For years, Hamburg-based Hapag-Lloyd Cruises sat happily at the top of the pack in the luxury cruise ship world. There was seemingly no ship that could match the success of their 1999-built flagship, the elegant Europa. But when the time came to design a successor to their most famous vessel, Hapag-Lloyd knew just what to do: create a ship that was even better than the first. Her name, of course, was obvious - Europa 2.
Launched in May of 2013, Europa 2 was the only ship to ever best her namesake predecessor, earning top marks from Douglas Ward’s respected Berlitz Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships, but the company wasn’t merely trying to beat a numbered score. That was just a happy byproduct of the line’s overall achievements with Europa 2, a ship designed to delight Germans and North Americans alike.
Europa 2 is the first Hapag-Lloyd ship to offer fully-bilingual itineraries year-round with announcements and all printed materials available in both in English and German. During my short sailing between Istanbul and Kusadasi, Turkey, I was amazed by how quickly the young, mostly-German crew could switch between German and English. Hardworking and eager to please, they reflect the overall trend developed for Europa 2 – a ship designed as much for young working professionals wanting the best in life as it is for retirees. This isn’t some stuffy old cruise. Hapag-Lloyd’s mantra for Europa 2 is ‘casual luxury’.
Recognized that not everyone can take two or even three weeks off at a time, the line created a host of itineraries, the majority of which are just a week in length. Where these excel is in their uniqueness. Ports are rarely repeated from one week to the next, allowing guests to book two and even three week-long voyages with almost no repetition. On my sailing – which was just six days in length – I met an Australian couple sailing for five weeks total, who had already been onboard for two when I joined in Istanbul. That level of flexibility gives the company a real edge in luxury cruising.
Aside from their combinable itineraries, the cruise line’s other ace-in-the-hole is Europa 2 herself. A masterclass in good ship design on which nothing – and I mean nothing – has been overlooked. After three days onboard I started to try to find things that were wrong with the ship. Were there nicks in the walls or problems with the fit-and-finish? I even looked under my bed. I found nothing. The ship is spotlessly looked after, and fabulously designed.
Take, for example, the gorgeous Reception Lobby on Deck 4. The first thing you see when you step onboard, its style recalls the grand German ocean liners of yesteryear but with a very modern spin. The over-height ceilings on this deck are tremendous, and there’s hardly a space on the ship that doesn’t have oversized windows bathing the interior in natural light.
Two glass elevators flank the corridor leading to the public rooms, most of which are located on this deck. On the extreme port and starboard sides of the ship are two staircases adorned with original works of art that lead all the way up to Deck 9, situated against a wall of glass that runs vertically uninterrupted for five decks.
A recent refurbishment and redesign, in addition gleaming paint and acres of lush, new carpeting, has taken place. The most impressive revamping has taken place in the Sushi Restaurant Sakura and the popular Sansibar where wine-crate room dividers and a new 'chandelier' consisting of 1,000 wine bottles have created a true beach bar atmosphere.
Rooms Fit For A King
All of this is assuming, of course, that you can pull yourself away from your luxurious suite. My home for six all-too-short days was Category 8 Grand Suite 800, located all the way forward on the port side of Deck 8. Decorated in soothing earth tones accented with blonde wood and shades of ‘Europa 2 Blue’, the room featured a 42 sq. meterliving area and a spacious 10 sq. meterbalcony. The living and sleeping areas of the room were attractively separated by slatted wood accents, and a water closet room was located just off the entrance, in a separate room from the spacious bathroom that featured dual vanities, a whirlpool tub, rainforest shower, a television inset into the mirror and, of course, German-made toiletries created specifically for Europa 2.
What’s more impressive is that my accommodations were very middle of the road. The top-of-the-line suites aboard Europa 2 can be found on Deck 10, where two Owner’s Suites and two Grand Suites sit just aft of the navigation bridge. So exclusive that Hapag-Lloyd doesn’t even bother to publish list fares, these categories offer everything you could ever possibly want from a ship, including a bathroom so large it’s actually bigger than a typical stateroom on a mainstream competitor.
While the 99 sq. meter Grand Suite may have to exist as an object of my fantasies for now, there really isn’t a bad suite onboard the Europa 2 – and that says a lot. Suite décor varies subtly and the difference is best highlighted in the attractive and femininely-designed Spa Suites that are decorated in shades of rose and pink, but which otherwise differ from the Grand Suites only by the inclusion of a steam shower and the arrangement of the living room space.
A Culinary Journey Onboard
Fine food and exclusive drinks play an enormous role aboard Europa 2. There are eight different restaurants onboard, each of which features open-seating and flexible dining times. From the casual Yacht Club Restaurant that opens up to one of the largest outdoor seating areas I’ve ever seen on a ship, to the decidedly romantic setting of the Italian-themed Restaurant Serenissima, there’s something onboard for every palate. My personal favorite is the steak tartar in Restaurant Tarragon, which is modeled after a Parisian bistro.
Drink lovers aren’t left out, either. The place to be each evening is up in Sansibar, where a lively crowd routinely drinks and converses to live music until well after one in the morning. The lounge features walls that can open to create an entire room exposed to the sounds and warmth of the Mediterranean air, and is the epitome of relaxation. If only every ship could be this way.
If you’re a fan of gin, you’ll want to head to Herrenzimmer – the clubby, leather-bound lounge on Deck 4 that boasts the world’s largest collection of gins and tonics at sea. With 35 gins onboard, there’s over 140 ways to indulge in a G&T aboard Europa 2. The most popular kind of gin onboard: Monkey 47, which hails from Germany’s Black Forest. It pairs well with the spectacular tonics from Berlin-based Thomas Henry, and perhaps a slice of mandarin orange to boot.
Where to? Europa 2’s 2015 Sailings
This year, Europa 2 begins her year in South America before returning to Miami and the Caribbean. In April, she crosses the Atlantic bound for Hamburg and a series of exciting Northern European voyages that include transits of the famous Kiel Canal on select itineraries. June finds Europa 2 sailing the Western Mediterranean, and July finds her returning to the warmth and history of Rome, Monte Carlo and Barcelona. In the fall, the Greek Islands are her home for a short period of time before she once again sets off, this time to winter in the United Arab Emirates and South Africa.
Of course, it doesn’t really matter where you sail aboard Europa 2. The real destination is the ship herself.
If You Go: Air Canada and Lufthansa provide non-stop flights to European cities from a number of major Canadian gateways. Voyages for certain itineraries tend to sell out well in advance, so booking early is always advisable. For more information on Europa 2, visit www.hl-cruises.com .
Written by Aaron Saunders and originally published in Cruise & Travel Lifestyles, Spring/Summer 2015 issue.
Introduction to Europa 2
Click above to see a video on Europa 2.