Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World, Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation, Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges, and The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases--by Steven B. Stern (Sponsored by Stern's Travel Guides, Ltd.)
In June of 2013 we took a seven night cruise on the Europa 2 from Monte Carlo to Malta. This was the ship’s third cruise since her debut in early May. As an author of cruise guides, I was most anxious to determine if the ship lived up to the overtures it had been receiving in the media.
Hapag-Lloyd is attempting to market the ship to the English-speaking market, as well as, to its usual German clientele. However, this is a project yet to reach fruition. Better than 95% of the 516 passengers were German or Austrian. Thus, one may ask, is this a ship that will appeal to non-German speaking cruisers.
As I do in my annual cruise guide, I attempt to evaluate the different aspects of the cruise experience, passenger demographics being just one consideration. So let me break down the cruise as I viewed it.
PHYSICAL SHIP: Without any question, this is possibly the grandest, most unique and comfortable vessel built to date. The public areas are spacious, airy and impeccably decorated. One might say that the décor is European modern with subtle color schemes, mostly of grey and beige with light woods. With numerous restaurants, lounges, theaters, a giant protected pool area (with a retractable roof), a magnificent spa, and hallways outside the staterooms wide enough for four people to walk side by side, one never feels crowded. It is apparent that the architects and designers spared no expense when constructing the ship.
ACCOMMODATIONS: In every category, the staterooms and suites are superior. There is more storage space (closets and drawers) than on almost any other ship. The décor is modern, understated and pleasant to the senses. Every amenity found on any cruise ship or luxury hotel is available. The verandas are larger than on most other ships and include comfortable chairs and tables for in-suite dining. The fully stocked refrigerators are replenished daily with soft drinks, wine and beer. In the upper category suites, six bottles of a variety of spirits are included gratis.
On our seven night cruise, the 301-square-foot Ocean Suites with 75 square-foot verandas ranged in price per person from 3,930 to 6,178 euros; the 452-square-foot Spa and Grand suites with 108 square-foot verandas from 9,218 to 9458 euros; the two 840-square-foot Grand Penthouse Suites with 108 square-foot verandas 15,060 euros; and the two 1,066 Owner’s Suites with 161 square-foot verandas 18, 778 euros. There were also several 430-square-foot, two bedroom family apartments. These brochure prices seemed higher than what one actually pays on many other luxury ships.
DINING: Options for dining are numerous. The largest restaurant, Weltmeere is open for all three meals offering continental menus. By far the best on the ship, Restaurant Tarragon, features imaginative French cuisine only at dinner time. Serenissima, the Italian Restaurant and Elements, the Asian Restaurant are open for both lunch and dinner. We did not feel that the food in the Asian Restaurant bore any resemblance to any Asian fare we had ever experienced elsewhere.
The three-meal-a-day, indoor/outdoor buffet venue, Yacht Club, offers numerous food stations with both German and international dishes. The variety of offerings here at all three meals was impressive. One evening we were treated to a seafood extravaganza where the choices included unlimited caviar, lobsters, crab legs, muscles and oysters.
A favorite venue with the Germans is Sansibar. Located on the top deck, drinks, snacks and tapas are offered from 10:30 in the morning until the last person retires in the evening. There is also a Sushi restaurant, a wine bar, and a private dining room that can be booked for special occasions.
Although there were many places to dine, we were not always elated with the food. Much was geared to German tastes and some items seemed unfamiliar. However, this presented an excellent opportunity to try some new dishes. Much of the cuisine was excellent, however, some was just “so so” and not of the same level we had experienced on Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, Oceania and Celebrity.
Another anomaly for us was the fact that you had to pay for all drinks in the restaurants including water, soft drinks, beer and wine. While on the other hand, they were free in your room.
SERVICE: All of the cabin stewards, butlers, waiters, and other service personnel were quite efficient and anxious to please. They all spoke English; however, they naturally were not familiar with some of our common expressions, and some of our requests would seem strange to them. Service in the buffet restaurant was a bit confusing since waiters had no assigned tables. In the other restaurants this was not the case.
TOURS: The selection of excursions was limited at each port and very expensive. We have been spoiled by the U.S. ships that offer a vast variety of active and sedentary tours. Today, many luxury ships are including some, if not all, tours with the cruise fare. However, when we docked or tendered away from the main part of town, the ship arranged for a shuttle service.
ENTERTAINMENT: This definitely was geared to German tastes. The production shows seemed rather amateurish featuring acrobats and contortionists and a solo singer. They did not begin to compare to those offered on most American and British ships. There was music for dancing in the “Jazzy Bar”, but we never saw many participants. After dinner, the night owls migrated to the Sansibar for drinks and conversation. In keeping with German preferences, there was no casino, and none of the typical shipboard, daytime activities or seminars.
SPORTS AND SPA: The elegant mid-ship swimming pool with a retractable roof was surrounded by two levels of comfortable lounges and had a more subdued aura than found around most cruise ship pools. The exercise room had a nice assortment of equipment, and during the day, many exercise classes were offered, including Pilates, indoor cycling, body circuit, water gymnastics and body sculpting. The ship also carried a fleet of bicycles available when the ship was docked in ports.
The spa facility was outstanding. In addition to the many beauty and therapy treatments, a common area available to both men and women included a large whirlpool, three types of sauna rooms, steam, relaxation rooms, rain showers, an ice wall and an outside area for sunning or cooling off. Here is one aspect of the cruise where non-Germans may feel uncomfortable. Almost everyone ran around the spa naked and did not cover up with their towels. Apparently, Germans are more liberated with this issue and don’t mind if everyone can view their spouses in the “altogether. “
ENGLISH-SPEAKING GUESTS ON A GERMAN SHIP: The entire crew spoke at least some English, many being quite proficient. All announcements, menus and daily programs were offered both in German and English, as were some lectures and tours. However, the bulk of announcements and presentations were in German with only brief explanations in English. I believe that most of the German passengers were well educated, well healed, and spoke English. If we addressed them, most were friendly; however, we would have to make the ovation. Uta, the International hostess was assigned to the English-speaking guests. She did an incredible job attending to our needs and dealing with the problems we incurred.
Overall, I can’t say that it was a particularly warm atmosphere, and at times it seemed a bit strange with everyone around you speaking a language you were not familiar with. This is the same, of course, when traveling in a foreign country; however, it just seems different being on a cruise and not understanding what others are talking about. I guess we felt a bit out of our comfort zone. However, for any aficionado of cruise ships, Europa 2 is an absolute must; and, we were extremely pleased to have had the opportunity to sail on this magnificent ship and experience an alternative style of cruising.
In Conclusion, no better ship exists for German-speaking passengers and I would have to give the ship overall 6+stars for those guests. For English-speaking passengers, the cruise presented an excellent opportunity to experience the German people on vacation and have a small taste of their culture.