Passover Travel, Liberated


From ski vacations to Roman holidays, California ranches to Caribbean beaches, there are more ways than ever to spend Passover in style.

Passover-week programs have evolved and proliferated around the world, combining family vacations with holiday ritual, Jewish scholars, high-profile entertainers and amenities like tearooms and spas. Many programs book and kasher an entire luxury resort for the week, hiring noteworthy chefs and offering kosher travelers an opportunity to stay at landmark properties while dining first class.

“The Passover program industry has grown massively over the last decade. There is a huge choice for the consumer,” said Raphi Bloom, co-owner and sales and marketing director for Totally Jewish Travel, a prominent Jewish travel aggregator website that has carried advertisements for thousands of Pesach programs over 20 years.

Typically, packages offer a baseline “full stay” option, 10 days and nine nights, with optional add-on nights for those eager to beat the crowds, and a shorter package also available.

Bloom said Cancun is “very popular” this year, with several programs relocating from the Dominican Republic and Jamaica to the Mexican resort. Other hotspots include Morocco and Thailand, he added. “And the European market is growing year on year, especially the Greek Islands,” Bloom noted, adding that both Europe and Asia can be excellent values for Americans. “There are some new, hip programs with very cool entertainment and scholars in residence.”

Brian Gurien of New York-based Presidential Kosher Holidays often gets asked about the security of Cancun, given Mexico’s soaring homicide rate. “All of the tourist hotspots are very safe,” is his usual reply. “Cancun is actually safer than a number of popular cities in the U.S.” Presidential’s Passover offering is at the Fairmont Mayakoba, a high-security gated resort surrounded by 240 acres of tropical forest and a pristine Caribbean shoreline on the Yucatan’s Riviera Maya, about 40 miles south of Cancun.

Apart from white-sand beaches and glatt kosher cuisine, Passover at the Fairmont Mayakoba involves daily children’s programming, a book club, films, tearooms, lectures and varied entertainment — headlined by the comedian Modi — on Chol HaMoed nights.

All of Kosherica Cruises’ Passover programs sell out far in advance, said general manager Aliza Seidman. “And each one has a personality completely of its own,” she noted. Perhaps the most legendary of Kosherica’s offerings is Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, which tops many lists of family resorts and just underwent a $25 million renovation. Guests can frolic in the water park, tour the aquariums, swim with dolphins and more in this 141-acre waterscape. “A magical place,” Seidman raved. Full-stay rates start at $4,095.

Some families take advantage of the opportunity to combine Passover programs with an exotic foreign experience — especially in a location with rich Jewish history to explore.

“Besides wanting to celebrate a strictly glatt kosher Passover holiday together, people also want to travel to an interesting destination,” said Robert Frucher, CEO of Leisure Time Tours, a longtime Passover travel specialist based in New York.

Leisure Time has offered Passover programs in Italy for 20 years. This spring, guests will stay at the romantic Aldrovandi Villa Borghese, a lavish hideaway with gardens and a pool tucked into Rome’s city center, convenient to sightseeing. “Guests can even pre-pay for museums before yom tov and visit on the holiday,” Frucher said.

Leisure Time’s other European offering is at the Mandarin Oriental Prague, an elegant Old World-style hotel in a converted 14th-century monastery; guests can enjoy private terraces and gardens, heated floors and historic architectural details. Both packages start around $4,900 per person, based on double occupancy.

Several Western destinations combine dramatic scenery with world-class sports. At the Four Seasons Resort Whistler, Pesach on the Mountain is a much-coveted program for skiers in the Pacific Ranges of British Columbia, Canada. SKI Magazine’s resort survey has named Whistler — with more than 8,000 acres of skiable terrain —as the No. 1 ski resort in North America for the third consecutive year.

Apart from skiing, there’s also snowboarding, zip-lining, snowmobiling, hiking trails, art museums and gondola rides.

Schneur Wineberg, director of Pesach on the Mountain, said the program features cuisine under the supervision of OK Kosher. Nightly entertainment includes a portrait photographer, an improv comedy group, a master illusionist, a mentalist, a deejay and a daily children’s program. Rates start at $5,398 per person, based on double occupancy.

“Families should make sure that the company operating the program has a reputation of running successful programs multiple years in a row, with guests that come back year after year,” advised Aliza Seidman of Kosherica.

Raphi Bloom of Totally Jewish Travel also has a few tips for choosing a program, especially one overseas. “If people are going to a program in a country with a different language — run by, say, a French company — they should ask about the language of the kids’ club, to ensure it caters to their kids,” he said. “Ask about Ashkenazi services and kitniyot. Check the weather to see if swimming is possible as Pesach is early this year.

“Lastly, always pay part or all of your payment or deposit by credit card. Most programs are run by honest operators.” But should issues arise, “paying by credit card will protect you. And always have travel insurance.”