Rolling on the river: Well, not right away. After boarding, the River Baroness remained in Amsterdam until midnight on Sunday. This gave the passengers the opportunity to recoup the jet lag and to enjoy the next day in town. The river ships dock right by the central station and the do it yourself type was in the heart of the city. Sunday offered an included morning bus and walking tour of the central city with the flower market and the diamond factory as high points. The afternoon offered an optional tour of the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museums which we declined as we had a post-cruise stay planned in Amsterdam. I recommend this option if you don't have an additional stay planned. It is Rembrandt's 400th birthday and the exhibits are notably. And they are crowded as it is currently the hot museum ticket in Europe!Easter Sunday was really packed according to the passengers who took this excursion. Monday morning we arrived in Enkhuizen located in the southern portion of the former Zuider Zee. This included a walking tour and a small amount of free time. Not much was open as this was the Monday after Easter and a holiday. After lunch we sailed to Hoorn and remained overnight. We skipped the included walking tour and enjoyed cafes and coffee and snooping around. No one draws their curtains at night. The Dutch decorate really well and shame on me for looking! Stores in general were closed. Tuesday took us from Hoorn to Volendam, the tourist junk center of the north. Optional tours were available to Marken Island and Edam (easily do it your self) and there was a bicycle tour of the countryside and over the dyke. Out of 140 passengers, 14 chose the bike tour. Another passenger/cruise mismatch. Optional excursions on this cruise are cancelled if less than 10 participants do not sign up. We skipped both and went into the supermarket in town and the local shopping center which provided not only snacks but hours of entertainment. We sailed for Arnheim that afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed the passing scenery. Arnheim is a wonderful small city and the site of one of the most notable battles of WWII. Included in the tour is an excursion the to Liberation Museum and the cemetery. This particular trip received the highest marks for any included tour for the passengers who participated. The ship proceeded on to Nijmegen while the afternoon optional excursion went to the Kroller-Muller Museum. Nose to nose with Van Gogh!!!!!! The largest concentration of the artist's work and most of his earliest paintings can be seen in this fabulous museum located in the Netherlands' largest nature preserve. Unlike the city museums, the crowds are very moderate, the layout pleasant and accessible and one can get nose to nose with the paintings. Since venerable spouse has set off alarms in museums all over the world, he enjoyed the opportunity to examine the brushwork without being tackled by the security staff. If art is your thing, don't miss this one! We caught up with the ship in Nijmegen, an ancient Roman city and were too tired to give it more than just a glance. There was an music program in the lounge that night and those who stayed awake said it was OK. We set sail for Dorndrecht in the morning. Dorndrecht was a wonderful city. The morning took us to the Windmills of Kinderdijk, a world heritage site. The tour through the countryside gave an excellent introduction to the Dutch view on how to manage water. The afternoon offered an optional tour to Delft which participants said was a "tourist rip-off". We opted to tour the city and enjoyed the most marvelous pair of museums. One featured 17th century painters and the other, The Simon Van Gijn, a 17th century house with an intact kitchen and assorted collections of toys, silver, glasswork etc. The leather room and the salon are particularly of interest. A very walkable city. We arrived in Rotterdam the next morning and set off for the optional tour of the Keukenhoff Gardens. The gardens are open 7 weeks a year. It is crowded for a very good reason. 8 million bulbs make quite an impression and the bulb fields with great swaths of pastels are stunning. Spring has been late in Europe this year and we were lucky in our timing and had a brilliant day. On our return to the ship, traffic conditions led us to detour through the Hague and it was interesting to take a quick peek. I think Dutch traffic is terrible and I drive in Phoenix and Los Angeles. On leaving Rotterdam, the harbor cruise included returning to the dock to pick up a couple of the crew who had had too much of a good time in Rotterdam. They did suffer during dinner. After collecting these unfortunates we proceeded back to Amsterdam overnight. See part III
This was a fun trip, but here are the caveats: Air transportation is included but a.) you might do better on your own. b.) some people took unlikely routes i.e. Atlanta to Detroit to Amsterdam which extended their flight times. c.)some return transfers were as early as 4AM...yes, 4AM! Entertainment is limited. For seven nights there were 2 musical acts, a cheesemaking demonstration and crew entertainment that was vulgar. After tea in the afternoon, the Cruise Manager gave an overview of the coming day's events and a potted history of the location. The Captain was always happy to answer questions and point out interest aspects of river travel. Do not look for Broadway style entertainment. Be aware of your limitations! As I mentioned earlier, this cruise does not make provisions for those persons who have limited mobility. The ship has one chair lift to go between decks and very narrow or circular stairs to access the lounges and the dining room. The tours require the ability to walk at least one mile and the busses make no provision for those incapable of pulling themselves up stairs. Many times activities were held up for passengers requiring this assistance and some activities were curtailed due to time constraints imposed by these passengers. The cruise manager was very gracious but privately said that she was told that she would has an "active" passenger population. Do not climb into a windmill if you can't handle several flights of stairs. 400 pound people will have hygiene issues on this cruise. All of the above taken into account: this cruise is a great value for money and offers an opportunity to see some really memorable sights at a bargain price!