See world history on a Holy Land cruise. Recomendations for 2011 and even 2010 last minute bargains.
My cruise-crazy cousin cornered me at a dinner party a few nights ago and asked me if I knew any cruises going to "different places," in Europe because she is so tired of sailing out of Athens and Rome. In truth I have to agree with her. I have now been to the Acropolis in Athens six or seven times. If you have never seen Athens, Ephesus, Rhodes and Rome then you MUST go, but there are plenty of other antiquity options that are equally exciting in my opinion.
One fairly new genre gaining much popularity is Holy Land cruises; where you can see places like old Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Masada, Bethlehem, the ancient of city of Petra, St Catherine's monastery - the oldest in the world, the Pyramids and the Sphinx of Giza and the ancient cities of Luxor, Karnak and the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
I had my first taste of these riches of world history on the old Renaissance cruise lines back in 1998. In our case the highlight of the trip was simply Israel, which I had never visited before and subsequently found to be 100 times more fascinating than I ever imagined.
The best thing about the cruise was that we had three solid days docked in Israel, one in Ashdod and two in Haifa. We left the ship and joined an Israeli tourist guide and driver for the three solid days we were there and did not see the ship the entire time. Oceania Cruises, the Phoenix borne of the Renaissance cruise line ashes, still does roughly the same itinerary, highly recommended along with other options I want to show you.
When I started my pre-cruise research on Israel we decided to plan an extensive tour well ahead of time. I soon discovered that there is little of historical importance to see in the port cities of Ashdod and Haifa. Your main goal is get to old Jerusalem regardless of your religious derivation. Plus most people want to see the Dead Sea.
If you are Christian you probably want to visit the Sea of Galilee, the River Jordan and Bethlehem. If you are Jewish you may want to see Masada, the Jerusalem Museum, Dead Sea Scrolls' Shrine of the Book, the Holocaust Memorial and other places. If you are neither you still want to see Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and possibly the ancient Roman city of Caesarea.
We chose to take the Christian tour. Our Israeli (Jewish) guide had done this tour hundreds of times before and knew exactly what to do. We started out by driving to the Sea of Galilee. We visited Nazareth and Capernaum, where it is believed Jesus met and lived with his first disciples. We then went on to the spot where it is believed Jesus was baptized on the River Jordan by John the Baptist.
Next we went to the Dead Sea and of course went for a "swim." You don't actually swim in the Dead Sea; you float because the salt content is so high your body rises to the surface with no effort. You also do not want to splash it into your eyes. Strangely enough, it is the lowest point on earth at some 300 feet below sea level, and because it is so low you don't need sun screen, the extra layer of atmosphere blocks the sun's most harmful rays.
That night we drove to Jerusalem and spent the night in a hotel. Our ship sailed from Ashdod to Haifa, but we were not on it. The next day we entered the old city of Jerusalem. This is a must for anyone in the world with any appreciation for spiritual matters. From the Tower of David to the Wailing Wall, once a portion of the magnificent Temple of King David, now capped by Islam's Dome of the Rock, to the "Via de la Rosa" which is believed to be the path on which Jesus carried the cross. This culminates at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which covers the site of Golgotha where Jesus was crucified, the spot where his body was laid when taken down and the donated crypt where he was taken and left.
Next we drove to Bethlehem and saw the place where it is believed Jesus was born. If you have noticed that I keep saying "where it is said or believed" something happened it is because there are no historic records to pinpoint the many sites concerning events in the life of Jesus. Jewish sites are easier to pinpoint since Jerusalem was the Israeli capital and more accurate records were kept.
You can do all of the above in two days, which is what most Holy Land cruises allocate to Jerusalem. Then we had an extra day when we went to the Jerusalem Museum, the Holocaust Memorial and the Dead Sea Scrolls' Shrine of the Book museum. The ride back to the ship followed the path of many battles from various modern Israeli wars. Shelled tanks and other artifact have been purposely left by the road to remind people of the struggles. It is all fascinating.
Naturally, Jerusalem and other parts of Israel are a highlight of any Holy Land cruise, but there are other attractions and so we will move on.
EgyptThe next area of interest on a Holy Land cruise is Egypt, and here is what you need to know; Egypt is as fascinating as any place on earth. The civilization lasted nearly 4000 years, twice as long as it has been since Jesus walked on Earth. It is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and there are still incredible architectural artifacts standing from the age of 1000 to 2000 B.C.
From Port Said near Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea where most cruise ships dock you can easily reach the pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx with plenty of time to see the Cairo Museum in one day. These are important "must see" sites, but the best of the Egyptian sites are up the Nile about 300 miles. These are the cities of Luxor, Karnak and the Valley of the Kings.
