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4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2007
However I did many cruises i was very nervous to join ms Europa as German is only my fourth language and it was a complete new challenge : going to a cruiseship mostly catering to the German speaking market. So after a punctual flight and ... Read More
However I did many cruises i was very nervous to join ms Europa as German is only my fourth language and it was a complete new challenge : going to a cruiseship mostly catering to the German speaking market. So after a punctual flight and a long taxi drive - the traffic was hectic- i did arrive at the terminal where my hand luggage was taken over; only my electronic ticket and my passport was necessary - no single request for a copy of a credit card. In the Lobby of the ship I immediately was offered a glass of champagne Duval leroy what appeared to be the house champagne. In my cabin - suite is better - a bottle of champagne strawberries , fruit two petit fours and a fully stocked mini bar with soft drinks and beer if you want it. The suite was very nice with ample space - a lot of lights and the first part is with a wooden floor. Beautifully appointed bathroom with separate shower and ample closet space. The people working on the ship are really wonderful and they all seem to be very happy to work on the Europa. The Europa is not an all in ship, the drinks in the mini bar in the suite are complimentary the wines and soda's are not. The service in the different bars was simply outstanding - the Piano bar became my favorite. Champagne however not free seemed to be the most popular drink on board. The first two days i did receive all the information in both English as in German but after the third i could manage to go for german in full; The first dinner was in the Italian Venezia restaurant what appeared to be open for lunch as well like the Oriental restaurant. Service was outstanding and the food simply delicious. It seemed the maitre d 'h started up the first Italian speciality restaurant on a cruise ship ever. The first breakfast was on a sea day and on the Europa on such a day a Gourmet Breakfast is served with complimentary champagne and delicacies as gooseliver, carpacccio of tuna steak tartare and more nice items. The welcome aboard dinner was great , in the morning the chef already did present his dishes in detail and the sommelier did introduce the wine suggestions with a tasting.The party was a superb experience with a lot of very special hors d 'oeuvres and canapes. Such an experience was like cruising in the "good old days". During the cruise Iranian oscietra caviar was on the menu - such a caviar is not for free but available at a reasonable cost. The wine list is extremely well balanced with a great selection of champagnes and the very good German wines were presented as well; a nice item for singles is that 30 wines are presented by the carafe and some other wines by the glass as well. 3 champagnes were available by the glass, Duval Leroy, Veuve Clicquot and Taittinger rose. One lunch was bavarian with beer and schnapps; In the afternoon there were waffles , tea time was memorable. In Casablanca a great Moroccan night was organized on open deck, it appeared the product manager of the Europa herself did the entire organization of that evening. Other culinary events were a special dinner done by a michelin starred chef Petz from the palais Coburg in Vienna and a presentation of high quality Austrian wines. Overall friendliness of everybody, a captain who did like the social aspect of his function and simply perfection make a cruise on the Europa a very special holiday on a beautiful ship. The last days no single striving to obtain gratuities could be found. Some cruises are announced as bilingual - everybody does speak English on board. There is no casino on board , some people must think about it and the formal nights are formal indeed with crew wearing tails. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2008
Review of MS Bremen The four cruise ships of Hapag-Lloyd, the German shipping company, are well-respected in Germany but little-known in the United States. Only some of their cruises are marketed to English speakers. It's a ... Read More
