Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is part of one of the oldest shipping companies in the world. You can spot orange Hapag-Lloyd containers stacked on wharfs, racing by on double-stack trains and being towed by semis on highways around the world. And, as a longtime division of Hapag-Lloyd AG, its cruise arm shares the same roots and history.
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Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is a 100 percent-owned subsidiary of TUI AG, Europe's leading travel group. It's the result of a 1970 merger between two of Germany's oldest steamship companies, Hapag (Hamburg-Amerikanische Packfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft or Hamburg America Line) and Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL -- North German Lloyd). Both companies were founded in the 1840s to carry passengers and freight between what is now Germany and the United States. Hapag was founded in Hamburg, while North German Lloyd served Bremen. At the time of the companies' founding, the ports were city-states and longtime rivals.
Both lines prospered and by the 1890s were building large, fast, luxurious ocean liners. Hapag claims to have commissioned the first purpose-built cruise ship, Augusta Victoria, in 1891. In 1896, Hapag's Furst Bismarck crossed to New York in six days, 11 hours and 44 minutes, making it the fastest ship in the world. In 1899, NDL commissioned the first four-funnel liner, Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse.
In 1911, Hapag launched the first of three giant sisters, the largest ships in the world: Imperator, Vaterland and Bismarck. At the start of World War I, Hapag was the world's largest shipping company with 175 ships. Those ships that survived the war, including the three giant sister ships, were forfeited to the allies as reparations. (NDL was permitted to retain a few ships.) The three giants became famous for their new owners. Imperator had an illustrious career as the Cunard flagship Berengaria. Vaterland was rechristened Leviathan and served as flagship of the United States Lines. Bismarck sailed for White Star Line as Majestic.
Both German companies built new ships in the 1920s. Notable among them were Hapag's Columbus and NDL's Bremen and Europa, the fastest ships of their day. In 1934, the German government became majority stockholder in both lines. Those ships not lost in action during World War II were seized as reparations. Europa, for example, sailed for many years as the French Line's Liberte.
After the war, Hapag concentrated on freight traffic, while NDL returned to the passenger trade. Hapag was the first line to transport standard containers, and Hapag and NDL pooled resources to build the world's first dedicated container ships, which sailed under the name Hapag-Lloyd Container Line.
After the merger, Hapag-Lloyd AG discontinued its transatlantic passenger service. However, in 1981 the line returned to cruising with the launch of Europa, a ship that set the standard for luxury and service in the German market. Seventeen years later and under the brand name of its new subsidiary Hapag-Lloyd Cruises Ltd., it introduced its new flagship, the fifth to be called Europa.
Today, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises operates five ships, ranging from ultra-luxe to expedition.
Hapag-Lloyd's five cruise ships offer onboard and in-port experiences that range from luxury to upmarket soft adventure. Traditionally, Hapag-Lloyd has catered to German-speaking passengers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, though the line is beginning to court English-speaking travelers from the U.S., U.K. and Australia and is tweaking some onboard offerings accordingly.
All five vessels are top-of-the-line (and, budget-wise, fares are on the high side), but each has a different personality and specialty. The 28,890-ton, 408-passenger Europa, the best known, offers a formal luxury cruise experience as it essentially travels around the world each year. (Few if any itineraries are repeated.) Both 8,378-ton, 184-passenger Hanseatic and 6,752-ton, 164-passenger Bremen are expedition vessels with E4 ice ratings, the highest given to passenger ships. They travel to the Arctic and Antarctic, as well as other exotic regions. Hanseatic is classed as a five-star ship to Bremen's four, and the former has slightly upgraded cuisine and enrichment in addition to larger staterooms.
The real excitement for Hapag-Lloyd is the launch of its first new-build since 1999. Europa 2, unveiled in May 2013, is a 40,000-ton, 516-passenger vessel aimed every bit as much at the ultra-luxe market as Europa, but its target audience is a younger, more active traveler. Families, in particular, are catered to with dedicated kids facilities that appeal to all youngsters, from toddlers to teens.
Hanseatic Inspiration, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises newest vessel to be launched with the cruise line, will debut in October 2019. Inspiration will be able to contain 199-230 passengers, have 170 crew members, 9 decks and 120 cabins with 7 decks attached to some cabins.
Regardless of the ship, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises attracts a well-heeled, predominantly German-speaking clientele. Regular passengers -- most passengers are repeaters -- travel all the ships of the line, choosing their sailing by itinerary, but each ship has its own niche. Bremen, which also is oriented to adventure-minded travelers, features a quality experience at a more moderate price point. Europa, its most traditional ship, tends to draw travelers who want a more classic luxury experience. And Europa 2, drawing on top-notch features found on Europa, is the cruise line's jazziest, most contemporary ship, featuring dynamic art collections and sophisticated enrichment and entertainment that range from a kitchen studio for cooking-related courses to a jazz club. Its appeal is primarily to younger, less traditional luxury-minded travelers, including families. Hapag-Lloyd has also dedicated Europa 2 as its "bilingual" ship, reaching a more international passenger base with enhanced materials and activities particularly geared to English-speaking passengers.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises vessel Hanseatic has left the fleet as well as Columbus 2. MS Europa and MS Bremen are for German cruises and passengers only. MS Europa 2 and Hanseatic Inspiration are fully bilingual. The Hanseatic name has 3 vessels: Nature, Spirit and Inspiration. Nature & Spirit are yet again for German cruises as well as passengers.
MS Europa 2 received a 2017 refurbishment including:
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises Itineraries
Six months of the year Europa follows the sun on a world cruise that takes it to the Americas, the South Pacific, Asia and the Middle East. The rest of the year, Europa sails out of Germany to Scandinavia and the Baltic and on fly-cruises in the Mediterranean. The world cruise is divided into segments, and almost no one sails the entire circumnavigation, choosing instead two- to three-week segments. In Europe there are short three-night cruises up to longer 18-night cruises. Most fall in the 10- to 14-night range.
Bremen, which also has an E4 ice rating, travels Arctic and Antarctic routes. It also cruises the South Pacific, Indian Ocean and Amazon. Cruises range from 10 to 22 nights and longer.