These sites are an unforgettable lifetime experience, but many cruises dock in Port Said for only one day. Because of this you really cannot see the upriver sites. If you are content to see just the pyramids then this is satisfactory, but my personal feeling is that if you are going all the way to Egypt then you want to see the best of Egypt. I would recommend a Nile River Cruise or at the least a Mediterranean cruise that stays in Egypt for two days.
I had a different opportunity on our Silversea cruise which I highly recommend. First we docked in Port Said where we saw the Pyramids and then it traversed the Suez Canal and we later docked in Safaga, Egypt, about 300 miles south in the Red Sea. From there we took a bus over the hills to the Nile River where we visited where we spent two nights in a hotel to see Karnak, Luxor and the Valley of the Kings.
On the way to Safaga we docked in Aqaba, Jordan, gateway to Petra, one of the most fascinating ancient sites in the entire world. I had never heard of it myself until I was 40-something, but if you have seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom you already know it, Key visuals in the movie were filmed there.
Petra is an entire ancient city carved into the walls of steep solid rock cliffs. The residents were Aramaic-speaking (the language spoken by Jesus) Semites called Nabataeans. They were traders back in the first century when there was no Suez Canal, and Aqaba was the closest point to the civilizations of the Middle East accessible by ship for spices from India. Petra is also where it is said Moses stuck his staff in the ground and water appeared. It is also close the burial site of his brother Aaron. Today, Petra is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, along with the Pyramids at Giza.
Another fascinating site to see in this part of the world is St Catherine's Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula, the oldest in the world, accessible for the port of Sharm al Sheik. It was established in 300 AD by Helena, the mother of Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to accept Christianity as a faith. It is known as the site of the burning bush, where Moses received the Ten Commandments.
Choosing a Holy Land CruiseYou can now see why they call this the Holy Land, and the amazing thing is that so many of these sites are still intact today. I told you about Petra, Luxor and St Catherine's to point something out - that these are incredible sites to see, but that you probably will not see them on what most mainstream cruise lines advertise as a "Holy Land" cruise unless your cruise traverses the Suez Canal.
Upon a closer look, aside from Israel and Egypt, most mainstream Holy Land cruises focus on sites of importance to Christians. They often include the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey, built by Alexander the great and known as one of the cities where Paul spread the gospel and was once jailed. It is also the area where it is believed James brought Mary, the mother of Christ, to live out her days.
Holy Land Cruises often include Rome and Athens, although they are not holy sites, but they also include the famous Greek Isle of Rhodes which was pivotal in the crusades of the 11 and 12th centuries. It is another spot where Paul was held as a prisoner when he attempted to reach the Greeks and Romans with his message.
Holy Land Cruise Options
For such a destination focused cruise I really like to recommend a smaller ship. The ex-Renaissance vessels now operated by Azamara, Oceania and Princess are the perfect size at 700 passengers. They are small enough to make it easy to get on and off and to have relatively small tours. But they also offer very comfortable staterooms and excellent food, which you want to recover for the next day's sightseeing. These also offer port-intensive itineraries and fewer sea days, which you also want when you have flown 5000 miles to your destination.
Another excellent choice is Windstar, the three-ship cruise line of engine-powered sail ships once owned by Holland America but now a small and independent cruise line. Windstar is the only cruise line we have seen that starts and ends in Israel. While it may be more expensive to fly that distance rather than merely to Rome, you gain the flexibility of spending as many days as you want in Israel. I highly recommend getting a hotel in Jerusalem and planning to see as much as you possibly can before (or after) you set sail.Below I give you examples of cruises sailing this year and next, just in case you are shopping last minute. The 2010 cruises serve as examples of the kind of itineraries available next year and most of them are on fire sale right now. If you want a 2011 cruise there are similar ones to those below available and you have plenty of time to shop.
Windstar also spends two full days in Egypt and is offering tours to Luxor from the ship. At 300 miles away this will not be cheap, but it is worth it. In fact, two days is just enough to see Giza and the upper river. Here are the two 2011 Windstar itineraries:
|10/15||Athens (Piraeus), Greece||--------||5 p.m.|
|10/16||Santorini, Greece||10 a.m.||4 p.m.|
|10/17||Rhodes, Greece||10 a.m.||Midnight|
|10/19||Alanya, Turkey||8 a.m.||4 p.m.|
|10/20||Limassol, Cypress||11 a.m.||8 p.m.|
|10/22||Port Said, Egypt||7 a.m.||-------|
|10/23||Port Said, Egypt||-------||4:00 PM|
|10/24||Ashdod, Israel||9 a.m.||-------|
|10/25||Ashdod, Israel||-------||4:00 PM|
Second Windstar Holy Land Itinerary
|10/25||Ashdod, Israel||-------||8:00 PM|
|10/26||Haifa, Israel||8 a.m.||8:00 PM|
|10/28||Port Said, Egypt||7 a.m.||-------|
|10/29||Port Said, Egypt||--------||4 p.m.|
|10/31||Limassol, Cypress||8 a.m.||5 p.m.|
|11/2||Marmaris, Turkey||8 a.m.||4 p.m|
|11/3||Patmos, Greece||9 a.m.||4 p.m.|
|11/4||Ydra, Greece||10 a.m.||8 p.m.|
|11/5||Athens (Piraeus), Greece||7 a.m.||---------|
The following cruises take place in 2010. While these are very close in, at least you get a chance to see what kind of cruise options are available and you can expect very similar ones for next year.
