To our surprise, today we were joined by the same group as yesterday along with the same guide (Erez). We actually got away on time too which was a big improvement from yesterday. We started with a 40-minute drive to Nazareth. Our tour was labelled as Galilee Shore Excursion and apart from a few extra places was a journey around some of the New Testament locations where Jesus performed some of the documented miracles. Our first stop was in Nazareth (Church of the Annunciation) which is where the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and announced that she would give birth to Jesus.
We then visited the Mount of Beatitudes where there is a small church built on the area where Jesus is believed to have delivered his Sermon on the Mount. A very busy site and just something to tick boxes for us.
Next, we travelled to the Church of Tabgha which is on the site where Jesus is said to have multiplied the loaves and fish miracle.
We then travelled to Capernaum to see the church of Peter which has been built over the remains of the ancient temple, this area was considered Jesus’s home city.
After a lunch break, we carried on to Jordan River (Yardenit baptism site) which is where Jesus was said to have been baptized by John the Baptist. Today it is still visited by millions of pilgrims wishing to be baptized in the same location.
With this area covered, we set off back to Haifa for one last stop for a Panoramic view over the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, a UNESCO world heritage site.
We have had an amazing 2 days and seen and visited some incredible places Tomorrow is another early start which I will document as and when time permits.
We finally made it to Ashdod and here we booked a private excursion with a company called Private Tours Israel. As a requirement for entry, everyone had to pass through a face-to-face border control inspection and collect our Israeli permit which lasts for 28 days so can be used for tomorrow in Haifa. This process started at 6:30 and we joined the line at 7:00 and eventually got through at 7:45 where we were met by our guide. After a 20-minute delay waiting for others to arrive, we set off on the 1½ hour drive to Jerusalem, on the way, our guide gave us a very informative talk about Israel, its origins and the current political situation.
The first stop was the Mount of Olives where we were able to over to the old walled city of Jerusalem and see places we would later visit.
The next stop was the Garden of Gethsemane for a brief look around the area where Jesus experienced great anguish and prayed to be delivered from his impending suffering and also where he was arrested
Right next to the garden, the Catholic Church of All Nations is built over the “Rock of the Agony” this is where he is said to have prayed the night he was arrested.
It was then back on the bus where we were dropped off for a 2-hour walk around the old city. The first place in this section was the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall where we were given 15 minutes of free time to wander.
Next, we passed through the Muslim Quarter and followed Via Dolorosa which is the route Jesus to his crucifixion. It is marked along the way by several Stations of Cross which are events that are said to have occurred while he made his way.
The old city is a maze of alleyways and passages and our guide did an excellent job of keeping us all together considering how busy it was.
The final 4 stations of the cross are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which today we found had some large scaffolding being built right in front of it
We had 20 minutes of free time inside after being given a quick briefing on where and what to see as this is the most holy site in the Christian religion. Inside is where Jesus was crucified known as Calvary, and also the tomb where Jesus was buried and then resurrected. Today, the tomb is enclosed by a shrine called the Aedicula. Which had long queues to see inside.
Inside the church’s entrance is the Stone of Anointing, believed to be where Jesus’s body was prepared for burial. Many people bring things to place on the stone or touch it as miracles and cures have been said to have been experienced by people who have done this.
Everything we visited was extremely busy today and decent photo opportunities were few and far between.
We exited the city through the Arab Souk and then out via the Jaffa Gate. The last place to visit on our tour today was the Dead Sea which was a 40-minute drive from the city. There was just long enough to get changed, spend 15 minutes in the water, get showered and changed again before we headed back to Ashdod. It was a great experience but one I will be happy not to repeat.
It wasn’t at all what I was expecting with regard to both facilities and the sea conditions. Yes, you do float but there is still a bit of balance required to allow you to float on your back. Floating on your stomach or trying to swim is not advisable as it is much more likely you will get salt water in your eyes and mouth.
The drive back took over 1¾ hours and we arrived back at the port at 6:20pm Another thoroughly enjoyable day and with part 2 to follow tomorrow when we tour with the same company from Haifa.
Apologies if some of the above is gibberish, it’s been a long day and I need a drink or two. 🍷🍷
Last night was a bit of a milestone for us in that it was our 365th night onboard a ship since we started cruising in 2006. That means over the last 17 years, we have spent one of them onboard a ship. That works out at 5.88% if stats are your thing. 😂 So, today was a sea day and it gave us a chance to reacquaint ourselves with NCL and also the ship which has had a refit (2017) since we were last onboard.
