Seeing the Netherlands Aboard the Scenic Crystal

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Scenic Crystal Cruise: City of Hoorn, Netherlands
The beautiful city of Hoorn, in the far north of the Netherlands. Max Hartshorne photos.

Seeing So Many of the Netherlands’ Cities on the Scenic Crystal

By Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor

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The Netherlands is a small country in Europe, but the sights and tastes you can experience here are big. Really big.

map of cruiseA July 2022 cruise aboard the Scenic Crystal provided a look at one of the world’s most remarkable feats of engineering, the Delta Works, and time to enjoy the country the way its residents do, on bicycles.

The combination of the interesting choices for off-ship activities and the comforts on board made this a vacation to remember.

As the world faces climate change like never before, the work done between 1977 and 1997 in Zeeland, on the Netherland’s west coast is being studied and copied throughout the world.

The Delta Works is staggering in its size: there are 65 piers that were floated into position that each weight 18,000 tons. This to protect the entire state of Zeeland, which like the rest of the country is far below sea level.

After disastrous flooding in the 1950s, the nation mobilized and the result is a series of giant gates, sluices and dikes that keep the North Sea from inundating the land again.

This is one of the most interesting day trips we took off the ship, when we explored the visitor’s center of the Delta Works and learned the long history of flooding that prompted such a massive solution.

One of the largest of the many gates and dikes built as part of the Delta Works in Zeeland.
One of the largest of the many gates and dikes built as part of the Delta Works in Zeeland.

One of the most relaxing aspects of river cruising is that you never lose sight of land nearby. There is never a chance of getting hit by a punishing storm, or that the ship will tilt or hit a big wave, these ships stay near land and this just never happens.

Traveling on a ship with 168 passengers makes excursions a simple exit, there is no tender to wait for, the ship docks right at the port.

Scenic Crystal
The Scenic Crystal docked in the Netherlands.

This cruise, named for the Floriade the every-ten-year decennial exhibition near Amsterdam, provided everyone with a daily choice of interesting diversions in the cities we visited: Arnhem, Antwerp Belgium, Veere, Dordrecht and Hoorn.

Just about everyone on the ship considered the stop in Hoorn to be the most beautiful of the cities, there is something about that circular harbor and the pleasing pedestrian layout of the city that sparkled the brightest.

Floriade 2022

Running from April to October, near Amsterdam, the Floriade Expo 2022 will include an extensive number of exhibits and events, with the theme of ‘Growing Green Cities’, encompassing green, food, energy and health.Screen Shot 2022 08 10 at 2.30.32 PM

It’s a critical issue given that by 2050, almost 70% of the global population will live in cities on just 2% of the earth’s surface area. With this in mind, Floriade has promised that almost all new buildings created for the Expo will have a continued use in the future as a new city district in Almere named Hortus. It’s about 20 minutes away from central Amsterdam.

Ghent Belgium.
Ghent, Belgium.

Another highlight for me was the city of Ghent, Belgium, which even during a light rain is a magical collection of quaint architecture, canals, interesting public space and a long history.

Ghent is the home of more than 1500 different beer brands, we were told, and many of their preferred beers are of the 10-11 percent alcohol variety, made in many breweries by monks, with hundreds of years of brewing history.

Ghent is at the confluence of two rivers, and is a cultural and center of education. Its pedestrianized center is known for medieval architecture such as 12th-century Gravensteen castle and the Graslei, a row of guildhalls.

When we were visiting a fest was taking place and the city was bedecked by a fleet of beer trucks, and porta potties to accommodate a huge influx of beer drinkers who celebrated the holiday.

One downside of taking the morning excursions always offered by Scenic is that, in this case, we missed the big beer fest that was happening in the evening. But it’s still a pretty city to visit and the chocolates made up for missing the beer stands!

Seeing the Netherlands countryside the way the locals do, on bikes.
Seeing the Netherlands countryside the way the locals do, on bikes. The Scenic Crystal keeps 12 bikes on board for passenger’s use.

One of the differences between river cruise lines and ships is how much space is public and how much is used for cabins.

All of the ships that ply Europe’s main rivers, the Rhine, the Danube and the Marne, are between 300 and 400 feet, so they can fit inside the smallest of the locks that navigate the changing elevations of the rivers.

Another aspect of this Scenic cruise is that everything is included from the top shelf drinks to the excursions and even the tips.  That is a nice difference.

The public space on the Crystal is bigger than on some of the other lines, offering more space to enjoy after dinner activities like quizzes and musical entertainers.IMG 0264

Portobello and Table La Rive

There are two main dining areas aboard the Chrystal, but there are also two special dining opportunities that are a highlight of every sailing.

Portobellos is a pop up experience, the dining area in the back of the ship is turned into an Italian bistro, and the menu and wines fit the theme, and about 22 diners eat during the extended meal.

In Table La Rive, courses are more carefully prepared using longer cooking techniques, such as one night when we had the braised beef that cooked for seven hours.

This special dining experience is for just ten guests and the chef takes the time to talk about each dish and it’s clear that they take pride in the quality and complexity of these preparations.

Being on a ship with just 170 passengers gives many of them each a chance to spend a night at one or two of  these special dining experiences, breaking up the routine of the cruise.

Scenic Chrystal on the Rhine.
Scenic Chrystal on the Rhine. Gillies and Zeiser photo.

Find out more about Scenic Cruises, and their newest ships, the Eclipse, for a whole new level of style and luxury at sea. Every day there was another place in the low countries that we were introduced to.  Some of my highlights included the Delta Works, biking around the canals and coastline of Hoorn, and the Sea Shanty singers who introduced us to the bawdy art of sea songs in a church in Hoorn one evening.