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dszrew

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Posts posted by dszrew

  1. Cabin

    We booked this cruise several months in advance, but a little late and mostly booked it because prices were good and it was somewhere we always wanted to go. Our first few Celebrity cruises we were in Concierge class (having booked an aft cabin on the M class ships). Our last cruise we were able to get a good deal on Aqua class so gave that a try. We decided to try a regular Veranda this time.

     

    I can't say that I really missed anything for having just a Veranda cabin. Other than cabin location (and some extra captain's club points), there is nothing in Concierge class we can't live without. And while Blu was good on our last cruise, with the money we saved this cruise we booked an 8 night dining package cheaper than if we had booked Aqua class. (8 nights specialty dining was too much--not quite enough variety in the menus.)

     

    Our cabin steward was as good as any we've had. The bed was hard and after 8 hours I'd wake up with a backache and couldn't lay there any longer, but not sure that would have been any different in any other class. Sofa as always is the most uncomfortable thing to sit on.

     

    We were in cabin 6120 up front. The balcony next to us sticks out so when the others were on their balcony, they could look directly at us. We were right above the theater, so heard thumping music in afternoons and at night. Fortunately I can sleep through that anyway. Would not book up front on this deck again though. My wife has trouble walking, and it seemed we would always be walking to the back for dinner, to get off the ship, etc. Our next cruise we've booked much earlier and have a wider selection, so we're back in the back where we belong. Doing just a Veranda again unless prices for Concierge come down between now and final payment.

  2. Taxi is 10 Euro flat fee. They drop you off at the exact same place as the city bus which is 1.70E one way or 3.40E round trip. We thought maybe the taxi might take us closer to the old town, but its a very short walk from the market and the taxi driver didn't understand us at all. Only problem with the bus is it's often full and you might have to stand or wait until it's time for it to leave. We saw 4 buses in the parking lot, but only one would fill at a time, sit there 10 minutes all full, and then finally leave on a schedule.

  3. Before our cruise I searched for info on rental cars in Civi, but all I found was outdated. Wanted to provide updated information based on the current port configuration:

     

    Closest rental cars are EuropeCar and Budget. Half block walk from where the shuttle bus drops you off. Off the ship, it took a little while to find the shuttle bus as it was a bigger bus at the end of the line (put your luggage below and get on the bus). Paper in the window says it was free to the port entrance. Bus only goes directly to the port entrance with no additional stops.

     

    Online maps of the port show things that really don't seem to exist, and the naming of places inside the port are confusing. Bottom line is that there is a roundabout just outside the cruise port, with a small parking lot right next to it. Buses go from the ship to this parking lot direct and let you off. Port-a-potties there, and just outside some booths selling shore excursions. Very short walk with luggage to EuropeCar. They had the best prices with no drop charges to the FCO airport later that day.

     

    On Google maps, if you look at the street view there is a sign with a phone number to call Avis for a pickup. Didn't see if that was still there when we got off the ship. On the ship they said there were very few taxis available in Civi, but we were approached at least 5 times in the short walk to the rental car asking if we wanted a taxi or shared transfer to the airport.

  4. Lawn Club Hamburgers

    With an 8 night dining package you'd think we would be tired of specialty dining, but we wanted to try the hamburgers at the Lawn Club. I really wanted to like them, really I did. But having done it once, I can't see doing it again. Here's why:

     

    A good hamburger needs some fat content. Some might call it "greasy", or call it "juicy". But the lean ground beef they use didn't lend itself to a juicy burger.

    Short on toppings. Mostly just a sauce, some cheese, and maybe some bacon. A really great burger often has some nice condiments.

    I really expected thick cut bacon on my burger, but got a single thin piece of bacon, torn in half. I can go to Wendy's and get 3 full slices (or 6 if I get a Baconator). I had them bring more bacon, but by that time the effect was already spoiled.

    No french fries. Really, they could do some gourmet fries, but instead 2 types of potato chips and some onion things (not even qualified as onion rings).

