Days 1 & 2 Amsterdam, Netherlands (Overnight)
Everyone has an image of Amsterdam. For some, it’s small boats gliding on the canals and locals two-wheeling on bikes to and from work and, as frequently, to meet friends for drinks. For others, it’s gabled buildings leaning, seemingly precariously, over cobbled streets and cozy taverns illuminated by candles. Still others imagine tulips in bloom and the colors, both muted and vibrant, of the paintings Vermeer, Van Gogh and Rembrandt. All images are true and even more beguiling when experienced in person. Sit a spell in a convivial cafe, explore world-class museums and feel the significance of a unique history—one of a city reclaimed from the sea, rising in prestige and influence as merchants built trade and wealth, and forever known for its attics and attitudes that offered refuge from war. Narrow streets and great manses tell the story not only in images but with the aroma of appeltaart, a taste of the avant garde in newly constructed buildings and a feeling of warmth from the amiable locals.
Day 3 Amsterdam, Netherlands - Hoorn, Netherlands
The harbor-side town of Hoorn encompasses what makes the Netherlands so special: water, trade and architecture. Located near the open sea on the largest lake in Western Europe, the Ijsselmeer, this Golden Age city shines, still glinting with the prosperity brought by the great sailing ships of the Dutch East India Company, which delivered exotic spices and sprinkled the town with more than a dash of elegance. Hoorn’s power and influence reached as far as the shores of South America where, on reaching the continent’s most southerly waters in 1616, native son and explorer Willem Schouten dubbed the windswept outpost Cape Horn after his hometown. On your own expedition here in hospitable Hoorn, you will want to explore the cobbled streets to discover interesting museums, fine monuments, the graceful town square and the timeless harbor.
Venture to the quaint village of Edam (pronounced Ay-dam), known for its eponymous cheese and picture-postcard scenery. Gabled buildings, canals spanned by drawbridges and yes, storefronts displaying racks of Edam cheese are a feast for the eye. Your Crystal experience also takes you to the town of Alkmaar to see row upon row of cheese laid out in the cobbled center of Waagplein square for a weigh-and-trade spectacle that is the largest of its kind in the world.
Days 4 & 5 Rotterdam, Netherlands
If other cities in the Netherlands can be characterized as quaint and charming, Rotterdam is best described as trendy and sophisticated. Much of its edgy personality is a result of a wiping out of its history, at least the tangible history as represented by its old buildings. The Rotterdam Blitz of World War II destroyed central Rotterdam, leaving it to be rebuilt with an innovative and contemporary approach to design. Modern buildings feature eye-catching curves, cubist references and materials of concrete, glass and steel. Old slices of the city still remain in Delfshaven, or Delft Harbor, and Oude Haven, or Old Harbor. Rotterdam’s energetic mix of old and new, along with a collection of outstanding museums, hotels and restaurants, helped make Rotterdam the Academy of Urbanism’s 2015 European City of the Year and consistently earn it top rankings for best places to visit.
We’re dishing up a very special visit to the Royal Delft Experience, located in the town of Delft, known for its iconic blue-and-white Delft ceramics. Entering the only remaining factory of the 32 that were established in Delft in the 17thcentury, you will witness the production of the beloved earthenware, fashioned after Chinese porcelain and still crafted and hand painted according to centuries-old tradition. See a master painter at work, view presentations about Delftware’s history, and admire a complete collection of Royal Delft in the showroom.
Days 6 & 7 Ghent, Belgium
Buildings with stair-stepped gables, the meeting of the rivers Scheldt and Leie, intact and well-preserved medieval architecture, a brooding castle, the famed Ghent Altarpiece. Ghent has much to admire, including a grounded personality that doesn’t prove too protective of its treasures. Rather, the place is welcoming and hard working—and hard playing—a center of industry that trades goods and a lively cultural scene that exchanges ideas. Walk along Ghent’s pretty canals, wander into its stunning churches, stop to appreciate the flowers that adorn its squares and alleyways and become enchanted by a city that was once one of Europe’s richest north of the Alps and continues to enrich the experience of travelers.
See the world-renowned Ghent Altarpiece, the 12-panel painting by Jan van Eyck, at St. Baaf’s Cathedral, a work of art in its own right. Also discover Gravensteen Castle, an imposing bastion dating from the Middle Ages with a moat, turrets and a museum with suits of armor and implements of torture. It’s hardly torture but indeed an absolute pleasure to explore Bruges, a charming medieval town with cobbled lanes, photogenic canals graced by swans and a moated center so precious and lovely that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Days 8 & 9 Antwerp, Belgium
What Milan is to Italy, Antwerp is to Belgium, a historic city that is on-trend with a finger on the pulse of fashion, art and entertainment. A dynamic energy fills Antwerp’s old squares, gorgeous with cobbled centers and edged, like a cake with decorative icing, by ornate buildings. High-reaching church towers and fountains with cherubic sculptures add to the feeling of antiquity, while the port—the largest in Belgium and one of the largest in the world—brings a sense of purpose and prosperity. Surely, you associate Antwerp with diamonds. More than 70 percent of all diamonds are traded through this sparkling city, one that also shines under the light of celebrated painter Peter Paul Rubens, who lived and worked in an Italianate city manse, now a museum.
Visit the palatial home-museum of Peter Paul Rubens, where you will admire the restored 17th-century estate with exquisite gardens and see a selection of the artist’s works. Head to Brussels to experience this fascinating capital of Belgium and the European Union, home to one of Europe’s most beautiful squares, the Grand Place. You won’t soon forget your look at the immense Delta Works, a vast complex of dams, locks, dykes and levees built to protect the lowlands from floods.
Day 10 Dordrecht, Netherlands
Like many cities in the Netherlands, Dordrecht is surrounded by water and indeed infiltrated by it, beautifully so with canals that crisscross and connect cobbled neighborhoods and old squares. The best way to discover the town is by foot and, of course, by boat. Look up to see tilting buildings with classic, Dutch-style facades and simply look around to encounter Dordrecht’s plentiful monuments (they number more than a thousand) and relish a rich history. With a charter dating to 1220, Dordrecht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands and became one of the most prosperous, gaining prestige and influence thanks to—again, water—as its harbor welcomed goods and boosted the wine trade. Certainly, you won’t want to trade any of your time spent in here this delightful Dutch destination.
A true Dutch treat—not only will you explore Dordrecht’s beautiful Old Town, discover its lovely canals and experience the lively marketplace but you will also venture to Kinderdijk to see the 19 authentic windmills, iconic symbols of the Netherlands and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Days 11 & 12 Amsterdam, Netherlands (Overnight)
Experience what the Netherlands is best known for: art, flowers, canals and Anne Frank. Visit the famed Rijksmuseum, home to Golden Age masterpieces, most notably Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Vermeer’s The Milkmaid. At the Anne Frank House, the third most visited museum in the Netherlands, see the reconstructed bookcase and empty rooms that concealed Anne, her family and four others for more than two years. Her original diary is also on display. Pay a call to the Rembrandt House, where the artist lived and worked in the 1650s, to discover original sketches and paintings and interiors furnished as they were during his time. Marvel at masterpieces of nature at the Aalsmeer Flower Auction, the largest flower auction in the world, and glorious Keukenhof, a 79-acre park known as the “Garden of Europe.” The sights are as numerous as the flowers as you enjoy even more, including a scenic morning canal cruise and an exploration of the Zaanse Schans Open-Air Museum, a re-recreated 17th-century village complete with windmills and artisan workshops.
Day 13 Amsterdam, Netherlands - Disembark