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Oriana entering Ijmuiden Lock, July 4 2012

Last weekend Azura became the first P&O ship to call at Ijmuiden – for Amsterdam – instead of actually getting into Amsterdam proper. It would seem that shuttle bus arrangements were not good, and there have been many complaints.

Actually, the complaints began some time ago when P&O announced that they were switching the port from Amsterdam to Ijmuiden. P&O have been coy with regard to the reasons for doing so, but there are several theories:-

  • The city of Amsterdam has imposed a tourist tax of €8 on cruise passengers berthing in Amsterdam itself. This tax was announced in December 2018, for implementation from the beginning of 2019. It’s fair to say that the cruise lines, via their industry association the CLIA, was not happy about the short notice they were given. Note that visitors arriving by air, train, or road do not have to pay the tax;
  • It’s also possible that the port fees were also increased, again possibly at short notice;
  • A third possibility is that there have apparently been a number of missed calls into Amsterdam, because the relevant ships were unable to safely enter the Ijmuiden locks. They’re wide enough – the the largest (currently) has a width of 50 metres compared with Azura’s (and Ventura’s) breadth of 36 metres, or Britannia’s beam of 44 metres (though that one must be a bit tight). The real problem apparently is the wind – the most recent classes of ship are so much larger generally than previous ships, with many more decks, that they can catch the wind and be blown in the wrong direction in a way that smaller ships, e.g. Aurora or Oceana, aren’t.

Whatever the reason, cruise passengers are not happy with the change, especially those on cruises which were originally sold as being “to Amsterdam”.

P&O has switched the calls to Ijmuiden, a small town at the mouth of the NordSee Canal. The cruise terminal there is outside the locks, so passengers will not incur the tourist tax nor will P&O have to pay the port fees (whether increased or not). And, being outside the locks, berthing there is less likely to encounter weather difficulties. The big issue is that it is almost 30 kms from central Amsterdam.

The reports said that there were about 11 shuttle buses available. The journey takes about 45 minutes each – i imagine that a lot of that must be getting into and out of the city centre – so the round trip would be maybe 90 minutes. Let’s say that each coach could take 50 passengers – multiply by 11 – and that’s 550 passengers in the first 11 coaches. Azura holds about 3000 passengers, of course, so the problem is obvious.

It was probably compounded by the time of arrival. Normally, the ship docks early in the morning, arrival formalities are usually completed shortly afterwards and by 8 am or 9 am at latest announcements are being made to the effect that passengers can go ashore, and the trickle begins. Not so arrival at Amsterdam/Ijmuiden. It’s quite a long passage from Southampton – the last time I did it (on Oriana, on the 2012 Grand Event cruise) I noted that we reached the NordSee Canal locks at about 11:30 am. So that might be a typical arrival time. Of course, by that time everyone will be up and raring to get off the ship…. which didn’t happen last weekend. There are stories of some very long queues and waits – several hours, in fact – before people were able to get on a shuttle bus, and there was a lot of frustration and some anger.

 

As you will be aware, we experienced some challenges whilst docking alongside in Ijmuiden for Amsterdam

Some time later in the cruise a letter was posted into all cabins that read as follows:-

Dear Guest

I hope you have enjoyed your short break on board Azura.

As you will be aware, we experienced some challenges whilst docking alongside in Ijmuiden for Amsterdam on Saturday and Sunday. Whilst I hope that many of you disembarked in a timely manner and were able to experience the delights Amsterdam had to offer, I know that some of you had had a long wait for shuttle buses, for which i am sorry. Please be assured that we have taken your feedback very seriously and have already spoken to our port agents to ensure that these issues do not reoccur.

That said, I wanted to take this opportunity to apologise for the disappointment that this undoubtedly caused and hope that you still had a wonderful time on board.

Only time will tell if things improve.

Alternatives?

I did wonder if there were any public transport alternatives, and there may be:

  • the best is probably the 382 bus which runs across the road from the Cruise Terminal. (You’d obviously have to exit the cruise terminal first, of course, either on foot or via a port bus – I don’t know which would be appropriate in this port.) This goes to Amsterdam Sloterdijk station (*not* Centraal station). From Sloterdijk you can transfer to a train into Centraal station, the Amsterdam metro line 50 (which isn’t a lot of use, actually), or number 19 tram which goes to, among other places, Leidesplein (a big junction stop for lines back into the Centrum) or the next station, Spiegelgracht, which is the one for the Rijksmuseum. And at many of these tram stops you’re pretty much on the canal ring. The 382 bus seems to run from early morning until well into the evening, although i have read something that suggests that it doesn’t run at all on Wednesday…
  • there’s also a train from Driehuis station from where you can catch Sprinter trains straight into Centraal station every 15 minutes, I think. The problem is that Driehuis station is nearly 3 miles from the cruise terminal, and there’s no real public transport between the terminal and the station.

So I think the 382 bus is a decent alternative. However, I’m still looking for fare and ticketing information. I gather that all public transport in the Netherlands requires the same ticket, an OV Chipkaart. However these seem to come in different flavours (and prices) and I’m not sure at the moment which one to get. I’ll do some more digging.

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