     

    Best part of the meal was the chocolate chip cookie.

  5. Our Debarkation sheet said:

    "We have assigned numbers to all independent travelers with a departure time - please wait comfortably in any public lounge. If the time doesn't suit your plans, you do not need to change your numbered tags as the number is for recognition purposes only. All luggage will be available at 7:00 AM inside the terminal."

     

    We didn't need to change our tags, just showed up when we wanted to - not sure if some times there will be a traffic jam or not - sounds like maybe it's a trial on some ships.

     

    Onboard the Silhouette, the sheet doesn't say this. We were definitely assigned a meeting place and a time. When I went to guest services saying our assigned time was too late, they did exchange the tags for me. I would suspect that we could have just walked off before our number was called, but wanted to do it proper... The sheet does tell us to be out of our cabin by 8, so maybe we'll just leave the cabin at 8 and walk off instead of wait in the theater for our number to be called.

  6. Were in Israel just last week. Used Guided Tours Israel for a private driver one day and a tour in Haifa another day. Arranged a private guide in Bethlehem for the second day in Jerusalem who was very good as well (see misho.co).

  7. Well we've joined the club and booked our future cruise onboard. I've never felt I could plan that far ahead, but there is really no downside to booking onboard. $200 deposit, $200 extra onboard credit, full refundable and changeable.

     

    A thread a while back asked what job you'd like to have on ship. I think future cruise sales would be it. 6 month contract with 2 months off, they get to go out in port (taking turns to be on the ship). The girl who helped us has been doing it for 4 years and has seen a lot of different places. Kind of hectic sometimes while onboard and during busy times, but as she said, with the 2 months off the time evens out to be like working normal hours for 8 months, but saving your time off to be used all at once. A few of them are even married and sign up for contracts together!

  8. Chania

    I think the word Chania must mean "relaxing, leisurely walk" because that's what we did.

     

    Getting off the ship we decided to get a taxi, hoping it would be less walking than using the city bus. 10 Euro to the city center. Unfortunately, it drops you off right where the bus stops at the market and the driver didn't understand "can you take us to the old port?". Luckily, it is a VERY short walk downhill to the central area.

     

    Food stalls and souvenirs in the market, but I think you get better prices in the little streets outside the market. Lots of small pedestrian streets selling leather, shoes, souvenirs, etc. It was pretty quite when we were there about 9:30am (but everything was open). Old port area has a lot of restaurants, with more little streets off to the side and behind with shops. Nice for a relaxing walk. We went into the Greek Catholic church, a big contrast to the Roman Catholic churches we'd seen so far. Stopped at a gelato shop and a newlywed couple from the ship bought our gelato, just because she wanted to do something nice!

     

    A short walk again up hill back to the market where we caught the bus this time. 1.70 Euro one way, buying tickets from a blue vending machine. There is a sign that says bus 13 to Souda Port, but don't get on bus 13, instead walk across the street to where the buses that come directly from the port drop you off and pick you up. Luckily the bus driver asked us as we got on where we wanted to go and he directed us to the right bus (good thing he spoke some English)! I'm afraid there might have been another couple from the ship on that bus who weren't so lucky. I'm assuming the bus to the port is an express bus, but the number 13 bus probably takes its time and stops a lot and likely doesn't go into the port.

     

    For little souvenir shopping I liked Chania, more relaxed than at other ports. Many restaurants were advertising that they wouldn't pressure you, so everything seemed pretty low key. In fact, probably a nice place to have lunch if you want to sit and relax and have some Greek food. It was a short port stop, but a nice way to spend the morning. Most everyone recommends just walking the town on your own and that's perfectly good unless you want to get away from the town and see a few other sites. (Also free wifi at the port.)

     

    It seems we are always at dinner when the ship pulls out of port, so with leaving early today we'll watch the people come back and the ship sail away. One more sea day (and a half) now before this vacation is over.

