Nile cruises are ten a penny; well perhaps a little more pricey these days, but certainly very common. However, there is one trip on the Nile which is truly unique. The SS Karim was the Royal Paddle Steamer in the early 20th century and was used by King Fuad and King Farouk as well as Presidents Nasser and Begin. As you can imagine, the steamer was made to the very highest design. Now fully restored it still has beautiful wood paneling, brass stair plates and stained glass windows. These are complemented with an old HMV Record player with a brass trumpet, busts of famous Egyptians and lovely mother-of-pearl and silver antiques throughout the boat. There are only 16 cabins aboard, thankfully each with its own 21st century bathroom! The upper deck has a plunge pool and sunbeds to relax and watch the Egyptian countryside go by.
We were greeted on board by our knowledgeable Egyptologist guide with a glass of hibiscus juice. Sitting on deck in wicker chairs as we set sail, we felt like extras in a scene straight from Agatha Christie herself!
The beauty of this cruise was that it began at Aswan, with a charter flight direct from London. All the other cruises start at Luxor and sail en masse up the Nile, while we alone sailed in the opposite direction. While other cruises discharge hundreds of cruisers simultaneously at each temple and tomb, the elite passengers of King Fuad's steamer arrived at each attraction and had it to themselves! From this crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me cruise, we were able to take trips in feluccas across to the gardens on Elephantine Island. We rode around Luxor in a collection of horse-drawn carriages, and were treated like honoured guests in the tiny papyrus factory and workshops which could not accommodate larger groups. The whole happy party was transported in style on a camel train along the banks to a local Nubian village, which again is not possible for large cruises.
With just 30 elite fellow passengers, dinner times were a pleasure. There was no rush, no noise, and no waiting in line. The paddle steamer moved at a sedate 5-8 knots, the perfect speed for reading, looking up from time to time at the passing villages, donkeys and children waving at the quaint little paddleboat. No matter how you cruise the Nile, the sights are breathtaking, mind-blowing and awe-inspiring. The age and quality of the carvings, architecture and paintings are quite amazing. But travel first class if you can. The experience of a week on King Fuad's steamer is something you will treasure forever.