With average per diems of 600 euros per person, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ new Europa 2 is attempting to command some of the industry’s highest cruise fares. Its cruises will cost an American couple — the U.S. is one of Europa 2’s target audiences — around US$12,000 for the privilege of spending six nights/seven days in a 301-square-foot Veranda Suite on the industry’s newest luxury cruise ship.
The pricing is largely unprecedented, although some luxury expedition ships as well as barge vacations in Europe can cost even more than Europa 2. Read about two of my best luxury cruise experiences on French Country Waterways and Silversea Cruises Silver Explorer.
For those who can afford it, is the cost of cruising Europa 2 justified?
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ executives are emphasizing a few unique features that certainly will pique the interests of sophisticated, well-heeled travelers.
Europa 2 has the highest space ratio of all cruise ships. At a press conference on the new luxury vessel this past Monday, company executives displayed a slide showing a space ratio of 76.5. We calculated, and confirmed, even higher, 83. Space enhances the elegance of Europa 2 and reduces the potential for claustrophobia. Nearly all other luxury cruise ships have similar space ratios, but Europa 2 currently leads the pack. By contrast, the world’s largest cruise ships, Oasis of the Seas and its sister Allure of the Seas, have space ratios of around 40. Confused about space ratio? See Nautical Nomenclature: How Space Ratio Affects Your Cruise
It would be hard to fault Asian servers, the backbone of the food & beverage departments on nearly all cruise lines. They are hard-working, friendly and eager to please. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, however, believes sophisticated travelers will pay more to be served by European, English-speaking food & beverage staff. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen. Some luxury cruise lines have shifted from European staff to Asian dining room and lounge staff with great success. What was apparent during my 24 hours on Europa 2 was that servers were friendly, professional and able to anticipate needs before being asked. About 60 percent of the crew was sourced from other ships within Hapag-Lloyd Cruises. The remaining 40 percent were sourced from other cruise lines and hospitality segments.
Simply, some cruisers will pay to cruise on the industry’s newest luxury ship. Europa 2’s first booking, in fact, originated eight years ago. In 2005, a passenger on Europa said that if the company ever built a new ship, he wanted to book the largest suite. Eight years later, his wish was granted. There probably are quite a few cruisers who will help Hapag-Lloyd sustain its price point for as long as the ship remains a novelty. Only time will tell whether such pricing can continue.
For those who have the money and are squeezed for time, seven-day cruises can be more practical than longer itineraries. Europa 2’s itineraries are designed so that they can be combined, however. Up to three itineraries can be put together with no repeating ports of call.
Foodies who want choice will appreciate the fact that they can dine in a different restaurant every night — and they’ll need to combine two seven-day voyages to experience all eight dining venues. See Photo Tour: Europa 2’s Restaurants.
The two Owner’s suites and the two Grand Penthouse suites are gorgeous, but it was the bathrooms that caused jaws to drop during our tour of Europa 2 this week. All four feature ocean views, with huge whirlpool tubs and daybeds against floor-to-ceiling windows.
Europa 2 is German-engineered and French built. In some ways, it is an unlikely marriage, and indeed, we were told that the French could become frustrated when confronted time and again with the German penchant for punctuality and perfection. The end result, however: Europa 2 exudes high quality throughout, evident in the public rooms, staterooms (which the company refers to as suites) and service.
Some prospective cruisers may put off by Europa 2’s non-inclusive alcohol packaging, its pricing, its lack of a casino and its smoking policy. Smoking is allowed on verandas and in designated areas, including some in public rooms and lounges. With only 24 hours on board, I was not able to assess the impact of smoking on other travelers.
Europa 2 may appeal to cruisers for other reasons that are not exclusive to Hapag-Lloyd: Europa 2’s relaxed dress code (in Germany the company advertises “21 knots without a tie” — SeaDream Yacht Club also has a relaxed dress code); its catering to children with dedicated kids’ activity centers and shore excursions (Crystal Cruises also caters to children); and the on-board international ambience (nearly all luxury cruises have an international ambience; however Europa 2’s is German-inspired).
Initially, the new ship is aiming to attract passengers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands. The company is currently analyzing the market potential in Scandinavia.
The largest ship in Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ fleet, Europa 2 needs 516 passengers each week to sail at full capacity. That alone may create future pricing.
The ship will sail on 26 routes with 123 ports of call in four regions of the world — Western and Eastern Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula, and Southeast Asia. Up to three itineraries can be combined with no repeating ports.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises seems to have thought through every element of the bilingual component, and after hearing details in a press conference, I’m confident that the bilingual aspect will be handled well. On board, German staff spoke and understood English at a high level during my sailing. Only once did I utter a few words that presented a challenge for a German-speaking crew-member (when I ordered whole wheat pasta), but we worked it out with good humor and by pointing. Overall, my 24 hours on board was what you might expect: smooth sailing on Europa 2.