Day 2 – Setting Sail from Istanbul aboard Europa 2

Meet Hapag-Lloyd’s EUROPA 2

Welcome aboard! My second day onboard EUROPA 2 marked the official start of Voyage 1428 in Istanbul. A mainly-empty ship gave me the perfect chance to go exploring! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Welcome aboard! My second day onboard EUROPA 2 marked the official start of Voyage 1428 in Istanbul. A mainly-empty ship gave me the perfect chance to go exploring! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

Saturday, September 20, 2014

This morning, I saw something onboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 that I have never seen before on any other cruise ship that’s barely a year and a half old: they painted the pool.

Not that the swimming pool needed to be painted, mind you. At least, not that I could tell. But with today marking EUROPA 2’s official ‘turnaround day’ – that is, the end of Voyage 1427 and the start of Voyage 1428 – the swimming pool was drained this morning as I strolled out to get breakfast on the outdoor terrace at The Yacht Club and a fresh coat of soft lime paint was being applied.

EUROPA 2 is barely a year and a half old, yet the swimming pool was entirely painted today. It was spotless yesterday, but Hapag-Lloyd believes in continued preventative maintenance. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
EUROPA 2 is barely a year and a half old, yet the swimming pool was entirely painted today. It was spotless yesterday, but Hapag-Lloyd believes in continued preventative maintenance. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

More attention to detail: one of the girls working in the Yacht Club went around today with a pair of scissors, snipping errant threads off of the straps that held the plush seat cushions in place. Threads and a bit of general wear-and-tear are always to be expected, but here they’re promptly dealt with. You could eat off the floor of this ship. It’s absolutely spotless.

Three other massive cruise ships – Celebrity Reflection, Celebrity Constellation, and Costa Pacifica were docked along with us today. Most of these vessels were, like EUROPA 2, performing their ‘turnaround’ – that is, the disembarkation of guests from one voyage, and the embarkation of guests from another.

Plenty of outdoor seating at The Yacht Club, EUROPA 2's casual eatery, all the way aft on Deck 9. The Istanbul skyline serves as a backdrop. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Plenty of outdoor seating at The Yacht Club, EUROPA 2’s casual eatery, all the way aft on Deck 9. The Istanbul skyline serves as a backdrop. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

With thousands of people funneling in through the single entryway into the Port of Istanbul – and with a complicated on-shore process demanded by the Turkish authorities that requires guests to carry a specialized barcode with them in addition to their stateroom keycard, I opted to stay onboard EUROPA 2, where there are no lines – only soothing relaxation.

EUROPA 2's beautiful Jazz Club is an unusual feature for a luxury cruise ship. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
EUROPA 2’s beautiful Jazz Club is an unusual feature for a luxury cruise ship. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I also took the time to once again fully explore this beautiful vessel, and again, I like what I saw. One of my favorite public rooms at this point is the Jazz Club, which is an intimate space on Deck 4 that’s decked out in vibrant shades of purple and pink. It’s unusually daring for a luxury ship; many luxury vessels understandably prefer a more muted colour palette. Here, though, it works naturally. It’s also rather unique to have a dedicated Jazz venue onboard a ship; most cruise ships opt to place a two-or-three piece band in whatever public room happens to be empty.

Herrenzimmer is the place to be if you enjoy spirits and cigars. Again, notice the modern take on what could be a very classically-styled room. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Herrenzimmer is the place to be if you enjoy spirits and cigars. Again, notice the modern take on what could be a very classically-styled room. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Across the center foyer is another room that’s a complete departure from the Jazz Club. At Herrenzimmer (literally “the men’s room” or “the men’s lounge”), old-style ocean liner ambiance is channeled into a modern space with plush leather chairs and a collection of Cuban cigars and alcoholic drinks that would make Ernest Hemingway absolutely salivate. Despite its name, women are, of course, more than welcome here.

Its statistics are striking: on the subject of gin alone, over 35 different kinds – plus five tonics – are represented here. That’s not to mention the countless scotches, rums, and other spirits available on the 27-page bar menu.

