Family Christmas Vacation in Egypt & Jordan
December 2014, by Tim and Dena Krenzien
Our trip began on Royal Jordanian which departs from Terminal 5 at O’Hare. I recommend a minimum 2 – 1/2 hour advance check in time. The TSA Security line
does have a First/Business Priority line; but this line is also slow. There is no TSA Pre Check. The newly remodeled Terminal 5 now has a number of restaurants and Duty Free shops, and while not world class, is a 1000% better. Royal Jordanian shares the Air France / KLM Lounge. The Lounges at T5 are mainly shared and are all marginal with the exception of the British Air lounge.
We were thoroughly impressed with Royal Jordanian. The Chicago Amman route is flown on the 787 Dreamliner; a fantastic aircraft. Business Class is 2 x 2 x 2 and Economy 2 x 3 x 2. The windows are enormous and the tall cabin height and lack of center luggage bins creates a bright and airy atmosphere. The very large windows do not have traditional shades are darkened electronically, which creates an extremely comfortable environment. The 787 is extremely quiet and pressurized to a lower atmosphere and was a delightful flight. Food and service was Middle Eastern, but very good and superior to the US carriers in all respects. Business Class is fully flatbed (180) with extremely large video monitors. Economy Class is comfortable with seat back monitors. The video selection is somewhat limited, but adequate.
ADVISOR NOTE: Do not book the last row of Business Class. Bulkhead (first row) in Economy has the Bassinets and can be VERY noisy.
We changed planes in Amman en route to Cairo. AMM Amman is a brand new modern facility and extremely sophisticated and easy to transit. We were In-Transit and did not clear Customs and Immigration and were in the lounge in less than 20 minutes.
We used the A&K local offices in Cairo and Amman and both were superb. Best in Class. A&K Cairo had their man inside Immigration and he escorted us through Immigration and Customs. The A&K rep took us directly to the “bank” where you purchase your visa (In US$) and then took our passports and expedited us through immigration.
ADVISOR NOTE: Do not proceed directly to the immigration line, you must purchase your visa at the bank before proceeding to the immigration line. We observed many people standing in line, then being redirected to the “Bank” to purchase the visa, and wait in line all over again.
We landed Cairo at 10:00 pm and there was no traffic and we were at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza in 30 minutes. The Four Seasons Nile Plaza is definitely the hotel of choice in Cairo. Location, room product, and service are all superb. Security here, and at all hotels in Egypt and Jordan is high. Vehicles are searched with canines and ground mirrors, all bags go through the scanner, and all persons through a metal detector. We saw the Kempinski which was a great hotel a few blocks away but too quiet for our tastes. The newly rebranded Ritz Carlton Nile looks great, and is very close to the Egyptian Museum. Perhaps too close, as it is right on Tahir Square, the sight of demonstrations and unrest.
Our Cairo Egyptologist was outstanding and one of the better guides we have had worldwide. The tourism industry in Egypt is suffering beyond belief and we had the sites to ourselves. The locals enthusiastically welcomed us when they learned we were Americans. The Egyptians are a lovely people, with kind and humorous personalities. Nicole and Allyn (our children) went into the Cheops Pyramid inner chamber and had the chamber to themselves. We were the only people in the Sun Boat (Solar Boat) Museum and literally had the place to ourselves. The Egyptian Museum was not completely empty, but we waited in no lines. The Tutankhamen (King Tut’s) Room was wide open and there were no more than a dozen people in the room. We visited the Mosques and the Souk and had a fantastic dinner at the Turkish Restaurant in the Kempinski.
We had a very early morning flight to Luxor. Again traffic was light. The A&K airport representative is hooked up and escorted us through the chaotic Cairo airport with ease. Egypt Air to Luxor is OK – old and dirty aircraft, but fine for an hour.
ADVISOR NOTE: Business Class was $60 more than Economy and worth every penny. Priority check in, free baggage, lounge access, priority boarding, and a Business Class van on the Tarmac to the Terminal.
We landed in Luxor and were literally the only aircraft at the airport. Luxor is a large and modern facility and it was a little eerie to be the only aircraft. We were transferred to the ship in about 20 minutes. A&K operates four ships on the Nile. The Sunboat I, Nile Adventurer, Sunboat II and Sunboat IV. We were booked on the Sun Boat IV and A&K switched us to the smaller Sunboat III due to the limited number of passengers. We were 13 passengers aboard, and our cruise was like a private charter. 6 Americans (4 of us and 2 from Barrington), 2 Italians, 2 Egyptians, 2 Brits and an Australian. The Sun Boat III is a terrific ship. The décor is and elegant Deco – Egyptian style. The staterooms are tight, but comfortable and elegantly furnished. The public areas are spacious and well-appointed and you can always finds a great space. Service and food and quality are superb. Alcoholic beverages are costly.
