15 days Jordan and Israel/ Palestine - May 11 - May 24, 2019
Lena was great to work with, providing guidance to meet our needs in terms of timing and sights.
Akram Halabi is a fantastic driver/guide. We were so fortunate to have his advice, descriptions of sights, and recommendations. Highly recommend Akram!
We found the day at Jerash and Um Qais to be long and tiring, with the focus being solely on ancient ruins. The lunch spot, Green Valley, which Akfram recommended was the highlight of the day.
The La Locanda Hotel is quite nice, but some rooms have limited electrical outlets for guests' use.
Visiting Madaba, Mt. Nebo, and the Dead Sea was fascinating and fun. The Dead Sea Spa Hotel was a bit "worn around the edges," in need of updating. The dinner and breakfast buffets are clearly focused on large tour groups, and we found the food to be largely inedible, devoid of flavor and quality. Brad got very sick the day we left, from eating improperly washed fruit for breakfast at the Dead Sea Spa Hotel, which had a vastly negative effect on his enjoyment of the first day at Petra.
Petra is, of course, the crown jewel of Jordan. The hotel, The Petra Guesthouse, is lovely and has a great location right next to the entrance of the Petra Archaeological Park. The included breakfast at the Petra Guesthouse was excellent.
I would suggest asking clients whether or not they want to have a family visit in Petra. We were exhausted from having spent the day visiting the sights in the archaeological park, so we would have preferred to just stay at the hotel. Since Brad was very sick, he did not attend the family dinner. I was not provided with any contact information for the driver in Petra to go to the family dinner; and, since "outside" drivers are not permitted in the security gate to the hotel, I had to search around for a driver. The driver and the father of the host family did not have any signs that indicated that they worked with In2Jordan, so I was a bit leary about getting into a car with two total strangers and heading off onto local roads to a nearby village. Everything worked out OK, but the family visit was quite awkward in that only the father of the family spoke English, and he seemed more interested in smoking cigarettes incessantly than in engaging with me or his family. I reeked with smoke by the time I got home, so I had to shower and hand-wash my clothes. Frankly, it seemed that he wanted to get the family meal obligation over with as soon as possible, and I was OK with that approach since I was not enjoying myself at all.
The back tour of Petra to the Monastery was excellent, and the guide (Tariq?) was quite good.
We then went to the Memoriet Aicha Luxury Camp in Wadi Rum. Do not book guests into the "Panorama" rooms, which are miserably hot, to the point that Rich almost passed out. In addition, the plastic domes are worn and torn, with the clear panels for the panoramic view clouded and cracked to the point that you couldn't really see out of them. The front desk manager had told us before we went to the room that the air-conditioning wasn't working very well, and that we would be upgraded for free if we found the rooms too hot. Fortunately, we were able to move to another tent. The camel tour was quite fun.
The jeep ride the next day was very interesting, but lasted 2.5 hours instead of 3 hours because the driver said he had to get to other guests.
By the time we got to Aqaba, we were exhausted and had little interest in going snorkeling or other beach activities, so the time at Aqaba became a day of rest for us. For being a seaside town, Aqaba did not have many decent restaurants that focused on fish or seafood. The La Costa hotel was quite good, except that there were no chairs (including no desk chair) in the room.
Our Israeli driver, George, explained that he was not a guide, but only a driver, so he didn't even explain the basis importance of sights on the first day, e.g., Masada and Qum Ran. We would have skipped both those sights since the signage at both places was limited and lacked any real information about the historical significance of the location. Both seemed more focused on shepherding tourists towards their gift shops and restaurants than on the archaeological and historical significance of the sights. Both sights are overrun by tour buses. We then traveled to Jerusalem to stay at the Gloria Hotel, which is in a great location with comfortable beds and good bathrooms/showers. No bottled water is provided by the hotel (unlike every other hotel we stayed in), and the wifi service is very weak and spotty. Since the Gloria Hotel is focused on tour groups, the meals are buffet-style with OK, but not great, food.
There was some mix-up on which day we were to have a private guide for Bethlehem, but once that issue got sorted out, we were SO fortunate that Khadra Zreineh was our guide. She is magnificent! She's knowledgeable about the historical and religious significance of the various sights; she's excellent at knowing how to navigate sights to avoid standing in long lines; she explained the Palestine/Israel political issues clearly; plus, she's friendly, professional, and intelligent. We enjoyed her so much that we engaged her for another day to guide us in Jerusalem. We recommend that you strongly suggest that future guests hire a guide for both Bethlehem and Jerusalem. And, if you can book her services, we suggest that you always engage Khadra as a guide. By the end of the two days, we were referring to Khadra as our Palestinian sister!
We liked having a free day in Jerusalem to get outside the Old City walls.
We liked the Dizengoff Avenue Hotel, which is in a great location (15-minute walk to the beach; 2-minute walk to dozens of restaurants). The rooms are large (except for tiny bathrooms), with two stools at the desk area, which we appreciated. The KimKim/In2Jordan itinerary indicated that breakfast was included, but the hotel had no records or vouchers for us, so we paid independently for our breakfast. If your clients are "foodies," we recommend that they book a table - or better yet, a seat at the bar overlooking the open kitchen - at Claro. While it is not cheap, it is a top-notch, world-class restaurant, worthy of an evening out.
All-in-all, we were very pleased with the KimKim/In2Jordan trip. With a few minor tweaks (eliminating spending the first day visiting only ruins; reserving tent rooms - and not space bubbles - at the Bedouin camp; and eliminating the home dinner with locals in Petra), it would have been a fantastic trip.