One of the pleasures of a World Cruise is being able to enjoy a tapestry of cultures as the ship makes a circle around the planet. This year, more so than in recent years, the Amsterdam’s 2019 Grand World Voyage focused on Europe. We were delighted to be able to explore the continent, especially the often-visited Naples, Italy; Iberian ports; several locales in the British Isles; and some off-the-beaten-path places in Northern Europe. In all, the voyage called at 15 magical ports in Europe this year.
Here are just some of our favorites.
One of Spain’s most charming cities and the capital of Catalunya, Barcelona saw more than 3 million cruise passengers in 2018. Its popularity comes from its many positive attributes: seven beaches span five kilometers along the shoreline; one of Spain’s most famous pedestrian streets, Las Ramblas with cafes, souvenir kiosks and “living statues;” delicious cuisine and wines. Arguably, one of its most stunning features was the architecture, particularly the works of Barcelona’s most famous artist, modernist architect Antoni Gaudí. A late 19th century/early 20th-century architect, Gaudí developed a striking style characterized by freedom of form. He seemed to dislike straight lines—and organic unity. His most famous work, La Sagrada Família, was begun in 1882 and is still unfinished to this day.
Among other must-see attractions included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Works of Antoni Gaudí, are Parque Güell, a public park that encompasses architectural design and resplendent gardens, and Casa Batlló, a multi-level house with an iridescent dragon back on its roof. Another Barcelona point of interest is its medieval Gothic Quarter—or Barri Gòtic—in the heart of the old city with its imposing Barcelona Cathedral and narrow, winding streets.
The Portuguese capital starts mesmerizing visitors even before they arrive, thanks to scenic cruising on the Tagus River. Points of interest include monuments such as the UNESCO World Heritage Site Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon, the Monument to the Discoveries or Padrão dos Descobrimentos, and the Jerónimos Monastery which houses the tomb of explorer Vasco da Gama. The colorful Alfama district, the city’s oldest quarter, with cafés and shops, is within walking distance of the cruise terminal.
Some choice exploring opportunities include tours to Fátima, 88 miles north of Lisbon, and its Sanctuary of Fátima, one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage sites where three shepherd children reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1917. Other excursions included visits to Sintra, a royal summer retreat, as well as to the charming seaside town of Cascais.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Here the Grand World Voyage had a most memorable and delightful experience available to us. The timing of the cruise coincided with the annual Keukenhof Tulip Festival held at Keukenhof Gardens in the town of Lisse, about an hour south of Amsterdam. We booked the ship’s tour to this world-class festival, which is a feast for the senses with an abundance of colors seen in gorgeous tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. These fresh and fragrant flowers spread out as far as the eye could see. Seven million bulbs are planted annually in the gardens spanning nearly 80 acres. Oh, so, so lovely!
The World Cruise had a marvelous gift for its passengers: a complimentary evening visit to the world-famous Rijksmuseum with its treasure trove of Rembrandts (including “The Night Watch,” and other masterpieces like Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid”). The Rijksmuseum, in a stately building dating from 1800, recently underwent a 10-year renovation and reopened in 2013. It was simply marvelous and being able to enjoy a private after-hours visit to the museum, exclusive to our ship’s guests, made it truly extraordinary. We were treated to complimentary beverages and desserts. There was enrichment, including a lecture on the museum’s collection highlights, art tours, “Ask Me Guides” and art experts. Our host, Holland America Line President Orlando Ashford, shared the experience with us and posed for photos with guests. And as if all of this were not enough, when we returned home to the Amsterdam in Amsterdam, we found a gift on our respective pillows: A commemorative Tiffany box engraved with a drawing of the Rijksmuseum and “Grand World Voyage 2019” — a wonderful keepsake!
The Norwegian capital never disappoints. Points of interest included the Opera House, which features futuristic architecture and superb acoustics. “Its architectural style has been compared to a glacier in the Oslo fjord,” our guide commented. It’s an apt and poignant description, and visitors are invited to climb its white sloping roof for great views of the city. What an incredible place!
Other must-sees include the Royal Palace dating from the mid-19th century at the top of the city’s main thoroughfare, Karl Johans gate, and the Parliament building—the seat of Norway’s legislative body since 1866. The spectacular Akershus Fortress stood across the pier from the docked Amsterdam, dating from the 13th century and renovated in Renaissance style in the 17th century. Another must-see attraction is the Vigeland Park which features more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and iron by Gustav Vigeland.
The Nobel Prize Peace Center is another Oslo must. This is where the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize is awarded each year. Other Norwegian highlights of the Grand World Voyage included scenic cruising in breathtaking Sognefjord and a stop at picturesque Flam with its world-famous train ride.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
We opted for the ship’s Belfast highlights tour introducing the main sights of Northern Ireland’s largest city. This featured sights like City Hall, Grand Opera House and the Albert Memorial Clock. We also had the opportunity to take in the Titanic Experience. Devoted to the most infamous ship in the world—and originally constructed in Belfast—the Titanic Experience was housed in an iconic, hull-like, six-story building. Highlights include recreations of the Titanic’s luxurious, first-class accommodations.
The charming capital city beckoned us with its famous Little Mermaid sculpture, an icon of Copenhagen. The sculpture of the beloved Hans Christian Andersen character sits on a small rock by the sea. Other points of interest include the imposing Christiansborg Palace and Amalienborg, and the picturesque Nyhavn, a colorful waterfront established in the 1600s. We also headed for Tivoli Gardens for a whimsical afternoon of rides and games in the amusement park that is said to have inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland in California. One ride caught our eye—the vehicles were hot-air balloon gondolas, very appropriate for our round the world voyage!
If you’re ready to experience the adventure of a Holland America Line Grand World Voyage, take a look at some of their upcoming sailings.