Day 16: Port Said, Egypt with Holland America

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Viv and Jill at Giza Pyramids

Day 16: Port Said, Egypt with Holland America

Holland America Africa Explorer Cruise – 49 Days from Rotterdam to Cape Town

Date: Sunday October 12, 2014

Weather Forecast: Sunny; 28 C/83 F

In Port: 7:00 AM to MIDNIGHT

All Aboard: 11:30 PM

Dress Code: Smart Casual


Location Information:

Port Said in Egypt is at the gateway to the Suez Canal. Other than being a massive commercial shipping port, there are not many things to do or see in the town (other than the world’s first lighthouse that was reinforced with concrete in 1869). Sightseeing tours from Port Said include visiting Cairo (Egypt’s capital city), the Giza Pyramids (1 of the 7 Wonders of the World), the Great Sphinx, Pyramids of Sakkara, and the River Nile. The currency is the Egyptian Pound (current exchange rates: US$1 = 7 EGP; Euro1 = 9 EGP). The dress code is conservative in Egypt, so it is respectful to cover from the shoulders down past the knees. Tipping is part of the Egyptian culture and expected for even the smallest service or help of any kind. The population of Egypt is about 90 million – Cairo currently has a population of approximately 25 million people.

The Pyramids of Giza are in the suburbs of Cairo and were built as tombs. The tombs were filled with all the worldly belongings of the deceased – even their favorite foods. The Sphinx guards the pyramids, was carved out of a single piece of rock, and is the oldest known monumental sculpture in the world. Sakkara is home to the Step Pyramid which dates back to 2686 BC, and which is supposedly the oldest stone structure in the world.


WJs Day:

Today’s excursion to Cairo visited the Giza Pyramids, the Sphinx and toured Sakkara. We joined up with a bunch of Cruise Critic forum members that had organized a private group (14 people) with Ramses Tours. Our group met in the Ocean Bar on ms Rotterdam at 8:00 AM and by 8:15 AM were disembarked and rather overwhelmed by the reception the Egyptian Tourism had put on at the port – singing, dancing and a band playing. We learned later on that Holland America Line ms Rotterdam is the first major cruise ship in Port Said in the last 3 years – that explains why a lot of locals were out to greet the passengers.

Dancers in Port Said, Egypt

Our group was supposed to leave Port Said at 8:30 AM, and although our Ramses tour guide, Osama, was waiting for us as we exited the port gates, the mini-bus could not leave until all tour buses (approximately 30 HAL shore excursion and independent vehicles) were lined up in a convoy. That meant we were behind about 50 minutes while waiting for every other tour that was going to Cairo.

Ramses Tour of Cairo

The drive from Port Said was about 4.5 hours into the Giza Pyramids – not only did we have to stay in the convoy most of the way to Cairo, but we were escorted by armed police and army vehicles, and had many check points to go through. The drive was supposed to be about 3.5 hours long – but that many obstacles and keeping all vehicles in the convoy just slowed down the process. To us, it seemed like more for show and to impress upon us that the Egyptian tourism wants to keep visitors safe. In reality, we’re not sure how effective the convoy would have been if an attack had been made (isn’t it easier to take out a bus or two in a line of thirty than if vehicles had been in a group of 3-4???).

Giza Pyramid

Thankfully, our guide and driver for the Ramses tour were excellent and Osama was incredibly knowledgeable and informative throughout the entire day. Our group opted not to stop and have lunch, so that we would have more time to spend at the sights we had travelled so far to see.

Viv at Giza Pyramids

Jill at Giza Pyramids

We were able to spend just over an hour at the Giza Pyramids (where Jill went part way into a tomb – she found it too hot and claustrophobic to go all the way), had a 5-minute photo stop to see the Sphinx from a distance, and walked around Sakkara for almost an hour (visited the Tomb of Idut which is 4000 years old).

Sphinx and Giza Pyramid

Ramses Guide Sam at Sakkara Step Pyramid


Tomb of Idut at Sakkara

Next it was time to drive into the heart of Cairo and visit a shopping bazaar and see a papyrus demonstration before starting the arduous journey back to the ship. Some of our group decided to try a falafel sandwich from a stall, but we weren’t feeling that adventurous (already heard of many gastro issues going around passengers).

The return journey to ms Rotterdam in Port Said was only 4 hours long – we did have to wait 30 minutes for other vehicles to arrive at a check point so we could form a convoy of 7 mini-buses. And, the band was playing at Port Said at the port entrance when we got back to the ship at 10 PM (all aboard was 10:30 PM).

ms Rotterdam in Port Said, Egypt

This was the first time we had gone to the late-night buffet in the Lido – open from 10 PM to midnight – and it was very good. We especially appreciated being able to get a hot meal after only eating a small cheese sandwich all day (we’d packed one from the breakfast buffet).

We were extremely pleases with the Ramses Tour and being in a small group meant we could spend more time where we wanted and change the itinerary to suit our own schedule. Cost was US$95 per person which included admission into Giza Pyramids and Sakkara (plus tips for guide and driver).

Next – Sailing the Suez Canal

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