Thanks so much to everyone who has posted on the Egypt forums and answered my questions before the trip - especially the tips for 1st timers in the Sharm forum.
Here are a few of my observations that I hope will be helpful.
Arriving in Cairo: We paid about $60 US each for a meet and greet and transportation (from the Intercontinental City Stars) at the Cairo airport - definitely worth every penny. The hyper guy helped us get Visas and get through the airport in less than 15 minutes. The hotel had a 7 series BMW with air conditioning, fresh towelettes and water waiting for us. A great way to begin a trip.
Transportation: We arranged all of our transportation before leaving through our hotels and our Cairo guide. This was a good move. All of our vehicles seemed safe and all but one had air conditioning. The black and white Cairo taxis looked old, not very safe, and did not have air conditioning.
Hassle: Less in Cairo (almost non-existent when our guide was with us); HORRENDOUS in Luxor & Aswan!! Thank goodness I had read about this before arriving in Egypt. I could never had imagined how persistant people could be - following us for BLOCKS, touching us, etc. Yelling at us on the cruise ship from little boats and throwing stuff on our balcony - bizarre. I finally found that being very dramatic saying no touching at least stopped that. I got used to it, however it continued to freak my husband out during the whole trip.
Giza Pyramids Hassle: Several people on our cruise described the following - person giving "gifts" to the woman because she looked like his sister. When they went to pay him LE 20, he became angry and said loudly that wasn't enough. Two women were motioned by a police officier to change lines bypassing the majority of the people, which they did. When they went to pay him LE 20, he became beligerent and said they should pay him more. Since we knew this before going - we avoided the people and police and had no problems.
Haggling: Happens everywhere. While I don't like the hassling, I enjoyed the haggling. I got a rush out the negotiation. I learned a cool technique from an Australian on our Nile Cruise: go through the whole negotiation procedures, once you've reached your final price and the person says no - get out the exact money you want to pay and show it to the seller - he says no again, walk away. Every single time I got the item for what I wanted to pay. I usually paid around 25% of the original asking price.
Cruise Timing & Length: We took a 4 night cruise between Luxor and Aswan - great length of time. We were able to see the major sites. We took our cruise at the beginning of the trip because that was just how it worked out. It ended up being a very good thing. Most of the people on our boat (Sonesta Star Goddess) had been on excursions before the cruise. We were able to learn lots of things from them that weren't covered in the guidebooks or online.
Guide Scams: Be wary of guides who bring you to shops where there is a hard sell...heard horror stories from other boat passengers. One of the tour guides from the boat brought us by a perfume factory the other folks who had experienced this asserted that we needed to get back to the boat, so we were spared.
Great Cairo Guide: Let me preface this by saying, I'm not a private guide kind of person. I tend to think I can navigate anywhere, anytime. Completely due to reading about guides on tripadvisor, I decided to secure 1 for the Cairo portion of our trip. We used Rasha (www.egyptdailytours.com). She is SUPERFANTASTIC! She has a degree in Egyptology and is very knowledgeable. Her fee for a regular day is $70 US per person. So for $140/day - we got transportation in an air-conditioned van (private driver), her guide services, and admittance into the attractions. She does NOT stop at any predetermined shops where she would get a commission.
I have been in a number of car accidents and in general I'm not a good passenger. I really liked being in a van in the Cairo traffic - we were higher up than others. Also, I felt safer being in a larger vehicle. We rode in 2 vans, 1 was nicer and smelled better with a safer driver but I didn't catch the name of that driver/van - sorry.
Rasha is incredibly knowlegeable and was able to answer all of our questions. I think she had to be the most prepared tour guide at the pyramids. She carries a 3-ring binder with illustrations to further help her explanations. I didn't see any other guides with 3-ring binders. As a professor, I appreciate lecture preparation - I give her an A+ for her research and preparation.
Having a private guide was better than I ever imagined. We could spend the amount of time we wanted at each location. She took us to other non-typical locations as we requested. For example, I like visiting regular grocery stores in various countries. She took me to great gourmet market in Cairo. My husband did not like the markets/bazaars. She took us to a cool fixed price shop next to mosque. I like chocolate everyday on vacation. She made sure that happened. She was open to answering my many questions about life for real people in Egypt. She was a complete professional and I recommend her services wholeheartedly and without reservation.
Snorkeling in Sharm: Sharm was more beautiful than I ever imagined. We arranged our snorkeling through the tour agency at the Ritz-Carlton. The snorkeling company was great - organized, great boat, good guides, etc. However, we rented our mask and snorkel. I have strong ?s about the cleanliness of the items. More importantly, the mask & snorkel did not work well. If I had it to do again, I would buy a good mask & snorkel before I left and rent the fins.
Tummy Issues: Most of the other tourists we met had tummy issues. I read tons of conflicting advice on tripadvisor before leaving. We ended up doing what my husband's doctor recommended: only eat fresh fruits with thick skins after washing, i.e. oranges & bananas; avoid thin skinned fruits and all fresh vegetables. We brushed our teeth with bottled water. As long as we followed those guidelines, all was good.
At the end of the trip since we had no issues, we ate 2 dips with fresh vegs - 1 with fresh cucumber & yogurt & 1 with fresh tomato & feta. I thought since we were at a 5 star resort, Ritz-Carlton, eating a very expensive meal, $216 USD total, that we would be safe. We weren't. Both of us got Pharoh's revenge. My advice - avoid fresh vegetables even at the fancy places.
I ate lots of hummus & tahenah - no problems. We ate at local restaurants, some not the absolute cleanest - but all food was hot - no problems.
Egyptian Arabic: My biggest tip is to learn some Egyptian Arabic before you leave. We used Pimsleur Quick & Simple Egyptian Arabic - $19.95 USD for 4 CDs. My impression was that most tourists do not make an effort to speak Arabic. The Egyptians seemed startled when we attempted to speak Arabic. They were pleasantly surprised and bent over backwards to help us.
We thoroughly enjoyed our once in a lifetime trip to Egypt and highly recommend it to others. I hope my observations are helpful.
All the best,