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Cruise Ship Information

The MS Europa is a cruise ship owned and operated by the German company Hapag-Lloyd. It is the 4th ship to be named Europa in the company's history. For twelve years in row, the MS Europa was awarded the title "best cruise ship in the world" by Ward-Ranking and Berlitz. The previous Europa is currently sailing as the Saga Sapphire for Saga Cruises.

Atmosphere on board


The 28,890-ton, 408-passenger Europa, Hapag-Lloyd's upmarket flagship, primarily serves Europe's German-speaking travelers, but it's also well known to a more global cruise audience. That's because storied guidebook Berlitz has long ranked Europa as its top-rated cruise ship. In fact, Europa's the only vessel in the guide that has consistently merited a five-plus star ranking (every year for more than a decade). While Crystal and SeaDream have attained the highest marks, other luxury cruise lines, such as Regent Seven Seas, Silversea and Seabourn, have never managed to snag the elusive "five-star-plus."

 

Is Europa really the best cruise ship in the world?

 

Certainly, in the burgeoning market for German-language cruises, Hapag-Lloyd's luxurious Europa reigns supreme over other Euro-centric lines like AIDA, Mein Schiff, Deilmann's Deutschland and TUI. It's so German that, without the guidebook's recognition, travelers who do not speak the language fluently never would know it existed. To capitalize on that reputation, Hapag-Lloyd has made an effort to reach out to English-speaking passengers -- North Americans, Brits, Australians, South Africans and Kiwis in particular -- by offering specially designated bilingual voyages in which menus, daily programs, some onboard entertainment and enrichment, and a handful of shore excursions are offered in English, as well as German.

 

We tested one of these bilingual cruises -- a Norwegian fjords itinerary with multinational appeal -- yet we were still one of only a few non-German-speaking travelers onboard. Though we were willing to overlook some challenges in adapting to life onboard, we found that socializing can be a challenge, English language shore excursion options are limited, the enrichment program catered primarily to German speakers, and ship rules can be a bit more rigid than you'd experience on Crystal or other luxury lines. Plus, despite separate spaces for smoking and nonsmoking, it was hard to avoid smokers in the indoor lounges.

 

Still, there's a lot to like about Europa. Despite the fact the ship, built in 1999, is considered one of the older vessels in cruising's luxury niche, Europa has undergone three major refurbishments and has been impeccably maintained. Its all-outside, almost all-balcony accommodations are plush and spacious. The ship's itineraries are a sophisticated sightseer's dream; rarely does the vessel repeat an itinerary as it makes its way pretty much around the world each year.

 

Food onboard was consistently superb; the ship's addition of Dieter Muller, a restaurant supervised by Germany's three-star Michelin chef, is one of the best -- perhaps the best -- we've encountered at sea. The enrichment lecturers on this trip, who spoke about Norwegian history and culture, conversed just as easily in English as they did in German, and entertainment -- chiefly as a result of the cruise line's outstanding Ocean Sun Festival, an annual event focusing on classical music and opera that took place on our voyage -- was beautifully arranged. If you're a fan of the genre, it's not to be missed.

 

In other areas, the ship fell short. While Europa is in superb condition, the dated decor feels like a mid-1990's throwback. Bars and lounges are just "blah," and Europa lacks contemporary concepts -- such as more spaces for outdoor living and dining -- that we're seeing on other, newer luxury lines. Entertainment, beyond the specially themed classical festival, was also dated (a DJ in Sansibar, a folk band for special events, big-band dancing, etc.).

 

The biggest disappointment with Europa was that service was hit and miss -- and that had nothing to do with language issues. Standouts included the flawless team at the Dieter Muller restaurant, the maitre 'd at Venezia, who was absolutely charming, and our efficient and intuitive cabin stewardess. In the Beauty Salon and Ocean Spa, the pampering began before your treatment.

 

But there were way too many service lapses on this trip for a highly rated luxury ship. As beautiful as the Europa Restaurant is, its staff, particularly at breakfast and lunch, needs improvement in attitude and efficiency. Perhaps the inconsistencies (bartenders seemed to spend a lot of time in their galleys or talking among themselves when customers were waiting) stem from the fact that gratuities are included in cruise fares. And way too often -- again, for a ship that's marketed as luxury -- staffers at Europa's purser's desk were short and snippy, as when they expressed annoyance that our cabin key cards needed to be replaced over and over. (Ultimately our cabin stewardess was the one who figured out that the problem was a malfunction in the door, rather than passenger-related idiocy.)

