Royal Caribbean sails into Haifa

“I have every confidence this program will continue to grow,” he said. “We’ve already committed to coming back in 2023, and I hope that in November of this year we’ll open sales for our 2024 program.

  Royal Caribbean cruise ship (photo credit: AYA BEN-EZRI)
Royal Caribbean cruise ship
(photo credit: AYA BEN-EZRI)

Royal Caribbean, the world’s largest cruise brand with a fleet of 25 ships, is expanding its register of global home ports to include Israel this summer.

The tourism giant previously had 32 homeports spread throughout six continents, and in August, Haifa will become number 33. The company had plans for its Odyssey of the Seas ship to begin sailing from Haifa last summer, but they were canceled as a result of unrest in the region. 

Between August and October, Rhapsody of the Seas will begin transporting guests on round-trip cruises lasting between two and eight nights, initially embarking from Haifa and traveling to ports throughout the Mediterranean in Greece and Cyprus. Further destinations are being considered for future voyages as well.

Rhapsody is a grand ship with a total of 1,020 staterooms fit for more than 2,400 guests. Israelis and foreign tourists alike can expect to relax in its two pools, six hot tubs, a solarium, a Vitality spa and a fitness center.

Those who prefer a more active or entertaining vacation are free to enjoy the ship’s 12-meter rock-climbing wall, outdoor movie screen and live theater while onboard.

Sean Treacy, Royal Caribbean senior vice president of international sales, referred to the decision to open a port in Haifa as “historic” at a recent press event and shared what the move means for both tourists from Israel and abroad.

“We see this as a real opportunity for Israelis to cruise from home, but we’ve also seen an interest in cruising from Israel from all of our markets. We have guests from over 100 different countries, and we’ve seen a lot of interest from the United States, Latin America, Australia, and Europe to visit Israel and then go on a cruise.”

This spells good news, not just for Royal Caribbean and Israelis looking for close-to-home travel opportunities, but for the Israeli tourism industry as a whole.

“We typically see that people want to spend several days in the home port destination before or after a cruise,” Treacy explained. The ship will also source some of its food and other goods from Israel, further benefiting the local economy.

Benjamin Bouldin, Royal Caribbean vice president of EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa), said that although the company offers an international product, great efforts have gone into ensuring that Rhapsody will cater to Israeli guests as effectively as possible.

Kosher offerings will be available in the ship’s dining room – the details of which organization will oversee the certification are expected to be announced in the coming weeks, and Hebrew speakers will be present on each trip to serve in functions such as children’s clubs and guest services.

All menus and daily itineraries, which Royal Caribbean refers to as the “Cruise Compass,” will be available in Hebrew as well, and the ship will even include prayer rooms and Shabbat elevators.

Bouldin also acknowledged that Israeli travel agency Sunorama played a large role in Royal Caribbean’s decision to open a home port in Haifa, having organized countless vacations with the cruise line for Israeli tourists for nearly 30 years. He expressed optimism for the future of their partnership as Royal Caribbean continues to add more offerings from the port to its schedule. 

“I have every confidence this program will continue to grow,” he said. “We’ve already committed to coming back in 2023, and I hope that in November of this year we’ll open sales for our 2024 program.”

Treacy agreed, adding that the company has a long-term interest in homeporting in Israel. He thanked Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov and the Israeli government for recent moves toward re-opening the country for tourism.Razvozov said the opening of the port in Haifa signifies progress, referring to it as “an exciting and historic event of great economic significance.” 

He added that data show 90% of cruise passengers on average will debark when their ships pull into Israel as a port of call, a stark contrast to other cities worldwide where the figure is closer to 50-60%.

Udi Schnabel, managing director for Sunorama and Royal Caribbean international representative to Israel, explained that ensuring affordability to the consumer was of key importance while developing the cruise program.

Pricing will start at around NIS 250 per guest per night, which includes access to the ship’s amenities, entertainment and food around the clock – more affordable than most hotels.

Royal Caribbean’s current coronavirus policy will require proof of vaccination from guests over the age of 12, though younger guests may present a negative PCR test. Some 765 fully-vaccinated crew members will work to ensure smooth-sailing on every voyage.

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