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2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2018
I’m putting up this review almost 11 months after our first cruise on Europa 2, as I noticed recent reviews are sparse. In part, that’s probably because the ship gets booked up so far ahead by the German market that very few ... Read More
I’m putting up this review almost 11 months after our first cruise on Europa 2, as I noticed recent reviews are sparse. In part, that’s probably because the ship gets booked up so far ahead by the German market that very few non-Germans manage to get cabins. Since our Venice to Mallorca cruise on Europa 2, we’ve done another one on Seabourn Odyssey and one on Crystal Serenity, both good but which make us realise we love Europa 2 even more. We’re now booked to go again next year. Here are the pros and the cons: Pros The ship is incredibly spacious, beautifully designed, has high ceiling heights, modern art and is taken into dry dock to refresh every two years. Design is Northern European and fresh, light and modern rather than the standard US ‘country club’ vibe. It feels like a top end 5 star+ designer luxury hotel at sea where every little thing flows and works together. By contrast Crystal Serenity seems like a half-refurbished 4 star hotel and Seabourn Odyssey like a tired 5 star. With just over 500 passengers and so much space there as never, ever, a fight for loungers or seats on outside decks. The pool deck is excellent, with a good choice of sunshine and shade and nice parties on some evenings. Spotlessly clean and a nice deep pool for a proper swim. Bouillon with sherry is on tap from mid morning. Food is exquisite whichever restaurant you choose. Lobster and king crab claws in the buffet restaurant, foie bras for breakfast if you fancy it in the first class Weltemeere MDR (excellent variety at dinners there). The Italian, French and Asian speciality restaurants are all superb in terms of decor and cuisine. We only found that Sansibar, the bar/nightclub on the aft deck, did lunches on our final days and really enjoyed those in a beautiful shady beach club environment. Non-German passengers have an English-speaking hostess (we were so lucky with ours, Lisa, who was absolutely charming), but almost everything is bilingual. The double-heighted theatre is exceptional and most shows are musical and to a very high standard. For pipe and cigar smokers, the bar Collins (open 24 hours) is the height of sophistication. We had a Penthouse Suite which was magnificent, modern and we were thoroughly spoiled by two amazing butlers. But next time we will go for a standard suite as these are very roomy and there are so many places you want to be on deck. It’ll be interesting to see next time if the VIP service we felt we received was due to our high suite level, the fact we weren’t German or if it’s the same level of service across the board! Cabin servicing very efficient and all spotlessly clean. Nice bespoke toiletries. Everyone on Reception was charming. Wait staff on the whole were excellent, mainly from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and all seemed to work together well. The captain and crew were brilliant. Frank, the hotel director, hosted a table for us with Lisa one night and was a delight. The captain, Ulf Walter, was very much present and inspired great confidence in the ship and Hapag Lloyd. I believe he is off to captain the new HL inspiration. Saddened that we hadn’t seen the volcano erupt at Stromboli one evening, he decided to go back around the island again the following night for a second, successful, view. Zodiacs were suddenly launched one day to explore caves near Capri and we were greeted by crew on another tender with Champagne. The wine list is exceptional and pretty good value for money...Whilst alcohol must be paid for, there are often complimentary drinks and cocktails and international passengers receive an onboard credit for alcoholic beverages. Enrichment was pretty good (in English as well as German)...it’s funny when you are the only ones to turn up to an enrichment lecture though (it’s done in English after a German one). Had an amazing lobster cookery course in their high end cookery school. We loved the ports chosen apart from Messina in Sicily. Capri and Mahon were fabulous. Excursions well priced but not many in English. Fellow passengers are pretty refined, classy and keep themselves to themselves. A younger crowd than on Seaboirn or Crystal. Cons If you aren’t German you are going to be one of a dozen or so international guests. So don’t expect to make lifelong friends or spend your cruise chatting. That’s fine by us! Hapag Lloyd markets these as international cruises but no-one has told the Germans that and they often ask (nicely, I hasten to add) why you are there! Insufficient staff and long waits sometimes in speciality restaurants. Sakura, the Japanese Restaurant, was particularly poor in service one evening. The weekly caviar night seem to be when things fall apart. Smoking on balconies allowed (fine by us) but this will put off many people. Drinks (actually not even mineral water) in bars and restaurants not included. We didn’t mind as we had an OBS and the choice was terrific and the gin tasting free. Few English excursions. All in all, if you’re looking for a classy cruise don’t be put off by the fact you aren’t German. This was a real eye opener...they really know how to do hospitality and to enjoy themselves. We’re so pleased we are going back but worry that the second time can’t possibly be as good! Read Less
8 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2018
SHORT VERSION: I greatly enjoyed the outstanding food, service, and classical music on this luxury small ship cruise and plan to return soon. Details: I am an American who did this two-week luxury small ship cruise solo from Nice ... Read More
SHORT VERSION: I greatly enjoyed the outstanding food, service, and classical music on this luxury small ship cruise and plan to return soon. Details: I am an American who did this two-week luxury small ship cruise solo from Nice to Bilbao. I chose it primarily for the intimate classical music experience it offered with its Ocean Sun Festival. To compare, I have done various other mostly small ship luxury cruises with cruise lines solo, with my husband, and with a friend. The cruise was outstanding, the best luxury ship experience overall, by far, despite the oddity of being an American woman traveling solo (probably the only one) on a ship where the official on board language is German. EMBARKATION in NICE : There was no actual embarkation terminal in Nice at the Quay de Commerce, so waiting to board was slightly uncomfortable, no fault of HL. The port authority did not allow HL to serve any beverages in the warm outdoor waiting area before 4PM, when crew started serving Duval-Leroy champagne. Embarkation commenced precisely on time at 16:00, as all HL cruises do, and between starting boarding and getting to my suite only 15 minutes passed. Unlike on my three prior HL cruises, I did not see any hors d’oeuvres offered in the atrium reception area, though the next evening canapés were offered at a captain’s gala. I was still full from my decadent truffle pasta lunch in Nice so it did not matter. After a very short check-in period during which my picture was taken and passport confiscated (room keys were distributed before the cruise) a crew member escorted me to my suite, where a half bottle of champagne and 4 chocolate-covered large strawberries waited for me. My cases appeared 1-2 hours later (2 cases, separately). MUSTER: orientation was on the pool deck at my actual muster station, with pax required to wear their new-fangled style life jackets. Then pax moved on to more safety lecturing in the Europa Lounge. A separate English muster was available. Muster took longer than expected, about 40 minutes, with a lot of time spent on exactly what to do when someone goes overboard (bottomline: yell, throw things, and point). ATMOSPHERE: This is a contemporary-styled ship with cool, calm colors. It is fresh, well-maintained, uncrowded and comfortable, with an atmosphere of quiet luxury and elegance in the decor and amongst most crew and pax. There are plenty of deck chairs in various locations so there is no need for pushiness or lines. It is a very German-oriented ship, with almost all pax affluent, very affluent, or relatively affluent seniors and their family and friends from German speaking countries. There were only a few, mostly invisible, children. The only official on-board language was German, though frontline crew spoke basic English with the few people on board who do not speak much, or any, German (e.g., primarily some entertainers) . If there were any other Americans or Brits on board, I never heard them. Many of the Filipino crew spoke better English than German. However, this ship did offer many luxury international menu options daily, (definitely not just wienerschnitzel and sausages, though they had those available too). There was also quite a bit of English language popular music in venues as an alternative to the festival classical music presentations. The MS Europa is more formal than its sister ship Europa 2, which caters to a somewhat younger and more casual crowd and which is officially German and English, and markets to international audiences (though very few non-German speakers travel on her) and has both German and English are on-board languages. Here on the MS Europa, HL has made a deliberate choice to only have German as the language on board (which should satisfy the few older Germans who, per comments overheard and read on the internet, previously resented having what rare announcements there were translated into English, and also saves the line translator money). HL can fill the ship just with German speakers well in advance. Getting a booking on any desirable itinerary HL cruise is a competitive process requiring advance planning if you are not retired and very flexible, so they do not really need to market to English speakers to fill their ships. Announcements (other than safety-related), menus, and daily printed guides and tours were only in German, as warned, but announcements were very rare (twice a day a brief captain report about speed, latitude and longitude and perhaps a highlight of a key performance). Even the couple excursions I went on that were billed to be conducted in English by local guides landed up being given in German, e.g., with a museum guide or accompanying crew member talking in the local language to our German-speaking guide instead of English who then translated into German because half the people on the excursions could not understand English. I received essential pre-cruise vital information and a ship guide through my travel agent printed in English, and then while on board used the opportunity to refresh my German by looking up a few menu items and other things I did not know on my iPhone translation app or on the internnet. Average age was around 70, with quite a few pax over 80. Pax were mostly quite mobile. There were a few other solo pax on board (mostly elderly German women) and I heard from the ship’s doctor, and nephrologist brought on, that there were two dialysis patients. We had 344 total pax on board plus a few dozen entertainers and speakers came and went, to fill the ship’s cabins to 400 or so. As is the older German style, whether solo or not, German or not, pax and on board entertainers mostly stuck to themselves and their known groups and made few attempts to socialize with strangers other than about very simple things, or (usually after alcohol) to talk about their local and international politics, e.g., rants about a well-known American political figure. There was also an (expected) style of lack of curiosity about strangers with most pax, and, unlike most luxury world cruising Americans, pax appeared to be of the attitude that other people’s lives and histories are mostly none of their business and asking personal details without special permission is considered prying. Gratuitous smiling (except by crew) is frowned upon by pax, as is too much jewelry. Mostly I was just ignored by other pax, as if I was not there at all (other than getting a few obviously disapproving and a couple envious glances relating to a little personal fan I carried), and was left alone, neither socially engaged nor negatively bothered. There were, however, a couple solo travelers' get-togethers announced that were not convenient for me to go to this trip (on my prior trip when I went 2 years ago, even there people were still very closed and stiff), and I also had an invitation to go join the cruise director and other "women only" for a Lido dinner which I also skipped as I had a small dining venue reservation the same day. I was fine with this “leave you alone” attitude of German pax, and expected it, (I cruised this ship before and know Germans from before, and have German friends, so I understand the roots of the reservedness. I was here primarily for the classical music festival, and secondarily for the pampered dining and peace and quiet rather than to acquire new BFF (if interested, see my previous MS Europe review from 2016 where I comment on older German personality styles). Many would not be, or would feel lonely without others to talk to in their home language for two weeks, (crew are not supposed to waste too much time chit-chatting long periods with pax, German or English, though a little is ok, as that distracts them from their jobs to serve everyone), but I did not. Much as I love traveling with my DH and would enjoy sharing experiences with him, I often enjoy the enhanced powers of observation and concentration solo traveling offers. Just in case, I had an iPad and iPhone (on mute) and ear buds with me for reading books or listening to music if there were longer periods of waiting involved anywhere, e.g., on bus excursions when guides were not talking. The DRESS CODE for days and evenings was casual elegant, and people really complied with it. Many people wore understated designer clothing, and what jewelry they wore was not garish. After 6 PM, the code was for men to wear jackets in all dining venues other than the indoor/outdoor buffet Lido. Ties were not required at dinner, but many men wore them anyway. There were also two formal nights (ballgown optional but not required or common, tux or dark suit and tie required for men, and something a little dressy or shiny for women seemed adequate, as on other luxury lines on formal night. As has been popular a couple years in Europe now, several men wore crisp brightly colored expensive trousers, e.g., red, bright green, or blue, both during the day (without a jacket) or in the evening (with a jacket), which is considered casual elegant. White trousers in the evening were also popular on men and women with varying tops (jackets on men in most venues) and these came in handy on the pool party night, when the suggestion was made for people to dress in white out on deck. No one I saw challenged the dress code by showing up with hoodies or untucked T shirts with logos, and I saw no blue jeans (not even the stylish pre-torn ones) at night on the MDR and entertainment deck 4. I did see an elderly balding gent with a red-orange blazer with black suede elbow patches, black capris, and no sox, with his bared feet slipped into very expensive black suede loafers, and similar other displays of Euro-chic that were great fun to see. As on my 2016 trip, one thing I did not like is that most of the venues ran ambient temperatures that were subjectively too warm for me (though most of the pax liked it that way, as Germans generally greatly fear cold air and drafts and often say “es zieht"). I had my suite temperature on maximum cooling most of this Mediterranean trip and would have liked it to be even cooler during the day (temp was not indicated but it felt like around 73 in the suite on hot days with AC on max and at least 75 in the restaurants, so I was glad I had brought loose and linen clothing). However, I am very sensitive to heat due to some of my medication and anticipated this, so came equipped with assorted unobtrusive cooling tools that worked well for me. FOOD AND BEVERAGE: This cruise I had an assigned dinner table to myself in the MDR (per my advance request) as opposed to an assignment with others like I had last time (though I had requested a solo table then, my prior assigned dining companions had worked out ok for me ). I could have requested to be seated at a communal table assignment for dinner in MDR but did not want to risk getting stuck with a couple old and cranky married German couples who might have felt uncomfortable with me as a fifth and foreign wheel (there are some people like that). Dinner starts at your table anytime you like between 7 and 9:30, it is yours the whole evening. Breakfast and lunch are open seating everywhere (breakfast 7-9 in the MDR, 7-10:30 in the Lido indoor/outdoor venue, and there is also a 9-12 option for late risers in Dieter Mueller, plus there is 12:30-2 for lunch in MDR, Lido, and Venezia). Poolside waffles are 3-5. An elegant afternoon tea with cakes etc. (real whipped cream, “Sahne”, optional) was served 4-5PM, accompanied by soothing piano music, with pax who were thankfully respectful and not rowdy. Restaurants were uncrowded, and as I had a guaranteed table in the MDR at dinner, there was no need to line up anywhere for food except for the day of the popular Lido Bavarian lunch, “Bayrischer Fruehschoppen”, which offered traditional rich German food, spirits and beer, and a whole roasted suckling pig. Some regular MDR menu items appeared daily as “classics", and then there were daily specials which did not repeat for the whole 2-week cruise. There were four different “international” vegetarian main courses each day, changed weekly (a green bean dish was particular tasty). The buffet had both daily specials and grill options for steak, fish, and sausages, and pasta. Lobster and shellfish were abundant in various presentations, and I had caviar and steak tatar in different forms 4 times each. Reservations were only needed for dinner for the small venue gourmet Dieter Mueller dining experience and Venezia, the small Italian venue, (no extra charges) and for the Lido in the evening, though there is usually room in the latter even without reservation. There is 24-hour room service of certain items (including steak tatar) which I only used for a few breakfasts. Reservations should be made right on boarding to secure your choice, as should spa reservations ( no option for advance booking). 