March 31, 2005
Pesach Trip Options Beyond the Ordinary
Passover travel once meant shlepping to Miami Beach, where great operatic tenors like Robert Merrill and Jan Peerce would conduct the seder at a fancy-schmancy hotel, or to the Catskills, which was more haimish but just as fattening.
But Passover travel options today have expanded to include experiences ranging from Disney World to the Caribbean to a dude ranch in Wyoming. And you can get some decent deals on Miami Beach, too.
In fact, the entire kosher travel business -- especially around the United States -- has grown dramatically in recent years, according to industry executives.
"It's exploded," said David Lawrence, an executive with Kosher Expeditions, which has offices in Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles and offers kosher-catered trips to places ranging from Alaska to Zimbabwe.
Lawrence attributes much of the increase in kosher travel to the situation in Israel, where the intifada has discouraged many would-be tourists from vacationing in the Holy Land.
"We're getting a lot of day schools that used to go to Israel but are now looking for other options," he said.
Kosher Expeditions and other travel companies are also becoming more adept at reaching specific Jewish market segments, according to Margo Dix Gold of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.
"Trips are no longer marketed only for seniors and empty-nesters," said Gold, noting that more and more vacations are being designed for singles or for people desiring adventure travel.
For example, Kosher Expeditions' Lawrence said, his company can provide food for observant Jews who want to take a leisurely cruise or climb Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro.
"Kosher-trained chefs and mashgiachs [kosher inspectors] travel with our groups," he said, "and we'll fly in food if necessary."
The Jewish travel business is especially good around Passover, Atlanta's Gold said.
"Passover is the most celebrated holiday amongst Jews, even for those who are not very observant," she said. "Almost all Jews will celebrate Passover in some way."
And that has led a variety of companies to offer Passover vacation packages.
For example, MatzaFun Tours offers Passover at Disney's Contemporary Resort in Orlando. In addition to all the Mickey Mouse you can stand, the package features three gourmet glatt kosher meals daily and traditional family seders, daily synagogue services, guest lecturers and nightly entertainment. Included are children's Park Hopper passes for full-stay guests and transportation to all Disney theme parks. For more information, visit www.matzafun.com.
If you prefer to spend Passover at sea, the Ontario Travel Service is booking passengers aboard the Deep South Caribbean kosher cruise, departing from Ft. Lauderdale on April 22. The cruise package includes seders on the first two nights of Passover conducted in a separate area of the dining room under Conservative supervision.
Greg Bernhardt took the cruise with his mother and daughter, enabling him to spend Passover with his mother for the first time in years since he became observant.
"People who do not keep strictly kosher feel comfortable on the cruise, and the kashrut was good enough for me," he said. "But the best part was re-uniting the family and spending the holidays together."
At one point during the cruise, Bernhardt recalled, Jewish passengers who were not part of the kosher contingent asked if they could participate in the Yizkor service, while another passenger -- an adult -- celebrated his bar mitzvah with the group. That kind of cohesiveness appealed to Bernhardt and his teenage daughter, who made friends from Scotland and Ireland while on the ship.
The Deep South itinerary includes stops at Martinique, Barbados, Antigua, St. Maarten and the Bahamas. For more information, call (800) 893-5617.
For something really different, Kosher Expeditions offers a dude ranch adventure in the not-so-wild West. Participants can ride horseback, go white-water rafting, relax in a hot spring and explore nearby Yellowstone National Park.
Joel Weinberger took his two daughters on the dude ranch trip a couple of years ago. "My kids got the experience of being out there in rural America," he said.
All meals were glatt kosher, served family-style in the ranch's dining room with several barbecues during the week. There's no roughing it, either. The Kosher Expedition's package includes modern cabins with private baths and maid service. For more information about the dude ranch adventure, call (800) 923-2645.
For something a little more laid back, Club Kosher offers their yearly package dubbed, Passover in Paradise, with two destinations: Cancun and Tuscan, Ariz.
The Cancun trip offers guests typical resort amenities and expansive child-care programs at the Hilton, as well as atypical Mexican fiestas for those looking for a good party.
In Arizona, spa delights abound and the resort features an expansive golf course. There will also be ample opportunity to explore spiritual realms with scholar-in-residence, Rabbi Manis Friedman. For details, visit www.ClubKosher.com or phone (866) 561-4312.
If San Juan or San Diego appeals to you, Afikomantours offers two resort packages featuring glatt kosher meals, seders and children's camp. For more information, call (888) 234-5669.
And there's always Miami Beach, where several hotels offer complete packages. For more information, visit www.totallyjewishtravel.com.