This Brand-new River Cruise Ship Just Set Sail on the Nile — Here's What It's Like on Board

On the newly christened Viking Osiris, passengers will find photographs of Egypt in the early 1900s that can't be seen anywhere else.

Felucca and Viking Osiris on the Nile River near Luxor, Egypt.

Alastair Miller/Courtesy of Viking

Egypt has been a source of curiosity and mystery among historians and archaeologists for hundreds of years, but the discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamun in November 1922 captured the imagination of the entire world, creating a global sensation. The designs and images on the nearly 5,000 items found in the tomb inspired Egyptian motifs in clothing, home décor, jewelry, and even hairstyles and music. However, despite topping many travel wish lists, a trip to Egypt has been considered a somewhat daunting excursion.

I’ve often wondered if my own desire to visit Egypt would ever be satisfied, so I was thrilled to receive an invitation to the naming ceremony aboard Viking’s newest Nile River ship, Viking Osiris. Appropriately named for the god Osiris, who ancient Egyptians believed oversaw the flooding of the river, the ship was specifically built to navigate the Nile, with state-of-the art amenities — the perfect way to “explore in comfort,” to borrow a few words from Viking’s tagline, “Exploring the World in Comfort.”

Interior of a stateroom on board the Viking Osiris

Courtesy of Viking

Making the trip even more exciting was the prospect of being there for the naming ceremony, honoring Viking’s first ceremonial godfather, George Herbert, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon. As Howard Carter’s benefactor and co-explorer, Lord Carnarvon’s great grandfather, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, was instrumental in discovering the tomb of King Tutankhamun. 

In a fortunate confluence of events, Viking Osiris first sails during the 100th anniversary year of the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb and the 25th anniversary of Viking’s first river sailing in 1997. Additionally, Lord Carnarvon’s family lives in Highclere Castle, the setting for the popular PBS historical drama Downton Abbey, of which Viking is a sponsor. (The relationship goes even deeper — guests on select Viking cruises can take advantage of “Privileged Access” pre- and post-trip extensions with visits to the estate.)

On Monday, Aug. 22, surrounded by government representatives, media, Viking officials, and his wife, the Countess of Carnarvon, Lord Carnarvon praised the new ship and called Viking Osiris “one of the most beautiful river vessels to have ever graced the Nile." He added, "I am extremely honored to be her godfather” as he expressed his good wishes for the ship and pushed a button that broke the traditional bottle of Champagne over the new vessel's bow.

What It's Like Aboard Viking Osiris

Designed and built specifically to navigate the Nile River, Viking Osiris is elegant and understated, reflecting modern Scandinavian design. The ship feels light and open thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows everywhere you look. In the ship’s midsection, an atrium, topped by a skylight, opens to every deck, creating a spacious feeling in a beautifully light-flooded common area.

Rendering of the Atrium on board the Viking Osiris

Rottet Studio/Courtesy of Viking

Richard Riveire, a principal at Rottet Studios and the architect behind Viking Osiris as well as other Viking river, ocean, and expedition ships, commented to me in a conversation, “Our architecture is probably less flamboyant than on some ships. We’re Nordic; we’re about simplicity.” He added that the focus is on warmth, nature, craft, Nordic heritage, and what he referred to as “residential modernism.” 

It’s a style that crosses all Viking’s ships, giving their guests a familiarity or homey feeling as soon as they arrive, especially if they’re some of the more than 50% who, I’m told, return for multiple Viking voyages. The pale, warm woods, understated style, convenient, intuitive stateroom details, and comfortable furnishings are a hallmark of Viking’s ships.

Interior of the Restaurant on-board the Viking Osiris

Courtesy of Viking

On a tour of the ship, Riveire pointed out the blend of warm and cool shades in the furnishings and in the massive onyx columns that border the atrium with their rich combination of gray and beige. He also commented on the openness of the ship. “You’ll notice that everything we do is always about moving from space to space, never feeling closed in," Riveire explained. "You have the sense of being able to flow from one space to another, like there’s always something wonderful coming next.”

