Alan Wooding travelled to the Netherlands by coach with Titan Travel before sailing around the Dutch inland waterways and visited the world famous Keukenhof Gardens
"It's somewhere I've always wanted to visit, but my husband refuses to fly," confided Phyllis, a keen gardener and a fellow pensioner. In fact it was her desire to visit Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands which led me to take the opportunity of enjoying a no-fly alternative offered by Titan Travel.
Like many elderly pensioners Phyllis has never flown, yet she had never considered making the trip by coach or experiencing a gentle cruising holiday around the Dutch waterways which would allow her to tick off one of her bucket-list items.
Unlike most holiday companies, Titan arranges a non-nonsense door-to-door pick-up service. You get your own personal chauffeur, are collected from home and driven in a comfortable vehicle to your point of embarkation. After that you transfer to an awaiting coach before making the Channel crossing, either on a 90 minute P&O ferry out of Dover or, in our case, by train through the much faster Eurotunnel.
What follows is an easy onward journey on good European roads from Calais to Amsterdam, passing through France and Belgium and into the Netherlands, the trip itself taking approximately five hours, including a 45-minute break for snacks and drinks.
Once we arrived in Amsterdam we immediately transferred to our awaiting 90 cabin river boat and were greeted by Titan's cruise director and tour manager and offered a welcoming cocktail. During the six-day holiday, they would accompany us on three included excursions; to Keukenhof Gardens, a visit to the windmills and pretty traditional Dutch houses at Zaanse Schans and then on an enjoyable Amsterdam canal cruise and city tour.
As Keukenhof's magnificent spring garden only has a short eight-week season, it attracts more than a million visitors from more than 100 countries every year while it is undoubtedly the highlight of Titan's 'Dutch Waterways and Tulips'holiday which we spent aboard the luxurious four star-plus MS Bellejour river boat.
Following the company's success after exclusively chartering MS Serenade 1 back in 2017, Titan (www.titantravel.co.uk) chose to add a second river boat for its 2019 season so it chartered the near identical Maltese-registered MS Bellejourfrom Swiss-based company Select Voyages. It's a sleek 127m (417ft) long vessel and can carry a maximum of 180 passengers in 90 well-appointed en suite cabins.
Built in 2004 and originally named Johann Strauss, the MS Bellejour has three deck levels and all have 16 square metre cabins. Those located on the upper Danube and central Rhine decks have large panoramic sliding glass windows with French balconies while on the lower Moselle deck, the cabins have large elongated portholes which still provide excellent views as the Dutch landscape slips serenely by.
A selection of cabins on the Moselle deck are available for sole occupancy while all 90 are air-conditioned and include double beds (which can also be split into a twins), tea and coffee making facilities, a private bathroom with shower, satellite television, a mini bar, telephone, hairdryer and a safe, plus plenty of wardrobe space.
In the restaurant guests can enjoy a buffet breakfast, then a choice of a five-course luncheon or a light lunch in the lounge, before a dinner comprising an appetiser, soup, main course and dessert plus tea or coffee. All meals are accompanied by a choice of drinks – either top quality wines and beers or a non-alcoholic soft drink option. You can also purchase an optional unlimited drinks package from £10 per person per day which runs from 10am to midnight.
Facilities onboard include a large restaurant and lounge with a well-stocked bar, a small onboard shop and 24-hour reception plus a reading area which has a 24 hour tea and coffee making facility. There's an enormous promenade sun deck, a wellness spa and fitness centre with a sauna. There's also a heated whirlpool spa while guests also have free WiFi and a daily onboard newspaper.
For 2020, Titan have renamed the trip, 'Waterways and Tulips' and have priced it from £1,149 which includes all meals (there are two seven-course gala dinners), afternoon tea and late night snacks, together with a Captain's Cocktail reception party.
