If you want to make new friends, enjoy delicious food and great facilities, discover fantastic new, old cultures, enjoy the sun, sea, and the beach, and still unpack your suitcase only once on a roundtrip? Our wonderful Seabourn cruise had all of these ingredients and so much more. A travelogue of an unforgettable experience. A summary of our Seabourn cruise Arabian Gems & the Holy Land, April 2019.
Surely this was not our first cruise not our first Seabourn cruise but this one was on our wish list for some time. After an unforgettable Norway fjords cruise and a number of Mediterranean cruises, this seemed a great way to discover the Middle East and at the same time visit a number of cities. This was high on our wish list. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for example, but also visiting Petra in Jordan were quite at the top of our wish list. This cruise brought us everything … and so much more.
Our Pre Cruise Port Hotel in Dubai
Departing from Dubai our journey started with booking a nice hotel there. To our opinion the holiday starts on the plane, but the first night in a hotel is certainly as important. The main reason we started this website and the Facebook groups Cruise Port Hotels and Cruise Port Tips is because we know it can be quite a hassle to find a good hotel prior to your cruise. Usually, you only sleep there for 1 or two nights, but in our opinion, it is an important start of the trip so the new experiences start there. Besides cruise junkies, we also remain huge beautiful hotel fans! Previously we have stayed at the Park Hyatt Dubai which was fantastic and we will not soon forget the One & Only the Palm.
This time we have opted for a very nice deal and something more friendly for the wallet; Al Bandar Arjaan by Rotana – Creek. That turned out to be a fantastic choice. We had a beautiful room and what we can advise everyone is to book a Club Rotana room! That includes admittance to the business floor with a happy hour with good wines. With the prices of alcohol in Dubai that pays off quickly. They generously serve delicious wines, and the food buffet is delicious. To have dinner at the restaurant on the rooftop called “Gusto” is also highly recommended. Great food with such beautiful views, makes a pretty special start of your cruise.
Our home for the next two weeks: Seabourn Ovation
The next morning, there she was; the beautiful new ship the Seabourn Ovation. It’s a special moment again when you arrive at the cruise terminal and see your house at sea for the coming weeks, like a glamourous white swan in the water. This was our first time in this new, slightly larger Seabourn ship. Fan as we are of smaller cruise ships, this one was slightly larger than Seabourn Quest, Sojourn, and The Odyssey.
The two latest additions to the fleet, the Seabourn Ovation, and the Encore, are a bit larger and we are curious how we liked that. With the very latest addition to the fleet, Seabourn offers opportunities for lovers of the smaller ships; the ultra-luxury expedition ship Seabourn Venture. We had heard some other stories about this slightly larger ship but we did like this ship very much! Besides that the Ovation and Encor are all balcony cabins to what is very nice. There was plenty of space around the pool and you really do not notice the more than 100 extra guests on board. It’s just as wonderful as we know it from Seabourn.
Discover the Middle East
Our first stop was Sir Bani Yas Island where Seabourn spoiled us with a wonderfully organized beach day where we were sailed to by tender boats. As we are used to Seabourn, they have pulled out all the stops to make this a wonderful day with a great lobster barbecue and lovely beach beds. A wonderful first day to recover a little from the jetlag and to discover the new ship. On the second and third day, we docked at Doha-Qatar and Muscat-Oman. We booked a great tour with Seabourn to discover these cities which included a bus and walking tour.
To feel, taste, and smell these beautiful Arabian towns was a delight. The mix between the old and the new is fascinating. We paid a visit to the Falcon Hospital and the extended Souq Waqif. The smell of herbs and the craftsmanship is visible in lots of tiny stores. It was awesome!!! They have everything you can imagine selling through the souq: gold and silver jewelry, fabrics, trunks, pashminas, birds, rabbits, fish … You can also have a great lunch for a good price and a great experience! The food is spectacular. Just stroll around, it will be great! Be careful with your clothes, you have to respect their tradition.
