Maiden cruise to Holland with Titan Travel on board River Discovery II

As the clocks go forward and winter loosens its grip, there’s nothing quite like a display of brightly coloured spring flowers to lift the spirits. So for many Silver Travellers – keen gardeners or simply garden lovers – a trip to the bulb fields and gardens of Holland is a real bucket-list break. And there’s no nicer way to travel than on water.

For my first overseas trip since the start of the global pandemic, it seemed appropriate to be joining Titan Travel’s inaugural cruise along the Dutch waterways on board River Discovery 2. Built in 2012 and refurbished in 2018, the ship joined the Titan fleet in April this year with accommodation for 176 passengers in 92 cabins and suites, including eight single cabins. The ship has no adapted cabins, but there is a lift between all decks except the sun deck.

Titan’s travel promise includes VIP door-to-door travel – wherever you live – so my trip began with chauffeur pick-up from home before my short flight from Heathrow to Amsterdam. Regional airports are also available, as well as a no-fly journey by coach from Dover.

Life on board River Discovery II

The 12 Deluxe suites are named after famous navigators and mine featured a bath with shower over, writing desk, sitting area, and plenty of storage space, sockets and mirrors.  Standard cabins have showers, but the Owner’s Suite – curiously named after Elvis Presley – enjoys an extra-large sitting area, a Jacuzzi bath, and Elvis artwork. All double-occupancy cabins can be configured with twin beds or a double.

Meal deal is full board with complimentary house wine and soft drinks served at lunch and dinner. I found the varied international cuisine light to eat and lovely to look at, plus there’s a self-service light option lunch option in the lounge which is less of a gastronomic adventure but perfect if you don’t want to spend time at the table.

On a short cruise like this one, there’s little surplus time to fill during the day, but resident entertainer Aleks offered an informal afternoon dance class for anyone not out exploring. A chance for me to master a few Charleston and Salsa steps! After dinner, Aleks slipped into crooner mode, treating us to a variety of song styles from Swing to Pop, and we also enjoyed an evening of rousing Dutch sea shanties from the excellent Shantymen from Hoorn.

Video above: Shantymen from Hoorn

Spring flowers in Amsterdam

Despite this being billed as a river cruise, don’t expect narrow waterways until midweek. The circular route from Amsterdam is mostly around the harbours fronting the Markermeer, southern area of the freshwater Ijsselmeer ‘inland sea’. Historic Hoorn, for instance, has cobbled streets, a defensive tower, and a long history of seafaring; explore independently or join an optional guided walking tour.

Highlight for most passengers is a full day at Keukenhof Gardens, which opens for just eight weeks each spring, and is one of three excursions included in the cruise package. Every year, 40 gardeners plant 7 million flower bulbs in the 32-hectare park. Not just tulips, but hyacinths, daffodils, and other spring specials.

Video above: Tulips at Keukenhof

A new design is created every year using 1600 varieties of bulbs, including 800 varieties of tulips. Tall ones and short.  Smooth and frilly. Block colour and variegated. The effect is stunning. Well, most of the time, because the one thing they can’t control at Keukenhof is the weather.

Bulbs are planted in three ‘lasagne’ layers to try and ensure that the park is in bloom throughout the eight weeks, but on my first visit some years ago in early March, there were few outside flowers after a cold, late spring. A second visit in late April found the entire garden at its colourful best, with this year’s mid-April tour coming in a close second. But a full colour experience is guaranteed inside the huge glass pavilions that feature orchids, tulips and amaryllis; floral art and horticultural history. So there’s always plenty to see.

Dutch history and heritage

The following day whilst docked in Zaandam, we enjoyed another included excursion to the Zaanse Schans heritage village with its windmills, traditional buildings and craft shops. Zaandam itself is also well worth exploring independently on foot. Peter the Great of Russia, arrived here incognito in 1897 as a young man to learn carpentry and ship building skills before commissioning his own navy, whilst another young man, artist Claude Monet, visited the Zaan region in 1871 to paint windmills.

Third of the included Titan excursions is a canal cruise with commentary in Amsterdam, a great way to get your bearings before free time to explore independently.  Take in the Van Gogh Museum or catch up with Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum; pay a moving visit to Anne Frank’s house; or just follow the concentric circles of canals to soak up the unique atmosphere of this lively city.

I was unlucky to experience intermittent rain and gusty winds throughout the week, but the comfortable accommodation and friendly staff on River Discovery 2 helped everyone to relax back on board. Sunshine would have been a bonus but all the passengers I chatted with were happy with their holiday.

After six weeks in Dutch waters, River Discovery II will be cruising the Danube for the rest of the 2022 season, but it’s not too early to book with Titan for next year’s bulb field itineraries for some fabulous spring colour.  


FACT BOX

Titan Travel (0808 239 1194, www.titantravel.co.uk) is offering a 6-day ‘Tulips and Windmills river cruise, from £1,299per person. The tour includes 5 nights on board MS River Discovery II, 20 meals, and 3 excursions. The price also includes Titan’s VIP door-to-door travel service, unlimited wine, beer, soft drinks and mineral water during lunch & dinner, services of a Titan cruise director, tour manager and entertainer, and return international flights from London Heathrow. Based on departures 03 April 2023. Call to book. https://www.titantravel.co.uk/holidays/tulips-and-windmills-cruise

For information on Keukenhof, visit www.keukenhof.nl

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Gillian Thornton

Travel writer

3 Responses

  1. This was interesting as I would love to go to see the ‘tulips in Amsterrdam’. I’ve been to Amsterdam a couple of times but not in springtime

    1. It’s such a lovely trip! Nothing is very far apart so you can pack a lot into a short break, and the Keukenhof Gardens are a real bucket list experience whether you are a gardener yourself or just like other people’s plots. I’d certainly recommend booking early for next year to avoid disappointment. And have something to look forward to!

  2. A river cruise is such a relaxing way to travel. The Keukenhof Gardens are well worth a visit.

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