Both ports are already popular destinations for cruise lines operating in the Eastern Mediterranean and new ship bookings are increasing due to the attraction of excursions to the Holy Land and Israel, which offers easy cruise access to ports in Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey .
Homeporting operations are picking up in the Port of Haifa as several cruise lines sign ships this season, including Costa Cruises, Mano Maritime, MSC Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean International, Oceania, Seabourn and Windstar. Some return in larger ships.
According to Zohar Rom, head of cruises, tourism and PR at the Port of Haifa, around 700,000 passengers are expected in Haifa in 2023, in his latest Cruise Talk podcast.
MSC Musica began operating weekly round trips from Haifa in April, stopping in Limassol, Mykonos, Piraeus, Santorini and Kusadasi before returning to Haifa. She replaces the smaller MSC Lirica, which docked in 2022.
Domestic brand Mano Maritime will operate around 65 itineraries of three- and four-day cruises this summer, while RCI’s Rhapsody of the Seas returned for a second season, beginning regular sailings in May, offering both short and longer voyages to the Greek islands and islands offered to Kusadasi.
The Port of Haifa has a new owner, Adani Ports of India, which has taken the majority stake and is planning a new cruise terminal that will serve two transhipment ships at once, according to Rome. A new 600-space car park has been added this season and the 200-acre waterfront renovation will add new restaurants, bars and leisure facilities.
Meanwhile, the Port of Ashdod will see 123 cruise calls and 120,000 passengers this season, an almost 100% increase from last year’s figures (62 calls and 65,000 guests in 2022).
The peak summer months of July and August are expected to be the busiest time in the port, when dozens of ships pass through each week, noted Eli Bar Yosef, the port’s acting CEO.
The most popular day tour from Ashdod is to Jerusalem, 71 km east, about an hour’s drive. Shore excursions typically visit highlights of the holy city, including the Temple Mount, Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Many tours also combine a tour of Jerusalem with nearby Bethlehem or a visit to the Dead Sea coast.
The beach metropolis Tel Aviv, which is 30 minutes north of the port, is also good to visit as part of a half or full day tour. The main attraction in Ashdod is the archaeological site Givat Yonah (Hill of Jonah).