The first tulip cruise of the season for the nearly new river ship Emerald Luna boarded on April 3 in Amsterdam. “Tulip time” is a limited window that primarily revolves around the eight weeks when the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens are open in Lisse, 25 minutes outside Amsterdam. If you’ve seen photos of tulip fields saturated in dazzling, primary colors this is likely the place those were taken.
Emerald Luna was christened in 2022 and is only in its second season of sailing. New for 2023, Emerald Cruises has introduced two different included excursions on their Holland & Belgium itinerary. From Rotterdam (after an overnight there) passengers are whisked 40 minutes by bus to The Hague for a visit to the Mauritshuis Museum (home of famous works by Dutch masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring”). The cruise line is also trialing a visit to Arnhem, Netherlands, where guests are treated to a visit of the royal Dutch palace, Palais Het Loo, in Apeldoorn. After a five-year closure for renovations, we were among the first groups to tour the palace, two weeks before its official opening day.
If your clients have tulip fever and are considering a Tulip Time cruise for 2024, we offer the following tips from our weeklong Emerald Cruises sailing, round trip from Amsterdam.
1. Choose a Holland/Belgium itinerary.
Tulip cruises don’t all follow the same itinerary. You can sail round-trip from Amsterdam yet cruise along the Rhine into German ports like Cologne and Frankfurt. But as lovely as Germany can be in April, there is no comparison to a Netherlands-immersive Tulip Time cruise. A river trip through the ports of Holland (the two provinces in the Netherlands where you’ll find Amsterdam and The Hague) is an opportunity to soak up spring incarnate. The postcard-perfect windmills of Zaanse Schans might seem like a tourist trap, but this living museum is a gorgeous example of life in centuries past — people still live there even today. Witness a clog-making demonstration before purchasing your own modern pair; taste local cheeses or sweets; and even tour a working windmill where paint pigments are made and sold.
Floral fanatic? Emerald offers an additional tour to the Dutch flower auction near Schiphol Airport where miles of flowers are bought and sold in real time. Sailing or driving along the Dutch countryside will reveal verdant fields with newborn lambs, cities aglow with daffodils, and an undeniable buzz in the air. A single-day detour across the border into Belgium reveals a slightly different spin on the region, with a walking tour of capital city Antwerp that ends — as all things should — with chocolate.
2. Book the Delft tour.
On our Emerald cruise, an afternoon tour to Delft from Rotterdam was one of two additional-fee excursions listed under their DiscoverMORE tours. Despite the extra cost, we would recommend it. The after-lunch time slot allows for guests to join a morning tour in Rotterdam in addition to the Delft excursion. Although it has an immediate association with pottery, Delft is more than just blue-and-white plates.
This charming town was the home of Johannes Vermeer, and the bottom floor of his former house on the square is now a gift shop where you can purchase all sorts of trinkets with the famous visage of “The Girl With a Pearl Earring.” Of course, the tour does kick off in the Royal Delft museum and factory, which provides plenty of fun facts about the company’s 370-year history (like they don’t actually make porcelain). Be sure to leave time for the understandably stunning gift shop but save some euros for the walk through town. The supremely charming storefronts of Delft run alongside quaint canals or the market square selling specialty cheese, chocolate, and really anything else you can imagine.
3. Always have cash and a card in the Netherlands.
This tip might seem obvious, but file under “helpful practical information.” Much of Amsterdam these days relies heavily on credit cards as payment. In fact, many bars and restaurants will accept a card only, so be sure to bring one that you know works well abroad (even better if it’s a travel card with no international transaction fees). On the other hand, it’s always a good idea to have some euros to tip your tour guides. Public bathrooms will sometimes charge for use (even at tourist attractions like Zaanse Schans), so be sure to carry small coins; fees to use the loo are strictly cash only and many times, exact change is required.
4. Cycling tours are a breeze with Emerald’s fleet of e-bikes.
Onboard Emerald Luna, there is a fleet of 18 e-bikes for passenger use. After signing a simple waiver, any passenger can sign out a bike on their own or sign up for one of the cruise line’s EmeraldACTIVE tours. These cycling tours are typically led by both the activity manager and a local guide, with options in Amsterdam, Willemstad, Arnhem and more. Given the robust cycling culture in the Netherlands, most of these tours will cross into quieter areas in the countryside rather than the city to avoid clashing with commuting local cyclists. Rotterdam does cross through the southern side of the city proper, across bridges and to the cruise terminal where Holland America Line originated.
Another incentive to consider a bike tour, if you haven’t in the past, is the ease of the electric motor. Rather than considering the pedaling as a distraction from the sights, crank up the settings (to a safe speed) so the bicycle does most of the work for you. Come back from a 10-mile ride without breaking a sweat. Help and helmets are provided by the crew.
5. Regarding the tulips: Look but don’t buy.
Yes, it might be a “tulip cruise,” but when it comes to the official flower of Holland and The Netherlands, guests are better off bringing home photos than bulbs. Of course, you will be able to purchase endless varieties of tulips throughout the country, and especially at the 80-acre Keukenhof Gardens, but they are actually the old bulbs from last year; tulip bulbs are not harvested until the summer. Plus, U.S. Customs might ultimately make the decision for you about being able to keep this agricultural material as you cross the border home. Even if shipping is an option through the tulip vendor, it’s much cheaper to purchase them elsewhere.
The point being, admire and even research the abundance of flowers you’ll see on your sailing; Emerald offers an onboard talk from a visiting lecturer about tulips prior to arrival back in Amsterdam and Keukenhof. However, when it comes to introducing them into your own garden back home, consider using a local tulip dealer (or have them shipped from your trip during the fall season, but prepare for a splurge).
The cheapest tulips of all? The painted wooden flowers you can purchase at nearly any souvenir shop. Look for them at catchall corner stores or markets all around Amsterdam for 1 euro apiece; they will be more at tourist destinations like Zaanse Schans.
6. Anticipate the weather by packing layers.
Springtime isn’t always a lamb, sometimes it’s still a lion. Packing tips might seem prosaic, but no one wants to be wet or cold during their vacation. With every itinerary comes its own set of packing tips, but when preparing for your tulip cruise, don’t let visions of sunny fields fool you — it can be a bit chilly. Be sure to bring at the very least a warm layer like a fleece jacket or sweater as well as a windbreaker or raincoat. Hats and gloves are also a great idea, particularly if you plan on cycling — and they don’t take up much room in a suitcase.
7. Advise clients to extend their stay in Amsterdam.
Anyone who regularly cruises knows that there is never enough time in each port, but that is true nowhere more than the turnaround port of Amsterdam. Despite the overnights there, clients will more than likely want to spend even more time exploring this magnetic city on their own. Hotel location is an important aspect of a stay in A-Dam, as is doing a bit of advanced planning. Rijksmuseum, the national museum of the Netherlands, offers plenty of tickets for daily entry, but special exhibits — like the groundbreaking retrospective of Vermeer — will require timed tickets. If a visit to the Anne Frank House is a must — and certainly it’s a meaningful highlight of any visit to Amsterdam — make sure tickets are purchased as soon as possible; they begin to go on sale about six weeks in advance and sell out quickly.