Holy Land Cruise on the Celebrity Constellation
10/21/16 to 11/2/16

Due to the length of the review, it is in 5 parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top of each page. 

Page 1 - Pre-Cruise in Athens, Greece and Ship
Page 2 - Ship continued; Ports of Call:   Kusadasi, Turkey;  Rhodes, Greece
Page 3 - Ports of Call:  Limasol, Cyprus; Haifa, Israel
Page 4 - Ports of Call:  Ashdod, Israel - Day 1
Page 5 - Ports of Call:  Ashdod, Israel - Day 2;  Valletta, Malta; Disembarkation in Civitavecchia, Italy  


Ashdod, Israel – Day 2
After two very busy days of touring, I was looking forward to this day’s tour.  We would be traveling to the Dead Sea area, where we would be visiting Masada and then swimming in the Dead Sea.  It would be a much easier pace.  Our driver was able to get into the gate with no problem, so we were pleased that we would be starting our tour on time.  The traffic to leave the port seemed to be going very slowly.  When we got up to the traffic light, we could see the problem, there was a solid line of 18-wheelers waiting to get into the port area.  It was not a pretty sight.  When the light turned green from any direction, the big trucks would pull into the intersection and block all the traffic.  It was amazing that our driver was able to squeeze through all the mess.  We were impressed.

As we headed through the desert, I was impressed with how much of the desert had been turned into farm lands and tree groves.


But it didn’t take long until we were in desert terrain.  It was rather pretty.


Before long we could see the Dead Sea in the distance.  We pulled into a scenic lookout area to take photos.  It was interesting how the sea had paths going through it.


On our way to Masada, we drove along the Dead Sea.  We could see resorts along the sea and look across it to the mountains of Jordan, whose property line is in the middle of the sea.  We could also see how part of the Dead Sea appeared to just be rivers where the sea once was.



Before long we got our first view of Masada.  Herod the Great built palaces on the mountain and fortified it for himself as a refuge between 37-31 BC.   In 66 AD Jews that were revolting against Rome took over the fortress.  In 70, AD after the fall of the second temple, they were joined by more zealots and their families.  In 73 AD, Roman soldiers marched against Masada; but were not able to succeed until the next year when a rampart made of stones and earth was completed.  When it became apparent that the Romans were going to capture the fortress, the 960-people committed suicide to keep from being Roman slaves.   It has become a pilgrimage site.

As we got closer, we could see the funicular that we would be taking to the top of the mountain in the distance.

We could also see the snake path that people take to walk up to or down from the top.  That path wasn’t on my itinerary.  The 74 Shekel or $18 round trip funicular ticket was much more attractive.

The Masada National Park building was a fairly new building.  In addition to the ticket office, there was a small museum in the building.  There was also a large relief of Masada and the nearby mountains.



Even though there were a lot of people waiting to go up to the top, the line moved quickly and we were able to get in the next car that came.   I was fortunate to be able to be in the front of the car, so I could take photos on the way up.      


As amazing as the view going up to the top was, looking down from the top was even more so.  In addition to the panorama below, we could see where the snake path came up to the top and where other paths around the fortress went.


Even though it felt like we were on the top of the world, the actual elevation wasn’t that high; but since the Dead Sea is 1,300 feet below sea level, the drop is significant.

We could look down and see the sites of the Roman soldier’s encampments.  That is where they lived during the occupation.


We walked along the elevated pathway through the snake path gate.  We could then see what the top of the mountain looked like.


There was a relief that showed where the different structures were on the mountain.  It was a big place and we would be seeing most of it.  The plateau area is approximately 1,800 feet by 900 feet.

Once again we had plenty of climbing to do.  The different structures were well marked.  The first one we went into was the Commandant’s Residence.  It must have been very nice in its day.  Ronni pointed out that the black lines on the buildings indicated where renovation work had been done.  Everything below the black lines was original and everything above had been restored.



Since I am not writing a Masada guide book, I will just show photos without telling what each building was for, unless there is something important to note.



While the buildings are fascinating, the view looking down really draws your attention. 


The most unique structure on the mountain is Herod’s Northern Palace.  It is on the edge of the mountain and part of it is a round shaped building.   Herod had a nice panoramic view to the Dead Sea.  The overlook to see the Northern Palace is the most popular place on the mountain.


