January 11, 2011 Updated January 12, 2011
Call it luxury-lite cruising for younger, more casual cruise travelers. This niche category of cruise ships, which was pioneered by Oceania and is also occupied by Azamara, offers upmarket onboard experiences -- particularly in terms of service and cuisine -- at a moderate price point. The biggest difference between this niche and true luxury is that it's not as inclusive, price-wise. (You'll pay extra for everything from sodas to shore tours.)
Hapag-Lloyd, which may be best known as the operator of the ultra-luxe Europa, definitely one of the finest ships in cruising, is so committed to this new approach that it's also chartering a new-build -- brand-new, 516-passenger Europa 2 -- for 12 years from a third-party company. That ship, too, will shake off the line's reputation for stuffy, if elegant, formalism and will enter service in 2013.
According to a Hapag-Lloyd spokeswoman, "we believe people who are still working will appreciate these shorter luxury cruises. Compared to other family cruises on ships carrying more than 1,000 people, we are offering something more intimate and luxurious."
At this point, few additional details, whether on family-friendly programs and facilities or on itineraries, are available. Also still up in the air: Will the addition of two more ships to its fleet inspire Hapag-Lloyd to market more aggressively beyond its traditionally German passenger base? The line has flirted for years with introducing its destination-intense, enrichment-oriented luxury and expedition cruises to an broader audience with a handful of international voyages. Most of its traditional passengers, however, are wealthy seniors, whatever their country of origin.
The two new additions will bring Hapag-Lloyd's fleet to six ships: small, ultra-luxury Europa; posh expedition ships Bremen and Hanseatic; and four-star Columbus.
For more about what it's like to sail with Hapag-Lloyd, check out our Middle East virtual cruise on Europa.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor