2019 Spring Europe River Cruises—It’s Tulip Time!
By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
I think the most overlooked Europe River cruises are spring time cruises at the beginning of the river cruise season.
There some very unique opportunities to see sights in Europe many do not get to see or only are available in the spring and that is the focus of this blog—the unique spring time cruises—it does not cover the early season cruises on the more popular river cruise routes.
So, let’s learn together about these cruises by getting a short overview of the major sights in these low country cruises and then learn a little more about the exact offering of each of the major 8 river cruise lines that market to the US.
Overview of the Ports and Sights
Most of these cruises are round trip from Amsterdam, but some start in Brussels and sail to Amsterdam or the reverse direction.
To make this easier, I decided to briefly tell you about key attractions in the area, so you could get a general idea of what you might see and experience on these northern waterways and see some of our pictures.
Amsterdam—is a city of ringed canals, a population of 750.000 (it has as many bikes as people) and always full of tourists. It is the capital of the Netherlands, with two world class art museums. It is a major port, once the wealthiest city in the world and residents and visitors live with a tolerant atmosphere. We have a great guide (we have visited multiple times)—here is the link to our guide. and a PDF PowerPoint
Arnhem—for military history buffs, the Arnhem Airborne Museum is a must—I think it is exceptionally well done (based on my visit)—it has been made famous by the movie and book “A Bridge Too Far”. There is also the Netherlands Open Air Museum, a collection of traditional buildings from all over Holland. Most travel writers believe it is the best in the Netherlands.
Antwerp—located on the Scheldt River, and world famous for diamond trading and cutting, Antwerp has a small castle fortress, an excellent square with impressive guild buildings and a monster killing statue to protect the residents in the main square. It is a fun and easy walking city—we would return.
Brugge—a visit to Anne’s favorite city in Europe is magical—3 or 4 hours will leave you wanting more. The city just is stunning—even after 5 or 6 visits, we discover a new highlight on every visit—trust me it is awesome! Here is our guide and a PDF SlideShow
Delta Works—this huge man-made protection area of barriers, dams, dykes and levees has reclaimed 859 square miles of land from the sea.
Ghent—another important medieval city, it was the capital of Flanders and a wealthy trading center with numerous powerful guilds in its heyday. Much of it is pedestrian only in the old town and a joy to visit, especially the older buildings and impressive churches. The famous Jan van Eyck wooden alter pieces are on display behind a glass protective barrier. We visited Ghent again in December 2018 and found it quite fun and a worthwhile stop.
Gouda—famous for making cheese and cheese selling markets
Keukenhof Gardens—open only two months of the year, this is explosion of color with flowers that will dazzle you—there are over 7 million tulips, hyacinths and daffodils on this 80 acre park garden. The displays are unlike any flower exhibit I have ever seen.
Kinderdijk—this is the best preserved site for windmills in the Netherlands—there are 19 here. You will see them operating, and learn what life was like for the family living in these giant machines. I enjoyed my visit here—I never knew how hard a life the windmill operators had.
Middlelburg—the capital of Zeeland, this city used to be a trading center for the Dutch East India Company. The old city center has some interesting buildings of its historic past.
Rotterdam—is the second largest city in the Netherlands and a major port. Almost completely destroyed during WW II, it now is a modern, bustling city. It is famous for the city that the Pilgrims sailed from to explore and colonize America.
Veere—a small historic village of 1500 with many interesting buildings. It used to be a port for wool trade between Scotland and the Netherlands in the 1500’s. According to my research, it has about 4 million visitors each year—sure is a lot for a small village, so it must be a good stop.
Willemstad—old earth/stone/concrete historic walled city—the fortifications are star shaped (better defense against cannon balls). It has a small 2,300 or so population and a delightful walking town, with quaint shops and attractions—we both enjoyed our visit.
This 7 day cruise is round trip from Amsterdam to Amsterdam and is called Tulip Time. The season begins on March 21, 2019 and the last sailing date is May 4, 2019. The AmaKristina, the AmaPrima and the AmaStella sail this route. As a side note, we have sailed on the AmaKristina and the AmaPrima and both are outstanding riverships.
The cruise visits Hoorn, the Delta and Middelburg, Ghent, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Kinderdijk Windmills, and Keukenhof Gardens.
We sailed an earlier version of this cruise in 2012. Our favorite stops were Ghent, Antwerp, the Kinderdijk Windmills, but the highlight was the Keukenhof Gardens—even though all the outside gardens hadn’t bloomed yet, the inside displays were beyond belief—easily the best garden in all of Europe, in my humble opinion!
