I had heard all the horror stories of “interrogation” conducted at Israel’s airport for arriving/departing non-nationals. How they can separate travelling companions for questioning to see if your answers matched up, before granting visas. To say that I was nervous was an understatement. Especially as we were travelling as a family (Husband, < 2 year old toddler and myself) from Brussels.
So not only would we need to survive the 4.5-hour flight, but we would also have to brave the gauntlet of passport control, customs and luggage collection with stroller and toddler in tow.
Thank goodness I found the fantastic private tour company Superb Private Tours who can tailor make packages based on your needs and budget. They took the pain out of travelling in Israel by expediting our whole arrival and airport experience, as well as providing other services like transportation (airport/hotel transfers), private tours, hotel recommendations, etc.
As an example, Superb Private Tours has three different packages under “Airport VIP Meet and Greet” starting with passport control assistance to full on “sit back and relax in the lounge while we do everything” assistance. We took the middle-of-the-road option at $120usd for two adults and a toddler one way. It was worth EVERY cent, especially on departure when we probably saved at least an hour bypassing security queues!
We were whisked to our hotel in Jerusalem, where we settled into the modern Mamilla Hotel. With close proximity to Jaffa Gate, one of the entrances to the Old City – it makes it a perfect location from which to explore and soak up all the history on offer. Excellent customer service, from physically escorting us to our room, explaining every detail, demonstrating how the bathroom glass wall could be turned opaque at the click of a button and even checked whether we preferred a baby crib or if they should make up the sofa-bed in the room for our daughter (we opted for the first option).
Rooms range from Studio to Executive to a range of different Suite types, with prices starting around $350usd per night per room. A full and extensive Israeli breakfast is included in the rate, along with complimentary bottled water (replenished daily) and excellent L’Occitane en Provence Bathroom products in your hotel room. Another big plus for us was that there is an indoor swimming pool in the basement which also had a toddler splash pool! Meaning that after a hot (and sweaty) day of exploring, we could cool down and enjoy a somewhat peaceful moment in this space – especially since we seemed to be the only guests making use of it in the afternoon.
Food wise, they have two great restaurants on site as well as numerous bar options. We managed an early dinner on the Rooftop restaurant, where they happily supplied a high chair for our daughter and staff stopped to engage with her while we had a delicious meal overlooking the old City. Although, they do note that you can only occupy the table for two hours, we managed a very happy evening while watching the sun set over the city and returned to our room full and content.
Walking around the Old City of Jerusalem with a small one is no easy task! We attempted to use the stroller on the first day so that she could be restrained and that we could navigate the area quickly. But it soon became clear that the narrow streets and numerous steps were not stroller friendly and we eventually resorted to one person carrying her while the other carried the stroller in its folded format. Thankfully neither were too heavy!
From Jaffa Gate to the Western Wall, along the Via Dolorsa through the Arab market and finally to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you can feel the centuries of history that Israel holds with each and every step.
Not once did I feel unsafe or uncomfortable, even though you do see armed military on certain corners. People were friendly and English was widely spoken. In order to enter certain religious areas, I recommend wearing long pants for men and a skirt for women (as well as a shawl/light weight jersey for women to cover their arms)– but other than that, we travelled the same way that we normally do!