90% of my lunch and dinner dishes were outstanding, 10% were ok but I would not order again (e.g., a cauliflower soup that fell flat, as did the snails, there was a so-so fish course in Dieter Mueller and the “Boston clam chowder” was an odd greenish substance) . Breads were crisp and fresh (there were no rubbery rolls so many cruise ships, even luxury ones, seem to be specializing in lately), with rye and pumpernickel bread options. Fresh fruits and veggies were plentiful. I did not see a single brown lettuce leaf. My wine pourer at dinner knew wines well enough to make intelligent suggestions (several hundred different wines are on board to choose from, many in 0.1 liter or 0.250 liter portions, with only a handful from U.S.). I enjoyed trying different kinds I do not get at home near wine country in California. Unlike on other luxury lines, my morning room service tray, when I got it, always had what I had ordered, not once did they forget any item, and they customized as I requested. After the first day or two, staff addressed me by my name almost everywhere on board. The colorful Swiss bartender in the Gatsby’s lounge (who also spoke English) already knew who I was and what I would likely want to drink without my saying anything after the first night. The food was so good and comfort level so high that I preferred dining on board to dining in port (which I cannot say for other luxury cruise lines including my favorite SB). Minor negatives were that morning room service coffee was not strong enough for me, but still always arrived hot and at the requested time (espresso and cappuccino were available in the dining rooms). . Unlike on the sister ship Europa 2, there was no in-room coffee in the base suite. Note that beverages in dining rooms other than coffees, milk, teas and juices are subject to fees unless at special events (which are frequent) around the pool, or on return to the ship, including bottled water (other than that distributed on excursions), so technically the ship is not “all inclusive”. But the plus is you can pick exactly the wine you want, and what size, with a very fair mark-up, and there is no fussing about getting stuck with bad “included” wines. I never had to produce my room card, and only signed for beverages in the two smaller venues at the end of the meal, no service charge, though I added paper tips there anyway. I just verbally gave my suite #, on an honor system (they know who you are). SERVICE: in short, outstanding. If anyone was in training, with one exception, I could not tell (compared and contrasted with my cruise on Seabourn in spring 2017). The Do Not Disturb sign was thankfully very strictly respected, always. Laundry fees were cheap (e.g., 1 Euro for underwear) and results terrific, usually same-day even without extra charge. All service is officially included in the cruise fare, but unlike on English language luxury lines, the tipping policy is that none are required or expected, but are welcomed so a few pax quietly gave envelopes with tips to certain crew at the end of the cruise, in addition to contributing to the crew auction and end of cruise tip pot. No hands were ever extended expecting tips. Crew did not appear exhausted or overworked, (only one appeared cynical and resentful of his job), and at least conveyed a pleasant and relaxed unstressed manner. There were no service comedies and no activities I dreaded due to anticipation of service problems, as it seems is increasingly the case even on luxury cruises. I did not have to be an important person, be pushy, or have an “in” to get luxury service, as is often the case on other luxury ships. With very rare exceptions, the crew were smart, polite, helpful, attentive, bilingual, and eager to help, and ran a finely tuned service machine. In the MDR they worked in efficient coordinated teams, with one key person assigned to beverages, another assigned to food, and a couple lower level staff hovered to offer more bread and whisk away dirty plates and be alert if you were waving for any need. Service personnel at my table were always the same and anticipated my needs. My wine glass was readily refilled without having to fight for it like I did on SB last year, and oddly also on the Europa 2 last fall (not sure why there is such a difference for the same cruise line now). Dining room staff were there when you needed them without being intrusive and there was no premature snatching of plates. Waiters checked to make sure your meals were satisfactory shortly after you started eating. There were no awkward delays or irritating mess-ups that can sour a luxury experience. There were only a couple minor service glitches (e.g., once the waiter did not send the rest of my wine to my suite as I had requested but instead saved it for the next day; once a waitress got confused on my wine order, e.g., thought I had drunk a whole Karaffe where I had only had a glass, yet charged me for the whole; once crew showed up with the wrong appetizer, promptly rectified, and a pair of sox was lost after sending to the laundry, but then was found; and on the final gala night I waited all of ten minutes for a wine refill -- once, usually I never waited). The only minor service disappointment I had was that the crew member in charge of individual itineraries was not proactive in following up on my request to secure ship to airport transportation for my flight to Munich, and seemed a bit cavalier about its importance to me ( I had the last connection to the U.S. that day booked and missing my first flight was to be avoided at all costs), so I had to keep reminding him every day for almost a week to keep me posted, until resolution. But it all worked out fine anyway just as he said it would so I was needlessly anxious. PORTS NICE — anyone reading this review has probably already been to sunny and luxurious Nice. It was Formula One weekend in nearby Monaco, so the place was hopping, and even more expensive than usual. I sought dining refuge in a little side street restaurant near the opera, Le Frog, and at a pleasant drink, snack and people-watching place called Balthazar on the main drag, which had surprisingly good service and comfortable chairs despite catering to tourists. I also ate at truffle specialty restaurant. As noted above, it did not have a cruise terminal building where we embarked. BASTIA (northeast Corsica). This was a pleasant walkable little old town, easy to do on your own. BONAFACIO (southern Corsica), tender. Tender crew were mostly skilled and experienced Filipinos. I did an excursion involving a combination of a boat ride to a grotto and a town walkabout, though it could easily be done individually. ALGHERO (Sardinia), tender. A typical, walkable seaside town in the Med. Shoreside, MS Europa had a station set up with cold drinks and shade to wait for tenders, or just to rehydrate while touring the town independently on foot. MAHAN (Minorca) — formerly under British influence, a gin haven, and home of Cardinal Richelieu’s original “mayonnaise" discovery! A side trip to Ciutadella, a cute seaside market town 30 miles away by road, with a sheep mascot, was worthwhile. BARCELONA, overnight — the Catalonian center many cruises start and end at; this was my fourth time to this wonderful city, where many banners favoring independence were still visible. There are many well-known things to see and do here centered around Gaudi, see other abundant CC reviews for that. I did something more unusual this time, i.e., journied to the beautiful Palau de la Musica with its fantastic organ, and former Hospital de la Santa Pau (now a museum), with absolutely stunning architecture (not Gaudi, but Lluis Domenech i Montaner). The ship also organized a brilliant, private classical Spanish music land concert for us with the Cadaques Orchestra and assorted classical soloists, and I had an awesome front row seat, was immersed in the orchestra. VALENCIA I went on an interesting walking tour of the opera house and the very expensive (and over budget crazy modern architecture in the city. This is worth doing at least once, tours are available in English. MALAGA I did not spend time in town, but went on a trip to the old, walkable town of Mijas about 40 minutes away, with a wine and tapas tasting excursion. The captain’s pleasant wife (a former East German of a privileged class) co-hosted. This could realistically be done with a private tour. CADIZ (substituted for Portimaio, due to an anticipated port strike). Cadiz is a couple hours from Seville, but is a nice port for tourists in its own right. I did a city walking tour in the rain, and hiked up 156 steps on a tower with a Camera Obscura. LISBON, overnight, something for everyone here, a wonderful tourist city, there are many reviews. I did a spontaneous private tour with a colorful old native who showed me nooks and alleyways and told interesting stories, and one to the Gulbenkian museum, which has some fantastic collections from antiquity to 20th century, and some gardens. There was a sea day half way through the cruise, and just before the end, with music and talks and of course more eating and exercise options to keep you busy. No trivia in any language. ENTERTAINMENT As noted above, the main reason for my doing this cruise was the classical music Ocean Sun Festival, which I had been very impressed with in 2017, and it was equally exquisite this year. World-class artists were brought on board, and/or we were brought to them in Barcelona for a private evening concert. We had harpist soloist Xavier de Maistre and the Cadaques Orchestra; soprano Sara Blanch; tenor Marc Sala; senior lady castagnettist Lucero Tena (a crowd favorite, as she was in top form despite her age, thus giving us all hope); the Munich Philharmonic String Quartet which did a stirring rendition of the Felix Mendelssohn string quartet in F minor; brilliant young Australian violinist Ray Chen; pianist Ohad Ben-Ari; clarinetist David Orlowsky; a string quartet from Vienna; and pianist brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen. Additional performers included the Spanish tango and flamenco dancers group Ispacion (this was my third time seeing them, their beauty and drama never gets old, plus they are also easy on the eyes in between performances); vintage English/German descent pop singer Ireen Sheer (not my style but some liked her); an electrical engineer turned magician Dr. Alexander Mabros (a bit long-winded, German only), a cabaret comedian (in German only) Robert Griess, ocean lounge pianist Wolfgang Kick, and a very talented on-board 9 man Austrian band called “Impulse" that played oldies, jazz and dance music in English and German. It was also great fun watching German grey-haired grandmas well into their 70’s doing the twist, a couple wearing their orthopedic shoes, along with the few usual regular pax dancers in elegant clothing going through taught ballroom dancing moves with few smiles. An enrichment speaker (about architecture and art) named Stephan Boerries was also on board (he was knowledgable but a bit arrogant, e.g., constantly corrected the Valencia opera guide’s German grammar, and he made a few elitist politically snide remarks). Last but not least, a clergyman was on board to take care of any souls that might be feeling lost at sea, and was available for regular sessions at tea time and as needed. There was a bilingual personal trainer on board, there were various exercise classes offered I did not attend, there was a good-sized uncrowded pool heated to 28 degrees C for laps, one jacuzzi near the pool that was unfortunately only warm but not hot, and there was a pool party with a dance floor and international pop thumping music, (where I spent most of my time watching the off-duty colorful Ispacion dancers improvise to the music — a free unofficial performance!). I did not ask for it, but the NYT international version appeared in my cabin each day, (it got tossed) as did a bowl of fresh fruit (mostly eaten). There was a fun parade of chefs (a surprising number of Filipinos were in charge of various food creations, under the direction of young main gourmet chef Tillman Fischer) farewell performance followed by distribution of little marzipan men. On the last gala night, crew sang sea classics, including the captain, Olaf Hartmann, who has an excellent voice. INTERNET One free hour per day was included and you could buy more data at reasonable prices. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, i.e., a typical cruise experience. I thus maximized use of my cellular service and hot-spots. SMOKING Most of the indoor areas on the ship were non-smoking and there was a designated smoking area indoors, Havana Club. Smoking is allowed on balconies and in outdoor areas in most places (only designated areas in the Lido). However, even though few pax smoked, as it was allowed at the indoor piano bar near the atrium, even a couple smoking Spanish dancers could fill that room with whiffs of smoke. Asthmatics or militant smokophobics would be unhappy there. On the gala evening when sailors’ songs were sung in the atrium by a few dozen pax, the smoke from a few lit cigarettes accumulating was too much even for me so I retreated after 15 minutes, and usually I do not care. DISEMBARKATION: no problems, no lines, you could stay in cabin until 9, had to be off ship by 10, luggage retrieval in Bilbao was easy, and the concierge had indeed arranged a taxi for me as requested. Suggestions for improvement (minor): 1. Earlier boarding would be a nice, the way other luxury lines allow boarding around noon with pax then eating lunch in the Lido type area while waiting for suites to be readied. Then one could come straight from hotel checkout with luggage to the ship. 2. It would be good to either have the Touristik/excursion office open in the afternoon, when many pax have down time, or have reception take messages to pass on to them, rather than just the limited morning and evening hours they currently have (which are often unclear or not posted). A Seabourn Square type arrangement would improve ease of communication. 3. Walking excursion tours had too many people to be ideal for me (typically mid 20’s) but were cheap and an easy lazy way to be safely and reliably taken to the sites. 4. Raise the jacuzzi temperature to above body temperature, so it would be a true "hot tub" 5. The atrium should be a no smoking zone. OVERALL, this was an outstanding ship, crew, and cruise. It provided the best overall food, service, and comfort I have had on well over a dozen luxury cruises, and the close-up music and dance were fantastic. However, you would have to be a bit adventuresome to travel on this ship if you are not from a German-speaking country or with someone who can read and understand at least basic German. I am not German, (parents were born in Eastern Europe), but for various reasons I can speak quite a bit and understand even more if people speak high German instead of dialects, so that was helpful for eavesdropping in conversations or hearing off the cuff jokes crew and pax told and for listening to enrichment speakers and comedians. But I do not think it would be essential to speak any German at all to enjoy the food and service and music on this ship (see my previous MS Europa review from September 2016, wherein I commented about some British pax who spoke no German at all but who preferred cruising here for many years). Just a little planning and accommodation and perhaps an iPhone app and polite requests would do the trick (e.g., pre-reviewing MDR menus and port info on TV or with English-speaking crew when they have time). But if you are someone who feels uncomfortable having crew translate daily menus for you even if the menus are short and it only takes a few minutes, (the “classics" on the menu can be pre-translated after boarding) this is not for you. Also, if you need to have large varying English-speaking social circles on board, old or new, and thus must have open seating in the MDR at dinner, the Europa is also not for you. If you crave attention from other pax, you would be unhappy here, as you will likely just be ignored and treated as an invisible foreigner, though politely, by fellow pax, some of whom will tolerate you but frankly would prefer you not be there as they are old enough to have memories of growing up after World War 2, when Germany was in rubbles from allied bombing. You would still be given full and friendly luxury attention by mostly young and professional crew. There were also occasional whiffs of smoke here and there could also make a few people very unhappy if they are sensitive. An English-only couple who is neutral or favorable to smoking whiffs and that puts a priority on excellent food and seamless service, usually dines alone anyway, does not need to socialize with other pax to have a good time, and organizes its own tours, would do fine, especially if the pax work with their TA to secure an advance "table for two" assignment in the MDR. Also, note all of this wonderful high end music, food and service comes at a higher per diem cost, all in, than other luxury lines, but despite the cost, bookings are hard to get. I hope to post pictures soon after I have sorted them, either here or on the CC subforum of "special interest travel", "luxury cruising", as HL does not have its own subforum. Read Less
11 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2017
I recently completed a 13-day cruise on the Hapag-Lloyd (HL) highly rated small luxury ship the Europa 2 ( E2), 516 maximum passengers. Our route started in New York City with two weekend overnights, then went down the east coast of the ... Read More