Review of MS Bremen The four cruise ships of Hapag-Lloyd, the German shipping company, are well-respected in Germany but little-known in the United States. Only some of their cruises are marketed to English speakers. It's a shame. We cruised on the expedition ship MS Bremen from Nova Scotia to Greenland, leaving June 14, 2008, and disembarking in Iceland June 30. What an experience! There were some shortcomings, and while the Bremen considers itself a four-star ship, it probably falls a little short of that. Still, this was a cruise to be remembered always. The Ship. The Bremen, which features an ice-hardened hull, is nearly 20 years old. It is attractive, it looks like a ship should look, and it is well-maintained and staffed by a friendly crew, most of whom spoke good English. Getting around the ship is easy. The captain and other top officers were frequently available to talk and answer questions. The bridge is advertised as being open to passengers, although too frequently it was closed. Smoking is unfortunately allowed in some areas, though not in the main dining room. The Bremen carries up to 164 people in pleasant staterooms that are typical cruise-ship in size and decor, with typical cruise ship bathrooms. Some have balconies. Ours, No. 428, did not and I can not see why anyone would need a balcony. Our room had two chairs and a desk but no sofa. Storage space is good. The rooms readily allow noise from adjoining cabins. The ship television system was not worth much. There is one main dining room, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a club/bar that serves a breakfast and lunch buffet, plus afternoon tea and a late-night snack. Dinner is one sitting. Service is good but not great. The library is small and does not offer enough to English speakers. The internet worked some times, but not other times. The daily report of news from the USA and the world was poor. The ship has a small pool, no whirlpool, but a decent exercise facility. There is a large meeting room on the top deck, with excellent views, and an outdoor stern sitting area where passengers can take drinks and food from the club. Being an expedition ship, there was little entertainment and no casino, which was just fine with the passengers. This was advertised as a bilingual cruise. All announcements and written material were in German and English. We had about two dozen English speakers aboard. A single English speaker on a cruise like this would feel very lonely. The Food. Sometimes the chief purchased food from locals along the way. One morning in a little Greenland town, we observed cod, just recently caught, being loaded onto the ship. Breakfast was very European, with heavy emphasis on sliced meats and cheeses, not something that appeals to all Americans. Eggs, bacon and pancakes were available. Lunches and dinners followed a varied menu. Dinner offerings were particularly ambitious, sometimes featuring game dishes like hare. The food was almost always good to very good, sometimes excellent. The duck breast, wild boar and venison were superb, the beef Wellington won raves. There was a surprising lack of shrimp, and veal appeared on the menu too often. Failures did occur. The halibut one night was overcooked. The prime rib was so bad it should never have left the kitchen. The chef was personable and frequently available. But hints to him that ice tea should be provided for American guests went unheeded. The Cruise. The passengers were nearly all adults over the age of 30. We embarked in Halifax, with very smooth procedures, except that luggage delivery was terribly slow. We left on time and headed for Greenland. We had an ambitious itinerary, in a difficult travel region just above and below the Arctic Circle, in a part of the world where cruises ships do not often venture. Things did not always go according to plan, but we had fabulous times. The ship sailed by ice bergs as large as office buildings. One morning we encountered whales, so the ship slowed and circled while they swam around us. High, barren mountains were often seen ashore. One highlight was a visit to a glacier, where the ship entered an uncharted inlet surrounded by ice bergs, stopped, launched the Zodiac boats, and took passengers as close to the glacier as was safe. Before returning to the ship we were dropped off on a rocky beach, walked to the top of a rise, and found to our surprise that the chef had set up a hot dog lunch with warm spiced wine. What a treat! We had interesting sociological visits to several Greenland towns. But there were frustrations. Three towns we were scheduled to visit were dropped because of weather/ice conditions. Two other towns were substituted, but it was not an equal tradeoff. We had knowledgeable lecturers aboard, but their talks did not always convey the flavor of the places and societies we were about to visit. Yet, when we talked to the lecturers ashore, they were frequently illuminating. Preparations for shore visits were lacking. We visited one town on a national holiday, which meant many businesses were closed. In another town, no one told us about the best local souvenir ship-we found out from a local resident. Museums and churches too often were closed, and reported efforts to open them failed. We were not given nearly enough time in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. Nice restaurants were available in some of the towns for a ship-wide luncheon, but that was never done. In no town did the mayor or other civic official meet us and answer questions. Surely, in some places, that would have been possible. We had expected more Zodiac boat landings in unusual, uninhabited places, but that did not happen. Ice conditions and weather were issues. We encountered far