The ship sails on some of the most interesting itineraries in the industry, mixing smaller offbeat ports with the occasional marquee city. Shore excursions, not included in the cruise rates, are popular with this active, culturally inclined crowd and are generally conducted in German, with some translation offered. English speakers have a few English-only options, but the line will do its best to accommodate. For example, on one sailing, a group of four Americans were given a specially ordered tour van and English-speaking guide after they asked to join an outing with no English translation.
Ship bikes are offered free in ports that allow them, and Europa 2 also offers guided excursions (for a fee) to suit various levels of athletic prowess; little translation is needed. Paddleboarding, hiking and helicopter tours augmented coach outings on our sailings. A tour office and suite butlers help plan excursions and can arrange for private tours.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
You don't choose this ship to experience a nonstop roster of events. We saw no trivia tournaments or karaoke. There are meet-and-greets for English-speaking guests, Kiwanis and Lions Club members and the like, the occasional nighttime pool party with music and a lending library. The ship has a small 70-seat cinema/lecture auditorium, which sometimes shows flicks in 3D.
Europa 2 does not have a casino. Its 500-seat, high-tech theater with nightclub-style seating on banquettes and at small round tables boasts a large LED wall extending two stories -- unusual for a small vessel -- and production shows designed exclusively for the ship. Entertainment varies by cruise. On our sailings, one evening theater performance (there is typically one per night) featured avant-garde acrobatics and dance. That was a good choice for audiences speaking various languages. However on the second outing, a show band dancing and singing to pop hits (mostly in German) didn't hold our attention. A magician's tricks were interesting, and though he did a bit of patter in English, some explanations and intros left us lost without translation, and we left the show early. A reading by a German actor and commentary on soccer matches by top German sports personalities were entirely in that country's tongue. North American passengers who are regulars at shipboard theater entertainment will probably be disappointed.
Live entertainment in lounges around the ship was better suited to English speakers, ranging from '50s and '60s hits to American disco in the late-night Sansibar lounge, to U.S. standards played in the Piano Bar and Jazz Club, to a nighttime pool party playing some Stateside oldies. It was fun to see German matrons in pearls and silk dresses sedately twisting to Chubby Checker.
Talks often are offered in German, with some translation. Quality is high. The arts are a major focus on Europa 2, and, on our trips, enrichment-oriented opportunities ranged from a concert by the Philharmonic Soloists Munich to a reading by a German stage and movie actor that, alas, was only hosted in German. Lectures on the history and culture of destinations also are a fixture, as are instructive visits to the ship's bridge hosted by the captain.
Tours of the ship's extensive art collection by an experienced curator are given in German and English. The ship has a small art gallery with works for sale, but there are no hard-sell auctions, and the curator is happy simply to discuss the artists and their techniques.
Culinary School sessions (some in German, some in English and some with translation) are conducted in a gleaming kitchen classroom. On our sailings, two-hour lobster and beef and foie gras workshops were offered, for 80 euros each, including accompanying wines. A for-fee Champagne tasting and a free gin sampling were popular.
Day and night, bars and lounges offer great variety, ranging from the sedate lobby piano bar to the sizzling Sansibar, where a late-night DJ spins disco. Herrenzimmer boasts what's billed as the largest collection of gin at sea, and allows cigar smoking. The Pool Bar area can be converted to an alfresco dance venue at night. This is Europa 2, so you can order any drink at any bar and you'll get it, from a Brazilian caipirinha to draft beer and Sex on the Beach. Regulars are recognized and generally don't even sign tabs. The charge is just added to their bills.
To deal with expectations of what Hapag-Lloyd calls "international guests," the line recently introduced an onboard beverage credit of up to 200 euros in free drinks, depending on cruise length.
Piano Bar (Deck 4): At theoh-so-civilized lobby outpost, drinks are served by white-jacketed wait staff at the cream-colored bar or delivered to patrons relaxing in comfortable upholstered sofas or chairs. It's popular for pre-dinner drinks. A pianist plays softly while passengers enjoy martinis and other cocktails served on starched white linen squares. It opens at 10 a.m. (but is quiet during the day) and closes at 10 p.m. on the dot.
Herrenzimmer (Deck 4): A clubby den where the odor of cigar smoke clings to hair and clothes even after a short stay, Herrenzimmer offers three-dozen brands of gin. They range from the familiar Tanqueray and Bombay to more esoteric options from Germany, France and Switzerland. A half-dozen tonics also can be ordered to customize your G & T. Cognac and glasses of Europa's house Champagne (Duval Leroy) also are popular. Serving drinks from 6 p.m, it's open all day for smokers.
Jazz Club (Deck 4): The dimly lit, intimate rose-colored room with small stage, dance floor and cozy banquettes whispers romance. Sultry singers and small ensembles play nightly. However, on our most recent sailing, the club was sparsely populated. Only one or two couples usually remained when we looked in after 10 p.m. Open at 6 p.m.
Sansibar (Deck 8): Party animals gravitate here after dinner and into the wee hours. Named for a Margaritaville/Ibiza-style den of decadence on the German vacation island of Sylt and offering inside and open-air tables, it's home to imbibing starting at 10:30 a.m. The scene gets ever louder when the DJ cranks up the tunes and the well-lubricated hit the dance floor, overhung by a chandelier of 1,000 wine bottles. Rose Champagne and Euro-trendy Aperol spritzers (Campari-like Aperol with prosecco and club soda, garnished with a lime slice) are popular. The bar closes when the last passenger leaves.
