Following on from our exciting first day aboard Princess Seaways as we sailed from Newcastle to Amsterdam overnight, this post will focus on day two of our family mini cruise break and will mainly feature our day at Artis (Amsterdam zoo) which had been booked as part of our Amsterdam zoo mini cruise.
We had been blessed with a very smooth crossing overnight and we all slept soundly. We were woken at 8am with our in-cabin radio and an announcement letting us know that the ship was due to dock at 9:30am. We quickly got washed and dressed and headed to the Lighthouse cafe next to kids club where the children took part in a competition and we enjoyed a light bite and a hot drink.
As we were pulling into Amsterdam port it was a very foggy morning and it was difficult to see anything outside - it was perhaps a mistake to go out on deck as out of nowhere the foghorn sounded and gave me the fright of my life! The kids thought it was hilarious and 'just like Peppa Pig'.
We were able to leave our luggage in our room (you are informed at check in whether you will be switching rooms or not) but obviously needed to take our passports and boarding cards with us. There are announcements made onboard when it is time to depart so there is no need to congregate by the stairs. We found it far less stressful (and civilised) to wait inside the cafe with our coffee until it was time to leave. Disembarkment was well organised and passport control super speedy.
You can't miss the DFDS Seaways coaches waiting outside for you and you are directed over to the co-ordinator who will find out where you are going, hand over any tickets if neccessary and let you know which coach to board. The drivers all speak perfect English and know exactly how many people should be on their coach - they don't leave until everyone is accounted for and it is extremely well organised.
Our transfer to the zoo took about 40 minutes and I loved the drive through Amsterdam - I was amazed at just how many bicylcles there actually were and the canals were simply beautiful. Although we were in a coach, we still managed to get a good feel for the city.
When we reached the zoo, there was an announcement that it was our time to leave the coach. Our driver instructed us to wait at the zoo entrance at 3pm for our return pick up. It was 11am and I did think in the back of my mind that 4 hours didn't seem long enough to explore - it turns out I was wrong though and we had plenty of time to see everything we wanted to see.
Artis - Amsterdam Zoo
As we already had our tickets we could by-pass the queues and walk straight through the gates. We were immediately greeted by this handsome guy and a group of camels much to our children's delight.
Amsterdam zoo is in the heart of the city, well signposted (in English) and on flat ground making it easy to navigate around with young children/buggies. My four year old's favourite phrase is 'my legs are tired' but he didn't utter it once during our trip. There are over 900 species of animal to discover, here are our highlights:-
Watching a pride of lions with your family is simply amazing and it was wonderful to see them up close. This was our youngest's definite highlight from the day.
We were rather bemused to watch this Pelican jump over the barrier! As soon as he realised what he'd done he hopped right back over the the correct side of the fence! We all couldn't stop laughing at this silly behaviour!
It was fascinating to watch these cheeky monkeys as they found some food buried in the sand and went down to the water to wash it before taking a bite. Very clever!
The lemur experience was fantastic - there are keepers on hand to assist if needed but you basically walk right through their enclosure and can get very close (this photo isn't zoomed in). The lemurs spent some time chasing each other around our feet before deciding they'd prefer to chill in the sun instead. We didn't blame them!
The butterfly pavillion is the largest of it's kind in the Netherlands and home to dozens of gorgeous butterflies that will chase each other around your head as you walk amongst them. It is such a beautiful experience and you feel as though you could be in the Amazon. New butterflies are released from their cocoons twice daily.
The zoo is home to a lovely aquarium (included in admission). You will see aquatic life in the main hall, the Amazonian rainforest, the coral reef and even what is inside an Amsterdam canal.
The giraffes were Heidi's favourite animals and they were a delight to watch even if they do look like they have to get into some sort of crazy yoga position to drink water!
Another highlight was watching a Zebra foal feed from it's mother. Beautiful!
We decided to take lunch at the Cheetah restaurant as it was a lovely sunny day and there were plenty of tables outside overlooking the giraffes (hence my giraffe selfie) and a good adventure playground for our children. The food on offer was fantastic with fresh juices, baguettes and pastries being the highlights. We decided to be typically British and order burgers from the burger bar which were cooked in front of us, to our liking and with the toppings of our choice. Five lots of burgers and chips, four soft drinks and a cold beer was only 30 euro (£22) which considering this is a tourist attraction is an AMAZING deal.
