Cruise Europa

Hapag-Lloyd’s high-tech ship delivers an authentic European experience

By: David Wishart

Anyone for a cruise where almost everyone aboard is speaking a foreign language? That’s what it’s like on the Europa, the ship ranked best afloat in the Berlitz guide for the past six years.

Owned by Hapag-Lloyd of Germany, the Europa does offer some bilingual cruises in which everything is in English, as well as in German. But I learned that even the linguistically challenged like myself needn’t worry about language on the Europa. All of the crew without exception can communicate in English.

Hapag-Lloyd is an international powerhouse when it comes to transportation. The long-established company owns a cargo fleet, four fine passenger ships, as well as an airline. The current Europa is the sixth vessel to bear the name, and this one has plenty to write home about, beginning with the Azipod propulsion system that drives the ship without vibration.

The quiet ride is complemented by interior space that is light and elegant. The 400-passenger Europa claims to offer more space per passenger than any other cruise ship, and almost all of its 204 cabins have verandas. They also feature bathtubs and separate showers, robes and walk-in dressing areas. Penthouse suites come with butler service.

The ship’s four restaurants offer superb meals and service and include Italian and Asian venues. In the main dining room, passengers are served at one seating and are assigned a table for the entire cruise. If your clients enjoy a drink, this is their ship. There are six bars, and at each one delicious German beer is served from a barrel. On the other hand, few Europa passengers went to a bar for aperitifs, one possible reason being their cabin mini-bars were topped up with free beer (and soft drinks) daily. Wine and other alcoholic drinks are available for a charge.

Europeans don’t have the same concept of “lining up” that Americans do, so the wait for the lunch buffet does require patience. But the good news is that the high-quality fare never runs out. Typical offerings include fresh oysters, king crab legs and even caviar on a few occasions.

At deck events, the wait staff continuously passed around canapes, and in general, the young staff performed with good-humored, energetic enthusiasm. The ship features a good spa, well-equipped gym, a popular golf facility with a simulator offering 32 golf courses worldwide and a small, private deck area for nude sunbathing.

Entertainment on Europa varies from cruise to cruise. My sailing featured artists from the Lucerne Festival. Each evening a talented musician such as a pianist or cellist and sometimes a duo provided quality entertainment to appreciative audiences in the ship’s handsome showroom. Additional entertainment included Claus Debusman, known as Mr. Red Shoes because that’s what he wore day and night. A former classical pianist with the Berlin Opera, Debusman shook up his keyboard in the tradition of Jerry Lee Lewis. He’s a regular performer on Hapag-Lloyd ships and understandably a great favorite.

Europa’s itineraries emphasize adventure and culture, starting with 100-plus days on an annual world cruise. My Black Sea cruise, from Athens to Istanbul, featured fascinating ports of call. Shore excursions are well run and reasonably priced, but naturally they are in German. The ship’s concierge, Gunnar Hauglid, was an invaluable help, organizing a car and English-speaking guide at various ports.

Passengers on my cruise were mostly older Germans with a smattering of Swiss, who support the Europa with a repeat factor of more than 60 percent.

But as one of them said to me, they are not getting any younger, and Hapag-Lloyd must be looking around for a new source of business. North America, with its vast pool of experienced cruisers looking for something new, is an obvious target.


Company: Hapag-Lloyd

Ship: Europa

Size: 28,600 tons

Capacity: 408

Year Built: 1999

Hits: Superb service

Misses: Smokers in Italian restaurant

Plugging In: Both 110- and 220-volt outlets in suites; adaptors available. Suite TV has Internet access new technology just installed by Lufthansa Systems gives Internet access via wireless keyboard. The library also has Internet access.

Europa has eight cruises in 2007 that are guaranteed bilingual English/German. They include a Black Sea cruise, EUR 0723, Oct. 18-28, which is similar to the sailing we sampled. The EUR 0720 Gourmet Cruise is Sept. 20-30, from Lisbon to Monte Carlo. EUR 0722, from Oct. 4-18, goes Monte Carlo to Istanbul, while EUR 0728, from Rio de Janeiro to Manaus, is Dec. 4-19.

Travel agent commission is 10 percent.