Monday, May 12, 2014 — Our Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt touched down at Athens International Airport on schedule, and at around 6 p.m. videographer Chris Stanley and I were wheeling our luggage into the arrivals hall. We sought out our driver, who we found holding a placard with our names inscribed on it. A quick introduction, and we were on our way.
Chris and I were being driven to Hotel Grand Bretagne, where we’d get a night’s rest before boarding Hapag-Lloyd’s ms Europa 2 the next morning. We were guests of the Hamburg, Germany-based cruise line, joining eight other journalists as part of a press trip to familiarize us with what may just be the best ship that most North Americans, even avid cruisers, have never heard of.
World’s Best Small Ship?
Indeed, it is recognition — not product nor product delivery — that ms Europa 2 struggles with. The ship boasts many superlatives — 5 stars plus from the Berlitz Complete Guide To Cruising & Cruise Ships, highest space ratio of all cruise ships, industry’s youngest luxury ship, most dining venues for a ship of its size — and more that you’ll discover as you follow along our voyage this week.
In fact, the Berlitz guide names Europa 2 number one among top small ships, meaning those that carry up to 750 passengers. Europa 2’s predecessor, Europa, occupies the number two spot. I’m certain that few among you know of either ship. Even experienced cruise sellers back in the United States returned puzzled looks when I told them I’d be sailing on Europa 2.
Chris and I (along with the other journalists on this press trip) are here to interpret the Europa 2 experience and convey it to our readers (and to our viewers) so that they can decide for themselves if Hapag-Lloyd’s luxury ship is something they’d like to experience.
To help you work through that equation yourself, let’s just say for argument’s sake that Europa 2 is the world’s best ship, as the Berlitz guide proclaims. Do you want to experience the best? If so, read on.
First, you should know that there are at least three detractors for some luxury cruisers — although a couple of these actually turn out to be positive factors for some cruisers who have I met over the years.
- On Europa 2, smoking is allowed on the verandas and in designated areas in the Jazz Club, Sansibar and on the terrace of the Yacht Club. I know cruisers — smokers obviously — who will be happy to hear this. Non-smokers may be put off. But as a non-smoker myself, the smoking policy on Europa 2 does not bother me. I simply choose not to sit in the smoking areas when I am in these public areas. Have I been exposed to smoke that I found offensive? Yes, when I sat in the wrong section on the Yacht Club terrace for lunch one day. A man at the table next to me was smoking a cigar and the smoke from the cigar was wafting right over my healthy salad. But offensive smoke is a rare occurrence, and to be fair, we were outside and I had seated myself in the wrong section. Europa 2’s smoking policy is something that I can live with.
- Europa 2 is not all-inclusive. Of course, this means that you will pay for the booze you consume. Non-drinkers and light imbibers have told me in the past that they are happy not supporting their fellow passengers’ consumption habits. Others, who enjoy all-inclusive cruises, may not appreciate that they’ll need to sign checks and step off the ship with a huge bar tab at the end of the cruise. Prices for alcoholic beverages on Europa 2, however, are reasonable — a mojito, for example, goes for €5.30 (about US$7) and a German beer will only set you back €3 (about US$4). You’ll still get plenty of free booze. There are events where drinks are offered free of charge (such as the Pool Party on the second night of the cruise). Plus, the beer in your mini-bar is complimentary and replenished throughout the cruise. In some suite categories, a selection of high-quality spirits is also included. I have five 375ml to 500ml bottles of spirits that I am free to consume in my stateroom. Still, the trend among North American cruise lines is toward all-inclusive — with Regent being the most inclusive. The new battlefield seems to be in offering free internet among the luxury cruise lines, with Regent and Crystal leading the pack.
- Europa 2 is pricey, around $800 per person per day. Is the experience worth it to you? That’s why we’re on board, to convey the experience as accurately as possible so that you may decide for yourself.