The first time I reported on German-born Hapag-Lloyd Cruises—several years ago after sailing with the first Europa—I called it the best cruise line American vacationers had never heard of. Now there’s Europa 2, and it’s highly likely that travel consultants and their clients are hearing quite a lot about Hapag-Lloyd thanks largely to a lively marketing campaign. Designed to entice the American market to the new ship—emphasis on English language availability in all aspects—the promotion is spotlighting a selection of 7-day June-August Mediterranean cruises (europa2-summer-specials.com; fares start at $4,490 pp dbl).
It’s a safe bet that your clients with a taste for high-end won’t be disappointed. The ship is simply, sleekly gorgeous—an impression that never left me on a New York-Antigua cruise from the moment I entered the spacious, high-ceilinged reception area, light-washed by tall windows, punctuated by striking ebony-and-silver columns and gray leather seating. The clean-lined contemporary design (Michael Steffl, Hapag-Lloyd’s manager of international sales, calls it “European/Scandinavian, with a lot of space on deck as well as in the suites”) is a ship signature, yet each of the seven restaurants reveals sumptuous, rich-colored touches such as Murano chandelier confections in sea green or hot pink, marble floors here, creamy columns there. Distinctive art accents the various culinary dining themes: French, Asian, Italian and sushi.
Ah…the art. Europa 2 shows off not only a gallery of changing exhibitions on Deck 9, but is itself a grand gallery of 890 original works, with a showstopper at every turn by names from David Hockney and Damien Hirst to Hans Hartung and Gerhard Richter. Look for paintings and prints, silkscreens and sculptures—all in keeping with the ship’s modernist magic. On every voyage, an artist and/or gallery owner is aboard to lead tours of the collection.
Pre-cruise, I was told that the new vessel’s onboard style is casual. Really? The aesthetic recalled from my sailing with older sister Europa was all cosmopolitan elegance with considerable formality and evening parades of tuxedos and long sparkly gowns. But Europa 2 is indeed different. As in, no fixed mealtimes, no formal nights, no captain’s dinner. No plush fabrics, no bling, no chichi. Clients need pack neither tiara nor tie.
The urbane-but-unbuttoned concept is clearly homing in on today’s more relaxed zeitgeist. Still, it seems almost a contradiction in terms considering the deluxe offerings, including more breathing room than perhaps any cruise ship out there, a skilled staff and crew proficient in both English and German, superb dining, and a wine list 16,792 bottles strong.
Service is professionally efficient and as highly polished as the silvery, etched-glass elevators. If clients circle 8:15 on their room-service breakfast order, they should have their suite robes and slippers at the ready. The knock will come at precisely 8:15 (not 8:16), to be impeccably served with white cloth and poured coffee by a pair of butlers. The message: meticulous attention to detail. It’s evident throughout, and it works.
Cruisers make a point of checking out the fine fare in the Deck 4 open-seating Weltmeere (main restaurant) and the Deck 9 open-seating Yacht Club buffet, typically winding up with a fave after sampling the aforementioned specialty restaurants (reservations but no surcharge; tables for two are a given). All the specialty spots are on Deck 4, each a charmer with a friendly wait staff and creative menu. (The chateaubriand at Tarragon, the French restaurant, seemed to be out front in the rave race, with Weltmeere’s risotto a close second.) For special occasions there’s Grand Reserve, a room that combines wine tasting with delicious dining.
Wines are excellent and reasonably priced. There’s a charge for water and sodas at bars; however, cruisers receive a beverage credit of up to $200 (depending on length of cruise). Champagne is poured often and freely at the drop of a gathering.
Other onboard attributes: a half dozen bars, indoors and out; a pool with a retractable roof plus a wondrous poolside waffle bar; a 10,764-sq.-ft. wellness area encompassing a spa and fitness facilities; a culinary school; a cinema; a jazz club; golf simulators and golf pro; a library; and a computer room. Entertainment presents no language challenge since showtime focuses on the likes of classical concerts and a Cirque-type acrobatic troupe.
The ship’s blonde, airy suites serve up treats of their own, including a minibar refilled with complimentary water, sodas, and beer, an endless stream of fresh snacks, an espresso machine, flat-screen TV, hair dryer, WiFi (extra charge), walk-in closet, plentiful stowage, and an elaborate lighting system. Big bathrooms boast a separate shower and tub, plus a pair of trendy bowl sinks and a lighted makeup/shaving mirror.
Both butler service and a selection of spirits come with Owner’s Suites and Penthouse Suites. Of the 251 staterooms, eight categories measure 301 to 1,066 sq. ft., each with a generous balcony.
Among the suites are seven designed for families with connecting doors and shared balconies. Surprisingly, for such a sophisticated product, kids are more than welcome—and parents are pampered as well. Shining example: a late-riser service scoops up children straight from their parents’ suite. Child care begins at age 2 and progresses to Kids Club and Teens Club facilities, and there are shore excursions tailored to both youngsters and the entire family.
Off ship, shore outings on my portion of a longer itinerary (most passengers were on a 2-week sailing ending in Miami) ranged from seeing Saint Lucia by helicopter to deep-sea fishing, a Curaçao jeep safari to a Willemstad city walk. Tip off your high-energy travelers that 14 mountain bikes are stashed on board. Notes Steffl, “Guests can discover the surroundings of select ports in the company of a guide. They can opt for an easy tour at a comfortable speed, or a more fast-paced off-road experience over rougher terrain.”
Evenings in port allow time for designer boutiques and memorable restaurants on chic St. Bart’s (at Le Guanahani you can dine exquisitely amid flaming hibiscus on a garden-wrapped terrace); and, on Antigua, for digging toes in the sand at a Sandals beach restaurant.
In addition to the aforementioned Mediterranean itineraries, Europa 2’s 2015-2016 brochure serves up voyages to East and South Africa, Scandinavia, Western Europe, India, Vietnam, and the Arabian peninsula. In fact, while Europa 2 spends autumn 2015 sailing along the Arabian peninsula—Limassol-Dubai, Oct. 27-Nov. 10, from $7,140 pp dbl—the Culinary School will feature Arabian cooking led by TV chef Jacqueline Amirfallah.
What Travel Agents are Saying
Lorenzo Surianello, cruise specialist with Valerie Wilson Travel in New York City, has sailed with Europa 2 and calls it “a hidden jewel in the upscale cruise market” that will “definitely give some of their competition a run for their money.”
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises: (877) 445-7447; hl-cruises.com