The New Viking Aton Cruise Ship Brings Sleek Scandinavian Design to Egypt’s Nile River
The newest ship on the Nile River is an 82-passenger vessel from Viking, complete with distinctly modern spaces, a sun deck with a pool, and some of the world’s most priceless views of antiquities.
After thinking about it, $20 was a pretty good deal. My search back home in New York for the right kind of tablecloth/rug/tapestry (I hadn’t decided its official use yet) had been futile, and I had already settled on the idea that success in this investigation was meant to elude me.
But I found what I was looking for on Egypt’s Nile River. Hanging over the edge of a banister on the sundeck of a brand new river cruise ship, the Viking Aton, I haggled with a persistent but charming Egyptian merchant who was selling his wares from the rowboat he and his partner wobbled in five decks below along the lock we were starting to pass through.
We settled on $20 for the black patterned cloth. He tossed it up to me in its plastic packaging with precision, up all five decks, over the banister, and straight into my hands just before he tossed another plastic package up to me, which I used to put the money in and tossed back to him. The money had barely touched his hands before he whipped out another tablecloth to show me, this time offering a bold new price.
“$50?! You already got $20,” I shouted indignantly at him as he casually tried to upsell me, as if I was an American tourist who had never been to Egypt before (which I was).
Whether I was annoyed or impressed with his stellar sales tactics in 100-degree heat was beside the point; the man got his money, and I got my cloth for purposes still unknown. Contract complete.
Unable to persuade me to shell out more money, the merchant turned his attention to other onlookers on the sundeck and on the lower-level balconies who caught wind of the show going on between us, now wanting souvenirs of their own.
Shopping is not an uncommon aspect of river cruising; many vessels often have a souvenir shop onboard complete with jewelry, Christmas ornaments, T-shirts, and silk scarves, among other items.
But this was clearly a wildly different shopping affair. I could hardly put a price on such a strangely unique encounter as this. Pretty good deal, indeed.
Sailing on the new Viking Aton
My trip to Egypt this past August was short but memorable. I was traveling with Viking and a small group of journalists on an abbreviated version of the line’s sole Egypt itinerary, the 12-day Pharaohs & Pyramids journey, which starts and ends in Cairo and sails on the Nile River between Luxor and Aswan.
The company currently has four ships on the Nile River: a charter vessel, the MS Antares, and three of its own ships, the Viking Ra, Viking Osiris, and now, the Viking Aton, its newest ship that our group was there to witness the launch of.
Like its sister ship, the Viking Aton can accommodate 82 guests in its 41 staterooms. Onboard, you’ll find the line’s signature Aquavit Terrace, a dining and lounge area that feels light and airy at any time of day or night due to floor-to-ceiling glass walls that separate the indoor seating area from the patio.
The Aquavit Terrace was probably my favorite place aboard the Viking Aton. Not only were the fresh menu options a delight—I still think about that chicken, quinoa, and avocado bowl I ate—but the outdoor area is also home to the ship’s very modern pool.
The design of the pool could have easily tempted me to stay out on the terrace all day under the hot Egyptian sun. Minimalist and elongated, the pool was a fun place to be; the fact that it can fit in so many people side-by-side along its built-in bench made for the perfect spot to socialize with other guests onboard. The pool also featured a glass wall, giving it an infinity edge and an upscale modernity.
The sundeck lounge was also an area of note. As cool as it was inside the air-conditioned ship, it was hard to resist going topside. Yes, it was notably hot outside, especially in August, but most of the sundeck is covered by awnings that shade it, and somehow the pastel-colored furniture, with its light, linen upholstery, plus the breeze from sailing along the river offset some of the late summer heat.
If you’ve never been on a Viking ship, know that the company stays true to its Scandinavian roots across its entire fleet, whether on the rivers or at sea—and the Viking Aton is no exception. That means an emphasis on light, modern, minimalist design with an appreciation for attention to detail, from the books in the common and stateroom libraries, to the warm earth-toned color palette throughout the ship.
Richard Riviere, the architect behind most of Viking’s ocean, expedition, and river cruise ships, and godfather of the Aton, was onboard the inaugural sailing and explained the five pillars of Viking’s ship design.
“We have five big ideas for all Viking ships everywhere: residential modernism, Scandinavian heritage, craft, nature, and exploration,” Riviere said, adding that it’s a brand concept that gives the company and its design team structure.
I particularly appreciated the residential modernism aspect, which is on full display in the Aton’s staterooms. My room, a Veranda Suite on Deck 3, was generously spacious—as in, “this could be a one-bedroom apartment” spacious.
There was a full walk-in closet, along with a vanity space and bench; an actual living room (separate from the bedroom) where you could entertain friends before heading off to evening cocktails in the lounge; and a balcony with room for two to stretch their legs and take in the warm Nile air.
The common areas felt as comfortable as the staterooms. There’s a mix of open spaces to lounge in and plenty of quieter areas, such as a shaded corner on the sundeck, a nook in the Aquavit Terrace, or a plush window seat in back of the lounge.
