Tulip Time River Cruise through Holland
What comes to mind when you hear the word Holland? Is it Amsterdam, Canals, Cheese, Bicycles, Orange, History, Windmills or maybe their world famous Tulips? The Netherlands may be a small country, but there is so much packed in and certain times of the year are ideal for a visit such as the spring when the tulips are in bloom. A highlight that everyone should experience once in their life is an 8 week window when the Keukenhof Gardens are open showcasing 7 million tulips and other flowers.
From 03-10Apr17, I had the opportunity to sail with AmaWaterways onboard the AmaCerto during their 7 night Tulip Time River cruise through the Netherlands and a couple of stops in Belgium. I knew I was in for an adventure, but didn’t realize how quickly the crew would become family and every detail was organized so that left me with just watching the world pass by.
Below is just a short summary of my time on board, the cities visited and the memories created. I invite you to reach out to me with any questions you may have on river cruising and the value of the experience.
03Apr17 Amsterdam (overnight)/Embarkation
After arriving in Amsterdam on my overnight flight, I hopped the train from the airport to Amsterdam Central train station, which is located within a 5 min walk of the river cruise dock where the AmaCerto awaited me. Forget the large cruise ship passenger terminals, security checks, crowds and document verification, with a river cruise, I was greeted by 3 crew members who took my luggage and guided me directly onboard to reception. As I had arrived at noon and the cabins are not ready until 3pm, the reception staff confirmed my name, cabin number and cabin key…check-in done… then suggested I enjoy the lounge area where light snacks and beverages were available so I could relax after the long flight.
With the “heart” of Amsterdam within view of the lounge and a reserved ticket to tour the Anne Frank House, I knew after a quick time in the lounge that I had to get out and explore. A huge advantage of river cruising over ocean cruising is being docked only steps to the city centre. Over the next 3 hours, I wandered through some of the top tourist attractions in Amsterdam with the highlight being the Anne Frank House. I highly recommend anyone visiting Amsterdam, to make this a must stop! Learning about the family and their life as you walk through the museum really transports you back to the 1940s, but once you enter the secret living area in the back of the family business, you really pause to reflect on what truly is important in life.
I returned to the AmaCerto around 4:30pm as I had to meet up with the other travel advisors I was sailing with along with our hosts Lisa Geddes (TPI) and Kelly Graves (AmaWaterways Sales Rep). Our cruise director, Rachel, introduced herself and provided the first of many entertaining briefings on what to expect, see and do over the coming days. Dinner tonight was at the Chef’s Table, a 15 course tasting experience which was a great way to end my first day.
04Apr17 Amsterdam and Hoorn
The morning started out with a panoramic drive around Amsterdam with a local guide who offered insight on the history of city while pointing out highlights such as the Royal Palace, the Wester Church, the Begijnhof and of course our first windmill of the cruise. We returned to the AmaCerto, just before noon so we enjoyed lunch as we sailed across the lake enroute to Hoorn.
On arrival in Hoorn, I participated in the Hoorn Tulips & Bulb Fields tour which took us about 30 mins outside of the town to a private tulip farm. Now not being a huge gardener, I wasn’t expecting a lot from the tour, but I have to say, it was one of the most informative and casual tour I have been on over the years. A farm that plants/cultivates 8 million bulbs a year truly is an eye opener to the tulip business. Who knew that all the tulips in the fields are not sold, they are used to obtain the new bulbs that are grown in green houses which in turn are sold to consumers around the world.
At the end of the tour, I had about an hour to wander the streets of Hoorn. It truly is a quaint town that offers many spots to enjoy a light snack and chat with the locals. Also docked in the harbour is the De Halve Maen (The Half Moon) which is the Dutch East India Company’s most well-known ship.
Back on board, tonight was dinner in the main dining room where I met the remainder of the AmaCerto dining staff who would look after me for the remainder of the week. If you enjoy your dining experiences, you won’t be disappointed while sailing with AmaWaterways.
