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When Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa 2 set sail in May 2013, the ship immediately dazzled passengers. Features such as its edgy, minimalist design; incredibly spacious decks and all-suite, all-balcony rooms; the highest passenger-to-crew ratio in the industry; a Cuban cigar bar; a staggering wine list; ground-breaking green standards; and the largest spa for a ship of its size made it a critic’s favorite. Both Berlitz and Stern’s Guide to the Cruise Vacation have given Europa 2 top honors, and the company has succeeded in maintaining its luxury standards while adopting a less rigid style — without formal attire, assigned seating or the Captain’s Dinner.
After a week onboard the nearly sold-out ship, it was clear to me that Europeans adored the laid-back, upscale setting and were willing to pay the steep price (among the highest on the seas) for the experience. But since the German-based company is making a strong push to appeal to North Americans, where less expensive, comparable options exist, the question remains: Is Hapag-Lloyd’s new laissez-faire luxury worth the euros to an American audience?
There’s a good chance that the answer will be yes. Without formal cruise rituals, life on the ship resembles an extended stay at an exquisite boutique hotel — that just happens to be sailing on the water.
This is particularly evident in the level of service onboard, which is equal to that of a five-star hotel. Crew members are friendly and take the time to get to know the people they are serving. In each of the six different restaurants, staff was able to provide information about the menu to guests, and all of the servers knew the wine list inside and out.
The food is also excellent. Many of the products are imported from Germany, but chefs also pick up local ingredients at each port. Tarragon, the French Bistro, is a favorite, and reservations should be made at least two days in advance. The bistro is attached to Grand Reserve, a room set aside for special wine tastings led by the onboard sommelier. Serenissima is the Mediterranean restaurant, and Elements offers Asian cuisine. For passengers craving fresh fish, there is also a sushi bar onboard.
To dine without reservations, the Yacht Club is a casual option and is open for breakfast, with spectacular seating on the bow of deck five; it’s also a good place to grab snacks or a quick grill lunch. Passengers can also head to Weltmeere, the boat’s main dining hall, which offers the same pleasant atmosphere and excellent level of service as the reservation-only restaurants.
One thing to note is that most restaurants have two- and four-seat tables that cater to small groups of friends or couples, so groups larger than six may have a hard time finding a table.
Nightly shows in the ship’s theater tend to feature visual, Cirque du Soleil-type acts to avoid language barriers, but some acts might inspire cross-cultural mingling. For instance, the ship’s nightly entertainment options include an outstanding American singer named Melvin Edmonson, who sings Nat King Cole classics.
American guests should be aware that there may be some adjustments to German culture while onboard. For one thing, smokers can light up at the pool and inside the bars in designated smoking areas. The ship doesn’t recycle air and is stocked with powerful smoke eaters, which keeps the air surprisingly fresh, but still, it might be frustrating to non-smokers. The spa is also clothing-optional and co-ed.
For a stylish finishing touch, in-vogue artwork has been incorporated into the ship’s design as well as an onboard art gallery. Cutting-edge pieces from famous artists, such as Damien Hirst and Gerhard Richter, and buzz-worthy art gallery newcomers will appeal to an open-minded, well-traveled and highly cultured crowd. It’s a good bet that if a guest appreciates the art, the rest of the ship’s remarkable features will translate.