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Movenpick Hamees Brings Alive the Magic of Egypt, With Love

From cuisine to comfort to indefectible moments, Movenpick Hamees amplified the mysticism of Egypt for us.

LF Says: ★★★★.5

Movenpick Hamees

Nothing can ever prepare you for Egypt. Not the countless photos on the internet, not the umpteen documentaries. It’s only when you stand face-to-face in front of the mighty “God” statue of Rameses II in Abu Simbel, or the colossal colonnade in Karnak Temple with its 183 pillars, that you realize your own insignificance in front of the magnificent feats these pharaohs did.

Egypt is one of the oldest civilizations on earth – if not the oldest. There is much to learn about the technology of the time of course, but also about the culture, the landscape, and the societal makeup of a country that has mesmerized many for centuries. The discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 opened a can of worms, spilling many secrets of this ancient kingdom. But if you think you know all about Egypt and its history now, you are oh-so wrong.

Even today, multiple excavations continue to unbury statues, tombs, temples, even new tunnels in currently known tombs. Each stone that turns up narrates a fascinating tale. If you visited Egypt in 2010, it’s time to visit it again.

I, however, visited Egypt for the first time. And what an adventure it was!

Cruisin’ down the Nile

Movenpick Hamees

Movenpick Hamees proved to be perfect. It was modern, stylish, recently renovated and fresh.

The Nile River is not just (one of) the longest river in the world. It is one of the few rivers in the world that flow from south to north. The river matches the mysticism of its homeland. So when we decided to visit Egypt, and to cruise on the Nile, I know my husband and I shared a thrill down our spines. Yes, we had that look of unbelievable excitement – “we are doing it!”.

Choosing a cruise was a less thrilling experience. To start with, there are more than 200 cruises running across the Nile. And after trying to navigate the booking-a-cruise landscape in Egypt, we were tired. Many tour portals were asking to pay large fees before disclosing the name of the cruise. Many were quoting different prices for the same cruise.

We decided to skip it all and simply head to the Movenpick website. Having experienced their Dead Sea resort in Jordan, which I fell in love with, I figured you can’t go wrong with Movenpick.

Voila! We were on-board the Movenpick Hamees – and boy were we glad! Let me take you into the little details.

On-board the Movenpick

Movenpick Hamees

All cruises that run along the Nile have almost the same length, width and height so that they can go through the Esna Lock. It’s how the cruise has been designed inside that matters.

Movenpick Hamees, hosting 72 cabins, was spacious, open and well-appointed. We had read enough blogs to know that many of the cruises sailing on the Nile were old and rickety. Movenpick Hamees proved to be perfect. It was modern, stylish, recently renovated and fresh. The minimalist lobby – with its black and white zig zag floor patterns – was accentuated by golden potted plants. It gave way to a dramatic round staircase leading up to the cabins.

Movenpick is one of the rare ones to have its own [dock] to give its guests privacy and the ability to have their own pace.

Movenpick Hamees

The cabins in Movenpick Hamees are some of the larger ones available on the Nile. They have a modern, clean look with a colour palette of emerald green, black, white and gold. The deep brown marble bathroom, though tiny, had all the amenities, including a bathtub! My room had a king bed – though they have cabins available with two twin beds too. There was television, but who would choose that over the end-to-end window on one wall, which was perfect to take in the magical views of Egypt?

Apart from the rooms, the cruise offers a lounge with a bar, a restaurant and a rooftop sundeck with a pool and bar as well. There was a reading room for some quiet time, two treadmills, and a small game room. Two dainty shops on-board helped all guests with their souvenir and fine jewellery needs.

Experience the magic

Movenpick Hamees

The best part of Movenpick Hamees are its people. We were booked on a 4-night/5-day cruise aboard the Hamees, which started with embarkment aboard in Luxor, followed with lunch and then sightseeing the same day. Unfortunately, due to a severely delayed flight, we reached the ship quite late.