I recently completed a 13-day cruise on the Hapag-Lloyd (HL) highly rated small luxury ship the Europa 2 ( E2), 516 maximum passengers. Our route started in New York City with two weekend overnights, then went down the east coast of the U.S. to Baltimore, Charleston, Miami for another overnight, Key West, Harbour Island (tender), and ended in Nassau. I had done one prior 16-day E2 cruise over the Christmas holidays 2015-2016 around South Africa and Namibia in a PH suite with my husband, and a 14-day classical music focussed cruise ( Ocean Sun Festival) on its sister ship the MS Europa September 2016 in the Mediterranean in a veranda suite, solo. I am comparing this experience with the two prior with HL. My travel partner this cruise was an old German friend. We were in a veranda suite a bit towards the bow. I rated the two prior cruises with HL 5/5, and have compared features of HL on those cruises with other small ship luxury cruises on SS and SB. Overall, though I enjoyed this cruise and absolutely do not regret doing it, there were periodic service issues, and (less frequently) also some food and beverage problems, that prevent me from rating it 5/5 again. So I can only give it a strong 4/5. GENERAL ATMOSPHERE AND PASSENGERS: The ship is beautiful, comfortable, and contemporary, and the overall atmosphere is unpretentious and elegant. Passengers ranged in age from a handful of small children to a lady who seemed to be pushing triple digits, averaged around 60-65, with wide variance. There were few extremely old people, less than we have seen on SS and SB cruises. The ship was immaculately maintained and had just finished a dry dock refurbishing. The only sign of wear and tear I saw was washed out faded text on the high tech light switches near the night stands in our suite, which made it difficult to tell what button did what until I had memorized the grid. There were no formal nights. Dress code was casual during the day (most people dressed elegant casual) and no tie or jacket was required at any venue event at night. At dinner, however, many men voluntarily chose to wear jackets to dinner in the Weltmeere (MDR) and four smaller dining rooms, but not in the most casual indoor/outdoor Yacht Club (YC) eating venue. Even there no one dressed like a slob, though one of the performers fancied jeans that intentionally had more holes than cloth. Most of the passengers were polite and stuck to themselves and their friends as is the German way, (Germans are not prone to chit chat with strangers, as is common on English language lines). There were a few rude and pushy characters (the types of which I have also seen on SB and SS, though with a different style of rudeness). Passengers always arrived early or at least punctually for talks, performances and excursions, as is still typical for Germans, they take pride in punctuality which also suits my style just fine. Most seemed to be reasonably fit, some were very fit. All but 22 of the pax were from German-speaking countries. At the gathering for international pax, I learned that even some of the latter had German relatives with them, or understood and/or spoke at least some German for various reasons. The international crew members that interact with passengers officially speak both German and English, but some (officers and front line administrative personnel) speak English much better than others. The lower position Filipino and other Asian crew, which includes some housekeepers and food servers in the YC who dish out food, typically spoke English better than German, which made it easy for English pax. All official announcements, menus, and programs were available in both German and English, and there was a friendly international hostess available. BOARDING We boarded at the Pier 90 NY cruise terminal, exactly at 16:00, as is the case for all HL cruises, there is no early boarding for any pax even in higher suites. The cruise director personally greeted all new pax. We showed our boarding cards that we had received a couple weeks before departure, boarded and then a photographer offered to take our picture with the traditional welcoming large stuffed bear, Captain Knopf. We each were offered a handywipe and a glass of Duval-Leroy champagne in the reception area, plus we found a half bottle of the same waiting for us chilled in the suite. Assorted tasty boarding appetizers were available at reception. Friendly and welcoming crew checked our passports after boarding. We did not have to produce a credit card, we just paid at the end of the cruise with credit or cash. Suites were not ready for another hour due to U.S. port authority inspection delays, not HL’s fault, so we explored the ship and had tea in the 9th deck upper Belvedere lounge in the bow during that time, looking out at NYC. When we got the call to go to our suites, we found the luggage piled up nearby in the hall and dragged it in. We did not see our stewardess at all the first day, much less before the 19:00 muster on the pool deck. I later learned many crew were busy dealing with U.S. Coast Guard members who were on board checking for terrorism risks, or at least filling out paperwork indicating they were doing so. We had to wear the life jacket to and at the pool muster, which lasted 20 minutes. There was a separate English language muster offered in a different area. The Grill at the aft 9th deck YC was open when we boarded, as it typically is between 12 and 5 (both during the lunch hours of 12:30-2, and after), and the bow 9th deck Belvedere coffee and tea lounge was also open in case you needed more than boarding appetizer., A pianist played soft tunes, then and on each day 4-5, at other times he played in the reception bar area. PUBLIC AREAS — the ship is stunningly beautiful, comfortable, uncrowded, and spacious. It has the highest reported space per passenger ratio on cruise ships, and it shows. It is easy to find a lounge chair, and the cushions are comfortable. I especially liked that dozens of the chairs on the pool deck 9 and the deck above it deck 10 face out towards the ocean where you are separate from any noise at the pool and can focus on the sounds of the sea. Other loungers faced the 15-meter pool, even more are on the roof deck lounges and outside the spa on deck 5 aft. You can also sit on a series of cozy covered day beds aft on Deck 10. The pool deck has a retractable roof, (Magradome) which got closed on cold days so people could still swim and lounge and hear bands in comfort. One thing I did not like is that the ambient temperature in the indoor public areas runs at least a couple degrees higher than on other luxury lines, because Germans fear air that is as cool as Americans and Brits usually like. There is still wide-spread belief, especially amongst older Germans, science notwithstanding, that AC and breezes lead to respiratory infections. Also, the indoor part of the YC, which is air-conditioned, was constructively often only partially air-conditioned, as crew typically left the door wide open to the outdoor part of the YC during lunch and dinner, thereby diminishing the power of the indoor AC. At lunch, unless weather outside was cool and a space was available under an umbrella, I therefore avoided the YC on hot days and went to a specialty restaurant, which had full AC and still had ocean views. The GYM and SPA are well-equipped and have ocean views. There is a 6-8 person capacity Jacuzzi tub (not very hot) in the front of the spa indoors that anyone can use 12 am to 6am, it looks out at the sea, and there are several saunas at different temperatures. Beware that some Germans choose to use the spa facilities naked so you may need to 'overt your eyes' if this bothers you and you happen to be there when they are there (when I was there I was alone, in a suit, though when my friend went, also in a swimsuit, she told me she encountered both an overweight naked old lady and two naked and definitely not overweight young performers getting in and out of the spa and open showers, they all ignored each other. Two bilingual personal trainers were on board, and offered misc. free fitness sessions, plus individual training options for a fee. There was also a bilingual bicycling expert who led biking excursions at ports. The outdoor jacuzzi, on the highest lounging deck on the roof, unfortunately, though in a magnificent location in the bow, is set to 28 degrees C, so it is not really a "hot” tub per se. The pool, which you can conveniently use any time you want including evenings or the middle of the night, is pleasant and warm, and has a reserved adults only hour in the morning and afternoon, plus a dedicated kids’ time hour each half-day, other times everyone is welcome. There are instructions daily in the program that at all times "respect should be shown to all.” The mostly German pax followed the rules, but if there are kids on board, I would not recommend attempting lap swimming during the one morning and one PM hour dedicated to kids having exuberant aquatic fun. LAUNDRY: there is no self-service laundry, but laundry fees are very cheap (e.g., 1 Euro for underwear, 2 Euros for a casual T shirt) and services provided were professional and per international laundry standards. You get laundry back the day after giving it out, 50% extra charge for same-day. There is also a clothesline over the bathtub for hand laundry. I had the seamstress repair a pair of trousers, she did very good work. ANNOUNCEMENTS — these were very limited as is typical of luxury lines, only twice a day, in both English and German, and you could turn the volume off in your suite. PHOTOGRAPHY — though photographers were available on board to chronicle the journey on a DVD, and occasionally offered to take pax pictures while pax entered the theatre, on boarding with the stuffed bear, etc., they were inobtrusive. You could hire a photographer to photograph you on your journey, if you liked, e.g., on excursions, etc. FOOD AND BEVERAGES were usually, though not always, good to very good in all venues except, surprisingly, Serenissima, the small Italian restaurant, where after two visits and attempts at six dishes between us, the only dish I thought outstanding this time was the porcini mushroom soup. However, tastes may vary. There was a wide variety of food offered in the casual YC buffet for lunch and dinner, a good choice for food adventure if you do not mind the buffet style of dining and dodging people carrying plates around, usually without easy access to assistance . We could see the menus for restaurants on the TV in advance each day, so if we were not going to a specialty restaurant we could decide whether to eat at the YC or the MDR. In the YC there were many different offerings of fresh salads, daily shellfish including lobster and crab, meats with and without sauces, fish with our without sauce (the ship did a good job with various fish varieties at the YC), grill options, many cheeses, and made-to-order pasta from a list of ingredients you can select (though heavy on tomato, eggplant, and olives), plus a couple daily pasta specials were offered if you could not decide. There is also an Italian ice cream bar, you can order with or without freshly whipped cream, usually six flavors available. The MDR had a more limited daily menu, with typically one or two special daily appetizers, entrees and dessert specials, plus the base a la carte menu which included lobster, fish, beef, duck, and vegetarian dishes, with various adorning sides and preparations, about 10 international entrees to choose from total each day not counting the 4 vegetarian options that seemed to remain the same most days. The MDR is closed at lunch, but three small dining venues (the Italian Serenissima, the French Taragon, and the Asian Elements, though not the Japanese Sakura) are open at lunch without reservation, never for an extra fee, and provide easy seating and good service because they are typically uncrowded at lunch. Most people are either on the go, skipping lunch, or grabbing a bite in the YC. Wine and beverages outside the suite besides coffees (including fancy coffees), iced teas, pool punches and special alcoholic offerings (which are quite frequent) are not included in the base fare, and even water has a small fee in dining rooms ( some English veteran luxury cruisers could find this troubling, even though prices are very reasonable and no signing or paperwork is required). We had a 400 Euro beverage credit for our suite (routine) to help take care of this. There are several hundred wines from various countries to choose from, many offered by the glass, or "Karaffe" which is 250cc, so you can get exactly what you want, or explore. You do not have to present your room card to order, or sign anything, unless you want to so you can add a tip (none is required, expected, or requested) or want to keep precise track of what you ordered on paper (I tracked my account on the TV and it was consistently accurate). The suite has a fridge with complimentary beer, juices, waters and soft drinks, (but no free wine, or free spirits as we had in the PH suite ), and can be customized to accommodate your tastes. There are many cocktail options available, (the usual and specialty) and many spirit selections (including several dozen gins), plus there was a complimentary gin tasting session. There are several bars. You can often order wine by the glass portions as small as 0.1 liters on many wines to assist with experimentation. You can also bring alcohol of your choice on board if you like, no fee, no cover, or order reasonably priced ship liquors delivered to your room, e.g., I paid 25 euros for a full bottle of Baileys, (compared with Oceania, where they wanted $100 for the same sized bottle). As it took over a half hour to get the Baileys delivered to the suite by a tired-appearing waiter, who did not bring ice with it, I tended not to order any drinks to the suite. At breakfast, orange and grapefruit juices were fresh-squeezed, not frozen. Eggs benedict made to order in the MDR were very good, best of any cruise ship. You could also get American style made to order waffles, bacon, eggs, and ham, or even goose liver pate at your MDR very civilized sit-down breakfast, (this was my favorite dining time and venue), on top of the extensive buffet. Breads at breakfast were abundant, and included everything from crispy little white breads (Broetchen) to hearty pumpernickel, though genuine baguette pieces were only offered in Taragon, the French restaurant. There were multiple cheeses and cold meats to choose from (though this cruise the meats centered around cruise-durable salami and prosciutto and after the second day my favorite style “gekochter Schinken” ham had disappeared) , smoked salmon, creamed herring, liverwurst, teewurst, veggies, fresh fruits, cereals and yoghurts were all at the breakfast buffet . Unfortunately, croissants were not the real thing, and though they were buttery enough, they were not fluffy and were probably thawed from a freezer sack rather than freshly baked (they were better on SB on our spring 2017 cruise in France, and on Oceania in Alaska). The steak at a “surf and turf” meal in the MDR was perfectly prepared, with prime juicy and tender meat. The kitchen also did amazing things with salmon, it was tender and flavorful, not dried out like we repeatedly experienced on Oceania on our Alaska cruise. The salmon offering in the YC early and late in the cruise could stand up to any upscale San Francisco or New York restaurant (we had eaten at The Modern in NYC prior to the cruise, for reference). The one meal we were able to eat in the "reservations required" Japanese dinner restaurant Sakura was phenomenal, frankly the best Japanese meal I ever had (and I live in an Asian neighborhood loaded with Japanese restaurants). The duck dish in Tarragon was excellent. I tried multiple cream soups in various venues which varied daily, all were very good, and I usually had to restrain myself from crudely tipping the bowl and loudly scraping out the last bits ( or I could have just ordered another bowl). New tuna steaks were picked up in Miami and new orders of salmon, prepare in different ways in Key West. One night near Charleston on our cruise, southern fare was offered with jambalaya, fried chicken, ribs, and a roasted pig. Waffles or strudel with fruit sauce was offered at the pool 3-5PM, popular with the younger and thinner set.. Cheeses were very good, but If you order a cheese plate at room service remember to also ask for crackers or bread, as they will not come automatically with the cheese, and if you want ice with your ordered beverages, specifically ask for it, or have your stewardess set it up daily, it is not routine. Nor is it routine to have iced waters at meals unless you ask for them. Goose liver pate is available to preorder to your room for room service breakfast every day, if you like. Neither the MDR nor the French Tarragon restaurants officially offered beef tartar except on one day, but you could ask for it. I did, it was fine though not as good as last time. Veal cutlet in Tarragon at lunch was juicy, flavorful. Oysters were available every day. Desserts were luxurious and often rich, e.g., Valrhona chocolate with orange zest was luscious, and appropriately small because by the time you got that far in your meal, you were full from eating good food. Lighter fares, vegan, gluten-free and vegetarian options were available though more limited, but I would say much of the food here was not designed to help you live to 100, but rather to remember why life at any age on a luxury cruise is a celebration of good fortune and peace. Coffee was usually good (and I am fussy about it). There is a Nespresso machine in the suites with an offering of different strengths, to allow for early pre-breakfast caffeination prior to encounters with civilization. The Belvedere lounge also offers a couple dozen different loose leaf teas and a couple different strengths of coffees throughout the day (the captain’s coffee is robust and rich). Fresh fruit was brought to the suite daily and could be customized. For early risers and the restless who did not want to use their Nespresso machines, between 6 and 7AM there were Danish, juices, coffee and tea at the empty pool bar area. Unfortunately, though overall food was good, there were more misses on food items this trip than there were on my first E2 trip. I tried risotto twice, two different venues, both times it was tasteless. The pasta carbonara in Serenissima fell flat, compared with the spectacular carbonara I had on the MS Europa last year, and on the E2 the year before, which I frankly could have eaten daily. The escargots, tried twice two different ways, lacked flavor and proper decadence in the sauce, what I had on SB last spring was way better. Vegetarian options other than soups, which I greatly enjoyed on SB last spring as lighter fare, were not very interesting, a few exceptions. Tomatoes lacked flavor, as did asparagus, and too many dishes involved tomatoes or tomato based sauces in some way. Elements, the misc. Asian restaurant, had very good appetizers and soup, but our main dishes were either too hot (though marked with only 1 pepper on a scale of 0-3) or not very good. Breakfast pastries were ok for a ship, but always the same basic units. Caviar was on the menu one day in the MDR was a big blob placed on your dinner plate set next to a bit of beef tartar and spicy sausage. The waiter offered what were supposed to be white toastettes to go with it, but they were soggy, (I tried two different sets to rule out having gotten a bad batch, no luck). They had apparently absorbed moisture sitting out all day. No other accompaniments to the caviar were offered, e.g., no chopped egg, onion, blini, sour cream, special spoon, etc., as we had had our last E2 cruise. A couple mornings when coffee was poured in the MDR it was clear it had been sitting out a while and came from the bottom of a pot, so I sent it back. A red wine I liked and was fond of ordering by the Karaffe arrived one evening tasting as if it had been sitting out uncorked or unpreserved for a day or two. None of the pre-meal little “greetings from the kitchen” a la amuse-bouche at dinner this trip were memorable except a bite of quail. To be sure you secure specialty restaurant reservations for dinner, be sure and head straight to the restaurants after boarding to make your bookings, as annoyingly you cannot book them online before the cruise, and they can quickly fill up (highest level suites get priority though in theory everyone is entitled to dine at least once in each specialty restaurant at dinner). Fortunately specialty dining is unlimited at lunch, though with more limited menus, and unfortunately the wonderful Sakura is closed at lunch, so no mid-day Tempura for me. There are no extra fees for specialty dining, once you secure your reservation. I also recommend you be careful about the YC closing times — e.g., at