We are cruising down the Nile on board the beautiful Uniworld cruise ship S.S. Sphinx, soaking up history, culture and gargantuan monuments unhindered by the usual crowds.

“Life is either an adventure or nothing at all,” Helen Keller, the renown disability rights campaigner, once wrote. We know exactly what she meant.

We’ve ballooned over the Valley of the Kings, seen the tomb of Tutankhamun, the legendary Boy King with the golden mask, enjoyed exclusive viewings of temples by night and watched as the citizens of Cairo devour their first meal in 12 hours at the world famous Khan el-Khalili street bazaar. We are at the midst of the Ramadan festival – and even our guides are fasting from dawn to dusk.

We’re only half way through a short journey on the world’s longest river – the lifeblood of Egypt, where 95 per cent of its 114 million people eke out a living growing crops on the river banks.

Yet this delightful vessel is only around half full. Her usual payload of largely US passengers cancelled at the first hint of troubles in the Middle East, leaving seasoned adventurers to soak up a rare opportunity to see our planet’s greatest historic monuments in a uniquely uncluttered way.

We’ve been trying to take a cruise down this magnificent working waterway for years. But two things affect demand and supply: no major headlines featuring Egypt, in which case almost every one of the 150 or so vessels that ply the river is booked out; or reports of tension in the Arab world, in which case demand from the US slows to a trickle.

When suites opened up on the Sphinx, we had no hesitation. We were not alone. At least eight Australians are travelling with us – and enjoying the ride. To be fair, a number of Americans, Brits and even Hong Kongers have joined us.

Egypt still a drawcard

Of course, this drawcard country can hardly be described as empty. People from all over the world come here to marvel at its unique place in history. The interest in the Ramses exhibition at the Australian Museum in Sydney over the past few months shows just how curious we are to know more about Egyptian history and civilisation.

As we glide along the Nile, the banks are alive with children waving and shouting greetings. We feel a little like royalty.

Our balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings, along with 32 adventurous Japanese, Germans, Americans and Australians, was both magical and chaotic.

Publiser Peter Lynch on Luxor Egypt
Dawn in a balloon in Luxor Egypt
Dawn in a balloon in Luxor Egypt
Balloons over Luxor Egypt
Publisher Peter Lynch on Luxor Egypt
Dawn in a balloon in Luxor Egypt
Dawn in a balloon in Luxor Egypt
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Some 60 balloons took off at dawn, floating above farms and houses to the monument sites. We had arrived in a mad frenzy of minibuses to be literally thrown into the wicker gondolas, such was the haste to take off and catch the sunrise.

Though we landed next to a donkey in an empty field, our rescue vehicle was on hand to rush us back to base. The next 1900 passengers were waiting to be awestruck by the views.

The cost – balloon rides are one of the few excursions not included – was just US$140 per person, a snip considering the bragging rights.

Our cruise continues. Yet to come are the Pyramids of Giza, the epic Aswan Dam, a visit to the Cataract Hotel, where Agatha Christie penned her famous mystery Death on the Nile, the latest movie of which sparked a bit of a cruise boom.

We’ll be updating our progress here and on Facebook.

SS Sphinx on the Nile

What you need to know about SS Sphinx

Sphinx is just three years old and usually carries lucky passengers in 42 suites decorated in classically gorgeous Uniworld style: eclectic Egyptian carried off with luxury and panache.

She sports a crew of 60, making her staff-to-guest ratio incredibly high. She has two restaurants, a pool, gym, spa and a fabulously decadent bar across four decks.

Three highly-trained Egyptologists are on hand to explain more than 3000 years of history with incredible knowledge and pride.

Every day, we take Uniworld coaches to monuments of truly vast proportions. At night, we feast on local delights and Egyptian champagne.

suite on Uniworld's SS Sphinx
Pool on Uniworld's SS Sphinx
Suite on Uniworld's SS Sphinx
Suite on Uniworld's SS Sphinx
Main Restaurant on Uniworld's SS Sphinx
Suite on Uniworld’s SS Sphinx
Pool on Uniworld’s SS Sphinx
Suite on Uniworld’s SS Sphinx
Suite on Uniworld’s SS Sphinx
Main Restaurant on Uniworld’s SS Sphinx
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Crew care is ‘genuine’

The crew aboard the Sphinx are remarkable for their longevity – many have sailed with Uniworld for years, and the guides that met us at Cairo Airport had been with the company three decades.

And their care is genuine. One guest left a bag containing needed medicines on the coach as we left the berth on our first night. The Sphinx obligingly had it transferred to a hotel along the river, and pulled over to pick it up.

Food spans the richly spiced Middle Eastern to the more sedate European with ease.

We see our travels a variety of well-known river ship brands and many exotic local vessels. People passing the time on the Sun Deck. Watching with a glass of wine is a relaxing and entertaining way to spend a moment before the next jaw-dropping piece of architectural history is ready to be visited.

Full transparency: The Australian Government’s website Smartraveller recommends you reconsider plans to visit Egypt because of increased tension.

But as Helen said: “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.”

We felt remarkably safe on our journey. The Egyptian people were friendly, hospitable and warmly welcoming everywhere we went.

Main Restaurant on Uniworld's SS Sphinx
Our waiter in the restaurant on Uniworld’s SS Sphinx.

Specials available

Uniworld’s specials in 2025 include a Double the Savings 2025 offer with $1000pp off combined with 10% savings if you pay in full.

Cruising the Nile, which includes all meals and afternoon high tea, beverages and tours, start at $9199 for 12 days.

We spent one night at the Four Season pre and post and flew to Luxor to join the ship.

See more here.