Israel - Holy Cultures

Personal Evaluation of Overseas Adventure Travel -- Israel: The Holy Land & Timeless Cultures

As a 17 time traveler with OAT (solely), we feel we need to respond on-line to the trips we take with Overseas Adventure Travel. And as with all escorted trips, there are positives and negatives – we are after all dealing with human beings, airlines, daily schedules, and the weather.

The Positives:

1. Trip Leader - Ran Tzabar did a wonderful job of keeping to a very demanding schedule. He was professional, always knew the OAT guidelines, interacted with the group on all issues - politics, religions, local aspects, travel requirements, etc. He took us to the Wailing Wall early in the morning and we avoided the immense lines we saw when we left at 9 AM.

There were difficult situations during the trip where his expertise solved many problems. Ran introduced us to his brother and his nephew and later in the trip to a military friend and his family. These two experiences further enhanced our knowledge and acquaintance of the people of Israel. He certainly deserves continued support and trips from OAT.

2. Group Compatibility – This was one of the most compatible groups we have traveled with. The 15 of us hit it off from Day 2, our first day together. Everyone spent time with others, there were no cliques and the Happy Hours were enjoyed by all on a regular basis. Everyone respected everyone else, everyone was on time, no exceptions, and we all rotated seats in the vehicles.

3. Itinerary – This trip and Affordable Costa Rica are the two most physically demanding trips we have been on with OAT. We love to be pushed when we travel. Our philosophy is that we can sleep when we get home!

In Israel and Palestine we were on the go 10-12 hours per day for all but the last two days. We walked more than any other trip. On foot, we climbed and descended mountains regularly. OAT continuously reminds people that they should be in good shape.

For this trip one should prepare in advance. Both the group in front and following us did not handle the demands well. Both groups were overall older and not as physically fit.

3. Lodging – All lodgings (one exception, see negative below) were good and centrally located. By US standards they were small but we did not spend much time in our room, just to get some sleep and shower. I would say all were 3 stars. But what made them special was their location. CENTRAL. Restaurants, activities, and transportation.

We could walk, sightsee, eat meals, meet people, and in reality, do whatever we wished in the cities without too much effort. The staff in all were responsive, willing to help on all requests, and took the time to make our stay more enjoyable. The highlight was the Peace Valley Kibbutz cabins on the Golan Heights. Everything was first class – lodging, meals, location, smiles – everything.

4. Vehicles – We were assigned three vehicles during the trip. Our first was a mini-bus with 19 passenger seats (2x2 seating) and ample luggage space. When Andre (great and conscientious driver) was called back to Tel Aviv from our Kibbutz stay in the Golan Heights we were given a very narrow mini-bus with 15 narrow seats (2x1) and insufficient luggage space.

The driver was very poor, always talking on his cell phone, driving with one hand, and at a high rate of speed everywhere, including the many speed bumps. Ran worked all night to get us back to a vehicle identical to our original and he pulled it off. The driver was also much better, but not as professional as Andre. He never stood by the door to help people in and out of the vehicle on stops.

5. Individual Israeli People – What a pleasure it was to meet individual Israeli people. Warm, friendly, welcoming, always with a smile and outstretched hand.

6. Interaction With Variety of Religious Beliefs – As other people have written, we were able to interact with Muslims, Jews and Christians on a daily basis. We had discussions with all groups within the Jewish religion, Christians from all areas of the world, and Muslim from college professors, popular personalities and everyday man in the street.

There were also negative aspects that in some cases were beyond the control of OAT.

1. 2nd Vehicle – As I mentioned earlier, we had a serious problem with the 2nd Tour Bus and driver. Space wise there was not enough room for all of us. Luggage wise, only a few pieces would have fit in its cargo hold. Carry-on pieces would not have fit either.

The driver was not considerate of those in the back, drove recklessly and did not use prudent thought in his handling of the vehicle and visitors within.

2. Leonardo Dead Sea Hotel – This hotel may be the worst we have experienced with OAT. The room carpet were filthy – dirt was evident in all part of the hotel and room floors. The A/C was covered and clogged with dirt, dust and grease.

I called the manager, pointed it out and he told me it would be cleaned the following day. I returned to find to grill cleaned but the A/C fins still clogged. Cockroaches ran across the room of several of our tour members. The furniture was made of laminate and this was split, broken and in terrible disrepair.

The dining room tables had dried food on the pedestal and chairs. The buffet dishes were spilled over, food was found all over the counters and floors. When one enters the hotel, one is impressed with its outward appearance. Once we got into the hotel it was awful. Read what others say in TripAdvisor.

OAT was called on this and they said the hotel had fixed the problems. They are worse. For OAT, the issue is that there are no cheaper hotels by the Dead Sea.

3. Bedouin Village – This was a very contrived experience. They served coffee, modeling of clothes, lunch in a faux Bedouin tent – all were very made up. As this is part of the Grand Circle Foundation, there was also the request for donations to be given to the group of women who were doing embroidery.

4. Expensive – Israel is an expensive country for the tourist. $4 for a Coke. $5 for a coffee. Simple Mc Donalds meal is close to $10. We were told there are two charges, one for tourist and one for the Israeli. Be sure to have enough money.

5. Pilgrims – We were surprised with the number of Pilgrims. I met and spoke to people from every country in Latin America. I met 12 groups of Brazilians. Each of these groups were made up of 40+ people. And then the Europeans, Asians, and Russians.

In Jerusalem these groups were out in mass everyday of the trip. Waiting in line is part of the experience. At the Holocaust Museum I have a picture of 50 buses parked in a row. Fortunately this museum is so well laid-out that the people crunch was not evident.

6. Optional to Bethlehem – this was a poor experience as the church we were to visit was under reconstruction and the tour guide tried to make adjustments that were not worth the expense or our time. The only benefit was going through the Security Wall/Fence and check points on our return.

7. School – We did not visit a school as provided for in the itinerary. We were told to give our gifts to the ladies of the Bedouin village. They took our gift and just put them under the counter – no appreciation of our effort.

8. Weather – One knows that this is an uncontrollable aspect. We chose to travel in mid October as the weather history was much cooler weather. Unfortunately for us, Israel was going through its hottest Summer and Fall in its history.

We experienced regular temperature from the mid 80s to the 100s. Persons traveling in the future will need to keep close track of the weather and pack accordingly.

Overall, this trip was a once in a lifetime experience made truly enjoyable by our tour director Ran Tzabar.



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