One of the great events Seabourn organizes on this cruise was the Arabian night. A party under the stars in the lovely sultry Middle East evening. An atmosphere from a fairytale from a thousand and one night. It was fantastic to see that everyone had put a lot of effort into their outfit. It was an unforgettable evening where people danced the night away and a lot of new friends were made. And look at the outfits! Everyone looked fantastic! Now we know how it feels to wear such a white dress as a man and I can tell you…..it feels very comfortable in those warm nights! Keep it cool!
Port of Aqaba and impressive Petra in Jordan
Petra is an important reason for many to book this Arabian cruise. This ancient city was built in the middle of the desert and is surrounded by gigantic red and orange rocks. More than 2000 years ago people lived here a people called the Nabataeans. The Nabataeans cut houses, tombs, and imposing temples out of the rocks en masse. Because Petra was the hub for various trade routes, the city was very rich.
Petra is a breathtakingly beautiful place and most likely the highlight of your cruise. Of course, your visit to Petra will be much more interesting when you learn about the history of this ancient city. It is bizarre to imagine that here in the first century BC. a city was built out of nothing, wherein its heyday around 25,000 people lived. And that in the middle of the desert. How they got their water and the way of building is brilliant for that period. Watch a little video I took in Petra, revealing the cathedral.
You can arrange a guide at the entrance to go out for a morning or a whole day. Would you rather explore Petra on your own? Then it is really recommended to watch the below video first. This way you look at Petra with completely different eyes than if you wouldn’t know about it.
Petra has hundreds of small and large sights and only about 20% is visible to visitors. The most impressive places are the Siq, the Treasury, the viewpoint on the Treasury, the Royal Tombs, and the Monastery. Don’t Google them all right away, but let yourself be surprised. Petra is stunningly beautiful and unforgettable and worth the money of the organizes Seabourn excursion.
Caviar in the Surf
One of the many highlights we always look forward to is the Caviar In the Surf. Usually, this is done during a beach day but on this cruise, it was done in the pool on deck in the warm weather. It’s always a fantastic event that everyone enjoys immensely. And yes you see it correctly our loved cruise director Handre is in the water! Read this Seabourn article with 6 Reasons You Need to Experience Caviar in the Surf
The Suez Canal, Canal between continents
Opened in 1869 and built to connect the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, the Suez Canal is home to some of Egypt’s most picturesque sights. As you pass through, you’ll pass canal-side cities and villages: At the northern entrance is Port Said, a cosmopolitan port city with lush public gardens, sandy-hued mosques, and European-inspired architecture. Halfway along the Suez Canal during your cruise, you’ll sail by Ismailia — admire the city’s 19th-century colonial villas and expansive, manicured lawns. In the south, you’ll be treated to views of the seaport city Suez, including ornate mosques, the gardens of the Ganayen neighborhood, and the towering Suez Canal bridge that connects Africa and Asia.
However…..on this cruise we just sail through which is an event itself. It is fascinating to see the deserts on the one hand and the Nile delta on the other and it is easy to picture yourself in the ancient days. Near the city of Suez, we passed by the Suez Canal Bridge, also called the Mubarak Peace Bridge or simply El-Qantara (“The Bridge”). Note the bridge’s two massive pylons on either side of the canal — one is in Asia, while the other is in Africa. Asia, while the other is in Africa.
Jerusalem, the holy city
Jerusalem is nicknamed “The Holy City” for a reason. The city is a holy city for Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. These three religions and their adherents live here alongside and with each other. In the old city, the religions are divided into four different neighborhoods: Islamic, Jewish, Christian, and Armenian. And each of the three religions has a very important religious place in the city, which is seen as a place of pilgrimage for the entire faith.
While this is special, there are two more reasons why Jerusalem is so distinctive. The contrast between traditional and modern. This is clearly visible when you walk into the old city from the center. You literally go back in time. We booked the Seabourn excursion with a walking tour of all the major sights and a delicious Israeli lunch. As it was Easter the city was crowded with all people celebrating their Easter festivities and visiting the Wailing Wall and church. The old town is compact but impressive. This is due to the many historical and religious buildings that are close to each other and the maze of streets. And of course, there are the tensions between Israel and Palestine, which you can certainly feel like a tourist, but we didn’t really notice luckily.
