Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cruise Port Review: Haifa, Acre (Acco)

This was to be the second day of the custom tours arranged by our travel agent, Ellen, who was one of our group of 14. Our tour for Kusadasi was wonderful and we had great expectations for our days in Israel. Unfortunately, day 1 was not up to Ellen's standards nor what our group had come to expect.

It started with our guide being late. The tour bus was not where it was supposed be to meet us and we lost time with that being straightened out. Our guide was severely lacking in local knowledge as in having to stop at the Bahai Garden gate to see when it opened. At one stop he had the bus letting us off on what was the wrong side of a very busy street. Our protests persuaded him to ask the driver to make a U-turn so we could disembark the bus without crossing heavy traffic. His commentary was worthless. He answered questions with everything from "I don't know" to making things up. And Ellen was beyond livid! (More on this later.)

Our agenda included the Bahai temple and gardens (and the spectacular view of Haifa), a Druze village, the Crusader Citadel at Acco, the Turkish Baths and the Beit Shearim Catacombs. We got to see them all and enjoyed them all but we were sure our experience would have been better with a more knowledgeable guide.

That said, the Crusader Citadel and Turkish Baths in Acco is definitely worth a visit. At the Turkish Baths we had headsets that allowed us to listen to the explanations and it was an interesting experience. I wish we had more time in the city. Based upon the little we saw, it looked like a wonderful old city to wander in.

Our last stop was at the national park that contains the Beit Shearim Catacombs. Originally I didn't want to include this but Ellen persuaded me otherwise and I'm glad she did. It was a fascinating and not at all what I had expected. From one who has claustrophobia, I expected small enclosed spaces. Instead we found large open tunnels, with beautifully decorated sarcophagi and, of all things, a menorah carved into one of the tunnel walls.

Lastly, we asked our tour guide about shopping in Haifa. We wanted a place where tourists shopped, like the stalls we saw in Acco. Actually, when it was time to leave Acco, we specifically asked him if there was shopping like that in Haifa and he said 'yes.' So where did he have the bus driver take us? To the shopping area where the local shop: shoes, clothes, hardware, etc. NOTHING like we wanted. Cancel that and take us back to the ship. As next reported, Ellen was, big time, ready to take care of this problem.

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