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12-Night Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt Cruise

12-Night Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt Cruise

 

June/July, 2009

 

By James Glasbergen, Director of Accessible Travel at Frederick Travel - World On Wheelz

The Second part of the article. Conitnued from the previous page.

 

CAIRO

 

After only our second day at sea, we arrived in Alexandria, Egypt.  This was the day I had been looking forward to the most on the cruise as Egypt had been at the top of my "places to visit" wish list for a long time.   It was clearly the most popular stop for most people on the ship as we later heard that the ship was virtually empty during the day while most passengers were off doing shore excursions in Alexandria and Cairo.  Of course, we were no exception as I made arrangements for a full-day accessible tour into Cairo through an Egyptian company that specializes in accessible tours.

 

Since Cairo is a 3-hour drive from Alexandria, we were off the ship at 8 a.m. to start our tour.  When we arrived at the security checkpoint inside the terminal building, one of the security guards saw me and immediately escorted us back out to where we came in and around the side of the building to an outside gated entrance, where he let us out into the main parking lot.  Clearly, the main entrance of the terminal was not accessible ... more on that later.

 

Once inside the parking lot, we walked back towards the main entrance to the terminal building where we found a young man from the tour company holding up a sign with our name on it.  He brought us over to the spot where the van was parked, and then he helped me get inside.  The van was quite accessible.  My main concern prior to the tour was the amount of headroom and legroom that there would be inside the van, but that turned out not to be an issue at all.  They had a portable ramp that they used to get me in at the back, and although it was fairly steep, getting in and out of the van went quite smoothly with their assistance.

 

Upon leaving the port, we drove a few minutes to pick up another person that works for the tour company, and then we were off on the long drive to Cairo.  It didn't take long to see that Egypt is a whole different world from where I come from, or for that matter from anywhere I have ever visited.  I used to think that driving couldn't get any crazier than it is in Rome.  That was until I visited Cairo.  With a population of approximately 20 million people, Cairo is one busy city.  My friends and I marveled at the way our driver weaved in and out of traffic, each time tooting his horn and avoiding other vehicles by inches.  He wasn't unique though -- that's the way everyone drove.  It was also amazing to see the number of pickup trucks driving with a back end full of people, many of whom were women and children.  You certainly don’t see that in North America. 

 

Our first stop in Cairo was the Egyptian Museum, home to a vast collection of Egyptian antiquities, most notably the treasures of King Tutankhamun.  This is where we met up with our private guide, who spent the day with us in Cairo.  We made our way over to the entrance of the museum, where we passed through security and purchased admission.  Then we noticed a problem.  There were 8 steps followed by another 2 steps at the entrance to the museum, and the wheelchair ramp was completely blocked off by scaffolding as they were doing some work to the outside façade of the museum.  I didn't think there was any way I was getting inside that museum, which would have been a huge disappointment.  However, our guide immediately went inside the museum and summoned several strong guys to come out and help lift me.  Given that my wheelchair and I are a combined weight of over 500 lbs., I was still a little skeptical, but everyone grabbed on to a different part of my chair and up I went.  I'm not sure who was more relieved when I was finally at the top – me, or the guys carrying me!

 

Once inside the museum, our guide walked us through some of the highlights on the main floor.  Then she had one of the security guards take us in a service elevator up to the next floor, where one of the main highlights of the museum can be found -- the treasures of King Tutankhamun.  Tutankhamun, often referred to simply as King Tut, was a pharaoh that lived during the 14th century B.C. and died at the young age of

18.  Although he was a minor pharaoh in the grand scheme of history, he is famous largely because when his tomb was discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, it was the most intact tomb to ever be discovered in modern times.  Most tombs that have been uncovered by archaeologists in the last couple hundred years had been previously looted by grave robbers, so it was rare to find a tomb that still had all of the priceless treasures inside of it that were buried with the pharaoh.  All of these golden treasures are on display at the Egyptian Museum, including his golden throne, his burial mask, and countless other golden artifacts.  We spent the bulk of our short time at the Egyptian Museum in this area checking out the many priceless items.

