5 Hapag-Lloyd Europa Luxury Cruise Reviews

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
Sail Date May 2018
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
Sail Date September 2016
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
Sail Date October 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
Sail Date March 2010
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
Sail Date May 2009
Europa Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 5.0 5.0
Dining 5.0 4.8
Entertainment 4.0 4.7
Public Rooms 4.0 4.9
Fitness Recreation 5.0 4.7
Family 3.0 4.7
Shore Excursion 4.0 4.7
Enrichment 4.0 4.3
Service 3.0 4.7
Value For Money 4.0 4.6
Rates 4.0 4.2

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