Hapag-Lloyd is hoping to attract North
Americans onboard the MS Europa.
These days, few segments of the cruise industry are as dynamic as
the luxury market. That’s welcome news for agents intent on
upselling pricier products to their more experienced cruise
clientele. It’s also a trend that hasn’t gone unnoticed by
Hapag-Lloyd, the venerable German shipping line that operates a
fleet of passenger cruise ships for the German-speaking market.
Hoping to snag a share of North American business, the line has
applied some marketing muscle to tout its luxury vessel, Europa.
Heralded by the Berlitz cruise guide as the world’s only
“five-star-plus” ship, I had a chance to experience firsthand just
how Europa stacks up in the luxury cruise field. Our five-day
journey through the Straits of Gibraltar began in Lisbon, Portugal,
and stopped in Portimao, Portugal, and Tangier, Morocco, before
arriving in Barcelona.
The cruise was billed as a bilingual sailing, meaning both
English and German would serve as official languages onboard. (The
line promises that any cruise with at least 12 English-speaking
passengers will be bilingual.) As a practical matter, the
designation doesn’t make much of a difference, as the crew speaks
English fluently. It did make for a comical scene on embarkation
day, however, when the English-speakers had to wander about with
their life vests, trying to find the small lounge we’d been
assigned to for our safety lecture. At least it gave us an early
opportunity to explore.
The Lido Cafe is a casual alternative
to the a la carte restaurants.
The 408-passenger Europa is certainly an attractive vessel,
bedecked with artwork, and showcasing both modern and traditional
design. I was struck with its sense of spaciousness even the
hallways seemed oversized. In fact, the line claims that Europa
boasts more passenger space than any other cruise ship afloat.
Public lounges are lovely, and six different bars offer the unique
opportunity to enjoy German beer on tap at a different spot
throughout the day. Much attention to detail has gone into the
ship’s pool area, which can be partially enclosed in inclement
weather. The ship also features a golf simulator and driving range,
as well as a small fitness center. Europa’s spa area was completely
refurbished last year and now features an ultra-hip Asian decor.
Four nearby spa suites offer private access to the facilities.
Accommodations onboard the Europa are all suites, and most
include a veranda. Amenities, such as walk-in closets, separate
sitting area, tub and shower and plush robes, are comparable to
what you’ll find on other luxury lines. But, there are also
elements of the onboard experience that made the vessel feel
The ship’s cuisine was a prime example of Europa’s
“European-ness.” This is definitely not a good choice for finicky
eaters who stick to the salad bar on other vessels. Expect buffets
laden with sausages, schnitzel and cheese and similarly heavy
selections (boiled beef, saddle of venison) at dinner. On the plus
side, the elegant main dining venue, the Europa Restaurant, is an
atmospheric show-stopper in the evening. Even on informal nights,
the women were chic and the men businesslike in dark suits and
ties. Conversations were animated and the energy each night was
palpable. I would have loved to eavesdrop on nearby tables of
industrialists and entrepreneurs, but alas, never mastered
For variety, the ship also offers two smaller specialty
restaurants, serving Euro-Asian and Italian cuisine, respectively.
I found the food to be a little off and service quite slow at
The SPA suite bathrooms are equipped
with a rain shower and illuminated
bathtub as well as a view of the sea.
Overall, the ship’s highly rated service was somewhat spotty. Room
service was always prompt. But, other little touches were a tad
disappointing. For example, we had to continually ask our room
stewardess to replenish the complimentary bottled water, soft
drinks and drinking glasses in our stateroom.
Onboard entertainment provided one of the biggest culture
clashes of the cruise. A big spectacle in the Europa Lounge one
evening featured a cross-dressing Marlene Dietrich impersonator,
outlandishly costumed tango dancers and a classical music duo. It
was a variety show straight out of the movie “Cabaret.” I loved the
campiness. But, other Americans in my group were a bit
So, exactly what type of client is a good prospect for the
Europa? It’s definitely best-suited for well-traveled, frequent
cruisers who want to be around Europeans. It’s also an intriguing
choice for those interested in unique itineraries. This year,
Europa will sail everywhere from the Amazon to the Arabian
Peninsula. And, several themed cruises are in the lineup, including
a series of culinary sailings, as well as family-, music- and
For the right client, it’s the perfect floating slice of