European river cruises have a lot going for them – wonderful scenery, intimate experiences, and hassle-free shore excursions that don’t involve tenders or long bus rides. No wonder they’re gaining in popularity every year.

One of the most enjoyable European river cruises is a “tulip time” cruise through the Netherlands and Belgium when the spring flowers are at their peak. At Kuekenghof Gardens, you’ll see 70 acres planted with 7 million bulbs. It’s a riot of color you’ll never forget.

More than 90% of the world’s flower supply comes from here. After a long, grey winter, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

The tulip season is relatively short, and most of these trips are offered only in March and April. So you’ll have to act fast to enjoy one this year. But if you do, you’ll be able to take advantage of substantial savings.

Tulip time cruises on AMA Waterways.

AMA Waterways has two river cruise vessels in Holland and Belgium this spring – the 148-passenger Amalyra, which has its maiden voyage last year and the 148-passenger Amalegro, which launched in 2007.

Most of the staterooms on these ships have French balconies, and all have in-room infotainment systems that include Movies, a music library, English-language TV, and Internet access.

Red and white wine are included with dinner each evening and there are bikes on board for passengers’ use.

They offer seven-night cruises that begin and end in Amsterdam. Along the way, there are visits to Volendam, Edam – to sample the cheese – Arnhem, Nijmegan, Antwerp, Ghent, Willemstad, Dordrecht, Utrecht, and spectacular Keukenhof Gardens.

At press time, cabins were still available on April departures and fares were starting at $1,999 per person. Contact AMA Waterways for details.

Tulip time cruises on Avalon Waterways.

With four riverboats in the Netherlands this spring, Avalon Waterways has availability on several departures. The Avalon Artistry was one of Conde Nast’s Top Cruise Ships in 2009. The interiors were designed by Hans Sabert and the staterooms are some of the biggest of any riverboat.

The 138-passenger Avalon Felicity is new this year and features a whirlpool on the sky deck. With the bridge at the rear, Avalon Tranquility and Avalon Imagery offer stunning views from their lounges and restaurants.

Avalon’s cruises are also seven nights and begin and end in Amsterdam, but the itinerary is slightly different. After leaving Amsterdam, you’ll visit Arnhem, Dordrecht, and Kinderdijk to see the charming group of windmills. From there, you’ll call at Antwerp, Ghent, Middleburg, Rotterdam with an excursion to Keukenhof Gardens, and return to Amsterdam for an overnight.

Fares start at $2,049 per person – a $2,000 per couple savings. Contact Avalon or Vacationstogo for more information.

Tulip time cruises on Uniworld.

Those with a little more time will enjoy a 9-night cruise on Uniworld’s River Duchess, River Empress, or River Queen. All carry around 134 passengers and include complimentary wine with dinners, portable audio systems for shore visits, and complimentary bicycles.

These sailings include medieval Bruges, which is one of the most delightful cities in the Benelux countries.

Passengers embark in Amsterdam and spend the night there aboard their ship. The next day, you’ll visit Keukenhof Gardens and then sail for Hoorn. Other port calls include Enkhuizen, Nijmegen, Rotterdam, Veere, Antwerp, and Bruges.

The cruise ends in Antwerp.

Fares start at $1,849 per person. Contact Uniworld or Vacationstogo for availability.

At press time, Viking River Cruises tulip cruises were virtually sold out.

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