Nile highlights

Most Egypt itineraries include a Nile River cruise for a reason. Some of the country's most important and well-known archaeological sites flank the banks of the Nile, making the river an obvious and convenient floating pathway between them.

Highlights include the mammoth Karnak temple complex; Luxor with its defining obelisk; the Valley of the Kings for its treasure trove of tombs; Hathor for remaining so intact; and Philae, which sits ever-so-scenically on an island in the middle of the Nile off of the Upper Egypt city of Aswan. -- M.B.

As travelers begin to book Egypt again, Abercrombie & Kent is readying with a 2015 Egypt program that includes several Nile River cruise options, ranging from a 12-passenger traditional sailboat to an 80-passenger river cruise vessel.

A&K's Nile program is run by Sanctuary Retreats, a division of Abercrombie & Kent, which has four vessels in its Nile fleet, all of which are used by A&K in various capacities. Earlier this month, I sailed the Nile on the 80-passenger Sun Boat IV as part of A&K's President's Journey to Egypt itinerary. I also toured the Sun Boat III and the newcomer to the fleet, the Sanctuary Zein Nile Chateau.

The Sanctuary vessels offer a relaxing refuge amid the Egyptian desert with service and amenities that are in line with the predominantly four-star-plus hotel properties that A&K often contracts with for the land portion of its itineraries. From what I experienced on the Sun Boat IV, passengers can expect a high level of food service; cool, clean and comfortable cabins and public spaces to return to after touring ancient temples in the desert heat; and a friendly and helpful staff that has been trained to meet upscale travelers' demands.

The boutique boat

Sun Boat III Sahara LoungeMost travelers who book A&K's Egypt & the Nile itinerary for 2015 will sail the Nile on Sanctuary's charming Sun Boat III, a vessel that entered service in 1993 and was completely refurbished in 2005.

With only 36 passengers to accommodate, the public spaces on the Sun Boat III are both comfortable and intimate. For instance, the Sahara Lounge on the third deck evokes a laid-back, hookah lounge vibe (minus the actual hookahs), with pillowed banquettes and eccentric accents that look like they were purchased in Egyptian souks.

That theme continues throughout the vessel, which feels both tastefully worn-in and fresh all at once. On the sun deck, a the Sun Boat III's pool is sculpted to look like a natural oasis in the desert, outlined by small palms and faux sand dunes. The sun deck has lounge chairs and a bar area, as well.

The Sun Boat III also houses the H. Carter Lounge, the vessel's cozy indoor bar; an outdoor lounge area; a small restaurant; and a massage treatment room. There are 18 staterooms onboard that range from the 183-square-foot standard cabins to the two, 388-square-foot royal suites.

For larger parties

Sanctuary Retreats' Sun Boat IV docked in Aswan.As A&K receives additional Egypt bookings for the coming season, it's possible that some of its 2015 departure dates will be full enough for the company to sail the 80-passenger Sun Boat IV instead of the Sun Boat III.

The Sun Boat IV entered service in 1996 and was completely refurbished in 2006. Accommodating more than twice as many passengers as the Sun Boat III, the Sun Boat IV feels more akin to a standard river cruise vessel; something like you would sail on the rivers of Europe, for instance.

The Sun Boat IV's public areas include a main restaurant, which serves a buffet breakfast and lunch with both Western and Egyptian standards, as well as seated dinners; an alternative outdoor dining venue, where meals are served alfresco, weather permitting; a lounge and bar area for relaxing and entertainment; and a sun deck with shaded cabanas and a pool.

The standard cabins range from 161 square feet to 194 square feet, and there are also two presidential suites at 409 square feet each and two royal suites at 592 square feet each.

While the Sun Boat III exudes a casual-chic boutique hotel feel, the Sun Boat IV feels more like a hopping, minimalist-modern hotel.

A floating chateau

The Baladi cabin on the Sanctuary Zein Nile ChateauJust before the January 2011 revolution, Egypt's tourism industry had been soaring, and companies like Sanctuary Retreats had been gearing up for business to continue its upward momentum. Consequently, in 2010, Sanctuary launched the Sanctuary Zein Nile Chateau, a dahabiya, or traditional Egyptian sailboat with no motor, which is for private, small-group charters. The vessel didn't get to sail much before tourism dried up in Egypt for the past three years, but now it is back in business.

The Zein Nile Chateau is designed to feel like passengers are sailing along the Nile on their own personal houseboat, complete with staff and crew. Rather than six standard suites and cabins, each of the six staterooms on the dahabiya has its own unique theme and decor.

One of the funkier staterooms, for example, is the Baladi cabin, a 215-square-foot space decorated with colorful posters and photos of Egyptian singers and artists. There are a total of four standard cabins, all the same size, on the lower deck as well as the Napoleon Suite, a 463-square-foot nod to Egypt's Napoleonic era.

Last but not least is the 1,000-square-foot Farouk Suite on the vessel's upper deck, outfitted in furniture, decor and photographs that evoke Egypt's royal past. The suite features a private dining area, panoramic windows and a bathroom with Jacuzzi tub overlooking the Nile.

The common spaces onboard the Zein Nile Chateau include an eclectically furnished dining room and lounge, a shaded patio area, a sun deck and a pool.

The FIT option

The Temple of PhilaeSome of A&K's independent travelers might find themselves on an entirely different style of Nile vessel in 2015: Sanctuary Retreats' 64-passenger Nile Adventurer, which launched in 1990 was and last renovated in 2009. The Nile Adventurer is easily identifiable as it looks like a sleek yacht, a theme that seems to carry throughout the interior look of the vessel, as well.

There are three cabin categories on the Adventurer: the standard cabins that range from 153 to 178 square feet; deluxe cabins that measure 230 square feet; and two 456-square-foot presidential suites.

The common areas consist of a restaurant, bar and lounge and several outdoor lounge areas including the sun deck and pool.

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