By Phyllis Steinberg
Millions of flowering tulips in a myriad of colors can be enjoyed in a spectacular setting at Keukenhof Gardens in Amsterdam, but check your calendar because this dazzling display can only be seen in the spring during late March and April in Holland.
A delightful excursion into this cornucopia of colors is made easy by riverboat. My husband and I recently returned from a “Tulip Time” cruise aboard the AMA Prima, launched in 2013. The 9-day cruise began and ended in Amsterdam and visited the port cities of the Netherlands and Belgium including: Volendam, Edam, Arnhem, Nijmegen, Antwerp, Ghent, Willemstad, Kinderdjik and Ultrecht with an optional excursion to Brugge.
The AMA Prima has a luxurious two story lobby accented by sparkling white marble floors, a glass enclosed elevator, with dual spiral staircases and a rich walnut wood reception area.
Four decks with a sun deck, heated swimming pool with spacious lounge chairs atop, the riverboat features deluxe accommodations, superior amenities, and attentive service. We enjoyed our stateroom with its French balcony and separate full size outside balcony. We also relaxed amid the scenery in the comfortable main lounge and cozy fireside library.
The Dutch captain and mostly Romanian crew spoke English and were efficient, friendly, and helpful. Many passengers were from the U.S. Other nationalities included British, Irish, Australian and Canadian. The pleasant aspect of a river cruise is the opportunity to meet and enjoy the company and dine with people of many countries. The ship’s capacity is 164 and by the conclusion of the cruise, we had the chance to get to know many of the passengers. The open seating policy in the dining room allowed passengers to sit with different people throughout the voyage. The dining room had comfy booths as well as tables, a rare occurrence on riverboats. Free-flowing red and white wines from different regions of Europe, beer and soft drinks were included with every dinner.
The ship caters to adults, mainly seniors with some younger couples. There is quite a lot of walking, so people should be physically fit to have the most enjoyable time. In each port of call, the ship took passengers on complimentary escorted tours, mostly half-day with some walking. Three levels of walking tours are offered: gentle walkers, groups that go at a leisurely pace; active walkers, that cover more ground; and late starter tours for those that prefer to sleep in. Optional tours are offered at additional charge. Passengers are given Quietbox portable headsets with earpieces providing excellent reception for commentary on tours.
Often the ship stayed overnight in port allowing passengers to experience dining and nightlife in the areas. Bicycles were available for short rides along the rivers and nearby towns, and Nordic sticks with small seats are available for the hikes.
Other amenities on board included free wi-fi, a 24-hour coffee and tea bar, and an alternate gourmet dining venue. The ship also had a state-of-the-art exercise room, a spa, and beauty salon. Evening entertainment included local talent and dancing in the main lounge.
Our tour of Amsterdam included a scenic cruise along the historic harbor and canals of the city. Later in the day we had a panoramic city tour and were surprised to see that most of the city’s residents use bicycles as a means of transportation.
Amsterdam has several Jewish points of interest. We arranged for a guided Milk and Honey Tour online before our cruise and we were glad we did as we were able to cover more sights than trying to find them on our own. Our guide, Daniel Metz, escorted us to the magnificent Portuguese Synagogue, Jewish Cultural Quarter, Gassan Diamond Factory, Jewish Children’s Museum, and the Ashkenazi synagogue complex. He was well informed on all of the Jewish sights and helped to make history come alive for us.
Exploring the city of Antwerp was one of the highlights of the trip.
This Belgium city is easy to see on foot, but using the city’s buses and trams is easy. The downtown area has an underground tram line that connects to the Old Town and train station that is convenient for visitors. Check out the world famous Diamond District. The city also has superb architecture and many outstanding museums. The Museum Aan de Stroom (MAS) is a 10-story structure contains exhibits about the city, river, and the connection between Antwerp and the world. Escalators take visitors floor by floor, and the roof of the MAS offers a 360 panoramic view of the city, the river, and the port.
The last day of the cruise was spent at the Keukenhof Gardens 70-acre park with its Dutch windmill and flowering gardens. Tulips in dozens of varieties and color combinations were stunning to the senses. The bulbs were available for sale to visitors that wanted to recreate a flowering memory when they returned home.
For information, log on to www.amawaterways.com.
For Jewish tours, log on to www.milkandhoneytours.com.