Normandy Crossing &
We loved the idea of this cruise as soon as our Holland America Lines (HAL) travel agent, Jennifer Flink called us to suggest it. While we've done other Trans Atlantic crossings with HAL before the ports for this Normandy Crossing would be new to us and the disembarkation port, Rotterdam, is not only interesting in itself but is in the heart of an area we've wanted to visit. Up until now, the only time we've been in the Netherlands was for an airport transfer. This time, we would be there at the height of the tulip season! Brussels would be only a short train ride away, and from there we could easily return to a city that we enjoyed just last year—London—for an nonstop plane trip back to our home in the Los Angeles area. The cruise embarkation point would be Tampa—a cross-country plane trip but quite easy to reach, and the first port stop, Bermuda, would be another "first" for us. So we booked the cruise, set up the airline arrangements, and began to plan.
We didn't like the idea of spending only 15 days on this trip, given that the return would involve an expensive flight back to Los Angeles. We decided to add in almost another week, visiting cities in the area that we hadn't seen before, before making our way to London where we would have access to nonstop flight itineraries back to Los Angeles. Thus, we were now planning for about three weeks which would include 6 days on our own abroad.
We selected hotels in Amsterdam (2 nights), Brussels (1 night), and London (3 nights) and investigated train tickets between these cities. We were delighted to find that the Thalys High-Speed Trains would suit our needs perfectly and that their senior-citizen rates were affordable. Trains depart from city-center locations and involve only minimal time to arrive and board, unlike most airline departures. We'd arrive in city-center locations, with minimal travel time to our hotel. We'd used the Eurostar's chunnel service between London and Paris on an earlier trip and were pleased to find that there's similar service between Brussels and London. We acquired tickets and information for all of these train segments well before our trip began.
Once we'd settled on what we wanted to see in Europe post-cruise, we turned to our Rick Steves guidebooks for assistance. Our decision to contact and book two of the guides that he uses for his own tours—one in Amsterdam and one in Brussels—was a good plan indeed. With limited time in both cities (essentially a single day; while we spent two days in Amsterdam we wanted to set one day aside for a trip outside the city to visit the Keukenhof Gardens) we wanted to maximize our time and to learn as much as we could during that time.
Thus, with the framework of our trip arranged: transportation to Tampa to begin the cruise and transportation from London to end the trip, the cruise booked, post-cruise hotels and inter-city train tickets booked, along with booking our guides for Amsterdam and Brussels, we were content to leave additional choices until we were on the ground in our selected locations.
Packing for this trip was done with considerable thought and care. For the cruise portion of the trip (16 days of the 22) we needed formalwear, inclement-weather gear for Europe—both port cities and on-our-own cities, as well as clothing for a variety of temperatures around the ship and in Bermuda. We utilized a variety of strategies. Since the ship takes care of our laundry we opted for just 4-5 days worth of regular clothing, preferring to wear the same items frequently rather than transporting a variety. Footwear was minimized and cold-weather needs were largely solved by using light-weight top and bottom thermal underwear. It's amazing how warm a 3-ounce silk-like undershirt, long-sleeved, can be; with a long-sleeved blouse I was as warm as though I'd added a very bulky sweater. The difference in packing was very noticeable!
I took only one formal (long) dress and for the first time, George opted to use the ship's tuxedo rental service rather than taking his own tux, two shirts, shoes, and accessories. We couldn't justify the weight of more formalwear (that would be used 5 times on the ship) in what had to be carried onto and off the Europe trains. So, each of us was managing only one piece of luggage apiece and one day bag (for our electronic gear of a Mac Air, an iPad, an iPhone and necessary cords; George also had his camera gear here); our day bags held some extra clothing to keep the weight of the luggage piece to what we could easily lift up a couple of steps onto the train. This worked out very well for both of us.
One small luxury was selecting a single-client car service to get us to and from the airport in Los Angeles. The usual airport ground transportation is adequate, but with an early-morning flight we really didn't want to risk the usual 3-stop pick up that nearly caused us to miss a flight on an earlier trip as the last person for the van's 3 stops wasn't ready and we waited an extraordinary amount of time, making all of us run late. And arriving home, tired and in a now-unfamiliar time zone, it was very nice to be picked up so quickly and taken home with no stops. We arranged this service before we left for the trip.
With those plans in place we were ready to set off for this most excellent adventure. We hope you'll enjoy our photos and descriptions of the wonderful cities we visited and can use the information when you plan your own adventures.
NEXT: Tampa Florida (Embarkation City)
This Google map provides much more information than a traditional map. The link opens in a separate window for your convenience.
George creates each Google map as we plan our trips, identifying and linking the websites for airports, cruise terminals, train stations, cities, venues, hotels, museums, etc. Because those site owners continually update their sites, our maps retain their usefulness long after the trips for which they were created have ended.
We hope you'll make use of our maps if your journeys take you to these places in the world.