All in all, Jerusalem is the place to really go back in time. A number of sights that you see on this excursion are of course the Wailing Wall where the men and women are separated, the men get a yarmulke to approach the wall. The Wailing Wall, also known as the Western Wall, is Jerusalem’s most famous landmark and most evocative place. It is also the most sacred place for Jews in the world.
What often makes churches so special is the architecture, stateliness and the emotion it evokes in religious people. The site where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built is, according to Christians, where Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected. This is the reason why the church has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries.
The church is also the endpoint of the Via Dolorosa. This is the route that Christ walked with the cross on his back. Along the route, you will pass stops where the story is told. Nowadays you still often meet pilgrims here with a cross on their back. In the church you will find a number of important relics from the Bible; the tomb where Christ was initially buried and the large marble stone on which he was embalmed. This sight can be visited, although there is often a long queue in front of it. The marble stone is also extremely important to believers. Here people pray, cry, and cloths are rubbed over the stone.
The Temple Mount is a place of great significance for all three faiths. The Wailing Wall is the foundation for the Temple Mount, making it important to Judaism. In the Bible, the Temple Mount is mentioned several times in the stories of Christ’s crossing. But the buildings on the mountain are mainly dedicated to Islam. This is where the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are located. The Dome of the Rock was built in 681 AD and immediately stands out for its golden dome. The mountain is seen as the place where Prophet Mohammed went to heaven. This makes it one of the holiest places in Islam. All in all, really a city that takes your thoughts back in time and where a whole new perspective presents itself to you. Also, a city to return to discover more. Fascinating.
Tel Aviv, a trendy and buzzing beach city
Docked in the next port of Haifa, on our way to Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is such a city that resembles raw Berlin, but also sandy Marrakesh and at the same time, it reminded me of shiny San Francisco. This buzzing city is a mix of three of my favorite cities and it didn’t take me long before I fell in love with this city too. Tel Aviv seems to have everything I look for in a city: An abundance of amazing hotspots, a wonderful beach, you can go out fantastically, the food is divine, the city has a fantastic climate, great street art, but next to all modern hotspots, there is also a historic center where you seem to take a step back in time.
The town of Jaffa, which lies directly connected to Tel Aviv, shows you the historical image. Yes, we would have liked to stay a little longer in Tel Aviv!
Where Jerusalem is full of history, Tel Aviv is a very modern and trendy city. This city has beautiful beaches and the hottest clubs where young people gather. Beaches full of sporty and enjoying young people and trendy beach clubs that you should definitely visit and have a drink. We decided not to book an organized tour but to go on our own. This is fairly easy because there is a direct train which takes about one hour. All easy to organize yourself. The city gives a completely different atmosphere to Israel. We enjoyed a great lunch on a nice sunny terrace and of course, walked the beautiful beaches. This young and vibrant city deserves to come back to for a whole week.
The Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa
Also, the city of Haifa has some great sites to visit and check out. The Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa for instance, comprise a staircase of nineteen terraces extending all the way up the northern slope of Mount Carmel. The geometry of the complex is built around the axis connecting it with the City of ‘Akko, which also has great historical and sacred significance for Bahá’ís. At its heart stands the golden-domed Shrine of the Báb, which is the resting place of the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith. While different parts of the gardens offer a variety of experiences, they speak in a common language of graveled paths, hedges, and flower beds groomed and nurtured by dedicated gardeners. The gardens frame panoramic views of the city, the Galilee Hills, and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Secrets of Old City of Acre
Visiting Akko is an emotional journey to a glorious past and a one-of-a-kind experience. An exciting visit to an ancient city with a young soul – a city declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The city’s fascinating historical heritage, a rare blend of East and West, authentic glimpses from the past, and unique mix of religious beliefs and remnants from different cultures, have all turned Akko into one of the most vital Ancient World cities. Akko’s walls, fortresses, castles, churches, mosques, synagogues, and other structures tell the story of the many rulers that governed, fought for, built, and adorned the City.
Akko’s sites include remnants of the Hellenistic-Roman period as well as structures from the Crusader and Ottoman periods: the underground Crusader city, Khan al-Umdan, the Turkish Baths, the Bahai Temple, the Ramchal Synagogue, etc. In Akko, you will find the traces of a great many nations and religious movements ranging from the Canaanites, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Crusaders, the Mamluks, and the Turks to the British. Akko’s colorful Oriental markets, city walls, museums, beaches and water sports facilities, Fishermen’s Port, marina, restaurants, hotels, and annual picturesque festivals are just a few more of the City’s tourist attractions.
