July 21, 2010 8:33 AM   Subscribe

Adventures By Disney announced today that they will be travelling to Egypt in 2011... is this a good idea for us?

We're an adult couple. We've both traveled outside the US, but not together, and neither of us have been to the Middle East. The trip sounds incredible (Cairo, cruise on the Nile), but is there anything to be concerned about, aside from the August heat?

Due to Egyptian law, each and every guided tour in Egypt will have a 24 hour armed security guard traveling with them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Why would an adult couple want to go on a Disney tour?

Egypt is awesome and you can figure out your own tour without having an armed security guard or mouse ears.
posted by k8t at 8:43 AM on July 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

Why would an adult couple want to go on a Disney tour?

Disney tours aren't aimed at kids at all. In fact, you have to be over six to go on many of them, and there are even Adult Only departures. Disney tours get exclusive "backstage" stuff without waiting on lines that no other tours get.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:47 AM on July 21, 2010

Why would an adult couple want to go on a Disney tour?

Because they are really good at getting the details right. Which is certainly not the case for every tour operator I've used. I would try to avoid taking the very first tours though, because everyone has to work out some kinks.

You should know that there is a bit of history of violence in Egypt toward tourists, with the most tragic example being the Luxor massacre. That was 13 years ago though, and if Disney considers it safe, I would rest assured they had done a lot more due diligence than your average backpacker.
posted by smackfu at 8:50 AM on July 21, 2010

Okay, maybe I'm missing something here, but it looks like it is 4X+ the price of the other tours. What sort of backstage tour can you get that would be different from a good local tour guide?

I'm going to step out of this thread in hopes that someone will more knowledge on this than me can explain.
posted by k8t at 8:51 AM on July 21, 2010

You will be fine in Egypt on your own. Armed guards are not necessary. Be advised that Cairo is hot, noisy, and crowded, just like any other big city during the summer. The only thing you have to worry about in all likelihood is getting scammed with tourist prices because you're with a tour group. The usual precautions about pickpockets while traveling apply.
posted by proj at 8:52 AM on July 21, 2010

Okay, maybe I'm missing something here, but it looks like it is 4X+ the price of the other tours.

I agree that $500 a day is crazy expensive, but high-end tours are expensive by definition and Disney is high-end in this space. At least they cost less than the Met Museum tours.
posted by smackfu at 8:58 AM on July 21, 2010

Mubarek is dying. Word is that he has terminal cancer, and probably will be gone within a year.

Egypt is a "democracy", in the sense that they hold things that look like elections, but in practice Mubarek is a dictator and it seems that he is trying to arrange dynastic succession, with his son taking over for him. Maybe that'll work, maybe it won't.

It's possible that things may hit the fan in Egypt for a while after he dies. I'm not sure I'd want to be there during the power struggle.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:04 AM on July 21, 2010

FYI, Cairo can seem insanely cheap to someone used to US & Western Europe prices, so make sure you do some exploring on your own and don't buy all of your souvenirs from the Disney-sanctioned souvenir dealers. Merchants will often propose prices to tour groups that are 3 or 4 times greater than what they will actually accept for their goods.
posted by proj at 9:05 AM on July 21, 2010

I'd check out some other tours to compare, unless you really want the Disney experience. My parents did a Grand Circle tour in Egypt in December and really enjoyed it. They also did get some perks - an amazing balloon ride, the chance to ride a camel, bazaar shopping, visiting a home. They did not feel like they were in danger at any point.
posted by Sukey Says at 9:05 AM on July 21, 2010

It's my understanding that "making new friends" is an important guiding principle for the Disney adventures, so there's a lot of forced interaction between vacationers. If you love youth hostels and cruise vacations, you'll probably really dig that part. However, it really killed the idea for us. (If I were feeling ill or tired after a long flight, I really wouldn't be up to putting on a smile and acting social.) How do you feel about eating at a table with strangers? How would you feel if you were stuck at a table for 8 with an insular family of 6? What if you get stuck on *every* tour with "annoying question man" or "obnoxious loud racist guy"?
posted by Gable Oak at 9:12 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Traveling in the Middle East is more dangerous than most other areas of the world (Africa being the winner there), but if you're going to go, Egypt isn't a bad place to do it. There may be some ill-will towards tourists in general and Westerners in particular, but enough of the Egyptian economy is funded by tourism that I'd imagine this should be kept to a minimum.

