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I didn’t have the opportunity to go to Israel as a kid, but when I finally made it as a 22 year old, I said that I’d make sure to travel often with my own family.
Since that month-long trip with 2 of my 5 brothers in 2007, I’ve gone with my own family on 5 trips to the holy land.
Yes, of course they were booked using miles in premium cabins. In 2009, Mimi and I flew in Delta and Continental business class, in 2010 Mimi and I flew in Swiss first class, in 2015 we flew with Rafi and Talia in USAirways business class, and in 2018 and 2019 we flew in United business class with Rafi, Talia, and Maya.
The 2010, 2018, and 2019 trips were over Shavuos, while the 2015 trip was over Purim. There’s certainly something magical about spending a Jewish holiday in Jerusalem.
We loved our Shavuos 2018 trip so much that we mostly duplicated it for Shavuos 2019, so I’ll merge the trips into one composite trip report.
One of the reasons I’ve avoided writing Israel trip reports is that I don’t really care to engage in Israeli kashrus and politics discussions. I said my piece on Israeli kashrus here, but the bottom line is that things are more confusing in Israel than anywhere else in the world. Ask your Rabbi and hopefully you’ll get some level of clarity, but nothing constructive will come from debating it in the comments here, so let’s keep them on DDF.
Pre-flight relaxing in the CLE United Club’s kids room, May 2018:
…And June 2019:
I’m always a sucker on loading up with free snacks thanks to Priority Pass restaurant credit.
In 2019 we had a 2 hour and 18 minute connection time in Newark, which I thought sounded pretty safe.
We’ve had some experience in the past with missed connections to Israel.
In 2009 Swiss wound up losing our luggage on a tight connection. That worked OK as we made the connection and they paid us $4,400 cash.
In 2015 we booked USAirways business saver awards to Israel with this glitch. On the day of a flight I always use the airline’s website or flightaware.com to track the inbound segments of flights I’m going to take. Our Cleveland to Philadelphia flight was coming from Charlotte and Louisville before that. In the morning, those were showing on time, but about 5 hours before the flight, the flight from Charlotte to Louisville was delayed for mechanical reasons. I called USAirways, but as they didn’t post a delay yet for the Cleveland to Philadelphia flight there was nothing they could do.
Rather than play the waiting game at home we all packed into the car 4.5 hours before the flight to try our luck at the airport. On the way to the airport I got the automated phone call that the Cleveland to Philadelphia flight would be delayed. We called several USAirways and American agents, but they all said the same thing. As it was a mileage ticket the only thing they were allowed to offer was coach class on another airline or the next available USAirways flight to Tel Aviv in 6 days.
Airport agents always have more power than phone agents, so that’s what we were banking on.
Alas at the airport, the agent repeated the same thing, since we were on award tickets she was only able to rebook us on another airline in coach.
Time to charm her.
“But we’ve been saving up these miles to fly in business class to Israel for years.”
OK, so it didn’t take me years to earn the miles, but for many years I had indeed been saving and waiting to use the miles to fly USAirways business class to Israel. And I wasn’t able to book it for the family until the glitch opened up the business saver award space. 😀
After going on a charm offensive she was ready to fight for us. She called her help desk who repeated the same story, but she went to bat for us. They wanted her to find another OneWorld option, but there was nothing that would work out of Cleveland that night. So finally they agreed to move the 4 of us to United. Luckily, we arrived at the airport early as that allowed us to catch United’s flight to Newark.
OK, so that really worked out for the best as we were booked into paid business class and each earned a boatload of miles thanks to USAirways buying us seats on United:
Back to 2019, things were not looking good. I got notified in the club that our flight was delayed an hour due to air traffic control.
We could handle a 1 hour delay, but I started looking at alternate options, including Air Canada via Toronto, and Delta or El Al via JFK.
And then came a 2 hour delay. Things were not looking good for our 2 hour and 18 minute connection!
The problem was that none of those flights had 5 open business class seats, but the United Club agent protected us on those flights and we figured we’d deal with splitting up if we had to.
I got a kick out of seeing those flights in the United app, and seeing United call Delta J class and El Al C class “United economy” when those are business class fare codes: 😀
Our flight was finally taking off for Newark, so we thanked the United Club agent and hoped that we would be able to make our connection.
While United typically transfers Global Services members with tight connections in a Mercedes over the tarmac, they don’t offer that when you’re traveling with little kids.
They did however arrange for a cart to be waiting for us at our arrival gate and she whisked us over to United’s dedicated Tel Aviv gate in no time and we made our connecting flight despite the 2 hour delay!