lunch it is typically listed as open 12:30-2, but at 1:45 things start disappearing from the buffet, i.e., they start “abbauen”, and they may or may not give you warning, so you must unfortunately either watch the clock or grab what you can in advance if you start eating later in the window. I had similar experiences on SB last spring. What is nice, however, is that even though 12:30 may be the official opening time, unlike on SB and SS where the doors are locked, the doors are usually already open, so you can come early and find a nice seat before crowds come, there just won’t be any service until the official opening time. Dining hours varied a bit, but were generally: 6-7 AM pool juices, coffees, tea, and pastries; breakfast 7-9:30 or 10 in the YC and MDR (Weltmeere); and 10:30-2 late risers can get some smaller breakfast options in the Sansibar (including white sausages, quite tasty). Lunch in all venues was usually 12:30-2, the Grill at the YC was open 12-5 with fish, meat, vegetable, or sausage; afternoon tea had cakes and mini sandwiches in the Belvedere, dinner in YC was 6:30-9 and MDR 7-9:30, Sansibar offered late night snacks, and of course room service 24/7 had a limited menu of basics. So there was always a venue where you could get food other than at room service, even at odd late morning or mid-afternoon hours. SERVICE: In the beautiful and immaculate suite, service was thankfully respectful of privacy and do not disturb signs. No one charged into the room when I had the sign on, as they not uncommonly did on SB recently and on SS 2 years ago. Most days (not always, especially at the end) the room was cleaned within 2 hours of our putting out the “please clean room” sign. Our stewardess Katharina required a little guidance at first as to what we wanted, but she caught on quickly. We could tell when her assistant, Jacqueline, whom we never saw, was covering, as then things would be done oddly and required reminders. The lever to switch between bathtub and shower mode in the tub was extremely stiff when we arrived, (even with two hands I could not lift it while sitting in the tub) and it required a couple reminders to Katharina to call someone to fix it. This was followed by a debate with an Asian crew repairman who spoke poor English and even worse German and who initially tried to pass the stiffness off as “normal” to us two presumptively tech-ignorant women, to convince him it was not functioning as intended. I told him I had bathed in hundreds of bathtubs around the world during my travels and I was confident it was not working as smoothly as it should. Finally, we got it fixed ( i.e., he reluctantly replaced the unit). Room service for a couple pre-excursion breakfasts arrived close to the requested time, and was fine, though with cold but still crisp bacon once, and no salt/pepper or butter were on the tray when we had ordered an egg dish and a bread basket which was supposed to include butter. I had requested foam toppers for the beds before the cruise, and they were there. I had requested extra bath towels always be there, which required periodic reminders when a couple would disappear after cleaning back to the base of 3, or hand towels would not appear at all, but generally with persistence we got things set up as we wanted. Toilet paper was in the German style (a bit rough, but always ready). A troubling negative was that the crew appeared understaffed at the lower levels, a trend now possibly extending from SB, SS and Crystal to HL. Many (certainly not all) maids, bar personnel, and dining area workers looked tired, disinterested and overworked in the warm weather, and this was new since my last E2 cruise. In the MDR and YC , unless you came right at opening, getting drink orders or wine refills could often take longer than ideal. Once we waited 30 minutes before a friendly though busy waitress in the YC came over to take our drink order, as staff were so busy running around they did not think to look around to be able to see us trying to wave to them to order, average wait until wine got ordered and came was 15 minutes. This is one downside to the absence of all-inclusive wines, e.g., there are no waiters immediately coming up to you to offer the generic white or red of the day so you have something to sip immediately. There is no hostess to greet you when you come into the YC to help you find a seat and acknowledge you have come, which compounds the initial drink ordering difficulty (unlike on other luxury lines’ most casual venues where staff help you find a seat during crowded times). We also saw more delays in the clearing of dirty plates than previously, a minor problem to us, but some people care about this. Once a waitress spilled water she was pouring into my glass onto the tablecloth. After checking if I’d gotten wet, (no) instead of replacing the tablecloth, she took a rag and dabbed up the excess water, apparently to save time, then ran off. YC and MDR staff more frequently abruptly interrupted conversations than they did on prior cruises (when busy, just interrupting talking pax rather than waiting for an appropriate pause saves them time) and there were more “plate-snatching” or close call encounters than before, due to rushing and busy staff, though staff usually asked if we were done before removing plates. They definitely need more staff people at peak hours in the dining venues, and based on the tired faces, also in the housekeeping department. Even in the small Serenissima, at peak dinner dining time it took 25 minutes from the time I sat down until I received a sip of wine, due to wine service delays, (a separate person takes your wine order, another does your food, and sometimes others did delivery, so there was some confusion), e.g., appetizers were not uncommonly already on the table, but we still had no wine. I started having negatively conditioned Pavlovian responses to the idea of ordering wine and getting refills, more often than not an ongoing battle at the rate I initially consume my first bits of mealtime wine (my friend was a slow sipper so it did not bother her). I would have preferred if they had just left the wine bottles on the tables for self-service refills rather than make me get aggravated trying to locate the wine girl each time I wanted a refill, but staff tend to resist that idea as it is not considered luxury and makes them look bad (to whom, I am not sure, though a couple times I insisted on keeping the bottle on the table as they looked very busy and I was tired of delays). Things were a bit better the two nights we came for an early dinner, and if I were routinely an early diner and sat in the same place, problems might be less apparent. The bartenders also often looked tired, at least the few times when I came, and were very slow and casual with their mixing. They also answered phones, talked to other staff, talked to passersby pax they knew (and who perhaps tipped?) and did other things while our drink orders were pending for 15-25 minutes. After initial delivery, except in the Sansibar, they rarely came and asked if I wanted another drink. When we came into Club2 one evening during a performance and sat near the front, the two Filipino bartenders in back just ignored us the whole hour, chatting amongst themselves, and no one came around either to offer drinks toour empty table. At the end my friend, new to HL and not a demanding person, quipped to me, “For a bar, this sure is a pretty dry place.” The topper was the last day of the cruise, when at 4:15 PM my friend and I went to the reception area bar for a farewell cocktail. There were two bartenders behind the counter, and no pax. One had a bucket on the counter with dirty rags he was washing and wringing out, and the “oh no” scowl on his face when he saw us coming was indescribable. He said nothing, glaring at us while wring out a rage, and we paused a bit, but he ignored us, so we turned to the other reluctant bartender who was lining up champagne bottles. We ordered, and he brought the drink 15 minutes later. We saw him reading up on it in a book (it is one of the E2’s featured cocktails), answered phones, etc. He did not ask if we wanted refills. I would likely have spent twice as much as I did on various alcohols on this cruise in various venues if it were not such a battle to secure orders and refills. The worst two incidents of non-luxury service were in the MDR at dinner. One evening at 8:15 the greeting host waiter was overtly hostile and sarcastic and uninterested in trying to find us a suitable table when the dining room was full ( part of it was closed off, which did not help with availability). The wonderful hotel manager, Katja Klar, stepped in to easily resolve the problem, because she was customer oriented, and she did not look or act tired even if she might have been. Another evening a young German waiter (Philip) was physically literally pulling on a plate of soup he was trying to take away from me after an initial order mixup when two dishes arrived (the wrong one and the right one), and I had then said I would prefer to just eat both. He firmly insisted that I was only allowed to have one appetizer, not two, and *had to choose* (!), so that is why he tried to pull one plate away from my hand (BTW it is not correct that you are only allowed one appetizer — you can eat five or six or more, if you like). I was too tired to go complain about him, he probably came from service in a German hotel where it was his job to make sure guests did not get more than they were entitled to, and HL did not properly educate him. I did comment on the understaffing and inadequate training in my final written commentaries about the cruise. Once early in the cruise when I went for tea and asked for the tea menu, the tired-looking waitress did not see one handy to grab, so she instead just asked what general kind I wanted, apparently uninterested in going to find the menu so I could choose from the array, she just wanted to be done with it. On afternoons, there is a dead zone between 12 and 5 when you cannot book excursions, book private cars, complete photo orders, or do much of anything else related to ports because no one is on duty for those functions. Reception often doesn’t answer the phone during that time even though they are physically there 24/7 because they are busy dealing with walk-ups, and there was no reception answering machine for messages, the phone just rings and rings if no one answers. It is “off” time for crew who work on excursions booking. Restaurant booking is also shut after 2PM (bookings must be done at each restaurant separately), and unless you are in a higher suite with a butler who can take care of restaurant booking for you (like we had on our first E2 cruise), you have to resume your pursuits later even though afternoons is when you have time to conveniently do things. Reception, if you reach it, will just politely tell you you have to wait until they open 5-8 to book your excursion or a private car for a port, they will not pass on messages, i.e., they tell you to check at the Touristik center, which takes no messages either. Predictably, people then line up right at opening as they want to finish so they can get ready for dinner and the evening. Fortunately, I had pre-booked most of my excursions before the cruise, on-line, but for unclear reasons you cannot pre-book specialty restaurants or spa appointments until you are on board, perhaps to allow flexibility for higher suite pax, or to avoid having to deal with multiple cancellations. In my opinion SB did a better job by having SB Square personnel available all day, where people could go with a variety of problems and crew would be there almost all hours to deal with issues. Dining room crew and others do not typically address you by your name, as they often did on SS or SB. They also do not offer their arms to guide you to the tables. I did not care at all about this (and actually dislike arm-offering except on stormy sea days), though some used to being greeted on luxury lines may miss it if they cruise on HL. If one always went to the same area of the dining room, at the same time, staff might get to know you and recognize you, but we tended to vary our times of dining depending on the ports, and usually just cared about getting our wines, refills, and food as ordered at a table that was not at one of the uncomfortable upright seating options they have near the front of the MDR. The night before disembarkation, we had received information in the program that our suites should be vacated by 9AM, and planned accordingly. At 6:20 AM, while my friend was still sleeping, I left the suite with the Do Not Disturb sign still on to go to reception to clarify a minor error, with intent to return and then get ready for breakfast. As I left the suite with just my room key in hand, a very young Asian housekeeper I had never seen immediately approached me in the hall and said, “Can we make beds?” I said “no, we are still using the suite and are not yet ready to leave”. She persisted, “But can we make the beds now?” I replied, “No, because my friend is still *in* the bed!” She seemed very disappointed, apparently keen on changing the beds up for the next guests, but relented. When I returned at 6:30, she and other housekeepers were hovering in the hallways outside suites, some were vacuuming and chatting, and on the deck two guys were already aggressively mopping our veranda with soap and water splashed all over the place, so you could forget about a goodbye cup of coffee on your balcony prior to disembarkation. When we then went to breakfast in the MDR at 8 (the program indicated open hours of 7-9 that day), the waiter at the entryway had a look of great horror and disgust on his face as we arrived, though he quickly got a grip and then assumed a professional manner. We already had our hot dish and drink orders in mind, anticipating we would need to keep things moving on the last day, and he seemed relieved to get them over with. I noticed some favoritism towards known pax (or perhaps expensive suite pax , as with one couple I frequently saw and whose high suite status I knew) e.g., more time spent by staff talking and interacting, more details given about specials, more attentive service at dinner, etc., providing them with window seating even if they came later than us where it is supposed to be first come first serve, etc., but I have seen this on all luxury lines I have cruised with to varying degrees so it is not unique to HL. Owners suite pax can also reserve tables in the YC and daybeds at the pool, and of course pay very high suite fares. There was a raffle held on behalf of the crew at the end of the cruise, 5 Euro a ticket, the equivalent of a crew fund on other lines. Prizes were an E2 construction digit, a pocketknife, or a towel that said E2. You signed a log at reception after purchase of your tickets indicating how many you had bought. I was among the first 10 to sign on, and noticed one man had bought 300 tickets. Before me on the list, most people had bought 5 or 10, and let’s just say I bought more. The final result of the auction was 2800 Euro, so if you subtract the exuberant 300 ticket guy, it appears most people either gave nothing in extra tips (as service is officially all “included”), tiny amounts, or just tipped individual crew, unknown. In sum, overall service on the cruise was still very good, but there were not infrequent non-luxury experiences. I think they are understaffed and also have some inadequately trained personnel. INTERNET This was slow, and cost 0.19 Euro a minute, with no unlimited plan. I understand ship internet will be slow, but when it is often very slow, there should be an unlimited plan available for purchase, as SB had for $399 for the cruise, otherwise you are paying 0.19/minute for not much yield as you watch the gears grind. It did at least actually work in our suite, unlike on SB on our last cruise in the spring where it only worked at SB Square (we were in suite 625 on the Quest, Barcelona to Dover). I therefore used it very sparingly and as we were in American ports most days, I just used my unlimited cellular service in port for surfing and major downloads and uploads. HL does, however, offer tablets in the suites for basic free email functions, games, and ship info, I did not use the HL tablet. ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES There was a nicely done get-together for English speakers with champagne with refills in Sansibar and high quality appetizers including caviar on crackers. An international hostess and other staff were there to make English speaking guests feel welcome. There was a get-together of doctor passengers who met with the ship’s doctor for an hour for friendly chats and story-telling, e.g., one passenger had to be removed on the first day due to acute pancreatitis. The 24/7 doc sees 30 people/day, half of whom are crew. There is one nurse. If you want dialysis while cruising, HL will secure services of a nephrologist on board. Bridge tours were offered on two days, AM and PM sessions, They were informative, and casual (come and go as you please) with both the captain and an officer there. Of course they speak English, as do most nautical officers. There was an artist on board showing his paintings of NY, and there were sessions where you could be taught to paint, I did not go but saw it in the program. I saw space for a cooking school, but no offer for a cooking class. There is no trivia playing in any language, but the daily program suggested you try and contact reception if you were interested in finding a chess or bridge partner. There were free gin tasting sessions (though staff mixed up the date I had initially ordered, then again pushed it back, twice), and for a high fee wine tasting of CA wine was offered (I skipped that as I live surrounded by CA wineries) , and for a high fee tasting of French champagne was also available. There was a lecturer who talked in German a few times about the history of the areas we were visiting and also about excursion options. He had a few of his facts wrong, e.g., claimed U.S., Prohibition started in 1912 when it actually started in 1920, claimed the Emancipation Proclamation was written at the end of the Civil War when it was actually written earlier, claimed the Bahamians are the most educated people in the Americas including the U.S. and Canada when that is not at all the case, and even claimed that since George Washington the U.S. never had a president who was elected more than two times (I guess he forgot about FDR). I was worried that correcting a German speaker who was presented as an expert, even privately, e.g., that it would be considered rude so I said nothing, and I doubt the captivated German pax cared about these inaccuracies. There were also a couple lectures for English pax which I saw a few English speakers attended, one topic was the last election. The topic of Trump popped up not infrequently on the ship and on excursions. Once I did not hear the entire talk, just a little bit while hovering at the door, when the speaker lectured that the last presidential election was not about blacks vs. whites but he opined that what separated voters was that some people see racism as a problem, and others or both races do not (sic). Theatre entertainment consisted of "The Tap Factor” (two talented women and two men doing complex tap dancing), which was fun, but they gave only two performances. We also had "Vintage Vegas”, which consisted of an odd trio, a German-raised Pole, Italian, and Brasilian in tuxedos and shiny shoes doing energetic but, to me, exhausting Sinatra old style music, and some original songs e.g., one called "I have a hangover” but most popular covers like “All of me” and “The Lady is a Tramp” plus a few of their own, almost all in English. They did two theatre shows plus a pool party. The crowd loved them, and for what they were trying to do they did a good job, but it was not my favorite style. There were other politically oriented talks by a couple Germans, both afternoons, and in the evening as the major “entertainment” event. I attended one with my friend, the content of which sounded like articles from the NYT and Washington Post. There was also a retired news guy and author who had once lived in Greenwich village, who fancied himself an expert on American culture, and who read excerpts from his book. Even most of the excursion guides inserted the most popular and expected political commentary about current American politics during their discourses in German, perhaps they thought such comments would endear them to Europeans. One night we also had a guest talented American singer doing blues songs in the small nightclub venue Club2, wearing a flapper dresser, accompanied by the ship’s talented band. The band had a woman on drums and another with muscular arms on sax, and half were from France. Many evenings there was no separate show in the theatre, either just the welcome, goodbye, political talk about US or Germany, or nothing at all e.g., the nights after boarding when we had two nights in NY, and nothing when we had an overnighter in Miami. But there was the lobby piano player, and little bands at the pool or Sansibar. It was opportunity for crew to see the cities, so was understandable.. So all in, there were only four nights with formal music or dance shows in the theatre, two with tap and two with Vintage Vegas, neither of which used Iive orchestras, but there was always music at night available somewhere, either in the Pool Bar, Sansibar, or Club2, and both lady singers (Brigitte Guggenbichler in particular) in the bands were talented and expressive as they sang English language popular songs to tiny audiences. There are in-suite movies on TV, both German and English, but no BBC, CNN or any English language TV news, you just get the ship USA Times delivered for news, or connect to the Internet. A limited selection of music was available (not much classical, surprisingly) to pipe in. The TV remote broke once, but the handy Katharina reset it, we had service most of the trip. SMOKING I do not recommend this ship for people who are extremely smoke sensitive. Though smoking is restricted to certain venues, some smoke periodically leaks out so you will likely experience some smoke here and there at some time on the cruise. Smoke from the Collins indoor smoking lounge often drifted out to the area near the theatre, as people often left the door open to the hall, and on the Vintage Las Vegas night it drifted into the theatre, which also had the door open (it crossed my mind it may have been deliberate, to create an old Vegas aura, but it was not). Smoke from the pool bar smoking area also wafts into non-smoking areas near the pool especially when the Magrodome is closed, and some drifts from outside smoking tables in the outdoor YC smoking area to non-smoking areas even though it is outside, especially if the ship is stationary. Our suite neighbors were smokers, as I learned when I briefly smelled their veranda smoke, three times the whole trip, and care more about their loud voices than their smoke. The only time smoke bothered me was when it came into the stuffy theatre one night, but I know others are more sensitive. Most of the time smoke was not apparent as the ship is mostly non-smoking. PORTS AND EXCURSIONS Some were offered in German only, one in English in each port, some were offered in both languages. It may be best for English-speakers to book an "only English" tour, or on your own if a tour is dubbed bilingual, to avoid hearing everything in two languages. Another consideration is that the Germans fear they will get sick if the AC on buses is running the way Americans expect AC to run, so they are prone to indignantly getting out of their seats to go tell the tour guide to demand the driver turn off the AC or at least turn it way, way down. My friend and I were the only ones who declared we liked it just as it was, cool, when the guide asked if we were comfortable, but no one else agreed, so we were overridden and resigned to sweat a bit on what were fortunately short drives. Two days later we heard one of the most indignant anti-AC Germans from the bus (one of several who liked to wear stylish brightly colored red or orange trousers during the day) still complaining at dinner to a dining companion about the time of the bus ride with the AC that was so cold, declaring “for heaven’s sake, people could have gotten sick!” , so it must have been very traumatic for him. Most Germans also fear breezes, even if they are warm breezes, e.g. “es zieht” (it is drafty) is a common complaint. We did excursions in Baltimore (to Mt. Vernon and DC, though I had been there before it was interesting seeing more from a new tourist perspective), Port Canaveral (Kennedy Space Center, an amazing place, highly recommended), and two in Miami (city tour plus a wild speedboat ride, great fun — there really was a huge breeze when the boat driver opened it up, so perhaps these were special Germans who never say “es zieht”) . We also toured the fantastic Villa Vizcaya (which has AC)). The excursions ran smoothly, and were well-organized by the E2 staff, though most of the port-based guides could not resist inserting political or other commentary which was either factually incorrect or inappropriate for a tour guide. However, what the guides say is not HL’s fault, e.g., they cannot help it if a Hungarian born guide complained to pax about how awful life has been for him in the U.S. since he immigrated there in 1991, or if a German-born guide in Miami who lived in the U.S. conveyed misinformation that in Florida up through the 1990’s state government still officially sponsored and sanctioned Jim Crow style school apartheid DISEMBARKATION Flawlessy organized and easy, no problems whatsoever. SUMMARY I enjoyed the cruise, and would sail with the E2 again on the right itinerary if I can get a reservation. Given my preference for cooler public areas than Germans like, I will definitely avoid the E2 in hot parts of the world. New cruisers to HL, if they can afford it, might prefer to book a higher level suite, e.g., PH, to have the butler available to help with table booking and deal with other bumps on the cruising road. I rated the cruise 4/5 instead of 5/5 as before because I am a little concerned about the service and food differences between this cruise and the holiday cruise 2015-2016 where there was nothing significant to complain about, specifics noted above. I provided relevant feedback in my cruise commentary at the end of the cruise (no mid-cruise questionairre was offered) and though I did speak up as appropriate as incidents came up, staff are very busy and the cruise was short. I did not want to spend what little free time I had setting up official complaint appointments like I did on SB last spring after an egregious incident. I hope the service changes I noted are not a sign of an ongoing downward trend. I also hope the MS Europa sister ship, which I am scheduled to sail on for my next cruise and which was absolutely wonderful September 2016, has not had similar declines in service quality. Ultimately one has to compare with what other luxury lines offer in the modern era, e.g., SB, SS, Crystal, Le Ponant, and soon also Scenic. Also, given the limited number of English country pax on this “international” ship and HL’s ability to fill their ships in advance with mostly Germans, (who per my friend and my experience tend not to be as discerning about what real luxury is supposed to be and are more willing to take things as they come — other than when it comes to AC), things may not change for the better until HL crew become unwilling to continue working as hard as they do for the wages they currently get. Other than the possible explanation that service is indeed on a slightly downward trend at HL, other variables that might explain the difference between now and before are: 1. On my first E2 cruise I was in a higher level suite, a PH suite with my husband. So overall, as the staff know your suite number as soon as you order drinks if they do not already remember you, low suite status may have created some negative bias when things were busy. Also, the butler can relieve you from having to deal with working to properly secure and time excursion, dining room, and spa reservations, and is more available for dealing with service issues. 2. my first cruise was a holiday cruise, so maybe the crew were on their best behavior as a result, plus extra money was spent per diem on food and entertainment then 3. I was cruising with my husband on my first E2 cruise, rather than a female friend, and in my experience traveling it never hurts as far as getting better service goes for a woman to have a man with her, especially when there are complaints. The E2 provides an alternative small ship luxury experience, with beautiful facilities, usually excellent food, interesting itineraries including overnights, and tremendous amounts of space per passenger. I hope she maintains her standards, and improves in the areas noted. Read Less
20 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2016
This was my first cruise with Hapag-Lloyd’s “most beautiful yacht in the world,” the MS Europa, 13 nights, Lisbon to Nice. I had previously cruised with my husband on the more modern, and advertised as bilingual, HL Europa 2 on a ... Read More
This was my first cruise with Hapag-Lloyd’s “most beautiful yacht in the world,” the MS Europa, 13 nights, Lisbon to Nice. I had previously cruised with my husband on the more modern, and advertised as bilingual, HL Europa 2 on a Christmas/New Years cruise December 2015 (see my CC review, Cape Town to Cape Town) and had greatly enjoyed that, which led to my interest in the Europa. I am comparing this cruise with the dozen or so other mostly luxury cruises I have been on, including with Silversea, Regent, Seabourn, and (briefly) Crystal. I did this cruise solo. I also wrote a detailed “live" thread about this cruise on CC, with pictures of accommodations and ports and commentary. Below is the link to it, though if it does not work as a link, you can just cut and paste it into google. You can also find the review on CC under the “special interest cruising” forum, subforum “luxury cruising”, “Hapag Lloyd MS Europa”, then go to where the thread is called “Live from the MS Europa Lisbon to Nice September 2016” http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2399633 CLASSICAL MUSIC: This was a special classical music cruise, the annual Ocean Sun Festival, with renowned classical musicians on board, which is why I picked it. However, my understanding from staff on-board is that classical music is also offered on almost every MS Europa cruise, though not generally as part of a festival. There was a one-hour long classical music performance almost every day (different artists at varying times, opera voices, piano, cello, string quartet). It was an exceptional pleasure to be able to hear these outstanding musicians in such a small venue, up close and personal, with very good acoustics in the Europa Lounge, the main entertainment venue, and just hearing them in such an intimate venue was worth the price of the cruise to me. The excellent Spanish ballet flamenco dancers, Istacion, also performed. For those not classically inclined, “Mr. Rod”, a Rod Stewart tribute singer, also did two shows (not my thing so I will not comment). GERMAN: NOTE THIS IS A GERMAN LANGUAGE SMALL LUXURY SHIP, but with appropriate expectations, pax can comfortably get by if they speak no German other than “ja,” “nein” , “danke”, and “bier”. The ship holds 400 passengers, and we were about 80% full, 44 solos. The solos were overwhelmingly women, and like the rest of the pax, were mostly over 70, and spoke either no or very limited English. Pax demographics were overwhelmingly people from German-speaking countries, with varying apparent educational backgrounds, with only a handful of children, who mostly belonged to on-board performers. Staff informed me there may be more children during summer and holidays but the sister ship, Europa 2, tends to target families and on average younger people more than the Europa . German was the only official language on board, but key information is also available in English. Only very important safety and “must know now” information was announced on the overhead in both German and English. Muster was offered in both German and English, (held separately). All ship organized shore excursions were only in German, though always accompanied by a crew member from the tourist office who could if needed, translate into English key information (like where and when to meet back at the bus, if all you wanted to do is use the ship’s excursion bus to get to and from a venue with guaranteed return time and then explore on your own). I would probably not recommend that non-German speakers who are not at least partial German understanders go on the excursions that involve guided walking tours or tours that involve a lot of standing around listening to the local guide say things in German if you want to get the full benefit of the excursion. The commentary, sometimes long, prior to the playing of the musical numbers and other organized ship events was also only in German, but of course music can speak for itself. Menus are translated into English by the international hostess if she knows English-speakers are on board, and customized help is available for excursion planning from the English-speaking international hostess or from the tourist/excursion personnel. Note that sometimes the menus may be awkwardly translated (e.g., "rabbit meatball" written in German got translated into “balls of rabbits” which conjures up some odd images) but generally looked fine. There was also one more serious glitch I heard about from the 3 Brits on board, who did not timely get disembarkation information and their color-coded luggage tags, (though they still safely got off on time with their luggage, no near-miss) so if you book this ship, you should be proactive and periodically check in with the international hostess or other staff to always make sure you have what you need. Pre-boarding ABC’s of the ship and travel documents are mailed out in English and your travel agent can work with Hapag Lloyd to assure smooth sailing and communication. The front-line staff including waiters also spoke English, as did the ship’s doctor, though to varying degrees, but frankly better than many of the staff I encountered on Silversea in the dining rooms and suites. If you book, you can also ask in advance to be seated where the assigned waiter is particularly proficient in dining room English (there is one named David who is outstanding), and you can also ask for a table for just you and your English-speaking party. 2 Brits were initially misasigned a table for 6, which meant they would almost certainly be sitting with other Germans, but when they complained the first day, it was immediately changed to a two-top. My trip documents, information about the ship, information in my suite when I embarked, and the TV station in the suite were also in English or set to English language information, (though when I toggled back and forth between the German and English TV menus to anticipate what I would eat that night, I noticed the English menus were often out of date, though never in the dining room at dinner — the Brits told me they never looked at the TV menus so had not noticed). The current entertainment host Randall Cooper is an American ex-pat for 30 years, a native of San Francisco , though I am not sure how long his commitment is to that position. The many Filipino basic staff on board for the most part not surprisingly seemed to speak better English than German, and the officers and upper level staff also speak very good English. My stewardesses were from Ukraine and Philippines and spoke better English than German. However, despite the ease of English communication with staff and the fact that as noted one can more than get by as an English-speaker, there were only 4 people on board registered from English-speaking countries, so if you think you will need a lot of English-speaking company besides whoever you will be traveling with to be happy while cruising, you might get lonely on this ship. On the Europa 2, held out as an international bilingual ship, there were only 12 guests from non-German countries, out of 516 pax. One issue that could be important to English-speaking pax is the fact that the general nature of most Germans (which they themselves openly acknowledge, even in a HL promo-film about the Europa 2) is to be relatively reserved with strangers, even among other Germans, and mind their own business. It generally takes more than the duration of a cruise to get familiar without being rude. Though some may be curious about strangers (especially foreigners) most simply do not show curiosity, and thus will not pry into questions about who you are, or your life, and you should not pry too much into questions about theirs, especially not straight off. There is of course a spectrum of behavior. Roughly generalizing, but confirmed by my native German friends when I ran my theories by them, is that friendliness with strangers depends to some degree on age (less so with older people), region of origin in Germany (more friendly if from the southern areas) and alcohol intake, but the mean of behavior clearly gravitates more to a stick-to-yourself style, especially with only casual contact such as occurs on cruises. Both here and even on the Europa 2, the pax generally did not search out others to talk to, or even expect to introduce themselves at venues. For example, at the get-together for solos I went to where roughly 20 people showed up (already a pre-selected more social group), though all sat in a circle of sorts drinking free champagne and eating caviar snacks, the moderator did not ask people to introduce themselves, much less where they were from. It was just suggested that the purpose of the get-together was that if you see someone in the hall later in the cruise whom you met that day, you would know it