Posted February 13th, 2015, 07:39 PM
If you’re considering a shore excursion to Cairo from either Port Said or Alexandria, do yourself a favor and do it! Yes, security is an issue, but remember, this is Egypt. When isn't it an issue? VineyardView's observations about security precautions are correct. However, you have to appreciate that the Egyptian government sees tourism as a golden goose and will go to great lengths to protect it. When we were there in late October 2014, vans and buses traveled in a military/police convoy between Port Said and Cairo. No convoy was required between Alexandria and Cairo because it's further away from the border regions. There is a military/police presence virtually everywhere you go.
It's approximately a three-hour drive each way, to and from either port. So to maximize your time, it's best to do Cairo as an overnight (try to stay at the Mena House, a fantastic old hotel/hunting lodge right next to the complex at Giza). This method works great if your ship calls on both Alexandria and Port Said (leave the ship at one port and return to the ship at the next) or if your itinerary includes two days at either port. It's easy with the proper planning. You simply need to find a reputable guide and let your cruise line know that you plan to overnight off the ship. An overnight also gives you the time to travel further south to see the fantastic pyramids, temples, cemeteries and mastabas in Saqqara and Dashur (with Memphis thrown in for good measure).
If you've never seen the pyramids and all you have is one day, then we would still wholeheartedly recommend going as a long day trip -- it's worth it.
We are independent travelers who have recently started using cruises as a means of easily and cheaply getting from one place to another. But even we understand that a private guide is essential if you are new to a place like Egypt. We refused to waste our time with “private” or “semi-private tours” made up of a vanload of strangers who are invariably herded around like cattle, forced to visit rug and perfume “factories,” jewelry “studios,” papyrus “schools,” and “local” restaurants that are all part of a complex chain of tourist traps and commission kickbacks. You are not an honored guest on these tours; you are a wallet or purse to be emptied.
Using a truly exclusive private guide that does not put shopping (and extra commissions) ahead of history and culture, allows you to tailor your interests and available time into an itinerary that is interesting, experiential, and workable. The problem is finding the right guide.
That’s why it’s so important to read Tripadvisor and other reviews carefully and to communicate directly with those guides you’re considering. We must have exchanged nearly 60 emails with over 20 different prospective guide companies before we settled on our guide: Samir Abass of Real Egypt Tours.
We had many places we wanted to see beyond the usual highlights. Unlike other “private” tour companies that either tried to shoehorn us into one of their standard packages or convince us that our list was unworkable, Samir Abbass helped us to come up with a schedule and a price that worked. Yes, we got up early and stayed out late, but we covered it all and saw places and experienced things that most people never do. When you’re the only foreigner for miles around or a stand-out in a sea of locals, you know it’s real.
We found Samir to be a man who knows and loves his country, his people, and his history. He’s highly educated, speaks great English, welcomes all questions and responds with insight and intelligence. He’s a big guy with a big heart who immersed us in his country and his culture, all the while keeping our comfort and safety his first priority. Cairo as a shore excursion can be intense. But with Samir’s help we could simply sit back, do as little or as much as we liked, and enjoy.
There’s no need to worry about getting back to the ship on time either. Contingency plans are typically in place to ensure that you’ll be delivered safely back with plenty of time to spare. Ask your prospective guide about them and be sure to check out Samir Abbass of Real Egypt Day Tours when doing your research. You'll be glad you did.
All travel involves a certain degree of risk-taking, and yes, your guide may tell authorities that you are from a country other than the US to expedite matters. But don't let that keep you from seeing one of the most spectacular historical regions in the world. When will you return to this area? Will you ever return? Don't miss out. Do it while you can.
"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." - Helen Keller