Pool Bar (Deck 9): The bar offers a full menu of alcoholic drinks, but virgin coladas and other fruity nonalcoholic concoctions sell well, too. (Try "Holiday Feelings," with cherry and passion fruit nectars and lemon and vanilla syrup.) Patrons sit on wooden stools or are served on loungers and at tables. Open from 9 a.m.; closing times vary based on demand.
Belvedere (Deck 9): Though tea is the specialty, you also can order wine, beer or a cocktail while gazing through picture windows at the sea ahead. Open noon to 6 p.m.
Europa 2's sole pool is on Deck 9 and large enough (49 feet long) to do laps. Ranging from 4-to 6-feet deep, it has a retractable clear roof, so it can be used in inclement weather. Separate adult and children's swim times help keep order. There's no hot tub by the pool, but you'll find a secluded one on the sun deck tucked away in the middle of Deck 11; many passengers never discover it. Another whirlpool is in the spa.
Finding a lounger is easy. Aside from being by the pool, they line Deck 9 and are found on Deck 10 (a row of daybeds is popular there) and aft outside the spa on Deck 5. Clamshell-shaped loungers that can seat two surround the whirlpool aft on Deck 11.
Deck 10 has two shuffleboard courts.
The 24-hour reception desk is on Deck 4, as are a future cruise sales office and separate shore and bike excursion desks, where customized outings (such as a beach barbecue using one of the ship's Zodiacs) can be arranged. A clothing boutique and watch and jewelry shop also are on Deck 4.
Card players can use one of the two small libraries on Deck 9, with books and games to borrow. Four library computer terminals let passengers print boarding passes or surf the internet. One has an English keyboard; if the previous user was German, be sure to reset the language to English. Printing our boarding pass was a hassle, so we sent it to our mobile phone. Wi-Fi is 19 euro cents a minute and works reasonably well, unless the system is flooded with users. If you need to do a lot of web surfing, look for a cruise rate that includes internet usage.
A small art gallery on Deck 9 has high-quality contemporary works for sale.
Photographers are less obtrusive than on most cruises, and produce a for-sale video of each sailing that includes landscapes photographed by a Europa 2 drone.
You need to send out laundry; there are no self-service Laundromats.
A medical center is found on Deck 3. (Europa 2's medical offerings include dialysis.)
Although smoking is limited onboard, you will encounter smokers in the outdoor area of The Yacht Club buffet and lounges such as the open-air Sansibar and Herrenzimmer cigar bar. Smoking on balconies, but not in cabins, is permitted.
The 10,000-square-foot spa and adjoining workout areas are extremely generous for a small ship.
The Ocean Spa is run by Hapag-Lloyd. Execs wanted to control quality and eliminate the hard sell of treatments and products that often happens at sea. The spa contains nine treatment rooms, with minimalist decor but comfortable, cushioned massage tables. All but two rooms have sea views. A couple's room is a private spa at sea, with two massage tables, whirlpool, sauna and shower. There's a small beauty salon.
The relaxation area is free to use and impressive, with wonderful views aft through glass, three saunas of varying temperatures, a steam room, whirlpool and relaxing heated stone loungers. The downside for American clients is that the area is coed, and that more than a few German-speaking passengers like to use it in the nude. That means sitting on a towel next to naked strangers who aren't covering up, which more than one American on our sailings found unsettling.
Also, the U.S. spa ritual of therapists leaving while clients disrobe is not standard here. In two visits for a massage, therapists stayed in the room from the start (one was male and one was a woman who had clearly had a cigarette before the session). Body draping was not as thorough as in the USA. That said, treatments were professional and therapeutic. (One of our masseuses was a physiotherapist with three years of training.) And it was good to learn that TVs initially placed under the face rest of massage tables have been removed. Customers complained that they wanted to get away from it all in the spa.
The treatment menu is top-notch, ranging from an Oriental healing clay ritual to Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage and multi-treatment options for relaxing, detoxing and anti-aging. Cost of popular treatments is reasonable: We paid 76 euros for a 50-minute massage, far less than at a resort or on most cruise ships. Children as young as 8 can have spa treatments, including a chocolate massage.
Staying fit is important to Europa 2 guests. The workout room with two-dozen machines provides ample options for exercise, and there's a studio for classes. Free classes in yoga, spinning, Pilates and power walking were offered during our sailings. Personal training is available for varying fees. Europa 2 boasts two golf simulator machines, which can be used for swing analysis by a PGA pro for a fee or to "play" games on onscreen replicas of holes at renowned golf courses. You won't find an outdoor jogging track or fitness area.
The ship is family friendly, with infants as young as 8 months allowed to sail within Europe; 2 years is the minimum on other itineraries. There is no charge for kids 11 and under sailing with at least one adult in the same cabin. Hapag-Lloyd does limit children aboard to about 60 to preserve an environment conducive to adult relaxation.
Family apartments with games, changing tables and smaller bathroom fixtures for kids are popular. In-cabin babysitting and a "sleep-in" service for adults, with kids whisked off to a group breakfast, are offered for a fee. Parents who want to go out sans small child can make use of free video baby monitors that allow them to see what's going on in the cabin and alert them to noise there. Those with babies also can pre-order diapers and baby food to be waiting in their suites.
There are clubs for kids in three age ranges (2 to 3, 4 to 10, 11 to 15). Activies might include pizza making, crafts and games. Those who need extended care for 2- and 3-year-olds pay a 65-euro daily fee, which includes supervision during adult dinner hours. Other clubs are free. There also are for-fee child and parent-child shore excursions.
Kids' club facilities are fun but fairly basic, and you won't find climbing walls or water slides aboard. Plentiful shore excursions offer active options, but if your child requires a lot of gee-whiz stimulation and nonstop recreational choices, look elsewhere.