more floating ice than expected, which hindered navigation. Some days were glorious, sunny with temperatures in the 40s and 50s. Other days were foggy and gray. The sea was rough for several days and very rough for two days, when dishes and silverware flew from dining room tables and walking in the hallways was difficult. Sickness bags were placed on hallway railings. We did not need the ship doctor, but other passengers did. He was said to be excellent. The cruise ended on schedule in Reykjavik, where we spent several delightful days on our own. Was the Trip Worthwhile? The cruise cost us about $7,500 a person, not including airfare and hotels before and after. We met interesting fellow passengers from several countries, dined and resided in fine fashion on a cruise ship for more than two weeks, learned about the Inuit culture, Greenland and Iceland first-hand, and saw parts of the world not a lot of our friends will ever see. Would we book the cruise again? That is the ultimate question of worth, and in our case, the answer is absolutely yes. Read Less
7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2009
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
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2009
It was with some trepidation that we embarked on this cruise aboard MS Europa, a ship primarily designed for German speaking passengers. Not that the language concerned us as the cruise was "Bilingual" and my wife and I have a ... Read More
It was with some trepidation that we embarked on this cruise aboard MS Europa, a ship primarily designed for German speaking passengers. Not that the language concerned us as the cruise was "Bilingual" and my wife and I have a reasonable working knowledge of German. Rather I had read a fellow member's review shortly before we left and it was lukewarm at best. On the other hand Douglas Ward (a somewhat better known and renowned cruise critic) had just awarded the ship "Best in the World" for the umpteenth year running. With open minds we set off for Rome and soon had no difficulty in forming our own view. Read on to find out with whom we were inclined to agree! We had spent a few days in a lovely old town near Rome before joining the ship and our hotel had organised a taxi to take us to Civitavecchia. We were told to expect embarkation at 4 pm and we arrived exactly on time. With no fuss, we were checked in very swiftly (having already received our cruise cards in advance) and offered fruit juice and canapes whilst we walked the few steps to security. No requests for credit cards nor any queues in sight. Almost immediately we were greeted by a selection of crew members and personally escorted on board by a delightful English speaking stewardess who helped with our baggage and made us feel very welcome. Once on board we were offered complimentary champagne and escorted via glass lift (operated by a piccolo) to our suite conveniently situated on deck 7 (one below the lido deck). We were given information about the suite's facilities and as we had sent our luggage in advance (we were travelling with two children, one a seven month old baby so "Carry M Luggage.com" was a godsend!) we were soon unpacked and ready to enjoy yet more complimentary champagne for our sail away. A welcome bottle of champagne, strawberries, chocolates and treats for the children had also been placed in our suite awaiting our arrival. These were all delicious. A mini-bar had also been stocked with complimentary juices and beer. Other drinks were charged to one's account though it was never necessary to sign as the crew knew us and always greeted us with our name. The suite was of a good size for a family and comprised bathroom (with bath and separate shower), dressing room (with credit card operated safe), bedroom and (separated by a curtain) lounge where the children slept. The furnishings were of good quality and the carpeting looked new. The floor on entering is wood. Our stewardess was first rate and serviced our suite twice a day with plentiful towels and handsome size toiletries. Although Europa celebrated its 10th birthday shortly before we joined, it is well maintained and had been freshly painted from bow to stern. No vibration could be felt when the ship was at sea and we seldom realised we were on a ship. However, the situation of our accommodation up front meant that we did hear the anchor being lowered in tender ports and the bow thrusters being used frequently. This could be quite noisy and usually early in the morning! The public rooms are delightful and not in any way glitzy as are found on many ships these days. Very understated but comfortable and spacious. I believe that Europa has one of the highest space per passenger ratios (70 plus) and even though the ship was full we rarely felt part of a crowd. Soon after embarking we were given an English safety demonstration in the Clipper Lounge and we quickly realised that we were the only 4 English speaking passengers on board! Nonetheless we were afforded