  9. I have to admit, Celebrity shore excursions are certainly easy and worry-free. We mostly plan our own things in port, but typically end up doing one thing arranged through the ship. A big contrast this trip would be the planning, time, and worry involved in our Jerusalem stay, contrasted with the ship shore excursion in Athens (to Corinth). With the ship tour your biggest worry is making it back on the bus on time, and even with that they will wait for you. All you have to do is show up and they plan everything, right down to the bathroom and shopping stops.

     

    A few years ago we were scheduled for a tour of Corinth with a boat ride through the Corinth canal. From Athens I wanted to do the same thing, but couldn't figure out how to make it work on my own. So I paid the price and went with the ship tour. Simple and worry free.

     

    We drove to the bridge over the canal, stopped for a bathroom break and a little shopping, then on to Corinth. At Corinth we only had an hour and 15 minutes, and a good 20 minutes was spent listening to the tour guide talk about Corinth (very little of it I remember). No headsets but I could still hear (if I wanted to). 1:15 was about just enough time at Corinth. I personally liked Delos better, spending nearly 3 hours there wandering the ruins (Delos is bigger and seemed more personal or something). As I've learned everyone is different, your mileage may vary.

     

    After Corinth we stopped at a shop that sells reproduction vases and marble carvings (and jewelry). Half hour we too long for me, but it was interesting looking at the statue reproductions. Then it was to the bottom of the Corinth Canal where we boarded a boat, went through the canal, then turned around and came back. The boat had some typical Greek snacks and a soft drink included. I thought the canal was fascinating, even with the tour guides talking over the load speakers and talking over the history and repeated attempts at building a canal.

     

    Then it was back on the ship for the ride back into port. A relaxing and worry-free day. While I might not have had as much control, nor got to do as much, it was simple. The pace of the ship shore excursion was definitely more laid back, and seemed to match the slow vacation feel on the ship, contrasted with the sometimes hurry-up see everything that you can get when trying to do your own thing and see as much as you can while in port.

  10. Enjoying your review. On the subject of desserts, let me suggest you go to Cafe al Bacio. There is a different pastry chef there than the MDR and the desserts are a thousand times better than the cakes and pastries in the MDR!! For those unfamiliar with Celebrity the desserts and morning pastries at Cafe al Bacio are free of charge. You do not need to purchase a coffee to enjoy them, either there or to go.

     

    Yes those are better. We often skip the MDR desserts and just go there. But they don't really do chocolate any better. There is a chocolate torte pie type thing that's OK, but would be better served not quite so cold (hard). But overall Celebrity doesn't do chocolate as well as chocolate deserves.

  11. And while I'm on the topic of food, I've always frankly been disappointed in Celebrity's chocolate desserts. They seem to use the same chocolate mousse as the base for everything and don't really vary much from that. We noticed the chocolate tombstone in QSine is exactly the same as the chocolate dessert in Tuscan (only much bigger). It was that way on our first Celebrity cruise and hasn't really changed much.

     

    However, I think the other night we finally had the best chocolate dessert ever on any of our Celebrity cruises. In the Oceanview Cafe they had what they called a chocolate brownie, like a cheesecake in size but essentially a somewhat undercooked brownie. It was cold (and would have been better hot with some ice cream on top) but was a thick and chewy chocolaty slice. They should add a new choice in the Lawn Club--chocolate brownie instead of the chocolate chip cookie.

  12. Tuscan

    There was a thread a while back about the Tuscan not living up to some expectations. We found the service good, the main entree was a little slow coming out, but the quality good. We liked Tuscan better than Murano because it seemed like there were more choices. And while I really enjoy the Lawn Club, if I were looking for variety I think Tuscan gives you more variety than the Lawn Club. We'll be going back tomorrow.

     

    QSine

    We'd done QSine before a few years ago and have 2 nights booked this cruise. We only eat just the two of us, and it did seem some portions were smaller, the right size for 2 people. We had 6 different items and 3 desserts between us. Lobster escargot was something we hadn't tried before.

