Avalon Tranquility Tulip Cruise Critique. I promised myself that I would do this for cruise critic since I could not find much info on the tulip cruise on Avalon's Tranquility. These are the things that I wish I had known. We spent 3 days and 2 nights in Amsterdam before beginning our cruise. We have done four ocean cruises and this is our first river cruise.
Airport to Central Station: Getting to the Central Station from Amsterdam Airport we did by train. We could not get train tickets in the kiosk because our credit card did not have a microchip in it so we had to go to the ticket counter. We did not get first class carriage so we ended up standing with our luggage in the train's doorway since it was a busy time and no seats in the regular coach. (Note: Many restaurants would not accept credit cards without microchips. The more expensive the restaurant the higher the chance they would accept our MasterCard. We don't carry debit cards.) Our ATM card worked fine for money. Don't forget to call your credit card and ATM Company before your trip and tell them that you will be in Belgium and The Netherlands on the dates of your trip.
Central Station to Hotel: We took a cab with our luggage and our young adults luggage to the Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel and they walked. We didn't want to lug the luggage over the cobblestones. The taxis did not want at first to take us such a short distance but the driver charged us more than we paid for any other taxi rides which were much longer. The guy charged 20 Euros but it was worth it.
The hotel was convenient to lots of interesting sites. The Van Gogh and Rembrandt were a hike, but we 65 year olds enjoyed the sites along the way. We did not buy tickets ahead of time because we had no idea when we were going. Each was about a 30 to 45 minute wait for tickets. It seemed a safe neighborhood even though a Red Light District was very close.
Do not try to go to Anne Frank's house unless you have bought tickets on line before you go on your trip. The line is unbelievably long. We should have bought on the Internet before we left for the second day we were there.
We bought a phone card that was supposed to be for calling the USA from Netherlands in a little shop near the Anne Frank house. We also had two ATT prepaid calling cards. None worked from local phones or from the hotel. We ended up buying a cell phone with 100 minutes and that pretty much worked everywhere. A guy on the ship had a Verizon that he had bought before the trip and he said it cost him 99 cents per day. That sounded like a good deal.
Transportation to Ship, Day 1: We checked out of our hotel on departure day at noon and got a cab to the NH Amsterdam hotel where we were supposed to meet for transportation to the boat before 3:30 pm. We dropped off our bags and then found out that the optional Van Gogh museum tour had already departed and the Zaanse Schans optional tour was available. It had not been clear to me that these two optional tours by the company were available arrival day. They seemed to imply that you could go to the Van Gogh or Rijksmuseum (Rembrandt) museums on your own arrival day. I wish the info we were sent from Avalon including the travel documents had been more clear. I wish it had said when the optional tours were for each city-morning or afternoon and in this case the day and times. We were in Vollandam the morning of the last day and then went to Amsterdam for an included canal tour in the afternoon and the Red Light District optional tour that night. You really don't get a clear schedule about these optional tours before the trip.
Most tours that are included in the towns start at 8:30 am and last until lunch time. The optional tours are usually in the afternoons.
We bought the Internet for a week on board. It was slower than I have ever seen. It seemed like access to any email provider was exceptionally slow. There was no service at all when we were near or around Belgium.
Arnhem Day 2, My daughter in law and I walked around the little town where we had docked, Nijmegen. It was market day and we enjoyed looking at the clothes, bolts of material, scarves, and we found a shop that sold clothing for 5 Euros each for everything. We bought a fashionable cotton coat and blouses. They had a wide variety of accessories too.
My husband and son went to Arnhem, the cemetery and the airborne museum Hartenstein. This is a trip for history buffs. It would be good to see the movie, A Bridge Too Far, before making the trip.
Kinderdijk - the boat took off for the windmills here and stopped for everyone to take a short walk to view the 19 windmills and the souvenir shop set up to accompany the windmills.
Antwerp Day 3
We all toured Antwerp ourselves. It was an easy walk into the city and we saw a beautiful cathedral. Be sure and tell them you are a Sr Citizen and you get a break on the cost. The guy who was taking tickets asked me for which I was thankful. It is beautiful. We went back to the boat after lunch. We did not do the Brussels optional tour.
Ghent and Bruges, day 4. This was a hard day because of the amount of walking in the morning and afternoon. We took the optional tour to Bruges in the afternoon. If you are slow walking or having a hard time walking....Do Not Do this trip and the morning trip. Those on canes and walkers could not keep up with the almost two hours of walking in Bruges and tended to get left behind and lost. It was very crowded, but pretty and we enjoyed. There was a Michelangelo Madonna and Child sculpture in the church there and it was my favorite statue ever. There was a canal cruise and the recording warned us about one of the low bridges and many had to duck, but near the end when they were reminding us about tipping the driver, the driver angled the boat too close to a different bridge and my husband and I were digging in our bags to find a tip and we both got hit pretty hard by the bridge. No long-term damage thank heavens.
Middleburg, Day 5
We did the included walking tour of Middleburg. We saw where the Roosevelt Foundation gives out I think it is Humanitarian awards to Clinton, Mandela etc. and it was market day there too. I had the best thing I ate on the whole trip. It was a warm swoop.......It was a warm waflley looking very thin round shaped cookie kind of with warm caramel inside. I love sweets and it was dying and going to heaven sweet.