the services of an international hostess who looked after us impeccably and was always available. Our fellow passengers were mainly from Germany, Austria and Switzerland and unfailingly polite and eager to engage in conversation (especially about our baby daughter!). The crew spoke excellent English and all menus were available in English in the dining rooms and on our in suite TV system (called cruise net). Cruise net also featured free e-mail and a good selection of English films and music. Entertainment in the main lounge was provided by an excellent 8 piece band comprising talented musicians (especially the pianist)and two vocalists who sang a variety of musical styles. The "international" flavour of the cabaret artists was limited but as this was a classical music cruise, there was always a good variety of concerts available. These were held in the Europa lounge (where the Steinway was somewhat inferior to the Bosendorfer in the Club Belvedere) and also on shore at 2 venues in Malta and Split. The classical musicians were from the German Music Foundation and though most of them were not (yet) professional artists, they certainly made up for their lack of personality with their considerable musical talent and virtuosity. I particularly enjoyed the young tenor whose rendition of "Caro Mio Ben" at the concert in Split I will never forget. He also sang some delightful Scottish songs by Haydn with almost brought a tear to our Scottish eyes! The young pianists, cellist and violinists were also stunningly good. It was very appropriate that Hapag-Lloyd donated the proceeds of the auction of the cruise chart to the Foundation giving their coffers a well deserved boost. Hapag-Lloyd always went the extra mile and "no" was never an answer. If a port of call could not be reached because of weather (twice on our port intensive cruise) they would try (and succeed) to find an alternative. Our hostess even arranged for English movies to be shown in the small cinema with pop corn and drinks on the house. These touches were appreciated and enjoyed. An overnight stay was arranged in Split so that the aforementioned classical concert could be arranged. As for dining, once again nothing was spared. We had our own table in the lovely Europa restaurant for the entire cruise and could dine there whenever we wished. The service was exemplary both by the waiters and sommelier (who succeeded in converting us to German and Swiss wines). The menus were extensive, the food presentation excellent and the choice incredible. From foie gras, caviar, lobster, oyster to suckling pig, truffles, every type of food was available at breakfast, lunch and dinner. All beautifully served and extremely tasty. We tried both all of the alternative restaurants and the Oriental and Venezia restauarants (situated near the Europa main restaurant) featured extensive menus which changed on a regular basis. The food and service were first class and there was never a supplementary charge. The Lido cafe too served an excellent breakfast buffet until 11am (with hot food as well as an excellent choice of fruit, bread, German sausages, cheese etc). At lunch it provided a stunning buffet as well as grills cooked to order. We also ate at the Lido several evenings when the theme of the cooking matched the ports - eg Sicily and Greece. Other nice touches were canapes on deck when leaving port, ice creams and drinks sailing up the Grand Canal in Venice and of course Waffles by the pool in the afternoon. Sadly these proved very popular and could take some time to order! Otherwise there were very few lines even for self-service buffets with a full complement of passengers. In the evenings there were also lovely canapes availale and (after our concert in Split) a fantastic gala buffet. The childrens program was well organised (though not used by our children) and we counted at least another twenty or so children on what was billed a family cruise. Shore excursions were good value for money and included a varied selection in English. In Libya the company also arranged for our visas with no fuss, something which had proved an obstacle in the UK before departure. Even after disembarking Europa, Hapag-Lloyd transferred us to a nice hotel to awit our transfer to the Airport on the way home. Their hospitality was again well received and it was refreshing to travel with a cruise line who did not see their responsibility ending up at the gangway. Were there any minus points? Very few. Contrary to Douglas Ward's book, there were far too many announcements on our cruise. Certainly the ship will require to be upgraded as it ages but that is missing the point in my view. It is the people aboard Europa which make it such a highly valued product. They try their best all the time and succeed in making the cruise experience what it used to be with some other lines. If they build another ship, they should also cnsider an indoor pool. This is missed by many passengers of the old Europa (which still sails and passed us in the Med). Will we return? Most certainly. We have booked to return next October from Monaco to Greece and (God willing) we look forwar to seeing some familiar faces on board. Would it suit everyone? Obviously not but, then again, there is no accounting for taste! Happy cruising. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 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
