Despite the country’s recent problems, tourism in Israel is bouncing back. Nick Jenkins discovers the ideal way to explore this fascinating region is from the comfort of a six-star cruise ship.
Unless you grew up somewhere like Downton Abbey, the chances are that - like us - you’ve never had a chance to get used to having a butler.
It probably explains why, when we heard we would have a butler on this cruise, our daughter said we should insist on calling him Carson at all times.
Clothes need pressing? Done. Another bottle of wine in our fridge? Of course. A booking in the ship’s best restaurant? No problem.
The Seven Seas Mariner is classy, but it’s also a very informal ship. No tuxedos or long dresses are needed.
Our ship was in the eastern Mediterranean and the prospect of going ashore in Israel was clearly a major attraction for our fellow passengers.
Ashdod, where we berthed for two nights, is a modern city and an industrial port, but it is handy for most sights in Israel.
All tours from the ship were heavily booked and our guide on the Jerusalem tour, Mordecai, was determined not to lose any of us.
As we prepared to enter the narrow alleys of Jerusalem’s Old City, it almost felt as though we were being roped together.
Maybe experience had taught Mordecai to be cautious but he was right. The Old City is not only a maze of narrow streets, but it is packed with distractions for the curious tourist.
We were entering the Christian Quarter from the Jaffa Gate, heading for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and while Mordecai was keen to point out Roman remains and ancient stone pavements, our fellow tourists kept being distracted by the tat on sale in many of the shops.
Guides love to point out a wooden ladder on a ledge outside the basilica. It has allegedly been there since the early 19th century because no one can agree who has the right to remove it.
Mordecai told us he was a military reservist for many years and it is hard to avoid the subject of conflict, big and small, when visiting Israel.
It is a country where, even when all seems peaceful, you are never far from reminders of a turbulent past and present. Happily, things have calmed down and tourists arriving on cruise excursions now should have nothing to fear.
Our ship, the Seven Seas Mariner, is a regular visitor to that part of the world and, as an all-inclusive ship, there is no added charge for excursions.
It is described as “the world’s first all-suite, all-balcony ship”, so every guest has a suite with a balcony.
In the parlance of the cruise industry, the Seven Seas Mariner is a six-star experience.
But what struck us was the classlessness. Unlike on some other cruise lines, guests can eat in any of the restaurants on board, whatever level of cabin they are in.
So it’s pretty much impossible to distinguish the person who has saved for three years to spend £4,000 on a once-in-a-lifetime experience from the money-no-object fellow guest who thinks nothing of spending £15,000 per person on one of the bigger suites.