I had the pleasure of taking a "Tulip Time" river cruise through the inland waterways of Holland and Belgium on the brand new ms Amadagio, operated by Ama Waterways.
We cruised, usually during daylight hours, from Amsterdam. Many of the stops were in places I had not heard of or was unfamiliar with, but all were charming and interesting and places I probably wouldn't have visited if I were on my own.
We sailed to Volendam, (one of many towns filled with canals and moveable bridges); Edam (yes, the cheese town); Enkuizen; Arnhem (the scene of the tragic WWI battle); Antwerp; Brussels; Ghent, (with its 700-year-old Belfry Tower); Brugges (a delightful mix of architecture, stores selling intricate lace and candy shops); Zierikzee; the walled town of Willemstad and through Zeeland.
We visited the windmills of Kinderdijk, passed fields and fields of tulips, daffodils and other brilliantly colored bulbs; spent time at the fabulous Keukenhof Gardens and ended up back in Amsterdam without, for the most part, retracing our route. The flowers in the fields and at the Keukenhof Garden were every bit as wonderful as you would expect them to be. Fabulous.
The ship itself was special also. It has 75 outside staterooms (170 sq.ft.), most of which have French balconies. Four Junior Suites
(255 sq. ft.), add a sitting area including a sofa and two chairs, floor-to-ceiling windows and a French balcony, plus an extra large bathroom with tub and shower.
The ship's decor is elegant, with no "plastic and gold-colored glitz." The staterooms are decorated in an understated fashion, with many mirrors and good lighting. Each room is equipped with a flat-screen TV, with local and satellite channels, internet access (at a very moderate cost), a safe and individually controlled air-conditioning. The bedding is luxurious and the bathrooms are bright, new and comfortably-sized.
There is one open seating for dinner served with complimentary wine. The food was good and local specialties were featured. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style. The service was professional, the wait staff gracious, friendly and accommodating.
Other features: a fitness center and sauna, massage and beauty salon; bicycles; sun deck with walking track; whirlpool; giant chess game and shuffleboard. The tour director on my cruise, Wade, was wonderful. Several guests on board had picked this particular cruise because he was on it. Such magnetism is rare these days.
This cruise itinerary is operated every year for approximately six weeks, beginning in late March and ending in early May. The trick is to pick the weeks during which the bulbs will be at their peak -- which is based on factors such as the severity and the length of the winter and the increase in warm weather-- but one will see beautiful flowers at any time during that six-week period.
A number of river cruise lines have ships on this itinerary, and my favorite is Ama Waterways. It's a smaller company that is trying very hard to be the best. All aspects of its business that I've dealt with seem to be run well -- both the sales staff and the operations.
While there are many river cruises to pick from, I highly recommend the "tulip time cruise" because the itinerary is unusual and different; it's historic, charming and beautiful; the flowers are magnificent; it will take your clients to unexpected places; the value-price ratio is high; the ship is comfortable and it's just downright fun!