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2010
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
8 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2014
Arrive in Ushuaia after an overnight stay in Buenos Aires. 13 hour flight from London then a 4 hour job from Buenos Aires. Board mid afternoon and sail an hour later. Bremen is a great little expedition vessel with 4*+ luxury. 170 ... Read More
Arrive in Ushuaia after an overnight stay in Buenos Aires. 13 hour flight from London then a 4 hour job from Buenos Aires. Board mid afternoon and sail an hour later. Bremen is a great little expedition vessel with 4*+ luxury. 170 passengers or so, mainly German but this voyage had 22 Noble Caledonia booked Englanders ! And we were put into our own group for everything so we all got to know each other very well. Ages ranged from mid 50s to mid 70s but all active and relatively fit - which you need to be for a holiday like this. Next day at sea saw us equipped with boots and parkas. Then it was 2 days in the Falklands, 3 days at South Georgia and 6 days in the antarctic peninsula. Landings all by zodiacs, all wet except Port Stanley. Saw all the different penguins and seals. Also humpbacks, orcas, fin and minke whales. If you are into birds then you would be in heaven. Cabin, food and services on board better than Cunard. Lectures given in German then in English so we didn't miss out on anything. Dining is casual, we were told Hanseatic, their 5* vessel, was more formal. Weather not bad. Mainly overcast and we got caught in a blizzard in Sth Georgia which was interesting. Drake Passage crossings were a bit lumpy but not bad at all. Days were quite tiring. Often 3 landings a day which was great but we were all a bit knackered by the end. But I think we all would have loved the trip to last longer. Anyone looking for an antarctic experience should check out these holidays. A tad more expensive but worth it. A proper antarctic experience.   Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2014
We chose the Europa 2 to celebrate a special occasion. For comparison, we have taken 3 Windstar cruises in the past, and one transatlantic cruise on the Queen Mary 2, in Princess Grill. The experience was wonderful. The ship is beautiful, ... Read More
We chose the Europa 2 to celebrate a special occasion. For comparison, we have taken 3 Windstar cruises in the past, and one transatlantic cruise on the Queen Mary 2, in Princess Grill. The experience was wonderful. The ship is beautiful, designed with clean modern lines and a feeling of spaciousness everywhere. The central elevator space is especially impressive; it has a 4-storey wall of glass on either side so the area is filled with daylight and the sight of the ocean. Restaurants are appointed with elegant and beautiful touches typical of their cuisines. And except for one oddly-shaped chair in the lobby area, all of the seating in bars and restaurants was extremely comfortable. Amazingly, the ship never seemed crowded. It was about 80% full, and there are so many places to go and sit that we rarely felt surrounded by other people. We had a standard ocean suite with a fancy bathroom and a large window between the bathroom and the rest of the cabin. It turned out that I loved seeing the ocean from the shower; and it was also nice having a bit of natural light in the bathroom. The alternative standard configuration has a smaller bathroom but a larger living space and a walk-in closet; having seen both I can highly recommend the ocean suite. The bed was furnished with individual down comforters, which were luxurious but in truth a bit too warm for the climate. The living area was comfortable and the veranda was spacious. Nespresso machines and a selection of coffee pods are hidden in one of the cabinets, and the mini bar is stocked with juices, waters, sodas, and beer (all complimentary and restocked promptly). The cabin was serviced several times a day and was immaculately clean. I've mentioned how comfortable all of the sitting areas are. That includes the deck chairs, which are arranged around the pool on two levels inside (the pool area is semi-sheltered and has a retractable roof that was wide open in the daytime) and also around the promenade decks on the outside. The outside chairs are arranged in pairs separated by partitions for privacy, and a crew member drifts by from time to time offering drinks. Oh, so relaxing…. The food was generally excellent, and sometimes superb. We tried all of the specialty restaurants as well as the main restaurant and buffet. We were somewhat disappointed with the sushi restaurant (probably best not to expect authentic sushi here), but the others were great, and deservedly popular. We also loved the main restaurant for its ambience and service; in particular we sometimes liked the quieter atmosphere there at breakfast. But the buffet is also terrific, with an amazing array of delicious choices at all three meals. Portions were small in the restaurants, which we prefer because we can enjoy several courses without getting too full. Wines are not included; but the wine list offered many affordable and delicious choices (mostly European) by the glass, carafe, or bottle. The waitstaff is well-trained, and service was quite good. No dress code, but men are expected to wear long pants in the restaurants. Mostly people were appropriately dressed - no jarring exceptions. Our itinerary (Singapore to Hong Kong) followed the west coast of Borneo and then north through the Philippines and emphasized natural over cultural sights. We went on three ship excursions and otherwise wandered on our own. The excursions were fine; not better or worse than what we have found ourselves when traveling abroad. If you are resourceful and/or familiar with your destinations, you would probably do just as well finding your own alternatives. We liked the convenience of the excursions we chose, however. None of the ports on this itinerary were spectacular, although seeing the primates in Malaysia fulfilled a lifelong ambition of mine, and we had a great day in Puerta Princesa sightseeing on our own. For us, the trip as as much about enjoying the ship as it was seeing the sights. A note about the language. Europa 2 is a German ship staffed by a German crew, but Hapag LLoyd is reaching out to English customers and all of the crew members are bilingual. We were only rarely left to wonder about something we heard (I took a yoga class that was given in German, for instance, although I could follow the practice by watching). The ship staffs an English "ambassador" to help with anything that can't be conveniently presented in both languages, and she took good care of her English-speaking passengers. English newspapers are available every day (although not until the afternoon, unfortunately). Overall, we had a wonderful time. We saw a part of the world we would otherwise never have gotten to, and enjoyed a shipboard experience that was nearly perfection. I will remember small things - the excellent teas and breads, the quiet in all of the sitting areas, the crew waiting with cold towels when we returned from an excursion in the hot and humid climate. And the friendly, helpful, always good-natured crew. Oh, and I should mention caviar night - served with blini and potato latkes and mother of pearl spoons… Yes, I would love to go again. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: June 2014
The embarkation at Southampton was a poor experience. The cruise had commenced on the 23 June in Hamburg, with Southampton being the first port of call on the 25 June. On arriving at Southampton, there were no porters or representatives ... Read More
The embarkation at Southampton was a poor experience. The cruise had commenced on the 23 June in Hamburg, with Southampton being the first port of call on the 25 June. On arriving at Southampton, there were no porters or representatives of Hapag-Lloyd to assist with carrying one's cases onto the ship. At reception, on enquiring if there was anyone to show one to one's Stateroom the response was that no-one was available. Given the fact that the Europa 2 was only launched in 2013, it was surprising that sound insulation between Staterooms is so poor. On one side of my Stateroom I could hear a young child crying, especially in the early hours of the morning, and on the other side two people holding a conversation. Reception did offer to move me, but the Staterooms on offer were in a worse location on the ship. The final, negative, surprise was that water at mealtimes was a chargeable item. Not what one would expect of a luxury Cruise Line. Now for the outweighing positives. The entry level Staterooms, at 300 sq. ft., are extremely well designed, and are kept immaculate by the Stewardesses. The Europa 2 is kept looking pristine by the staff. The public areas are extremely elegant and spacious. The staff are uniformly friendly, and helpful, and spoke excellent English. The restaurants that I tried served some of the best food I have ever eaten both in terms of the quality of ingredients, and the combination of flavours. Wines were reasonably priced, and staff, while not Sommeliers, appeared to be knowledgeable in the advice they offered. Unfortunately, the English speaking passengers did not sign up for either English guided tours, or attend Port Lectures that were offered in English. Hapag-Lloyd issue, with the initial documentation,very useful English language Mini Guides on the Ports of Call, as well as further information sheets throughout the cruise, which are helpful for independent sight seeing. I signed up for several of