 

For us, Europa offered an experience that was a bit of a hybrid between the "old" Crystal -- with its variety of facilities and a la carte pricing on everything, including liquor (which Crystal has since abandoned for a more inclusive experience) -- and the experiences found on Seabourn's three oldest ships, which offer a more intimate and formal cruise ambience.

 

Our bilingual cruise, the second we'd taken on the ship in seven years, was indeed enjoyable, but if Hapag-Lloyd wants to expand its global outreach beyond its traditional customer base and to compete with better-known lines in the luxury sector, it's got some work to do to achieve that accolade.

 

Family with Kids/Teens


A truly sweet kids' facility, called Kinder Club, is a bit of an anachronism when compared with more state-of-the-art children's areas we've seen on other lines. The room, with a soft play area, crafts corner and shelves of books and games, is meant to serve kids from ages 4 to 11, but on our cruise, most children stayed with their families. There's a separate (and rather dreary) Teens Club with Wii, a foosball table, movies, books and games.

 

Past Passenger Programs


The center of life indoors on Europa lies primarily along the Europa Deck. Running aft to stern via a grand corridor, it begins with the Europa Lounge, the ship's main theater, before winding past a rather impersonal Atrium bar. The Havana Bar features Cuban cigars and rums in a smoky, dusky atmosphere with terrible ventilation; smoke and its scent permeated the areas around it. The Clipper Lounge, a secondary performance venue, was typically either closed or simply empty when we peeked in. There's also an underused art gallery and a handful of upscale shops where you can buy everything from Wempe jewels to some rather trendy fashions. (If you run out of basic necessities, ask the shop clerks for them, as they're not displayed).

 

Another series of public spaces can be found on Deck 8, anchored by the Belvedere lounge, a small auditorium that's also home to afternoon tea service but otherwise hardly used, which was a shame because its deck-top locale offered sweeping views. Nearby, a library boasts mostly German-language books (one shelf was dedicated to English titles) and a pair of computers with Internet access. (You can also use your in-cabin television, which has a keyboard, or Wi-Fi all over the ship.)

 

Shore excursions mostly feature usual suspects -- cultural tours, city tours and village tours -- but kudos to Europa for offering a nice range of recreationally oriented shore excursions, from hiking to cycling.


Fitness And Spa


The Ocean Spa gets a lot out of its postage stamp-small space, tucked into a corridor on Deck 7, between cabins on one side and the kids' facilities on the other. While the ambience wasn't terribly appealing, the treatments, including Eastern- and Western-style massages, facials and body wraps, were outstanding, and the therapists were clearly well trained.

 

Adjacent is a beauty salon, offering services from hairstyling to manicures for men and women.

 

The spa and salon get quite busy, so advance reservations are highly recommended. Keep an eye out for spa specials on port days. They're advertised in the daily program.

 

I opted for a basic Swedish massage and -- here's where you feel very European -- the masseur was male and didn't seem inclined to leave the room when I began to change. (I suggested gently that he might give me a minute.) It didn't bother me, but it was just different.

 

A pedicure was more like a session in a dentist's office, complete with various electric-powered instruments. It wasn't terribly relaxing, but it was, nevertheless, quite thorough.

 

The spa has a coed steam room and sauna, plus a private balcony with seating for two. The nearby relaxation room has heated tile loungers, and you won't need to book a treatment to gain access.

 

The ship's fitness facility is exceptional. The two-level facility is located atop the pool deck, and its expansive floor-to-ceiling glass windows offer great views from the treadmill or bicycle. Its fitness studio, for classes in yoga, Pilates and the like, is actually not part of the facility; it's located all the way aft on Deck 7, and it features floor-to-ceiling windows looking out at the sea. Other class offerings include personal training and aqua gymnastics. There's even equipment by Miha Bodytec, which uses electric muscle stimulation to help with weight reduction.

 

The Lido pool makes Europa distinctive. It's a long, lap-swimmable pool in which half is under a glass, retractable roof and half is open to sunshine. There is also a whirlpool.

 

On Deck 9, a specially designated jogging path is open until 9 a.m. With the help of a golf simulator and ship-provided onboard pro, golfers can work on their games.

 

Food & Dining


First and foremost: Expect continental-style cuisine -- with lots of German favorites. From breakfast, where cold meats and cheeses are more popular than fried eggs and bacon (though those are available, too), to dinner, with items like roast beef with cream sauce, there's definitely more of an international feel.