The best bit about lunch for us was being able to sit and relax with our drinks whilst watching our children play in the park.
After lunch we explored the fascinating insectarium, birds of prey, penguin pools, wolves, parrots, flamingoes, elephants and gorilla's amongst others. We walked at a leisurely pace and by the time we'd seen everything there were 15 minutes left to check out the gift shop before our driver collected us.
I have been to zoo's all over the world and Amsterdam zoo is one of the best - they are big on education here and each enclosure features lots of information and you can really learn a lot. The gardens, grounds and enclosures are extremely well kept and the animals were all in very good condition with plenty of space and were happy.
Our return journey took about 1 hour 20 minutes which is double the time it took on arrival - this is due to the fact that your coach has to pick up at a few city centre hotels en-route. I didn't mind though as it gave us a chance to see more of the city and chat to our fellow passengers about what they'd been up to.
Back on board - check in was again extremely speedy and we were greeted with more balloons as we boarded the ship. We headed straight to our room to freshen up before heading to the Columbus lounge for a few drinks and to chat about our day. Although it had been bright and sunny all day, it was again very foggy in port which was very atmospheric as we left port at 5pm.
Heidi setting up her colouring area in the bar as we left Amsterdam
The 7 Seas Restaurant
We had pre-booked and paid for the 7 Seas restaurant prior to our trip (£23.99 per adult, £13 per child, Under 3's eat free). Our pre-booked meal excluding drinks was therefore £87 in total. This is almost exactly the same as the explorer's steakhouse we booked on our outbound journey (read more here). Personally, I much preferred the steakhouse if it was just Steve and I as it was a far more elegant and special experience - with the children though, I preferred the 7 Seas as there was a lot more choice and they could eat as much as they wanted.
We were given a lovely table by the large windows with a sea view - we ordered our drinks and assisted our children at the special children's buffet. This was fantastic for them and they helped themselves to endless chicken nuggets, chips and peas so were very happy.
There are up to 80 dishes to choose from in the 7 Seas and you can have as much or as little as you like. There is a huge selection to choose from. To start we made a seafood platter from the fresh seafood bar with mussels, prawns, langoustines, salmon and sushi and made a plate of Spanish tapas with chorizo, cheeses, olives and tapas pots. We also helped ourselves to the artisan bread that had been baked that afternoon by the on-board baker.
To follow I headed to the Mexican station and filled my plate with tacos, succulent roast pork, cheese, salsas and sour cream whilst hubby decided on doing that typical thing many of us do at buffets and tried a bit of everything - the crispy beef stir fry and pickled herring were particular favourites!
For dessert I tried the many mini-cakes on offer and have to say the raspberry panna cotta was my favourite whilst hubby decided to make his own cheese board with a selection of cheeses, crackers and grapes.
The children all decided to make their own ice creams - you could choose from about 10 different sprinkles and toppings but of course they wanted them all. Then at the very end Heidi suddlenly remembered to be healthy and brought our table a bowl full of fruit.
We spent almost two hours in the 7 Seas restaurant. It is split into various sections so you never feel crowded and there is so much to choose from that I feel we certainly got our money's worth. Food was continuously replenished by the team of chefs and everything was fresh and piping hot.
By the time we'd finished our meal we were very weary and our beds were calling our name. We headed straight back to our cabin for a final play and read before settling down for the night at about 10pm.
It is hard to believe we only spent four hours in Amsterdam - although we were only in the city for a few hours it still felt like a decent break and as if we'd been away. Because somebody else did all of the driving, navigating, cooking ect..... our whole break was like a holiday and we really had made the most of our time.
If you are looking for a weekend break with the kids, I would highly recommend you seriously consider a DFDS Seaways mini cruise as an option. You can find out more about booking an Amsterdam zoo mini cruise here. Prices are from £67pp.
Look out for our third and final part of our DFDS Seaways mini series featuring our final morning on board next week.