Trip Report – Just back from… 🌷

Happy Thursday Hidden Gem Travel community! Spring season has begun, and I’m just back from two iconic spring European destinations, Holland, and Belgium! I was there for three reasons:

  • A symposium focusing on trends in the premium and luxury travel spaces. I learned a ton and spent significant time with some of my best travel partners that cover Europe – and an SVP at Forbes Travel Guide which is the only independent, global rating system for luxury hotels, restaurants, spas and ocean cruises.
  • A river cruise expo in Amsterdam where I toured and experienced 12 ships across 9 brands over 4 days (see drone photo of the ships lined up in threes below along the Amsterdam port).
  • A river cruise of the Dutch and Belgium waterways exploring the most popular ports and experiences for my clients (see the map below).

I’ve now personally experienced river cruising on AmaWaterways, Uniworld, Tauck, Avalon, and Emerald (5 lines) and have deep knowledge of and contacts at Viking, Amadeus, Riverside, Riviera, and Scenic. You probably haven’t heard of many of them but suffice to say that there are key differences, and Viking isn’t the only river cruise line you might consider, although they advertise the most to the American market.

This newsletter is the first part in a ‘top tips’ list for your trip to Amsterdam, Holland, and Belgium whether your travel by river or land.

Read on for the scoop on my top tips for your upcoming trip…


Picturesque windmills, winding canals, eye-popping flowers, fascinating history and architecture, world-class museums, and much more await you in Holland and Belgium. That’s not to mention the foodie scene and local specialties like cheese, beer, chocolate, and waffles…  ever heard of a Stroopwafel?

The weather is often gray, rainy, and windy, not surprising given the proximity to the North Sea. I experienced days with plenty of sunshine which was amazing and fortunate. There is no ‘dry season’ so pack your rain gear whenever you plan to visit.

For tulips, the season is the springtime, and as you will learn below that famous Keukenhof Gardens is only open from mid-March to mid-May each year. Nevertheless, the Dutch are passionate about flowers (and are major exporters) so you will see gorgeous displays indoors out of season.

💎Hidden Gem Tip: Wondering what the difference is between Holland and The Netherlands? Holland is comprised of North Holland and South Holland which are just two of the twelve provinces of the Netherlands (which is officially called the Kingdom of the Netherlands); Holland includes cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam..

Map credit – AmaWaterways

Drone photo credit – ASTA (American Society of Travel Advisors)

Amsterdam Tips

What a unique city! The views of the iconic canals and historic canal houses amidst the millions of bicycles are something to special to experience. Did know that every bridge over the canals has a name?

I have quite a lengthy list of tips and suggestions for Amsterdam. The best way to get the full scoop is to schedule a trip consultation call, and I’ll share a few here:

Hotels – there are so many wonderful choices and matching you to the right hotel is key after touring many of the upscale hotels in the city this month. Since Amsterdam isn’t a car-friendly city, location is important. Taking a taxi or Uber can involve traffic that doubles the time it takes to walk. Alternatively, the trams are a good, fun option for getting around the city.

Bicycles are everywhere – a key aspect to the charm of Amsterdam (and the Netherlands) is the flat landscape allows people to ride a bicycle as a daily form of transportation. In fact, there are more bicycles than people! But pedestrians need to take caution in Amsterdam both day and night; the cyclists don’t tend to obey the traffic laws and speed. I was told by a local that if a car hits a cyclist, it’s automatically the fault of the driver of the car. I was almost run over by bicycles a few times and had one very close call at night. That said, if a bike tour is on the top of your experience list, a quality tour will take you out of the busiest areas so you can enjoy the experience.

‘Coffee Shops’ aren’t in the business of selling coffee – a famous small chain name is Bull Dog, and they focus on selling cannabis which is legal in the Netherlands. If you just want a cup of coffee and a slice of Dutch apple pie (or another sweet treat) without the smell of weed, look for a café.

Book your museum tickets well in advance – you can’t simply walk into Anne Frank House, Van Gogh, or the Rijksmuseum. My partners in Amsterdam will take care of this for you and arrange a guide if you’d like to maximize your time. Note – The Girl With The Pearl Earring (famous Vermeer painting) isn’t in Amsterdam but The Hague. I saw it and absolutely loved the museum it’s in!

Not all canal cruises are alike – there are many operators and some are better than others (I took two different canal cruises).

Explore outside of the city – Holland is a fascinating place and close to Belgium so you can check two countries off your travel bucket list. A river cruise will get you around easily (unpacking once) but if you’re not traveling by water, then train or car/driver will work too. There are choices to make, unless you have weeks to explore, but I highly recommend Bruges in Belgium for a charming medieval city, and Kinderdijk in Holland to learn about windmills and water management, a necessary historical expertise for the Dutch.

The Dutch are tall! The fact that they are statistically among the tallest people in Europe was clear to me as a person with a stature of a mere 5 feet 2 inches.

💎Hidden Gem Tip: A visit to the Delft Factory was another highlight of my trip. The blue and white porcelain is classic Dutch and makes a perfect but pricey souvenir.

Keukenhof Gardens

I loved my day at Keukenhof Gardens in late March, just a few days after they opened for the season. While there weren’t the abundance of tulip fields that you’d see in April, there were an incredible array of tulips and other spring flowers in Keukenhof!  It was very hard to select just a few photos for the newsletter!

 Keukenhof is in Lisse, only a 45 minute drive from Amsterdam (depending on traffic). The busiest time will be around the annual flower parade which is Saturday, April 20th this year, its 77th.  In fact, Keukenhof is celebrating it’s 75th anniversary in 2024.

My biggest tip – go early in the day at opening! The crowds, including groups of Japanese tourists taking selfies, were in abundance after 11:00am.

My second biggest tip – consider a river cruise that includes Keukenhof and go with friends. I’m here to help you make that happen. It’s an easy and fun way to travel!

Inspired? Reach out to me now to get your questions answered and begin the planning process.

Wishing you amazing travel adventures,


NEW Section: Travel News You Can Use

💎 Hidden Gem Tip:  Airbnb & VRBO 

Major cities like Florence and New York are tightening their rules about short-term, independent accommodation rentals.  Although popular, it’s renter beware especially outside of the USA.  Would you want to touch down in a foreign country to find out that your accommodation was cancelled last minute?  It can and does happen.  

For clients that prefer these types of accommodations to hotels, I work with vetted properties that are professionally managed globally. While you won’t find ‘deals’ that you might see on Airbnb, you will have a fantastic, quality property and the peace of mind that the home will be ready for your arrival.

Follow my Facebook/Instagram pages this week for more travel inspiration: or Instagram:

Make your own Wanderlist for 2024! As a reminder, Wanderlist is an online portal where you can research, explore, and create shareable lists of destinations and experiences. Share your list with me so I can make it happen for you. Check it out here:  

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Hi, I'm Susan Wilson

I’m the founder of Hidden Gem Travel Consulting. As your personal travel advisor, I craft custom worldwide itineraries that astound and inspire you.


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