The absolute best way to experience Egypt is by hopping on board a luxury Nile Cruise. I cannot imagine having explored the temples along the Nile in any other way. It screams luxury and adventure, which are certainly my two favorite things! If you’ve been following along, you’d know by now that I’ve fallen in love with cruising this year — in fact, I’ve visited 15 different countries and islands in 2019 via ship. And, if you missed it, I was rated the #1 Cruise Influencer of 2019 by Porthole Cruise Magazine (shameless plug).
Overlooking the Nile from the M.S. Mayflower by Mayfair Cruises [Aswan to Luxor Cruise]
So, it should go without saying that it takes a lot to impress me…and I was blown away. Read on to find out which luxury Nile cruise ship I hopped on and why. Plus, wait until you see some of these incredible sites…
*All photos taken by David M Gallo. Check out his gallery to see the high quality images, and other epic shots from around the world!*
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Where do the Nile Cruises begin and end?
The most popular Nile River Cruises go from Luxor to Aswan or from Aswan to Luxor, and stop at multiple ancient temples along the way. I found it surprising that cruises from Cairo to Aswan were few and far between, as I always just assumed there were many but, alas, I was wrong. The cruises from Luxor to Aswan are 4 nights/5 days and the cruises from Aswan to Luxor are 3 nights/4 days, however, there is no difference in itineraries. If you’re looking for a less busy, more relaxing experience, you could book a 7 day cruise too; they visit the same sites as the shorter cruises, but give you much more time on board to relax.
I could easily spend a week on an Egypt cruise, couldn't you?
With that said, decide if you want to cruise up the Nile from Luxor to Aswan, or down the Nile from Aswan to Luxor. Before you tell me that I have that backwards, remember that the Nile flows South to North 🙂
Once you decide which route works best with your schedule, you will have to book domestic flights (or an overnight train) to get to your starting destination. We chose to fly as it was quick and efficient, and certainly more comfortable than an overnight train. Prices range from about $50-$180 USD each way, depending on when you book your flight and with which carrier you fly. There are multiple EgyptAir flights from Cairo to Aswan or Luxor daily, and you can secure the best flight prices here.
How To Choose the Best Nile Cruise For You?
Believe it or not, there are 450 different Nile cruises! While they’re not always on the river at the same time, it’s pretty wild to think about just how popular this Egypt cruise is. These cruises don’t particularly differ in itinerary, but in levels of comfort. When I first began researching the best Nile cruise, I actually had some difficulty deciding which ship to take.
Should I sail the Nile via felucca like in the old days? Board a Dahabiya? Go with an International brand or a local company? I was overwhelmed with options. I knew that we wanted to leave from Aswan (because we tacked on an epic day trip to Abu Simbel prior to our cruise), but that was about it.
Through my in-depth research, I discovered Mayfair Cruises. They have three ships, and I learned that their most recent ship — the M.S. Mayflower — had a soft launch shortly after we arrived in Egypt! Needless to say, I knew that I wanted to check out the newest ship on the Nile, while also supporting a locally-based company. We decided to join their 3 night/4 day cruise from Aswan to Luxor but, let me just say, I sure wish we had booked the weeklong journey (it was that good!).
Walking onto the M.S. Mayflower!
Discovering the M.S. Mayflower
It is a bit ironic that I boarded the M.S. Mayflower just before Thanksgiving in the United States. Like the original Mayflower, our ship held about 100 passengers… but, unlike the boat that brought the Pilgrims over to the New World, the M.S. Mayflower by Mayfair Cruises was pristine, spacious, and brand-spanking-new. Launched in November of 2019, the M.S. Mayflower is the newest of the boats on the Nile.
From the moment we stepped on board, we were greeted with endless smiles and incredible hospitality from the staff. I’d say that the ship is Egyptian-chic; it is luxurious and comfortable, and incorporates local Egyptian flair in every detail of the interior design and decor.
Now that's what I call an entrance! Great start to our Nile River cruise on the M.S. Mayflower
On the ship itself, you will find a cocktail lounge with plush sofas, seating areas perfect for picking up a book, a glamorous restaurant, and a sundeck with a pool and two hot tubs that offer 360 views of the Nile. Every aspect of the ship is beautiful.
The cocktail lounge on our M.S. Mayflower Egypt Cruise
Each room on the M.S. Mayflower looks out onto the Nile. Rooms range from your standard twin cabin to the R.Suite+ Veranda. Regardless, of whichever cabin you choose, I am certain that you will enjoy your time on board the M.S. Mayflower.
