After years of bypassing Holy Land ports like Ashdod and Haifa, cruise lines have, in the past year or so, been convinced that successful peace efforts have finally made the key Israeli cities safe enough to add back into Middle East and Mediterranean itineraries. Alas, the past week's series of attacks on the Gaza Strip once again raised questions about whether the region is safe for travelers.
It's too soon to say, but cruise line executives tell us that planned calls -- which don't begin until May -- are still on. In a chat last month with Holland America's John Primeau, we were told that the line had resumed visits to the region in 2007 after a seven-year dry spell. Holland America returned because, says Primeau, "we determined that the situation had improved greatly." In a conversation this week, the spokesperson noted that "as of now, we are still considering port visits to Ashdod and Haifa," with the added caveat that if a port is believed to be harmful to guests and crew, ships will be redeployed.
Holland America is not the only cruise line to have embraced the Holy Land ports. Celebrity has also planned to deploy its new-for-2009 Celebrity Equinox in the region. Princess, Royal Caribbean, Costa, Azamara, Oceania, Thomson Cruises, Silversea and Seabourn all have ships scheduled to call in Ashdod and Haifa in summer or fall of 2009.
Israel is attractive to travelers because of its meaningful history, and cruise travelers are particularly interested in Ashdod and Haifa because of their proximity to Jerusalem and Nazareth, respectively. But, the recent volatility in the region could reverse many cruise lines' decisions to sail the Holy Land this year. Royal Caribbean told Cruise Critic that it's too early to decide whether the sailings will be changed but noted that it will continue to closely monitor the situation and see how things develop.
We'd like to know how you feel about cruise ships sailing this potentially dangerous region. If you were booked on a cruise that was scheduled to call in Holy Land ports, how would you handle it? Vote in our poll, and post your thoughts.
We'll continue to monitor the situation and keep you posted.
--by Kim Kazell, Assistant Editor
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Will Unrest in Holy Land Impact Cruises?
January 2, 2009