When she launched just two and a half months ago, Europa 2 was hailed as a decisive change with the traditional, almost totally Germanic product that Hapag Lloyd Cruises offered. For the first time since it’s transatlantic heyday, the line is making a conscious, concerted push for the British and American travel trade. I was interested to see exactly how this would work out once on board.
Running multi lingual ships has traditionally been the preserve of mega ship operators, in particular Costa and MSC. For Hapag Lloyd Cruises, it was always going to represent something of a challenge; any new ship usually takes a minimum of four months to properly ‘bed down’; reaching that magical moment when ship and crew are in total harmony, and each understands- and compensates for- any quirks in the other.
Europa 2 had to hit the ground running, aimed squarely at the top end of the market, and intended to deliver a platinum chip product that would seamlessly satisfy both a native German and a nascent English/American clientele. A pretty tall order, to put it mildly.
In my opinion, they have pulled the rabbit out of the hat, and with a considerable amount of aplomb.
All loudspeaker announcements (and they were blissfully few) were carried through in both German and English. All dining venues on the ship- and there are no less than eight of them- carried menus in both languages, which were available at all times.
Excursions operate in both English and German groups, with audio ‘quiet boxes’ supplied where needed. Numbers in each group are kept to a relatively low, manageable degree.
All staff- and I cannot emphasise this enough- speak both English and German. And, with the numbers on board in the hundreds rather than the thousands, staff have more time to listen to guests. without the ‘benefit’ of overly loud, amplified background music.
All in room information, such as the daily programmes and the quite comprehensive port guides, come in both languages, too.
It is evident that a great deal of care and effort has been placed on getting and maintaining a harmonious level of interaction across the nationalities. The crew are uniformly smart and courteous; they have mastered the often delicate art of being attentive without being overly intrusive. This kind of approach helped to put all the passengers at their ease from the outset.
So, too, did the sheer, spatial largesse of the ship. Europa 2 is, quite simply, the most spacious cruise ship afloat in terms of personal living room. Huge, almost double height ceilings are flanked by vast, floor to ceiling windows that flood the strikingly beautiful, almost totally linear interior with light and warmth at every level.
The sum total is a stunningly open, commodious and extremely comfortable vessel. Imagine the Adlon with azipods- or, indeed, the Ritz- and you begin to get some idea of what this stunning new addition to the Hapag dynasty actually represents.
Modernity is as important to the mantra of the ship as flexibility is. For instance, each suite comes complete with its own in house cutlery, crockery and glassware. As a result, it feels more like a personal apartment, where you might just decide to dine indoors occasionally. It all adds to the sense of casual elegance that wafts through Europa 2 like fine perfume.
Instead of conventional door mechanisms, the suites on board Europa 2 have simple touch pads that open on contact with the card. Intelligent thinking that eliminates the problem with magnetic strips of old.
Europa 2 is intended to appeal to multi generational families, and the new ship has a whole raft of interconnecting suites. On our recent cruise, there were something like fifty children on board. They were almost always never seen or heard.
One thing you should be aware of is the sauna; German guests do like to get in touch with nature in the fullest and most open sense of that phrase. They are immune to some of the more prurient English sensibilities on that front. Though it really is not a big deal or a problem of any kind, it is something to be aware of in advance.
I cannot in all honesty remember the last time that I was so completely bowled over by a new ship. The Europa 2 is a swaggering, sensual spread of maritime real estate that does not so much break the mould, as shatter it completely. She is brave, bold, and, above all that, a truly warm, welcoming world of her own.
This achievement is more remarkable still when considered within the relatively short time frame gifted to staff and crew- and operations both shipboard and shoreside- to get this hugely anticipated ship up and running. All things considered, the entire project has been carried through with admirable aplomb.
For all her modernity, the new ship is suffused with the age old tradition of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises style and panache, and the levels of uniform excellence are already very evident in this latest Hapag flagship. I think Europa 2 would have made Albert Ballinn himself beam with pride.
By the time Europa 2 returns from the Far East for her second Mediterranean season in the spring of 2014, she will be a very alluring option indeed. Coupled with the smart casual dress code and a whole raft of enticing itineraries, she will be an outstanding and natural choice, even for people who don’t traditionally ‘do’ normal cruises.
And, when all is said and done, who could fail to be impressed with a ship that carries a staff of six nannies, and thirty- two different kinds of gin?