 

Europa offers four restaurants. The Europa Restaurant is the elegant main restaurant, and it's absolutely beautiful, with a blue and gold color scheme and lots of near floor-to-ceiling windows. Seating is open for breakfast and lunch, but at dinner it's predetermined; however, in European tradition, you "own" your table, so you can choose to eat anytime between 7 and 9:30 p.m., rather than at a fixed time. A fair variety of tables for two and four are available, but the downside of the system comes when you're assigned to a larger table, when fellow diners come and go at different stages in the meal. On our bilingual cruises, the maitre d' made an effort to either pair us with like-speaking couples or made sure we were seated at a table for two.

 

Breakfasts are interesting. The buffet station seems out of place in the middle of this elegant room, yet buffets are very popular with Germans, so there it was. You find cold meats and cheeses, yogurts and muesli. Bottled water and German sparkling wine were available, free of charge, every morning. There is also a menu that features cooked items, such as eggs Benedict and veal chops. Also offered: Standard American fare, such as pancakes, which tasted more like crepes, and French toast. Offerings change daily. Breakfast is served from 8 to 10 a.m., though times could vary based on port calls.

 

Menus at lunch were also interesting, and I've noticed (this being our second trip on Europa) that there are lighter fare choices that I don't remember from before. A Cuisine Legere menu, loosely translated as healthier choices, is offered each day. Options include chilled fruit soups, grilled fish and chicken breast. Regularly, though, the menus reflect the ship's continental style, and, wherever possible, the regions in which the ship travels. Starters, available from the buffet and the lunch menu -- which, like all menus, changes daily -- include, for instance, a (tiny) club sandwich or fruit cocktail, soups, pasta (the spaghetti alla carbonara I had one day was perfectly sized for a meal in itself -- not too big, not too small) and main courses. These typically include regional specialties, such as wiener schnitzel or a fish dish. Not to be missed was the occasional tempting offer "from the crew galley," and while I skipped one day's offer of fried pork knuckle, another's sauteed beef was delightful.

 

Service, particularly at lunch but occasionally at breakfast, was not delightful. It was below par more consistently than expected. (At one lunch, a member of the waitstaff was so engrossed in folding linen napkins that diners at her station literally had to wave her down to get her attention, and that was just one example.)

 

At Europa, lunch is served from 12:30 to 2 p.m.

 

Dinner in Europa, when it came to menus, ambience and service, was consistently outstanding. Typically, menus were broken down into two options. The Europa Menu offered a series of starters, soups, entrees and desserts, and it's there -- with dishes like beef fillet with peanut-chili sauce and crispy fried Holstein duck with orange sauce -- that you could get your waistline in trouble. The lighter-fare Cuisine Legere menu is also available at dinner, and it offers plenty of choices -- not just for those wanting healthier options, but also those who are vegetarian. And you can mix and match. We found that, when it comes to dinner at the Europa, no request is too much trouble.

 

A separate dessert menu includes cheeses. Every night features different options.

 

Europa operates from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

 

For those wanting a more casual experience, The Lido Cafe, with alfresco and indoor tables, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Interestingly, when I first sailed Europa some seven years before, The Lido Cafe was the finest buffet I'd experienced on a luxury ship, featuring a lovely layout and high-quality fare. The food's still excellent, but at this point, particularly when it comes to decor and space, it's overshadowed by more elegant and spacious casual buffet venues on newer ships. (Seabourn's Odyssey-class series and Crystal's recently renovated facilities come to mind.) It's still a very pleasant place, if occasionally a bit crowded, to dine.

 

At breakfast, there's an ample selection of meats and cheeses, breads and pastries, German sparkling wine for mimosas and a grill that will cook everything from pancakes to a steak, a la minute. You can order hot items from the menu, as well. On our nippy Norwegian fjords cruise, we especially appreciated outdoor heaters and tartan blankets draped over chairs in the Lido's open-air area.

 

At lunch, The Lido Cafe offers basically the same fare as the Europa in a serve-yourself mode. (You can also order hot items from a waiter.)

 

One of the highlights of The Lido Cafe is its occasional theme buffets on sea days. It seemed as if the whole ship turned out for the Oktoberfest lunch on one sea day -- it featured wiener schnitzel and sausages, a fabulous German band that played traditional festival music and German beers on the house.

 

At night, The Lido Cafe really shines. While still relatively casual next to the formality of The Europa Restaurant, each night it features a culinary theme (and is very popular -- reservations are recommended). It is transformed into a boutique, waiter-service restaurant centered on various themes. One evening featured an all-duck menu (for starters and mains, anyway -- desserts were duck-free!). Another night, a pizza-themed menu offered six pies, and on another it showcased steaks and chops. Starters and salads were featured on the buffet.

 

Dieter Muller and the Italian-oriented Venezia were quite distinct from other ships' alternative restaurants. First, as with Europa, there was just one seating per night; while the restaurants were open from 7 until 9:30 p.m., folks with reservations simply showed up at their leisure within that time frame. (There were plenty of smaller tables, so we weren't required to dine with strangers.)