The below reliefs show what it originally looked like.

As much as I would have liked to be able to take the path down to the palace, I was already too hot and tired to consider it; even if we had enough time.  The temperature was about 80 degrees; but in the sun it felt a lot hotter.  I can’t imagine anyone visiting this place in the summer when it is 40 degrees hotter.

The Bath House was the most interesting building on the mountain.  They had a model that showed what it would have originally looked like.  They had an interesting system of heating the room.  We could see the columns, which would support a floor.  A furnace would send hot air in the open space to heat the room, so it would be like a Turkish bath or sauna.



We continued exploring the area looking at the structures and views from Masada.




We came to the steps leading down to the Northern Palace, where people taking the long walk toward it.  Better them than me.   


I saw Ronni and some of our group standing on a bridge below.  She was telling them about the cistern and clever methods that had been used to collect and store water. 

She then showed us how the water was collected as rain came down the mountain into channels that were directed into caves in the mountain.

From this part of the fortress we could look down and see the rampart that had been built by the Romans to reach the top and take back control.  I am surprised they could build it in a year without heavy machinery not available 2,000 years ago.


Whenever she could, Ronni would park us in an area with shade to tell us about what we were seeing.  We did appreciate it.

We walked over to the Western Palace, which had some nice viewing platforms to see into the rooms down to the mosaic floors.





We then started to head back to the funicular.  This had been quite an interesting and historic place to visit.


The ride down was also most enjoyable.  Masada is one of those places that you just can’t take enough photos.   I can only share a few of my favorites or it would be overkill for most people.


Continuing our drive along the Dead Sea, we could see how much the sea had receded.  It is dropping at a very alarming three feet a year.  They are talking about piping water into the sea to save it from disappearing completely.


We stopped along the side of the road so that Ronni could show us where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.  It is very rugged terrain.


The triangular opening in the white rock is the place they were discovered.

We were heading to a place where we could have lunch and then go swimming in the Dead Sea.  Friends of mine had told me that I had to swim in the Dead Sea.  I had always heard how different it is to float there, plus the health benefits of the mud and water was supposed to be a big deal.  I had been surprised at how many hotels were located along the sea.  Ronni said that doctors prescribe visits to the Dead Sea for patients with skin problems and other medical issues.  I was kind of skeptical about that; but I still wanted to try it.

From the restaurant I could look down to where we were going to go swimming.  It really wasn’t quite what I was expecting.  Because Ronni had warned us not to leave any valuables in the changing room, I gave her my camera to hold on to until I was finished swimming.  The changing facility was very large and had lots of showers; but there were no lockers to use, just hooks to hang your clothes on.

It was a pretty good walk down the hill to get to the water.  When I got there I threw my towel on a hanger and started to look for the mud that we were supposed to rub on our bodies.  I looked around and all I saw were people just picking up the dirt from the beach and rubbing it on their bodies.  So that is what I did.  With the sand being dry, it didn’t spread on very well, even when mixed with water.  I wasn’t enjoying this part of the Dead Sea experience.  I gave up on trying to cover my body and I wasn’t the only one.  Apparently, the mud consistency wasn’t quite right.  But that was OK, since I was there to swim and float.


As I walked out into the water, it didn’t seem to get much deeper, so I decided to try to kneel down and try to float.  As soon as my body got into the water, I was floating on my back.  It was amazing!  It was so different from any water I have been in before.   At 34% salinity, it is almost 10 times saltier than the ocean.  Unfortunately, the increased buoyancy made it quite difficult to stop floating and stand up.  I thought that getting on my knees would be a good first step to standing up; but that was easier said than done, so I just floated a while longer until I had been in long enough.

The water felt very slick.  It felt like I had oil on my skin.  I floated around for a while moving the water all over my body to try to keep me covered with the water, since it was supposed to be good for the skin.  I was rather leery if the water was doing anything other than providing me with a slick coating that would be a pain to wash off in the shower.  I did a preliminary shower at the showers on the beach to get off the scummy feeling.  I then climbed up the hill to take a real shower and get dressed, so I could walk back down the hill, get the camera from Ronni and take some photos.  It had been a most interesting experience that I won’t forget.

The drive back was most enjoyable taking in the landscape after the relaxing visit to the beach.  When we got back to Jerusalem, there was hardly any traffic, since it was Friday afternoon.  Israelis stop work and driving early because it was the Sabbath and they can’t drive after sundown. 