the tours guided in German, and while they were expensive they were of very high quality, and, I thought, value for money. The Guides were extremely good in terms of their knowledge, and presentation skills. Especially good were the specific guided walking tours through the old parts of a City which lasted between four to four and a half hours. Entertainment on the ship was mixture of stage shows, by the resident theatre group, which were reminiscent of 'Cirque du Soleil', and performances by artists who were brought on board at various Ports of Call. Introductions to Shows were in both German, and English. As expected, the majority of the passengers were German. I found them to be very friendly, and willing to chat either in English, or if they could not speak English they were prepared to help me with my poor knowledge of German. When I had my bad fall, and hurt my back, during an excursion, several came up to me to ask how I was, and wish me a speedy recovery. And the Tours Office, without my even mentioning anything, cancelled the charge for the excursion as I had not completed it. To sum up, the cruise experience on the Europa 2 was such that I would have no hesitation in booking another cruise.   Read Less
7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2014
WRANGEL ISLAND, Russia – The announcement came over the ship’s PA system at 3:35am: “There’s a polar bear dead ahead of us.” Within minutes passengers appeared up on deck, some still in their PJs, looking at the polar bear ... Read More
WRANGEL ISLAND, Russia – The announcement came over the ship’s PA system at 3:35am: “There’s a polar bear dead ahead of us.” Within minutes passengers appeared up on deck, some still in their PJs, looking at the polar bear swimming near the ship just off Wrangel Island, in the eastern Russian Arctic. It was a bright, sunny day (the sun had risen at 1:44am), and this was our first polar bear sighting of several to come. We were 500km north of the Arctic Circle and the ocean was unusually calm; we could see the bear’s head reflected in the water as he turned to look at us. What an experience – and only one of so many during this 16-day cruise on board Hapag-Lloyd’s Hanseatic, the first non-Russian ship to be allowed to visit Wrangel Island. Indeed, we saw no other tourists during the entire trip. This was truly an expedition adventure once we had donned parkas and rubber boots and left the ship in the rubber Zodiacs. Guided by a team of specialists, we were off to navigate through the sea ice on a sightseeing excursion, or to go ashore to discover abundant flowers and wildlife in the bleak landscape. But back on board the 180-passenger “world’s only five-star expedition cruise ship” (according to Berlitz, the global education company of language training fame) we lived in luxury, in comfortable staterooms with gourmet meals served on Rosenthal china – including 27 varieties of bread and rolls baked freshly every day for breakfast Antarctica receives much of the travel publicity these days. But while the Arctic has no penguins, it certainly has a wealth of other life as we discovered – from the 48 bird varieties (some in flocks numbering in the hundreds of thousands) and 18 land and sea mammals to the Eskimos and other Russians. It was fascinating enough to explore the Arctic tundra most of us had hitherto only read about in school. But we could add to that the experience of being with the people who live far north of Siberia, with their Russian/post-Soviet or Eskimo heritage. So please come along to sample some of the highlights on what turned out to be a most unusual and interesting cruise adventure. TUESDAY: After a Miami Air charter flight from Vancouver we joined the ship in the remote Alaskan town of Nome, a port during its brief ice-free summer. While most of the passengers were from German-speaking countries, this was considered an international cruise so all communication was bilingual. WEDNESDAY: We paused offshore in the Bering Sea to look at a deserted settlement site on King Island, where Inupiat Eskimos had lived for thousands of years. The last villagers moved to Nome in 1970, leaving behind houses built on stilts on impossibly steep slopes The abandoned wooden structures were now collapsing, and stared eerily back at us with eye sockets where windows used to be. FRIDAY: We lost Thursday as we crossed the dateline. Provideniya, a former Soviet military port and our first contact with Russia, lay ahead. We’d heard Russia was angry with Europe, North America and Australia over international sanctions, and could have cancelled its permission for us – a German ship – to travel in Russian waters. But all went well and we were allowed ashore to explore this bleak outpost. Many of the buildings had been abandoned, some had been painted in bright colours but the town still had a dreary appearance. “We get about three days of sunshine a year,” said one resident. With mists hanging low over the town, this wasn’t one of them. We saw a folklore