Standard Twin Cabin on the M.S. Mayflower [Aswan to Luxor Cruise]
I stayed in the R.Suite+ and it was absolutely incredible. With a private balcony overlooking the Nile, comfy couches, dual desks, two bathrooms with tubs, two closets, a sitting area, and a king-sized bed, the R.Suite+ surely didn’t disappoint! It was so nice that it was difficult to peel ourselves away to go explore (reason #1 that I wish I booked a longer cruise!).
My R.Suite+ Veranda on the M.S. Mayflower certainly qualified this as a luxury Nile Cruise!
I would be doing this article a disservice if I didn’t give a massive thank you to the staff on board the M.S. Mayflower, as they are truly what made this experience unforgettable. Each and every person we interacted with on our luxury Nile cruise — from the cleaning staff to management — was unbelievably kind and hospitable. Throughout my travels, I have encountered hundreds of people who work in the hospitality industry, and I can honestly say that the people behind the M.S. Mayflower are the smiliest, most helpful, genuine people I have ever met.
Staff on the M.S. Mayflower – one of the many reasons why this is the best Nile cruise!
Special thanks to Joe (the boat manager), Mohammed (our server and head bartender), and Mena (the Restaurant Manager) for going above and beyond in every way possible. They alone made me want to come back to Egypt…aside from the beauty that is Egypt (reason #2 that I wish I booked a longer cruise!).
Staff on the M.S. Mayflower – one of the many reasons why this is the best Nile cruise!
One of the best things about being on an Egypt cruise is…the food! While I’m not a food-specific blogger, I certainly appreciate a good meal, and we had many. The Pasha Restaurant offers a variety of local and international cuisines, ranging from buffet to set menus. There’s truly something for everyone (no matter your dietary restrictions), and the food is of the highest quality.
Part of the restaurant on board the M.S. Mayflower
It is fresh and delicious, always. Sometimes with cruising you find “meh” quality food because they have to cater to so many people, but because the M.S. Mayflower is small, and holds themselves to the highest standards, you will only find the best food. It is also worth noting that the service is impeccable; I have never seen a restaurant staff as attentive of that on the M.S. Mayflower (thanks Mohammed!!!). And, whatever you do, don’t skip out on trying all of the Egyptian desserts when they’re offered, as they’re mouthwateringly good.
A sample of the delicious food on our Egypt Cruise!
As much as I would have loved to stay in and enjoy my R.Suite+, that wouldn’t be very fair to the good ‘ol Nile. The Sundeck offers outstanding views over the Nile, and has a variety of comfortable loungers for you to soak up the sun (or sit in the shade), and take it all in as you cruise up or down the longest river in the world.
A beautiful sundeck on our Nile River Cruise, the M.S. Mayflower
Watch the landscape pass by, and whatever you do, do not miss sunset from the Sundeck!
I'd call this a pretty perfect sunset
While some people find cruise entertainment a bit cheesy, honestly, the entertainment on the M.S. Mayflower was quite unique and enjoyable, as they brought locals on board at each port to provide us with 30 to 45 minutes of authentic entertainment; from belly dancing to singalongs and game nights (read: I got “made” into a mummy with toilet paper), we had an absolute blast every night. The M.S. Mayflower prides itself on its interactive and engaging performances. It was far more culturally enriching than the extra hour of sleep would have been.
How cool is this?! [Aswan to Luxor Cruise]
But, of course, what’s a luxury Nile cruise for, if not for the sites?! The majority of the well-preserved temples and tombs are located between Luxor and Aswan, as some of the most famous kings ruled at this time (think Ramses II, Hatshepsut, Seti I, etc.). Because they ruled for so long, they built huge temples and elaborate tombs to reflect their power and riches.
The sites will be pretty epic on your Egypt cruise!
On your Nile river cruise, you will have the opportunity to visit the grandest of all of the sites; the most well-preserved, the most colorful, and the most breathtaking. It is difficult to put into words what it is like to wander through places that have been there for thousands of years! To have the opportunity to bear witness to it is a true blessing, and that’s the opportunity that a luxury Nile cruise will provide.
4-Day Nile Cruise Itinerary from Aswan to Luxor
In general, the Nile river cruises tend to begin in Aswan on Fridays and in Luxor on Mondays. That’s definitely something that I recommend bearing in mind before you book your flights to/from Egypt (we didn’t know that in advance, but thankfully it all worked out!). As I mentioned earlier, just about all of the cruises visit the same sites — no matter if you’re on a 3 night, 4 night, or 7 night Nile cruise. Each day, no matter how packed or relaxed your itinerary is, you will be back on board for a delicious lunch midday and to freshen up before heading out again in the afternoon.
