This past Labor Day I boarded Uniworld’s newly refurbished River Tosca ship for a five-day, four-night Nile cruise in Egypt. By then the ship had been back in the water for about six months after being dry docked for seven weeks this past winter. During that dry dock the ship’s interiors were renovated to meet the company’s exacting standards.
Having sailed with Uniworld once before in Europe, I think it’s fair to say that the 82-passenger River Tosca will exceed the expectations of any guest. The ship’s 39 suites average 334 square feet in size, making my stateroom the largest of any ship I’ve ever experienced (two Presidential suites are each 651 square feet).
Although it was by no means the shear size of the accommodations that impressed me, the River Tosca’s 41 suites all recently benefited from the design expertise of Uniworld’s sister company, Red Carnation Hotels. So not only was I pleasantly surprised by the spaciousness of stateroom 311, but I was even more struck by how subtly evocative the space was of its Arabic locale.
Plush wall-to-wall carpeting, with its pattern of rich red and gold tones, suggests the country’s scorched earth and desert sands. Egypt’s ubiquitous sunshine filters through the sliding glass doors and gauzy sheers of the suite’s French balcony and bounces off the closet’s mirrored doors as well as the Venetian-style, etched glass mirror hung above the desk.
White wainscoting, white wall coverings with similarly hued red horizontal stripes, and upholstered white headboards with button tufting retain the light and airy feel and keep the look even more sumptuous. Even small details like the bed and bath linens – all made of Egyptian cotton and locally made wooden tissue boxes with a mother-of-pearl inlay helped to link the destination to the ship.
The nuances continued well outside of my stateroom into the dining room where a newly-laid parquet floor of Egyptian teak, hanging glass lanterns and windows that are slightly above water level put Egypt at my fingertips. The ship’s restaurant featured creative Western-style dishes like artichoke tatin or Nile perch with parsley potatoes, classic surf and turf or local favorites like lamb Kofta.
It was also in the dining room that I had the chance to get to know many of my fellow passengers, including a retired ophthalmologist from Florida who had a lifelong ardor for Egypt’s ancient history; a group of single women from New York, all in their 30s, who do an annual girls’ getaway; and a couple from Toronto who were reading the trilogy of Stieg Larsson books, as I was.
The one commonality among all of the River Tosca’s passengers was their interest in Egypt’s legendary past as represented by the many antiquities that we visited during the course of this eight-day Classic Egypt & the Nile tour. Seeing the Great Sphinx of Giza made me realize that it isn’t just an icon and a symbol for the country; its creation is a testament to man’s innovation and perseverance. Like the regal Avenue of Sphinxes at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, there were no backhoes or jack hammers to aid in construction.
Also at Karnak, we saw several of the obelisks that had been constructed by Queen Hatshepsut and then in the early 1800s were “gifted” to various nations, such as France, Britain or the United States, by Egyptian leader Muhammad Ali. Having seen the famous obelisk at Paris’ Place de la Concorde, this certainly caught my attention. Two weeks later, I again thought of this visit to Karnak when I ran past another Egyptian obelisk in Central Park; it was the third one gift by Ali and the first time I ever noticed it.
After our early morning visits to various ruins and temples, we socialized on the pool deck, where panoramic views as well as a canopy over half the space made the midday heat absolutely bearable. But a visit to the pool deck didn’t necessarily oblige me to mingle with other guests. Since the deck ran the length of the ship, there was also ample space to retreat to a quiet corner, linger on a lounge chair and watch the sun catch on the Nile, making the water sparkle as if we were sailing down a path of diamonds.
And when the heat did become a little too much, Mustafa, one of the ship’s 65 crew members, was always on hand to deliver a glass of water or any other drink I wanted. In fact, he introduced himself on my first day aboard the ship and then made it his mission to look after my beverage needs for the next four days. So even when I was reading, perched on a couch in the game room just off the lounge, he would quietly appear to see if he could bring me something to drink.
While I was perfectly contented to soak up the river views from the floor-to-ceiling windows and leaf through a book, the unexpected offer of something as simple as water completed the moment. Mustafa’s appearance was utterly unobtrusive and he left just as quickly so I could go back to enjoying the scenery and the cozy surroundings of the room’s mosaic tables, brass tea sets and shelves stocked with various board games and books.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that the quality of service was consistent throughout my five-day cruise and the precedent for it was set by the ship’s resident manager, Luigi Doige, whose decade-long career with major cruise lines has included dining with the Queen of England, welcoming President George W. Bush and personally delivering Lenny Kravitz’s room service order. Doige has now imbued the River Tosca’s staff with a service standard that takes luxury to the next level, so frontline crew members very quickly came to know the names of each passenger onboard, as well as who passengers were traveling with and even details such as who was celebrating a birthday during the cruise.
But the most telling moment of how successfully the River Tosca staff has been trained came when I overheard the restaurant manager, Ibrahim Kamal, tell Doige that he had the chef make a cake for a guest’s upcoming birthday. Doige responded that he wasn’t even aware of that birthday. Clearly, he had outdone himself in teaching the ship’s crew the finer points of excellent service. But then, as any good manager knows, making each guest feel like royalty or a rock star is a team effort – and River Tosca has a great team!
For more information on River Tosca and Uniworld, call 800-733-7820 or visit www.uniworld.com.
Kerry Medina is executive editor covering hotels and resorts for TravelPulse.com, but she also has experienced several river cruises.