The Europa has been called by Berlitz as the “best cruise ship Americans never heard of”. We have been several times on Crystal, Regent and Seabourn but this was our first time on Europa. A good opportunity to see if we agreed with that evaluation!
We selected Europa primarily for the itinerary: 18 nights to Norway, starting in Hamburg and ending in Kiel, Germany. What we liked about the itinerary was more port stops and land-intensive opportunities, in addition to plentiful fjord experiences.
In a nutshell: There are a lot of things to like about the Europa, but for us, unfortunately, there are also dislikes to note. We found the ship itself very appealing: A grand dame of a certain age that has kept her figure and is meticulously groomed and maintained. Europa exudes class.
Here are our ‘pluses’:
• Ship condition and cleanliness: Superb, best of any luxury ship we’ve been on. Even though she is older, you really wouldn’t know it from the condition of the fittings.
• Suite size, storage, layout, cleanliness, bed comfort and service: Absolutely the cleanest suite ever. The suite stewardess (who did the cleaning and service) is a German professional trained in the hotel business. Little touches like an unobtrusive night light in the niche in the tub, which also held a fresh orchid, and tons of wooden hangers in the walk in closet show attention to detail. The very clever use of storage space makes the suite ‘live’ even bigger. The bathroom was wonderful – soaking tub, walk in shower, all that storage space again behind mirrored ‘medicine cabinets’ and under the sink. And in a footprint about the same size as other luxury lines we’ve been on.
• Restaurants: Food quality, variety, service. Again, best in class, particularly in main dining room. MS Europa is very generous with luxury ingredients and there was no repetition in main dining room during our cruise. Top notch European trained staff delivers impeccable service. The specialty restaurants also delivered top quality. Buffets at Lido Café were very generous, varied and fresh.
• Reasonable Internet prices (by the minute)
• Shore excursions: Quite reasonably priced (particularly for Norway, which is notorious for high prices), comprehensive and interesting. We booked more shore excursions through the ship than we usually do because we felt they offered good value compared to private arrangements. We were very pleased with our decision.
• Pool deck: Has a real pool (15 meters/about 50 ft) that is warmed to 28 degrees C. Half is covered with a Magrodome, to protect against the elements.
• Entertainment quality: Quantity wise, not a lot, but what there is, is top notch (musicians, singers, lecturers).
• This is a very formal ship. For some, that could be positive. But I think for people used to flexibility on dining times, table company and dress code for the evening, this could seem stifling. As is typical on German ships, you are assigned a table in the main dining room that is yours for the duration of the cruise. There is only one seating, including in the alternative restaurants.
Dress codes are pretty strict. For cruises 16+nights, there are 2-3 formal nights with tuxes and evening gowns. The rest of the nights are suits and ties for the men. The most casual is jacket without ties for the men ☺. You can go to Lido Café for dinner without a jacket, but most men wore them there, too.
• For many Americans: the language. This is a German ship and the language spoken on board and on shore excursions is German. Written material (as a default) is in German but you can ask for English, including an English language daily newspaper. The clientele are 99% German (or German speaking Swiss and Austrians). All announcements are in German. Having said that, you can get along, since the staff all speak English and a lot of your fellow passengers speak English also. There was a separate safety drill conducted in English for the few non-German speakers on board. But it sure helps to know German.
And the minuses:
• Smoking policy: We knew about the policy before we booked, so it was no surprise, just quite unpleasant. Smoking is allowed on all decks, all verandas, and two of the bars (Sansibar and Havana Club) also allow pipe and cigar smoking. In the Piano Bar, smoking allowed in one corner, but since the bar is located in the Atrium, which is open and the main public area on Deck 4, you might as well be smoking all over. Restaurants inside (main dining room, Venezia and Dieter Muller) are non-smoking, but you get to inhale the cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke from Havana Club on your way down the corridor to get there ☹ Lido Café allows smoking outside on one side.
• Expensive for what you get, since Europa is not all-inclusive. You even have to pay for water at the table during lunch and dinner. Soda is also extra. Wine list is well priced and has a great selection but still…for what we paid for comparable suites on competitors, we expect beverages to be included. (Suite mini bar has complimentary bottled water, soda and beer.)
• Service attitude: I praised the service above and I mean it sincerely for restaurants and suite stewardesses. However, there is a definite attitude of “Not my job” for anything that goes beyond the boundary of defined service roles. This was especially noticeable at Reception and since this is the central ‘control point’ for most inquiries, it was pretty annoying and disappointing. By contrast, on other luxury lines, if a staff person did not know an answer, they would cheerfully go out of their way to make sure they got it for you.
• Embarkation: Unlike Crystal, Regent or Seabourn, you cannot board even 5 minutes early. About half an hour before check in, Hapag-Lloyd did have some snacks and champagne in the terminal hall. When embarkation began, it was very slow compared to other lines we’ve sailed on.
Would we travel with the Europa again? Only if she offered an amazing itinerary we couldn’t refuse. The biggest problems for us are the smoking policy and the price/value ratio.