The ship is divided up into groups and provided with a knowledgeable guide for each and every excursion. We were lucky enough to have Hany as our guide, and we couldn’t have been happier with our experience! He made Egypt’s very complicated history understandable and was easily able to answer all of our questions. We loved that he was so passionate about the sites we were visiting, and – I must say – I was blown away when I discovered on our last day that he could read hieroglyphics! He made our experience incredibly special, and I can assure you that every guide on the M.S. Mayflower is held to the same standards.
Meet Hany, our fabulous tour guide on our Egypt cruise!
Since we were on the 3 night, 4 day Aswan to Luxor route, our Nile cruise itinerary was as follows…
Welcome aboard! Check into your room midday, have a tasty lunch, and prepare to site see in Aswan for the afternoon. You will visit:
Unfinished Obelisk: An obelisk must be carved from one piece of of granite. The Unfinished Obelisk can be found in a granite quarry that was used from the time of the Pharaohs to the time of the Romans, but it was never finished because there’s a crack in the middle. Had this obelisk been completed, it would have been one of the biggest obelisks in all of Egypt! It only takes about 20 minutes to walk around this massive structure.
Note the crack in the Unfinished Obelisk
High Dam: The High Dam is an engineering masterpiece that was constructed between 1960 and 1971. It was created to ensure that the Nile would no longer flood, and actually provides 9% of Egypt’s electricity. The project required 30,000 Egyptian workers and 1,000 Russian workers – working 19 hours a day – to make this happen. The water from the High Dam is pushed into Lake Nasser, which is the largest artificial lake in the world — running 500km from Aswan to Sudan (350km in Egypt and 150km in Sudan)!
Overlooking the High Dam in Aswan
Philae Temple: Philae Temple was actually moved from its original location before the completion of the High Dam, as it had previously been flooded. Philae Temple was built around 690 BC and is dedicated to Isis, the Goddess of Love. It is said to have been the last temple constructed in classical Egyptian style and can only be reached via motorboat. We quite enjoyed walking around the Philae Temple during the golden hour!
Philae Temple – The first temple on our luxury Nile Cruise
The first full-day of exploring! This is a relatively chill day so that you have the opportunity to visit two remarkable sites, while also having ample downtime to sunbathe on deck or relax. You will visit the Temple of Kom Ombo as your morning excursion and the Temple of Edfu as your afternoon excursion.
Temple of Kom Ombo: The Temple of Kom Ombo is dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek and the falcon god Horus. Because it was dedicated to two Egyptian gods, there’s double of everything structurally — two courts, two halls, two sanctuaries, etc. You will also find the most well-preserved Egyptian Calendar in all of Egypt, which is quite a site to see!
Kom Ombo – Our first excursion on our Aswan to Luxor Cruise
Temple of Edfu: The Temple of Edfu was dedicated to the falcon god Horus and is considered to be one of the best preserved temples in all of Egypt and, truly, it’s remarkable. One of my favorite walls in the temple depicted Horus defeating Set (the god who is said to have killed his father), as it is incredibly detailed.
Took one of my favorite travel photos at Edfu Temple on during our luxury Nile Cruise
The third day is the busiest of them all. Do note, if you choose the Luxor to Aswan 4 night/5 day route, this day will be spread out over two days. Make sure you bring a lot of water, as this is a long, hot day… but so very worth it! In the morning, you will visit the Temple of Hatshepsut, the Valley of the Kings, and the Valley of the Queens, and in the afternoon, you will visit the Karnak Temple Complex and the Luxor Temple.
Temple of Hatshepsut: Interestingly enough, the photo that is typically associated with Valley of the Kings is actually the Temple of Hatshepsut! Hatshepsut was the first female pharaoh and is portrayed as a man. What is particularly interesting about the Temple of Hatshepsut is that most images and statues of Hatshepsut were actually destroyed by her stepson after her death. The statues we see today have been reconstructed. Visually, the Temple of Hatshepsut is quite different from any other temple that you will visit on your luxury Nile cruise. It’s also worth noting that you will make a quick pit stop at the Colossi of Memnon on the way to the temple as well.
Wandering through the Temple of Hatshepsut
Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens: Valley of the Kings is arguably the most well-known spot in Egypt, after the Pyramids. 63 tombs of the Pharaohs and nobles were found in the Valley of the Kings, and it’s said that only 30% of the Luxor tombs have been found — in fact, archeologists just discovered 30 ancient coffins a few weeks ago! Today, 11 tombs are open to visitors (but some may be closed or rotated out depending on when you visit). It was in the Valley of the Kings that King Tut’s tomb was found completely intact in 1922 (the only one to date!), which is considered an extraordinary discovery. We visited the tombs of Ramses IV, Ramses III, and Merenptah (a son of Ramses II). The colors and details that are preserved were truly astonishing (despite the crowds of tourists). The Valley of the Queens is similar to the Valley of the Kings, but smaller; you can find the tomb of Queen Nefertari, the Great Royal Wife of Rameses II, there.