 

The King Tutankhamun exhibit is completely accessible for wheelchair users.  Unfortunately, other areas of the museum are not as accessible, such as the popular Royal Mummy Room.  There are also no wheelchair accessible washrooms in the museum.  Fortunately, the museum will be moving into a brand-new facility in 2012 which will be completely wheelchair accessible.  So, if you are planning a trip to Egypt and the Egyptian Museum is at the top of your list of things to see, you might want to wait until 2012 when you'll be able to take in all of the highlights of the museum.  We only had time to spend one hour at the museum, but one could easily spend a whole day checking out all of the ancient artifacts.

 

Next, we were off to the Papyrus Institute, where we had some free time to walk around inside.  The walls were lined with pictures for sale that were all painted on papyrus.  Papyrus is a paper-like material that is made from a papyrus plant.  The practice was popularized during ancient Egyptian times due to the abundance of papyrus plants in the region.  At the front of the store, a man gave us a neat demonstration on how papyrus is made. 

 

After the Papyrus Institute, we had lunch at a local Egyptian restaurant.  Once again I was a little nervous about what the food would be like, but thankfully I ended up really enjoying it.  We had a choice between fish or chicken, so I opted for the chicken with potatoes and rice.  It was quite good.  There were appetizers as well, although they recommended not eating the greens due to the different type of bacteria which we wouldn't be used to. 

 

After lunch, we drove to nearby Giza to see the world famous Pyramids.  Once inside the site, our driver took us to a lookout area where we were able to get out for a great view of the three main Pyramids in the distance.  As we got out of the van to take some pictures, it wasn't long before we were approached by one of the local men asking us if he could take our picture.  Of course, all he really wanted was a tip, but he was really nice so we let him do his thing.  He gave me a headscarf to pose in and took several pictures, including the obligatory tourist picture of me holding up my hand in a way that makes it look like I am touching the top of the pyramid.

 

Next, we drove a little closer and parked between the center pyramid (Pyramid of Khafre) and the Pyramid of Khufu, also known as the Pyramid of Cheops or the Great Pyramid of Giza. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest pyramid, having been completed in approximately 2560 B.C.  For 3800 years it stood as the tallest man-made structure in the world, and today it is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that is still standing.  There was a parking lot next to the Pyramid of Khafre, so we were able to get out of the van and walk around a little between these two pyramids.  It was definitely an impressive sight to gaze up at these pyramids that have been standing for over 4000 years!

 

Of course, it wasn't long that we were out of the vehicle before we were approached by some more men looking to make a little money.  This time they were offering camel rides.  They said there was no set price, so you can basically pay them whatever you want.  My friends certainly couldn't pass that up!  The men were quite happy to help them onto the camels, walk them around a little, and take pictures of them with a pyramid in the background.  Of course, when it came time to tip them at the end, it was a bit of a different story.  As my friend got out his wallet, they would say things like, "it's up to you, some people give 20 euros, some people give 50 euros ".  I would love to know how many people give 50 euros for a 5-minute camel ride!  The truth is that no matter how much money you give them, they are always going to ask for more, and they are quite persistent.  The most popular line we heard was "please, it’s for the camel, it's for the camel".   The key is just to be very assertive with them.  As long as you are fair with your tip and you give them a stern "no" when they ask for more money, they give up fairly quickly.

 

We finished up our trip to Giza by driving over a little further to see the Sphinx, a large monument with the body of a lion and a man's head.  The Sphinx is located directly in front of the Pyramid of Khafre. The head of the Sphinx is believed to be the image of the Pharaoh Khafre, who ruled Egypt from 2558-2532 B.C. Once again, we were able to get out of the van and walk around a little.  The area consisted of a fine sand, so it was a little difficult to wheel around in certain areas.  I still managed to get fairly close though, although you can't go right up to the Sphinx.  Unlike the first two stops, we weren't approached by any men looking to make money this time, although this area did have a lot of kids selling little trinkets.

 

Next, we made a stop at the Philae Bazaar to end our trip to Cairo.  We were given free time to walk around inside, where they sold a whole host of different merchandise.  There was everything from chess sets, to Egyptian pottery, to gold jewelry.  It was a great place to pick up some quality Egyptian souvenirs.