     

    Food was interesting and good, and we're back for our second night tonight. But I can't see eating there as much as other places. Good for a change and for variety, maybe better with a group (but we don't do groups).

     

    We have an 8 meal dining package, and for a 12 night cruise with one night spent off the ship in Jerusalem, that leaves us only at most 3 nights in the MDR. I've probably eaten too much with all the specialty dining, but I haven't once felt like the food wasn't of good quality or well prepared. Had prime rib in the MDR the other night and that was good as well, although many of their other choices just didn't seem enticing. We might on our last sea day try the Lawn Club burgers for lunch and then just the buffet for dinner.

     

    Overall it seems the specialty dining is fuller than I expected, even though we tend to go right at 6 there seem to be about 6-8 other couples with more by the time we leave. BTW, the upselling for drink packages pretty much ended the first day, and I've only been asked once about buying a night at a specialty dining place. Not sure if there are discounts being offered (on our last cruise I asked a few times and got no discounts at all available). We got a good deal on the 8 dinner package so that worked out well for us.

  13. Mykonos

    Arrived at Mykonos at 8am. We didn't have anything planned, just walking around town. A few things about Mykonos:

     

    FINALLY we docked with the main exit at the back of the ship nearest the port exit. (Less walking) For many this is not a big deal, but when we have to walk from the front of the ship to the back, then back to the front of the ship to get out of the port, that's a good deal of walking for those who have trouble walking.

     

    Free shuttle bus to the old town. However, the shuttle bus drops you across the bay, so there's still some walking to get to the main part of town. Not a big distance, but again if walking is a problem, you have to deal with it.

     

    There is less walking if you take the water taxi from the new port to the old town. Ramps on the water taxi to get on and off so pretty simple (easier than the stairs getting on and off the bus). 2 Euro each way.

     

    After walking a bit in town, my wife went back to the ship and I hopped the ferry to Delos. 20 Euro round trip for the ferry, and 12 Euro entrance. You can also pay 10 Euro to join a tour group right there as you get off. So for 42 Euro you can essentially do what the bus tour does. Just avoid the early morning as the ferry is packed. I hopped on the 11:30 ferry, then came back on the 3:00 one. It's was possible to do 11:30 across and the 1:30 back even with a 1 hour guided tour (although not enough time to climb to the top in just an hour and a half). Only 72 degrees with a good breeze so not as hot as it might have been. There is a bathroom on the island next to the shop selling drinks.

     

    I really enjoyed Delos. Few people there by the time we got there, and you can pretty much walk wherever you want between the ruins, over the ruins, down little alleyways. Only a few places with mosaics roped off. Great views from the top of the mountain and while it's a little steep in some places, it's not a long nor a difficult hike. I don't usually go with a guide as I like to "discover" things on my own and go at my own pace taking pictures. I don't remember much of what they say anyway.

  14. Haifa

    We pulled into Haifa port early in the morning and luckily no protests! Haifa is a simple port--a passenger terminal, tour guides a short distance away, and the city right there. Because of the holiday, the city seemed deserted, although we didn't stay there as we boarded a small van and were off to Galilee. Along with probably half the rest of the ship it seemed. There were a lot of people everywhere, and it seemed that most tours probably did about the same thing, regardless of what they were called. Loads of tour buses besides from our ship as well.

     

    We saw: Nazareth church of the annunciation, church of the multiplication (loaves and fishes), Capernaum, Jordan River baptismal site, Mt of Beatitudes. Stopped for lunch where they served St Peter's fish (or chicken if you liked).

     

    Odd thing about Galilee--everywhere quoted dollars. And if you wanted to pay in shekels, the exchange rate you got meant you paid more than if you'd paid in dollars (4 to 1 rate, not near the actual 3.5 to 1).

     

    In spite of the number of buses, Galilee didn't seem that crowded. Being in the countryside, it seemed less rushed and packed than Jerusalem. Views from the Mt of Beatitudes were beautiful--they have done a good job making that a pretty place to stop. We thought the baptismal site and the lunch too touristy.

