We just got back from an Egypt cruise with stops in Jordan and Saudi Arabia along the red sea and today we will tell you all you need to know if you want to do this unusual – but amazing – cruise Itinerary!
Let’s start our review by talking about the itinerary.
This was a seven day cruise in Egypt and the Red Sea. For this itinerary, we started from the Egyptian port of Safaga. From there we sailed to the port of Aqaba in Jordan. We then sailed to our first port in Saudi Arabia – Jeddah. After that we sailed to Yanbu in Saudi Arabia. We then sailed to the port of Sokhna in Egypt before going back to the port of Safaga to disembark. On this particular itinerary passengers can start their journey also from the port of Jeddah or Sokhna.
The Itinerary is very interesting especially because it gives people the opportunity to visit places that were not open to tourism until very recently like Jeddah and Yanbu in Saudi Arabia.
A couple of things to consider before you book this itinerary are the fact that during the two days of sailing in Saudi there is no alcohol served on board. Also on board they do not serve any pork or pork products. Finally, we recommend booking this itinerary when it’s not during Ramadan because many ports divert their buses to Mecca. For this reason some excursions are canceled during Ramadan.
Our next topic of our Egypt and Red Sea cruise is getting there.
For this cruise, we used the cruise line to get us to and from the ship – and we liked it. Unfortunately though, this option is not very flexible and we were not able to spend extra days before or after the cruise. Knowing what we know now, we’d recommend arranging your flight independently. If you want to arrange the flight independently keep in mind that some of the ports are not very well connected with major airlines. That said, there’s a lot of low cost airlines, like Ryan air Easyjet in the area.
We flew into Hurghada International Airport in Egypt, and the cruise line arranged the transfer to the ship in Safaga about 45 minutes away from the airport. The cruise line arranged the transfer for us so it was a pretty smooth and simple process, other than the delays due to passport checks but more about this later.
Our next topic of our Egypt cruise with stop in Saudi Arabia and Jordan is: visas and immigration
Visas and immigration
Let’s start by talking about Jordan, which was the easiest country in terms of Visa and Immigration. Practically all Europeans and North American passport holders do not need a visa to go to Jordan A jordanian immigration agent in port collects the passport and attaches a barcode to the passport and the cruise card. The day after leaving Jordan the passport is delivered to the cabin before dinner time. Very easy and smooth.
Saudi Arabia requires a visa for people wanting to go ashore. Passengers that do not wish to go out in Saudi can stay on board and no visa is required.
There are two types of Visas for Saudi that it is possible to obtain. The first one is the 96 hours maritime transit visa that costs $22 USD, this is the visa that the cruise line suggests to obtain. We tried to apply for this one and it was almost impossible. In fact, in order to obtain this particular visa you have to provide a list of every country you visit in the past 5 years including the date of entry and exit. For travelers like us, its not possible.
The second type of visa is the tourist e-visa that costs approximately $145 USD and it takes 10 minutes on line to get. The process is very simple and quick. Passengers that did not get the visa prior departure can do it on the ship and staff on board can help. Unfortunately we saw the line to do so and it was pretty long. So we recommended to obtain it in advance.
The immigration in Saudi was incredibly simple. The border agent was very welcoming, polite and kind. He wanted to see the visa then stamped the passport and that was it. In the second port in Saudi, Yanbu, they didn’t even check the passport at all; they just recommended keeping the passport on us the all time we were ashore.
Lastly, Egypt was the most complicated country to deal with visa and immigration. We applied for the visa online and it was a quite simple and straightforward process. It took a few hours to obtain it and it cost $60 USD. You can also obtain it at the airport, but we strongly recommend avoiding that because the bureaucracy in Egypt is insane! Also we recommend printing several copies of the visa (at least 4) because sometimes a border agent might decide to keep a copy!
Now getting the visa was the easy part, going through immigration is the real pain. In fact you need to be prepared to have the passport checked and rechecked, and stamped several times. For example we had to have it stamped at the airport upon arrival and then stamped again before boarding the ship! Then the day before arriving at Sokha an Egyptian border agent came on board the ship and checked and stamped the passport one more time.
In Sokhna before leaving the ship another agent wanted to see the stamp. The same day before returning on board another agent checked the stamp again. The morning after, before disembarking, we had the passport stamped again. Not only that, ashore by the gangway, another agent checked that our passport was stamped. But wait, when we arrived at the airport before going in the terminal, another agent wanted to see the stamp one more time.
Finally we got the last stamp and checked after security at the airport. No need to say that every time the passport was stamped or checked it created an insanely long line. So be prepared and very very patient in Egypt because the process is exhausting.
Our next topic of our Egypt cruise with stops in the Red Sea review is travel insurance.
We strongly recommend you to have good travel insurance for this itinerary, in case something happens. The cruise line provided us the insurance as a fare special. Also keep in mind that if you buy the Saudi Arabia e-visa you will have to buy a mandatory travel insurance from a list of insurance companies provided by the Saudi Travel authority, and the premium is built in the travel visa fee. That said, if you want to buy your own travel insurance, here is a link for you.
Moving on to our next topic for our Saudi Arabia and red sea review we will talk about the excursions.
On this cruise to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, it’s possible to see some amazing sites like Petra in Jordan, and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, but the bus rides from the port to some of these sites are very long. So keep this in mind when booking your excursion.
Let’s start from Aqaba Jordan:
The port of Aqaba in Jordan is the gateway to Petra. The excursion is quite long, almost 9 hours but includes lunch. The bus ride is two and half hours each way on a not so great road. In the bus there is a bathroom and the bus stops about 45 minutes before Petra for people to use the bathroom, to stretch their legs and have something to drink or buy some of the most expensive souvenirs in the area.