Delta Works was the tour for the afternoon: This is more of a engineer's thing but everyone can admire the tenacity of the Dutch people to solve their flooding problems from the sea. It is very impressive and showcases the massive project to build a system of protective dikes for the Netherlands.
Day 6 THE HIGHLIGHT of the trip was the Keukenhof Gardens. We chose to do the brief ride through Rotterdam and on to gardens leaving at 9:45 am I think. I am so glad we spent as much time as possible there. It is absolutely beautiful. I could have spent 3 days there. We just wandered and even though it is 70 acres you did on your own and you could do in a wheelchair or on a cane because you don't have to go far to see the beauty. We were there on Good Friday and the traffic getting there and crowds in the gardens were heavy. Avalon also offered the option of touring Rotterdam and then spending two hours in the Gardens, but we did not think that was as good as spending all our time in the gardens.
Day 7 Vollandam, Edam, and Amsterdam
Vollandam is a very quaint village that is a short walk from the boat and fun for shopping and seeing cute houses. We really enjoyed that morning. There is an included bus tour to Edam that is another very picturesque small city. Don't expect a large cheese market, as it is only one small shop!
In the afternoon we went on to Amsterdam for included canal cruise and optional Red Light District. When you are told don't take pictures of the women, they are not kidding. One of the men on the Red Light district tour from our boat, I heard, took a picture and the woman came out and hit him.
Instead of doing the canal cruise we chose to go to the Van Gogh by taxi and walked around more. What a difference a week makes! Easter weekend was great for flowers in Keukenhof, but Amsterdam was more crowded than the weekend before and almost scary. The week before there were large groups of guys dressed nicely walking around but were not scary, but the groups were higher, drunker and looked as if they were looking for trouble the Saturday afternoon and night before Easter.
Bathrooms are available at McDonalds for 20 or 30 cents and other places charged the same unless it was at a restaurant where you were eating and they didn't charge anything.
Tipping off ship We did tip 10% at restaurants even though I read somewhere that leaving a couple of Euros was all that was expected. It is just too ingrained in us not to tip.
Cruise Director Our cruise director was amazing. Karolien was so organized and funny and calming. Her saying, "no panic, no stress" became a very nice thing to hear; we wanted a CD of it to bring home. Her "8 and a half minutes, 12 and a half minutes" before times to leave said with that wonderful accent made us smile. She did everything with a smile from finding a cane for someone who had lost hers to helping load luggage on to the bus for the airport the morning we left. At one port my son and daughter in law came back separately to the boat and he turned in her shore pass. Karolien noticed and found my daughter in law to make sure she was on board before we left the dock.
Food Lots of people complained about the quality of the food. I talked with some Viking people near us and they too said that food is just not as good as on large cruise ships. Once I learned not to order fish I was okay. There is definitely not the opportunity to pick the time or place you eat as on larger lines. They pretty much want you to eat lunch buffet and dinner seated all at the same time. Breakfast is buffet, but some mornings I didn't want the buffet until after 9 am. After 9 there are not many choices as it is light fare. The only other time food is available is in the afternoon for cake. I would rather have been offered cheese. There is a fruit bowl next to the reception area that is always available and I would grab a banana there sometimes. Okay, my biggest pet peeve is that there were only one or two menus per table. You had to pick out what you wanted and remember which choices you made of appetizer, dessert, entrEe and soup.
Dress There were two nights when people got dressed up for dinner. I just wore black pants and a fancier blouse and my husband wore a long sleeve shirt. There were guys in coats and ties, but not many.
Shore Passes To get on and off the boat you use a shore pass that you pick up at the reception desk. There is no security check; you just have to remember to give it back when you get back on the ship so they will know you are on board.
Gym My daughter in law enjoyed the gym on board for running.
Provisions for Disabled - There are no elevators on the boat. You disembark from different levels at different times and you need to be able to climb stairs. The lounge, dining room, and the top deck (which is the best place for viewing while cruising) are all on different levels. We don't think that the staterooms have much walking room and there is a 3" lip on the bathroom entrance to step over. The cobblestones are not easy to walk on in the towns. Keukenhof and Kinderdijk are the only places that you could easily use a wheelchair. You ride on the bus to the gardens; the buses park pretty close to the entrance and the walkway between all the flowers is flat and easy to maneuver on.
Library There was a library of books to read.
Binoculars We used binoculars for viewing as we were cruising but most things could be seen well without them.
Passport and Card Security: More recent passports and some debit/credit cards have microchips that can be read without you knowing it. So we bought jackets that prevent this because you are going through airports etc. with no control of who is near you. If you want to research this issue, search the Internet for "RFID sleeves".
Wine We had a room directly across from the young adults so that one of us usually had a great view when docked which we shared for cocktail hour. The ship had folks offering drinks for sale on the top deck, but you didn't feel pressured to do. The free wine with dinner was great and you were allowed to buy wine and bring on the boat so we would buy wine and cheese on shore and have a drink and cheese and crackers often before dinner. We did this instead of going to Happy Hour in the Lounge.
The weather was perfect (no rain, few clouds, high 70s) and we had a great time. I hope this helps with your planning.