     

    We made it back to the ship just in time, then waited in a traffic line to get back into the port (everyone coming back at the same time). Easy entry back into the passenger terminal, although the line for the VAT tax refund was long. We spoke to someone at dinner that made it on board after the 5:30 time because she was standing in the tax refund line (not sure I would have taken that chance). We pulled out of port a little late because obviously many didn't make it back exactly on time.

     

    Our three days in Israel are over, and we're sure looking forward to a day at sea to rest. We packed a lot into those 3 days, seeming to rush here and there. We've now seen Israel as a tourist, but I'm not sure it was quite the religious or spiritual experience it might have been. We saw the sights, but seemed to be mostly focused on hitting as much as we could. Lots of churches built at all the key biblical locations, often more than one church close to each other with "competing" sites. Only few places looked like they might have back in Biblical times (some sites in Galilee being largely the exception). We are glad we came, but if we return we'd probably look at doing things differently.

  15. From our receipt last night:

    "A 18% gratuity is included in your bill on all beverage items; however, please use the additional tip line to recognize outstanding service."

     

    The line for adding a tip says: "Additional Tip"

    The grand total comes before that line. With our dining package that is a grand total of 0.00. If the only option is to add an "additional tip", then "regular" tips are already included.

  16. Taxis

    Have I mentioned I hate taxis? One whole section needs to be devoted to taxis...

     

    Our plans depended on us being able to get back to the ship our second day before it left Ashdod. Our driver the first day dropped us in Jerusalem, and our guide in Bethlehem couldn't normally go into Jerusalem to drive us, so we had to come up with an alternative way back to the ship. My plan was:

     

    1. Find out if the ship had a shuttle into Ashdod (it did and it was free).

    2. Find out where the shuttle picked you up in Ashdod (the Sea Mall, don't know where at the mall; or, on the second day at least at the port gates).

    3. On our way out, see if we could book a taxi from the authorized taxis at the port in the passenger terminal. (we never made it to the passenger terminal)

    4. On our way out, get the phone number for a taxi from the passenger terminal (see #3).

    5. Research the prices from Jerusalem to Ashdod, hopefully seeing the official prices in the passenger terminal (see #3). However, the app Gett told me the official fare was 362 shekels, but there would be some doubt if I could get a taxi for that price.

    6. See if there was a public bus to Ashdod. (there wasn't because buses stopped running at 3:30 on the eve of the holiday)

    7. See if our guide in Bethlehem could line up a ride for us to the port. (He couldn't, except one company quoted him 680 shekels--we didn't even consider that as I didn't have that much cash)

    8. Use the Gett app to book a taxi from the checkpoint when we got out.

    9. If all else failed, try to find a taxi on the street.

     

    Let's just say most of that failed...

     

    The best advice I have is:

    1. Use Gett. You can at least call a taxi. You can rate drivers so they are less likely to rip you off.

    2. Don't get hung up on using the meter. Drivers hate to use them, and want to give you a set price. Most of the time the set price will be close to what they charge everyone. Yes it's higher than the meter, but that doesn't mean they are just trying to gouge the tourists.

    3. Know what the common prices are, if you can.

    4. Negotiate, but if they quote a good price, just shut up and pay it.

    5. Sometimes you just have to pay the price, even if it isn't good. Get over it. Just pay it and forget about it.

     

    In the old town, a drive from one gate to another gate cost us 50 shekels. That's high but apparently what they charge.

    From Jerusalem to the Bethlehem checkpoint was 80 shekels. We were told that was a good deal. 100 was normal, and 150 if they take you all the way into Bethlehem.

    From Bethlehem to Ashdod through Gett was 362 shekels. That's the official price. You can prepay using Gett, but we didn't try that. I expected to negotiate 420 shekels if I were lucky.

