In an earlier post, I promised to give a verdict to the question: Is Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa the world’s best cruise ship, as some guide books have proclaimed?
There’s no question that Hapag-Lloyd’s flagship has the makings of a best-in-category ship. As noted before on Avid Cruiser, Europa is ranked 5 Stars Plus by the Berlitz Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships, a distinction no other ship can boast.
Europa, however, has some challenging competition. Certainly, Seabourn Cruise Line’s new Odyssey is a force to be reckoned with. How do those two compare?
For those who prefer a newer ship, Odyssey was launched in 2009. Europa, on the other hand, celebrated its 10th birthday in 2009. Despite being a decade old, however, the well-maintained and continually updated Europa is in exceptional condition.
Staterooms on both ships are comparable, though Odyssey’s are more modern than Europa’s (pictured).
Europa wins out in the pool area (its pool is larger than Odyssey’s), but Seabourn’s newest ship has a better pool grill, with more selection and better flow.
And while the observation is totally subjective, I prefer Odyssey’s Colonnade restaurant over Europa’s Lido Cafe. That said, Europa’s Oriental restaurant impressed me more than Odyssey’s Restaurant 2.
I could find similar features and facilities that I think are better (or worse) on Crystal Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and SeaDream Yacht Club. Ships operated by these companies also could rank as world’s best — and often do.
There are a couple of big differences between Europa and the other ships discussed here:
- Europa caters to the German market, although English-speakers will find it easy to get by and get around on Europa. Some cruises are designated bilingual, and Germans, especially young Germans, speak English with admirable alacrity.
- Soft drinks, water and alcohol are not included in Europa’s cruise fare. On the other ships operated by cruise lines previously mentioned, they are, except for alcohol on Crystal (Crystal became all-inclusive in 2012). And just as Europe does, the other cruise lines pour quality brands. Silversea pours Perrier-Jouet for free; Europa charges about €10 for a glass of Veuve-Cliquot. On Europa, however, you won’t need to dole out extra for a beer, soft drinks, water or juice from your stateroom fridge. Higher-category suites also come with a stocked bar. And speciality coffees carry no charge shipwide.
- Gratuities are included in the cruise fare, but Europa literature notes that “it is customary to tip service personnel as an acknowledgement of good service.” No guidelines are provided. Crystal also encourages gratuities for crew, but the other cruise lines mentioned here do not. To North Americans accustomed to an “inclusive” luxury cruise (Regent even includes shore excursions), the extras put Europa at a competitive disadvantage. (Crystal Cruises became all-inclusive in 2012).
Built in Helsinki in 1999, Europa carries 408 guests when sailing at maximum capacity. The ship features 156 Veranda Suites measuring 291 square feet, with some of the most attractive (teak deck) balconies I’ve seen at sea.
In addition, there are 36 non-Veranda Suites measuring the 291 square feet; 10 Penthouse Deluxe Suites, measuring 484 square feet; and two Penthouse Grand Suites, sprawling 915 square feet.
Europa features four restaurants: Oriental, serving sushi, sashimi and Asian foods; Venezia, serving Italian; the main dining room (single, assigned seating); and the Lido Cafe, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Europa has seven bars and three lounges, including an attractive cigar lounge called the Havana Bar. Smoking is permitted in public areas and on verandas. Suites are equipped with something rarely seen on ships these days: ashtrays. Smoking in the suite, however, is discouraged, and the smoking policy will become less lenient in 2010.
Also on Europa: fitness center; wrap-around promenade deck; golf simulator; putting green; children and teen facilities; ironing room; business center; boutique; Zodiacs for spontaneous excursions; gallery instead of casino; and more. On board currency is the Euro, not necessarily the preferred currency of North American travelers. There were many nice touches, such as the way laundered shirts were returned, “fresh and clean” and with a paper bow tie just for fun.
Cuisine is international with, as you might expect, some German-inspired dishes, such as sausages and Wienerschnitzel with potatoes.
Europa features internet at reasonable rates — in room, using ethernet, or through wifi offered in public areas.
Dress is casual during the day; during the evening, suits for gentlemen and corresponding dress for ladies.
Would I name Europa world’s best cruise ship? No. With so many competitors who are so good at what they do, Europa proved to be no better than the other ships in the luxury category. Yes, Europa certainly ranks up there in the league of the world’s best — just not the best, elevated above all of the others.
I will, however, give Europa one world’s best: Best Latte Machiatto on a luxury cruise ship. And here’s something to like: You can have all you like — at no additional charge.