We ate breakfast outside this morning in an area at the back of deck 12 called The Great Outdoors, with partially cloudy skies and intermittent sunshine it made a great start to the day. The Garden Cafe which is an inside venue was very busy and noisy so to be able to eat outside looking over the wake was an easy decision. At 10:00 we had an informal meeting with a few members of our Cruise Critic roll call to share plans and information about tours for the next few days. Tomorrow is a hot topic because the whole ship including the crew has to pass through Israeli Immigration before being allowed ashore. Ships tours have priority followed by each deck working down. The process starts at 6:30 and we have a meet-up time of 7:45 for our tour. Six of us have arranged to go through as a group to try and expedite things. 🤞🏻 Along with it being a sea day, it was also extremely windy and although brilliant sunshine was not the best environment to sit out in, so sheltered areas were in high demand. We eventually found ourselves back in The Great Outdoors which was very handy for lunch. We stayed there until about 2:30 and went in search of sheltered beds and were rewarded more or less straight away.
An isolated spot where someone else had abandoned two sunbeds which were perfect for our needs.
We stayed until 5:00 before going back to the cabin to shower and get ready for dinner.
An early night too due to the early start and the immigration conundrum.
We had a reasonable night’s sleep and went for breakfast around 8:00 this morning. Breakfast was in the 8th-floor bar and quite busy due to the fact the outdoor seating wasn’t being used because of the damp conditions. It was buffet style and offered a decent selection with enough for Nicole to eat okay as well. We were going to have a quick walk but the weather meant we just had an easy morning, checking out at 10:15 and waiting the remaining 45 minutes in the hotel lobby for our transport to Piraeus to arrive at 11:00am.
Our transport arrived 15 minutes early and we found ourselves at the port at 11:00 where we then had to wait for immigration to allow us to board.
There were only 3 officials on duty which was probably due to the fact it is a public holiday in Greece. In the end, the wait wasn’t too long and we were onboard by 11:45. This was then countered because we were informed that we would not be able to access our cabin until 3:00pm. To fill the gap we grabbed a bite to eat in the Garden Cafe (buffet) and then set about trying to find out about Nicole being able to eat vegan onboard. Starting with the buffet, nothing was labelled for any dietary requirements so not the best of starts. We then spoke to the Specialty Restaurant reservations team who told us to eat in the Grand Pacific (MDR) this evening where we should be okay. There is the potential for us to eat in Teppanyaki (Japanese Restaurant) and La Cucina (Italian Restaurant) if we give them notice. 🤞🏻 I have to say, we have been spoilt by recent cruises by having cabin access really quickly and today was a bit of a throwback to the old days. At least the muster was able to be done on the phone and then completed by visiting the muster station once onboard.
Having gained access to the cabin at 3:00pm we then had to wait until 5:40 for our cases to arrive so we have done a lot of hanging around today.
At 7:00pm we made our way to the Grand Pacific MDR for our evening meal, as things turned out it was a positive experience with Nicole eating well for the first night. She was also able to pick her selection for tomorrow evening so things seem to be heading in the right direction. The service was great and exactly as we remembered it to be from past NCL cruises. After we wandered around the ship gauging the best venues for evening entertainment, we ended up in the Spinnaker Lounge until we decided to turn in for the evening. Tomorrow is a sea day so things should be a little more relaxed.
Because our flight was at 6:30am on Sunday morning, we actually started our journey on Saturday afternoon so we could spend the night at T5 Sofitel which eliminated a very early start from home. The hotel is linked to the terminal and it’s just a short walk to the lifts that take you to departures so a real no-brainer if you have an early flight out of T5. This was the 3rd time we have used this hotel for preflight accommodation and it probably won’t be the last either, plus we have also become very partial to their really comfortable beds and bedding.
The bag drop opened up at 5:35am and we were through security and airside in 12 minutes. There was just enough time to grab a coffee and buy something to eat while on the plane, this was because there wasn’t an in-flight meal on this route with BA. After a 40-minute delay taking off, our flight to Athens took 3 hours, and 10 minutes and we touched down just after 12:20pm local time. We then faced a 50-minute snake queue to get through immigration. I’m told it’s one of the benefits of Brexit 🤔
I actually had my name called out over the airport PA as our driver was panicking that we were lost or had missed him. 😂
After a 30-minute drive, we arrived at The Athens Gate Hotel which is our overnight accommodation prior to boarding tomorrow.
