Why would a ship so luxurious and famous not be on our radar? The answer is fairly simple: Until recently, the all-suite Europa, under the wing of its Germany-based parent company, was marketed almost solely to German travellers, and their native language was de rigueur onboard.
Now, Hapag-Lloyd has decided to offer bilingual cruises to English-speaking markets in 2009 onboard Europa and its two expedition ships, Hanseatic and Bremen. This will mean that travel documents, daily programmes, entertainment, shore excursions, enrichment sessions, announcements, safety drills and menus will be in German as well as English. The crew will also speak English.
It's important to note that the line tried its hand at offering bilingual cruises back in 2005 -- but then, the two-language option was only included if a certain quota of booked English speakers was met. Cruise Critic Editor in Chief Carolyn Spencer Brown was actually booked on one of these bilingual cruises, but due to the lack of other English speakers, the "bilingual" element was cancelled.
She still took the trip, a Middle East voyage, and although efforts were made to feature menus in English, other aspects such as entertainment and enrichment activities were German-centric, posing a language barrier for Spencer Brown. Also, the ship was visiting ports said to be "off limits" to U.S. passengers such as Yemen's Aden.
So we wanted to know: Will this kind of situation arise again? Apparently not. According to Hapag-Lloyd's spokesperson Rainer Muller, a lot has changed in the past couple of years.
The ships will have guaranteed bilingual cruises, with no minimum group sizes and the line is planning a "recognisable increase of non-German-speaking guests."
Muller said they have a benchmark figure of 20 percent -- made up of guests from America, the U.K. and non-German-speaking Europe. To push the numbers up, travel agencies across North America, the U.K., Belgium, the Netherlands and Scandinavia are being offered ship visits, training and advertising opportunities with Hapag-Lloyd.
Highlighted bilingual sailings include: a 20-day trip from Tahiti to Sydney on 25 January, 2009; a 13-day trip from Shanghai to Hong Kong on 12 March, 2009; an 18-day trip from Singapore to Dubai on 4 April, 2009; a 13-day Baltic trip from Kiel to Hamburg on 26 August, 2009; and an Eastern Mediterranean 12-day trip from Rome to Venice on 13 October, 2009.
If you are looking for something a little different, Hanseatic and Bremen will also be offering a number of Arctic, Antarctica, Alaska, South Pacific and South America bilingual trips next year.
--by Kelly Ranson, U.K. Editor