After an absence of nearly seven years, cruise ships are once again making their way to Israel. The Amsterdam, the first cruise liner to dock in the country since the start of the second Intifada, was due to arrive at the Ashdod Port this morning around 10 a.m. with some 1,200 passengers expected to disembark to the accompaniment of the Ashdod City Orchestra. After spending the day on guided tours of Jerusalem, Masada and the Dead Sea, passengers will rejoin the ship's 700 crew members in the evening and sail overnight to Haifa, where they will again disembark in the morning, this time for tours of Haifa, Nazareth and Lake Kinneret. The two-day stop will comprise the Israeli leg of Holland America's "Round the World" package, a 100-day trip costing $36,000 for a double bedroom. The Princess Cruise company is also re-adding Israel to its list of Mediterranean destinations, with the first Princess liner scheduled to arrive in June. A total of 13,000 tourists are expected to arrive with the two cruise companies over the coming months, bringing with them an estimated NIS 12 million to be spent on food, fuel and other expenses connected to the seaside stops in Israel. The return of the major cruise lines is being promoted as a major achievement of the Associated Maritime Agencies in Israel, which has worked since late 2000 to return the country to cruise liner itineraries. The effort was threatened by last summer's war with Hizbullah, when missile fire from Lebanon temporarily closed the Haifa port, but Israel's inclusion on cruise itineraries doesn't appear to have harmed business for the companies involved. Princess Cruises reports its ships filled to capacity on all its upcoming trips to Israel. Celebrate Israel's independence ... by leaving Israel's national airline is doing its part to celebrate the country's independence - by helping citizens leave. With three weeks to go before Independence Day, El Al has announced a holiday discount for tickets purchased to destinations across Europe, North America and Asia. Prices released by the company are for individual tickets but apply only if tickets are purchased in pairs. All ticket prices end in "59," the company said, to mark the country's 59 years of independence. Under the terms of the sale, tickets will be discounted for round-trip El Al flights between April 22 and May 6. Tel Aviv must be the starting and ending point of the ticket packages; in other words, the airline is not offering a sale for passengers abroad trying to fly to Israel for the holiday. Round-trip fares include $659 to New York and Toronto; $759 to Bangkok, Beijing and Mumbai; $859 to Hong Kong and $959 to Los Angeles. Tickets to a selection of destinations in western Europe will be available for $359, while round-trip deals to Budapest, Bucharest and Sofia can be purchased for $259. Members of El Al's frequent flyer club can purchase tickets for the same dates at prices lowered even further. Expensive oil raises ticket prices While El Al's Independence Day sale means lower tickets for some travelers, prices on most El Al flights are about to go up. The company said Wednesday it would add a new surcharge to tickets purchased April 14 and later because of oil prices approaching $70 a barrel. The surcharge will not be applied to tickets already purchased or to those being offered as part of special deals currently on offer. But for most tickets, prices will rise starting in the middle of the month, with passengers paying $16 to destinations in Europe and $30 more for tickets to "long range" destinations such as New York and Beijing. The company said it regretted the rise in prices but noted that other airlines have also imposed additional charges due to increased oil prices. The company noted that it lowered ticket prices last year after fuel prices fell and would do so again when the oil market allowed. Non-stop TA-Stockholm service begins Travel options between Israel and Scandinavia grew in number last week with the first-ever non-stop commercial flight between Stockholm and Tel Aviv. Sabra Express, a new airline affiliated with Swedish travel company Sabra Tours, will offer multiple weekly flights between the two cities and offer connections to Israeli travelers flying on to other destinations in Scandinavia. The departure of the first Sabra Express flight was attended in Stockholm by Eviatar Manor, Israel's ambassador to Sweden, and was facilitated in part by Israel's Tourism Ministry, which is working to increase the number of discount airlines operating between Europe and Israel. Representatives of Sabra Tours said the company had brought 100,000 Swedes to Israel in the 25 years of the company's existence. Last week's flight delivered an additional 175 Swedish tourists to Tel Aviv. Sun D'or upgrades Web site El Al subsidiary Sun D'Or International Airlines has upgraded its Web site (www.sundor.co.il), with customers now able to book tickets online and read more detailed information about services offered by the company. The retooled site also offers detailed information in Hebrew and English about duty-free shopping and foreign destinations served by the company, including weather forecasts, exchange rates and links to city and country maps.