Day 1 – Overnighting in Istanbul aboard Europa 2

EUROPA 2: Five-Star-Plus For a Reason

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises' EUROPA 2 at her berth in Istanbul today. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 at her berth in Istanbul today. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Can you fall in love with a ship? I think so. Today, despite the over-tired, jet-lagged, caffeine-addled fog that enveloped my mind, everything sharpened to a point when I saw Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 at her berth here in Istanbul, Turkey.

Welcome Aboard! EUROPA 2 is an absolute feast for the senses, with some of the best maritime design I've ever seen. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Welcome Aboard! EUROPA 2 is an absolute feast for the senses, with some of the best maritime design I’ve ever seen. Shown here is the Piano Bar, just off the Reception Desk on Deck 4, facing port. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

A ship that inspires the same sense of longing as catching the eye of a beautiful woman, the 739-foot long EUROPA 2 joins a very small group of ships that I personally consider to be among the most striking vessels in the world. EUROPA 2 goes her own way. She does her own thing. She is, to quote the language of her German heritage, wunderbar. Framed by the Bosporus, she glittered in the warmth of the early afternoon at Berth 5 of the Salipazari Cruise Terminal in Istanbul’s Karakoy district.

Ships criss-cross the Bosporus in Istanbul today. The harbour is constantly busy and always entertaining. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Ships criss-cross the Bosporus in Istanbul today. The harbour is constantly busy and always entertaining. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Istanbul, of course, is one of the great cities of the world. Called Byzantum in 660 BC and Constantinople until 1930, over 13 million people call Istanbul home today. The sprawling city also has the distinction of being situated in both Europe and Asia; the Bosporus strait that separates the European and Asian continents literally runs through Istanbul.

There's no disconnect with the sea here! Witness EUROPA 2's massive, four-story high wall of glass that runs between Decks 4 and 8 along the midship staircases. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
There’s no disconnect with the sea here! Witness EUROPA 2’s massive, four-story high wall of glass that runs between Decks 4 and 8 along the midship staircases. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The city was named a European Capital of Culture in 2010, and its historic old town center is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Very much in the same vein as New York, London, or Paris, you might be surprised at how much you know about Istanbul or recognize. Films like From Russia with Love, Taken 2, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy have all been shot here. What might surprise you is that Midnight Express – which in reality took place in Turkey – was actually shot in Valletta, Malta.

Don't want to take the stairs? Try one of two elegant glass elevators. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Don’t want to take the stairs? Try one of two elegant glass elevators. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Istanbul also serves as a sort of living backdrop here onboard EUROPA 2. In fact, even after I walked up the gangway and swiped my keycard through security for the first time, Istanbul was never out of sight. Nearly every public space features massive windows that frame Istanbul like a painting come to life. Ships of all shapes and sizes zip across the harbour, from small cross-channel ferries to massive cruise ships, tankers, and cargo vessels.

In an era where many large, mainstream ships would seek to hide the ocean from view, EUROPA 2 bucks this trend, showcasing it at every opportunity. Only in the vessel’s interior passenger corridor is the deep, rich hue of the Mediterranean hidden from sight.

Reception, Deck 4 as seen this evening. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Reception, Deck 4 as seen this evening. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Although Hapag-Lloyd has been offering bilingual voyages for years now aboard their EUROPA, BREMEN and HANSEATIC, EUROPA 2 is the first Hapag-Lloyd vessel to be fully bilingual. All voyages year-round are conducted in both German and English, and all onboard materials are printed in both languages. Germany is one of my favorite European countries, and although my German is far from good, I still take a bit of pride in being able to say ‘Guten Tag’ as I pass the young, eager, and friendly crew here onboard. Of course, when I switch to English, their English is impeccable – and far better than my German.

EUROPA 2 is a masterclass of not only beautiful and elegant maritime design, but also of successful branding as both name and identity. In fact, the attention to detail here onboard is nothing short of breathtaking. I know that sounds lofty, but hear me out.

EUROPA 2 is one of the most elegant ships I've ever sailed aboard - but it's inviting, not stuffy. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
EUROPA 2 is one of the most elegant ships I’ve ever sailed aboard – but it’s inviting, not stuffy. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The branding onboard is the best I have ever seen anywhere on land or sea. Period. EUROPA 2 isn’t just the name of Hapag-Lloyd’s latest beauty; it’s an entity here onboard as much as the passengers and crew themselves. The way they use the ship’s name throughout everything onboard inspires a sense of immense pride from guests and, I would imagine, on behalf of the crew as well. While they may not be well known in North America – yet – within Europe, the Hapag-Lloyd name reflects the kind of cache that brands like Apple or BWM have.