Another option that sails through the Suez Canal: MV Discovery - Voyages of Discovery sailing April 15, 2010
|DAY ThuFriSatSunMonTueWedThuFriSatSunMonTueWed||DATE Apr 15 Apr 16Apr 17Apr 18Apr 19 Apr 20 Apr 21 Apr 22 Apr 23 Apr 24 Apr 25 Apr 26 Apr 27 Apr 28||PORTLuxor (Safaga), Egypt Luxor (Safaga), Egypt Petra (Aqaba), JordanSharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt Port Suez, EgyptSuez Canal, Egypt (Transit) At Sea Latakia, Syria Antalya, Turkey Bodrum, Turkey Ephesus / Kusadasi, Turkey Canakkale, Turkey Istanbul, Turkey Istanbul, Turkey||ARRIVE8:30am 8:00pm8:00am 7:00am 1:00pm 1:00pm 7:00am 9:00am8:00 a.m.Disembark||DEPARTEmbark6:00pm8:006:00pm6:00pm6:00pm6:00pm6:00pm6:00pm6:00pm|
This cruise actually visits all of the places I mentioned early on. It sails in about two weeks and I am sorry I did not know about it sooner. This is what I would personally consider the perfect itinerary for a Holy Land cruise. Note, the key is that it goes through the Suez Canal, but only long enough to see the sites of Petra, Luxor and St Catherine's. It then returns to the Mediterranean to visit important sites in Turkey like Ephesus and Canakkale, said to be the site of ancient Troy.
Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas 12 nights departing April 24, 2010
|Sat Apr 24||Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy||5:00pm|
|Sun Apr 25||Naples / Capri (Sorrento), Italy||7:00am||7:00pm|
|Mon Apr 26||At Sea|
|Tue Apr 27||Athens (Piraeus), Greece||9:00am||7:00pm|
|Wed Apr 28||Rhodes, Greece||10:00am||6:00pm|
|Thu Apr 29||Ephesus / Kusadasi, Turkey||7:00am||7:00pm|
|Fri Apr 30||At Sea|
|Sat May 1||Cairo / Giza (Alexandria), Egypt||7:00am|
|Sun May 2||Cairo / Giza (Alexandria), Egypt||7:30pm|
|Mon May 3||At Sea|
|Tue May 4||Messina, Sicily, Italy||2:00pm||8:00pm|
|Wed May 5||At Sea|
|Thu May 6||Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy||4:00am|
This is a typical, mainstream Holy Land Cruise that stays in the Mediterranean. It starts in Rome and visits Ephesus, Rhodes, Cairo and Messina, Sicily.
Silversea's Silver Whisper 6 nights departing April 22, 2010
|Thu Apr 22||Luxor (Safaga), Egypt||6:00pm|
|Fri Apr 23||Petra (Aqaba), Jordan||7:00am|
|Sat Apr 24||Petra (Aqaba), Jordan||7:00pm|
|Sun Apr 25||Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt||6:00am||3:00pm|
|Mon Apr 26||Suez Canal, Egypt||2:30am||5:30pm|
|Tue Apr 27||At Sea|
|Wed Apr 28||Athens (Piraeus), Greece||7:00am|
This short luxury cruise lits all the highlights below the Suez Canal and would be a great way to see those sites without having to spend a lot of days on a cruise seeing sites you are already familiar with.
