My husband and I just completed our first Europa 2 trip, Capetown to Capetown 12/19/15 to 1/3/16, with port stops along the way in Luederitz and Walvis Bay, Namibia, and then on to Mossel Bay, Durban, and Port Elizabeth. We had six sea or mostly sea days on this 15 day cruise, so we had opportunities to test most of the offered services on the ship. We have done several other luxury cruises in the recent past, including on Silver Sea, Regent, Seabourn, and AMA Waterways, for comparison, plus I have done two Holland America trips to Alaska.
Below is a summary of key points for English-speaking cruisers considering this ship, and at the end is a link to the Cruise Critic subforum I wrote about it as I cruised, if a reader wishes much greater detail ( or wants to ask questions). On the link you can see my day-to-day blog as the cruise progressed, as well as links to Photobucket pictures my husband took of the ship, its food, atmosphere, and ports on the itinerary. In case the link breaks, it can also be found on CC entitled "Out of Africa, Live from the Europa 2, Cape Town-Cape Town” and is in the “luxury cruising” subforum of the “special interest cruising” forum.
We were in a penthouse suite, with a butler (unexpectedly upgraded), so it is possible experiences in a base suite without a butler might be different. Note neither I nor my husband have any relationship with Hapag-Lloyd, receive no compensation for writing reviews, and am not employed, directly or indirectly in the travel industry. My comments are thus independent.
Overall, we had a terrific time and I rate the experience, which must be judged relative to other luxury lines, as 5/5 overall based on both the experience on the ship and the itinerary. South Africa and Namibia are very interesting, scenic places to visit with a fascinating history and generally friendly people, though the countries have problems, and visiting it on the Europa 2 was a pleasure. My husband would have rated the cruise 4/5, if he were writing the review, rather than 5/5, primarily because he missed serious socializing with other English-speaking cruisers (see below), as we were in a tiny minority.
This ship had the best food I have ever had on a cruise and some of the best I have even had on land in the San Francisco Bay area, and elsewhere in our travels. Service was also excellent overall, though there is some room for improvement in a few areas ( see below). Everything seemed competently managed, and I could relax, recuperate, explore, feel taken pampered, and not worry about things going wrong.
GENERAL ATMOSPHERE AND PASSENGERS: The ship is new, beautiful, comfortable, and contemporary, like an "elegant resort” , though unpretentious in overall atmosphere. Passengers ranged in age from small children to 80’s, averaging around 50, wide variance. There were reportedly 60 kids on board, an unusually high number, as this was a holiday cruise, but the next one was scheduled to have only 7. There were not too many extremely old people, definitely less than we have seen on Silver Sea cruises, and there were very few people in wheelchairs, though they can be accommodated. The ship was immaculate, and nothing we dealt with was broken. There were no formal nights, or tuxedos, but people dressed up smartly on Christmas and New Years, and most men chose to wear jackets to dinner in the main dining room and smaller dining rooms, but not in the most casual indoor/outdoor Yacht Club venue, (and even there no one dressed like a slob). Quiet elegance (except on New Year’s Eve) best describes the general ambience. The ship is also LGBT-friendly.
Almost all of the 516 passengers on this full cruise were polite , and arrived early or at least punctually for performances and excursions, as is common for Germans in general. Most seemed to be reasonably fit, some were very fit, and almost all were from German-speaking countries. The international crew members that interact with passengers speak both German and English, but some speak English much better than others.
EMBARKATION: everyone embarked at 16:00, the same time, took about 30-40 minutes to go through procedures.
FOOD AND WINE, very important to us, was excellent, and there were only rare misses on minor things I tried at breakfast and the most casual though extensive and excellent Yacht Club buffet. Wine and other beverages are not included in the base fare, which some veteran luxury cruisers could find troubling, but there are literally hundreds of wines from many countries to choose from with fair markups so you can get exactly what you want, or explore, and you do not have to present your room card to order. There was a knowledgable sommelier who supervised an interesting formal wine tasting, there are good cocktails, many spirit selections (including a couple dozen gins) and several bars with friendly, pleasant and creative bartenders. There are many good wines by the glass, and you can often order portions as small as 0.1 liters. Food and wine quality are by far this ship's strongest feature. Not much expense was spared on this ship for special events food either, e.g., for the New Years Eve festivities, we had excellent caviar, jumbo prawns, Moet & Chandon, and the Dinner in the Desert complimentary event was fantastic, inspiring, and beautifully done. Goose liver pate is available to order to your room for room service every day, if you like, and both the main dining room Weltmeere and French Tarragon restaurants had beef tartar. (See my link for various menus I posted, and the food on them indeed tasted as good as it sounds).
