Israel has recently become a popular destination for cruise ships. Some ships stop 3 days in Haifa, some stop 1 day in Ashdod followed by 2 more days in Haifa. I and my wife have tried both ways, and I am now reporting on the differences. In 2017, we were on the Oceania Marina that started in Athens and ended in Athens, with 3 days in Haifa. That was fairly good, but was tiring and we felt we did not see enough from the big 50-seater coaches. This year we went again, but on the Crystal Serenity, that started in Civitavecchia and ended in Civitavecchia. It first stopped in Ashdod for 1 night, followed by 2 more nights in Haifa. This time we used a private minibus, was more relaxed, and we saw much more.
On the Oceania trip, we took group tours on a coach arranged by the ship. We visited Jerusalem on the first day, Masada on the second day, Nazareth and the Galilee on the third day. This was basically satisfactory, but the coach was a 50-seater, and could not go through the narrow old streets to get close to some historical sights. So, we had to view some sights from a distance or from the mountain top. Also, the trips from Haifa to Jerusalem and Masada were separate trips, and each took 4 hours each way, so that was somewhat tiring. On the Crystal trip, we fortunately were with a group of 10 friends. So, we pre-hired a Mini-bus, from the internet, with a professional English-speaking guide, and a qualified driver, for about US $100 per person, per day, which was much cheaper than the ship’s price. This turned out much better, as we were more relaxed, and able to get to many more sights than with the larger coach.
This is how we did it. About 4 months before the cruise, we hired a local Israeli touring company from the internet, www.GuidedToursIsrael.com , which proved to be very satisfactory.
In the morning and early afternoon of the first day, we visited Jerusalem. In the late afternoon, we visited the northern part of the Dead Sea. The only disadvantage was we had to walk down many steps to get to the water front. In Jerusalem, we saw many sights including: The Western Wall, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, The Temple Mount with the golden dome, The Dome of the Rock, The Golden Tomb, Tower of David Museum, Garden of Gethsethmane, Jaffa Gate, City of David, King David’s Tomb, and the narrow, cobbled shopping streets of old Jerusalem.
On the second day, from Haifa, we visited northern Israel, including Nazareth and the Sea of Galillee. Nazareth is mostly a Muslim city. We were able to go inside the Basilica of the Annunciation, which is a must, and the St. Joseph’s catholic church. We also went to the baptismal site in the Jordan river.
On the third day, we went to Tel Aviv, saw the center of the city, the many hotels, government buildings, and also the location where Yitzak Rabin was assassinated, as well as the beaches on the Mediterranean coast, including ancient Roman amphitheater.
My advice is, if possible, try to visit Israel on a minibus with a small private group.
Penthouse with a butler. Excellent.