ADVISOR NOTE: Book a Nile side room. Starboard sailing south and Port sailing north. When the ship is berthed, you have the privacy on the Nile River side as opposed to the pier side.
We immediately embarked on our morning excursion to the Karnak Temple. Once again, we virtually had the place to ourselves. Late in the day we visited the Luxor Temple. The original plan was to sail to Denderah, but we could not sail north due to the low Nile river water levels. We therefore spent the night at the pier in Luxor and drove (90 minutes) the next day to Denderah. Denderah was a spectacular temple and one of the cruise highlights. We returned to Luxor and spent the afternoon at the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of Kings. Once again, we had the temples and tombs to ourselves. We toured the Valley of the Kings and
were the only 13 people there for the last hour. Five years ago you would have been waiting 45 minutes per tomb in line. It was a treat for us, but our hearts ache for the Egyptian families whose income is based on tourism.
ADVISOR NOTE: There is a supplemental cost to enter Tutankhamen’s tomb and Ramses 6th tomb. Skip the smaller and more expensive Tutankhamen and tour the much larger and grander and Ramses 6th.
We had drinks at the Sofitel Winter Palace, the former Winter Palace of King Farouk. The property is magnificent and steeped in history and grandeur. The grounds and gardens are extensive and beautifully manicured. The hotel is tired, but no doubt the hotel of choice.
We then sailed downriver, passing through two locks to Edfu. We had horse drawn carriage rides to the temples and then sailed that afternoon with a leisurely day at sea up the Nile to Kom Ombo. We saw the temple at Kom Ombo and enjoyed the Egyptian Theme night aboard ship.
We docked in Aswan the following morning and saw the Unfinished Obelisk and Quarry as well as the Temple of Philae located on an island in the Nile Cataracts. We skipped the optional Felucca sail on the Nile (somewhat cheesy and touristy) and decided to have drinks at the Sofitel Old Cataract Hotel followed by a walk through the 3 mile Aswan Souk (local market). The Old Cataract is a Sofitel Legend hotel and has been magnificently restored. The hotel was also built by King Farouk during his rule and is truly one of the iconic historic must see hotels.
We overnighted at the pier in Aswan and then flew out via Cairo for Amman. The Aswan airport is a large and modern facility, but also eerily empty. We were the only departure flight and there were only 12 arrival and departure flights on the board for the entire day.
We had a long layover in Cairo and were happy to have to the A&K meet and greet. The domestic Terminal and the International Terminals are several miles apart. We decided to go to the Fairmont Towers Heliopolis Airport hotel, which is a comfortable place to spend a few hours and has a variety of restaurants. The new Le Meridien is attached to the Terminal Building and would be the
preferred choice if overnighting.
A&K Jordan was simply outstanding. Once again, we were met within Customs and Immigrations. The Jordan Visa on arrival is JOD 40 per person. Our A&K rep facilitated the process:
ADVISOR NOTE: The bank at the Jordan Airport charges a 7% exchange fee and we advise having Jordan currency in advance if possible.
We then had a 3 hour uneventful drive to Petra. The Moevenpick Hotel Petra is located right at the entrance to the Petra Site and is ideally located. The Hotel is good, not great, but decidedly the hotel of choice.
Zoher, our guide in Jordan, was perhaps one of the best guides we have ever had.
Petra was amazing and well worth the long drive in and out. Jordan, like Egypt, has been greatly affected by Arab Spring and there are virtually no western tourists. More than Egypt, but again, we virtually had Petra to ourselves. Our children enjoyed camel and donkey rides throughout the tour of Petra. We all tried to coax my wife, Dena, to take a ride on either animal but that was not happening as she was delighted to walk and enjoy the Red City without any four legged creatures.
We then drove to the Dead Sea with a stop in Madaba to see the mosaic at St. George and Mount Nebu before arriving at the Kempinski Ishtar. The Dead Sea is a wonderfully goofy place. The Kempinski is a spectacular physical plant, but very tired and suffering from a lack of business. Secondly, the sprawling layout is difficult to navigate, but with 11 pools and beautiful stonework – stunning. The flies, mosquitos and stray cats were definitely not 5 star. The Spa was terrific and huge. The food was adequate. Swimming in the Dead Sea and doing the black Dead Sea mud treatment was a bucket list item that we checked off. You can lay back in the Dead Sea and float, it’s virtually impossible to go underwater. It was weird and wonderful. The highlight of the Kempsinki Ishtar was the spa, several hours at the Dead Sea, and its convenient location one hour from the Amman airport.