Our cab drove us through Luxor (a beautiful, beautiful city which is a far cry and an era before Cairo, with its sun-dappled clean landscape, cheerful children, and traditionally dressed people), to reach Movenpick’s private dock. Apparently, most cruises in Egypt have to share a dock with each other. Movenpick is one of the rare ones to have its own to give its guests privacy and the ability to have their own pace. The dock itself was beautifully manicured, convenient, and well-lit during nights.

As we reached, staff from Movenpick Hamees quickly came to help us get the luggage aboard. We were ushered in, handed lunch boxes and informed that if we didn’t want to miss Karnak Temple – unarguably one of the most fascinating parts of Egypt – then we had to immediately get on to the bus. This was our first introduction to Tarek Amir – our not-guide. “I am an Egyptologist,” he said.

Movenpick Hamees

Most definitely he was not just a guide. More than just reciting historical facts, he put the history in perspective for us. Bit by bit, piece by piece, Mr. Amir explained the timelines of the kingdoms of Egypt, its stories, its legends, its religion, linking it with its current society, politics, and people – helping us weave a thorough, colorful narrative of Egypt, which was much, much more than what a book, a documentary or a guide could have told us. He spun his own movie where he walked us through the extremely complex history in such a simple way that we remember it even after months. And he did this over the many tours, lunches, dinners, teas and boat rides that we shared. He was recommended to us by the Movenpick team – and we were so thankful that we didn’t bring any other ‘guide’ with us.

Sherif Farrag was another person who made our stay really comfortable on-board the Hamees. Although he was the F&B Manager, he was almost fatherly in taking care of his guests – and especially of my children. Time to time, he would come to our table to recommend some specific dishes which he knew we would enjoy. He would remind us multiple times that we could ask for Indian food if we wanted (but we didn’t). He would give us nuggets of information about the Egyptian dishes. He would regale us with tales of his life, while being curious about ours, all the while keeping an eye on the army of staff that was serving us.

One day, when my six-year old was constantly coughing, he quietly strode up to our table, expertly mixing molasses with tons of fresh lemon juice. “I give this to my son everytime he gets cough, and it always cures him. Give this to him [our son] too,” he said. Sure enough, my kid slurped it up, and felt much better. He asked for it the next day too.

Movenpick Hamees

The rest of the dining staff would reflect this concern too. They were extremely caring, attentive enough to not intrude, and simply heart-warming. They would hover around the children to make sure they could supply them whatever it was they needed. Such was the perfection that food would magically appear on our table while we were still just discussing it!

The sweet taste of Movenpick

The food on-board the Hamees was simply lazeez (extremely delicious). As corny as that sounds, it was. Buffets on-board cruises are always massive. But cruises on Nile – which cater to much lesser number of guests – usually don’t offer as much in their buffets or menus. Movenpick cruises do.

Each day, each meal was a journey into food coma. The menu was thoughtfully designed to be able to offer something unique every day, for every meal. We were offered Italian for one meal, Egyptian for another, and Asian for next.

Movenpick Hamees

Each day, each meal was a journey into food coma.

There was so much I learned about the food of Egypt – which is quite different from the more popularly known Lebanese cuisine. So many of these cuisines are all grouped under ‘Middle Eastern’ cuisine, but I understand the difference now – thanks to the patient explanations of Mr. Farrag.

For breakfast, do try Belila – an Egyptian staple – which is basically wheat cereal with milk. They always had fresh homemade yogurt which was pure, unsweetened regular yogurt – something that I always miss in the US. You could sweeten it with honey or the various fruit jams or purees available. But the yogurt itself was unprocessed.

The milk station offered a choice of skimmed milk, soy milk and almond milk. There were regular jams, diet jams, and unique options like date jams and fig jams. Along with regular juices, they would always have something different for us to try – like the tangy Tamarind Hindi juice, Dom Palm juice and Cantaloupe juice.

There were small gems of discovery here and there. Half tomatoes filled with salted whipped butter were simply pop-in-the-mouth. Feteer Meshaltet – freshly made Egyptian croissant – was served with molasses and white honey. It was thin, pie cut bread, and best had hot!

