My mother and I joined Viking Cruises aboard the Viking Sea on an inspiring fifteen day cruise through the eastern Mediterranean, embarking from Athens and ending in Rome. I was never much of a “cruiser” until I discovered how amazing smaller boutique ships are… and the new fleet Viking ocean cruises are no exception!
Fairly new to the ocean cruise scene, we didn’t know quite what to expect before boarding the Viking Sea, especially since Viking is popularly known for its river cruises. It’s safe to say that the Viking Sea completely exceeded our expectations with its fresh, modern, high tech design and impeccable service.
We were lucky enough to be on board for the first time Viking Cruises had ever docked in Israel and each additional port was more beautiful than the next: Athens, Haifa, Ashdod, Limassol, Rhodes, Mykonos, Naples and Rome.
Many may view Athens as just a gateway to the gorgeous islands of Greece but this is far from the truth. For starters, the city is a Greek culinary hub with dozens of cafes and restaurants located in the beautiful Plaka district, joined together with gorgeous views of history all along the slopes of the Acropolis. It’s the ideal setting to enjoy traditional small plates of mezes and sip ouzo or dry Greek white wine. But aside from the delicious food, Athens is also home to some of the most amazing views, street art and charming streets!
Must visits: The Acropolis, Monastiraki Flea Market, Mount Lycabettus, Plaka district
Food/Drinks: Psaras Fish Tavern in the Plaka, Grande Bretagne Roof Garden
Made famous by the beautiful Jackie O in the 1960s, the island of Mykonos is the smallest of the Greek Islands. It is picture perfect in every way with its centuries old windmills perched on the seaside and a maze of narrow and charming streets of whitewashed houses and pastel colored doors.
You’ll walk on bougainvillea on the streets and take in the senses of this beautiful piece of the earth. Some 400 churches dot the island’s stunning landscape, from the Panagia Paraportiani, or Church of Our Lady to the tiny little one room chapel in Little Venice which is my personal favorite.
One of the most romantic corners of the island is Little Venice. Here, rows of fishing houses with balconies are perched directly on the water and the famous thatched roof windmills, once used to grind wheat, overlook the harbor.
Must visits: Psarou Beach, Nammos Beach, The Windmills in Little Venice,
Food/Drinks: Nobu Matsuhisa Restaurant in the Belvedere Hotel, Jackie O Bar, Solymar
The lush, fertile island of Rhodes is home to the Palace of the Grand Masters, a remarkable and sprawling fortification. Its historic quarter is Europe’s largest active medieval town.
Outside the city, forests of pine and cypress blanket mountain slopes and hug rocky shores. Vineyards and groves of citrus and olive soak up the Aegean sun. The Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem conquered the island in the 14th century, bringing great wealth from the Holy Land.
The largest of the Greek Islands, Crete was home to the Minoans, Europe’s earliest recorded civilization. Its capital, Heraklion, grew from the riches of the Venetian Empire, which ruled here for 4 centuries. The island is blessed with generous beaches, soaring mountains, deep gorges, and rivers.
The Holy Land
My mother and I have dreamed of experiencing the Holy Land for years and the time finally came to embark on this spiritual journey together! Viking Cruises did an excellent job of planning the itinerary in both Haifa and Ashdod ports, allowing us enough time to see majority of the main spiritual sites.
We spent two nights docked at the port of Haifa and it was enough time to visit the Bahai’ Gardens, the town of Acre, Nazareth, Capharnaum, Sea of Galilee and more.
Built on the slopes of Mount Carmel and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the city of Haifa holds a significance to the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths where they all live in harmony together in this city.
Pilgrims of the Bahá’í faith flock here to visit the Hanging Gardens and cascading terraces on a hillside in Haifa. A guided tour of the remarkable gardens is highly recommended.
The beach side town of Akko is one of the oldest cities in the world, continuously inhabited since some 4,000 years ago. The old city is incredibly well preserved and the fish and spice markets are a joy to wander through. (Insider Tip: don’t miss the underground city with all of its crusader halls and the citadel atop of the town offering gorgeous views of the sea.)
Sea of Galilee
Yardenit The Baptismal site on the Jordan river.
The Jordan River is the largest river in the Holy land. It is mentioned nearly 200 times in the Bible and New Testament, and it bears a very special spiritual significance and presence. This is where Jesus was anointed by the Spirit of God when he was baptized by John the Baptist in its waters.
“The Wall of New Life”
When Jesus came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove: And a voice came down from heaven, “thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am pleased.” Three verses from Mark 1:9-11 are quoted in almost 100 languages and dialects are inscribed on ceramic panels forming together the “Wall of New Life” at Yardenit. Behind each language, there is a community that has visited Yardenit. This wall welcomes visitors at the entrance and runs along the banks of the River, following the baptism pools.
Church of the Beatitudes
This church was perched on a hillside with breathtaking views of the Sea of Galilee. We arrived around sunset, just as they were about to close, giving us a very peaceful place to end the day. The site truly took us back 2,000 years to the time when Christ preached the Sermon on the Mount.
Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes
The Church in Galilee where Jesus performed the miracle of feeding 5,000 people.
From this port, we had the opportunity to explore the holy sites of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The sixth largest city and the largest port in Israel, this is where most cruises dock when heading to Jerusalem. Located in the Southern District of the country, on the Mediterranean coast where it is situated near Tel Aviv to the north. Jerusalem is located just 33 miles to the east.