Another popular watering hole is Sansibar, up on Deck 8 aft, with its combination of indoor/outdoor seating. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Another popular watering hole is Sansibar, up on Deck 8 aft, with its combination of indoor/outdoor seating. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Most interesting is the smoking policy onboard EUROPA 2, which is quite favorable to those who are a fan of the stuff. As mentioned, smoking is not only tolerated but encouraged in Herrenzimmer, but it’s also perfectly acceptable in a number of public areas. This is most important on a European ship, but as a nonsmoker I do have to say I haven’t smelled a trace of smoke anywhere onboard with the exception of Herrenzimmer, which smells pleasantly of cigars.

The smoking policy onboard EUROPA 2, from the Programme of the Day:

  • All our restaurants are non-smoking with the exception of the port side of the terrace of our Yacht Club restaurant.
  • The Theatre, the Belvedere and the Foyer are also non-smoking areas.
  • There are smoking sections in the Jazz Club and in the Sansibar. Cigars, cigarillos and pipes may only be smoked in Herrenzimmer and on the outdoor area of the starboard side of Sansibar.
  • The whole SPA area is a non-smoking zone.
  • All outside decks, with the exception of the Magrodome pool area, are smoking zones. Smoking is not allowed at the pool bar.
  • In the interest of all guests we also kindly ask you not to smoke inside the suites. Smoking is permitted on the veranda.

By late afternoon, newly-embarking guests were welcomed aboard EUROPA 2 with a procession of smartly-dressed crew members, cold towels, and complimentary house champagne.

In the late afternoon, guests began to flock onboard EUROPA 2...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
In the late afternoon, guests began to flock onboard EUROPA 2…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
...where they were greeted with cool towels and warm smiles. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
…where they were greeted with cool towels and warm smiles. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

As I explored the ship, more interesting features revealed themselves – features I, to be honest, didn’t even know Hapag-Lloyd Cruises offered. Tucked in around a corner on Deck 4, just aft of the Tarragon Restaurant, is a bicycle – unsurprisingly marked “EUROPA 2” and smartly coloured in a darker version of Hapag-Lloyd’s trademark blue hue. The line offers Active Adventure Bike Tours onboard EUROPA 2, with a maximum of 14 participants seated on 14 custom-built, 30-speed unisex mountain bikes.

Tarragon, located on the port side of Deck 4, is EUROPA 2's stunning French restaurant. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Tarragon, located on the port side of Deck 4, is EUROPA 2’s stunning French restaurant. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Just aft of Tarragon is a bicycle, noting the presence of the Bike Tour Office, where bike tours are offered ashore on 14 custom-built 'EUROPA 2' bicycles. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Just aft of Tarragon is a bicycle, noting the presence of the Bike Tour Office, where bike tours are offered ashore on 14 custom-built ‘EUROPA 2’ bicycles. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

On my sailing (Voyage 1428), four separate tours are offered with bike guide Hans Kienle. They range in length from 30 to 35 kilometres in length, and can cover elevation gains of up to 2,000 feet. For €59 per person, you get a guided bike tour that includes the bike, helmet, sport backpack, a bottle of water and an energy bar. It’s a great way to stay fit and explore the ports of call at the same time.

Welcome to the Ocean Spa! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Welcome to the Ocean Spa! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I also took the time to check out Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Ocean Spa here onboard the EUROPA 2. Located all the way aft on Deck 5, the spa is uncommonly large for a ship this size – and unusually full-featured. You can indulge in a whole host of treatments ranging from the usual hair-styling, waxing, manicure-pedicure treatments to eight different styles of massage (including Turkish Hammam), special treatments for children and teenagers, eight kinds of wraps and scrubs, and a Personal Spa Experience that can be enjoyed in your own private room, complete with treatment tables, sauna and whirlpool bath.

Seemingly endless treatment rooms. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Seemingly endless treatment rooms.Note the bright, airy ambiance. The lighting here is exceptional. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
A Thalassotherapy Pool is the centerpiece of the Ocean Spa. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
A Thalassotherapy Pool is the centerpiece of the Ocean Spa. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
You can even indulge in a Personal Spa Experience - featuring your very own room with everything you could need. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
You can even indulge in a Personal Spa Experience – featuring your very own room with everything you could need. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

There’s also a sauna area that features herbal, organic, and Finnish saunas along with a steam room. It’s open until midnight, though North American travellers should note that our conservative, ‘everything-to-do-with-my-naked-body-is-an-embarrassment’ lifestyle isn’t embraced in Europe. To that end, saunas are clothing optional and are unisex, though no one will look at you oddly if you choose to keep the towel on.

