The Nile River Is One of the Best Places to Go in 2023 — and This Luxury Cruise Ship Will Show You Why

With all eyes on Egypt this year, an innovative vessel is bringing some contemporary charisma to the sedate world of Nile River cruising.

The Kazazian sails on the Nile river.
The Kazazian Berge, with its sails furled. Photo:

Tanveer Badal

“In Egypt, we say it's hard to have a white shirt,” Raef Refaat tells me, tugging at his own to drive home his point about the hot, sticky weather that often settles over the Nile River valley — to say nothing of the dust and grit. “So when you have a white boat it’s very challenging. We praise our staff for keeping it clean and shining,” he says with a smile.

Refaat is showing me around the gleaming Kazazian Berge, a luxury cruiser that launched in late 2021, offering five-night charters for up to 18 people between Aswan and Luxor. He handles sales for the owner, Armen Kazazian, a 30-something entrepreneur who lent his family name to the nine-cabin ship and who’d also come along on our trip. With its marble tables, cream carpets, and linen-draped furniture, the vessel is a study in white-on-white, soothingly crisp décor and wouldn’t be out of place in South Beach.

In addition to the distinctive design, Berge promises guests the sort of impeccable service and amenities found only on intimate ships, including fresh flowers and multicourse menus featuring Western-style dishes such as pan-seared quail and roast duck. Then there’s the privacy factor: Berge was, for a brief time, available for single-cabin bookings, the same way a more typical cruise ship might be. Today, it’s only available on a full-charter basis, for up to 18 guests.

Boats sail during a sunset on the Nile River
A dahabiya sailing on the Nile, where the quintessential river cruise is getting a luxurious refresh.

Tanveer Badal

“COVID has made this kind of private travel very trendy,” says Ashley Bay, cofounder of the travel company Your Private Africa. She’s arranged several full-ship charters of Berge for clients who are willing to splurge. “They can rationalize spending the money because of the safety factor,” Bay says, adding that many are no longer willing to wait when it comes to booking “once in a lifetime” adventures — even if they cost six figures.

As Kazazian, Refaat, and I sit on deck, chatting over a three-tiered tray of pastries, fruits, and bite-size sandwiches, the Nile unfolds over the bow. Meanwhile, Kazazian is laying out his vision — which starts with his family history. His father and the ship’s namesake, Berge Kazazian, spent more than three decades building Nile River vessels, four of which are currently managed by the Swiss hospitality company Mövenpick. When Berge retired in 2019 and handed the family business to Armen, the son signaled a break with tradition by hiring two European design firms, one to handle the exterior and one the interiors. (A second ship, which will have a similar aesthetic, is slated for later this year.)

Kazazian’s goal is to elevate the cruise experience in his home country. For too long, he argues, Nile River operators have coasted on the reputation of the destination. “If you’ve ever been on the Nile, you know that most or even all the boats look the same,” Kazazian says. “They’re very traditional with very simple services on board.”

Reflection from ship deck
The ship’s promenade, with the banks of the Nile in the background.

Tanveer Badal

The time is ripe for innovation, as Egypt as a whole is at an inflection point. For one, there’s the state-of-the-art Grand Egyptian Museum, which, at press time, was inching closer to opening, having just hosted a Dior fashion show. The 2022 centennial of the unearthing of the tomb of Tutankhamen also raised the destination’s profile among Americans, thanks in part to special exhibitions in cities across the U.S. Other new draws include the reopened Carter House Museum, the onetime Luxor home of the British archaeologist credited with the King Tut find; the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, in Cairo; and the Avenue of the Sphinxes, also in Luxor.

As we sailed past the iconic dome of Aga Khan III’s mausoleum, in Aswan, I wondered: what would the Khan have thought of our chic, all-white ship? I like to think he would have loved it.

A version of this story first appeared in the February 2023 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline "A New Dawn."

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