A Thomson cruise from Cyprus to Israel offers the opportunity to see first-hand some of the world’s greatest treasures, discovers Erica Douglas

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I’m sitting at my bay window sipping a strawberry daiquiri, gazing out to sea with the beautiful landscape of Crete beyond.  We’ve just spent the day exploring the port of Aghios Nikolaos and I’m as relaxed as it’s possible for a person to be.

So far our Delights of the Promised Land cruise has taken us from Cyprus to Turkey, then on to Crete; our next port of call will be Israel. Travelling with my husband, Alex, who has never been on a cruise before, the attraction is clear: it’s the most relaxing holiday we’ve ever taken together. We don’t have to worry about how we’ll get home after going out for drinks and dinner, or seek out entertainment, because it’s all right here on board our ship, Thomson Majesty.

Our first stop was the pretty Turkish port of Alanya, where we were greeted by a view of the ancient fort and white villas nestled into the hillside. The water was clear blue and we spotted a giant turtle bobbing up for air.  We chose an excursion which took us to the Manavgat Falls and the historical site of Side, where we were guided to the magnificent ruins of the Temples of Apollo and Athena.

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The next day we arrived in Marmaris, where a short walk past gleaming yachts led us to shops, bars and cafés. We enjoyed a freshly squeezed pomegranate juice before exploring the large bazaar.

As the late morning sun began to heat up we retreated to our suite on board; it’s exceptionally spacious, boasting a double bedroom with en suite complete with bath.  A second room, ideal for relaxing has a large bay window, lounge area and dining room table to seat four. It’s the perfect accommodation for a family, or a couple that likes their own space, and on sea days the bay window makes a wonderful quiet spot for gazing out at the ocean.

Thomson Majesty also has an outside deck which boasts two adult pools, a shallow children’s pool and two Jacuzzis. A bar at either end with food served in the open air at lunch time makes this the perfect place to relax during a day at sea.

While the atmosphere on board is unpretentious and easygoing, the level of service is exemplary, some of the best I have experienced from a major tour operator. This is a very friendly cruise, with crew and guests alike happy to make new friends.

Our fellow guests tell us that one of the biggest attractions for them is the onboard entertainment, which includes quizzes, game shows, cabaret and live music. It’s “traditional variety”, and it’s clear the crew know how to please their audience. If you prefer something more low key then you can listen to the pianist and violinist in the Royal Observatory bar.

We’re both impressed with the range and quality of food available. There are two formal dining rooms on board Majesty, both offering the same menu and full waiter service. The Seven Seas and Four Seasons menu consists of five course options with coffee. These restaurants are popular with groups and couples are encouraged to dine together at tables of six, if you enjoy socialising then this is an attractive aspect of these dining rooms.

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If you prefer informal dining then the Café Royale caters to all tastes. The buffet style restaurant serves grilled meats, salads, pasta and even a roast beef dinner complete with Yorkshire pudding, should you have such a craving in the middle of your cruise. The atmosphere is relaxed and it’s a popular choice for couples and younger cruisers. Special mention needs to go to the watermelon carvings that adorn the buffets, and include flowers, gorillas, rams and occasionally, humans; we have fun working out what (or who) they’re supposed to be. At the speciality restaurant, Le Bistro, the cover charge is £19pp for a four course dinner with coffee and petit fours, and the food is excellent: our steaks are cooked to perfection, and an impromptu rendition of The Wonder of You, made famous by Elvis, has the whole restaurant singing along.

For all of us on this cruise, though, Israel is expected to be the highlight of our trip. The opportunity to take an excursion to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, two cities we’ve been hearing about ever since we were kids, is too good to miss.

Our guide, Jerry, greets us on board our coach and on the 90 minute journey gives us the historical, cultural and religious facts, taking care not to over focus on any one aspect and alienate his audience. We’re driven right up to the Jaffa Gate, one of eight gates in Jerusalem’s Old City wall. Our tour begins in the Christian Quarter, Jerry knew the Old City well and guided our party through the back streets, taking care to avoid the unnecessary busy spots.

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Jerusalem’s buildings are built in its eponymous pale cream limestone, and the result is beautifully uniform; it glitters under the rays of the midday sun. I’m surprised – and relieved – to discover that the city is a living, breathing one rather than simply a place of pilgrimage or a tourist attraction; it’s easy to imagine how life must have been here centuries ago. Our route takes us via the university, shops, cafés and even a working bakery tucked beneath the city streets.

After a short walk we stop at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, said to be the site where Jesus was crucified. The holy sites are always busy with pilgrims and tourists.  We pass through the Muslim Quarter and towards the Wailing Wall (also known as the Western Wall) in the Jewish Quarter, where pilgrims lament the destruction of the first and second temples. When you’ve been through security you’re free to go right up to the wall if you wish.

From here it’s a short coach journey to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations, with its stunning stained glass windows and painted mural arches, where it’s said that Jesus was betrayed by Judas.

For our visit to Bethlehem, our coach passes over the border from Israel to Palestine. There’s a noticeable difference in the landscape and atmosphere in Palestine; a tension in the air.

We make our way to the Church of the Nativity, where it’s possible to see the cave, or stable, where both animals and humans took shelter centuries ago. A 14-point silver Star of David on the marble floor signifies the birthplace of Jesus. Whether you believe or not, it’s a powerful symbol, and on the journey back to the ship we fall silent, overwhelmed by everything we’ve seen. Our Thomson cruise has been full of unexpected moments like this from start to finish, and we can’t wait to experience another one.

GETTING THERE

A seven night Delights of the Promised Land cruise departing on 2 April 2014 starts from £702pp. Ports include Limassol (Cyprus), Alanya and Marmaris (Turkey), Aghios Nikolaos, Crete (Greece) and Ashdod (Israel), based on two adults sharing an inside cabin on a full-board basis. Price includes return flights from Glasgow, transfers, port taxes, tips and service charges. For more info visit your local Thomson travel shop, call 0871 230 2800 thomson.co.uk/cruise.

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