     

    In the morning we used Gett to get a taxi to the checkpoint. That driver was eager to offer us other services, which we had to decline. But we got his number. When all our other options fell through, we had our Palestinian guide call him to explain what we wanted, where we wanted to go, and negotiate the price. He accepted the 360 price and we arranged to meet him at the checkpoint.

     

    It was a little wierd when we got there. He met us, then walked us to another car (not his taxi). We had a hard time understanding him, but apparently the taxi was his father's. He said something about meeting his father, and we got in his car and off we went. We ended up at a big mall, where we got into the taxi with his father driving and we were off to Ashdod.

     

    I tracked him the whole time to see where we were going. He asked what address in Ashdod and I said "the ship port". I wasn't sure he knew what "port" was. I googled port in Arabic, but saw he was using Hebrew and switched to Hebrew. Eventually I saw he had punched in the Hebrew word for port on his phone and knew we were going to the right place.

     

    We got there and I paid him 400 because they waited for us, it was the eve of a holiday and possibly should have cost us more, and we were just glad to be back at the port without any problems. He was really appreciative and they both seemed very honest.

  17. Ashdod Port

    When we boarded in Rome, they collected our passports. On our first day at sea, we picked up our passports, the Israeli visa card, then proceeded to the immigration "interview". It consisted of "you are Don" and "OK".

     

    We were told we'd be docking right near the passenger terminal. I've been in and out the port now and have yet to see a passenger terminal. The dock is in an industrial area (not unlike some other ports we've been to). Containers create a walled off area where buses park right after you get off the ship. Buses used by Celebrity as well as private drivers come right up to the ship, and off you go. Supposedly there was a shuttle that takes you to the passenger terminal and also into town, but it wasn't running when we left because of the protests keeping anything from going in or out.

     

    The day prior to docking I tried to find out where the shuttle bus stopped in Ashdod. The Sea Mall I was told, but no one could tell me where at the mall to catch the bus. We had planned to possibly take a taxi back to the Sea Mall to then catch the shuttle bus back to the ship. Perhaps the Sea Mall is not too big and not hard to find where the shuttle is, and there is a public bus station right across the street, so it might have stopped near there.

     

    The second day in Israel is the eve of a holiday, Sukkot. Holidays start before sundown so people can get home. The Sea Mall closed at 4, so the last shuttle bus for the ship left the mall at 3:30 pm, with no more stops at the mall despite the ship being in port until 10 pm. After 3:30, you could walk through the gates of the port and catch the shuttle bus there back to the ship.

     

    We had needed a taxi from Bethlehem back to Ashdod. Our Palestinian guide helped us talk to a taxi driver to explain we wanted to go to the port in Ashdod. We got to the gate, walked right through (a nice girl checked our passports and ship cards), and directly onto the shuttle bus that just happened to be waiting for us to leave for the ship.

     

    If a passenger terminal exists with lines of taxis, we did not see it. On a normal day perhaps taxis for hire might have met us at the ship, or perhaps the shuttle would have dropped us off at the passenger terminal where there would have been taxis.

  18. Palestine/West Bank

    Whenever I travel, I try to get out of the city if I can. I always prefer the days I spend in the countryside more than the days spent in a city. When looking for what to do on our second day, I wanted to do something out of Jerusalem, something where I could see the countryside, and maybe see things many people don't get to see. We had considered Masada and Ein Gedi, but was concerned about my wife's walking ability, and it just didn't seem to fit. We found a private guide in Bethlehem who offered tours of some monasteries in the desert along with the standard Bethlehem sites. While some had said they were disapointed with Bethlehem, we still wanted to see it, and I liked the idea of combining other little seen places.

     

    We got up, had breakfast in the hotel, checked out, then used the app Gett to order a taxi to the Bethlehem crossing checkpoint. The driver had no idea what a "checkpoint" was, but eventually understood we wanted to go to "the police" outside of Bethlehem, not into Bethlehem itself. We got to the checkpoint, which seemed mostly deserted, made our way through the building being barely waved on, then out the other side.

