Tulip Time River Cruise
I had the pleasure of joining a small group of women on AmaWaterways’ Tulip Time River Cruise this past spring and my sister, Laura, accompanied me on this trip. She was gracious enough to write a blog article about our experience. Here is what she had to say:
I had no idea what to expect of my first river cruise. I am a long-seasoned ocean cruiser on larger ships and have traveled areas as diverse as Australia/New Zealand and the Baltic countries. I always found myself seeking out the pretty adventurous things to do both on shore and on ship, so I speculated this “Tulip Time” river cruise might be a bit too tame for me. Boy was I wrong.
Now, I can be wooed by a pretty flower as easily as the next woman, and the tulip tour boasted many millions of every spring variety imaginable to make me smile. But, the most outstanding thing that I experienced on the river cruise was the level of attention given to guests. Every detail of the accommodations as well as the group activities was planned to perfection. It was way beyond my expectations.
For the first a couple of days, we stayed on the Dam Square in Amsterdam where we experienced the spectacular heart of old Amsterdam and the first glimpse many thousands of beautiful tulips in all shapes, sizes, colors and types. Looking at all the beautiful sights and peaceful canals, while keeping a constant eye out to avoid being mowed down by the thousands of bike riders coming and going in every direction, provided plenty of that addicting “adrenaline rush” for my adventure-loving soul.
The accommodations at the Grand Krasnapolsky Hotel were just that — absolutely grand. The ship’s cruise director set up at the hotel two days before the cruise began to start introducing us to all the wonderful experiences just ahead. We spent the day before boarding on a group tour of Haarlem, where we experienced our first canal boat ride and saw our first commercially operating windmill.
Boarding day was completely civilized and oh-so-gentle compared to the bedlam of my ocean cruise experiences. A porter came to the hotel room, knocked, and gathered our tagged luggage from inside the room. We enjoyed breakfast and went on a walk to the harbor for a canal boat tour. We were deposited on the pier a few steps from our ship, the Ama Stella, where we were greeted with a quick identification picture, and an introduction to the head of the “hotel” operation (who would greet us on every return to the ship). We stepped to the front of the ship to meet the ship’s Captain and other officers, and then enjoyed a relaxing beverage in the lounge while our lunch options were being prepared and presented. Did I mention civilized? When our room cards were ready, a staff member escorted each of us personally to our rooms to show us all the functions and goodies to be found there — civilized indeed.
I must confess, I was utterly wowed by the little amenities in the room. Closets (often dark holes on ocean-going ships) had internal lighting. There was a magic light that came on when the door to the bathroom was opened. It softly lit only the toilet after room lights were turned out and cut itself off after a time. There were USB ports a-plenty and lots of plugs. Each guest had their own rechargeable device that allowed us to hear the guides without having to crowd around. There were bigger things too. For example, don’t like how your pillow or mattress sleeps? Speak to a room attendant or the head of the hotel services and they will work with you. Something isn’t working right? Just ask and it’s fixed almost before you can walk to your room.
Breakfast and lunch consisted of abundant buffets and the evening meal was an extravaganza reminiscent of a ”Top Chef” sampling in their complexity and elegant plating. That was certainly true of the Captain’s Table where wines were paired with each course. For the conscientious who wanted to come home with no visual evidence of indulging in the array of foods and drink to be had on board and out on tour, there was a coach exclusively dedicated to helping you keep fit with challenges beginning early morning and continuing throughout the day. I chose indulging over challenge.
And then there was the cruise itself, loaded with an abundance of delights to tickle all the senses. Seeing a ship navigated into a lock with mere inches to spare between it and other vessels of all sizes with nary a scrape or bump nor touching of the wall as the lock’s waters rose or fell was simply amazing (yep, it was that close). At Kinderdijh, seeing hand thrown hay ricks and goslings swimming with their parents on canals as we walked back through time to the vast quiet of the ancient windmills. (Not to mention the beauty of the windmills themselves.) Hearing the calls of the other nesting birds and the gut leveling “whump” of the windmill sails turning can only be described as experiential sounds I will never forget.
Elsewhere, we smelled the cheeses and touched engravings in the beautiful churches while basking in the atmospheric sensation that only fabulously high ceilings and stained glass windows can create. We indulged our tastes buds in Stroopwaffel, Belgian fries, and hot Belgian waffles in windy central town markets. We munched on Belgian Chocolates as we walked the ancient cobblestone streets of Brugges and listened to the constant clip-clop of the carriage horses trotting by. We floated down canals awash with flowers and activity in cities and with hundreds of acres of unfenced livestock and tulip laced fields in the country. We also visited the Delft factory.
And then, there were the glorious flowers!! Mother Nature blessed this trip by putting us there at the peak of the season. From the tulip farm tour in Hoorn to the the Floralia flower show (the annual Belgian flower show conducted on a large still-inhabited castle grounds) to the utterly amazing Keukenhof Gardens, we experienced a huge variety of beauty, scent and creative display.
City tours began to blend in to one another, so were I to do this again, I would almost always choose the specialty tour — be it beer or chocolate making or flowers or biking — as the details of the city walks began to merge in my head and experience. But, it truly was a trip to remember and I cannot more heartily recommend it!