It’s our second full-day in Israel onboard Odyssey of the Seas. The ship was docked overnight in Ashdod, which is the port city for Jerusalem.
Some chose to spend the night in Jerusalem while most of us seemingly returned to the ship. It was a quick night’s rest with another early morning for our full-day tour to Masada and the Dead Sea.
Originally, we had booked the Dead Sea on Your Own Tour. These excursions are essentially transportation to and from an attraction where you have time on your own. After second thought, we figured we should change to the Masada and Dead Sea tour to optimize our time in Israel and see as much as possible.
Today, we were not visiting any holy sites so we could wear shorts and tank tops.
The morning came too quickly at 5:45am. I think that is truly the earliest I’ve ever set my alarm on a cruise before! The earlier start is due to our ship moving from Ashdod to Haifa, and therefore we all need to be back by 6pm.
Our guide, Moshe (which means Moses in Hebrew) is apparently one of the oldest tour guides in Israel! He’s been giving tours for 40 years - so we knew we were in good hands.
The Windjammer was opened this early to accommodate those of us on long tours. The sun had yet to rise as we grabbed our breakfast.
We congregated in the Royal Theatre and soon we were on our way to Masada. We drove about an hour before the obligatory bathroom and shopping. I grabbed some local snacks to try.
During the drive, we weaved through big mountains and valleys. We started to drive along the Dead Sea and we could see Jordan just on the other side of the sea.
For those who aren’t familiar (aka me this morning), Masada is actually a national park in Israel and it has the archeological structure of King Herod’s palace.
Mayhem at Masada National Park
Once we arrived at Masada, the parking lot filled in with tour bus after tour bus. We all blindly followed Moshe into the sea of people - little did we know the chaos we’d be walking into.
I should note, there are 3 ships in port today, including an Oceania cruise ship docked in Haifa and we had the addition of a Celebrity cruise ship today. Apparently, we were all on the same timeline of heading from the port to Masada and then on to the Dead Sea. Not to mention, there are other tour groups that are prevalent in these big attraction sites.
All this to say - there were tons of people. Come to find out, there are only two cable cars that go up to the top of Masada and back down.
Everyone first goes through a small theatre to watch the little bit about the history of Masada. During this point, people were getting a little more aggressive about pushing and shoving to stay with their groups. This felt a bit like Disney World with less organization and people who had no respect for waiting in a line.
After the theatre, it was a huge bottleneck to get to the platform for the cable car. My mom was losing it seeing all the people pushing and shoving. There was even a woman with her baby that people were shoving around, which was astonishing!
Moshe was cool as a cucumber during all this - stating in all his years of leading tours, he’s never seen anything like this.
We pushed our way onto the platform with many others from our group. We loaded into the cable car with about 60 others, packed in there like sardines. As we turned around, we saw dad was left behind and didn’t make it onto the platform with us.
As the cable car launched into the air, we waved goodbye to dad as he stood amidst the chaos. Luckily, there were others from our group that were also stuck so he wouldn’t be alone.
Even with the mess, the cable car ride was beautiful as it catapulted us to the top of Masada. As we landed to the launching pad, we could see a huge line of people waiting to get back. Imagining that we’d have to endure more pushing and shoving - this time in the heat - led to a collective, large and unanimous sigh among everyone in the cable car.
We made our way to a shaded area under the guidance of Moshe. It wasn’t long before we met up with the remaining group members and dad found us quickly, to the relief of everyone.
At this point, some group members contemplated getting right back in line to return to the museum. Mom considered going right back down, but I warned her this wouldn’t do anything productive. She’d still have to wait for the rest of the group to finish and I told her it wasn’t a good time for her to venture away from the group.
Many of us realized we were grossly behind schedule. I asked Moshe if we’d be getting back for the ship’s scheduled departure of 5:30. His eyes widened and he laughed. It was pretty obvious we wouldn’t be back on time, along with lots of other tour groups in the same boat.
This is an instance where I was extremely relieved to be on a cruise-sponsored excursion. Had someone ventured to Masada on their own and got caught up in the chaos, they could have easily missed the ship’s departure.
I don’t always take short excursions through the cruise line, but there’s a time and place where it’s worth the extra money and convenience. Since we were on a Royal Caribbean excursion, we had the security knowing the ship wouldn’t leave without us and that gave us all a sense of relief.
Moshe guided us through the Masada fortress; however, it was quite hot and I have to admit that I was more concerned with taking panoramic photos of the view than trying to hear everything Moshe had to say. Everything was a bit of a whirlwind!