Oceania Cruises' Insignia 12 nights departing May 2, 2010
|Sun May 2||Athens (Piraeus), Greece||8:00pm|
|Mon May 3||At Sea|
|Tue May 4||Cairo / Giza (Alexandria), Egypt||8:00am||7:00pm|
|Wed May 5||Cairo (Port Said), Egypt||6:00am||8:00pm|
|Thu May 6||Jerusalem / Tel Aviv (Ashdod), Israel||7:00am|
|Fri May 7||Jerusalem / Tel Aviv (Ashdod), Israel||8:00pm|
|Sat May 8||Nazareth / Galilee (Haifa), Israel||7:00am||8:00pm|
|Sun May 9||Limassol, Cyprus||8:00am||6:00pm|
|Mon May 10||Antalya, Turkey||8:00am||6:00pm|
|Tue May 11||Rhodes, Greece||8:00am||6:00pm|
|Wed May 12||Patmos, Greece||8:00am||6:00pm|
|Thu May 13||Dikili, Turkey||8:00am||4:00pm|
|Fri May 14||Istanbul, Turkey||8:00am|
This cruise is a dandy. It starts in Athens and spends two full days in Cairo - enough time to fly to Luxor, then it spends three full days in Israel, which is similar to what we did on Renaissance as described in my article above. It also visits sites in Turkey including Dikili, the site for Pergamon - said to be one of the most complete ancient Greek cities in the world. Keep in mind, the Greeks did not have concrete, so their cities did not last as long as the Romans. It is no mistake that this cruise line is all former Renaissance executives. This is an outstanding Holy Lands itinerary. Oceanview starts $3938.
Azamara Club Cruises' Azamara Quest 12 nights departing May 3, 2010
|Mon May 3||Athens (Piraeus), Greece||6:00pm|
|Tue May 4||Rhodes, Greece||1:00pm||10:00pm|
|Wed May 5||At Sea|
|Thu May 6||Nazareth / Galilee (Haifa), Israel||7:00am||10:00pm|
|Fri May 7||Jerusalem / Tel Aviv (Ashdod), Israel||7:00am||10:00pm|
|Sat May 8||Cairo (Port Said), Egypt||7:00am||9:30pm|
|Sun May 9||Cairo / Giza (Alexandria), Egypt||9:00am||11:00pm|
|Mon May 10||At Sea|
|Tue May 11||Mykonos, Greece||7:00am||5:00pm|
|Wed May 12||At Sea|
|Thu May 13||Sorrento, Italy||10:00am|
|Fri May 14||Sorrento, Italy||5:00pm|
|Sat May 15||Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy||5:00am|
This cruise starts at just $2749 for 12 nights and spends two days in Israel and two in Egypt. It also sees many Greek Isles and Sorrento Italy overnight, a beautiful spot even if it is not exactly holy.
Princess' Pacific Princess 12 nights departing June 20, 2010
|Sun Jun 20||Venice, Italy||9:00pm|
|Mon Jun 21||Ravenna, Italy||7:00am||5:00pm|
|Tue Jun 22||Dubrovnik, Croatia||Noon||7:00pm|
|Wed Jun 23||At Sea|
|Thu Jun 24||Patmos, Greece||Noon||7:00pm|
|Fri Jun 25||At Sea|
|Sat Jun 26||Nazareth / Galilee (Haifa), Israel||7:00am||8:00pm|
|Sun Jun 27||Jerusalem / Tel Aviv (Ashdod), Israel||7:00am||8:00pm|
|Mon Jun 28||Cairo (Port Said), Egypt||7:00am||8:00pm|
|Tue Jun 29||Cairo / Giza (Alexandria), Egypt||10:00am||8:00pm|
|Wed Jun 30||At Sea|
|Thu Jul 1||Ephesus / Kusadasi, Turkey||8:00am||5:00pm|
|Fri Jul 2||Athens (Piraeus), Greece||6:00am|
This one is more expensive (hint: the close in ones in the early season are much cheaper). Pacific Princess is the same size as the Oceania and the Azamara ships above. In fact, all three of them were once Renaissance cruise ships and are identical.
Celebrity's Celebrity Equinox 13 nights departing September 22, 2010 starting at $2499
|Wed Sep 22||Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy||6:00pm|
|Thu Sep 23||Naples / Capri (Sorrento), Italy||7:00am||7:00pm|
|Fri Sep 24At Sea|
|Sat Sep 25At Sea|
|Sun Sep 26||Nazareth / Galilee (Haifa), Israel||7:00am||10:00pm|
|Mon Sep 27||Jerusalem / Tel Aviv (Ashdod), Israel||7:00am||7:00pm|
|Tue Sep 28||Cairo / Giza (Alexandria), Egypt||10:00am|
|Wed Sep 29||Cairo / Giza (Alexandria), Egypt||9:00pm|
|Thu Sep 30||At Sea|
|Fri Oct 1||Athens (Piraeus), Greece||7:00am||5:00pm|
|Sat Oct 2||Corfu, Greece||1:00pm||8:00pm|
|Sun Oct 3||Messina, Sicily, Italy||10:00am||6:00pm|
|Mon Oct 4||At Sea|
|Tue Oct 5||Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy||4:00am|
This is a beautiful brand new ship with a great itinerary. We would recommend this cruise highly at this price simply because it is such a beautiful ship.