cruise liner

This is the first time a cruise operator has designated Israel as a base of operations.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

Royal Caribbean Cruises announced that Haifa will serve as a home port for its summer cruises in 2022. The move marks the first time an international cruise operator has selected Israel as a base of operations.

Numerous cruise liners include Haifa and Ashdod as ports of call, but do not begin and end their tours there. To meet the needs of Israeli tourists, all the Haifa-based cruises will be aboard Rhapsody of the Seas, which can carry up to 2,000 passengers and a crew of 765.

Several of the ship’s kitchens will be made kosher, elevators will be adapted for Shabbat use and Hebrew language support will be added to Royal Caribbean apps. Trips are also scheduled during the Jewish holidays, which this year fall in September and October.

Cruises out of Haifa are 2-8 nights with stops in Athens, the Greek islands of Rhodes, Mykonos and Santorini and Limassol in Cyprus.

The first cruise is scheduled to depart Haifa on August 5. The summer season continues through the end of October.

“This year over 160,000 tourists will come to Israel through the seaports. Next year more than 250,000 will come. Tourism from the sea is an important anchor in the Tourism Ministry’s plan, which we are now preparing, to bring 10 million tourists to Israel annually by 2030,” said Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov at a press conference in Tel Aviv where Royal Caribbean made the announcement.

Razvozov also noted the Haifa home port will create more jobs.

Ben Bouldin, a Royal Caribbean vice president, said he looks forward to bringing more passengers to Israel as cruises expand to further locations.

“The potential does not stop with Israeli tourists,” Bouldin said. “We can bring tourists from the US, Brazil and Mexico. Cruise fans will want to visit Israel and spend several days on our cruise. In the next stage we will consider combining more distant destinations beyond the Greek Islands for longer cruises from Haifa.”

Royal Caribbean originally planned to make Haifa a home port last summer for its ship, Odyssey of the Seas. Those plans fell through because of the COVID pandemic and last year’s 11-day war in Gaza.

Other cruise lines with Israeli ports of call include MSC Cruises, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas and Windstar.