My husband and I just returned from 17 days in Egypt and Jordan -- WOW! I have lived on message boards since we booked this past January, and I felt so well prepared because of that. First, thanks to all who take the time to answer (probably repeatedly) our questions about Egypt, in particular Darsh and Off Duty. No question ever seems too simple and you are always so prompt and informative. That said, we had the trip of a lifetime! We booked through STI Travel in NJ and cannot say enough about the job they did for us -- kudos especially to Cristina. Please see my review on the Grand Hyatt posted in the hotel forum, but briefly, we would recommend it highly. Our itinerary included 2 days in Cairo, a 7 night Nile Cruise, back to Cairo for another full day, then on to Jordan. Marcus met us at the airport and handled every detail from obtaining the VISAs, getting our luggage, escorting us through customs, etc. Our driver and escort then took us to the hotel, high noon, Cairo traffic -- "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" for those who have ever visited Disney World. It was great and although we could never drive like they do, somehow it works. The security is amazing everywhere, and never for an instant did we feel unsafe.
The next morning Marcus greeted us again to introduce us to our guide, and that was the moment I knew the gods were smiling on us! In the March 1999 issue of National Geographic's Traveler magazine there was an article on Egypt based on an interview with Ihab Wagdy, egyptologist extraordinaire. Ihab is the grandson of Selim Bey Hassan who led excavations at Giza and Saqqara and is honored at the Egyptian museum with a large bust. Of course, we did not know all of this that morning, only that this Yul Brynner type, articulate smiling man was going to be our guide two days in Cairo, and then join us and 10 others on our Nile Cruise. I'm sure the trip would have been wonderful with other guides, but I promise you, seeing Egypt through Ihab's proud eyes and having the educational experience that went with it, surpassed our expectations. In addition to his degrees in Egyptology, he has a master's in comparative religions. We toured Old Cairo, the pyramids, Alexandria, Luxor, Edfu, Kom Ombo, Aswan, Memphis and Saqqara with Ihab. (He left us midway through the cruise to take the others back to Cairo, but then met us again that Saturday for Memphis and Saqqara.) We had another guide for Abu Simbel (one day) and then yet another, Khaled for Karnak, Luxor temple and Denderra. He was young and enthusiastic and did a nice job. I could write on and on about Ihab, but I think you can appreciate how blessed we felt to meet this man, as did the others I mentioned from the Mojito.
Re the cruise: we were glad we booked the 7-night cruise because it gave us a day here and there to relax. The crew on the boat was so friendly and always helpful. The food is served buffet style at each meal and they obviously try to have something for everyone: each night beef or veal, chicken, fish (one night all fish), pasta, tons of cooked veggies, and beautiful salads. We were very careful about what we ate and drank: bottled water only, no salads (altho finally we surrendered to the incredible tomatoes), no dairy, etc., and neither of us had tummy issues. I did develop laryngitus and bronchitus, but I never felt bad! I think I was having too much fun to feel bad! The Mojito is 5 stars, but remember this is not like a 5 star American cruise, rather a small and intimate setting that is comfortable, clean and relatively new. The bathrooms, all teak, deserve a special mention, along with the fact that they brought fresh towels twice a day. Our attendant made crazy, wonderful designs with the towels and on the last day took the bedding and made a crocodile! Amazing!
I will write a trip report for Jordan eventually on that forum, but we loved it and cannot state strongly enough that Petra is not to be missed!
Finally, I read all sorts of posts, some negative, and I can only share our experience. Yes, Cairo is smoggy, but it generally clears in the afternoon. Yes, it is dirty in places, but you with so little rain, how can it be pristine. Yes, Egypt is poor as are its people -- economically, but they are rich in so many other ways. Yes, the baksheesh issue bothers a lot of people, but we felt it a small price to pay. I loved sharing pens, and yes, pounds with the children. If there are more beautiful children anywhere, I have yet to meet them! We met so many warm and gracious people on this trip, and for us, that is really what traveling is all about. I have only scratched the surface with this summary, but wanted to get a few thoughts down while fresh in my mind. Go to Egypt, soak it in, bring your memories home, and consider yourself lucky to have visited "the cradle of civilization." Bye, Y'all.