     

    We were a bit late but our driver met us as we were coming down the ramp. It's always a great feeling arranging a guide you've never met, showing up in a foreign country, and then seeing them waiting for you. Much better than being alone and stranded! Hopped in the car and off we went through the winding streets of Bethlehem.

     

    Our guide knew a lot and while I knew much of what he said, he taught me a few things. Did you know the Arabic name for the town where the Shepherd's fields are literally means "house of the shepherds who watch their flocks by night"?

     

    We drove to St George's monastary--at least the overlook looking down in to the Kidron valley. As it's quite a hike, and there were surpisingly 3 bus loads of people there, we didn't bother walking down to the monastery. It's quite a site hanging on the cliffs.

     

    Then on to Jericho. We stopped to look at the mount of Temptation. We had thought of doing the cable car, but once we got there it didn't seem that interesting. We went to Hadrian's temple (a ruined palace), then on to the Jordan River, one of two baptismal sites on the Jordan River.

     

    On our way back we stopped to look at the Mar Saba monastery, then on to (one of two) shepherd's fields. Walking out our guide suggested an olive wood shop across the street (we had hoped to find a nativity set). We had plans to stop for a late lunch, but my wife's knees were really getting bad, so we did the church of the nativity, then a short stop at the milk grotto. Finally back to the checkpoint, through a maze of turnstiles and ramps, a short passport inspection, then caught a taxi back to the ship.

     

    We had skipped lunch, so by the time we got back to the ship decided to switch one of our specialty dinners to tonight. Ate more than we should have at the Lawn club--steak and chocolate chip cookie--then time for bed and up early in the morning for a full day out of Haifa in the north of Israel.

  19. Jerusalem

    We had originally booked the driver/guide for part of the day in Jerusalem with an hour or two in Bethlehem. Later we decided to cancel the Bethlehem part on that first day and focus on Jerusalem sites. We are glad we did. Had we kept the Bethlehem portion, we would have had about 2 hours in Jerusalem before having to go to Bethlehem. As it was, we had about 6 1/2 hours in Jerusalem by the time we got there.

     

    We wanted to go to the Garden Tomb, which isn't on most tours. Our driver called on our way into Jerusalem and they said we could come at any time. We got there and few people were there. A volunteer there gave us a short tour and tried to explain things from a believer's point of view. It was quite and peaceful in the middle of the city.

     

    Then it was into the old city. Parked the car, got some cash from an ATM, and started walking. Immediately, the sloping downward stairs were hard for my wife. The tour guide changed directions where we took a more level path to the church of the Nativity. We stopped for lunch (schwarma?) then walked through the Jewish quarter, past the Cardo, then coming around a corner to a great view of the temple mount. After visiting the western wall, my wife was struggling walking, so we took a taxi back to the car. Getting in the car we drove into the old city again, then parked at Mt Zion to see the various things there. Then we drove down to the Mt of Olives, up to the top for a good view over the city, then through Mei Sharim (sp ?). This is the start of Sukkot, and it was interesting to see the balconies of the apartment buildings decorated with "booths" for the celebration. We then walked through the Mahane Yehuda market, buying some fruit and bread which was all we had energy to get for dinner. We stayed overnight in the Abraham Hostel--our first "hostel" experience. Not bad for about $115 a night, private bedroom and bath, 2 free drinks, and breakfast in the morning.

     

    Everything worked out as good as could be expected considering the late start. I'm sure many weren't as fortunate as we were in getting out of the port. We saw many of the most important things we wanted to see, and were able to pretty much do what we wanted to do. We were tired, a little frustrated by the end of the day, but things still went well despite not being in control of everything.

  20. Israel

    I like to plan down to the smallest detail because I don't want to be lost and controlled by circumstances and at the mercy of others. I had come up with a good plan for Israel--

    Private driver on the first day. My wife has trouble walking and I wasn't sure we could keep up with a group. I also had a few things I wanted to see that many tour groups didn't go to.