We toured where Herod the Great, King of Judea, lived. We saw the original bath structure that King Herod built. It’s believe that a mass suicide event took place in Masada when the Romans came to conquer the fortress, although archeologists don’t all agree with this theory.
Masada is one of the top tourist attractions in Israel and seeing the mountain-top fortress was very compelling. It’s not surprising that this is a major attraction given how far back the history dates!
It wasn’t long before we found ourselves back in line to take the cable car again. This line appeared more organized, although there was another bottleneck before entering the structured line area.
Our little tour group started to band together and ensure people weren’t cutting in front of us. We started to yell and point at others who weren’t obliging to the line.
Again, Moshe was cool as a cucumber. He was chatting with everyone and learning about their lives. He said this was his first time to Masada in 3 years because of the pandemic and he had never seen so many lines.
On the other hand, we couldn’t find mom at one point because she was down by the bottleneck calling out groups for not going to the back of the line. “A line is a line!” she kept yelling.
We cheered on mom as the line patrol. Moshe never lost his cool and said that’s just the way it is in Israel!
At one point, a ton of people started yelling and one of the cable car workers had to run over and start putting people in their place.
There were some tour groups claiming that they were planning to take the trail down - which can take an hour depending on your health. We all rolled our eyes at the group of baby boomers claiming they were going to take the rocky trail downward.
This all transpired while my deodorant was working overtime to keep up with the rising heat. It was dry and hot on the top of Masada while we were all trying to find humor in the chaos.
That’s just the way it goes sometimes when you travel!
In actuality, it took about 30 minutes to get back on the cable car and make our way back to the national park entrance. This was an improvement from the hour we waited to go up. We started chatting with a lot of our fellow tour members; it was almost as if we had a little trauma bond going on.
Although this was a bit chaotic, I can't really blame anyone. No one wanted to be separated from their group, hence the aggression in the lines. One of the tour guides explained that this is how things work in Israel and that us Americans have high standards for how operations should be run. That was an interesting perspective.
With only a few people working the cable cars and thousands of people going to the same spot at the same time, it was destined for mayhem. Moshe was apologetic was how unorganized it was, but of course, this was not his fault. This is one of those instances where you just have to go with the flow!
Dead Sea Bound
Back on the bus, we all cheered when every person miraculously made it back to the bus. Some members only rode the cable car to the top and stayed on to ride it back down. For those with mobility issues, this wasn’t a bad idea since the cable car ride was beautiful!
We were about 1.5 hours behind schedule when our bus made the short drive to the resort area near the Dead Sea.
At the resort, we were provided lunch and entrance to the changing area, spa and beach. The buffet had a variety of options, but I enjoyed the chicken fingers and French fries while dad tried a mystery meat that we have yet to identify.
We changed into our swimsuits and walked down to the beach. The Dead Sea is 400 meters below sea level - making it the lowest place on the planet!
Mom was actually the first in the water, which is funny because she can’t swim! The idea of not physically being able to drown must have given her courage.
We all joined her in the sea and laid on our backs as the salty sea kept us bobbing on the surface. I’ve never felt anything like it! Truly, it was one of the coolest experiences ever!
We bobbed around the sea for a while - noting how smooth and salty our skin felt. A tiny taste of the water on my lips was enough to keep me from any sort of splashing.
The sea floor bottom is filled with clumps of salt, so it wasn’t necessarily very nice to walk on. We had about 30 minutes to enjoy the Dead Sea, which honestly was plenty given the saltiness of the water.
It wasn’t long before there was an announcement for our bus to get ready for leaving in the next 20 minutes. Angie and I used the outdoor shower to rinse off and back into the changing room.
The drive back to the port was uneventful and quiet as many napped. I worked on this blog whenever the bus wasn’t weaving up the mountains.
Late Arrival Back to Port
We arrived back to the ship only an hour late, which isn’t as late as many of us were anticipating. The captain announced we would be departing at 8:00pm instead of 6:00pm.
After a long day touring, we decided to have dinner in the Windjammer again rather than having a long meal in the dining room. Again, I was pleasantly surprised by dinner selection in the Windjammer, as I really don’t eat dinner here often.
The ship feels a little tired and slow tonight with everyone recovering from their second full in Israel.
We ended the night with cocktails at Lime and Coconut to watch the ship’s departure; however, we didn't end up leaving until 9:00pm. We also used all of our Diamond vouchers to get canned water instead of letting them to go to waste.
Tonight, the ship will move from Ashdod to Haifa, which is just down the road. Tomorrow, we have a tour of Nazareth and Galilee, which will includes a stop in the Jordan River.
Luckily, we only have to meet our tour at 8am, so not as early. We are looking forward to a more restful night before our third and final day in Israel.