Come with me for a tour of my home for the next five days: one of EUROPA 2's Grand Suites. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Come with me for a tour of my home for the next five days: one of EUROPA 2’s Grand Suites. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Grand Suite Dreams aboard EUROPA 2. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Grand Suite Dreams aboard EUROPA 2. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

My home for the next five days is one of EUROPA 2’s Grand Suites – 42 m2 (452 square feet) of soothing room to relax in, paired with one of the deepest balconies I’ve ever seen, clocking in at 10 m2, or 108 square feet. That’s larger than the inside staterooms on some cruise ships! It’s also an important distinction – rather than rolling the balcony into the overall size of the room, as many lines do, Hapag-Lloyd prefers to list them separately. In effect, my Grand Suite is nearly 600 square feet.

A Champagne Welcome! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
A Champagne Welcome! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Interestingly, my Grand Suite is in the upper-mid range of accommodations here onboard EUROPA 2. The award for all-out-opulence goes to the ship’s two Owner’s Suites that clock in at 114 m2, or 1,227 square feet. In addition to being welcomed with a bottle of Dom Perignon, Owner’s Suites look like they’d just be damn impossible to leave – not because they’re complicated, but because why would you want to, what with your own private shower with steam sauna, a full-sized whirlpool, separate living and sleeping areas, and a balcony that’s nearly 200 square feet?

Leather EUROPA 2-branded keycard holders. Yours to keep. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Leather EUROPA 2-branded keycard holders. Yours to keep. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Accommodations here onboard EUROPA 2 are all-balcony, all-suite. The average suite onboard is 301 square feet and includes the same oversized balconies found in other suite categories.

My own room is absolutely stunning in terms of its amenities and attention to details. At every turn, clever design has been employed to ensure that the room remains a soothing oasis – as any good luxury suite should be.

Clever storage options abound. Shown here, opened, are the drawers containing glasses, cups, plates, cutlery, corkscrews, coffee pods, podded coffee maker, mini-bar, and a selection of spirits - all complimentary - on the lower right. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Clever storage options abound. Shown here, opened, are the drawers containing glasses, cups, plates, cutlery, corkscrews, coffee pods, podded coffee maker, mini-bar, and a selection of spirits – all complimentary – on the lower right. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Some of the things that I love in my suite: the massive walk-in closet. The desk drawers that are mounted to a spring-loaded system that makes them impossible to slam shut; they roll back in and lock in place with a soft ‘whoosh.’ The mini-bar (complimentary) that’s stocked with nearly everything you could want – including some great German beers. The dresser drawer next to the mini-bar that whooshes open to reveal six full-sized bottles of spirits, also complimentary. The sea-blue EUROPA 2-branded pens that look plastic, but reveal themselves to have a hefty, elegant weight to them when picked up.

The living area of my suite, separated from the bedroom by means of a slatted divider. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The living area of my suite, separated from the bedroom by means of a slatted divider. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Everywhere I turned in my suite for my first hour onboard presented a new journey of discovery. Honestly – well into this evening I was still discovering new things, even though my fantastic butler personally gave me the full tour of my suite earlier in the day.

Branding is everywhere, too, from the EUROPA 2 pack of tissues next to the bed to the towels in the bathroom, to the notepads provided for guests to use, to the fabulous beach bag that you can even take home with you. There’s EUROPA 2 mints, EUROPA 2 pillows, and EUROPA 2 toiletries – made specially in Germany for Hapag-Lloyd that rival the best luxury toiletries I’ve used.

The use of branding onboard is nothing short of stunning, from EUROPA 2-branded pillows...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The use of branding onboard is nothing short of stunning, from EUROPA 2-branded pillows…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
...to the decking on my balcony...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
…to the decking on my balcony…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
...to the toiletries in my bathroom. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
…to the toiletries in my bathroom. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Of course, the line isn’t above using good external products when they see them: a podded Nescafe coffee maker is included in each suite, and beautifully scented L’Occitane “pillow mist” is provided with turndown service in the evening.

My suite – like most suites onboard – has a dizzying array of lighting options – so much so that Hapag-Lloyd has produced a high-quality information card present in each suite that details the lighting options onboard. All told, there are eight different lighting options in the living area of my suite, two different lighting options in the bathroom, one in the WC, and one in the walk-in closet. All lights are also on dimmers, and there’s even a small floor ‘accent light’ beneath one of the electrical outlets in the hallway that doubles as a nightlight.

