SOME BASIC INFORMATION:
REMEMBER to bring your Israeli Landing Card you received the day before along with your Sea Card (room key) and a photo ID. In fact, 1st, you will need to adjust your watch since you have lost an hour of time during the night from Turkey. So my 9am start felt more like an 8am start so it was an early day for me. Most people in Israel speak both Hebrew and English since the area use to be part of a British colony. As far as currency is concerned, Israel uses their local currency in Shekels. Check your current exchange rate but the Shekels to U.S. dollar were 4 shekels to 1 U.S. Dollar as a point of reference. However, most of the merchants do take U.S. dollars or Euros or both. In fact, I never changed any of my money to Shekels and simply used a combination of U.S. dollars and Euros the entire day as well as in Ashdod (Jerusalem) as well. In regards to crime and security, again, exercise common sense caution here. There are pick pockets in some areas. I heard of a passenger on my cruise getting pick pocketed in Bethlehem. If you are worried about terrorists and other crazy things, well don’t. It’s foolish to think that in this country. I never felt in any danger and the amount of security people around Jerusalem and in major sites of Israel, no one will dare even think about doing anything. I felt completely safe.
DRESS conservatively. No exposed shoulders or knees are allowed especially in Churches. Though I recommend hats to stave off the sun, make sure you remember to remove them when visiting a major site out of respect. They do exercise these dress codes stringently in most sites. I saw a woman being denied entry since she had on a tank top. Also, I personally got chided for forgetting to take off my baseball cap at one of the Church’s (it was quite embarrassing so please be warned).
On this day, my wife and I decided to book a trip to visit Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee area where Jesus Christ was known to have lived a good portion of his adult life. We booked our tour through Port Promotions again and this time there was a bit of problem finding our tour guide at first.
NOTE ABOUT PERSONAL ARRANGED TOURS IN HAIFA: the private or personally arranged tours (other than the cruise sponsored tours) can wait OUTSIDE the port terminal area. So if you went with another company or Port Promotions, you have to actually walk to the outside of the terminal building to find them. Don’t get confused since our cruise ship allowed their sponsored excursion buses right outside the gangway. Don’t wait there for Port Promotions or any other personally booked tours… you have to go outside the terminal almost to the area where the taxis are waiting.
After walking to the outside of the port terminal, I saw the Canadian couple Lou and Sharon from Turkey again and so at least I know they booked Port Promotions as well. After the designated meeting time expired, I went ahead and used my cell phone to call the emergency contact phone number on my voucher, the lady on the other line told me that the guide was there but he didn’t have a sign. She directed me to wait at one of the exits of the port terminal and provided me with the guide’s first name. After calling out his name (David) a couple of times, he saw me and waved me over. He quickly apologized to me and said that he had just gotten the assignment the night before and didn’t get the complete list of tourist until that day and that he didn’t know the name of our group was "Port Promotions". Turns out, another 10 people were waiting, lost as well until I helped David a bit to get them together. The couple in Kusadasi, Turkey was with us as well totaling 14 people in a minibus along with a driver and David.
Well, turned out our Tour Guide was quiet knowledgeable as well. David Robens is a 15 year veteran tour guide and lived himself near Haifa. David Robens was born in Chile but moved to Israel after meeting his wife. He lived in a nearby Kibbutz and gave us some very good information about the way of life there as well as the Jewish traditions.
The full day tour included highlights such as Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, seeing the River Jordan, seeing where Jesus Christ was known to have the Sermon of the Mound, saw the approximate area where Jesus met the apostles for the first time to become "fishers of men" as well as the spot where Jesus proclaimed that Peter will be his successor as well as visited the town known to have St. Peter’s house. We stopped for lunch at this restaurant by the Sea of Galilee where they served fish and pasta run by a Kibbutz. The food was good but a bit pricey ($20 Euros per person including tips) so be prepared. Later for our last stop, we visited the Church famed to be where Mary, the Virgin Mother of Christ, was visited by an angel for the first time
Overall, our experience with Port Promotions (ADC Holidays in Israel) with two exceptions. 1) Meeting us at the port could have been smoother at the very beginning where we had difficulty finding each other. Some of the other people in our group was very disappointed by this but for me, things like this do happen from time to time. 2) One of the stops was canceled (the place where Jesus was known to have multiplied the fish and bread for all people listening to his sermon) because the place was unexpectedly not accepting tourist that day. 3) We had to stop for lunch near the end of our tour and the restaurant that we went to (a Kibbutz run restaurant at the Sea of Galiliee area) had fair food but extremely over priced for what we were served.
The good news is that the group was indeed smaller and we did avoid the major crowds especially the cruise ship buses. I do highly recommend this excursion again especially with the wide ranges of placed you have to see. It would be very difficult to do all these sites on your own without someone who knows the area well.
Now I have heard of people doing a 2-day overnight/overland to including Jerusalem. Personally, after comparing this 2 day tour with ours, what we saw versus what the overnighters saw was comparable if not identical in most cases. Remember that unlike Egypt, Israel is the size of New Jersey. Seeing sights in one area and then going back to the ship to sleep and head back towards the Jerusalem for the 2nd day is as good as any itinerary as the overnighters. Bottom line is that don’t waste your money on a hotel room spending overnight there. You won’t save that much time doing it, you won’t see too much more and you’ll be spending twice as much.