After our cruise ends in Amsterdam, we (me, spouse & 18 year old son) have 3 nights/days before flying out of Brussels. We will stay in Amsterdam 1 night and then head to either Ghent or Antwerp or Bruges Which would be the best choice? We want to try local specialties including chocolate, fries, waffles (but are not interested in beer/wine). Other suggestions? Given how close the cities are, would making day trips be feasible? Our flight is 11am on Sunday so we are trying to decide if we should stay at a Brussels airport hotel on Sat. evening. Thanks for your help.
I'd spend the whole time in Amsterdam. It has a lot to see and do that would fill up the days.
First, there's no need to stay in an airport hotel. Frequent trains connect Brussels to the airport, taking 15-25 minutes (depending on which Brussels train station you are leaving from). Even if you want to be at the airport at 8 AM, it's very doable from central Brussels, and not hard from other Belgian cities.
Second, the subject of how people feel about the Belgian Big Four - Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp - is very contentious. My personal take is that I loved Antwerp, really liked Bruges, was initially cool to Ghent but liked it by the end of my day seeing it, and didn't like Brussels, except for my wonderful architecture tour through ARAU: http://www.arau.org/en/tours
But that's just me - prowl around this Forum and others, and you'll see a diversity of opinions. You will find local specialties in all of them, so that won't help you choose.
Third, You can certainly base yourself in one of the four and take day trips to the others. They are connected by trains once or twice an hour, taking an hour or less between them. The trains do not require or even allow reservations, so you can just hop on if the mood strikes you (for instance, if you're finished with Bruges, you can on the spur of the moment get on a train to Ghent or Antwerp).
Fourth, Terri Lynn is right that there's plenty to see in Amsterdam too. I do understand if you want to focus on Belgium instead, but you don't have to.
Sorry I can't be more directive, but your questions have no "right or wrong" answers.
Last summer, after two weeks at Wimbledon, I did 3 nights in Bruges (sounds like alot, but one day was spent up on the coast using the commuter tram and seeing the towns and the Germans' Atlantik Wall) and 1 in Brussels before a morning flight. I think you should stay in Brussels -- it's a big city and doesn't have the charm of Bruges (haven't been to the others listed), but has sites to see. And you can still do a day trip to one or two of the others (Ghent and Bruge is a commonly offered group daytrip) while there...and then you don't have to pack and change hotels an extra time.
In Brussels, I stayed very near the Grand Place in a small and unconventional B&B actually inside (room overlooked) the gorgeous inside mall at Galerie de la Reine: http://www.booking.com/hotel/be/chambres-d-hotes-du-vaudeville.html
Thanks for all the suggestions. Very helpful.
It is just my opinion but once you get off the cruise ship, since your departure airport is Brussels, I would just go directly to your city of choice in Belgium in the morning (assuming the cruise line arrives into Amsterdam in the morning) and just spend all three nights there.
Bruges would be my choice but many enjoy Ghent for the local specialties that you seek. Since you only have three remaining nights, its best not to try and see multiple cities and plan day trips. This is a choice of quality versus quantity. Staying put in one city will enable you to appreciate it a little more not always having to move yourself from one place to the next in just two full days. I would think that after a long cruise, you might be tired and want to relax in your final vacation days in one place.
The only problem with spending the three final nights in Bruges is that you would have to wake up very early to catch the 6:30am train that gets to the airport at 8am. In this case you could spend two nights in Bruges, spend two full days and the take a train in the evening before your flight to a Brussels airport hotel as you had mentioned. I would probably lean on doing that to ensure you make your flight!
As Harold pointed out, there are no right or wrong answers in this scenario. Do what is most comfortable for you and your family.
You didn't mention how you feel about art and museums, which are very good in Brussels. The time of year makes a difference. But Brussels is simply not as charming a place to walk around in for three days. I've never slept in Bruges, but some posters say it's too crowded in the daytime and too dead at night. You may be underestimating how cheap and frequent are local trains in Belgium. But note that Bruges and Amsterdam are not particularly close to each other. (My personal choice is Antwerp. Unfortunately, the most likely cocktail party question is, "Did you go to Bruges?", which I find slightly overrated.)
Just to make an alternate suggestion for your consideration, although it's inferior to the Big Four, Leuven has tremendous charm and a lovely Beguinage. It's close to the airport, if you can afford a taxi. I'm confident there's a bus, too, but haven't used it.
Terri is right in that Amsterdam and nearby towns are good for a week.
I love Brugge, stayed there for several nights, then moved to Gent for three nights (liked it a lot), then Antwerp for two (it was fine but not up to the big three for me), and ended with three nights in Brussels, which I liked as much as Gent.
Great food, at,osphere, and friendly people all over Belgium.