MS Europa Site Visit
by Karyn Altman, VP Business Development, Landry & Kling
There aren’t many cruise ships that earn a 5+ star rating from Berlitz (in fact, there’s only one), so I was eager to discover firsthand how Hapag-Lloyd’s MS Europa earned such a high score. I assumed she would be beautiful and the service would be exceptional, and I’m happy to report that both were absolutely true. The 408-passenger MS Europa is indeed a beautiful ship – the décor is bright and inviting, with light, muted colors with an overall ambiance of sophisticated elegance.
I immediately noticed that announcements were in German, which wasn’t surprising since all of the passengers – with the exception of our group of 10 travel industry executives – were German, as were most of the crew (who switched over to English immediately upon realizing that we were part of the American group). We learned that on “International Sailings”, both English and German are spoken, but this was one of the cruises catering to German clientele.
My stateroom was lovely: comfortably spacious with a well sized veranda, walk-in closet, ample storage space, a mini-bar (stocked with soft drinks, waters and beer), desk and flat screen TV. The bathroom was especially inviting – spacious enough to fit a separate shower and tub (unusual on today’s ships). I also loved the welcoming tray filled with an array of customized bath amenities including full sized tubes of shampoo,conditioner and moisturizer.
After exploring my room, I remembered that the cabin attendant who accompanied me to my stateroom mentioned that snacks were being served in the Lido Café, so I made my way there. The Lido Café is the casual restaurant, pleasantly decorated with indoor-outdoor seating and a two section buffet. I helped myself to a small piece of cheese and a roll, but before I even made it to a table, a waiter immediately greeted me and asked if there was something else I’d like to eat. I requested a green salad which arrived in less then 5 minutes - pretty impressive!
The food ranged from very good to “over the top/amazing”. I ate breakfast daily in the Lido because the weather was perfect for dining al fresco. The buffet included many options- cheeses, smoked fish, sliced meat, fruit (dried and fresh), cereals plus an array of fresh breads and pastries accompanied by Europa’s signature homemade preserves and marmalades. A chef prepared eggs to order in the outside grill, and the wait staff was wonderfully efficient in making sure your beverage choice arrived in five minutes or less.
Lunchtime in the Lido included a bountiful salad buffet, a cold buffet of cheeses and meats and a hot food area. The menu choices in the outdoor grill area changed daily, often in conjunction with a theme. One day was was a Bavarian Theme, which included costumed wait staff, festive décor and beer in abundance, not to mention countless varieties of sausages, knockwurst and cabbage dishes. Desserts included assorted pastries and home made ice cream with toppings. I confess I succumbed to the pistachio and oreo cookie flavors – both of which were delicious.
But the dinners – most especially the dinners in the Europa dining room and specialty restaurants – were truly extraordinary! Place settings were lovely, each a distinctive work of art. The Venezia restaurant was very good, serving some unusual Italian dishes from Tuscany and Umbria. Our six course dinner in the Europa Dining Room, prepared by Michelin chef Karlheinz Hauser, was divine! I still salivate when I think about the chocolate dessert which included four individual dishes- each more amazing then the next. On our last night, we dined in Restaurant Dieter Muller, where well-known Chef Muller demonstrated how he earned 3 stars from Michelin with his absolutely extraordinary cuisine.
Every restaurant offered a multi-course, vegetarian menu. In addition, special requests or slight modifications to the menu were never a problem. Service was outstanding – clearly the goal in each restaurant was to delight every diner- and trust me, we were delighted!
Day two was at sea – perfect for a ship tour. One would think a tour of a ship of this size would be pretty quick, but thanks to our thoughtful hosts from the Hapag-Llloyd home office and the on board staff, our tour included every public room, a sample of cabins and both the bridge and the engine room. Through the years I’ve been on many bridge tours, but this one, presented by the Navigation Officer (one of the few females in the fleet) was truly fascinating!
Public Rooms and Entertainment
A surprising feature of MS Europa is the number of pubic rooms, which explains why one never feels crowded. This also means there’s quite a lot going on in the evenings, compared to other ships this size.
The Europa Lounge is used for production shows and special events, and features excellent site lines and space for all passengers. Club Belvedere (capacity 177) is elegantly appointed in light blues and gray with panoramic windows and a baby grand piano. This lounge is perfectly suited for afternoon tea and evening events, such as the opera concert we were fortunate to attend one evening. There’s also the Clipper Lounge (capacity 143), Havana Bar for drinks and cigars, and a spacious library. By the way, there’s one venue you won’t find on this ship – a casino.
The Ocean Spa is quite expansive for a small ship, and simply gorgeous. While I didn’t have the opportunity to experience it first-hand, I practically salivated during our walk-through tour. A wide variety of rejuvenating treatments are available in tranquil surroundings.
The Sansibar, located on the top deck, is the evening “hot spot” for late night cocktails under the stars, with indoor/outdor seating. In addition, the retractable pool can be covered over and used for a deck party, like the 70’s theme party we experienced – great fun! A small art gallery is also available for private dinners and receptions for groups of up to about 20.
Although very different, every room is decorated beautifully, keeping with the casually elegant, sophisticated ambiance. Original artwork is everywhere and some of the pieces were just exquisite! The thoughtful placement of sculptures and fresh flowers (which are flown in from Amsterdam) were equally lovely. All in all, as mentioned previously, this is a genuinely beautiful ship.
One of the most unique features on the MS Europa is the opportunity for Zodiac landings, which we experienced during our visit to Magdalena Island, a deserted beach island in Baha Mexico – a region known for whale watching and an array of tropical birds. We were lucky enough to actually see a few whales and some amazing birds as well, and after a long hike around the beach, we were happy to see that the Europa staff had set up tables with refreshments- beer and sausages (naturally) on the beach.
As for the service, I’d say it was just about impeccable. Everyone was welcoming, willing to please and responded immediately to all requests. The staff and crew switched effortlessly from German to English – most knew right away with language to use when they passed us in the hallways or as we sat down to a meal. I was constantly impressed by the graciousness of the staff on board in every area of the ship – truly impressive!
MS Europa is a perfect ship to charter.
Most of the current itineraries are ten days or longer, but with advance planning, Hapag-Lloyd is open to shortening itineraries or splitting longer itineraries into two sailings. When their new ship, Europa II, sets sail in 2013, there will be quite a few seven night itineraries, as this ship will cater to younger guests and families.
Be aware that some sailings are specifically for German passengers, which means that all announcements and communications are in German. However, when international guests are on board, they receive special attention from the International Hostess who takes special care to make sure that they feel welcome and comfortable. Some cruises are listed as International, which means that everything is done in both English and German, including announcements, daily program, etc. Hapag-Lloyd is open to having groups on board, but prefers that on this ship, they do not exceed 50 guests.
All in all, I was delighted to have been invited to experience this very special ship and look forward to having an opportunity to cruise on her again.