05:30 onwards) breakfast is left out from that time until the close of breakfast (approx 08:30 – 09:00). All croissants are cold and stale as the baine marie lights have gone out by this time and not replenished.
Lunch: soup (2 varieties), breads, small salad bar, pasta either served plain or chef will cook it in a tomato and garlic sauce), chicken, beef or fish (choice of 2 dishes not all 3), potatoes, oriental vegetables (generally peppers, aubergines, onions, tomatoes), various desserts (jelly, small cakes, sliced cakes, biscuits). Our friend Iain has a magnificent photo which I will share soon of the lunchtime salad with cold chips served at the evening meal….
Dinner: soup (2 varieties), breads, small salad bar, rice, chicken, beef or fish (choice of 2 dishes not all 3), veal liver was served once during our cruise, oriental vegetables, potatoes (chips served with fish on one day), various desserts (see lunch).
Facilities/Recreation: entertainment lounge/bar but not much in the line of entertainment. Three nights in total, one of which is the Galabiya Party night: Belly Dancer & Whirling Dervish (approx 45 minutes), Nubian Show (approx 1 hour or so), Galabiya Party is on the Monday evening rather than Tuesday which is the last night. Swimming pool is of a good size.
Sunloungers – really need to be replaced as cushions are all quite worn and sagging so not comfortable, chairs are the same – cushions worn and tatty, only 4 umbrellas provided for the whole boat and no sunloungers are under the shaded cover, tables are glass topped and mostly loose/unstable with a constant rattle when sailing. Afternoon tea is provided on sailing days only which are Friday, Saturday and Monday (more about that later)….
Bar Service: only 1 waiter (Michael) provided service with a smile and was willing to chat/share his knowledge and information, other staff were quick to disappear or turn away when one wanted to attract their attention. All drinks are signed for and the bill is paid on the last day. A copy receipt is provided for your record and the original goes to the Reception staff.
Reception Staff: 2 staff and our experience was the first gentleman although friendly did not or would not divulge information. Our privately arranged transfer guide took us onboard on our first day (Wednesday afternoon) and asked what time breakfast was for the next day. Basically he either would not or could not tell him as he said he did not have the details. However, when our guide told him he had done cruise boat work himself for 4 years he indicated possibly from 07:00 until 09:00.
The other young man on reception was rude and unfriendly. We approached him on 2 occasions – one to try to find out the sailing itinerary for a particular day as wanted to make our own excursion arrangements (we did not book any excursions prior to embarking the boat neither did we book any onboard as we have visited Luxor and Aswan on a number of occasions and already had our own itinerary in mind). This young man did not answer us other than to indicate “Ernest’s Group” but simply picked up the telephone and dialled the resident YouHotels representative/Egyptologist. The YouHotels rep was not particularly keen to help either as he explained the Receptionist should have been able to provide the information, which we readily accepted and agreed.
The second occasion offered the same response, rather than reply and provide information he again just picked up the telephone and then gave us an order to come back in half and hour. My husband requested that the item we wanted be brought to our cabin instead, which he did agree but this should have been offered in the first place by the receptionist. On the last morning when we paid our bill, the same young man decided the small amount of change would be better kept with him rather than being given back to us…. Not so, my husband demanded his change!
Not a bad little earner if you reckon 3 or 5 LE each time is held back for approximately 40 cabins.
Excursions and Sailing Days: bearing in mind this is a “Nile cruise” there is very little cruising to be had. The boat is docked far outside of Luxor with no facilities nearby whatsoever (more on that shortly) and UK guests board on Wednesday afternoon/early evening.
Excursions start on Friday morning with the first sailing on Friday afternoon (Day 3) more or less as lunch is being served (around 14:00).
The M/S Serenade appeared to be the slowest boat on the river with all the other boats leaving behind us passing us and arriving in advance. This meant we often had very little time to spend at the stopping points.
On the way up to Aswan (note the itinerary is not as displayed on YouHotels who provided the information to Sunshine.co.uk who we made our reservations with) we stopped at Esna and docked overnight (arriving at approx 21:00). We jumped ship and explored the noisy, dusty streets and got invited to watch a local wedding which was taking place along the corniche. The whole place was buzzing with motorbikes and could have been very daunting to first time visitors to Egypt.
We left very early the next morning (between 02:30 and 04:00 on Saturday – Day 4) and sailed to Edfu (not on the list of destinations). Again, we jumped ship and hired a couple of Caleches (horse and carriage), took a ride up to the temple to take photos, visited the shops and had a drive around the local streets. Stopping time in total was just 2 hours before setting sail for Kom Ombo.
We arrived late at Kom Ombo temple at around 17:50 so the sun was beginning to set and it was starting to go dark. Again – only a 2 hour stop which left little time to explore and photograph this wonderful temple and browse the shops. All the other boats which had passed us had more or less been and gone.
The original itinerary did not indicate a stop was to be had at Edfu and Kom Ombo temple was to have been visited on the return journey from Aswan, which would have afforded more time in Aswan and one of the main reasons we chose this particular boat. (See the “planned itinerary” as taken from the sunshine.co.uk website provided to them by YouHotels.com being the Operators of this “5* Nile cruise” boat).