Movenpick Hamees

The lunch and dinner buffets would feature extensive salad bars with fresh produce, cheeses, olives, and mussels. There were always two types of soups in each meal. My favorite have been the Carrot Soup and Orzo Soup with vegetables. They always have a table full of different styles of breads.

Their Ganoush with Cheese – a flaky pie filled with cheese inside – was soft, sinful. Do not miss Mulokheeya, a simple Egyptian gravy dish, made with Mulokheeya leaves, and eaten with soft Arabic bread. It was comfort food. Khalsa rice – a Lebanese dish – made with cinnamon, onions and nuts, was unique. Moussaka – an Egyptian dish with eggplant – was somewhat like Eggplant parmesan, but without the cheese. It was delicious! Muhammara – a Lebanese dip made with walnuts and red peppers – was smoky, spicy and savoury. Potato Tagine, a hearty, comforting Nubian dish, was quite familiar as it shared a taste profile with the humble Indian potato sabzi.

Egyptian Falafel is nowhere near the Lebanese falafel. Made with fava beans (instead of the more famous version made with chickpeas), it was crispy and delicious. Do not miss Koshary – a mix of lentil, noodles, rice and pasta – with garlic sauce and tomato sauce.

Egyptian Dolmas – the grape leaf rolls – were again not tangy like the Lebanese version, but more refreshing – almost minty. There was okra made Egyptian style. There was soft, juicy chicken on skewers.

Movenpick Hamees

Desserts were sinful. Each meal on-board featured over 10 kinds of desserts, and they were different every day! Most people think Baklava is the piece de resistance of Middle Eastern desserts. But Movenpick introduced me to so much more. Basbousa – an Egyptian semolina cake – blew me over. I could make it my daily supplement. Om Ali, an Egyptian bread pudding, was warm and comforting. Kunafa was crunchy yet soft at the same time. A light and addictive dessert.

This very long description still doesn’t do justice to the way we were pampered with food. Movenpick ensures that food restrictions are honored too. When asked about his most challenging moments while planning a meal, Ahmed Reda, the Executive Chef for all Movenpick Cruises, said, “Planning for Jains is the most challenging for me. They don’t eat egg – not even in bread, and no meat either. But I can’t sleep if even one guest on-board is not able to eat. So we make sure we have good food for all.”

Moments of excitement

Movenpick Hamees

As much hectic as exploration in Egypt might get, Movenpick ensured we were never bored aboard the Hamees. There was a sit-down dinner and cocktails for the Welcome celebration, there was a live sundeck barbeque offering amazing grilled chicken, lamb and seafood, for lunch, while sailing, one sunny day. And there was afternoon tea daily. Local vendors would liven our afternoons as they would hook up their boats to the cruise ship – like cowboys swirling their lassos – and throw wares up the boat (imagine the amount of shoulder strength you would need to do that!) to entice us. There would be quite some interesting sessions of haggling as guests shopped enthusiastically!

Then there was the Galabiya night, where we all dressed up as Egyptians, and had great fun while doing so! There were games and drinks that night. As intimate as a group we were, we had truly become friends. On the farewell night, we were treated to an Egyptian swirling Dervish dance – which is quite different from the more-Sufi inspired version that the rest of the world knows about. It was vibrant, ‘lit-up’, and simply jaw dropping. A charming belly dance ended our farewell.

Movenpick offers multiple itineraries and cruise ships across the Nile. And I wish we had the time to choose the longer itineraries with Movenpick. But well, there is always a next time.

There are tiny touches of care that Movenpick’s team showers upon you.

Movenpick Hamees

There are tiny touches of care that Movenpick’s team showers upon you. Our children would laugh in delight to find different creatures welcoming them every time they entered the room after a long day. Once there was a mummy waiting on the bed, and another time, a monkey dangling from the bar – all made creatively with towels and bottle caps.

From the turndown service to Mr. Farrag packing a box of food for my little one as he missed lunch, Movenpick Hamees was much, much more than just a boat sailing across the Nile. It made Egypt more than just a land of temples, tombs and treasures. It truly brought alive the magic of Egypt for us.

LF Says: ★★★★.5

Coordinates: Visit the Movenpick website to make your bookings.