You may have heard the phrase, “Tulip Time cruises” mentioned before. On the surface, you might be inclined to skim over them. But there’s good reasons why you’ll want to add one of these picturesque river cruises to your bucket list – and why it’s important to book well in advance in order to do so.
To start with, Tulip Time cruises are only offered in a brief window every year, typically occurring between March and May. This is done to coincide with tulip season in the Netherlands, when that country’s most famous flower is in bloom.
But these cruises aren’t merely just voyages that happen pass by fields of flowers; it’s much more elaborate than that. Nearly all of your on-shore experiences will be custom-tailored to take advantage of this short but beautiful season in the Netherlands, from visits to the Amsterdam flower market to the massive Keukenhof Gardens just outside of Amsterdam. Across the park’s 32 acres, approximately seven million flower bulbs are planted each year. This makes Keukenhof one of the largest gardens in all of Europe. And, just like the tulip time river cruises, it only operates for a brief few months each spring.
Flowers, Flowers, Everywhere
Flower lovers will also want to keep their eyes peeled for river cruises that happen around Floriade, an international garden and flower exhibition held only once every 10 years in the Netherlands. The last festival was held in 2012, so you’re out of luck until 2022, but the 2012 river cruises booked up fast. If you’re a real lover of flowers (or are just looking for an exclusive experience), planning a river cruise around Floriade in 2022 (held in the city of Almere, Netherlands) is a must.
Do you have to love flowers in order to appreciate a Tulip Time river cruise? Not at all. Personally, I’m not all that into flowers. I like them, but I don’t go nuts over them. My initial visit to Keukenhof Gardens back in 2014 was done with a bit of feet-dragging; I really thought about skipping the morning tour in order to take a canal boat ride through Amsterdam.
I’m glad I went and saw Keukenhof, because it’s easily one of the most impressive garden spaces I’ve ever seen. You will be wowed at the sheer depth, variety, and color of the flowers on display. People come from all over the world to visit Keukenhof, and most river cruise lines will include it on at least one complimentary tour in the city of Amsterdam. It’s also not far from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, so if you’re on a long layover, you might just want to pop by on your own if the park is open.
Keukenhof also has a beer garden that should grease the wheels for reluctant husbands and boyfriends out there.
It’s Not Just Flowers
While the blooming tulips are the main draw, that doesn’t meant that everything is all flowers, all the time. River cruise lines still offer tours to other historic points of interest, including walking tours and canal rides through Amsterdam; tours of Kinderdijk’s famous windmills (which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and visits to the Airborne Museum in Arnhem.
There’s also no shortage of opportunities for independent exploration in each port of call. This is ideal for folks who want to take in the famous tulips, but who also want to pair it with some non-floral-related discoveries. Essentially, a Tulip Time river cruise is structured just like any other river cruise, with the added bonus of showcasing the famous flowers of Holland. In many ways, it’s almost better described as a “theme river cruise.”
Booking Your Tulip Odyssey In Advance
All of the major river cruise players offer Tulip Time river cruises each spring, though some operate a longer season than others. Typically, Tulip Time is when river cruise lines like to show off some of their newest ships, too, so chances are good that you’ll be sailing aboard a new (or reasonably new) vessel as it discovers ports like Amsterdam, Hoorn, Kinderdijk, Antwerp, Nijmegen, Rotterdam, Ghent, and others.
But a short cruise season with high demand means that you’ll have to book well in advance in order to secure a spot on most Tulip Time voyages. For most departures, we’d recommend booking no less than four or five months in advance – and that means making plans for your springtime getaway to the Netherlands prior to Christmas.
With departure dates still firmly seated in the off-season throughout Europe, airfares and hotel stays should be much more affordable than, say, departures in June and July. So while discounts are rare (but not impossible) on these river cruises, decreased overall travel costs make springtime an excellent time to travel to Europe.
Personally, I was skeptical until I went once – and then discovered just how amazing the Netherlands is during this picturesque and beautiful time of year. Readers always send us plenty of questions about Tulip Time cruises, and the final verdict is this: it’s a river cruise that should be on everyone’s bucket list.