 

We dined twice at Dieter Muller, and they were two of the best meals I've ever had (either on land or at sea). Each featured a different seven-course tasting menu. Make an effort to try each.

 

On one night, we started with a truffle ravioli, moved on to carpaccio with caviar, then scallop with pumpkin chutney, a wild prawn that was astonishingly memorable "in a cappuccino of curry and lemon grass," Champagne cream sorbet, saddle of deer calf with spaetzle, and, for dessert, savarin. Because courses are small, you won't leave too stuffed. (In fact, we weren't the only ones picking at the delicious bits of cookies and pastries that come along afterward.)

 

Reservations are required and can be hard to come by.

 

Venezia, the ship's Italian restaurant, was another delight. Open every day for lunch from 12:30 to 2 p.m., the Northern Italian menus feature hearty fare and repeat a couple of times throughout each sailing. You don't have to make a reservation for lunch, but Venezia can fill up, so you may want to do so to avoid disappointment.

 

Venezia, open from 7:30 to 9 p.m., features a different menu every evening that showcases various regions of Italy. Our favorite was the "regions of the Alps, Piedmont and Trentino," where highlights included marinated calamari with pesto, noodles with mussels and pine nuts, suckling pig and a fantastic cheese trolley. Advance reservations are necessary for dinner.

 

None of the alternative venues levies a service fee. Each has individual wine lists and offers wine-pairing expertise upon request.

 

During the afternoon, snacks are available, either at afternoon tea (in Club Belvedere, its top-ship lounge) from 4 to 5 p.m. or freshly prepared waffles poolside from 3 to 5 p.m.

 

The 24-hour in-cabin meal service offers some basics, such as wiener schnitzel, steak frites, Nuremberg sausages and Caesar salad, but you can, at mealtime, order off the restaurant menu from Europa.

 

A heads-up: It's nearly impossible to get a server to bring you "just a glass of water, please" at lunch and dinner. It is the European way to order bottled water with meals (save for breakfast, when it's available on a complimentary basis) -- and these are priced a la carte.


Entertainment


In part to appeal to its desired international passenger base, the production shows are unique to Europa 2 and feature daring acrobatic and theatrical style performances. Europa 2's high-tech theater boasts a large LED wall extending two stories -- a novelty for a small vessel -- and big production shows designed exclusively for the ship. On our trip, four shows were themed around the elements of earth, fire, water and air, and each offered avant-garde acrobatics and dance.

 

During the day, the Meile Cooking School offers for-fee classes. (The charge, at about 80 euros, generally includes a meal and wine.) The ship has a small cinema, which shows flicks in 3D, and lecture theater; typically, on sea days, destination-related talks are given. The arts are a major focus on Europa 2, and, on our trip, enrichment-oriented opportunities ranged from a concert by the Philharmonic Soloists Munich to a reading by a German stage and movie actor that, alas, was only hosted in German.

 

At night, the range of bars and lounges offered much variety. A new concept bar is the Jazzclub, which hosts dancing and live jazz. In the Pianobar, located in the atrium, a pianist holds court. Sansibar, the ship's aft-facing indoor-outdoor lounge, is always a hotspot with live music or a DJ. When the weather's good, the all-glass doors separating the areas unfold to create one giant space. Herrenzimmer is the place for fine wines, spirits and cigars. There's also a pool bar, and the area can be converted to an alfresco dance venue at night.

 

While the ship sails on some of the most interesting itineraries in the industry, mixing smaller offbeat ports with the occasional marquee city, shore excursions are surprisingly run of the mill. They're offered to German- and English-speakers, though the latter has less variety.


Fellow Passengers


Most passengers hailed from Europa's strong base -- Germany, Austria and Switzerland -- though we met some very pleasant folks from other places, ranging from Hong Kong to Brussels. Even if we didn't really connect with our fellow travelers, we did find them to be unfailingly gracious, and never did we pass folks in the corridor without being offered a courteous "Guten Morgen" (good morning), "Guten Tag" (good day) or "Guten Abend" (good evening).

Tipping


All tips are included in your price.


Our recommendation

Equipped with cruise ship standard facilities, the Cruise Europa has a capacity of 3000 passengers, selection of cabins and being 225 metres long and 31 metres wide it can hold up to 963 vehicles. On board you will find à la carte and self-service restaurants, a swimming pool, gym, casino, a disco, a supermarket, an entertaining piano bar, shops, internet point, a variety of video games for older passengers and a children’s playground and much more.