Royal Caribbean International has commenced its first ever homeport cruises from Haifa in Israel aboard Rhapsody of the Seas, a year after it was forced to pull out of the region due to political instability.
Royal Caribbean has planned to launch homeport operations in Israel in 2021 aboard its new Quantum-Plus class cruise ship Odyssey of the Seas, but those plans were cancelled at the last minute.
Now, Royal Caribbean has returned to Israel, but with the smaller and older Rhapsody of the Seas, which was launched in 1997 and carries 1,996 passengers at double occupancy.
Until early November, Rhapsody of the Seas will be offering a series of three to eight-night cruises from the Port of Haifa.
The cruises will visit the Greek Islands, Israel and Cyprus, with late night departures from Piraeus and Santorini.
Other ports of call include Mykonos, Rhodes, Limassol and Ashdod. Similar itineraries have already been confirmed for 2023, also aboard Rhapsody of the Seas.
Before returning to the Caribbean in November, the ship will sail an eight-night repositioning cruise departing from Haifa and visiting Barcelona, five ports of call in Greece, Italy, France and Spain.
Before arriving in Haifa for this second homeporting season in 2023, Rhapsody of the Seas will also visit Israel on transit calls as she will be based in Limassol from May to July, 2023.
These cruises will visit both Haifa and Ashdod on a regular basis. The arrivals are part of itineraries that also include stops in Egypt, Turkey and Greece.
In 2021, Odyssey of the Seas was due to homeport in Haifa, Israel, sailing Mediterranean cruises to Cyprus and the Greek Isles, but those plans were called into question by escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas at the time.
Royal Caribbean ultimately cancelled its first-ever Israeli cruise season and re-deployed the ship to the North American market.
Haifa is Israel’s principle cruise port on the Mediterranean. The city’s most iconic sites are the immaculately landscaped terraces of the Bahá’í Gardens, home to the gold-domed Shrine of the Báb.
At the foot of the gardens lies the German Colony, with shops, galleries and restaurants in 19th-century buildings.
The city is around two hours by car or train from Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world, and considered holy for the three major Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.