I liked the minarets in the Jerusalem suburbs.

When we got back to the ship, it was sad to say good bye to our wonderful guide, Ronni.  She had been much more than a guide over the three days, she was now a dear friend who will be missed.

Carol did not go on a tour, so she was in the cabin when I got back from the tour.  I told her about my day’s adventures and how I had swum in the Dead Sea.  While talking about it I noticed that my skin felt particularly soft.  Carol verified that there was a difference.  I started checking all over and was surprised that even areas that are usually rough like elbows and feet were also much smoother than normal.  I couldn’t believe that the short time I was in the Dead Sea that it really did make a difference.  My skepticism about the Dead Sea’s benefits had disappeared.

It had been an incredible three days and I was so happy that we had been fortunate enough to experience this amazing country.


Valetta, Malta
After six days of heavy touring, we thoroughly enjoyed the two sea days before the next port stop of Valetta, Malta.  Since this was our third visit to Malta, we had just planned to spend the day walking around the city.  Unfortunately, it looked like our streak of great weather was coming to an end.  It had been raining and was still very cloudy. It looked like we were going to have some more rain.  With Malta being one of the prettiest ports to enter, people were lined up at the railings on the upper decks to watch our arrival.  I had brought my umbrella just to be safe.  Even without any rain, the weather would prevent us from seeing the true beauty of the port area in all its splendor.


Then the rain began.  It was slow at first and some of the crowd thinned out.  Then the bottom fell out and we had a heavy rain with everyone running for cover.  Well, everyone but me, since I had an umbrella and was stupid enough to stand out in the rain to take photos.  The photos are provided to merely show what an entrance to Malta looks like in the rain.  



The conditions started to improve some while we were docking.  Hopefully if you are fortunate enough to cruise to Malta, you will have a sunny day.


Since we would be in port from noon until 8:00 PM, we went to lunch and hoped that the rain would go away.  Carol had been coughing a lot and appeared to be getting the same upper respiratory issues that I had earlier in the cruise.  I had gone to the medical center when mine first started to get some medicine that would hopefully fix me up before we got to Israel.  It worked well and I was in good shape; but Carol’s cough was starting and she decided not to get off in Malta, due to the chance of more rain and the cooler weather.

After lunch, conditions improved a lot and I was so glad, since the port area is so pretty.  I took some more photos from the ship before leaving for town. 


I walked along the dock and toward town where an elevator is available to take tourists up into town, without having to climb up a lot of steps.  There is a lot to see along the docks.  It is such a pretty port.  I had a problem finding the elevator at first; but my GPS map told me to keep walking.  I finally found the walkway to get to the very tall elevator; and was more than happy to pay the one Euro for the ride up.



The elevator stops at the Upper Barancas Gardens, which is a wonderful welcome to the city of Valetta.  Columns and arches surround the gardens, which have beautiful views of the city and the canons that once protected the city.


We also had a nice view of the Constellation at the dock.

The gardens had lots of plant life and some flowers were blooming around a large pool.  I imagine that it is quite a sight in the spring when everything is in bloom. 


I left the gardens and started to walk into town, passing through the narrow streets.

I came to a large square that was surrounded by some beautiful buildings.  Malta really takes good care of its historical buildings.  Many of which were built by and occupied by the Knights of St. John.  It does make the place a real pleasure for the many tourists that visit there.




In the square was a statue of Jean de Valette, for whom the town was named.  He was the Grand Master of the Order of St. John from 1557 until 1568. 

I was enjoying the walk through the historic town and came to the St. John’s Co-Cathedral, which was undergoing some renovation.  It is an incredibly beautiful cathedral; but since we had visited it during both previous visits, I decided to pass this time.  When I turned the corner and saw the long line at the entrance, I was glad that I wasn’t going to be waiting in it.


It was such pleasure to just walk around town and take in the beautiful architecture and statues.



There are many historical buildings in Valetta.  When I saw a sign for the Palace Armory, I decided to check it out.  I couldn’t see much of it, since I didn’t purchase a ticket; but the palace courtyard was quite nice.  The clock tower was particularly impressive.


On one side of the courtyard was a fountain with a statue of a bird. 


In another section was a statue of Neptune.  There were just so many lovely statues in Malta.