is a fellow solo when you say hello, and then after that and more champagne a few people did indeed talk amongst themselves a little about themselves. If you do try to socialize with them, e.g., if you know some German or are trying to find out if they speak any English, I would suggest you not try and go first-name straight off, i.e., do not introduce yourself with your first name only, which would imply you want to know their first name and that could be perceived as rude. On the cruises at the tables both crew and most pax addressed each other as “Herr ___ “ and “Frau __” or “Frau Doctor ___” or “Herr Professor ____” etc. and used the third person formal “Sie” instead of the familiar “Du” even after two weeks (you need permission to use “Du” so be careful), At my wetlands and paella-eating excursion I got seated with 5 Germans who at first asked nothing about each other, much less about me though I stuck out in several ways, and only vaguely talked about the nice surroundings and the food, and it was not until after about 45 minutes of sangria-drinking that we found out one couple was from Bavaria, but not much else. Then at the 1.25 hour mark during dessert and the third pitcher someone asked me where I had come from (probably because it was clear I was not from anywhere near Bavaria), and I told them. This led the Bavarians to describe how they had done a Holland America cruise a few years ago out of Los Angeles as the only Germans on board and they were appalled at how American cruiser women they saw wore so many shiny rings (I guiltily glanced at my ruby-based wedding ring), were always curious asking where people were from (I was happy I had not been the first to ask), smiled all the time (this was perceived as bad and fake) were too familiar by using first names (I knew better than to say my first name, or any name), and how awful it was that within less than 30 minutes of conversation they heard about the Americans’ jobs, diseases, etc. In short, I would say to be safe, if you are going to try and socialize with other pax, especially the older ones (which is most on this ship) go slow, give the alcohol time to get absorbed, and ask permission to ask something before you ask. In addition, there were a few (definitely not most) pax who were more than reserved but actually rude, e.g., one pushed himself ahead of me at the reception desk, another snatched away the cheese plate at an excursion sit-down that had been set in front of me by waiters because I was sitting at the end to then pass around, before I had a chance to take my piece, and did the same thing when the sausage plate came, when the wine came, etc. But of course we have also seen rude pax on other luxury lines (see e.g., my SB Norway cruise review from July regarding some of the pax with intrusive selfie sticks, price arguers, etc). The overall personality difference with Americans, Brits, and Aussies, at least of older Germans, not just the language, is likely a factor in deterring some English pax, but if you are fine with sticking to yourselves anyway even on an English language ship, or dislike excessive cruise ship intra-pax familiarity, or bounce back quickly from minor insults, there would be no problem. When English-speaking pax went ashore, they either explored the towns on their own, or booked private tours. I should add, however, that with one exception all the crew were very pleasant with the Brits and me, more so than on Europa 2, though this cruise was not 100% booked so they likely had more time. LUXURY, SPACIOUS FACILITIES AND EXCELLENT SERVICE. Service, in suites and in dining venues, was, in short, next to flawless. Reception desk, tourist desk, captain and his staff, the doctor, all key staff were, with one exception, outgoing people. Even the one exception was not surly, just vaguely disinterested. My suite (a Veranda 4 on deck 5) was spacious and comfortable with a soft bed, comfortable couch and muted beige themed decor, walk-in closet, comparable in size to current base suites on the Seabourn Odyssey or Silver Spirit. However, the beds are in the German style, which is 2 separate, close together individual single mattresses with separate bedding, they are not fused in the middle, this of course has pros and cons. The spacious balcony had one adjustable lounger, a table, and two upright chairs, all with cushions, and a glass barrier. The mini-bar had free soft drinks, juices and beer which were replenished to your specifications daily. No free wine, no free hard liquor, no coffee machine like the Europa 2 had (I ordered coffee room service, which arrived within 15 minutes of calling on all but one day, or at a set time I ordered the night before). All wine and hard liquor and cocktails, and even bottled water in the dining rooms at lunch and dinner, except on special event days, is charged for extra, but with only modest mark-ups. There are literally several hundred bottles of quality international wines on board, a few dozen available in 0.1 liter and 0.25 liter portions, for sampling or lighter drinkers. I prefer this to the somewhat disingenuous “all-inclusive” approach of SS and SB and Regent, where of course none of these things are really free and you land up paying up front and then have battles over whether the included wines are good enough. I had fun exploring many new and wonderful wines. Staff will save leftover wine for you for the next day (I found this less and less likely to happen as the cruise went on), with proper recorking procedures, if you want, or reliably deliver leftovers to your suite ( as opposed to having it disappear, as happened to me on SS a few times). You do not have to sign for anything or show a card when you order drinks. You just verbally tell the barman what you want, give your suite number, and the barman or waiter takes care of the rest, simple honor system (they know who you are). If you want a receipt then and there, or want to add a tip (not required but not rejected either and absolutely not solicited), you can ask for a written bill. Otherwise your verbal orders will just appear on your on-TV account (set it to the English station), very simple, and I found only one error on my composite overall on-board account during my cruise which was immediately and courteously fixed. Boarding was flawless, but precisely at 4, with welcoming champagne and snacks, and we sailed at 6, so there was no lunch option on the somewhat hectic embarkation day. HL provides pre-cruise and post-cruise holding areas at a hotel. There was more than ample space for pax in all venues, the main and Lido dining rooms, pool area even on hot days, lounge chairs, and entertainment venues. Most bars were sparsely populated most of the day, including the new, non-smoking beautiful Gatsby’s bar and lounge. Bartenders are friendly and competent in two (or more) languages. Late at night, even though the lounge pianist and the on-board lounge band with skilled musicians (including a terrific saxophonist) played, the bars were mostly deserted as people went to bed early, except for way on top of the ship some people hung out in the small Sansibar and seemed to debate politics a lot, I preferred Gatsby. But if you wanted to dance, the floors were yours, as most just did not dance, some like me with musculoskeletal problems were happy to just be able to stroll around, and others were in wheelchairs (the ship BTW is very disability friendly, I saw great attention given to the pax in wheelchairs or using crutches, including help at tea-time to get cakes from the wonderful pastry display. And if you need dialysis, even that can be arranged, they bring in a nephrologist, for a fee of course). Also, very important to me, the “do not disturb” sign was invariably honored and the phone at reception was answered in less than a minute if not at once. SMOKING: There is a separate dedicated smoking lounge, the Havana bar, and there are limited designated smoking areas, but note it is also allowed on outside balconies and a section of the atrium bar, so if you are super sensitive about smoke anywhere at any time, this ship is not for you. Not many people smoked, but I did catch a whiff of smoke here and there when I passed if the door to Havana was left open (not sure why it was), which did not bother me as it was minimal and transient, I am not presently asthmatic, and based on my ongoing review of the literature relating to second-hand smoke and other information, I am quite confident I am going to die of illnesses unrelated to minuscule exposures to second-hand smoke. I encountered more smoke from people in the ports than on the ship, e.g., France bothered even me a bit at some of the cafes. But if you are afraid of, or intolerant of, even small amounts of smoke exposure on board, I would not recommend this ship. FITNESS AND OTHER ACTIVITIES There is a beautiful exercise and gym room overlooking the sea, plus there are exercise classes and a custom trainer who can speak English. There is no “trivia” playing in any language. Of course there is a boutique and the personnel in there were actually helpful sales persons, I even bought something which I rarely do. The Ocean Spa is nice, as are the people working there, I had an interesting and frank conversation with a lively Russian-born childhood immigrant to Germany who (after the initial caution and topic permission-seeking) expressed concern about how the immigrant problem has changed her beloved northern German town. The pool is heated, but not used much despite great weather, not crowded, had a few lap swimmers off and on. The hot tub next to it is unfortunately below body temperature, not ideal for American tastes (DH likes it hot). FOOD: A very strong point! Best food overall I’ve had on any cruise ship including the Europa 2 (by a hair). There are four dining venues not counting room service: the MDR (open breakfast, lunch and dinner, very pleasant, calm atmosphere, terrific waiters and food presentation style, international cuisine with occasional German flares); the Lido (indoor/outdoor casual extensive buffet dining and grill to order); Venetia, a small Italian venue (fantastic food and service with Italian waiters, I went for a lovely open-seating lunch); and the Dieter Mueller dining room (Michelin-rated chef) where small-plates series are served with pairing options (this was my least favorite of the venues, though good, but I only ate there once on an Asian evening, the menu did not change after that). MDR always had vegetarian options (I tried some for lighter dining, quite creative) and meats or fishes as entrees, creative appetizers, cream or clear soups (clear soups are only B+ to me), many fresh salad options too, daily fruit in the suite (I could not keep up). Lido had a big salad bar, fish and meat grill offerings with sides, and some theme evenings with regional, e.g., Portugese food, Spanish food, American (with American steaks and burgers), Mediterranean, seafood and shellfish, and the terrific Bavarian food luncheon not to miss with fun traditional German music and costumes (the same waiter wearing a tuxedo in the Dieter Mueller venue just a night or two before was then in Lederhosen, beer and Schnapps were free and refilled more than I needed). It took a week before I ordered something I did not like and did not try to finish (lamb ragout, was too spicy, probably more my problem than the food’s) and I only had two other taste misses (a beet terrine appetizer was uninspired, and one vegetarian fancy salad I got fell flat). Mostly I cleaned my plate and then some on this cruise (unfortunately gained 5 lb in 13 days). Reservations are only required in the two little restaurants, Venetia and Dieter Mueller, or Lido for dinner, were not hard to get, ask when you get on board. In MDR you have your assigned table with others unless you need a two-top because of English, but any of you at a table can show up between 7 and 9:30 and start your dinner, you do not all have to start, or leave, or dine, together. If you dislike your tablemate you can ask to be rerouted. I had initially requested a table for myself but landed at a table with 3 Germans which turned out fine so I practiced my German, they were 2 old ladies traveling together and a solo older gent, they were all very nice. No lunch venue requires reservations, I favored the calm MDR at lunch. My waiter at dinner also knew I like to have a back pillow, so he always had it ready for me. On most cruises I am keen to dine in port, for variety, but on this cruise, I preferred exploring the foods on board with the fine service, instead of dining in ports even when there was time to do so, I looked forward to getting on board for lunch. Usually in land luxury hotel restaurants I have had better service than on ships at dinner, but for comparison at the Four Seasons in Lisbon at 2 of 3 dinners I was ignored for almost an hour after the entree was brought, as they were understaffed, whereas on this ship there almost always seemed to be “hoverers”, wait staff looking around to make sure you had everything you wanted as you wanted it. Poor service can kill appetites for even the best foods, and that did not happen here. ITINERARY: HL likes to mix up its annual itineraries, instead of doing mostly the same thing back and forth each year like some lines do. The itinerary was very good, Lisbon, Portimaio, Sevilla (2 nights docked right in town), Almeira, Cartagena, Valencia, Barcelona, Marseilles, Calvi, St. Tropez, Nice. Excursions were well-organized, and used luxury buses with AC, but, as noted, were only in German. Some of the walking excursions which were rated as “moderate” in exertion level had too many people for my taste (16-24), and the guides twice walked too fast for me and a man with a cane, though the guide politely waited for us to catch up. If you come as someone who speaks only English and wants to do port excursions, for the best experience, unless you are with someone at least semi-competent in understanding key German, I recommend you either book your own in English in advance, or through the tourist office (they will help you, in English). Although you can get by on the excursions, you may not get the full benefit of the excursion if you really care about what the guides are saying as opposed to just about being guided through town so as not to get lost. IN SUM, although the MS Europa caters primarily to Germans, select English-speaking passengers, with appropriate expectations, can be comfortable on this luxury ship. It provides a refreshing alternative opportunity for English-speaking pax who may be dissatisfied with other small ship luxury lines and who are interested in excellent service, fine dining with formal options, and classical music in an uncrowded and relaxing atmosphere. It is, per diem, a bit more expensive than the other luxury lines, when you factor in all the costs, but worth every penny, and I have therefore booked another cruise, the next one will be with DH (Australia). We plan to get either a table for two or a table with other English-speakers, and to book mostly private shore excursions in English through our TA. Read Less
31 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2016
The cruise commenced in Kiel, and, given the absence of direct flights from London, I decided to spend two days in Hamburg prior to embarkation. Arrangements for Hotel accommodation, and all transfers, were made through Hapag-Lloyd. ... Read More
The cruise commenced in Kiel, and, given the absence of direct flights from London, I decided to spend two days in Hamburg prior to embarkation. Arrangements for Hotel accommodation, and all transfers, were made through Hapag-Lloyd. Two days before I was due to fly to Hamburg, the Four Seasons Hotel notified Hapag-Lloyd that it was overbooked. The latter's response was to book me into the Atlantic Kempinski Hotel, refund me the cost of the Four Seasons, and pay for the Atlantic Kempinski. Excellent customer service! All transfers were via Blacklane Limousines, and were excellent. For the past three years the Europa 2 has been my cruise ship of choice, and many of the things that have made it so remain unchanged and excellent. However, during the back to back cruises this year, there were noticeable signs of a shortfall in Europa 2's usual high standards which were mainly evident in the Weltmeere main restaurant. There was insufficient wait staff even to service a markedly less than full restaurant. The Maitre d', the assistant Maitre d', and on one evening even the Sommelier were delivering and/or serving food. The cumulative effect on the wait staff over the course of the cruises was that they looked absolutely exhausted but still managed to provide excellent and cheerful service. One hopes that Hapag-Lloyd will take steps to rectify the situation, thus ensuring that there is not a rapid loss of competent, hard working, and cheerful staff. Added to the staffing situation in the Weltmeere there were intermittent problems in the Kitchen which resulted in items being served undercooked, or barely warm. However, overall, the quality, and variety of the food in the Weltmeere was excellent. On one evening I enquired if they had any Norwegian cheeses, and in due course I was served with a plate containing a beautifully presented selection of five different cheeses. I dined twice in both the Tarragon, and Serenissima restaurants, and the food, and service, in each was first class. For July, the weather during this cruise was disappointing, being generally overcast with temperatures ranging between 12 degrees C- 18 degrees C. Despite this, the scenery was magnificent, and on more than one occasion we were the only ship in port--- even in Flam, which on my previous visits has resembled a gigantic rugby scrum. The ship being too large to enter the Troll Fjord, zodiacs were used to enter the fjord where one was met by further zodiacs containing staff serving champagne. All in all, my cruise on the Europa 2 was very enjoyable, and despite the noted shortcomings, it still remains my cruise ship of choice. Read Less
12 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2015
Other reviews on the Europa 2 provide a detailed description of the ship's amenities. My previous cruise on the Europa 2 was in July 2014, with embarkation in Southampton, and cruising through Portugal, and Spain. This year I had ... Read More
