The myth of the Nile looms large and cruising it to see awe-inspiring artifacts of thousands of years of Egyptian civilization and the river’s lush banks is a truly special opportunity, especially when you are onboard one of Viking River Cruises newest purpose built ships. We had the opportunity to join the Viking Aton‘s inaugural cruise, along with Tor Hagan, the line’s founder and Chairman, and Richard Riveire of Rottet Studio, who has led the design of most of the line’s river and ocean cruise ships.
River cruise ships are typically much smaller than ocean cruise ships, and are purpose built for the river or rivers they will serve in a specific area—such as the Mississippi in the US, the Rhone in Europe, and the Nile in Egypt (Viking offers cruises in these and many other areas). Each river’s depth, geology and physical limitations, such as the length and size of its channels and locks influences aspects of a ship’s design. Viking’s newest class of Nile cruise ships—which includes the Osiris, Hathor and now the Aton—are 236 feet (80 meters) long and house 48 crew members and up to 82 passengers in the ship’s 41 rooms. These ships are the nicest on the Nile.
If you’ve ever been to Las Vegas, Macau, the UAE or on a large cruise ship you’ve likely experienced what is often referred to as “entertainment architecture,” with grand design gestures that shock and awe and are made for selfie sharing moments. The hotel, or ship is often one of the spectacles of your visit. Upon entering the Aton the first thing you notice is the absence of that. “We didn’t do entertainment architecture here. To me, it’s just exhausting. If you’re going out and enjoying incredible cities and views every day and there is always something new out the window, the last thing you want to come home to is all the stuff going on—the pizzazz, the jazz hands, all the buzz. It’s important [on a Viking river cruise] to come home to something that feels comfortable; it’s your house, it’s your home” Riveire shares.
The ship has a casual chic, familiar vibe. It’s intended to be a sophisticated, comfortable backdrop that’s more residential in its design than theatrical. “You have plenty of surprise and delight moments,” Riveire adds, “but they tend to be more subtle.” Stone slabs run vertically through the three story central atrium to both lengthen and connect the floors and turquoise wooden tiles artfully treat the wall alongside the floating staircase—all elements that create a sense of openness which is invaluable given the ship’s lower ceiling heights. The Aton and its sister ships represent the fourth generation of the line’s river ship designs, and the intent is for them to feel similar, not different from one another. In fact, this comes in quite handy when the geography or conditions of a certain river may mean that you get off of one ship and onto an identical one on the other side of the impasse—so having ships that are the same makes a lot of sense.
In Egypt, Viking’s cruise programs start with a few days in Cairo, usually in a hotel. This makes sense given all that there is to see in the city—the grand pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, and the city’s many museums, including the enormous new GEM (Grand Egyptian Museum), opening by early 2024 and which we were fortunate enough to get a sneak peak at. From Cairo guests fly south to board the ship in Luxor or Aswan and cruise up and down the Nile visiting several ports.
Your expert and talented guides travel with you from the start to end of your program, whether on land or onboard the ship, and they help translate the importance of all that surrounds you as you navigate from one place of note to another, escorting you through VIP entrances and special access whenever possible. On this size ship and this location, it’s a big help having close access to your guides while soaking it all in and understanding the thousands of years of history you’re seeing.
When on board the ship you’ll spend most of your time on one of the three decks with rooms, including the Upper deck which has the main restaurant, as well as the Pool and Sun decks, which have a more casual dining area and lounge as well as outdoor space. It wouldn’t be a cruise without plenty of delicious food and drink options, and the staff goes out of the way to ensure that you’re taken care of. The Pool deck features a small rectangular pool at the rear of the ship, where you can sit on a bench in the pool, looking through a full-length acrylic wall at the Nile’s majesty. Even the ship’s small boutique has a lot of surprisingly tasteful, locally created objects on offer.
The rooms—and the ship in general—have a Scandinavian flair, with light wood, simple yet sophisticated materials and details that really do help you feel at home. Viking is known for its onboard library and bookshelves in its room—tailored for each cruise location—which add another surprise and delight moment. The new Nile class ships offer standard, veranda and suite rooms, so there’s something to suit your needs and budget.
View all Egyptian cruise offerings here, and the Aton’s here (currently the 12 day Pharaohs and Pyramids trip, from Cairo (three nights in a hotel) then a quick flight to Luxor, where you board the Aton and continue on to Qena, Aswan, Edfu before returning to Cairo for another night. Visit Viking to see pricing for the specific cruise and timing options.