Continuing my walk, I came to a St. George’s Square that had the Presidential Palace on one side of it.  Every few minutes the guards would do a short march routine that everyone was thrilled to see.



Since I was interested in exploring areas I hadn’t previously been to, I headed down another one of the narrow streets.  With it being a steep downhill walk, I didn’t want to go too far, since I knew that if I went down I would need to come back up again.    One of the recommended places to visit in the Celebrity Port info sheet was the Casa Rocca Piccola, a restored home.   I was thinking about touring it and decided to just keep walking around some more.  From doing a quick read on some TripAdvisor reviews of it while standing there, it didn’t sound like a must do place. 


The area nearby was quite photogenic though. 

This one statue on a building corner looked rather strange; but even stranger when I got a close up of it.


I went back up to higher ground admiring other statues in the area.


I then noticed a tall spire in the distance so I started to walk toward it to see what it was.  On the way, I passed by the Basilica of our Lady of Mt. Carmel.  I would have liked to see the interior, but couldn’t find an open entrance.

Close by was the spire I had been looking for.  It was part of the St. Paul’s Co-Cathedral.  I had wondered where St. John’s Co-Cathedral other cathedral was located at.  It was also not open for touring, or at least I couldn’t find a way in.


It was time to start heading back to ship.  I had plenty of time; but wanted to take a relaxing walk back. It is a such a pretty city, even the modern areas are tastefully done.



I walked over to an area where it appeared was the main place for busses to start their routes.  Nearby were several lovely statues and a huge fountain.



While admiring the statues, I started talking with a couple who were on the other ship in port.  They were also headed back to their ship.  They thought that there were steps down to dock area on the other side of the park.  Since the Constellation looked like it was just on the other side of the park, I thought a stroll in the park that would end at the ship sounded like a nice way to end the day. 


The views from the park were very nice; but I wasn’t seeing any way down to sea level.  I kept walking deeper into the park when I came to the dead end.  I could see the back of the buildings that lined the dock; but no way to get there.  I would have to climb back up the hill to walk back into town to catch the elevator down.  When I got out of the park, I could see the elevator in the distance; but no direct way to get back to it.  The clouds were also building up and I had felt a few rain drops.  Fortunately, they held off.  The relaxing stroll back to the ship turned into an exhausting trek.  One of these days I will learn to check out short cuts more closely before taking them.

With the ship not leaving until 8:00 PM, we were able to see the illuminated city.


It was also interesting to see the fuel ship beside the Constellation filling it up for our trip to Civitavecchia.

The next day was a sea day; and it sounded like a really good one.  Based on the information that Captain Karatzas provided, we would be passing through the Strait of Messina at 8:00 AM and pass by the volcano island of Stromboli around 10:00 AM.  I went out early and was able to get a photo of a pretty sunrise and Sicily’s Mount Etna.  When we had seen Mt. Etna a few years ago, it was covered by clouds.  It was nice to see the snow capped peak, even with the haze.


Shortly thereafter, we began to go through the Strait of Messina.  It is interesting to look to the left and see Sicily and turn your head right to see Italy.  The path between the two gets to be very narrow.



A couple hours later, Carol and I were able to step out onto our veranda to watch us pass by Stromboli.  This was the third time that we had seen Stromboli.  It is always a thrill to see an active volcano.


I have never been able to understand how someone could live on Stromboli.  There were lots of homes and businesses on both ends of it.  Around 500 people live on the island.


As we got closer, I was able to see up to where the smoke was coming out of the three volcano craters.  It is amazing to see.


Disembarkation was quite fast and easy.  Partially because we did not have to go through immigration.  One of the benefits of starting and ending a cruise in European Union countries.  When we got off the ship, we headed for the car rental office for our visit to Florence, Italy before our Transatlantic cruise on the Silhouette.  That review can be seen by clicking on this LINK.

Visiting the Holy Land had been on our bucket list for as long as I can remember.  With the conflicts that have existed in that area, I didn’t know if I would ever get to go to Israel.  I still can’t believe that I have been able to visit the places that I did on this cruise.  I feel truly blessed and grateful that I was able to.
The cruise itself was most enjoyable and we enjoyed spending time with our friends Paul and Gail both before and during the cruise.  There is nothing better than traveling to fascinating places all over the world, especially when you can share the experience with dear friends.





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