Viking Osiris features a library, sun deck, and Aquavit Terrace & Lounge for indoor or outdoor dining. The Restaurant, lounge, and bar all offer floor-to-ceiling windows for panoramic views. There’s a small pool which at first seemed strangely shaped — long and narrow — across the aft part of the ship. Riveire explained his design, “Pools are hard on ships; they tend to be very small.” He continued, “But this pool is comfortable. You sit in it and watch the wake of the ship. This version says, ‘We want to enjoy the river; that’s why we’re here.’”

Rendering of the pool deck on-board the Viking Osiris

Courtesy of Viking

From the seat in the pool, I could not only watch the wake of the ship, but see both shores of the Nile and the ever-changing scenery, from dense vegetation to children splashing in the river. If you prefer to stay dry, you can enjoy the same scenery from one of the lounge chairs set above the pool. It’s the perfect place to sip a cocktail at dusk when the silhouettes of the palm trees against the darkening, pink-tinted sky create a gorgeous picture.

Original Photographs Adorn the Ship and Tell a Story

“We’re very lucky at Highclere to have a great collection of great grandfather’s photography. He was a great pioneer in the emerging technology of his time in the last part of the 18th century,” Lord Carnarvon explained in a presentation to our group. “When he was traveling generally, and especially here in Egypt, he made sure to take pictures of everyday life, villages along the river, where they were excavating.”

Lord Carnarvon was describing the marvelous black-and-white photographs from his personal collection that he generously shared with Viking. They’re on display throughout the ship, unique images of daily life in Egypt in the early 1900s. “There’s a great one at the back of the room, of grandfather wearing his lucky hat.” Lord Carnarvon continued, “In order to discover a tomb in the desert, you had to be a bit of an adventurer and a gambler. And one of my grandfather’s other great passions was horse racing, and he had to wear his lucky hat to the races or his horses wouldn’t run well.”

The Countess of Carnarvon also spoke about her husband’s grandfather, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, in describing the book she wrote about his life. Set to be released at the end of the year, “The Earl and the Pharaoh” tells the story behind the discovery, as well as fascinating tales of the Earl’s adventures. 

On his tour of the ship, Richard Riveire pointed out some of the photographs and explained how they organized and selected the images during a visit to Highclere. The ship is now the only place where these photos can be viewed. “It’s great to have these photographs instead of just the widely used, recognizable photos you see in hotels and books,” Riveire said. In addition to these original photographs, drawings created by school children decorate staterooms, part of Viking’s support for rural schools. 

Viking's Pharaohs and Pyramids Cruise

Viking Osiris will take guests on the 12-day Pharaohs and Pyramids cruise that begins and ends in Cairo, with flights to and from Luxor. Guided visits to the pyramids, tombs, museums, and temples along the Nile are available (and most excursions are included in the trip price). Expert Egyptologists accompany small groups as guides and add so much to the experience. All of Viking's Nile ships sail this itinerary, but many are already sold out for 2022 and 2023. The next available sailing aboard Viking Osiris is in summer 2023.

Although my Nile cruise was a somewhat abbreviated version of the regular cruise, I was most impressed by the excursions and our program director, Hanan Elbeih. She not only described what we were seeing, but added information on culture, customs, history, clothing, and life in Cairo — all in an engaging and enthusiastic way. Viking’s guests will find their program directors to be a key element in their appreciation and enjoyment of the Pharaohs and Pyramids cruise.

The Future of Cruising the Nile with Viking

Viking Osiris joins the Viking Ra on the Nile, and in response to growing demand, three additional ships are on the way: Viking Aton, set to arrive in 2023, along with the Viking Hathor and the Viking Sobek, with delivery expected in 2024 and 2025 respectively.

Viking’s Chairman, Torstein Hagen, spoke about the company to the media group gathered in the ship’s lounge before the naming ceremony. “Bookings are very strong for next year; 2019 was our best year so far, and currently bookings for 2023 are already ahead of 2019.” Hagen spoke proudly of Viking’s guests being “thinking people,” who are curious and open-minded. Getting back to the subject of Egypt, Hagen said, “We tend to say that Viking is the thinking person’s travel company, and you can’t be more inspirational for thinking persons than here in Egypt.” 

After my introduction to the Nile on Viking Osiris, I would have to agree. 

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