The 'Tulips and Windmills' itinerary
Following a welcome glass of bubbly and light refreshments, we set sail from our berth close to Amsterdam's Centraal Station for the town of Hoorn, located on the western shore of the Markermeer where we spent the night following a seven-course Captain's Dinner.
Hoorn became one of six homes to the former Dutch East India Company and it has a 17th Century town centre whose main square is called Roode Steen. Quickly becoming one of the wealthiest and most important towns on the Zuiderzee, Hoorn's population has grown to more than 70,000 inhabitants today.
One of Hoorn's many claims to fame relates to a pair of Dutch ships which negotiated a safe passage around the southern most tip of South America on their way from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. While huge storms and previously uncharted rocks had claimed many previous explorers, it was to become known as Cape Horn.
Hoorn's ancient harbour features the Hoofdtoren, a huge 16th Century lookout tower while nearby is the Westfries Museum which has on display paintings of the Westfrisian Golden Age.
Leaving Hoorn we sailed north to the equally attractive town of Enkhuizen. However because the Ijsselmeer (formerly known as the Zuiderzee) has a huge 19 kilometre causeway which bisects it, we had to sail via the giant locks at Lelystad in the province of Flevoland on the opposite bank.
Enkhuizen is a former fishing and whaling port and was also another base of the Dutch East India Company. Unfortunately we had little time to explore as after breakfast we set off by coach for Keukenhof Gardens, passing through much of the countryside which is now a huge nature reserve.
In celebration of its 70th anniversary season, Keukenhof's theme for 2019 was 'Flower Power' with visitors getting to experience the 1960s in all its flamboyant and colourful glory. The spring garden – which is located close to the pretty Dutch town of Lisse – is only open for eight weeks between late March until mid-May. It's located just a short 30 minute bus ride from Amsterdam or Schiphol Airport and each year Keukenhof displays over seven million flowering bulbs in a spectacular fashion.
The gardens themselves are looked after by a dedicated team of 40 gardeners who make sure that the fabulous displays of tulips, daffodils and those amazing scented hyacinth flowers, are shown in the best possible light.
That night we set sail again and, having berthed in Lelystad, we were royally entertained by 25 members of the Shantymen Kaap Hoorn choir – shades of the Fishermen's Friends! They have performed all over the world and all the members have links to the sea, either as fishermen or sailors, their repertoire including many well known sea shanties which the MS Bellejour guest were encouraged to join in.
The following morning we set off again, this time to Zaandam where we visited Zaanse Schans, an historic 18th Century village comprising six well-preserved windmills. We also learned of the skilled craft of clog and cheese-making and wandered the streets alongside the River Zaan.
It was then back to Amsterdam for our final full day which included a city tour by coach and an hour-long cruise around the city's wonderful 17th Century canal system aboard a glass-topped boat. And while many guests chose to visited the Rembrandt exhibition at the fabulous Rijksmuseum, be warned that the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum always need to be booked well in advance as the crowds can be enormous.
One very interesting exhibit at Amsterdam's National Maritime Museum is the 18th-century replica East Indiaman “Amsterdam” which takes you right back to the Dutch Golden Age when the Netherlands capital was the world’s largest port and Holland was truly a world power.
Sadly the holiday was over all too quickly and after an early breakfast, we were back aboard our coach making the return journey to Calais. However unlike the outward journey, we set sail for Dover on a P&O ferry before returning home courtesy of another chauffeur driven Titan vehicle.
Titan Travel Fact File
Alan Wooding travelled to The Netherlands with Titan Travel (08082 391 428, www.titantravel.co.uk) on a sixday ‘Tulips and Windmills’ river cruise. The tour for 2020 includes five nights on board MS Serenade 1 – 14 meals including unlimited wine, beer, and soft drinks during lunch and dinner – plus thee excursions. The price also includes a Farewell Gala dinner, Titan’s VIP door-to-door travel service, services of a Titan tour manager and return Eurotunnel or ferry crossings. Phone bookings on 08082 391 428.