Other reviews on the Europa 2 provide a detailed description of the ship's amenities. My previous cruise on the Europa 2 was in July 2014, with embarkation in Southampton, and cruising through Portugal, and Spain. This year I had combined a 7 day cruise from Athens to Istanbul, with a 12 day cruise from Istanbul to Athens which called at Turkish Ports, and different Greek Islands. Prior to embarkation, I had elected to stay 2 nights in Athens at a hotel, Hotel Herodion, recommended by my Cruise Agent, but with reservation, and all transfers, which were as smooth as silk, arranged by Hapag-Lloyd. CRUISE 14-21 SEPTEMBER 2015: Embarkation: Embarkation is not permitted before 16.00. It is a very civilised affair. The combination boarding/key card is provided prior to departure. Check-In is arranged by Deck Number, one's photograph is taken, one is offered champagne, and then one is then at liberty to chat with fellow guests, or be escorted to one's suite. Safety Drill: English speaking guests are provided with the mandatory Safety Drill separated from the bulk of the German speaking passengers. On this cruise, about 12 guests were led to the Cinema for a briefing. Reservations for Speciality Restaurants: Reservations are permitted during the normal opening hours of the 4 Speciality Restaurants. They can accommodate 210 guests, and on this cruise,with the total number of guests amounting to 412, there was no rush, having embarked, to make a reservation. Entertainment: The poor quality, and variety, of the Theatre Shows on this seven day cruise was my major source of complaint, a situation highlighted by the complete turnaround on the following 12 day cruise. Hapag-Lloyd do need to consistency from one cruise to another. Excursions: Unfortunately, my ability to participate in all of my booked ship's excursions was severely restricted by recurring bouts of ill health, but of those I was able to undertake they were up to Hapag-Lloyd's usual high standards. II must register a word of praise for all the staff in the Shore Excursions Office for their exemplary service, and kindness, in dealing with my short notice cancellations of booked excursions. CRUISE 21 SEPTEMBER-3 OCTOBER: This cruise was fully booked with the full complement of 500 guests being on board. Of the Speciality Restaurants, the 'Tarragon' French Restaurant having been recently voted the best at sea resulted in there being a 'wait list' of 50 suites for an evening reservation. Apart from the 'Sakura' Sushi Restaurant, the Speciality Restaurants are open for lunch without the need for a reservation, so anyone faced with difficulty in obtaining an evening reservation should consider opting for lunch. Entertainment: Compared to my first cruise, the Theatre Entertainment was in a completely different league in terms of quality, and variety, being comprised of a classical sextet, an old style variety show comprised of several acts, an amazing magician, a South American singer with her accompanying musicians, and an American singer, living in Germany, whose rendition of songs from Hollywood Musicals, and The Great American Song Book was stunning. Disembarkation: Having Hapag-Lloyd make my transfer arrangements resulted in a disembarkation that was totally stress free. I entered the Terminal to find my luggage had been retrieved, placed on a trolley ,with both a porter, and the driver standing by. SUMMING UP: The title of this review has been chosen to reflect the friendly, and relaxed , atmosphere on the Europa 2. This was particularly evident during the second cruise when I was the only English speaking guest on board. All the services normally provided to English speaking guests were made available, even down to the Captain's announcement in English from the Bridge. Two officers invited me to dinner. The Shore Excursion Office offered to provide me with someone to translate a German guided Excursion. Both staff, and German/Swiss guests made great efforts to make my cruise so enjoyable. Little wonder that Hapag-Lloyd's Europa 2 is my favourite ship. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
What a beautiful ship that is! Due to the fact that it is new the outside of the 225 metres ship is off course top notch - once entered things are even more impressive. The Lobby is comparable with a Dubai 5 Star Suite Hotel and the ... Read More
What a beautiful ship that is! Due to the fact that it is new the outside of the 225 metres ship is off course top notch - once entered things are even more impressive. The Lobby is comparable with a Dubai 5 Star Suite Hotel and the glas-elevators going from deck 4 to 10 are stunning. You are actually not really feeling like you are on a ship at all the first minutes. They do have a max of 500 guests - with the tour now there were about 470 = more or less fully booked but on a ship of that size you could carry twice more and that advantage of just beeing with 470 you can feel every minute onboard - it never feels loaded and crowded there. 7 restaurants are onboard - i am totally surprised about the level of quality they can serve on that stunning ship - its almost like you would eat in a 1 star Michelin Restaurant. All restaurants are a la carte except the Yachtclub (Buffet) and the Sansibar (Bar with Snacks). Have eaten Italian, French and also in the Asian Restaurant as well as in the Sushi place where food is just awesome. Portions are a bit smaller but very fine made with just really good ingredients (where do they get that that fresh?) - the wine and champagne lists are complete and top wines they serve by glass as well. The prices are astonishing low, for a bottle of "normal" champagne 40 Euros, Dom Perignon or Roederer Cristal for a 160 Euros a bottle - you wont find that elsewhere. Longdrinks and other cocktails for about 5/6 Euros - glasses of wine and softdrinks about 3 Euros etc = that has been a nice surprise. Acutally you can eat fine dinners which are all inclusive (even a la carte restaurants) and drink the choice of your favourite drink for almost no fee. The Spa and the Fitness Center are situated on deck 5 - with a full 200 squaremetres balcony for the spa and large windows for the Fitness - equippment is top notch as well as the service - quite rooms with marble warmed beds, large hottub etc etc and different saunas - again i was surprised what they are able to offer - never thought a ship could do that + it stays exclusive and you never have to search for machine to use in the Fitness area since they have plenty. Spinning room is availbale as well with about 15 bikes. The Service is then off course fine as well since 370 crew members are serving 400/500 guests - you always find someone to serve whatever your needs are - i noiced in the Sansibar restaurant that a kid asked for mashed potatos which was not on the card but after checking they made it fresh for this boy - this kind of service i just can imagine must be difficult on larger ships... also the waffle service at the pool with fresh fruit is "hit" for the travellers and surely for the kids onboard - they do have btw a 10 percent max kid policy which makes it not too loud ;-) I did not really use the tours offered - just the tender service every 20 minutes for each port, just programs like champagne and gin tastings which were offered on the ship i attended and were fully happy with that... i think they do have 37 gins onboard ;-) so you can try some of them... During the day when many are visiting places and attending tours the staff is cleaning the ship from A to Z - they do have one employee just cleaning the wooden railing all year long ! never thought about that a ship needs that much of attention. Anyway - will go there again and made actually the next booking - since the waters from Barcelona to Rome were that calm and the temperatures that high this summer i took the Northern Europe Tour for next year - sure i will enjoy it ! Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2015
Best ship ever! Stunning, amazing, there are no words to describe the infrastructure. It is clear that it concerns a German cruise line, but that is also the Unique selling point of this product. Food, service, ports, it was all ... Read More
Best ship ever! Stunning, amazing, there are no words to describe the infrastructure. It is clear that it concerns a German cruise line, but that is also the Unique selling point of this product. Food, service, ports, it was all just perfect. The WOW-effect is in all the details. Kids for free, welcome packages for the kids. For the baby we just ordered in advance all pampers, milk solutions, drinks, food, ... and it stood all prepared with toys in the suite. The cruise line also has 2 expedition vessels, that experience they also use on tis luxury vessel. They have scientists on board giving lections, but they also have zodiacs. When we were in Corsica the captain gave order to put the zodiacs in the water. We were able to do a very surprising trips through the hidden bays of Calvi. 7 restaurants, 6 bars, biggest gin collection on board of a ship, highest ratio passenger/staff that exist, biggest basix cabins (suites) that exist. And this ship is more like a boutique hotel, it can not be compared with any other vessel so far. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2010
Background Hapag-Lloyd is not a generally well known cruise line for British passengers. It has only 4 ships ranging from small expedition ships (such as the Hanseatic) to its flagship MS Europa which, shortly before our departure, ... Read More
Background Hapag-Lloyd is not a generally well known cruise line for British passengers. It has only 4 ships ranging from small expedition ships (such as the Hanseatic) to its flagship MS Europa which, shortly before our departure, was awarded for the 11th time the accolade of "Best Cruise Ship in the World" by the Berlitz Cruising Guide (by a comfortable margin). The company caters mainly for the German market but we had previously cruised with Europa on an "international" cruise in 2009 (see my previous review) and had no hesitation in returning. How would our second cruise compare? Read on to find out. The ship Sadly the ship (built in 1999) seems to be slightly the worse for wear and showing its age! Prior to leaving I had been told by our cruise agency that the ship was in dry dock to have an "engine replaced". On an informative tour of the engine room the chief engineer explained that this was unusual. Apparently ships' engines usually last the life of the ship. In addition, the Captain explained that one of the two Azipods was malfunctioning and as a result our speed would have to be reduced. This meant that in several ports we had to leave earlier than the published times in order to reach the next port. This was a pity as more time ashore would have been handy. Nonetheless we visited all of the many ports on the itinerary and that despite (at times) far from perfect weather. Embarkation We boarded the ship in Monte Carlo and were promptly escorted on board by a very pleasant crew member. She helped with hand luggage and took us to the Europa Lounge on board where we were supposed to check in. This turned out not to be the case we ended up in reception for a while. To ease the pain glasses of complimentary champagne were in abundance and after longer than usual check-in formalities we were eventually escorted to our stateroom via the glass elevators (operated by smart piccolos). Stateroom All staterooms on board are termed "suites" and they are very well equipped with complimentary e-mail, minibar (stocked with free soft drinks and beer) and a very useful baby listening video camera/phone which meant that we could enjoy dinner or concerts whilst checking our sleeping baby on an i-phone. Very useful and the first I have ever seen this device in any hotel or cruise ship. The bathroom too was spacious with good sized separate shower. Our only comment would be that the suites are probably nearing the end of their useful life and would benefit from refurbishment (especially the soft furnishings). Our stewardess spoke good English, made us very welcome and did an absolutely fantastic job in keeping the place clean and tidy. Dining in the Europa restaurant We had our own designed table in the Europa restaurant and took most meals there. The quality of the food was even better than on our previous cruise. The menus were extensive, very imaginative and featured unusual dishes which we simply loved to try out. Examples include fresh pasta (with truffles) cooked in the dining room, wonderful caviar served with all the trimmings and excellent fresh fish. Very occasionally we felt that the fish was over slightly over cooked and we noticed that guests nearby left theirs too, so we were obviously not alone. The choice of starters, soups and meat dishes was also extremely good and I enjoyed sampling the many tasty soups and cheese savoury dishes. Desserts were mainly light and unmemorable. A gourmet breakfast served on sea days was a real treat with French champagne, more caviar and lots of tasty fish dishes. Alternative dining - LIDO The Lido cafe offered a self service breakfast which again was very good if a little busy. It cannot really cope with a full ship although we never waited more than 5 or 10 minutes for a table. In the evening we tried an Oriental themed buffet which was also very well done. The Bavarian lunch (with free beer and music) was also a great success with typical German sausages and all the trimmings. Alternative dining - Venezia and Dieter Muller Sadly we were not able to eat in Venezia, the Italian alternative dining spot. I tried to book a table early in the cruise but was told by a rather pompous Maitre d'Hotel that it was "fully booked". I subsequently found out that this was less than true and indeed on many lunch days after my inquiry there were few people eating there. We were put on a "waiting list" but regrettably are still waiting. I gained the impression that the head waiter did not wish us to eat there, possibly as we had children or possibly because we were British! This left a bitter taste in our mouth and I have made the MD of Hapag-Lloyd aware of our comments. I should say however that this is the only staff member on Europa who was not pleasant towards us. The new Dieter Muller restaurant was mainly open in the evenings and could be reserved by passengers once per voyage. However, the menu did not alter and it really did not contain anything to attract us. Hence we chose not to eat there although (unlike Venezia) we would have had not difficulty in gaining access. Other passengers were somewhat ambivalent about the food. Service Our table waiter spoke excellent English and worked very hard throughout the cruise to ensure that we were well very looked after. The service on this trip however was not seamless. One lunch time when our usual waiter was at a different section, his understudy forgot my soup order. He eventually brought it (along with my main course as he said that the kitchen was closing ) and I had two courses in front of me at the same time!! Not good. At breakfast one morning I ordered an omelette which was the best I have ever tasted. The next morning I ordered the same and it has still never turned up! The wine service was also very poor and our glasses were frequently empty for a long time before someone (usually our table waiter) filled them up on being asked kindly to do so. On deck the waiters were first rate and would bring coffee, waffles, sorbets, ice creams, canapes and other treats when sitting by the pool. They also used one's name and tried (successfully) to remember preferences. One would even bring me extra chocolates for my daughter which was a lovely touch. Entertainment This was first class and above. The theme of the cruise was classical music and we enjoyed some excellent artists reflecting the places we visited (eg Venice). My favourites were the violinist Giuliano Carmignola, the dazzling French Pianist Bertrand Chamayou and the alto Sara Mingardo (who in the literature was always referred to as a soprano for some reason!). Each performed only once which was a pity. The resident 8 piece orchestra called the "Happy Band" was well named. A group of very talented musicians and singers who provided excellent music for dancing and listening. They alternated between the Europa Lounge and the Clipper Lounge and were our first port of call after dinner for a night cap. The resident cocktail pianist was also very talented and had a huge repertoire which he hardly repeated throughout the 14 day cruise. He also played for afternoon tea in the Belvedere observation lounge which was often the highlight of our day! Small cakes, finger sandwiches, proper tea and delightfully served by smiling staff. Childrens clubs/excursions Our family did not use the childrens club but if operated from a couple of basic rooms at the back of the ship. It made up for that in well organised excursions including some on Zodiacs which looked great fun! As for excursions we received no details of these before our cruise so did our own thing. These were mainly in German in any event and we had visited most places before so knew where we were going. Crew With the one exception above the crew were of a very high standard. The level of service was certainly 5 star and you were made to feel at home. Captain Akkermann runs a very tight ship and is a very friendly gentleman who also speaks excellent English. He bids farewell to all passengers as they leave the ship which is a nice touch. The company also made a very good job of organising a post cruise Lounge in Athens for us to use whilst waiting for our flight home. Disembarkation was well organised and our luggage reached the correct place, thanks to the concierge who was abrupt but efficient. Fellow passengers Apart from a charming Brazilian couple, we were the only four English speaking passengers on this non bilingual cruise. The remainder of the very full ship were German speaking from Austria and Switzerland as well as Germany. They fell into 3 main categories. First, there were those who were very polite and would try to engage with us. Second, there were those who preferred to ignore us and would not even return a "Guten Morgen". Lastly, there was a minority who simply appeared not to have grasped the post-War concept of European integration. At times they were arrogant, rude and gave us the impression that they would rather have the ship to themselves. Summary In concluding, did the Europa reach its 5 Star plus rating this time round? Not quite. There were momentary lapses in service and at this price level you should be able to eat in whichever restaurant you please at least once per cruise. Sadly that did not happen. Further, the atmosphere on board was not quite so pleasant as last time round but perhaps this was because the cruise this year was not labelled as being "bilingual or international" and some of the German passengers thought that they would have a monopoly. Our rather inexperienced international hostess did her very best but as to whether the ship is quite ready to accept non German guests on non international cruises, the jury is still out. Would we return? Almost certainly but not next year! Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2010
It gets better each time. This was my third cruise aboard Hapag Lloyd's M.S. Europa and each time I have had a wonderful time. With such high expectations and fond memories from my previous cruises aboard, it is always risky that the ... Read More
