This is a very lengthy report but hopefully everyone will find it useful. We had a full schedule while in Israel and certainly made the most of each day! We arrived from Amman, Jordan via the Allenby Bridge border crossing. We decided to use the VIP service and although a little costly ($100/person), I feel it was money well spent. We (just me and my family) were taken across in a private van versus a bus with many travelers. We probably only waited 10 minutes on the Jordan side for them to complete our paperwork and load our luggage. Once on the Israeli side it was probably 1/2 hr for them to process our passports and luggage. The VIP service allowed us to go to the front of the line at passport control. Our guide was able to meet us at the exit.
After much research on Trip Advisor and other sites, I decided to hire Sam Salem as our guide. There have been multiple chats on this forum regarding whether or not he is a licensed guide in Israel and I don't wish to continue those chats. I chose him for personal reasons which suited my family and the itinerary he proposed worked perfectly for us. We tweaked it a bit and we were able to see and do everything we wanted. Sam was also able to get me a discounted rate for the King David Hotel which is where we stayed in Jerusalem. (If anyone wants additional guide details on our experience with Sam, please send me a private message).
We arrived in Jerusalem on 3 Sep and departed on the 13th. We based ourselves in Jerusalem but also visited several areas outside of Jerusalem. Because there is so much too see, it can be a little overwhelming and I'm sure we asked our guide the same questions multiple times :)
We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher three times at different times. The first time we toured everything inside but were unable to get into the Ascension site because the line was so long.. The second time we visited there was a service going on (very interesting to see) but no one could get into the site. The last time we decided to stand in the line and we finally got into the Ascension site. Please note that they don't let you in there for more than a couple of minutes.
We loved the Souk and went there on our own multiple times. After you get your bearings it's actually not hard to make your way around. Be sure to bargain.
We bought some beautiful hand crafted pottery pieces from an Armenian shop (Garo and Sonia Sandrouni, Armenian Ceramics Gallery), Old City, Armenian Section. We actually went back there several times.
It's well worth it to go to the Sound and Lights show in the Old City as well as the Old City tunnel tour. We didn't reserve for either in advance and were able to get tickets.
We traveled to Bethlehem, Jericho, Nazareth, Masada and the Dead Sea. At no time, whether we were in Israel or the Palestinian Authority did we feel unsafe. Be prepared though when you see the Separation Wall. I'm not trying to start a political debate and I understand Israel's reason for building it but it's actually a shock to see up close. (Send me a private message if you'd like additional details.) Also, be prepared to see a lot of trash and buildings in disrepair in the Palestinian Authority. Even out in the countryside in Israel there were fields with old plastic - it's just left there when no longer needed.
Men - beware that if you are wearing shorts and your knees are showing, you will be required to wear a cover up skirt or wrap in a lot of the churches - actually comical to see men with their "skirts". I have a wonderful photo of my husband and father with their skirts :)
Be prepared to walk many hills and steps wherever you go - great exercise!
Food was not cheap. Street food may be but for regular restaurants it certainly wasn't inexpensive - not overly expensive, but not cheap either. A couple of places we dined we're on the pricey side. One place was the American Colony - lovely outdoor courtyard for dinner and very good food but for two of us it was over $100.
One last thing I need to mention is about the Dead Sea. I wasn't interested in floating but my husband and father were so I went down to the water with them. I was only at the edge with my feet submerged BUT there are holes and I fell in one which meant my camera went under water! The dead sea water is very oily and needless to say, my camera was ruined. Thank goodness though my photo card with over 500 trip photos was okay!
I could go on and on but these are the basics of our trip. We had a wonderful time. Please contact me with any questions.