Disney is a major corporation and major tour operator with an almost obsessive devotion to guest safety. If they think Egypt is safe enough to expose themselves to potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in liability plus untold costs in things like loss of goodwill and future business should something go wrong, I'd tend to think that they know what they're doing.
posted by valkyryn at 10:08 AM on July 21, 2010

Traveling in the Middle East is more dangerous than most other areas of the world (Africa being the winner there)

This is patently untrue, especially when one considers that "the Middle East" is a broad and diverse region. Traveling in North Yemen is hardly like traveling to Cairo or Beirut.

posted by proj at 10:13 AM on July 21, 2010

If you're travelling half-way round the world to see another country and culture, at least try to see at least some of the country and the culture rather than the sanitised Disney version. You'll have a much more memorable trip and thousands of dollars left over. Proj is right - you'll be fine in Egypt on your own.
posted by turkeyphant at 10:23 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

We spent 10 days in Egypt in late February-early March this year. We visited some friends who've lived in Cairo for 15 years but mostly traveled on our own. We went to Alexandria and Luxor, and spent 3 days camping and exploring in the desert with our friends and their buddies. Cairo is crazy, loud, and dirty and has constant traffic, and it's wicked cheap. We hired a car and driver for the whole day for around $40 US. Everywhere we went we were treated very well, albeit like walking change purses. Everyone expects a tip, which was frustrating because small change is hard to come by, but despite that folks were helpful and accommodating.
I tell people if they haven't done much traveling on their own, then a tour would be the way to see Egypt. The tour will get you to the sights you want to see when they're open, and the bus will have a bathroom, which would be worth $500 a day just by itself. (Having to tip the guy with the bucket to flush in the Cairo museum when all I had was a hundred pound note was uncomfortable, to say the least.) The tour will also insulate you somewhat from the constant hustle people have to do to survive, which was both the most annoying and the most endearing thing about the whole experience. Negotiating for a taxi for a day in Luxor was a lifetime highlight: "Take my hand my friend. Look into my eyes. I tell you Luxor is not Cairo. I cannot drive you four around all day for only 200 pounds."
When in Luxor, look up Medhat Mahmod Ahmed, car No. 5. He's the best.
posted by Floydd at 11:28 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm going to join the relative chorus of skepticism here. Millions of Europeans go to Egypt all the time - I have 8-year-olds I teach in my English classes in not-big-city Poland who've been twice! You might want to look into doing a tour with, say, a British or Irish firm with more experience in the region.

Also, the line "Disney tours get exclusive "backstage" stuff without waiting on lines that no other tours get." sounds, well, not fishy, exactly, but impossible to prove.

I'm sure they offer a lot, but paying between about $4000 and $5000 for the Disney nine-day tour, are you going to get more than, say, these people, who are paying just a little bit more (like $5200) for an 11-day tour, their own docking facilities in Cairo, an Egyptologist who travels on the entire tour (not just with the group through the museum), appears to visit way more sights, and is limited to a group of 24? What about the hotels - on the Disney tour you're at a Sofitel, and on this one you're at the Four Seasons. The same company offers even higher-priced tours with private excursions to tombs that are "normally closed to the public".

All I'm saying is that I would seriously encourage you to look into other companies to at least compare what you'd be getting. Egypt depends on tourism for a huge amount of its foreign exchange and is visitable at many price points, and you should feel free to add on places you want to see at the beginning or end of the tour too. This tour, from the TravelZoo page linked in k8t's comment (which is well over a thousand dollars cheaper and includes airfare), could have a few days in Sharm el Sheikh added to the end, making the tour even longer. Another tour that's similar, with accommodation at the Oberoi! A company that *only* does tailor-made tours of Egypt here.

There may even be tours you can access once you're there, at a much lower cost, for individual things. Perhaps there's a walking tour of Cairo's markets or something that local sources can connect you with which a larger tour company based abroad just doesn't do.
posted by mdonley at 2:19 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I went to Egypt with my sister last year in late August/early September. I'd classify her as an experienced traveller while all my adult outside-North America travel was with my parents, and thus less adventurous. We booked a tour to split the experience difference and our flights to give us a few days of exploration before and after. We were never accompanied by armed security.

As folks have mentioned, tourism is a huge part of Egypt. People can be helpful and friendly, but that friendliness sometimes suddenly turns into a "oh, here we are at my friend's shop, bye!" Tipping (baksheesh) is common and expected but know your money because sometimes you get into talks of what exactly is 5 (Egyptian vs. American) dollars. Grocery stores are pretty good for making change. Arabic numbers are easy to learn and if you're just walking down the street, reading license plates will get you up to speed.

August 2011 is Ramadan, which means things can operate on a different schedule. Sometimes places are closed or are closed just at sunset so people can eat before reopening later. You won't starve, but finding food can be a little more challenging. But then you get to see throngs of people breaking bread together everywhere and it's pretty awesome.
posted by zix at 8:25 AM on July 22, 2010

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