The room is compact and will do for one night but the best thing is the 8th-floor bar which has excellent views of the Parthenon and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
After a quick drink in the said bar, we set off in search of vegan food for Nicole and as luck would have it, we found somewhere within 5 minute walk of the hotel and it was open. We both came away totally stuffed, as a non-vegan the food was exceptional.
It is Greek Orthodox Easter weekend and there are many places shut including many if not all of the monuments.
The only thing for it was to get some steps in which is what we did, the cafés and bars eventually came to life early evening and certain areas were quite lively. At 8:00pm we called it a day and headed back to the hotel for a nightcap in the bar. It’s been a long day and we are both cream crackered.
This cruise came about in quite an unusual way, our original plan was to try Costa Venezia before she moved to US waters and rebranded as Carnival Venezia. We found a cruise that really appealed, but on two occasions after actually booking and then rebooking, Costa cancelled them saying they were no longer available. So we gave up on Costa and looked to see if there was anything else of a similar nature at the same time of year and I found this one. The itinerary ticked boxes and because we know the ship from cruising on her in 2015, the decision was easy and we booked.
We have not sailed with NCL since 2015 and that last outing was actually on Norwegian Jade so it will be interesting to compare the two experiences. One difference is this time we have the added vegan aspect to deal with and research has shown it is possible to eat well as a vegan but we will need to make sure we speak to the dining teams once onboard and get them onside.
There are 4 new ports for us on this cruise and we have tours booked at 3 of them so it really does feel like things are returning to normal with regard to organising and planning shore excursions.
Monday, April 17, 2023
Tuesday, April 18, 2023
Wednesday, April 19, 2023
Thursday, April 20, 2023
Friday, April 21, 2023
Saturday, April 22, 2023
Sunday, April 23, 2023
Monday, April 24, 2023
Tuesday, April 25, 2023
Wednesday, April 26, 2023
Our cabin selection was a simple enough exercise and we have found a standard balcony in more or less the exact location we favour.
We also have a new departure port for us on this cruise and we will be sailing to and from Piraeus, Greece. We fly out the day before, (Sunday morning) and will spend one night in Athens prior to boarding the next day.
In the 2 weeks prior to our departure, civil unrest and the threat of terrorist attack, rocket fire and military confrontation in Israel forced the cruise prior to ours to abandon stops at both Ashdod & Haifa, replacing them with Santorini and Heraklion. However, things seem to have settled down in the region since and at the time of writing we are still scheduled to make these two stops. 🤞🏼 We are cautiously optimistic they will happen but if they don’t then so be it, better to be safe than sorry.
So, all that remains, for now, is to get to Athens, details of which will follow in the next instalment.
This morning we just had time for a quick bite to eat in the buffet and a coffee before self-disembarking for our 8:00am private transfer to T3 Dubai Airport. Once off, there was just long enough time to snap a couple of photos of the ship with my phone while we were waiting.
Transfer to the airport took around 40 minutes and a virtually deserted terminal saw us check in and through security in less than 15 minutes. Let’s hope the Border control queues are not too long when we get back to Heathrow given there is a strike on.
I cannot finish this series of posts without recognising the fantastic crew that have tirelessly looked after us over the last week, they have all done an amazing job and below are a few that we have personally had the pleasure of being looked after by.
So all that really remains for me to do now is to say thanks for reading and following our trip, I hope you have enjoyed my sometimes garbled content and finally to wish you all a very happy and prosperous new year.
For our last full day of this trip we ticked off a bucket list destination, and by that, I mean the Burj Khalifa.
We went by taxi from the cruise terminal to Dubai Mall and then followed the signs for At The Top. When we booked online yesterday, standard tickets weren’t available so we paid extra for SKY tickets to go up to the 148th floor and what a great decision that was.
The VIP tickets allowed you to jump the long queues and we sailed through security and we soon on the lift to the 125th floor travelling at 10 metres per second, we then changed lifts to reach floor 148 and the highest outdoor observatory in the world.
