Review: Tulips & Windmills on Titan Travel's River Discovery II
By Cruise International | 25 Jul 2022
Discover the highlights of a Tulips & Windmills river cruise through the Netherlands, on River Discovery II’s inaugural cruise for Titan Travel
Stepping through the entrance of Holland’s legendary Keukenhof park, I have the strange sensation of walking inside a rainbow. Bands of multi-coloured tulips snake off into the trees; vivid crocuses fringe a blue ‘river’ of tiny grape hyacinths; and swathes of daffodils bob brightly in the breeze.
Everywhere I look, manicured beds and packed planters offer startling new colour combinations and dramatic design ideas, while distant glass pavilions promise yet more delights.
I’m no expert gardener, but you don’t need to be green-fingered to appreciate the colour that splashes the flat countryside of the Netherlands as the days lengthen, and a trip to Keukenhof – ‘the most beautiful spring garden in the world’ – is a bucket-list trip for many a garden lover.
Embark on a river cruise and you’ll be able to combine horticultural highlights such as Keukenhof with some of Holland’s best heritage sites. I joined River Discovery II on a ﬁve-night Tulips & Windmills tour, the ship’s inaugural cruise for Titan Travel.
Built in 2012 and refurbished in 2018, River Discovery II joined the Titan fleet in April this year for a six-week stint in northern Europe, before repositioning to the Danube for the rest of the 2022 season.
We leave from the outskirts of Amsterdam, not by canal but through open water. Our route takes us up the west side of the Markermeer to Hoorn and Enkhuizen, where a causeway separates this freshwater ‘inland sea’ from the Ijseelmeer to the north. Then it’s over to Lelystad and down the eastern shore for Zaandam and Amsterdam.
We make new friends on the way to Hoorn over a dinner of international cuisine that is attractively presented and served with a smile by the ship’s fledgling team. And after a nightcap in the lounge to a medley of songs from resident singer and dance coach Aleks, I’m ready for bed.
River Discovery II has accommodation for 176 passengers in 92 cabins and suites, including eight single cabins, and I relax in a spacious Deluxe Suite on the Navigator Deck with two full-length windows, a sitting area and bath.
Lulled to sleep by the sound of water gently slapping the side of my floating home, I wake up bright and early, ready to discover historic Hoorn.
Unfortunately the weather is anything but bright, so after a fascinating talk on the tulip industry, we zip up our raincoats and head valiantly out into the pretty cobbled streets. Take a break anywhere in northern Europe and the weather is always a gamble, but a cruise trip means you not only have a snug base but also someone to sort out weather-proof options should the need arise.
The wind stops us reaching our overnight mooring at Enkhuizen in time to explore, but everyone is happy to relax on board and by next morning we are ready to set off for the hour’s drive to the Keukenhof park at Lisse.
On the way, we spot our first windmills and rainbow-hued fields ablaze with neat rows of tulips, hyacinths and daffodils. Grown not for their vibrant blooms but for the bulb market, the flowers are cut and composted and the bulbs sorted by size, the smallest ones singled out for replanting and the best ones packaged for sale across the world.
Pandemic restrictions in 2020 and 2021 kept Keukenhof closed to all but virtual visitors, so I’m excited to be one of the first to set foot in the 32-hectare park in three years. The garden opens for just eight weeks between mid-March and mid-May, so it’s never too early to book for next year, especially as the limited season means bulb fields cruises often sell out many months in advance.
Forty full-time gardeners plant some seven million bulbs each year in a three-layer ‘lasagne’ system that ensures continuous colour. And each year, they create a new design using 1,600 varieties of bulbs, of which 800 are tulips, all provided by local growers.
Expect huge glasshouses too with tulips of every size, shape and colour, but also amaryllis, orchids and creative floral displays to rival any flower show. Visitors can also glide past the bulb fields in an electric boat with commentary or take an independent tour by bike.
Back on board, we eat dinner while cruising across the Markermeer to our overnight mooring at Lelystad, and enjoy a rousing performance of sea shanties by the Shantymen of Hoorn. We set sail again before sunrise, passing our final mooring in Amsterdam and up the canal to Zaandam, the starting point for a morning excursion to Zaanse Schans.
This open-air heritage village is traditional Holland in a nutshell, with wooden buildings in the area’s signature green, a line of waterside windmills, and a clutch of gift shops and workshops demonstrating various crafts from clog making to cheese production. The rain holds off again and the windmills work overtime in the stiff breeze.
After lunch on board, I set out to explore historic Zaandam. Peter the Great came here incognito in 1697 to learn the shipwright’s trade, although it wasn’t long before his Russian accent was rumbled. The young Tsar returned several times over the next 20 years, and you can visit the small wooden house where he stayed with a local craftsman, now protected by a roof and brick walls.
My imagination is further caught by another young man, French artist Claude Monet, who stayed in Zaandam for four months in 1871 with his wife and child to paint windmills and wooden boats. Blue House at Zaandam is still recognisable today and replicas of his 25 paintings are displayed at the waterside Monet Atelier.
Zaandam also has a neat little shopping centre, bisected by water and home to the extraordinary Inntel Hotel that resembles a stack of traditional green houses with Monet’s blue one thrown in for good measure. Nearby City Hall also seems more like a child’s Lego set than bricks and mortar.
Next morning I wake up with a sense of déjà vu. Instead of Amsterdam outside the window, I find we are still in Zaandam due to crosswinds on the canal. Yet nobody misses the chance to visit the Rijksmuseum or Anne Frank’s House, take in the Van Gogh Museum or the Maritime Museum, as our tour manager arranges coaches while some of us choose to fly solo and make the 12-minute journey by train.
And so I spend my final day strolling beside the canals, browsing the boutiques and picking up a few ﬂoral souvenirs at the Flower Market. Everlasting painted wooden tulips and a few tulip bulbs to plant at home for my very own Keukenhof corner. Green fingered? Not really. Inspired? Most definitely!
How to book a Tulips & Windmills river cruise
Titan Travel’s Tulips & Windmills river cruise includes five nights on River Discovery II, 20 meals and three excursions, plus VIP door-to-door chauffeur service; unlimited wine, beer, soft drinks and mineral water during lunch and dinner; and return flights from Heathrow (regional flights and no-fly ferry option from Dover also available). Prices start from £1,299 per person based on departures on April 3, 2023.
River Discovery II will also be sailing the Danube this summer, with prices for a seven-night Melodies of the Danube tour from £1,599 departing on July 13, 2022. Find out more at titantravel.co.uk.