The Templar’s Tunnel
The Templars Tunnel is 150 meters long and it extends from the Templars fortress in the west to the city’s port in the east. It crosses the Pisan quarter and in the past, served as a strategic underground passageway that connected the palace to the port. The lower part of the tunnel is carved in the natural stone and its upper part is made of hewn stones covered with a semi-barreled dome. This tunnel was discovered in 1994. The Acre Development Company, in collaboration with the Antiquities Authority, cleared away the dirt and made the tunnel available to visitors. As you can see in the picture the walk through the tunnel can be a bit challenging!
I know a lot of people say Paris is the most romantic city in the world, and I don’t disagree. Santorini, though, is definitely the world’s most romantic island. It’s so breathtakingly romantic in a totally different way. You really have to visit to understand its magic. The typical postcard or painting of Santorini always feature one or many of those blue dome buildings. As you leave your tender boat you have three options to go up the Caldera. One is to get the cable card which is an easy ride up. The second option presents itself via your nose as the smell of all donkeys makes clear there is an option to ride a donkey up. Surely it is up to you but we do advise you just to climb the stairs as a great exercise to lose some cruise weight.
Because once up I bet you want to discover the treasures of Santorini and you want to find the blue dome buildings. It turnes out, that isn’t too difficult since most of the buildings are located in Oia and also allover the island. We took a taxi from Fira to the small, gorgeous city of Oia first and decided to walk back to Fira. Well…. let’s say it was beautiful but not that easy!!
However, if you are more adventurous, you must do it! You are really experiencing the island’s beauty while walking the small paths and crossing the smallest towns in between. There are lovely small restaurants to have lunch with the best views from the Caldera on the oceans and to see your ship floating peacefully in the deep. Back in Fira, you can enjoy some shopping because the small streets offer some great, yet touristic small shops and cafes.
Fira, also called Thira, is the capital of the island of Santorini which is one of the most fascinating islands in Greece. It is uniquely built on the edge of the sheer cliffs of the crater of Santorini,called the Caldera, facing west. As you may know, Santorini is a large crater of an erupted volcano. There are even stories, Santorini is actually Atlantis. The chance that Atlantis ever existed is getting smaller by the day. Yet the legend of the lost city is fascinating. This makes sense, because a story about a vanished super civilization goes very well. But how did Plato get to the story of Atlantis? Did he make it up? Anyway….Fira offers beautiful views and the sunset you see from here is breathtaking. Although the sunset in the artist citi of Oia is even more famous.
White houses and domed churches with blue roofs on different levels give Fira an exceptional appearance. In Fira, which is an elongated town from north to south, there are narrow alleys everywhere with many shops, bars, taverns, and restaurants. Unfortunately, the advent of tourism has partly taken away from the town’s traditional style, but it is still exceptionally beautiful. The town has a striking number of chic jewelry shops, this says something about the wealth of some of the tourists, who are brought here by cruise ship.
Time to say goodbye- Con te partirò
When you hear the entertainment team sing this song on deck you know what time it is. After a day of walking and enjoying the island it is wonderful to return to your ‘own’ ship. On the tender boat, you take another melancholic last look at enchanting Santorini and decide you will be back for sure. Fortunately, the lovely waitress we feel like has become our friend, is already there on the deck with a delicious cocktail. And you realize… this unforgettable cruise is almost over. But, we still have one more evening to enjoy this wonderful ship Ovation and its great staff. One last night in the theater with the great entertainment team. Once more caviar on deck. One more performance on deck with the singers singing Con te partirò…..We are going to miss it so much….
It is time to say goodbye to new made friends. Time to say goodbye to the most beautiful destinations, to a fantastic ship, to incredible staff. And we decide…we will most defenetely cruise again….soon!
