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
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
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.
Size: 28,600 tons
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.