May 3, 2016: Rotterdam, Netherlands
It was an early 7am start for us in Rotterdam, as today’s Do It Yourself (DIY) shore excursion day would take us far outside of the city of Rotterdam and to the east, for a day in the small town of Lisse, where for just 7 short weeks a year, the world’s largest spring garden comes to life with more than 15 million tulip bulbs on over 80 acres of colorful flower madness, known as Keukenhof.
Getting to Keukenhof was relatively easy, even though it required a metro ride (3 Euro per person) to Rotterdam Centraal, a train ride from Rotterdam Centraal to Leiden (15.70 Euro per person), and Bus Line 854 on the Keukenhof Express (4 Euro per person) to reach the gates. We picked up our combi-ticket for the bus express and the entrance (16 Euro per person) at the Leiden train station to avoid the ticket lines to get into the park.
From start to finish, it took just about 90 minutes to arrive at the park, but all the transport was clean, easy to navigate, and everyone we ran into was incredibly helpful and made sure that we had absolutely no trouble getting where we need to go.
Arriving at the park, two things were immediately evident… 1) This would be something like an amusement park, but with no rides and 2) given the sheer number of buses in the parking lot at 10 minutes after opening, we were visiting a place that was enormously popular. Walking through the entry gates, the familiar theme park music was playing on an old style pipe organ, a water fountain was shooting out a spherical pattern, and small kiosks were set up with souvenirs, maps, guides answering questions, etc. It was definitely like an amusement park, but instead of rides, there were millions and millions of flowers everywhere you looked.
Every color imaginable, in amazingly pristine and perfect rows, in patterns, in carefully manicured squares, circles, ribbons, curves, etc. There were inspiration gardens created by famous Dutch gardeners, television personalities, etc. using a variety of flowers, plants, vegetables, and presenting all of it in unique ways. As we walked along the more than 40 miles (yes, 40!) of footpaths through the park, you were never more than 10 feet from hundreds, if not thousands of blooming plants, bursting with the most vibrant colors you have ever seen.
We were incredibly fortunate to have arrived during the peak of the blooming season, so we got to see close to 100% of the garden in full bloom (or very very near it) and this just made each garden or section of the park just a bit better than the one we had just seen. You might think that if you have seen one flower, you have seen them all, but it seemed like each presentation simply had one rule – to outdo the previous, and I think they met that challenge and exceeded it.
While a majority of the flowers in the park were tulips (in countless varietals, colors, and variations of shape, height, and style), there were also orchids, trees, bushes, fruit, vegetables, and many other plants and flowers included.
And if the flowers weren’t enough, there was a petting zoo, a playground for kids (and kids at heart), a maze made out of 6 foot high hedges, a windmill, a canal boat ride, kid cabins, two massive fields of tulips adjacent to the park, and more. Throw in food carts with Dutch specialties like herring, ham sandwiches, dutch strawberries, hot crunchy thin waffles with gooey caramel like middles and your day is nearly complete.
As the day progressed, we all enjoyed the many wonderful flower exhibits, but as the day progressed, it got full of people – really full of people. Like I said previously, the park is only open 7 weeks a year to accommodate the spring bloom, and being that we arrived during the peak week of activity, by 12noon, the park had most definitely reached capacity. 80 acres of beautiful grass and flowers were now being admired by tens of thousands of people, and every single one wanted pictures — with the flowers, next to the flowers, family portraits, selfie sticks were everywhere, and though it nearly reached a point of complete and total pandemonium in the park, while Keukehof was just at the tipping point of bursting at the seams, it remained a very fun, very enjoyable, and amazing visit.
Around 1:30pm, after four and a half hours of walking, pictures, and a really nice picnic lunch, we headed back to the front entrance, boarded our express bus and reversed the same process back to the ship. It was a truly memorable day, one that could not be duplicated anywhere else on Earth, and one that we will remember for a long time to come.