SERVICE in the suite was consistent, unobtrusive, and respectful of privacy. Room service arrived on time and properly prepared. Various fresh and juicy fruits, flowers, and canapes were routinely presented to us. Our complementary mini-bar contents, (plus the PH included hard liquor options), bedding and bath were customized as desired ( e.g., when I requested a foam topper for the bed a few days into the cruise, because I found the bed too hard, the topper arrived the same night). The bed adjusts at the head, feet, and center, a very nice option. Dialysis is supposed to be available, though I have no need for it and cannot comment on any potential problems there. Front desk personnel are on call 24/7 and are responsive. Food in all restaurants is available in two languages.
Negative is that around 8 PM, the busiest time, with this full cruise, getting drink orders could take longer than ideal. The table drink ordering service in the Yacht Club casual venue at peak hours was also a little slow on this full cruise, and as there is no hostess greeting you when you come in, unlike on other luxury lines’ most casual venues, on busy evenings (at least until we learned the routine) at first it could be a little disorienting and stressful trying to figure out how to find a spot to sit, where to go, where what food is, etc. We quickly learned there always is a spot to sit, and a waitress to help, though it may not be clear the first night of embarkation, so ask when you come in to get oriented and make sure they know you speak English. Buffet items are labelled in both German and English.
We saw a few delays in the clearing of dirty plates in the Yacht Club and I think at peak hours they could use another staff person or two there. The best routine, at least on a full ship, is to either go to dining venues for dinner either early when they open, or go late, or have a reservation at one of the smaller dining venues, where your table is guaranteed from 7 PM -9:30, as there is only one seating. It is most crowded, with service slowest around 8 pm, a phenomenon I have also seen on other lines. Small dining venues are also open at lunch without reservation, easy seating.
PUBLIC AREAS — stunningly beautiful, comfortable, spacious. I read that this ship has the highest space per passenger ratio, and it shows. There was only one sunny day on which everyone was on board and almost all (but not all) outdoor deck chairs were taken, and it is not necessary to reserve” deck chairs. My one personal issue is that the ambient temperature in the air-conditioned public areas runs at least a couple degrees higher than on other lines, as Germans do not like air too cool, so I wished I’d brought more short-sleeved day and evening tops than I had.
The GYM and SPA are well-equipped and have ocean views, personal trainers, frequent fitness sessions, and a bicycling excursion expert who leads biking excursions at appropriate ports. One negative is that the jacuzzi, on the highest deck, unfortunately, is set to under 30 degrees C, so it is not really a "hot” tub per se. The POOL, which you can conveniently use any time it is open (though closed during sea swells) is pleasant, warm, and has a reserved adults only hour in the morning and afternoon, and a KIDS time hour each half-day, other times everyone is welcome, but there are instructions daily in the program that at all times there should be no jumping into the pool, and "respect should be shown to all.” The other negative is that the music in the spa was overly peppy, rather than soft.
KIDS: The Europa 2 is trying to be family-friendly, despite its high prices. It has some family suites with adjoining rooms, and has special areas for small kids play, a teen area, a kids dining area, and it offers nanny care and family-oriented excursion options. This cruise was a holiday cruise, so it had more kids on board than usual, Well-off parents who want to take a multigenerational trip and still have some luxury down time would likely find this ship to their liking. The assigned adults/kids pool times almost always worked well, and at other “all ages” times access was usually fine for adults (unlike what I have seen on Holland America, where kids take over the pool). However, there was one exceptional incident when two boys and their father continued to play with a ball in the pool after the kids afternoon hour ended, interfering with a lap swimmer's enjoyment (she had come after the kids hour ended, expecting peace). She was unhappy and complained to a hapless nearby bartender whose German was weak and who at first was unsure what to do (but within a half hour, the kids were somehow gone, so apparently he, or she, did something). At the risk of stereotyping, Germans are generally keen on keeping their kids well-behaved, though of course exceptions can occur on a holiday time cruise. Personally I am very sensitive to the noises of loud kids, and was surprisingly almost never bothered by them here. I would not hesitate to book another holiday cruise on the Europa 2 (possibly Australia next year) even if it has kids.
ENTERTAINMENT: this was very good for a small ship, and there was something for varied tastes. I greatly enjoyed four of the five major performance style offerings. There were three extremely talented and known classical musicians on board who typically performed together (a concert soprano, concert violinist, and pianist); a charming female A Capella group; a flamboyant and talented pianist who did very nice, energetic Elton John tributes; and a dramatic Spanish flamenco ballet/dance group. The fifth was not at all to my taste, a German DJ and British pop singer who collaborated on performing old hard disco beat and (to me) somewhat crude and uninspiring hits from twenty or more years ago, including, unfortunately, on New Year's Eve.