United employee Feiga Tova drove the cart and had only one request, that we mention her name at the Kotel 🙂
I snapped a picture as we drove by the Polaris lounge, which we didn’t have time to enjoy:
We made it through secondary security at United’s dedicated Tel Aviv gate, where there is a large selection of kosher goodies for sale
Rafi got a kick out of this sign in the jetbridge in 2018. Clearly someone at United knew about our nightly bedtime ritual. Rafi always wants to know which airlines, connecting cities, and plane types fly from Cleveland to the city that his finger lands on and pretends his bed is that airplane flying to an exotic locale…
United’s 777 Polaris seat is great, especially if you grab the solo seat facing the window or the couple seats next to each other in the center:
Solo window seat:
The “couples” center seat has a divider that goes up or down. Certainly an ideal seat for those traveling together.
Bulkhead seats have pros and cons. They tend to be noisier due to flight attdendants working in the galleys, but they also have more space for your feet:
In 2018 I had time to slip outside of security to pickup a free delivery order from New Kosher Special:
The trick is to order the sesame chicken combo with a free egg roll and fried rice and with a $1 upgrade to white meat along with some extra broccoli. $10 all in for a delicious meal and there’s free delivery to Newark with a $40 order.
Alas they were closed down by the health department recently, but hey, who expects their Chinese to come from a place that’s clean. Hopefully they clean up their act soon and reopen!
In 2019 I just grabbed some sushi from CIBO at United’s Tel Aviv gate:
While we had some drama regarding a carseat for Maya in 2018, we didn’t encounter any issues in 2019. But I was prepared and ready if the issue came up!
Taking off from Newark:
United doesn’t supply PJs and slippers, so you’ll have to ask for them:
The Borenstein Regal meal, perfect if you’re starving and stranded on a desert island!
Dinner entrees are a choice of beef or chicken, which are rather generous terms:
Probably the worst 200 calories on Earth:
Luckily things have changed for the better since I took these flights. United now provides fresh kosher meals from Fresko and there’s even kosher wine!
United Polaris excels in bedding. With Saks sheets, blankets, and pillows, you can get a wonderful sleep:
When flying business class to Europe you feel cheated. There’s just not enough time to get any kind of decent sleep to justify the cost. That’s not the case to Tel Aviv.
I slept like a baby and woke up with a few hours left:
The mid-flight kosher snack was hummus. This has since been upgraded to a roasted veggie wrap.
Things were going pretty well, until Rafi started to feel ill and threw up. Since then we’ve learned to always give him Kids Dramamine before flying.
The Regal Kosher breakfast is decent enough:
I’d recommend skipping the rubbery omelette:
And go for the cheese blintzes:
Finally it was time a for landing:
We rented a minivan from Hertz so that we’d be able to pickup and return in the terminal without needing a shuttle. As is a must in Israel, I took dozens of pictures of the car from every angle to avoid problems down the line.
For our 2018 and 2019 trips we spent 3 nights at the Ritz-Carlton Herzliya, fondly known as the Ritzaliya on DDF, and 5 nights as the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem. That allows for some true vacation time at the Ritz and some spiritual time in Jerusalem.
On our way to Herzliya we stopped off at Alter Nativ in Tel Aviv for dinner, where we ate al fresco:
Alter Nativ has all sorts of hard to find Ben and Jerry’s cholov yisroel ice cream flavors, such as chunky monkey, which they make into excellent milkshakes:
We started with some yummy garlic bread, served with cream cheese and salsa:
The kids enjoyed a pizza:
And after a long day of travel we made it to the Ritz. The hotel is currently a bargain at 50K points per night, but it’s going up to 60K points on March 4th, so you’ll want to book now to lock in lower rates.
In 2019 we booked 2 rooms and were upgraded to a fantastic 2 bedroom penthouse suite:
Living room in the daytime:
In 2018 we stayed in the 2 bedroom Mediterranean suite, which is very similar, but not quite as grand.
The hotel overlooks the Herzliya marina, which makes for quite the picturesque view:
Not a bad place to relax:
On our 2018 trip we didn’t eat at the Ritz for the first couple days, unsure of its kosher status. But after speaking with the mashgiach and others I was comfortable eating most non-meat items there, but it’s certainly worth discussing with the mashgiach.
Unfortunately breakfast is not free. However Bonvoy members get a 25% discount and hotel guests don’t pay VAT, so the all in cost is $27/person. But best of all and what they don’t advertise, is that kids eat free!
That makes it easily worth the expense as the breakfast is among the best I’ve ever had.
