Front Page In the Book of Stupid
Trip Start Oct 09, 2011
27Trip End Dec 21, 2011
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Where I stayed
Ashdod and Haifa
Well in the book of Stupid (things we have or have not done), Israel made the front page. The Mariner offered various tours to the Holy Land. We found the cost for all of them to be quite expensive – the excursion we liked was a 9 hour tour from Ashdod to Jerusalem, on to Bethlehem and then back to the ship. It cost CA$200 per person. In comparison, a trans-continental ride (without accommodation) on Amtrak, from New York to Los Angeles for a senior only costs US$204 – and it takes four days! On top of that, all RCI passengers were advised that the ship would be arriving on a special Jewish holiday so Jerusalem would be more chaotic than usual; some venues would be closed and all tourist sites would be shockingly crowded. After much deliberation we decided that we could not justify the hassle and the expense; if we were just on a short vacation then yes, but our plans were complicated and pricey, so no
Almost everyone on the ship booked a tour but for those of us that did not, RCI arranged for transfer busses to take people from the dock to an Ashdod shopping centre, about three miles away. The cost of the transfer was US$15 per person which, everyone complained, was money-grabbing outrageous. For security reasons passengers were not allowed to walk off the ship at the freight terminals. We were stuck. We paid the $30 and as per the photos, the ride through the commercial port revealed thousands of vehicles on their way to auto dealerships. An American man we chatted with had this to say about that, 'the US gives hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel every year, and there was not one vehicle on the dock that was made in the United States. They were all Japanese or Korean'. He was so upset he was going to call his representative when he got home.
The shuttle dropped us at the mall where we discovered a ladies clothing store that claimed their entire line was made in Canada. And the clothes were gorgeous!! The lady at the Tourist Information booth in the mall quickly explained that there was no charming area in Ashdod, no restaurant street and not really many tourist sights. The whole city is little more than a starting place for tours to Jerusalem
We had a pleasant walk about and noted that Ashdod is a very clean, modern city with manicured palm boulevards and ocean views – we could have been anywhere in the world. We discovered that the mall had free wifi so we dashed back to the ship for the Netbook and spent time catching up. Our first connection to the family tree since Manchester airport.
Later that day, when the tours started returning to the ship, everyone was raving, raving about what they had seen and how moving it was to be in the one of the world’s most famous religious cities. For many it was an emotional experience that could never be topped. For five cents we would have ripped our ears off to stop hearing about what we missed. A few days later, snippets of reality started to surface in various conversations. The streets were so crowded and the busses were stuck in traffic for ridiculous amounts of time. The place they had wanted to see the most was closed. There were too many sights included in the tour so the major sites were seen at lightning speed, if at all. The bus left without me..
Whatever way you look at it, we sat on the very roots of our religion and never made an effort to climb the tree. Maybe next time…
In truth we really didn’t like Ashdod and confirm that no one would go there unless they were enroute to somewhere else. Ashdod is the modern port for Tel Aviv and its name means stronghold in Hebrew.
The next day the Mariner docked in Haifa and the tours were on again with a fury. Haifa is situated at the foot of Mount Carmel and high on the slopes overlooking the port is the Bahai Temple surrounded by gorgeous Persian gardens. Apparently the domed shrine of the temple contains the tomb of Baha Allah, the founder of the Bahai faith.
We walked off the ship, no expensive transfer necessary in Haifa, and spent the morning exploring the city in beautiful, sunny weather
Just a little point of interest, on the Mariner the night before (and on several other nights) we ordered a complimentary cheese plate to finish off the evening meal in the dining room. The plate consisted of five assorted cheeses accompanied by two colors of grapes. At the beer stop restaurant, we noticed a six cheese plate on their menu and it cost the equivalent of $12. Over and over we were reminded that Royal Caribbean is a good deal no matter how much you pay. The quality of the food, accommodation, entertainment, service, itinerary, cleanliness, security, activities and for a thousand other reasons – every faucet of RCI deserves a top rating. Cruises are 100% easier than figuring out how to get around on land and often more affordable. Every single day we are thankful for being at the stage of life that allows us an opportunity to spend time on the cruise ships. We are soooo hooked.
We found Haifa to be interesting, busy and expensive, but a much better bet than Ashdod. Our table companions took a private tour to the Dead Sea and some of them thought that to be the highlight of their entire trip.
Shalom, Israel – see you on the front page.