This year, at age 10, the Hapag-Lloyd Cruises flagship Europa was awarded the five-star-plus ranking by Berlitz for the eighth consecutive time. Europa is the only cruise ship in the world with this ranking, a reflection of the its extraordinary pampering and cultured European experience.
German is the primary language onboard (English is the second language), and most of the ship’s passengers are German, with Americans, Australians and British guests as the English-speaking contingent.
Europa // (C) 2010 Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
Hotel manager Robert Peukert said, “We are strong in Germany, and we have 80 percent repeaters. Like the U.S. chains, we cultivate high service levels, so our ship becomes like a family.”
An American couple from Princeton, N.J. — older, well-educated and well-traveled — said they were perfectly comfortable being a minority onboard the Europa and that they were attracted by the itinerary and by the level of luxury and service, which begins even before boarding. Passengers who arrive early are welcomed at a local luxury hotel and offered tea and pastries until it is time to be shuttled to the ship, where luggage, passports and travel documents are handled by a friendly, young multilingual European crew. Guests are escorted onboard to enjoy champagne, hors d’oeuvres and music.
The pampering continues once guests arrive at their stateroom onboard the 408-passenger ship: Europa’s 204 suites start at 291 square feet; each has a separate living and sleeping area and a fitted walk-in closet (the size of a small room in a New York apartment) and 80 percent have private verandas. All suites have flat-screen televisions with e-mail, an excellent selection of movies, music on demand and, for an additional charge, Web access. The marble-tiled bathrooms have full bathtubs and large, separate glass-fronted showers.
There are 10 Penthouse Deluxe Suites (484 square feet) with butler service, a complimentary bar set-up replenished with whatever the passenger requests, laundry and ironing service, priority spa reservations and caviar (one couple mentioned that they ordered it every night). The two Penthouse Grand suites (915 square feet) have private saunas, large flat-screen televisions and wraparound balconies. Four spa suites are steps from the small, elegant Ocean Spa with its full menu of services, a hair and makeup stylist, a sauna and a solarium.
All passengers are served at a single seating in the Europa Restaurant, and there is no additional charge for the two specialty restaurants: the Euro-Asian Oriental and the Italian-style Venezia. The staff groups guests by language, and tables for two are available for those who want privacy. Meals are equal to those at a fine-dining restaurant, as is the exceptional room-service menu. Complimentary champagne is offered at breakfast and, at the first gala dinner, large portions of caviar are served over ice with mother-of-pearl spoons.
“We are the second-largest consumer of caviar after Lufthansa,” said Peukert.
At one sitting, it was mentioned that the price was $2,175 for just over two pounds.
At the Lido Cafe, there are several buffet stations offering a variety of cooked foods, salads, desserts and cheeses. At lunch and dinner, the chef presents grill and pasta specials. During culinary theme nights, matching alcohol is complimentary (for example, raki for Turkish night).
Food for the mind is also well above the norm, with lectures offered in German and English. And, for the body, there is a large pool, partly covered with a magrodome and a nearby hot tub. In addition to a fitness room, a tennis court, a golf simulator, driving range and shuffleboard, the Europa has a deck for those who enjoy nude sunbathing. Although
the ship has a children’s playroom, it is really an adult ship.
Shore excursions are available separately in German and English, although an American took a bike tour that was available only for German speakers and found other guests warm and friendly.
There are complimentary city tours and optional tours balancing culture and active travel. For example, an English Jeep tour in Portimao, Portugal, was partly off-road and included a climb into the mountains of the Algarve and tastings of local specialties.
Peukert suggested that American passengers might find some of the Europa’s theme cruises appealing, particularly the golf and gastronomic ones.
“We often work with famous Michelin-starred chefs from Europe, South Africa and Mexico,” he said. “On our winery cruises, we visit six wineries, with tastings. “
The bottom line: The Europa is a very special ship that would be a good match for a passenger who has traveled extensively in Europe and enjoys extraordinary luxury.
Europa sails four 16-day itineraries in Europe through October, then moves on to the Middle East and Asia.