Cruising on the luxury Europa 2, John and Sandra Nowlan experience what has been called the best ship in the world.
Afternoon tea is being served aboard the Europa 2 and Douglas Ward is very impressed. The author of the definitive Berlitz Guide to Cruising points out the details that give this Hapag-Lloyd cruise ship the highest score ever in the guide’s 30-year history. “Look at this tea,” he notes. “We each have an individual pot, served on a silver plate. The tea is loose, not in bags. That’s just too much work for most cruise lines.”
Ward visits and updates his reviews on 30 to 40 cruise ships a year and believes that attention to detail is what makes Europa 2 stand out as the top cruise ship in the world. “It’s the only ship I know where you get a cleaning cloth for your glasses. And dental floss. A small detail. But it’s special.”
As we board the 500-passenger Europa 2 in New York we immediately recognize this is no ordinary cruise ship. The spacious lobby is designed in New Art Deco style (lots of stainless steel and glass) with a tasteful elegance that’s rare in cruise ships. All suites on Europa 2 have balconies and are large by industry standards. The rooms have a complementary mini-bar with glasses in five sizes for any occasion and a new-generation coffee maker with many flavour choices. The lighting has a broad range of bedside options that control brightness and location. All bathrooms have two sinks, a Jacuzzi tub and a shower. There’s a separate toilet room with a third sink. The beds have lush, goose down duvets and can be inclined making them more comfortable than any we’ve had on a cruise ship. Robes and slippers (even XL for big feet) are standard.
Europa 2 boasts more space per passenger than any other cruise ship and this is evident in the wide hallways and generous public spaces with the tallest ceilings in the industry. The windows are unusually large making rooms bright and cheery. There’s a large library, a separate games room, a culinary school, a spa and gym with a golf simulator, an art gallery, a special space for kids, comfortable, well-stocked bars and seven separate dining areas (all at no extra charge). Deck 9 contains a large, covered pool (with retractable roof), an excellent front observation lounge and the main, informal restaurant, The Yacht Club.
For our first lunch, we ate at Weltmeere, the main restaurant on Deck 4 with Murano glass light fixtures and a silver leaf ceiling. Both the appetizer (shrimp) and the main course (turbot) were perfectly prepared and presented with imagination. Service by the young wait staff (mainly Germans who spoke perfect English) was efficient and very professional. Staff training is clearly a priority.
As expected on a ship of this quality, all our meals were excellent. In Europa 2’s Japanese restaurant, Sakura, we enjoyed Sushi and giant tempura shrimp (who knew a German ship could produce such excellent sushi?). Even breakfasts were a special treat. At the Yacht Club buffet on Deck 9, the high level of service and attention to detail were evident. Excellent coffee was served in individual silver pots and the orange juice was fresh squeezed. As expected on a German ship, the array of sausages, smoked meats and cheeses was outstanding but equally impressive were the cereal condiments. To our porridge we could add flax, chia seeds, amaranth, wheat bran or spelt plus, if we wished, sesame, sunflower or pumpkin seeds. We’ve never been on a ship with so many choices.
Many of the special events on our weeklong cruise from New York to Antigua were culinary in nature. One day at sea was highlighted by a sushi making class headed by the chief sushi chef (interestingly, he was from India where sushi is very popular). It was a roll-up-the-sleeves effort and all of us got to enjoy the rice, tuna, salmon and mango creations we produced. In the evening, a gin-tasting seminar (with the largest gin selection at sea) featured some unusual and exotic choices from the 37 brands stocked on Europa 2. This was followed by dinner at Elements, an Asian fusion restaurant with some of the best cuisine so far including rambutan salad and sweet potato soup. On another evening we joined fellow guests in the Grand Reserve, a special room for fine wine tasting (the ship stocks 19,000 bottles of wine in 450 varieties ranging in price between 15 and 1030 Euros) followed by an excellent dinner at Tarragon where many of the main dishes were covered by silver domes and uncovered in unison. The chateaubriand was superb.
Europa 2 is clearly a luxury product and the prices reflect that. Other top quality lines (like Crystal and Regent) are now all-inclusive but Hapag-Lloyd Cruises CEO, Karl Rojer, who was on the ship in New York, says his line has a difference philosophy. “We have the best quality food in the industry and we want our guests to have the same quality in our beverages. So we do charge for spirits and wine but we have a big variety and low prices. The wine would cost at least three times more in a top land-based restaurant.”
The CEO said Europa 2 is aiming to attract even more English-speaking passengers to its bilingual (German-English) cruises. But several American guests told us they loved the ship but hoped Hapag-Lloyd could make it even more attractive for them. For instance English TV Channels are limited to a couple of Asian stations (there’s no CNN, MSNBC or BBC) and the policy of charging for soda or bottled water in the restaurants was a turn-off for many. But in all rooms, complementary soda, water and beer are available in the mini-fridge.
Douglas Ward believes those deficiencies are minor and will be solved when the ship handles even more English-speaking passengers. “This ship does almost everything well,” he said. “If I ask my waiter how the gravy is made, he can tell me. On other ships, the waiter just knows that it’s brown. For me it’s all about knowing what you’re doing and having pride in what you do. On Europa 2, these people have passion.”
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Information on Hapag Lloyd Cruises
*Guest contributors John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax.
Disclosure: The Nowlans were invited guests of Hapag Lloyd Cruises but any opinions expressed are their own.