Both ports are already popular destinations for cruise ships operating in the eastern Mediterranean and new ships are swelling their bookings driven by the draw of Holy Land excursions and Israel offering easy cruising access to ports in Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey.
At Haifa Port, homeporting operations are on the increase with several lines committing ships this season including Costa Cruises, Mano Maritime, MSC Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean International, Oceania, Seabourn and Windstar. Some are returning with bigger ships.
700,000 passengers expected
Some 700,000 passengers are expected in Haifa in 2023, according to Zohar Rom, head of cruises, tourism and PR at Haifa Port in his latest Cruise Talk podcast.
MSC Musica started sailing weekly round-trips from Haifa in April with stops at Limassol, Mykonos, Piraeus, Santorini and Kusadasi, before returning to Haifa. She replaces the smaller MSC Lirica which homeported in 2022.
Domestic brand Mano Maritime will conduct around 65 turnarounds this summer with three- and four-day cruises, while RCI’s Rhapsody of the Seas returned for a second season, starting regular sailings in May and offering both short and longer trips to the Greek islands and Kusadasi.
Haifa Port has a new owner, Adani Ports of India, which has taken a majority stake and is planning a new cruise terminal to serve two turnaround ships simultaneously, according to Rom. A new 600-space parking lot has been added this season and a renovation of the waterfront area covering 80 acres will see new restaurants, bars and leisure facilities added.
Port of Ashdod
Meanwhile, Port of Ashdod will chalk up 123 cruise calls and 120,000 passengers this season, close to a 100% increase on last year’s figures (62 calls and 65,000 guests in 2022).
The increase in traffic is a very positive sign for maritime tourism in Israel which is preparing for the arrival of the largest ship to ever visit, LNG-powered AIDAcosma.
Peak summer months July and August are expected to be the port's busiest period, when dozens of vessels will pass through each week, noted Eli Bar Yosef, the port’s acting CEO.
The most popular day tour from Ashdod is Jerusalem, 44 miles east, about a one-hour drive. Shore excursions typically take in the highlights of the holy city, including the Temple Mount, Western Wall (Wailing Wall), the 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 beachfront metropolis of Tel Aviv is also easy to visit on a half- or full-day tour, located 30 minutes north of the port. In Ashdod, the main attraction is the archaeological site of Givat Yonah (Hill of Jonah).