The views are fantastic and this was the ultimate test for Nicole who has battled with acrophobia ever since I have known her. Today was mission accomplished and watching the transformation in her confidence has been a real pleasure. The VIP tickets also came into their own coming down so as far as I am concerned it was worth every penny. We spent a good 2 hours getting up, getting down and enjoying the views and were back onboard for lunch. We could have stayed longer and explored the mall but neither of us are shoppers so the decision to return to the ship was an easy one. Getting back for lunch also allowed us to say our farewells to the team that have served us both breakfast and lunch albeit in two different restaurants. Over the week we have built up a great rapport with them and it is sad to say goodbye.
The afternoon was spent out on deck before we came back to the cabin and Nicole set about packing. We just caught one show tonight, of the two available, one we had seen before on Costa Firenze so we ended up spending the rest of the evening after dinner in the Colosseo.
Tomorrow morning we head off to the airport for our flight home.
If yesterday was a slow day, today was anything but. After trying to get tickets online for visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and finding nothing available until 6:30pm we made the decision to do a city tour using one of the companies in the cruise terminal. After negotiating a tour and price we set off for the mosque, surprised to learn you can actually turn up and register there. The dress code is very strict for ladies and I never thought I would say this but 5″ of Nicole’s ankles became a problem.
Fortunately for us, entry to the mosque is via an underground system with plenty of places to purchase the required attire. There is even a Costa, Starbucks and a McDonald’s down there. Once you have satisfied the dress code and cleared security there is an airport-style walkway with travellators that take you to the front of the mosque.
It is an absolutely stunning place, the route around the mosque is cordoned off restricting you to wander freely but there are photo opportunities a plenty if you are patient. I was initially disappointed that I might miss this and so happy to have discovered that it was still possible.
From there our driver took us for a 30-minute photo stop at the Emirates Palace hotel where we had a quick look around the inside at the ground floor level and at the front of the hotel. We thought it was far too opulent for our taste but nice to experience all the same. What was impressive was the Christmas tree in one of the foyers, completely OTT but magnificent all the same.
Our third stop was a brief drive to the Etihad Towers which are a complex of five towers, full of hotels, offices, apartments, restaurants, and bars. The tallest tower, Tower 2, has an observation deck on its 74th floor called Observation At 300. From here there are some amazing views of Abu Dhabi and giving you a great feel for the area.
As we only wanted to be out for the morning, this was our last stop so drove back to the ship via the Corniche arriving back just in time for lunch. Our afternoon was then spent out on deck 18 in the glorious sunshine.
After another amazing dinner, we went to the theatre to watch a production by Quantum XXL called Virtual or Reality. Once again the entertainment has been exceptionally good on this cruise and quite possibly the best we have ever experienced on a cruise ship. We finished the evening off in the Colosseo watching another excellent production called Fantazia. Tomorrow we will tick off a bucket list venue…..
As I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post, today was essentially a sea day. Something out of the ordinary occurred this morning as we were making our way to breakfast, the ship started listing to the port side and just as we entered the dining room it tilted a little more causing plates and cutlery to fall off the tables onto the floor. It stayed like that for about 10 minutes before eventually righting itself. No apparent reason for this so can only assume it was the strong winds pushing the ship. During embarkation, we had to hand over our passports and this morning to had to collect them for face-to-face border control when we got to Abu Dhabi, we then had to return them only to collect them to disembark in Dubai. It seems Oman wasn’t as fussy as we have entry and exit stamps in our passports while Costa was looking after them for us. Apart from all the usual stuff, all we have done today is lie on sunbeds on outside decks, out of the wind it was great but come 4:00 the temperature dropped so we made our way in for some hot drinks.
We then made our way back to the cabin to watch the sail into Abu Dhabi.
After dinner and with a one-hour window, we had to go with our passports to the cruise terminal for the security check. This totally knackered our evening plans because we had wanted to go to the theatre for another production at that time.
The process took about 25 minutes and we were soon back onboard and managed to catch the last 10 minutes of the production which was called”Seasons” Back on schedule we then grabbed our favourite seats in Colosseo for the acrobatic show called”Lava’ which was outstanding. A team of 6 acrobats performing a routine with all the state-of-the-art technology did make for a very entertaining 45 minutes.
It’s been a bit of a slow day today but tomorrow we are getting off the ship for a little exploration.