 

At the end of the day, we got back in the van and made the long 3-hour trip back to the port in Alexandria.  After getting dropped off, we went back to the same gate that the security guard let us out at in the morning since we assumed that the main terminal building was not wheelchair accessible.  This time there was a different security guard standing at the gate, and as soon as we went up to him, he motioned for us to keep walking to the main entrance to the terminal.  Clearly he didn't speak English, and given the huge rifle he was carrying, we weren't about to argue with him.  So, we walked over towards the main terminal building wondering if maybe there in fact was an accessible entrance that we didn't know about.  Of course, when we got there, there was nothing but steps everywhere.  So, we had no idea what to do.  We ended up walking back towards the gate and the security guard where we just came from, and fortunately another man saw the confused look on our faces and came to our rescue.  He appeared to be either one of the tour bus drivers or possibly a guide, and he immediately went over to the security guard and clearly told him in Arabic that he needed to let us through because the main entrance is not accessible.  The security guard would not allow it though, and the two men got into quite a heated discussion.  The man who was helping us then stormed past the guard up to the gate and started to open it, but the guard immediately stopped him, and the two started to get a little physical with each other.  We were quite surprised at this man's perseverance to help us given the big rifle that the security guard was carrying, but eventually the guard spoke to somebody on his radio and he ended up opening the gate for us.  We, of course, thanked the man who helped us up and down, and then we went through the gate and made the short walk to the ship.  It was definitely an interesting way to end our 12-hour tour of Egypt.

 

CORFU

 

Following our third day at sea, the ship docked at our last port of call -- Corfu, Greece.  This was only the second port on the cruise itinerary where we were unable to arrange an accessible sightseeing tour.  Fortunately, there is quite a bit to do near the port if you don't mind doing some walking.  So, we picked up a tourist map of the area and made our way into town.  We ended up in the Old Town, which was a busy part of town full of tourist shops and activity.  There was a huge square (Spianada) in the center of the Old Town, and adjacent to the square was the Old Fortress -- a castle that was built in the 15th century.  There is an admission fee to enter the Old Fortress, although we got in for free as there is no charge for a person with a disability and one companion.  There wasn't really much to see inside the fortress other than the Church of St. George, a small chapel which was completely accessible.  Upon leaving the Old Fortress, we made the long walk back to the port.  Of course, the walk back always seems to take twice as long as it does to get there, and by midday it had gotten very hot outside.  So, it's important to make sure you have lots of fluids with you if you are going to spend the day walking around Corfu in the summer.  I was relieved to finally get back to the ship to do a little cooling off.

 

CONCLUSION

 

After our fourth and final day at sea, the ship returned to Civitavecchia cruise port to end the cruise.  Upon disembarking the ship, we gathered up our luggage and made our way outside, where we once again met up with our driver to take us to the airport.  Following three days in Rome and 12 days on the cruise, I was happy that all of our hotel, transportation, and cruise arrangements worked out incredibly well.  Aside from the one disappointing day in Athens, all of the tours were fantastic and we had a great time onboard the ship. 

 

With so many impressive sights to see and such good access at so many ports, this was one cruise itinerary that I would recommend to any wheelchair user.  However, Royal Caribbean has switched up their itineraries slightly for 2010, so this exact itinerary is no longer available.  Fortunately, they are offering a very similar itinerary that I would suggest is even be better.  While the Legend of the Seas is moving on to Asia to do Asian itineraries in 2010, the Navigator of the Seas will be doing 12-day cruises round-trip from Rome that includes stops in Naples, Athens, Rhodes, Kusadasi (Ephesus), Alexandria (Cairo), and Messina (Sicily).  The Navigator is a much newer ship than the Legend, not to mention a much nicer ship as they have the huge Royal Promenade in the center of the ship.  However, the greatest part about the itinerary is that the ship will spend two days in Alexandria, docking at 7 a.m. the first morning and not departing until 7:30 p.m. the following night.  My recommendation for anyone doing this cruise would be to get a hotel in Cairo for the night so you can spend the better part of 2 days touring the sites.  The drive from Alexandria to Cairo is three hours long, and while you can definitely drive to Cairo and back to see all the highlights in one day, two days would allow you to spend more time at places like the Egyptian Museum and possibly even take in the evening light show over the Sphinx and the Pyramids.  Contact World On Wheelz for more information!

 

For more information on this cruise and accessible travel, contact James at:

Website: www.worldonwheelz.com

E-mail: worldonwheelz@aol.com

Phone: (519) 745-1860 or toll-free 1-800-578-8958