An Ice Fountain and a Kneipp Basin are also included on the starboard side of the spa. A Kneipp basin features jets of hot and cold water, and you can walk through it to promote better circulation. Generally, you do this after your sauna.

The Kneipp Basin. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Kneipp Basin. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

After an afternoon of exploration and discovery onboard, the time for preparing for departure had come.

Now, one of the things I have always tried to do with this site is to write honestly about my experiences – even when perhaps they affect me in adverse ways. On Friday evening, I  went into Istanbul for a local dinner, and here I broke two of my ‘rules of travel’ without realizing it: I ate fish that was more than likely washed with the local water, and I drank the local water instead of bottled sparkling water. Halfway through a few sips I switched to beer – but I never saw the bottle it came from. When I travel to lots of places, I’m Mr. Bottled Water and Mr. Bottled Beer. Not so here. We had a stunning dinner, and I greatly enjoyed the experience. But frankly, what would happen is my own responsibility and my own mistake.

EUROPA 2's stern, just hours away from departure from Istanbul. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
EUROPA 2’s stern, just hours away from departure from Istanbul. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Enjoying a great local dinner in Istanbul the night before. However, I broke two of my rules of travel without realizing - and would pay the consequences for it. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Enjoying a great local dinner in Istanbul the night before. However, I broke two of my rules of travel without realizing – and would pay the consequences for it. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The striking "Blue Mosque" in Istanbul, as seen last night. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The striking “Blue Mosque” in Istanbul, as seen last night. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Today, shortly before our 6:30 p.m. lifeboat drill, something wasn’t agreeing with me. My stomach was turning in knots, and I felt generally unpleasant. The drill itself, though, was superbly executed, with guests mustering by the midships swimming pool and those non-German-speaking guests being then escorted to the Belvedere Lounge on Deck 9 for a briefing in English.

After the drill, I dressed for dinner in an attempt to carry on with my normal shipboard routine, but to be honest, I was barely “with it” at this point. At dinner, by the time the bread rolls were served, I excused myself to my suite.

It turned out to be a wise decision, as my body spent the rest of the evening trying to forcibly remove whatever it was that I had eaten.

Room Service: so punctual it took barely 10 minutes from order to delivery. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Room Service: so punctual it took barely 10 minutes from order to delivery. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I mention this only because it gave me a chance to test out room service. I ordered crackers and beef bouillon – which my butler brought to my room promptly and with genuine concern for my health, as she’d just seen me leave for dinner in the Weltmeer Dining Room less than 30 minutes earlier. Time from order to delivery: barely 10 minutes.

Also, if you’re going to feel ill onboard a ship, do it onboard a luxury ship like EUROPA 2! Besides having all the liquids I could possibly want at my disposal – free of charge – in my own suite, every time I would get uncomfortable I would use the myriad of controls on the electronic bed to switch positions. Head up, legs down, lumbar up. Lumbar down, legs up, head up more. And so on.

If you're going to not feel well, do it onboard EUROPA 2. My Grand Suite at night, with full turndown service. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
If you’re going to not feel well, do it onboard EUROPA 2. My Grand Suite at night, with full turndown service. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
EUROPA 2, lit up at night on Friday. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
EUROPA 2, lit up at night on Friday. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Because it’s no fun being sick, I turned the huge flat-panel television on in the background and “watched” (well, listened, really) to an assortment of movies. When I got tired of the bed, I moved over to the surprisingly-comfortable couch.

At the height of all of this, just after midnight, EUROPA 2 silently slid out of her berth in Istanbul, bound for Mitilini, Greece. She sounded her horn a total of three times; deep, rich notes filled with power. A smaller ship could be heard mimicking our horn, and EUROPA 2 fired off one short “farewell” blast.

It was remarkably reassuring.

Sunset over Istanbul. We'll be back to normal tomorrow! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Sunset over Istanbul. We’ll be back to normal tomorrow! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report onboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 continues tomorrow as we sail the Dardanelles en-route to Greece! 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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