Story and Photos by Lillian Africano
Special to AllThingsCruise
Almost everything I had loved on Hapag-Lloyd’s EUROPA, I found on its sister, Europa 2. And some of the things I didn’t love, have gone away on this sleek and very modern new ship.
Yes, the luxury is there, the elements that earned EUROPA the highest possible marks in Douglas Ward’s Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships, often referred to as “the cruise industry bible.”
What is gone is the formality of EUROPA. There are no Captain’s receptions, no formal events (“smart casual” is the dress code), no fixed meal times and no assigned tables. (There are plenty of tables for two for couples who’d like to dine à deux.) The new ship is younger – in atmosphere and demographic. The new target audience: age 45+ professionals, sophisticated frequent travellers with a household income of more than 5,000 Euro (about $6,500) a month – and families. Equally significant, the line is expanding its marketing efforts in the U.S., the U.K, Australia and the BeNeLux countries.
All cruises are international, conducted in English and German; the crew and lecturers are multilingual and individual excursions in English can be arranged through the ship’s travel concierge. The new style of entertainment, which relies heavily on music, dance and acrobatics is not language-dependent, so it can be understood and enjoyed by anyone.
Where EUROPA is not child-friendly, EUROPA 2 offers child care for ages two and up; programs tailored to all age groups up to age 15. On the family cruises (17 in 2013), there are special shore excursions. The ship has seven family “apartments.” Children under 11 travel free; youngsters 12-15 cost about $65 a night when traveling with two adults in the same suite.
With a maximum of 516 passengers and 370 crew, the service is impeccable, thoughtful and personal without being intrusive. With the highest passenger/space ratio in the industry, the company has deliberately created what they call “wasted space,” which means spacious corridors and walkways that make EUROPA 2’s interiors feel like those of a luxury hotel.
The suites – all with verandas – are between 301 and 1,066 square feet, with flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi, portable phones and tablet PCs and complimentary mini-bars, replenished daily (with beer and soft drinks). The Veranda Suites have huge walk-in closets and bathtubs as well as showers. The Spa Suites feature the added luxuries of butler service, premium spirits in the mini-bars and bathrooms with daylight views, double sinks, TVs within the mirrors, rain showers, steam saunas and whirlpool tubs. The two Grand Penthouse Suites, at 840 square feet, add a bigger veranda (108 square feet) a separate dining table and a daybed.
As might be expected on a luxury ship, the dining choices are abundant: seven different restaurants, including a sushi bar and three specialty restaurants; all are included in the cruise price (drinks are extra). In addition, the eighth option, the “Speisezimmer” can be booked for private dining at a cost of $1,800 for the evening. The price includes an aperitif, amuse-bouche with caviar and a lobster dinner.
Classic wines from all over the world, with accompanying dishes, are available in the “Grande Reserve” wine bar. Individual wine tastings can also be arranged with real vine rarities for a maximum of twelve guests.
In response to the growing popularity of culinary travel the chef de cuisine of Tarragon, the French restaurant, will teach cooking classes (based on the cuisine of the ship’s cruise destinations) in the Miele Culinary School. The price is $96 and includes accompanying wines, cooking aprons and recipes (and the meal, of course).
EUROPA 2 has expanded on the wellness facilities found on its older sister. In addition to the state-of-the-art fitness center (with personal trainers and Sports Hosts), there’s also a state-of-the-art golf simulator, which allows guests to virtually play on famous golf courses. A PGA golf professional provides video analysis and support. At over 8,000 square feet, the spa features eight treatment rooms, a hammam, whirlpool, Finnish sauna, herbal sauna, bio sauna, steam bath and Tepidarium (relaxation room with heated loungers. It’s also possible to book a Personal Spa, with a private lounge, sauna and whirlpool.
As if all this weren’t enough, EUROPA 2 has a number of “green features” like the optimized hull to reduce fuel consumption. It’s the first cruise ship with SCE-catalytic converter to reduce nitric oxide emissions, has a service water treatment plant with the highest standards in the industry and a system for ballast water treatment that prevents spreading flora and fauna. Passengers appreciate the so-called “mermaid pods,” which reduce vibration to the point where it’s hardly noticeable.
The ship travel four regions — the Western and Eastern Mediterranean, Arabian Peninsula and Asia – with 123 ports of call. Most voyages are seven days, but it’s possible to combine up to three itineraries for longer cruises, without repeating any ports.
The Bottom Line: EUROPA 2 will appeal to sophisticated travelers who enjoy an international atmosphere, meticulous luxury and service and who are comfortable with the high ticket price (couples traveling from the U.S. pay about $12,000 for a week’s cruise)