Following 22 months of planning, preparation and meetings with local dignitaries and officials, Crystal Cruises hosted its second and final shoreside event for full World Cruisers this week at Israel's 2,000-year-old Bell Caves. With strong support and cooperation from the management of Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park, the caves were reserved for the Crystal event in spite of traditionally being available only to religious visitors and tourists during Passover.
After a warm welcome to Israel from Raphael Ben-Hur, senior deputy director-general of the Israel Ministry of Tourism, as well as Crystal Serenity's captain and cruise director, the nearly 200 guests on the 108-day voyage were treated to several live performances, including traditional Israeli drummers and Fire Dancers, the Black Hebrew Choir and acclaimed opera singer David D'Or, and dined on local specialties in the expansive candlelit cave.
"We invest months - sometimes years - working with our tour operator and event planning partners worldwide to create truly unforgettable events at venues that hold historical and cultural significance, as these caves do, particularly at the time of Passover," says John Stoll, director of land programs. "It was thrilling to witness our guests' surprise and delight when they saw what we arranged especially for them."
After the introductory entertainment, guests were wowed when curtains were dramatically lifted to reveal an even more massive cave adorned with long dining tables and elaborate candelabras.
One attendee raved, "This was Crystal Cruises at its best and one of the best events we have ever attended."
Many guests spent that day ashore visiting such notable sites as the Western (formerly Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, where the faithful from around the world pray during Passover week, and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which expects more than 150,000 visitors this Good Friday.
On board the evening before, more than 100 Jewish guests observed the first night of Passover with an extravagant traditional seder meal, blessed by a rabbi and served in Prego, the award-winning ship's Italian specialty restaurant. Religious services and an Easter brunch will also be held aboard Crystal Serenity this weekend.
Every Crystal World Cruise features two shoreside events exclusive to travelers taking the full World Cruise. For 2010, the first event was held last month at Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit Formula 1 racing arena, and featured exhilarating demonstrations from professional drivers along with an elegant reception.