Bethlehem, where Jesus was born and where Christians and Muslims live in harmony together.
The grotto of the Nativity is the place where Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. On this grotto, a Basilica with a nave and 4 aisles was built and it is accessible through a humble entrance. Around the grotto of the Nativity, there are other grottoes tied to the memory of St. Jerome. This was an incredibly emotional experience for me.
The Church of the Annunciation of Mary in Nazareth houses a grotto that contains the cave-like home of the Virgin Mary. The cupola inside the church represents a lily flower as an image of Mary’s purity, and the exterior by a lantern symbolizing the Light of the World. We visited on a Sunday and heard prayers coming from the church as the people residing in Nazareth were getting ready for mass. I observed as they walked into the church and as I listened closely, I heard the prayers in my language, Assyrian / Chaldean, which is one of the oldest languages in the world, a dialect of Aramaic. This was a special and serendipitous surprise.
Capharnaum is the town of Jesus. He turned this place into His base for preaching and performed many healing miracles here. It’s also home to a variety of ruins and artifacts from the Roman period. One of my favorite moments was when I decided to take a much needed a break to be alone for a little while. Something drew me to this gate where I stumbled upon the most peaceful scene I’ve ever laid my eyes on. A cloud of mist hovered over the Sea of Galilee and the calm water and reflections immediately whisked my heart away. I sat on a rock for about 30 minutes and I had the entire place to myself until my mom found me and joined me here. I’ve always struggled with meditation and I’m definitely not a yogi, but this place, this moment, inspired me and gave me a little taste of what its like to just be still. I think it’s very important to remember to remember to be present while we travel because it’s so easy to get lost in the commotion. I’ll never forget this special moment.
Jerusalem is one of the holiest places in the world. This is where Jesus was crucified, where Jews built their sacred Temple and where Mohammed rose to heaven. I still can’t believe I got to walk the grounds of this awe-inspiring city, rich with history and faith!
We visited the Western Wall, an important religious site for the Jewish people, walked Via Dolorosa where Jesus walked during his crucifixion. This emotional walk lead us to the Holy Sepulchre church where the last station of the cross resides.
Garden of Gethsemane
The church built over the rock where Jesus prayed before His crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane. He cried in agony just as we do when our hearts are in pain. Hebrews 5:7: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”
Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus and its historic capital of Limassol boasts a long history. Legend tells us that the incredible Aegean landscape of Cyprus was the birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.
The island nation is also home to Mt. Olympus, the perch from where Greek gods rules the ancient world. In the historic center, history stands in for mythology at the Limassol Castle and there are many charming shops and cafes to take a break from sightseeing.
Naples / Capri Island
With a history stretching back 2,500 years, Naples was long a cultural center of the Roman Empire. Napoli has a beautiful blend of architectural styles from classical Roman ruins to medieval castles and Renaissance / baroque buildings. Many awe inspiring structures line the Vespa filled streets and piazzas of the historic center – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The giant and all powerful Mt. Vesuvius is seen from many parts of the city and even from the Viking Sea as we docked in port!
With a desire to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, we decided to take a ferry boat to the island of Capri, just 1 hour from the port of Napoli. Tickets can be purchased at the kiosk right before departure and the kiosk is only a 5 minute walk from the Port of napoli.
The Island of Capri is one of the most beautiful islands I’ve ever seen and even with just a day trip, you can still enjoy all that it has to offer. Capri has no shortage of gorgeous views, gardens and cliffs along winding trails and roads. Gorgeous homes perch the hilltops and it is the shopping mecca of the Amalfi Coast.
Upon arrival by ferry, purchase tickets at the port where you’ll get off the ferry at the base of the island (pictured below) and take the Funicular up to Capri Town. This is where you’ll be able to explore. I recommend following the ceramic signs and maps that will lead you on the path to the gorgeous Faraglioni rocks and viewpoint.
After the mini hike, I highly recommend making your way back to the piazzetta to have lunch at one of the best authentic, family owned restaurants in Capri, Ristorante Michelangelo. Order the liguine limone, trust me, you won’t be disappointed!
The Ship: Viking Sea
The Viking Sea is incredibly impressive and true to the Viking Cruises brand, the itineraries offers extraordinary luxury for a great value. The ship is light and airy with floor-to-ceiling windows all around and is comfortable enough to make you feel right at home.
The ship has many choices of restaurants from fine dining to al fresco. I especially loved the room service that was available around the clock for those days when I just wanted to stay in my comfy room.
I cannot express enough how wonderful the staff was on this ship. They were always kind, courteous and never failed to remember each guest by name. I’ll never forget when my mother and I were having dinner and she asked the waiter when they will have pistachio gelato. The waiter said one moment and walked away. Shortly after, he came back with home made pistachio gelato especially for her. She was so happy and it made her night. It’s the little things that make all the difference.
The Room: Deluxe Veranda
270 sq. ft.
Mini-bar with soft drinks, water & snacks, replenished once daily
King-size Viking Explorer bed with luxury linens
Luxury robes, slippers & toiletries
42″ flat-screen LCD TV
Interactive TV & movies-on-demand
Tech features like convenient USBs on the wall and wi-fi throughout the ship
The heated bathroom floors might be my favorite stateroom feature
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I was invited as guest by Viking Cruises. As always, all opinions are my own.