I had often wondered what it was that gave ships a five-star-plus rating in the Berlitz Cruising and Cruise Ships guides so, when I was given the opportunity to tour Hapag Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2, I jumped at the chance. She has been awarded this prestigious rating for six consecutive years after all!
From the moment I stepped aboard the 42,830-tonne vessel, I noticed the attention to detail in the ship’s immaculate and elegant styling. You just feel like you can breathe – there’s an air of pure “chill” onboard.
It was a rainy Sydney day, but the guests aboard needn’t have worried, as there was a supply of rain ponchos, umbrellas and towels at the gangway ready for them to utilise.
There was no muzak playing and I was also assured that there are never any announcements made throughout the day, apart from operational ones. This means no midday navigational updates that so many of us are used to, or updates on the entertainment schedule by the Cruise Director. Hapag Lloyd Cruises promotes quiet!
What I would quickly discover from talking to Europa 2’s Cruise Director, Shereen Sala, is that cruising aboard a Hapag Lloyd vessel is different to travelling with most other cruise lines. Even those ships classified as being in the ultra-luxury category. Another thing I discovered was that this cruise line doesn’t outwardly promote themselves as being in any particular category…their guests and awards do all of that marketing for them.
Something that I found most impressive was that what they do promote is their differences. This is done with pride and they certainly don’t shy away from who they are, who their customer is and what their customer desires and, in turn, what their customer returns for again and again from all reports.
Perhaps the easiest way to convey their point of difference is by sharing what they don’t offer.
There is no large fare discounting and they are not an “all-inclusive” luxury line preferring instead, to offer their guests the choice to do, eat and drink whatever they want, whenever they want.
Their belief is that an all-inclusive offering, especially when it comes to beverages, would limit what they would be able to showcase onboard. This doesn’t mean that you’re paying through the roof for drinks either though, they proudly offer beverages at what you would expect in an Australian bottle shop.
Hapag Lloyd’s ships are by no means big, but they certainly feel it! The space is incredible and so well utilised.
There are no specialty restaurants that incur additional charges onboard, each restaurant is included in the cruise fare and offers up the same exceptional standard of cuisine. There are 76 chefs, 4 sous chefs and an executive chef onboard at all times, with only 516 guests on a maximum sailing.
According to Shereen, you would have to be onboard for more than 35 days to try the same dish twice!
There is an art gallery to admire pieces from local artists however there are no art auctions.
The colour scheme throughout the ship is muted and utterly stylish, there is no casino onboard, no activities, no production shows, no crew performances and no gratuities.
There are no Captain’s dinners or formal nights either, so you can leave those ball gowns and tuxes at home!
From my short time onboard, Europa 2 had the vibe of a relaxed, luxurious hotel…except this one sails all around the world!
There are also no dedicated home ports for the Hapag Lloyd vessels. As our host, Gerd Wilmer from Landmark Travel pronounced, “our cruise ships follow the sun and the expedition ships follow the ice…the world is our home.”
Given my entertainment background within the cruise industry, I was fascinated by the concept that there is only one Cruise Director and no other Entertainment staff. There is no trivia, no hosted activities, no theme nights, not even any production shows! Instead, they have local entertainers embark throughout the itinerary and, if you miss their performance, you can tune in the next day on the TV in your cabin, because everything is recorded.
Whilst there isn’t a program of activities for adults, young cruisers will be entertained with a variety of activities, very well equipped dedicated kids clubs and staff to ensure they have a fun-filled and potentially even educational experience onboard. There is also babysitting on offer if mum and dad want some time to themselves after hours!
The all-European hotel crew is bilingual, speaking both German and English at a minimum and they flit between both seamlessly as we’re greeted from deck-to-deck.
Europa 2’s Australian Cruise Director Shereen went to German school when she was younger and was able to impressively dive back into the language as if it were her native tongue when she took on the role 3 years ago. Surprisingly, she doesn’t have a background in cruise, instead, she has come from a project management background within the air services industry.
With 370 crew members to 516 guests, according to Shereen, whatever their guests desire, they will do their best to deliver.
So, if you are after a super-relaxing, ultra-luxurious cruise without the traditional fanfare that’s usually part of a cruising holiday, it seems to me that Europa 2 is the perfect option for you.
For a truly bucket list-worthy experience however, I highly recommend that you check out their expedition ships.
The itineraries look phenomenal and you won’t be compromising on the onboard experience unlike some of the other expedition brands. Better yet, the price difference isn’t too substantial either!
You will have the opportunity to experience such unique destinations as Antarctica, The Arctic, Greenland and so many more up close and personal in pure luxury surroundings…it doesn’t get any better than that in my books!
The advice from the cruise line is to get in quick though, there is sometimes a two-year wait to get onboard…so plan ahead and tick some of those bucket-list destinations off your list in style!
Words: Natalie Kessell