We sailed on to Aswan the same evening (Saturday – Day 4) – arriving around 23:00 and long after the other boats had arrived.
Sunday (Day 5) at 08:00 – we had our own organised itinerary of the High Dam, British Dam, Philae Temple and the quarry to visit the Unfinished Obelisk (the quarry is not included in the boat itinerary UK excursions). Back to the boat in time for lunch and later we took a walk along the corniche down to the local souk and making our way back to the boat just in time for dinner at 19:30.
Handy Hint: take a torch if you plan to leave the boat of an evening in Aswan as the docking point is badly lit plus a power cut doesn’t help! I had mine in my bag taking up the rear while another member of our party used the torch on his mobile phone in the lead….The docking point is out past the public gardens (past the railway station) and is at least a 20 – 30 minute walk.
Monday morning – (Day 6) we took a taxi to the end of the corniche (30 LE for 6 people) and walked up to the Old Cateract Hotel (Agatha Christie – Death on the Nile) to see if we could get a peep. Last time (2007) we visited there was a charge of 30 LE per person so we didn’t venture in, but this time they allowed us inside at no charge as it’s only recently opened after being closed for 2 years for renovations. It’s now truly wonderful and we thoroughly enjoyed being back inside it after our last internal inspection in 1994.
Monday afternoon – sailing indicated as 14:00 (it was actually 15:30) and is dependent upon other travel company excursions arriving back from Abu Simbel and felluca sailing around the islands in Aswan. Overnight at Edfu.
Tuesday morning (Day 7) – we arrived at Esna (1 hour) to explore the temple and the local souk. Sailing on through Esna lock in daytime and arriving back at the Luxor docking point at 14:00.
Wednesday – departure day (Day 8).
The UGLY: is the docking point known as El Watania and is situated between 2 defunct brick making factories.
The docking point is the last turning before the New Luxor Bridge. It’s around 25 minutes driving time from Luxor temple. There is a taxi rank just before the road where you will need to haggle for a price (it’s around 120 LE / roughly 12 GBP), or you can do as we did and hop on one of the local minibuses into town. We actually jumped on the Tourist Police transport bus which caused great amusement for them – and us! The driver kindly dropped us outside the Winter Palace Hotel so we paid a visit to remenisce our last visit there in 2010.
However, the location of the docking point is not the worst of it. The really bad part of this is that the M/S Serenade is docked on the outside of 2 other cruise boats currently undergoing renovation which means all guests have to cross 2 delapidated boats with workmen sleeping on mattresses on the floor on the thoroughfare and cooking their meals there.
For those guests whose rooms have odd numbers, their cabins look directly into these empty boats so have no view and of course as the boats are not entirely empty it means curtains have to be kept closed at any time when you are resident on the boat. The non-functioning cruise boats are the Beau Soleil and the Florence.
Photos taken while walking through the MS Beau Soleil and MS Florence Nile cruise boats – 30 August 2012
Remember, 4 out of 7 days are spent docked at El Watania. (Weds, Thurs, half day Fri, half day Tues and disembarkation day Weds).
All in all for what we paid for the cruise (less than 120 GBP per person) it was excellent value for money. However, the main issue here is the ambiguousness of the docking point and the fact we had to literally beg YouHotels to provide us with the name of the it so we could arrange our own transfer from the hotel. The locations displayed on the map on both cruise provider websites as being opposite Medinet Hab temple is a total nonsense.
At best we would describe the cruise boat overall as a basic common or garden 3* floating hotel. If you have that in mind before you embark you will not go far wrong and will have no misconceptions.
On the basis of the location alone, all 6 of our party would not recommend booking the boat for a 7 night Nile cruise and particularly so if this is your first visit to Luxor. It gives totally the wrong impression of Luxor, Egypt and leaves a bad taste in the mouth for those who have seen Luxor for what it is and have come to love it over the years….
Having said that if it was possible to book the cruise one way from Aswan to Luxor and disembark the very day we arrived back at El Watania dock, we would choose it again. Unfortunately, 3 days on the M/S Serenade Nile cruise boat with the combination of food and crappy location in Luxor would be enough…
On a positive note, we did stay 2 nights on arrival in Luxor at the El Luxor Hotel on the corniche and were kindly upgraded free of charge to Nile view rooms. Had we had the foresight or advance notification we would have disembarked the M/S Serenade on Day 7 and gone back to the hotel for our last evening in the centre of Luxor instead.
We had a magnificent time during our holiday and after all – a holiday is what you make it and not what somebody else promised….
This post has also been shared on my TripAdvisor account. I would hasten to say that although some members did have the odd gippy tummy, it did not prevent us from enjoying the experience neither did it stop us doing any of our planned excursions.
I had no stomach problems at all during our cruise but can advise that at no time did I eat from the salad bar nor any of the Oriental vegetables which were offered at most lunch and evening meals….
More of my Travel Reviews on TripAdvisor.