azmara cruise ship 88 22.
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
A new cruise company operated by two giants of the industry will include Israeli ports on its list of destinations for next year.
Azamara Cruises, billed as a "new, deluxe cruise experience for discerning travelers," will make two stops in both Haifa and Ashdod next fall, giving passengers the opportunity to disembark for shore excursions and overnight stays in Israel.
The stops will be made by the Azamara Journey, a 694-passenger ship that will travel around the Mediterranean twice next year, sailing from Barcelona to Athens before reversing its journey in September. The ship will stop in Haifa and Ashdod on both trips, with the dockings in Israel scheduled for September 2008.
The Israeli stops on the itinerary were announced Tuesday in Tel Aviv by Dan Hanrahan, the president of Celebrity Cruises, which operates Azamara, and by Adam M. Goldstein, the president of Royal Caribbean International, which owns Celebrity. Altogether, the cruising conglomerate represents a 40 percent share of the international cruise market.
Though the roughly 1,400 passengers visiting Israel via the Azamara cruises will comprise just a tiny percentage of the 12.62 million international cruise passengers expected this year, the number represents a significant jump in tourist arrivals to the country by sea, and should be welcome news for tourism industry officials familiar given cruise passengers' reputation as generous dry-land shoppers.
Goldstein and Hanrahan added that Israel may be selected as a re-supply site for the Azamara cruises, though they said a decision on the issue had not yet been made.
The country's inclusion on the Azamara route marks another step in Israel's comeback as a destination for international cruises. The country was dropped from cruise itineraries almost immediately after the start of the second intifada, and international cruise companies began returning to Israeli ports only in the spring of this year.
But while the cruising industry has experienced rapid overall growth over the past several years, Israel remains less than a priority destination for some of its biggest companies.
Asked when Azamara's mother company, Royal Caribbean, would begin sending its own ships to Israel, Goldstein noted that the company had sailed to Israel before the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence in 2000. As for the cruising giant's post-intifada return, "it can't be too long," he said.