No matter where I hung out, I was always well cared for by the attentive Viking Aton staff, who would offer me a refreshing hibiscus drink in the afternoon or something a little stronger—say, a glass of chardonnay or a light Egyptian beer, in the evening.
Dining onboard was casual, with a menu of familiar favorites like Caesar salad, steaks, hamburgers, and fries. But a selling point for me were the fresher options, such as that quinoa avocado bowl. I also thoroughly enjoyed a themed Egyptian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern dining night on the ship, featuring assorted regional culinary items, including baba ghanoush, lamb with a chimchurri or a mint jelly sauce, and baklava among the standouts.
Experiencing the Nile River with Viking
Our cruise up the Nile River was a straight shot due to our abbreviated five-day schedule; we cruised nonstop from Aswan to Luxor in one day without doing some of the usual excursions to visit ancient sites such as Esna, one of the last Egyptian temples to be decorated with hieroglyphic texts, and Edfu, home to the Temple of Horus, among the best preserved shrines in Egypt.
Along the way, we glided past desert-colored towns in shades of taupe and beige, dotted with colorful doors and walls. We saw children swimming and fishermen bobbing in boats. There were more barren stretches of the Nile as well, where seemingly nothing and no one lived.
And there were even lesser-known temple ruins scattered along some of those barren stretches, something I didn’t expect to see.
Tarek Fawzy, one of the Egyptologists onboard, confirmed that my eyes hadn’t deceived me, pointing out that even with all of the tombs, temples, and ancient sites that had been discovered and become areas of study for Egyptologists like him, there was still much more in Egypt yet to be unearthed.
“They’re still digging out there, hoping to find more,” Fawzy said, adding that sites like these are scattered all over Egypt, from Alexandria to Aswan to the western desert. “We still think that all of the archaeology in Egypt is not even 40 percent of what we’ve got today. A few years ago, we found a couple of obelisks at the bottom of the river.”
But my naivete revealed something I think might be a universal truth: You don’t know what to expect from Egypt until you go there. And perhaps that’s why the fascination with Egypt—it even has a term, Egyptomania—has endured from Napoleon’s plunder to the countless movies, fashion, and design that continue to inspire and influence the world beyond this desert.
During our daily excursions, I could feel that very fascination reverberating between me and the ancient temple walls of Karnak, Luxor, and Philae, where detailed hieroglyphics carved into limestone told the stories of kings and queens, and even tragic figures. When we visited the Valley of the Kings, the royal burial ground for Egypt’s pharaohs and one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, I understood the awe that must have struck the archaeologists who discovered the tombs of Ramses II and Tutankhamun in the 19th and 20th century.
And I could feel my own awe building as our group soared over the Valley of the Kings at sunrise one morning in a hot air balloon ride, where we looked upon the Nile River Valley, vegetation flanking the river and the desert lands that surrounded the region as far as our eyes could see.
There’s nothing like this feeling—being caught somewhere between reality and fantasy upon seeing a place you’ve only ever heard of or seen in movies and textbooks.
Most land tour operators offer a river cruise on the Nile River, from three to seven nights, with hotel stays in Cairo book-ending the trip. And most river cruise lines with Nile River trips start itineraries with a three-night stay in Cairo and include robust excursions on land to explore sites in Luxor, Edfu, Esna, Aswan, and even Abu Simbel, which is typically reached by a short plane ride.
For those who want to see Egypt through a historical and educational lens, one that inspires a spirit of exploration and prioritizes an appreciation for the natural beauty of this desert land of contrasts, Viking may be the perfect choice.
There are a plethora of historical texts and novels set in Egypt, including Agatha Christie’s iconic Death on the Nile, memoirs from famed archeologists, and wildlife photography books that guests can find in their private libraries in their staterooms, as well as in the communal libraries on the ship. Guest lecturers and in-house Egyptologists onboard also ensure that Viking guests can have a question about Ramses II or Queen Hatshepsut readily answered.
Viking is also best for those who might be planning several trips to Egypt and are looking for a seamless sailing experience, no matter what ship they end up on. Most of the company’s ships are identical in design, which takes the guesswork out of learning new surroundings and jump-starts total immersion in the destination.
Viking is rapidly growing its fleet on the Nile, with plans to launch two more ships, Viking Hathor and Viking Sobek, in 2024 and 2025, respectively. The company has already made its 2026 season aboard the Viking Hathor available to book for those looking to lock in their fares early, as the 2024 and 2025 seasons dwindle in availability.
Fares for Viking’s 12-day Pharaohs & Pyramids itinerary begin at $5,999 per person, including 11 guided tours. Pre- and post-cruise excursions are available in Istanbul from $1,399 for three nights, and in London from $3,699 for four nights, which offers unique access into the archives and exhibits surrounding world famous archaeologist Howard Carter, and his benefactor, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, who discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun.