Exploring Europa

German-style luxury on Hapag-Lloyd’s flagship

By: Ana Figueroa

MS Europa
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.

This The Lido Cafe
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 distinctly German.

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 German.

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 times.

The SPA suite
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 shell-shocked.

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 golf-themed itineraries.

For the right client, it’s the perfect floating slice of Europe.