05Apr17 Arnhem and Nijmegen
Day 3 of the river cruise had us arriving in Arnhem for the morning and a choice of 3 tours from which I chose the Arnhem Bridge and Airborne Museum. If you are familiar with the movie “A Bridge Too Far” which focused on the unsuccessful attempt by the Allied Forces to secure the John Frost Bridge, then you would also appreciate the fact our ship docks only steps from the bridge. The tour began with a drive through the country side to the landing fields where 1000s of paratroopers began the 4 prong attack for the bridge. After the landing fields, the next stop was the river bank area where the Allied troops eventually retreated from the Germans. Then it was onto the Airborne Museum for some time to learn more about the battles that took place for the bridge and the ultimate defeat which prolonged the war another 6 months. The tour ended with a visit to the Arnhem War Cemetery where 1700 soldiers are laid to rest. It’s always a somber moment to reflect on what we have today when viewing the white crosses.
A short sail down the river, we arrived in Nijmegen around 4:30pm where we had a choice of relaxing onboard or wandering into town to explore before we set sail at 7pm. As we were docked only 5 blocks from the town centre, I opted to head in and stroll the streets. It was here that I visited my first cheese shop and purchased some chili flavoured cheese…just a little after bite it has!
Today we crossed into Belgium and docked in Antwerp from 8am-11pm which allowed us plenty of time to explore the city. AmaWaterways offered a choice of 2 tours in the morning and 3 more tours for the afternoon, yet you could also explore on your own at any time as once again we were docked steps from the city centre. After walking through Europe, this morning I opted for the bike tour as AmaWaterways carries up to 30 bikes onboard for use by their guests as part of a guided tour or a ride on their own. The ride was 12 kms which may sound like a long ride, but there were plenty of stops along the way as our guide pointed out some of the city highlights. The pace was easy so no matter your cycling experience, it is a great way to view Europe. One of the highlights of the ride was the Central Train Station where we stopped to explore the décor of the main hall.
We were back at the ship before noon and since I had a chocolate, waffle and beer tour confirmed for the afternoon, I opted to skip lunch and hop back on the bike for a ride along the river bank to enjoy some time on my own.
Later in the day, I met up with my afternoon tour to wander the streets of Antwerp in search of the best chocolate, waffles and Belgium beer. Along the way, our guide shared insight to the various neighbourhoods, history and culture of the city. Our first stop was at a chocolate shop that left any chocolate lover wanting more of their hand made creations. Next stop was at a local dining spot that specialized in waffles…who knew a 3 page menu was required to view the number of toppings you could choose from, but once again, I opted for the chocolate topping. As we neared the end of our tour, we stopped at a local bar near city hall where we were taught about Belgium beer and how each beer had a specific glass it must be poured in. Tasting were limited to 3 kinds, but with over 250 beers offered at this bar, myself and a couple others opted to stay for a few more beverages. I have to say, Duval, was my favorite.
We returned to the AmaCerto for another great dinner and an evening of relaxing in the lounge. Entertainment onboard was handled by Gabor, who really knows how to play the piano and was willing to take requests.
07Apr17 Ghent and Terneuzen
Our 2nd stop in Belgium was Ghent which offers the opportunity to visit Bruges (8.5 hour tour), Ghent Highlights & Bruges (8.5 hour tour) or a walking tour of Ghent with a chocolate workshop. Even though I wanted to visit Bruges, I also wanted to enjoy some “down time” so I opted for the walking tour of Ghent with the chocolate workshop. To be honest, the tour was not great due to the lack of knowledge our guide had on the city, but the time in the chocolate shop was well worth it. It was a hands on chocolate making experience with a 3rd generation chocolate maker in their shop/kitchen.
The afternoon, it was time to relax in my cabin as the AmaCerto sailed from Ghent to Terneuzen which is where the other guests would meet us at the end of the 8.5 hour tours. Even though the Tulip Time itinerary is not known as a scenic river cruise, I did enjoy opening my French balcony doors the full 11 feet, letting the air blow in and watching the small towns pass by. At the start of the river cruise, I didn’t think having a French balcony cabin would be that important, but the value became apparent during the afternoon.