This Seabourn cruise was an unforgettable one. There are lots of totally different feels in the world and we have visited some of them here. The middle east, the Arabian Gems, and the Holy land impress a lot. Your view on life and people will change. It’s an experience again which will change your life and make wonderful new memories. And equally important; new friends. We really can recommend this cruise and we are very sure you will love every single part of it.
When you have made great memories on such a cruise yourself? Therefor do share them with all of us please leave a remark below! Because we do want to know them and learn from your experiences! Or tell us about your own unforgettable experiences! We would love to hear them.
6 thoughts on “Seabourn Arabian Gems & Holy Land / Dubai – Athens, april 2019”
This was a great article. Thank you for sharing. My hubby and I will be taking our 7th cruise on Seabourn next Oct. from Athens to Singapore, through the holy land and I hope to visit many of the places you mentioned. Especially Temple Mount.
What a wonderful blog. Thank you so much for sharing. This is definitely on my bucket lisr and I’m looking forward to a time when we can once again board a Seabourn ship for this cruise.
What a wonderful blog. We will be aboard the Ovation from Athens to Dubai for the 25 day Arabian cruise. Your blog provided some great insights so thank you for that. Which ports lent themselves best to self exploring vs. tours? Would you suggest a private car at any of the places? We haven’t done that before but would consider it if it is recommended. Thank you!
Thank you! You will have such a great cruise! This was most definitely one of our most memorable ones. Which ports are the best to explore yourself? We think Doha-Qatar and Muscat-Oman you can do on your own. Take a bus or taxi outside the port and you will be fine! We sure do recommend booking the ship’s excursion to Petra as it is just easier and better organized. It’s pricy but worth every penny! We did book a ship tour in Jeruzalem and it was absolutely worth it. On our second day, we took the train ourselves to Tel Aviv which is perfect to do on your own. And also Haifa we did on our own. We just booked tickets ourselves which was easy. And in Santorini, you will be fine on your own we think. You can choose a lot of sights to see depending on if it is your first time on this glorious island. Just go up by cable car and take a taxi to Oia which is on the very end and the most romantic little art town with the best views. But the walk from Thira to Oia is beautiful as well with lots to see and do. For more questions, you can always contact me via de website or firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope you have fun but actually …I am very sure!
Hello Gert. I just reread the blog and wondered about the cool Arabian Nights party on the ship. When do they tell the passengers about it ? While we dont sail until Oct, it would be nice to know what to expect. It looks like you ended in Santorini where we continue on to Cyprus, Crete, Rhodes, Patmos, Paphos and end in Athens. Does the Lycabettus cable car in Athen go all the way to the top? Any restaurants in Athens you would recommend? We are booked at the Grand Bretagne so will probably taxi to the port unless you have other suggestions. Thanks in advance!
Hi! Great, you read my blog about the Seabourn Arabian Gems & Holy Land cruise. It was one of our top 3 cruises so I am sure you will LOVE it! Normally Seabourn has a couple ( depending on the length of your cruise) of deck parties. We had it the first part of the cruise because of the certainty of good temperatures. So they informed us a couple of days early so everybody got the chance to arrange an outfit. We bought it in Salalah Oman but the frequent sailors took their wonderful outfits from home already. But they will tell you a couple of days in advance so you can prepare!
Regarding Athens and the Lycabettus cable car: Yes it goes to the top of Lycabettus Hill with a great view of Athens. To get to the funicular station by metro you still have to walk two-thirds of the way up the hill (street sidewalk and stairs) and it gets a bit steep. The funicular has a limited number of seats, so allow some time to wait for the next funicular. The ride is in a tunnel, so you won’t see the views until you get to the top of the mountain. But it’s worth it, the views are magnificent! The ticket price is 7 euro ( including ascent and descent) and a discount at the Lycabettus Restaurant.
The advice of good restaurants in Athens is more difficult. But… we had a fantastic one with great views called Kuzin https://www.kuzina.gr/ Great Greek food and we got this address from our Greek friend from Athens! I asked him to share some more restaurants so when he replies I will come back to you on this!
For your transportation to the Grande Bretagne Hotel, there are of course plenty of taxis available in port but you can also use Uber which is cheaper and easier with payments.
Please let me know if I can help you with anything! Glad to help! Gert van Loenen Jr.
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