    Overnight in Jerusalem, so we could be up and into Bethlehem for the second day at 8 am for a tour of some monasteries, Jericho, and Bethlehem.

    Biggest snag would be trying to get back to the ship on the second day. Figured I could take a taxi, but wasn't entirely sure best way to do it, so I had about 6 or 7 alternatives for how to do it.

     

    At 8 am our ship pulled into the dock in Ashdod right on schedule. We were ready to get off as soon as the ship was cleared. Buses lined up outside the dock waiting. Then Israel intervened.

     

    For the past several months, the handicapped citizens of Israel have been staging protests against low living payments from the government. They wanted to get at least minimum wage. They would show up somewhere in the morning, protest, block a road for a few hours, then go home. A few weeks ago a deal was struck with the largest groups that their pension would be increased, although not as much as they wanted, but they figured it was a good compromise.

     

    A smaller group calling themselves the Handicapped Panthers weren't included in the negotiations and didn't agree to the terms. They chose to keep demonstrating. They just happened to pick Ashdod port on October 3, the very day we arrived in Ashdod. A small handful of people in wheelchairs blocked the gates of the port, letting no one in or out. As we were told, police did nothing because they didn't want to make the news being seen dragging people in wheelchairs away from their protests.

     

    Consequently, buses that had been lined up on the docks early in the morning beat the protesters to the port. But everyone else, including private drivers and taxi drivers, couldn't get in. Traffic was backed up for quite a distance. About 20 bus loads of people on Celebrity tours got off and they found a back gate, unblocked, to get the buses out of the port. But they let no one else off the ship.

     

    Eventually some smaller tour groups showed up (18 seat vans). We had a private driver, but had booked through an agency that ran some larger vans. We basically hitched a ride with them out of the port and to a gas station where our driver was waiting. In all, it took us nearly 3 hours to get off the ship and out of the port. Understandably, that was also 3 hours less touring time!

     

    In spite of it all, that day worked out really good for us. We saw nearly everything we wanted to see, and really needed the private guide as my wife couldn't walk nearly as much as the tour bus groups did. We ended the day at our hotel shortly before 7 and settled in for the night.

  21. Looking forward to hearing about the Israel ports.

     

     

    I hadn't seen much reported about Israel ports on this board, so I'll try to fill in the information I could never find. One more sea day then we'll be in Israel. We are spending the night in Jerusalem so it might be a few days before I get back to posting.

  22. Just finishing up a lazy first sea day doing what normally happens on the first few sea days--napping on the balcony. Not much to report as we tend to just relax. Went to a few port and informational speakers today--not really that informative but I research a lot before we leave so they're not likely to tell me something I don't already know!

     

    Had a good dinner in Murano. Had been on the M class equivalent 3 or so times, so much of the menu was familiar and the experience much as expected. Service and food was good--the venison was better than I expected. Seems like they cut out a course from what I remember, although we finished much quicker than we ever had before (and that is a good thing, I don't need dinner to be a production). As they were bringing out the dishes and turning the plates just in the right direction and timing the removal of the covers, it reminded me when we first sailed Celebrity you could get that kind of attention in the main dining room. I remember they used to have plates with an X on the edge, and to annoy the waiter I'd turn it off center to watch him come back and put it back in the right spot. Again it seems the specialty restaurants are becoming what the main dining room used to be.

     

    Still Celebrity gives us a predictable and comfortable experience, and on days like this just what I need--to be left alone mostly and relax.

     

    While it's not something I care about much, we did have two interactions with officers today; once in the elevator someone pleasantly asked how things were going, and a second time we were photobombed by two officers as my wife and I were getting our picture taken. Staff is friendly and helpful, and our room steward is just as good if not better than any we had in Concierge or Aqua class. My wife asked for ice once, and now it's constantly refilled, and he must be a ninja with lightning speed and eyes everywhere as our room is always made up regardless of when we step out.

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