Europa offers quite sophisticated theme cruises -- for instance, the Ocean Sun Classical Music Festival, which occurred on our cruise, or "the magic of Asian culture" or "artists of the German Foundation Musikleben.” The Ocean Sun Classical Music Festival, an annual event, was first-rate, with performances and discourses from numerous internationally known musicians, such as Julian Lloyd Webber.
Otherwise, entertainment was a bit on the dated side. A troupe of dancers did some interpretive performances, a pianist played a range of classical and romantic tunes, a folk band specialized in German music, and a variety of entertainment acts, which change every itinerary, sing and dance.
Evening pool parties with live music were a good idea in theory, but the temperatures were a bit brisk at night in Norway's fjords.
The Europa lounge is the ship's main theater and can seat all passengers at a single showing. Secondary venues include the Belvedere Lounge and the little-used Clipper Lounge.
Destination lectures are also available. On our trip, the bilingual lecturers talked about aspects of Norwegian history and culture, though the information was fairly superficial. We did appreciate the occasional destination lecture, piped in to the pool area, during daylight sailaways and ventures into tiny fjords.
Other enrichment-oriented activities include dance workshops, bingo, card games, art classes in a specially dedicated craft room called the Hobbyraum, formal bridge and a really intriguing activity hosted by writing instructors on the art of storytelling (alas, only available to German-speaking passengers).
Europa's Sansibar had an alcove for dancing (and nights featured either live music or a DJ), which served as the ship's disco, but it was rare that people actually did boogie; most just hang out talking and watching the world pass by through the open-air setting. It was our favorite post-dinner destination, aside from the fact cigar-smoking was allowed.
Interestingly, there is no casino. (There was one originally, but it was so underused it was removed.)
The center of life indoors on Europa lies primarily along the Europa Deck. Running aft to stern via a grand corridor, it begins with the Europa Lounge, the ship's main theater, before winding past a rather impersonal Atrium bar. The Havana Bar features Cuban cigars and rums in a smoky, dusky atmosphere with terrible ventilation; smoke and its scent permeated the areas around it. The Clipper Lounge, a secondary performance venue, was typically either closed or simply empty when we peeked in. There's also an underused art gallery and a handful of upscale shops where you can buy everything from Wempe jewels to some rather trendy fashions. (If you run out of basic necessities, ask the shop clerks for them, as they're not displayed).
Another series of public spaces can be found on Deck 8, anchored by the Belvedere lounge, a small auditorium that's also home to afternoon tea service but otherwise hardly used, which was a shame because its deck-top locale offered sweeping views. Nearby, a library boasts mostly German-language books (one shelf was dedicated to English titles) and a pair of computers with Internet access. (You can also use your in-cabin television, which has a keyboard, or Wi-Fi all over the ship.)
Shore excursions mostly feature usual suspects -- cultural tours, city tours and village tours -- but kudos to Europa for offering a nice range of recreationally oriented shore excursions, from hiking to cycling.
The Ocean Spa gets a lot out of its postage stamp-small space, tucked into a corridor on Deck 7, between cabins on one side and the kids' facilities on the other. While the ambience wasn't terribly appealing, the treatments, including Eastern- and Western-style massages, facials and body wraps, were outstanding, and the therapists were clearly well trained.
Adjacent is a beauty salon, offering services from hairstyling to manicures for men and women.
The spa and salon get quite busy, so advance reservations are highly recommended. Keep an eye out for spa specials on port days. They're advertised in the daily program.
I opted for a basic Swedish massage and -- here's where you feel very European -- the masseur was male and didn't seem inclined to leave the room when I began to change. (I suggested gently that he might give me a minute.) It didn't bother me, but it was just different.
A pedicure was more like a session in a dentist's office, complete with various electric-powered instruments. It wasn't terribly relaxing, but it was, nevertheless, quite thorough.
The spa has a coed steam room and sauna, plus a private balcony with seating for two. The nearby relaxation room has heated tile loungers, and you won't need to book a treatment to gain access.
The ship's fitness facility is exceptional. The two-level facility is located atop the pool deck, and its expansive floor-to-ceiling glass windows offer great views from the treadmill or bicycle. Its fitness studio, for classes in yoga, Pilates and the like, is actually not part of the facility; it's located all the way aft on Deck 7, and it features floor-to-ceiling windows looking out at the sea. Other class offerings include personal training and aqua gymnastics. There's even equipment by Miha Bodytec, which uses electric muscle stimulation to help with weight reduction.
The Lido pool makes Europa distinctive. It's a long, lap-swimmable pool in which half is under a glass, retractable roof and half is open to sunshine. There is also a whirlpool.
On Deck 9, a specially designated jogging path is open until 9 a.m. With the help of a golf simulator and ship-provided onboard pro, golfers can work on their games.
A truly sweet kids' facility, called Kinder Club, is a bit of an anachronism when compared with more state-of-the-art children's areas we've seen on other lines. The room, with a soft play area, crafts corner and shelves of books and games, is meant to serve kids from ages 4 to 11, but on our cruise, most children stayed with their families. There's a separate (and rather dreary) Teens Club with Wii, a foosball table, movies, books and games.