Jos Dewing sailed with his family on EUROPA 2 for a week in August 2014
If you are reading this article, the chances are you will by now have heard about EUROPA 2, the new ‘international’ ship from Hapag-Lloyd Cruises. You’ve probably read about its position at the very highest echelon of the cruise bible, Berlitz. You’ve probably seen the occasional photo of some extraordinary suites, mould breaking design and casually modern décor. You might have read the occasional sound bite referring to a ship that’s ‘reinventing luxury cruising’, ‘the most luxurious in the world’ and a new style of ‘laid back luxury’. You may even have watched our video giving a very subtle preview of what you can expect – but you possibly still have many more questions about the product and where it all fits in for you.
In short, EUROPA 2 is a truly beautiful ship and this comes from the heart and not the marketing phrase book. It certainly isn’t like any ship I have been on before. Why? Because the architects and designers on this project were not seeking to deliver a cruise ship at all. EUROPA 2 was to be different, a ship truly designed for an emerging community of travellers who may stay in a Mandarin Oriental hotel but until now, have never considered cruising. These travellers have been massively deceived over the years by an image of cruising that would be the antithesis of everything they seek in travel, but EUROPA 2 easily sheds the stereotype, finally we have a ship that can honestly compete with land options and honestly deliver a luxury sea travel experience that doesn’t drop its guard on any level.
But this ship is also for an existing cruise passenger seeking something different. A tonic perhaps for tradition soaked cruising. A move away from formality, announcements and queues towards a sea bound environment where space is king, wooden panels, opulent lighting and marble are replaced by stone, chrome and real sunlight and you can quite easily circumnavigate an entire deck without meeting a single fellow passenger (You’ll pass plenty of hotel crew though). Enough of the ambiance, lets cover some facts…
Is EUROPA 2 truly International?
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises may share a name and a colour scheme with the more familiar freight part of the maritime operation but that is now where it ends. The cruise operation is entirely different and whilst setting incredible global standards for both luxury and expedition, the operation has always focused on the German marketplace. EUROPA 2 was launched with different intentions and I’ll cover this aspect first. The bottom line is, the majority of passengers currently cruising on EUROPA 2 are German and it’s entirely logical that they would be. The database is German, the past guests are German and the brand is hugely familiar and indeed popular in Germany. However, as the first wave of UK guests return from their first experience of this ship this summer, that is certainly changing.
There is a major effort on board to ensure that the ship is indeed bilingual. To the point where there is an international host or hostess whose job is to ensure that English speaker guests are communicated to in English. And in my view, this works well. Every day we had an English paper in our suites, notifications and information was delivered in English, entertainment was entirely neutral and there were showings of English films in the 3D cinema. All the staff, whilst initially offering dialogue in German, quickly learned our native tongue and by the end of the cruise, everyone was speaking to us in English. Considering the number of hotel staff there actually are, this in itself was impressive.
What do you need to pay for?
EUROPA 2 is not all-inclusive, this can be slightly confusing at first so to clarify how it works I’ll provide some details. Alcohol is not included in the fare but it is not expensive either. Soft drinks and water are also not included in the fare but as above, they are not expensive. Hot beverages are included, as is alcohol at the pool parties and soft drinks, beer and coffee machines are all complimentary in the suites. The company also offer FREE on board credits for UK passengers which cover an average consumption of drinks whilst on board. One problem you can find with all-inclusive ships is the quality of drinks, cocktails for example will often come from a mix if included, in EUROPA 2’s lively Sansibar you’ll get a real, well mixed cocktail and you’ll only pay 5 euros for it. Wine is also not expensive, you can have a decent bottle of chardonnay delivered to your suite with ice bucket for 20 euros.
Shore excursions are also not inclusive and you do need to be cautious when booking them too. This is where it is advised to have as conversation with your Cruise Line sales consultant. The bulk of excursions that utilise guides are led in German. Although each port has at least one English language excursion. That said, if there is a tour you are keen to attend that is German, it is worth speaking to the International Hosts as they may be able to provide an English speaking guide also, or even accompany themselves. They are extremely open and warm to suggestions here. That said, EUROPA 2 feel so similar to a luxury hotel and frequents such accessible ports that there is nothing better than simply wandering off the ship to explore by foot.
Does EUROPA 2 really work for a family?
EUROPA 2 during the holiday periods is without question a successful family ship. To the extent that it may be wise to avoid the main summer months unless you are travelling with your children or are happy enough around other peoples. In terms of facilities, there are separate kids clubs for three age groups, a 3D cinema, a decent pool with family slots and children are welcome in all the restaurants. There are shore excursions designed specifically for junior passengers, a generous selection of childcare options including nannies and various other on board events.
Deck 8 is home to family apartments and interconnecting suites which are the perfect solution for travelling with children. Separate suites with a door and a connected veranda. With a wide selection of 7 day itineraries in the summer months, EUROPA 2 is the ideal form of transportation between two key cities and the perfect way to spend a week, which is just about right when travelling with children, any longer would have possibly been pushing it with my two!
What about the food?
We really enjoyed the food on board EUROPA 2. The dining experience is underpinned by the Yacht Club and flagship Weltmeere restaurant. The Yacht Club offers the classical combination of hot buffet, raw and salad bar and optional grill or pasta stations on the terrace. Giant King Crab legs and endless Lobster halves are in seemingly endless supply here, the place is bright and sunny, the staff happy and the food is wonderfully fresh and varied. My children became particularly fond of the indulgent black vanilla ice cream, whilst for me, a breakfast of 7 varieties of fresh, cured fish and rye bread replaced my tradition craving for a cruise ship Full English.
Something about EUROPA 2 just makes you feel healthy and alive and you feel yourself wishing to eat well too. Booking the 4 specialty restaurants was very easy, this is not a ship where you need to book 2 months before your cruise or run the risk of never getting the experience. And once you have made the reservation, the table is yours for the whole evening, you can turn up whenever you wish after 7pm, that’s a nice touch.
Our favourite was Tarragon, a French-bistro styled restaurant with absolutely impeccable service. Asian, Sushi and Italian are also covered as specialty dining options and each restaurant offers a standard children’s menu. The fish and vegetable tempura served in Sakura was the freshest and best I’ve eaten and overall eating experience was informal and relaxed yet supremely efficient. All dishes arrived at the same time and even the finest details were expertly handled. Room service is 24 hour but it’s not the standard burger and prawn cocktail fare. This is more German inspired, frankfurter becoming the meat of choice. The service is good, fast and efficient though and it works well.
Disembarking this wonderful ship gives you time to reflect on those memories that really made just 7 days so special. There was swimming in the sea in Corsica with the ship forming part of the gorgeous backdrop. Conquering the Citadel in St Tropez know yours was the best yacht in the bay (How many people can say that!). The food was gorgeous and exciting, the surprise Zodiac rendezvous with the floating champagne flotilla was immense fun and then watching the majestic mountainous Islands of the Western Med floating past the veranda was amazing. If I had to highlight one memory, it would have been the view from Napoleons bedroom on the Island of Elba. Seeing the red brick roofs of Portoferraio lined up and right in the middle, the iconic funnel of our incredible floating hotel. Always there and in view, a true home from home, waiting to welcome you back on board, back to the fun, the experience, the ultimate lifestyle.
EUROPA 2 is a ship that everyone who is passionate about the finer experiences at sea must try. In the summer months it makes an excellent choice for multi generation and family cruising and outside of these times, it’s the ultimate boutique hotel at sea.
The Cruise Line are proud to have become the UK sales office for Hapag-Lloyd Cruises UK and a number of our team have sailed on board and look forward to speaking with you about this wonderful new ship. You can visit our dedicated website Luxury at Sea or call 0800 542 0858 to speak to one of our Cruise Experts.