show - Russian dancers in traditional costumes gliding on to the stage or kick-dancing with arms crossed, and also Eskimo story-telling dances. Then we cruised 8km to Bukhta Slawyanka (Plover Cove) for our first exploration of the tundra. This was also the first of many wet landings, so we were wearing the boots and parkas lent to all passengers as the Zodiacs ran up on the beach and we jumped out at the water’s edge. This time the mists wreathing the hills and sitting low over the ocean, the patches of blue (but poisonous) monkshood flowers on land, the abandoned boats and buildings – all created a scene of wonder and beauty. SATURDAY: We visited Lorino where traditionally costumed local Eskimo dancers sang and danced the stories of their Chukchi ancestors for us. We sampled local food: a delicious fish soup made from Arctic char, gray whale and walrus muktuk (blubber and skin), reindeer meat. The temperature was an unusually warm 20 degrees, the ocean completely flat. SUNDAY: The small village of Neshkan welcomed us with another folklore show; dogs tore at the remains of a recently slaughtered gray whale on the beach. “The village was created by the Soviet government in the 1950s as a collective farm, to bring together the reindeer herders of the area,” Sylvia Stevens, one of our expert guides and lecturers, told us. The village of 700 still had six reindeer herds and supplemented its economy with fishing. It was so remote only pensioners were paid in cash, while others used barter or coupons. The district centre of Lavrentiya was a weekly 250km flight away, or four to five days of off-road travel. MONDAY: Today brought a birder’s delight as we cruised along the cliffs of Kolyuchin Island, home to hundreds of thousands of guillemots, kittiwakes, cormorants and puffins. “The guillemots lay a single egg on the narrow ledges,” said Stevens. “At two weeks, the chick has to jump down to the sea where its father takes care of it until it can fly, often paddling as much as 40km in a day until it is independent.” TUESDAY-FRIDAY: Wrangel Island came into view and thankfully the sea ice had broken up enough for us to pick up the two rangers and a biologist who would stay with us during our visit to one of Russia’s most restricted nature reserves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. And what a surprisingly fascinating place it was – given its location astride longitude 180 degrees in such a remote and inhospitable part of the planet. “Wrangel and nearby Herald Islands were untouched by glaciers of the last ice age,” Stevens said, “so they look much as they did in the Pleistocene era when wolly mammoths roamed the land until they became extinct around 2000 BC. Wrangel is best known today as having the greatest concentration of polar bear dens in the world.” Wrangel was also the home of 417 plant species - at least 23 of which grew nowhere else. Considering that the summer temperature hovered just above zero, we were amazed to see so many plants and flowers like the forget-me-nots when we went ashore on Komsomol Beach. On the other hand, as one of the largest walrus “haul out” sites in the world, Cape Blossom had far more walrus bones than blossoms. A couple of teenage boys decided it was time for a quick dip – a very quick dip as they rushed and staggered back out of the zero-degree ocean far more quickly than they had gone in. But the little brown woolly bear caterpillar which Stevens spotted didn’t mind the cold. These creatures live for 14 years (normal caterpillar life is three weeks), completely freezing every winter and thawing out every short summer until they spin a cocoon and turn into Isabella tiger moths. Arctic ground squirrels were busily collecting food for the long winter, pausing every so often to sit up in a meerkat-like pose. Now it was polar bear time. We spotted them swimming and walking on ice floes, including a mother with cub – but were glad not to see them when we went ashore, guarded by one of the guides armed with a rifle. SATURDAY-WEDNESDAY (including two Tuesdays as we crossed the dateline again): Winds whipped up five-metre waves in the Chukchi Sea, our only patch of stormy weather. Later, we watched seven orca (killer) whales following an injured gray whale in Bering Strait. Then we spotted about 100 walrus males hauled out on the beach of Big Diomede Island and swimming nearby, and went out in the Zodiacs for a closer look at these tusked creatures which can weigh up to 2,000kg. On Yittigran Island we walked in the long grass of Whalebone Alley, named for its carefully arranged whale skulls and other bones, especially ribs, and stones. And so back to Nome we sailed, grateful for the mostly good weather and lack of mosquitoes, treasuring our memories of the eastern Russian Arctic tundra in summer with its amazingly varied wildlife and vegetation, its inhabitants and their history. And that 3:35am wakeup call: “There’s a polar bear dead ahead of us.” Read Less
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