I just returned from a 2-week trip aboard the Celebrity Silhouette to the Holy Land. This ship has many attractive features. The Hideaway, which is a nice, quiet lounge above the library with coffee available 24/7. The Lawn Club Grill (my personal favorite) where you make your own flatbread (ok, pizza) with the help of the chef. A quirky eatery called QSine where you order from an iPad and food is served in really creative ways. Molecular Bar, which make cocktails from all natural ingredients (it’s always busy). They were offering a 50% discount to get people to try the alternative dining restaurants. Great layout, lots of quiet nooks and crannies, great service.
We sailed from Rome (got to spend a few short hours with our son, Steve, before we boarded) and headed to Santorini. Always a great day there; so scenic and easy to get around.
For me, the draw for this cruise was 5 days in Egypt and Israel….we’ve tried for 3 seasons to make this trip, and it was cancelled twice before. We started in Israel, so the plan was to spend day 1 doing a Christian tour of Northern Israel including the Sea of Galilee & Nazareth, Day 2 at Dead Sea & Masada, and Day 3 touring Jerusalem & Bethlehem. We had arranged private tours for the first two days. They were very reliable, they don’t take any payment until the end of the tours, and operate small groups of no more than 12 people. The guides were knowledgeable and attentive, would answer political questions but didn’t pro-actively discuss it, and were respectful when talking about religion. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Day 3 I had arranged a shore excursion to visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It was the Holy Week of Sukkoth so we noticed a heightened security around the Wailing Wall. There were a few scares that cleared the square and upset a lot of people. The guide was very good and calmed everyone down. Our guide explained that it is a tension they live with every day and it can be an eye-opening experience when coming from the United States.
We crossed into Palestine Territory to visit Bethlehem and were fortunate to visit the grotto at the Church of the Nativity. This is an emotional visit ~ the very spot where Jesus was born. Visiting the holy places from my early Catechism lessons was so rewarding. Certainly a memorable couple days ~ some tense moments but I wouldn’t change a thing.
The next 2 days were in Egypt. I had arranged a private 2-day overland trip that was amazing. This excursion mimicked the ship’s excursion (but was more private). We even stayed at one of the recommended hotels – Mena House Oberoi, which overlooks the Pyramid at Cheops. We had an excellent guide and a separate driver in a new Mercedes van for just the 2 of us. They always had bottled water for us as we visited all the major sites (Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Citadel of Saladin, Giza Plateau), had a private camel ride without the hassling of the vendors, and saved hundreds off the ship’s prices. I’m so glad we did it the way we did; I would recommend a private excursion or at least a small group ~ we always felt safe and were able to visit more sites and include more side trips this way (we were able to do both the Nile Dinner Cruise and the Pyramid Sound & Light Show, which wouldn’t be possible in a larger group).
After 5 days of intense touring, we had 2 days at sea to recuperate, then a day in Naples. We chose to do an Amalfi Drive and visit Sorrento (this is a favorite excursion ~ we had done Pompeii twice before).
Cheryl Oddo for Carefree Vacations
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