Each day there is a pianist at teatime, there is a jazz bar, a more energetic bar, and a beautiful bar at the reception area. Movies are also shown, English and/or German, in the movie room, or on your in-room TV. Suites are equipped with Samsung tablets with some games, ship email access, but we did not use them as we have our own iPADs and laptops. INTERNET was spotty, usually slow in this African location, and 0.19 Euro per minute, with no unlimited plan, unfortunately, though basic free ship email for messaging was offered to stay in touch with home for those who just need that (extra charge for bigger attachments, surfing, etc.)
ENRICHMENT lecturers: two speakers were on board, each did several competent talks about the regions we visited and its flora and fauna, with slides in both English and German at separate times, no matter how few people there were to listen.
EXCURSIONS: We did several, most were good (4x4 into the desert and Cango Caves and Ostrich Farm tour were very good), with comfortable seating, though bus AC on the excursions (and for that matter on the ship) is generally set to the warmer level Germans prefer. Some scheduled toilet and food stops could be earlier than they happened (especially when one is not allowed to take food off board in Africa), but unfortunately this is true for many excursions I have done through other lines, too, that have to use local contractors. One excursion turned out not as represented in the literature , and I politely complained to reception, but unfortunately it was on the last day so I do not yet know how the management will deal with my verbal and written complaints about it (I expect some reversal of charges). This was the only formal complaint I made on the ship as there was not much else to complain about!
DISEMBARKATION -- quick, flawless, no problems, in Cape Town.
Potential NEGATIVES for English based people specifically, depending on their orientations:
1. GERMANS: All major announcements, menus, enrichment lectures, and safety drills were available in English, crew speak English, and there is an international hostess you can call for help, but people who do not speak or understand any German at all, or are not with someone who does, *and* who also wish to extensively socialize might feel lonely or feel they are missing out if surrounded by so many Germans, many of whom speak either no or only weak English. Right now, this is not the ship on which to have complicated incidental discussions about local geopolitical issues or economics with fellow travelers, as sometimes evolved on Silver Sea, Regent, or Seabourn, in English after a bottle of wine. Indeed, a minority of benefits and entertainment can only be appreciated by German speakers, such as a few readings and humor sessions.
Also, explanations of the details of most musical and performance numbers were only in German, other than the basics in the program (and, of course, music mostly speaks for itself in most cases, as does dance). Although there is a spectrum of personalities amongst all nationalities, as others have noted in their reviews I think it is fair to say that German travelers are in general more personally reserved and less likely to be keen on starting or being receptive to conversations with strangers, even if they speak English, or even amongst themselves in German, unlike on English-language lines where infectious sociability is typically routine. My husband missed having the easy spontaneity of talking in English that he liked on Silver Sea, and the approachability of most people there and on other luxury cruises.
2.SMOKING is allowed only in designated outdoor areas, and in the smoking lounge (Herrenzimmer), but beware that an occasional undesired encounter with small amounts of smoke may occur if someone does not fully close the door to the lounge, or at the outdoor bar, just like on Seabourn. The one time I saw specific smoking area rules violated was New Year’s Eve, when a few passengers lit up under the Magrodome after midnight where the pool party was and no crew told them to stop (but I’m not sure if anyone asked them to -- I certainly did not). It was not a problem for us, but though we are non-smokers, we are not allergic or vehemently anti-smoking.
NON-INCLUSIVE — as noted, even base wines and beverages are extra charge, unlike on other luxury lines; so are excursions.
IN SUM: The Europa 2 is a beautiful ship with fantastic food and wine, overall excellent service (with some room for improvement as noted), and extensive space per passenger. Though marketed to both German and English speaking passengers, right now almost everyone on board is German, which may not suit everybody, especially passengers who do not mostly just stick to themselves anyway on a cruise. I plan to sail on this ship again on the right itinerary, though her close competition is still Seabourn, as my husband prefers passengers to be primarily English speakers. It would be nice if more English speaking groups would try the Europa 2.
Link to the more detailed thread about this trip:
PENTHOUSE SUITE: beautiful, modern, spacious, (550 square feet with the balcony) well-equipped with stocked mini-bar, large-screen TV in living area and an in-mirror TV in bathroom, with varying lighting options. I recommend reading the high-tech lighting and TV guide when you arrive or get a hands-on orientation (especially on how to read the daily menus in English on the TV), so as not to miss out on features..
The room locks have RFID features, so we did not have a single episode of our room cards malfunctioning and requiring us to go back to the front desk to get them reissued. There are both electronic and manual DO NOT DISTURB signs at the rooms, and they were always honored on this trip (i.e., no one charged into the room with our signs on for whatever reasons the cleaning personnel or butler deemed valid, as has happened a couple times on Silver Sea). Very nice big, deep bathtub, separate shower with seat.