|If you are considering the Grand
Circle trip to Egypt, things to know you only learn during the trip are:
The Cairo Marriott is a wonderful hotel, but many rooms have twin beds. The rooms are large and the water is purified with chlorine. Lots of chlorine! Don't drink it, but you can brush your teeth with it. Same for the water on the boat. The rooms are noisy. Those in the outside rooms, even on the 20th floor of the towers, hear constant traffic and horns (the Egyptians honk their horns probably more than in any other country of the world!) Those in inside rooms get to hear music all night. Take ear plugs. Light, however, will not be a problem because all rooms have room-darkening curtains, both at the hotel and on the boat. The boat is very quiet from about 10:00 p.m. onwards.
You do not have to worry about pick-pockets or being mugged, although you might want to take extra precautions in crowded markets. I have been carrying my wallet in my shirt pocket for several years, which makes it somewhat inaccessible to them, but accessible to me. A good shirt brand for Egypt is Cabela's short-sleeved "Serengeti Safari" shirts. There is a large selection of colors and the pockets hold a man's wallet and zip closed. (On the Web at http://www.cabelas.com/ or from their catalog.) Besides, they look sexy, even on an old man <grin>.
You will buy some meals yourself in Cairo. The Marriott's food prices are quite reasonable. A 330 ml. can of soda (NO ICE! Too much chlorine) is under $2.00 (Le11.00). I don't know what beer and mixed drinks cost. (Sodas on the boat are Le9.00 and at the Cairo airport they are Le8.00.) The day before we flew home, two pizzas and three sodas cost under $20.00 at the Marriott. Le1.00 is 1 Egyptian pound. The rate of exchange in September 2005 was Le6.70 or so to the dollar.
The included breakfast is a large buffet at the Marriott. You can't go hungry. Butter, jams, etc. are imported from Europe, so all are safe.
There are Internet cafes near the Marriott (don't use the one at the Marriott, it's too expensive) and in Luxor and Aswan. One in Luxor charges $2.00 an hour. Another $3.00. I think I paid about $4.00 for 45 minutes in Cairo. Don't use the Internet connection on the boat for the same reason: too expensive.
Grand Circle advertises this trip as their "most ambitious." It is! You will walk on rough terrain in very hot weather (over 100 degrees each day south of Cairo), have very early wake-up calls (once at 3:00 a.m!) and pass through metal detectors all over the country. Half our group of 133 got sick. No one knows why, since most took extra precautions. One man was hospitalized for a day. His wife almost fainted when they started putting needles and IVs into him without rubbing alcohol on his skin first.
Grand Circle sees to it that you have a free 750-ml bottle of water each morning in Cairo, enough to get many through the day. (Don't use that 1.5-liter bottle of water the Marriott puts in your room. It costs about $4.00. Go across the street where the program directors point out and buy three of the same size for only $1.00 total.) Bottled water is free on the boat. Two bottles are placed in the cabin each day. Ask your cabin steward for extra 1/2-liter bottles or get larger bottles from the bar. A back-pack is recommended, because you easily can carry a couple liters of water on tours, not to mention your camera stuff, insect repellent, WC packs, etc.
Speaking of insect repellent, the only problem was biting flies. Take towelettes with DEET (sold by the "Deep Woods DEET" folks.) They fit handily into your back pack. Also buy and carry a product called "WC" (a 10-envelop toilet set packet) from Magellan's. One packet costs $5.45.
If you take the highly recommended add-on tour to Abu Simbel, you will need at least a liter of water per person. It was 110 degrees and there were a few hills to negotiate. Easy for someone under 60 (or my wife... Oh, she is under 60, oh, well)... or in very good shape, but even the youngsters can get dehydrated quickly. You'll need a lot of water for Karnak, too, as you will be there several hours.
My mother was a red head, so I used SPF 30 greaseless each day. I bought and wore a large-brimmed hat. (I hate hats.)
The book Grand Circle sends tells women not to wear shorts. That's rubbish. The only place neither male nor female should wear shorts is on the optional "Old Cairo" tour when you will visit a Coptic church and a mosque.
The cabins on the boat were larger than anticipated. Contrary to Grand Circle's information, wash cloths are provided. You do not have to carry any. Laundry service is very inexpensive on the boat. Take 7 shirts on the trip, put the dirty ones into the laundry bag as soon as you get into your cabin. You'll have them back 24 hours later, washed and pressed. There is no dry cleaning service on the boat.
As on a cruise, you give the boat an imprint of your credit card when you board. But you pay cash in the gift shops (even dollars, and some haggling is required in them.) Unlike cruise ships, photos taken by the staff are very inexpensive ($2.00 for 5x7 and $4.00 for 8x10.) They do not take very many. The video tape from the Nile cruise is not recommended unless you know you appear in it many times. The copy we bought looked like a 10th-generation copy.
The boat actually sails only during the day and only four days out of the seven you will be aboard. The rest of the time you are in port. Food was good on the boat, although breakfast was repetitive.
You only are allowed to check one large bag per person going to Cairo, but you can check two coming home (Egyptair both ways.) The "to Cairo" restriction is Grand Circle's, as that is all they will take care of in the baggage handling. Your bags will be picked off the belt at the Cairo airport by a Grand Circle rep, so relax if the bags don't show up on the belt. Grand Circle will send you a nice tote before the trip. Pack it in a suitcase and use it for the stuff you WILL buy and check it or your over-stuffed back-pack coming home. Don't worry about weight of bags, regardless what the Egyptair Web site says.
On your way from JFK, Egyptair will hand check your carry-on before letting you board the airplane. I guess they don't trust the TSA's x-ray machines. Your bags will be x-rayed going into the Marriott and into most of the sites you visit. You will go through three x-rays and metal detector sites at the airport on leaving the country to return home. I did not set off the first two detectors, but I did set off the third. It was the camera battery in my pocket.
There is no photography allowed inside the pyramids (look, the shaft is 3 feet high, so skip it unless you are in great shape!), nor inside the Cairo Antiquities museum, the tombs at the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens and inside the temple at Abu Simbel. It used to be, but flash was not permitted. People cheated, colors were fading fast, so they stopped it altogether.
One last word about money. In the Marriott and to settle your account on the boat (mostly for sodas and alcohol), you either will pay with a credit card or in Egyptian pounds only. You will not use dollars. There are two banks open 24 hours a day in the Marriott. One will exchange traveler's checks for pounds only; the other will exchange them for pounds or dollars. On the boat a banker arrives twice. It cost me $13.00 to exchange $300.00 in traveler's checks for U.S. currency on the boat. The fee to buy pounds at the Marriott wasn't too high. There are safes in the rooms both in the hotel and on the boat.
You will tip:
Take lots of one dollar bills! Buy even more Le1.00 notes.