It gets better each time. This was my third cruise aboard Hapag Lloyd's M.S. Europa and each time I have had a wonderful time. With such high expectations and fond memories from my previous cruises aboard, it is always risky that the next time could be a let down. Not so at all. I just returned from a cruise from Manila to Shanghai and this was my favorite cruise of them all. My suite for this cruise was #528 and at 300 plus sq. ft was very spacious as are all of the cabins aboard this cruise ship including a full walk-in closet and a balcony complete with a patio's worth of furniture. The bathroom was also large and includes lots of storage and both a separate shower and bathtub. My cabin stewardess, Rebecca, kept my room in good order and often had it cleaned before I even returned from breakfast. The public areas are quite grand with lots of space, high ceilings and comfortable seating. The European style service is top notch with a very friendly and attractive staff handsomely outfitted by the best selection of uniforms afloat. Fine linen, china and glassware are standard and plastic cups or paper napkins are not to be found anywhere aboard this elegant ship. I must confess that my favorite part of the cruise came 3 times daily at meal service in the main Europa dining room. Certainly the food tasted and was presented wonderfully and the restaurant could stand confidently tall in any top world city. In fact, I started worrying I would get wrinkle lines from my constant smiling after each wonderful meal. But what made the experience really stand out was the very fine service and consistent attention to detail. Starting at my favorite table 12 in the morning attended to ably by Phillip and Yilmaz, who after the first day remembered I like mango juice blended in with my orange juice and cream, not milk, with my coffee. Lunch, at table 29, was finely presided over by Tobias and Miguel. However, it was the nightly dinner that stands out the most. I have been fortunate to have dined at some of the finest restaurants in the world and I can say without reservation that Mateuz Binek, my waiter at table 95, is the very best waiter I have ever encountered. He ushered me through each meal with care, pride and a sense of timing and anticipation that was simply flawless in execution. While I have nothing but praise for everyone I encountered aboard the M.S. Europa, more than any other person, he made my cruise the wonderful experience that it was. Also a special thanks to Tina who always happily kept my wine and water glasses full. Being part of a small minority of English speakers aboard this high-end German cruise ship, I am especially grateful to Cruise Director, Alexander Thurein and International Hostess, Claudia Hornig, who took extra time to make sure everything was translated and that my needs were constantly met. At no time did I feel out of place, uninformed or uncomfortable. Also as an added convenience on this "Bilingual" cruise, the daily announcements, event program and menus were also offered in English. Part of what made this particular cruise route appealing was the stops in some of the smaller Japanese ports which do not regularly receive cruise ships. As such, our arrival and departure was met with local fanfare and a welcoming delegation of officials. I must say that Captain Friedrich Jan Akkermann, who I understand is a 12th generation seafarer, undertook his official duties with an elegance and humility that should serve as a role model for many of today's diplomats and represents the very best in world travel and cultural exchanges. As I left the M.S. Europa, the only concern I had was with my schedule and figuring out how quickly I can get back aboard. Daniel Ginzburg Los Angeles Read Less
7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2009
Review MS Europa Cruise, from 10 May 2009 to 16 June 2009 - 37 days. By Gerardie. Athens (Piraeus) to Hamburg, Voyages EUR0910, EUR0911, EUR0912, EUR0913. We first heard about the MS Europa when we were on a cruise on another German ... Read More
Review MS Europa Cruise, from 10 May 2009 to 16 June 2009 - 37 days. By Gerardie. Athens (Piraeus) to Hamburg, Voyages EUR0910, EUR0911, EUR0912, EUR0913. We first heard about the MS Europa when we were on a cruise on another German ship, the MS Deutschland in 2007. Passengers were referring to the MS Europa with some deference and comparisons were made between the two ships. We had made travel arrangements for a vacation to Europe in March. However, changed circumstances made it necessary for us to defer our plans for a couple of months. Looking for a suitable alternative cruise in Europe, we came across a Mediterranean cruise on the MS Europa. The itinerary suited our intentions and we decided to take 4 sections consecutively from Athens to Hamburg. MS Europa of Hapag Lloyd, did not advertise any of these sections as bilingual, in other words, on this cruise, the Europa catered in the main, but not exclusively, for German passengers. We are not native German speakers; my wife speaks no German apart from a few words, but I am fairly proficient in the language. Our experience on the Deutschland had prepared us for life on a German ship, and we enjoyed our cruise tremendously. So without trepidation we booked on the MS Europa. Even though this cruise was not bilingual, the staff and crew spoke English and apart from the occasional misunderstanding, we had no difficulty in communicating with anyone. The MS Europa have excellent International Relation hostesses, who helped with the translations of the menus and the daily activity sheet in English. The daily news was provided in German only. The male hosts on board spoke excellent English and were a great help. The concierge sorted out shore-going trips and outings. So the Europa with regard to accommodating non-German or English speaking passengers is fully prepared. People cruise for a variety of reasons, but the expectation of good food and service usually is one of them. It is surprising, therefore, that the Europa thinks it should cater to the German taste only. German travellers also want to experience international and country specific cuisine. Why go on a cruise to be served food you can find in any half decent restaurant anywhere. My harshest remarks will be reserved for the standard of the food and its style, and the lack of innovation on the menu. Even though we were offered caviar several times, this does not make superior cuisine. The food in the main is well presented but bland and tasteless. The hotel manager and executive chef are responsible for the standard and quality of the restaurants and they must meet passengers' expectations. The executive chef is not hands-on overseeing the restaurant's out-put at each service, because there were some near disasters. There were complaints and rumblings from German passengers aswell. We had some very good meals, but also many mediocre meals. This inconsistency shows a lack of quality control. The Europa has great serving staff, who at times have to make up for the shortcomings of the kitchen. We met with the hotel manager who looked into our concerns; the result was that staff, probably having been told, became obsequious. That was the last thing we wanted, and for the rest of the cruise we kept our concerns to ourselves. Our criticism of the standard and quality of food does not apply to the speciality Italian restaurant Venezia. We ate here on a number of occasions and each time we came away with having experienced a wonderful meal. The food is classic Italian; the menu is frequently changed to include regional Italian dishes. The Italian restaurant manager knows how to please his guests and went out of his way to arrange for us some of our most loved Italian dishes. The table service is friendly and impeccable. The other special restaurant is the Oriental restaurant, serving dishes from the Orient, with regional themes. Bookings for both of these restaurants is required and it is wise to do so early in your cruise, because the restaurants are usually booked out. We booked the Asian restaurant, but our booking was cancelled because of a function. We did not re-book and never ate in the Oriental restaurant. There is no additional charge for dining in the speciality restaurants. The restaurants are open for lunch and dinner. Cruise ships such as the Europa, with fares* among the highest in the world, are expected to deliver new dining experiences and to provide thoughtfully conceived and perfectly prepared food. On the Europa there are a number of areas where this falls well short of best international practice. Passengers are entitled to expect more than a slogan (Weltbestes Kreuzfahrtschiff) to make a cruise memorable. *The fare includes travel cancellation insurance, but the Europa is one of the few cruise ships which still imposes a daily fuel surcharge. The disappointment in meeting our expectations on the MS Europa lies in the main with the cruise director who is responsible for creating the right atmosphere and conditions for the full enjoyment of the cruise; to organise exciting entertainment, passenger activities and leisure programs. We acknowledge that the entertainment was directed at a German audience, but there was some bad programming and often a poor timing of activities. The ship itself is well run; all schedules were met, we arrived on time and left on time. There were no break-downs. The ship is extremely quiet and stable and even under bad weather conditions there was no discomfort. We had read up about the MS Europa and were looking forward to the advertised wellness programme. On our first day on board we found that there were no Yoga classes, no oriental type massage, as there was no masseur on board who did oriental massage. Matters did not improve when I ordered my first hot breakfast in the Lido; the outcome was very disappointing. We flew from Australia via Dubai to Athens. Hapag Lloyd had a hospitality suite in the Hotel Royal Olympic in Athens. We had booked into another hotel and took a taxi to the hotel, where we were welcomed and our luggage was taken care of. Light refreshments were available. We had time to spare so we revisited some sites in Athens until it was time to depart by bus to Piraeus and we were on board in no time. After handing in our passport in exchange for our cabin card (and charge card) we were shown to our cabin. We were aft on Pacific deck. Flowers, champagne, chocolates and strawberries awaited us. The bar fridge was stocked with juices, beer and soft drinks. Passengers have their fridge restocked daily with beverages of their own choice. The cabin was large with a separate sitting area, a good size balcony, a sleeping area with twin beds pushed together (at our request), a walk-in wardrobe, a bathroom with bath and shower. All finishes were of the highest quality and of modern design. We were also provided with a bathrobe, slippers, soaps, plenty of coast hangers, etc. A good feature in the cabin is the interactive television/radio/internet entertainment centre. With our travel papers we were given a personal e-mail address; so we could receive and send e-mails (but no attachments) from our cabin. There was a choice of TV stations, mainly German, but included CNN. The ship's daily programs and activities, menus in the restaurants, port lectures etc. were screened each day. A selection of different music, classical, jazz, rock etc. is available, as well as videos, including a good selection of titles in English. The Europa was built in 1999. It is a comfortable and very spacious ship with a nice dEcor. The most surprising thing is that so much of all that space is seldom used. There is the Club Belvedere with a beautiful forward view over the sea. It is used for afternoon tea, church services and the occasional musical performance. During the day we found the church paraphernalia were often left in place, or the blinds were drawn. At other times this lounge was used for practice by the performing artists. Passengers seldom used this lounge, and no wonder. Then there is the Clipper lounge on deck 4. In all the time we were on board it was only used for one performance; the ship's band plays there from time to time. The rest of the time this lounge is not used. The Havana bar, opposite the Clipper lounge, the place to enjoy a cigar and a drink, is rarely used; perhaps because smoking is still allowed in many areas of the ship. The auditorium on deck 8, a nice little theatre and ideal for lectures or film screening, seldom used. The art workshop or hobby room; we are not aware of any activities organised or conducted here. There is also a well set-up kids' club and a gallery. There were some exhibitions of artists, with their work for sale. There is a comfortable library with plenty of books, magazines and games. Alas non in English. Most of the entertainment and special events take place in the Europa lounge. Also port lectures, in German only, readings, etc. were conducted here. They were well presented and always attracted good attendances. The nightly shows are performed here. Before the show, the ship's band plays music for dancing. The band is capable, but seemed rather tired. Their repertoire is limited, and therefore the same tunes kept coming up. After the nightly show, the most popular place for relaxation is the Sansibar; a small bar with a narrow extension onto the deck. It was usually crowded and noisy and in our opinion inferior to the other venues. The Europa is now 10 years old and it shows. The dEcor of the ship, the pictures and decorations were state of the art at the time of building. The problem with all 'modern' fit outs, is that they date so quickly. The Europa's overall appearance is nice enough but it lacks a timeless elegance. During our extended cruise, there two special events. The first, a charity gala off the coast of Cannes. This was a three day cruise from and to Nice. It was a fund raising event for "Menschen fuer Menschen" and we understand it raised a considerable amount of money for the charity. Most of the activities took place on the Lido deck and for the occasion a special temporary stage was erected over the swimming pool. Extra waiting staff, and a band and entertainers were brought in. The stage, tables etc. were beautifully decorated with imported flower arrangements. There were many invited guests, celebrities, lots of press and television. The event was spectacular with among other things a helicopter showering rose petals over the gathered mass on board. Later that evening there were fireworks from a barge moored between the Europa and the city of Cannes. The festivities carried on well into the night. This event was good public relations and advertising for the Europa. During these events all drinks, including in the restaurants and lounges, are free. The Europa does not skimp on food or drink. The other event was on the last segment to Hamburg. In Antwerp, on board the Europa, we experienced Europe's Best Cuisine. Again, the ship was packed with guests and the media. Chefs from a number of well known restaurants in Europe had been invited to show off their best dishes. On the Lido deck, brand-new Gaggenau cooking stations had been set up for the chefs to cook their signature dishes for the guests and passengers to sample. There were cheeses to try from France, wines from Germany and elsewhere. That evening we had another fireworks display over the water. The quality and variety of food was an eye opener after the mundane offerings from our regular restaurant. Passengers and guests seemed to relish this food experience. It also suggests that management of the Europa should not think it necessary to cater mainly for the German taste in their daily food presentation. The Europa had a new port of call almost every day, and there were very few sea days. We used these sea days to catch up on e-mails, domestic chores. etc. Incidentally, there is no laundry on board, but there is an ironing room. On sea days we had our massage in the Ocean Spa. Here also is a sauna and steam room, and relaxation area. All very stylish and relaxing. The facilities are mixed company. As soon as the sun comes out people are out on the deck. There are plenty of deck chairs, towels and blankets. We did not find many secluded spots for a quiet read, or a place to keep out of the sun. However, there are umbrellas aplenty and deck staff will position them to your liking. Drink service is available on deck. Our daily routine began fairly early. My wife did her yoga exercises by herself in the exercise room, and I was in the gym by 6.30 am. The gym is very well equipped with exercise apparatus on a lower level with a forward view over the Lido deck, and on a higher level weight lifting and like equipment. From here there is also access to the FKK (nude) deck. Towels and cold water are available. On port visiting days we had an early breakfast in the Lido cafe and then took off for the town. We did not go on shore excursions because they were all conducted in German. The evening before arriving in port, information was available in English about the port and we prepared our own plan. The concierge often provided additional information. In all ports the local tourist office has either an information stand or a representative on or near the ship. We consulted the local tourist people first. They would tell you the best places to go to, how to get there, and how much it would cost. Where the main tourist attractive is not at the port of call, as for instance, in Cadiz to go to Seville, we hired a taxi for the morning or day. You negotiate a price beforehand, and you are then free to go where ever you want. This gives you much more freedom than on an excursion. It often is also cheaper to make your own arrangements. MS Europa is one of the few ships that we know, that allows visitors on board. This is great if you have friends or family in the ports of call. We made good use of this and we had visitors in a couple of ports. Your visitors can eat on board for a small charge. To obtain some further privileges, we joined the Hapag-Lloyd Kreuzfahrten Club. There is a joining fee, but for every sea mile, you earn bonus points which can be used for purchases on board. You also obtain discounts on future cruises. The Europa is not an "all-in" ship; you pay for drinks ordered in bars and the restaurants, services such as hairdressing, massages, excursions, etc. Although the Europa advertised that tipping is included in the fare, tipping is nonetheless allowed or suggested for exceptional service. This defeats the whole purpose of the so-called inclusive tipping. We noticed that most passengers tipped. We did not find the Europa a convivial ship. Apart from the customary "Morgen" or "guten Tag", passengers did not reach out and kept very much to themselves. Before leaving the cruise we were asked to complete a satisfaction questionnaire, and whether we would consider a return visit. We believe that MS Europe management needs to change their approach and attitude, regarding dining and passenger activities, and accommodating non German speakers, before they can be truly regarded as part of that select group of international luxury cruise ships. In our opinion, as it stands at present, it will not be "auf Wiedersehen" but "Good Luck". Read Less
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