A suite onboard the River ToscaSeveral ships have launched on the Nile River in the last year, sailing right into a political crisis that is making it hard to fill these pristine vessels.

"I wish I could be more optimistic," said Guy Young, president of Uniworld River Cruises, which last year relaunched its 82-passenger luxury ship, the River Tosca. But, he said, "our load factors are still very soft."

Following its launch in October 2009, the Tosca underwent a seven-week drydock for upgrades and to address workmanship problems. After the relaunch in March 2010, "the feedback was great, the service was terrific, the food was terrific."

During the refurbishment, the staterooms were outfitted with marble and carpeted floors, and the flooring in the corridors, stairwells and restaurant were all replaced.

Then the Egyptian revolution took hold. Uniworld canceled all its sailings through May and doesn't operate in the region during the hot summer months. Since starting back up in September, the bookings have been slow to recover.

But if upcoming parliamentary elections in Egypt proceed peacefully, Young said, "I think the destination will come back fairly quickly."

In the meantime, Uniworld has been able to build in some additional value. For one, the operator upgraded its Cairo hotel from the Marriott to the Four Seasons. Young said that 2011 and 2012 brochures and pricing had been established before the uprisings, but that Uniworld plans on rolling out discounts and promotions on its Egypt sailings depending on demand.

Avalon Waterways has also upgraded its Nile product with two new charters for 2012. Avalon is replacing the 124-passenger Royal Lotus with the 148-passenger Mayfair, which launched in 2010, and the 130-passenger Kasr Ibrim, which cruises Egypt's Lake Nasser, a new destination for Avalon. The new ships and their corresponding itineraries boost Avalon's capacity in the country by nearly a third.

Avalon will have 129 Egypt departures in 2012, an increase of 26% over 2011, primarily due to the fact that a number of departures were canceled earlier this year, according to the company.

Uniworld offers three Nile itineraries, including an eight-day Classic Egypt & the Nile (from $2,949 per person, based on double occupancy); a 12-day Jewels of Egypt, the Nile & Lake Nasser (from $4,099); and a 12-day Splendors of Egypt & the Nile (from $4,299).

Avalon's two vessels will offer three Egypt itineraries: the nine-day Highlights of Egypt (from $2,606); the 12-day Pyramids, Lake Nasser & Nile Highlights (from $3,441); and the 13-day Egypt & the Nile in Depth (from $3,538).

For news on tour operations, wholesalers and river cruising, follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.


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