As another interesting fact, during the recent unprecedented low water situations on the Rhine in 2018, AmaWaterways used this as an alternative—is this a new trend of the future?
This is an 8 day round trip cruise. It is called Tulip Time Cruise 2019. The season begins March 23 and the last sailing date is April 27, 2019. Highlights of this cruise include a choice of guided sightseeing in Gouda or visit to Keukenhof Gardens; harbor cruise in Rotterdam; guided sightseeing in Antwerp; in Ghent a guided sightseeing tour, with a visit St. Baaf’s Cathedral (the Lamb of Gods wooden alter masterpiece); in Middelburg–Veere a guided walk in Middelburg and a guided tour of the Delta Works; a visit to Willemstad and a canal tour in Amsterdam.
Crystal has 3 sailings, all on the Debussy rivership (the ship is named in honor of the French composer Claude Debussy) in 2019, round trip from Amsterdam. The cruise is called Tulips and Windmills. Sailing dates are March 25, April 8 and April 15. The cruise visits Rotterdam, Ghent, Antwerp, Middleburg and ends in Amsterdam.
In 2018 they used to have a Tulips, Holland and Belgium Discovery, but if they are continuing this sailing, there is no information currently available—I will update if this changes.
Emerald has two different spring cruises, but only 3 sailing dates during the spring season.
The first cruise on Emerald has two sailing dates in 2019—they are April 17 and 24 April. This 8 day cruise is called Highlights of the Netherlands & the Beauty of Belgium river cruise. It is round trip from Amsterdam and visits Arnhem, Antwerp, Veere, Rotterdam and Zaanse Schans.
The second cruise is called The Charms of Holland & Belgium river cruise. It has only one sailing in the spring on May 20, and the same route is sailed on October 18.
Scenic has a cruise called Dutch Sights & Belgian Delights. They sail in April on three riverships (the Jasper, Opal & Amber)—the sailing dates are 17 & 24 for the National Geographic sailings (a partnership with the National Geographic Society) and 22 and 29 for regular cruises. The route is the now familiar round trip Amsterdam, with visits to Veere, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Arnhem, and Hoorn.
The National Geographic sailings deserve further explanation. The cruise will be accompanied by a travel expert and photographer from National Geographic. They will provide special insights and photography tips.
Tauck offers a cruise called Belgium & Holland in Spring. It is a 7 day cruise that leaves from Brussels and ends in Amsterdam. Visits also include Ghent, Brugge, Dordrecht and the Kinderdijk windmills, and Keukenhof Gardens.
A unique feature of this cruise is an exclusive dinner at the Mauritshuis museum in Den Haag, to view Rembrandt and Vermeer painting masterpieces—during dinner you will be treated to a live music performance by the Royal Conservatory of the Hague.
Offers an 8 day cruise called Holland and Belgium at Tulip Time. It is not round trip from Amsterdam; it sails from Brussels to Amsterdam or in the reverse direction. There are 4 sailings on the River Queen. The cruises start on March 31 and the last sailing is April 14, 2019. Along with Brussels and Amsterdam, port stops are Antwerp, Maastricht, Cuijk and Heusden, and Schoonhoveny.
The Viking cruise has two options, both 10 day adventures. The first is called Tulips & Windmills, and it is round trip from Amsterdam. Other stops/ports are Hoorn, Arnhem, Kinderdijk, Antwerp, Ghent and Zeeland. Currently there are 7 sailing dates available from March 25 thru May 7, 2019 on this route.
The second option is called Holland & Belgium and it is from Amsterdam to Antwerp or the reverse direction. Other stops/ports are Hoorn, Rotterdam, Kinderdijk, Wesel (Germany) Nijmegen, and Maastricht.
My Final Thoughts
Wow—who knew there were so many options to visit the Netherlands and Belgium on a river cruise?
Are they worth your time, since it is so early in the year and in some lesser visited villages and sights?
My answer is a resounding yes—because of our AmaWaterways Tulip Time cruise, we visited some great Belgium cities and fell in love with Brugge. Not only do we visit Brugge often (maybe 5-6 times), we have introduced many clients to this gem and everyone (yes, 100%) love it. If you like flowers, Keukenhof Gardens are worth the price of the cruise alone.
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HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years. He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA). This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years. He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees. His other Certifications:
AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
Viking River Cruise Specialist
Scenic River Cruise Specialist
Emerald Waterways Specialist
Avalon Waterways Specialist