The Future for Feluccas?

Mon, Sep. 8, 2014
Ramadan Fel-Felucca reinvents the idea of a floating iftar in a preview of what the future may hold for the sailboats of the Nile
By Kaylan Geiger
A t the Taracina dock on the Maadi Corniche, a sweeping stairway descends from the road to a dock that has been revamped into a lounge under the blue glow of the surrounding light fixtures, decorations and Samsung television screens. This is not your traditional felucca dock. In July, this was the home base for Ramadan Fel-Felucca, the first in a series of felucca-inspired projects by Fel-Balad, a new company that seeks to rejuvenate traditional Egyptian ideas and culture. Fel-Balad partner Basel Felfel says the company wants to show “what change we can do for the Nile and for the country.” “We keep going left and right and looking for something, but everything is here,” says partner Nader Awad, speaking to the desire for ingenuity at home. Long ago a staple for transporting freight, feluccas in recent decades are more associated with a rustic pleasure outing, with groups bringing their own refreshments on the simple single-sailed boat. Ramadan Fel-Felucca took that outing up several notches on the luxury scale, with opulently decorated boats and catered iftars and sohours delivered on the water. Awad, Felfel and the other Fel-Balad partners Shaden Fawaz and Kareem Helmy rented six feluccas and renovated them from the bow to the stern. Each sailboat was given a fresh, original interior design and decorated in vibrant colors ranging from purple to orange. A large center table in each felucca was surrounded by well-cushioned benches and decorative pillows. Guest could enjoy free WiFi and a dedicated sound system for their choice of music while enjoying a freshly cooked iftar. The Ramadan Fel-Felucca fleet included an extra- large felucca to accommodate corporate iftars and sohours. Felfel says that this experience is not about the aesthetics alone; it’s about catering to guests’ needs and reincorporating the essence of fine service. The entrepreneurs say the Ramadan venture was a major success. Only two weeks into Ramadan, their reservations book had filled up through the end of the Holy Month. “We appreciate that people see there is a team that actually delivers what they say,” says Felfel. “We give service and we give it the proper [way].” Well-equipped and well-trained staff attend to the needs of guests, while the felucca captains, masters of their trade, are taught new skills in customer service. What set Ramadan Fel-Felucca apart from the sailing do-it-yourself dish parties was the boat-side catering. Sponsored by local restaurant chain Crave, a floating kitchen prepared and delivered fresh, hot food to each of the six feluccas in time for iftar. Awad say the floating kitchen was the greatest challenge, but they were able to nail down delivery time to 20 minutes total. Felfel explains that while feluccas are still a timeless tradition for Egyptians and tourists alike, the standard and attraction to drifting on the Nile needs to be rejuvenated so that people can feel like they are enjoying a new experience. Nowadays, more tourists are opting for closed off Nile cruisers for dinners and belly dancing shows, but he notes, “This is not the Nile. You need to have a connection [and] you need to feel the magic, the weather.” The cruiser excursions miss out on the true beauty of being on an open-air boat in the water, he explains, soaking up the city’s skyline and sound. “This is what we’re trying to do.” The Fel-Balad team considers the Ramadan experience a trial run to help them identify the kinks and areas that need more tailoring to guests. While they’re finalizing the government approvals for their business, they’re looking ahead to launching new concepts for the traditional sailboats. “Hopefully after Ramadan we will start building our feluccas,” says Felfel, who identifies at least three prototypes: a chill out felucca, a dine-in felucca and a lounge felucca. The next phase of luxury feluccas is expected to roll out within two months after Eid Al-Fitr. These ideas, however, are just the start, and the team plans to explore a wide variety of ideas that would provide a completely new experience. “We need to imagine,” says Felfel. “If we can do this during Ramadan, imagine what we can do after.” Counting Felucca Costs P rices for today’s feluccas range greatly depending on how many people you will bring on board and where you dock from. Generally, feluccas cost between LE 50-80 per group, but a generous tip is good practice as well. Ramadan Fel-Feluccas offered packages ranging from LE 250 for Iftar and LE 220 for Sohour.
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