Experiencing a once-in-a-decade event is quite special, as I discovered this past month while visiting the Floriade 2022, a global floral exhibition, in the Netherlands. The flower show -- the first since 2012 -- is more than just flowers though. It’s an international horticulture event that extends to all things plants, vegetables, fruit and sustainable farming and living.
This spring and summer, river cruise passengers have been able to book special Floriade-themed sailings on numerous cruise lines that included a day at the expo. I joined Scenic Crystal in mid-July to see what it was like and was not disappointed.
The journey on the 167-passenger all-inclusive river cruise began in Amsterdam before sailing south through charming Dutch towns like Dordrecht and Veere and even dipped into the Belgian border to visit Antwerp.
This route through the Netherlands and Belgium is a river cruise line staple that includes plenty of windmills, tulips and wheels of gouda cheese. The sailings are traditionally popular during the spring months, as the tulips are in full bloom during April and May; in-the-know travelers book them as Tulip Time or Dutch Waterway river cruises.
That’s why this summer’s Floriade itinerary was extra appealing because of the ability to explore lots of other flora and fauna in a country rich with natural resources and highly regarded for its flowers.
Bill Coyle, a travel advisor from Encompass the World Travel, was on board and said he had booked many special event cruises and land tours including for Christmas river markets, spring tulips, and this year, Floriade.
“I hope to promote more specialty sailings like this one because we have clients looking for uniqueness in their travel experiences. Christmas Market sailings are becoming very popular as well as trips to England with Chelsea Flower Show,” said Coyle.
On our cruise, Floriade was the main event -- and it happened during the final day of our cruise, when we returned to Amsterdam. Unlike most other days when there was a choice of excursions, almost everyone aboard the ship attended Floriade, which actually takes place in the nearby town of Almere; Scenic provided an optional post-trip to stay longer for those that were literally stopping to smell all of the roses.
The cruise provided free entry to Floriade as the main excursion. Scenic wins praise for its all-inclusive pricing including everything from drinks and gratuity to airport transfers and all excursions. On this sailing, that also included entry to Floriade, which would otherwise cost 29 euros per day, not including transportation.
Floriade is made up of dozens of individual gardens with information describing each flower and plant. I liked how you can scan a QR code (something more and more people are becoming comfortable with) to delve even deeper. A fellow traveler even taught me that I could take a picture of a particular flower, and my iPhone would detect the type and provide more information on the spot, too.
I found Floriade fascinating to see the ideas of researchers and designers from around the world and understand how cities of the future can be more efficient and sensitive toward the planet while incorporating sustainable gardening principles.
A gondola transportation system provides the opportunity to see the exhibition from a birds-eye vantage point, but it was actually the enormous greenhouse that impressed me most. I learned about how food producers, farmers and researchers are finding new ways to operate with sustainability in mind and how communities can integrate many practices into city planning. The exhibition itself was built using 93% recycled plastic, and once it is over, the space will be transformed into a sustainable and energy-efficient planned community. The 2,800 trees and more than one million shrubs, plants and flowers will remain.
There were musical concerts, food trucks, art exhibitions and educational activities for all ages. Many countries built large-scale pavilions to showcase the sustainability initiatives they are working on and hope to bring to the global stage. It’s kind of like an Epcot Center experience with a focus on innovation, but with a horticultural and environmental twist. It was really interesting to learn how communities around the world are doing their small part to drive change.
For example, the Dutch city of Ghent adheres to a one-day-a-week menu where no one consumes meat. “Veggie Thursday” represents the city’s efforts to reduce the ecological footprint that comes from the food production industry.
I wasn’t the only one with the visit to Floriade top of mind. One British couple aboard the ship had visited the past three Floriade exhibitions in a row, a dedication that spanned numerous decades, and they were eager to add another one to their roster. When I asked what they thought, they were disappointed more people weren’t in attendance, but they reveled in this year’s theme of urban sustainability.
While Floriade was a highlight, the itinerary had no shortage of other wonders to explore. From the charming village of Veere with its tall church steeples and windmill as a backdrop to the nautical history of Hoorn, each day was packed with sights and sounds. Even for someone that is not a flower fanatic, this itinerary had plenty to see and explore.
The high standards of Scenic’s multiple dining venues, including the main restaurant, Table La Rive (a chef’s table experience with wine pairings) and Portobello’s (the specialty dining Italian restaurant) served a variety of local dishes. While Dutch cuisine is not always top of mind for people, Scenic chefs do a great job of introducing the flavors of the destination on board.
Earlier that same day, I was the lucky beneficiary of the hard work of other cruise mates that learned to bake a traditional Dutch apple pie while I was off exploring the canals and shopping streets of Hoorn.
Other high points of the cruise included local entertainers that joined the ship one evening and Scenic Enrich, a complimentary cultural evening that takes place in a unique setting in one port on every sailing. My sailing included a men’s sailing choir performance of different “sea shanties” in a historic church that was a real highlight.
Whether you come for the flowers, stay for the cheese, pies and waffles, or sail just to be on the river, the Scenic Crystal trip did not disappoint. You can experience it for yourself, too, since Floriade is scheduled to remain open through early October. After that, you'll have to wait until 2032.
Updated August 01, 2022