08Apr17 Rotterdam and Kinderdijk
Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port city and “open mind” to design greeted us this morning. As with most stops, AmaWaterways had 4 tours to choose from this morning and after enjoying the bike ride in Antwerp, I decided to give it another go today. It did mean missing out on visiting The Hague or the Delta Works, but I have come to learn over the years, there is no right or wrong way to travel. The ride started with a little challenge as we had to cross over one of the bridges, but then settled into a casual ride. We toured the historic area of the city, the harbour area, the new redesigned “seedy” part of town that has some unique homes before heading to the market place. Being Sunday, the market place was booming with activity and really offered a little of everything to purchase. If you are a shopper, then this is your place to be. The cube homes are a highlight to the area and a must see for anyone visiting Rotterdam.
After the tour, we returned to the ship to once again enjoy a great lunch and watch the sun break out for the first time on the trip. It was perfect timing for the sun as this afternoon, we sailed approx. 1 hour up the river to Kinderdijk where the windmills awaited us. During the cruise, many guests enjoyed the lounge chairs/couches on the top deck while others participated in a game of chess.
On arrival at Kinderdijk, there was a choice to participate in a walking tour of the windmills or you could ride the area with the AmaWaterways bicycles. Again, I chose the bike so that I could “rest” my feet, but also to have the freedom to explore as much as I could during our time here. I was also getting used to the fact that bikes have the right of way over cars and people so it really is the fastest way to get around. The weather was perfect and with no wind, there was a great opportunity to get some great pictures/reflections in the waterways.
As this was our last night onboard as a group, we had the opportunity to once again dine at The Chef’s Table. The meal/service once again did not disappoint and combine with a 180 degree view from the back of the AmaCerto, we enjoyed an amazing sunset as we sailed towards Schoonhoven for our last stop before arriving back in Amsterdam. The stop in Schoonhoven was 2.5 hours and appeared to be a lively spot to wander as there was a carnival on the go, but unfortunately, with our Chef’s Table dining reservation, we didn’t have enough time to hop off the ship to explore.
09Apr17 Amsterdam and Keukenhof Gardens
The highlight to AmaWaterways Tulip Time itinerary is the visit to Keukenhof Gardens which takes places on the 2nd last day of the cruise. Keukenhof is located within 30 mins of Amsterdam, but it’s best to arrive early as crowds build very quickly since there is only an 8 week window to visit. You don’t need to be a gardener to be wowed by what 7 million bulbs can create. The grounds are divided into various sections that offer a unique design so you should have some good walking shoes and ensure your camera is fully charged. At the same time, don’t make the mistake of looking through your viewfinder, put the camera down and enjoy the aromas of the gardens.
For the last afternoon in Amsterdam, there were 3 tours to choose from and I went with the Canal Cruise. You may be thinking, I have already walked around Amsterdam as well as a Panoramic drive back at the start of the trip, but a canal cruise offers such a different view of this active city. The tour lasted just under 2 hours and visited all 4 of the major canals with each offering a little more insight to what makes the city tick.
Once again, as we are docked only steps to the “heart” of Amsterdam and overnighting, there was the opportunity to dine out tonight at one of the many restaurants in the area. Yet, I opted to enjoy (and relax) my last dinner with the AmaCerto crew who were now more like family. After dinner, Rachel hosted a final farewell presentation in the lounge which included a slide show of the pictures many of us had taken throughout the week. It was a great ending to an amazing trip through the Netherlands and Belgium.
10Apr17 Amsterdam/Disembark and AmaCerto
If you have ocean cruised before, you know disembarkation day means up early, maybe a light snack and then a dash with hundreds of other guests as you try to collect your luggage before heading to the airport. With a river cruise, disembarkation is so relaxing as you start by having you luggage outside your cabin 1 hour prior to leaving the ship. Then you head to the dining room to have a full breakfast before heading to the reception area to catch your transfer to the airport. My transfer time was 7:30am with 20 other guests with a 40 passenger coach waiting for us so there was plenty of space to stretch out on the drive to the airport. On arrival at the airport, there was 2 AmaWaterways staff members waiting for us to direct us to each of our airlines. Once again, AmaWaterways proves they have every detail covered so your vacation truly ends once you board your flight home.
As I reach the end of this blog, the pictures below are of my home during this trip onboard the AmaCerto. If you have any questions on AmaWaterways, The Tulip Time itinerary or river cruising in general, please feel free to reach out to me!