My bathroom, containing two sinks, a television inset into the mirror, and a whirlpool tub and full-sized rainforest shower out of frame. Note the accent lighting options. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
My bathroom, containing two sinks, a television inset into the mirror, and a whirlpool tub and full-sized rainforest shower out of frame. Note the accent lighting options. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The bathroom, as viewed from the entry hall. The door to the right leads to the water closet, or toilet. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The bathroom, as viewed from the entry hall. The door to the right leads to the water closet, or toilet. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
My entry hallway. Straight ahead is the door to the corridor, while the door on the immediate right leads to...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
My entry hallway. Straight ahead is the door to the corridor, while the door on the immediate right leads to…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
...a rather comprehensive walk-in closet. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
…a rather comprehensive walk-in closet. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Today's Daily Program onboard EUROPA 2. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Today’s Daily Program onboard EUROPA 2. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Prawn Salad in the Piano Bar, Deck 4. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Prawn Salad in the Piano Bar, Deck 4. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

That same level of detail is present throughout EUROPA 2. Simply put, the ship is drop-dead gorgeous – and I’ve barely scratched the surface of it yet. The crew are superb, and I was even able to order food from the Piano Bar when I sat down to look at the bar menu after embarking. I was going to go elsewhere, but they offered to bring me a prawn salad – right to the bar! – and I couldn’t say no to that. I also had a tough time saying ‘no’ to the bar menu, which spans – get ready – a whopping 27 pages.

Some more images of this stunning ship:

Check out the massive open deck space at the front of Europa 2! On the upper left is the ship's Navigation Bridge. The windows to the lower left belong to the Belvedere Lounge, Deck 9. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Check out the massive open deck space at the front of Europa 2! On the upper left is the ship’s Navigation Bridge. The windows to the lower left belong to the Belvedere Lounge, Deck 9. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
More fantastic example of branding: German-made china. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
More fantastic example of branding: German-made china. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Inside the Belvedere Lounge, Deck 9. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Inside the Belvedere Lounge, Deck 9. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Do you like tea? There's almost no kind that the Belvedere Lounge doesn't offer. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Do you like tea? There’s almost no kind that the Belvedere Lounge doesn’t offer. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
You can also read English and German newspapers here - full editions. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
You can also read English and German newspapers here – full editions. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Port Side Stairwell, Deck 6. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Starboard Side Stairwell, Deck 6. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
EUROPA 2's Swimming Pool, Midships, Deck 9. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
EUROPA 2’s Swimming Pool, Midships, Deck 9. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Spotless Railings, Deck 9 Aft. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Spotless Railings, Deck 9 Aft. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Aft Elevator Bank, Deck 8. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Aft Elevator Bank, Deck 8. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Yacht Club's aft outdoor seating, Deck 9, illuminated by the setting sun over Istanbul. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Yacht Club’s aft outdoor seating, Deck 9, illuminated by the setting sun over Istanbul. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Guests admiring the sunset from Sansibar, Deck 8 Aft. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Guests admiring the sunset from Sansibar, Deck 8 Aft. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Although this is most definitely a luxury product, drinks ordered at the bar here onboard EUROPA 2 are not included in the cost of the cruise. To many North Americans, this might sound odd, particularly given that most luxury lines are all-inclusive. But it’s not a problem here; in fact, the drinks are very reasonably priced, with a cocktail I ordered this afternoon going for €5.50. The general feeling, I suspect, is that if people can afford to cruise onboard EUROPA 2, a five Euro drink isn’t going to set them back. Most other things, though – including gratuities – are worked into the cruise fare.

Turkish Delight, EUROPA 2 style. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Turkish Delight, EUROPA 2 style. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Tonight, as I went to crawl into bed for the first time here onboard EUROPA 2, I discovered yet another hidden feature of my suite: my bed can be adjusted electronically via a small black remote control. Moving my pillow up electronically and adjusting the lower half of the bed in the same fashion, I created a wave-like cocoon that it unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. If there’s a problem with this ship, it’s that it runs the risk of forever spoiling you for anything else.

Looking back in on my suite at dusk. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Looking back in on my suite at dusk. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

There’s still five days ahead here onboard Hapag-Lloyd’s EUROPA 2, but I can tell you this: I am already not looking forward to disembarking!

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report onboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 continues tomorrow as we spend a full day docked in Istanbul! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

Our voyage on Europa 2 will take us from Istanbul to Kusadasi, Turkey. Illustration courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
Our voyage on Europa 2 will take us from Istanbul to Kusadasi, Turkey. Illustration courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

Follow along with our entire journey!

Europa 2, Greece to Turkey

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
Friday, September 19, 2014Istanbul, TurkeyInternational Flight to Turkey; embark EUROPA 2; evening touring Blue Mosque & Hagia SophiaOvernight onboard ship in Istanbul
Saturday, September 20Istanbul, TurkeyOvernight; official start of Voyage.24:00
Sunday, September 21Cruising the Dardanelles Strait
Monday, September 22Mitilini /Lesbos, Greece04:0018:00
Tuesday, September 23Volos, Greece07:0017:30
Wednesday, September 24Kusadasi, Turkey; Izmir, TurkeyDisembark EUROPA 2; afternoon touringOvernight stay in Izmir, Turkey; onward journey.
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