Even though the bus ride is long and not very comfortable it is totally worth it. Once in Petra we had 3 hours to explore the site. We decided to do it on our own, and the guide was totally fine with this. He gave us the lunch voucher and told us to be back at the restaurant between 3 and 4pm for the buffet lunch.
Other passengers in the group preferred to stay with the group and follow the guide and that was totally fine. We loved this excursion very very much, in fact this for us was the highlight of the trip. We also notice that for people with mobility issues golf carts are available from the site gate to the actual city of Petra.
There are other excursions available in Aqaba like Wadi Rum. A friend of ours did this excursion and she loved it. We noticed that a few beach excursions were available as well.
It is also possible to arrange the Petra excursion independently, We will leave a link in the description for independent excursions from Aqaba. If you decide to go independently make sure that you are back in time for the “All on board”
In Jeddah it is possible to visit the old city that is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. We did this excursion, and we found it interesting. They are still restoring most of the sites that are still under repair but it is still worth it. We wanted to experience the local food but we did not see any restaurant in the old town for us to go and eat.
Another excursion option in the port of Jeddah is to take a flight to another archeological site called Hegra also built by the Nabatean, the same civilization that built Petra. Some fellow passengers did it and they said it was an amazing tour. Also Muslim passengers have the opportunity to go to Mecca from the port of Jeddah. This excursion is only available for Muslim passengers, in fat the city is not open for non Muslims.
In Yanbu the historic city center is located just outside the port and we reached it in a minute by walking. We discovered that it is better to go around 5pm because before that time everything is closed. Originally we booked a beach and snorkeling excursion but unfortunately it was canceled due to strong winds. We still enjoyed the stroll in the historic city center and we did it a couple of times during the day. One of things we really wanted to try some local food again but around the port there were just a few seafood restaurants.
We wanted to try camel meat, which is a local delicacy. It was challenging to find a restaurant that served it in the touristy area. We had to hire a taxi driver to take us to a local eatery. Once we arrived at the restaurant we discovered that we had to wait until 1:15 to eat because before that the restaurant was closed for prayer. We also had a lot of difficulties paying because the restaurant only took Saudi Credit cards, or cash. Fortunately our driver was able to pay for us and we then refunded him.
Another excursion that was available from Yanbu was to visit Medina, the second holiest city in Islamic Culture. Fellow passengers told us that it was not worth it because it is an extremely long bus ride and once there, most of the site can not be entered by non Muslim.
Lastly we stopped in Sokhna, the gateway to Cairo where almost all the excursions revolve around the pyramids, combined with lunch and another site such as Saqqara, the Egyptian museum, Nile river cruise etc.
Unfortunately we have to admit that this was probably our least favorite stop for a few reasons. Reason number one it involves another very long bus ride from the port of Sokhna to Cairo, also buses have to leave the port in groups. For this reasonj we had to wait a long time on the bus for the other buses to be full and ready to go.
Another reason was that we had to get on and off the bus several times to go from one site to the next with a lot of traffic and wait in between. Reason number three – at the pyramids there were a lot of people harassing tourists trying to sell souvenirs or other stuff.
We also did a camel ride by the pyramids and we were very disappointed by that because we noticed that the camels owners did not treat the animals well. We noticed some of the kids that were leading the camels kicking the poor animals, and beating them. That was not cool and we felt really sorry for the camels. Lastly we had an armed guard with us all the time giving us an uneasy feeling.
Moving on to our next item of our Egypt and Red Sea cruise review we explore what to wear.
What to wear
Due to the fact that the itinerary was all in Muslim countries we were concerned on what to wear when walking around. In particular we read online that in Saudi Arabia it was a sign of respect to wear clothes that cover the arms and knees especially for women. In reality we saw a few fellow passengers, both men and women, wearing shorts and short sleeves shirts and nobody seemed to care at all.
If you decide to take the Petra excursion we suggest you bring a jacket or a sweater because it gets cold in the Siq (the deep canyon that leads to the city).
In Cairo it is cold early in the morning when the bus leaves and at night when the bus returns to the ship. For this reason we recommended to bring a light jacket or a sweater.
Continuing on our review of the Egypt cruise, with stops in Jordan and Saudi Arabia we’ll talk about what to bring.
What to bring
Bring comfortable shoes because there is a lot of walking, especially in Petra. We bought a backpack with us during long excursions with extra batteries for cameras and phones, jackets and hats. Always bring a hat because the sun is strong especially in Cairo and Jeddah. For the same reason Sunscreen is mandatory. If you go to Petra it is a good idea to bring a snack with you. Lunch might be really late in the afternoon, for us it was between 3 and 5 pm.
Our last topic of our review of Egypt cruise with stops in Saudi Arabia and Jordan is:
In almost every stop of our cruise they take dollars and euros. Credit cards work most of the time. In Jeddah Saudi Arabia, we were able to pay by credit card, but we had difficulties in Yanbu. As we told you before, because we went to a very local place. In Egypt, you should bring a lot of small change for tips because people ask for tips for everything.
In conclusion we think that the MSC Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Red Sea itinerary is wonderful – but if you decide to do it you have to deal with lots of lines for immigration, boarding and disembarking so be prepared. Also you will have a couple of very early morning wake ups because the excursion leaves really early in the morning.
Other than that it is a wonderful opportunity to explore areas that are not very common for tourists and we are really happy we went. As usual if you have any questions please leave a comment below, we love to hear from you.
Andrea was born and raised in Northern Italy. At the age of 30, he moved to Vancouver Canada. Over the years he traveled extensively in North America, Europe, Central America, and Asia. He is passionate about traveling, cruising, and travel photography. He likes to write about his traveling and shows his travel photos.