The salads are all top-notch:
The kids were thrilled with mickey mouse pancakes:
The espresso drinks here are just phenomenal. It’s hard to keep yourself from getting a caffeine high!
It’s just a 10 minute drive from the Ritz to the Tel Aviv Namal (port). It’s a wonderful place to spend a day with the kids.
The playground is shaded, which was great for hot sunny days. And there are endless swings and slides for the kids to enjoy:
King of the castle:
There’s even a zipline for kids and adults to have some fun:
Alas one of my favorite parts of the Namal is no longer around thanks to the closure of Sde Dov airport.
I loved watching Arkia planes from Eilat landing at Sde Dov:
Walking down the Namal:
You can tell this kid has been to Hawaii 4 times:
Catching a breeze at the Namal:
And catching a wave:
Apparently Geoffrey lives on in Israel:
At the Namal there are mehadrin options such as Lechem Basar and Cafe Cafe. They also both have locations at the Herzliya Marina.
The food at Cafe Cafe isn’t memorable, but the kids seemed happy with their pizza:
Grilled cheese with mushrooms and onions:
One of the the highlights of the Ritzaliya is certainly its rooftop pool. There is a shallow kids pool and an adult pool:
On one side you can see the beach:
While the other faces the marina.
One of the drawbacks of the hotel is that it is not on the beach. It’s about a 7 minute walk to the beach and the hotel is happy to give you a bag of towels and water for the beach, but you’re on your own as far as renting chairs and finding a spot there.
We used a Herzliya babysitter and went downstairs to the marina for dinner. The mehadrin dinner options there are either Lechem Basar or Papagaio.
Lechem Basar’s Lamb Lachmajun is out of this world.
The mixed drinks are pretty good too:
But the filet mignon is fantastic!
In 2019 I had breakfast with Hillel Fuld and Chaikel, which was amazing. Hillel has boundless energy and is a true force of nature:
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What a wild Cinderella story! Incredible meeting with Daniel Eleff of Dansdeals.com. The man had a passion, he started a blog, went all in, and has now turned it into an empire. A one hour meeting and many fans who came over and asked in amazement “Are you Dan?” The man is all humility and it’s truly inspiring to meet someone who has achieved this level of success by simply following his passion. Pics by @chaikelk.
Another amazing breakfast at the Ritz’ Herbert Samuel:
And another sunny day at the pool…
After some fun in the sun we went down to the marina. Here’s what the hotel looks like from the marina, with the rooftop pool spanning between the towers:
Located throughout the marina are ice cream vending machines. Now the tricky part is figuring out which options are cholov yisroel, but the kids just loved how the vending machine served up delicious goodies:
Looking for an activity that would be fun for all of the kids, we drove down to Beit Guvrin’s Dig for a Day.
They give some historical background of the area before taking you down to help excavate caves that used to be people’s homes:
Everyone had a great time here, digging up things like old pottery and cooking utensils:
After digging, there’s an optional dark cave that includes some slithering around. Mimi stayed behind with Maya, but Rafi and Talia had a blast in it.
Taking a look at our finds and learning more about digging for antiquities:
Back at the Ritzaliya, the housekeeper figured out how to keep our room stocked with water. 😀
The kitchen at the Herbert Samuel:
After speaking with the mashgiach, we decided to eat dinner at the Herbert Samuel, but to stick with parve items only.
I was skeptical about how good a parve meal could be, but wow! The flavors they use here are just incredible! It was a truly memorable meal. The pastas and the fish dishes were as good as any I’ve ever tried. We were even brave enough to try a Tahina cocktail. 😀
Enjoying the Ritzaliya’s wine amenity on our balcony with family after having an amazing dinner together at the Ritz. Selfie credit to my wife Mimi 🙂
The best part about waking up in an Israeli hotel has to be the Israeli breakfast 🙂
Though waking up to a view like this doesn’t hurt eiither:
Tel Aviv’s Nachalat Binyamin arts and crafts market has hundreds of vendors every Tuesday and Friday. The only trick was telling each kid that they couldn’t just buy everything they liked!
Back at the Herzliya Marina, hidden inside the mall, is Papagaio. It’s fun to try out their all you can eat Brazilian table, where waiters keep coming around with different cuts of meats to try out. It’s not high quality meat, but it’s still fun!
On previous trips we’ve really enjoyed Tel Aviv’s Palmach Museum and the Blind Museum is supposed to be fantastic, but neither of those would work with all of the kids.
After the fun and relaxing in Herzliya and Tel Aviv, it was time to head to Jerusalem and to add some spirituality to the holy land trip. But that’s a trip report for another time.
Share what activities you enjoy doing in the Tel Aviv area!