Incredible preservation of the tombs in Valley of the Kings
The Karnak Temple Complex: The Karnak Temple, dedicated to the gods of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu, took over 2,000 years to build (from 2055 BC to 100 AD) and was contributed to by thirty different pharaohs. At 61 acres, it is considered the second largest temple complex in the world after Angkor Wat. The Hypostyle Hall, featuring 134 massive columns, is also known to be the largest room of any type of religious building in the world. It is difficult to understand the scope of this complex without visiting it firsthand… which is why it’s great that it will certainly be included on your Nile cruise! If you stay in Luxor pre- or post-cruise, people say that the Karnak Sound and Light show is the best in Egypt and might be worth checking out.
The pillars at Karnak Temple are astounding
Luxor Temple: Luxor Temple is located in the heart of Luxor and was constructed in 1400 BC. It has an incredible facade featuring six colossal statues of Ramses II, who ruled Egypt for 67 years, and one obelisk (the second obelisk was gifted to Paris in 1836 and can be seen at the Place de la Concorde). Interestingly enough, Alexander the Great is said to have built the Holy of Holies in the rear of the temple as well.
The entrance of Luxor Temple – the final excursion on our Aswan to Luxor Cruise
Wake up and make your way downstairs for your last breakfast onboard. Say your final goodbyes and make plans to visit another time! The staff on the M.S. Mayfair will arrange an airport or hotel transfer for you. We personally chose to spend one extra night in Luxor and took the time to visit the Medinet Habu Temple, which I highly recommend!
A worthwhile stop after your Egypt cruise!
Truly, a trip to Egypt wouldn’t be complete without experiencing a luxury Nile cruise, and I hope that this guide has helped you realize that you need to experience the M.S. Mayflower by Mayfair Cruises firsthand too!
Last but not least, this trip certainly wouldn't have been the same had I not had my incredible brother (and favorite travel buddy and photographer) by my side. To have the opportunity to experience such a rich culture and wonderful hospitality alongside someone that I love is something that I will cherish forever. Since David is always behind the camera, here's one of the only photos that we got together…
A brother-sister selfie from one of our excursions
Where to Sleep Pre and Post Cruise
Should you decide that you want to arrive a day early or stay a day late, as we did. I’d recommend a few different places. In Aswan, if you want to feel transported back in time and have a truly local experience, you could check out Aswan Nubian House. We stayed there, as it was owned by the same family who runs the incredible Pyramids Overlook Inn. Hamed, the owner, is as kind as could be and truly went out of his way to make us feel comfortable and welcome. If you’re looking for more luxury, I’d recommend the Sofitel Cataract Hotel. It has hosted many well-known figures over the years (think Agatha Christie and Winston Churchill), but I doubt you’d want to leave the property to explore!
In Luxor, we stayed at the Hilton Luxor Resort and Spa. It boasts the only infinity pool over the Nile, and the views are truly spectacular. We ended our time in Upper Egypt there and it was the perfect place to process everything we had seen during our trip. Special thanks to Amal at reception – her joy brightened our day!
Overlooking the Nile from the infinity pool at sunset
What To Wear in Egypt [Travel Packing List]
When planning my trip to Egypt, I figured out all of the sites that I wanted to see, but realized that I didn’t actually know what to wear in Egypt! Unlike places like Oman, you do not need to be covered wrists to ankles, nor do you need to have your head and shoulders covered at all times (unless, of course, you’re entering a place of worship). That said, it is important to adhere to local cultures and customs, so I do recommend wearing moderate, loose-fitting clothing. It’s particularly important to have a sun hat to keep away those rays, sunblock, bug spray wipes, and comfortable walking shoes (I fell in love with these and used them daily). To view my travel packing list, with all of my travel essentials – and I mean all of them – head on over to this article I wrote to pick and choose your favorite items!
Do You Have Travel Insurance?
You need travel insurance if you want to visit Egypt! As a rule of thumb, you should always have travel insurance when you leave your home country. Travel insurance is arguably the most important thing to have on hand (after your passports and visas). I’ve had to use my travel insurance multiple times on the road, even though I’m healthy. You never know when something might happen; take comfort in knowing that whether your flight gets cancelled or you wind up sick and in the hospital, you will be covered.
For any place that has faced a series of destabilizing events in recent years, be sure to select a plan that covers terrorism and political unrest. While I felt entirely safe in Egypt, as with anywhere in the world, you never know what could happen and it’s always better to be safe than sorry! I recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance for each and every one of you, as I used them on my most recent trip to Egypt too.. You can get a free quote here.