For the 10th year in a row, Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa was named the world’s top cruise ship, according to the 2010 “Berlitz Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships.” Does Europa deserve the accolade?
In the atrium of Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa is a star-studded wall lined with plaques recognizing the much-celebrated vessel as the world’s highest-rated cruise ship. The Berlitz guide thrusts upon Europa Five Stars – Plus.
Lest anyone doubt that Europa deserves high stakes in the guide books, other plaques nearby recognize the ship as being tops in the game, and one guide even goes so far as to run Six Plus Stars up the flagpole.
No doubt that Europa ranks among the world’s best passenger ships, but does Europa rank as the best passenger ship for me? Would it for you? I’ll give my verdict in next week’s column. For the moment, however, let me say that Europa does deliver an extremely fine – and refined – product. There is much to appreciate: a well-trained, professional and polite staff, the oh-so-delicious dishes in the attractive specialty restaurants and all of the expected trappings of a luxury vessel.
Where Europa departs from the luxury vessels I’ve cruised is that it is a German-speaking ship. That may be off-putting to some, but for me, the experience of being an “Innocent Aboard,” to paraphrase Mark Twain, was thoroughly enjoyable. I appreciated the German foods — Wienerschnitzel and potatoes for lunch, home-cooked waffles for mid-afternoon snack, Currywurst and sparking Sekt in the late evening, and, near the end of the cruise, the Bavarian brunch, with beer, sausages and pretzels.
What strikes me most of all is that Europa offers something different for tried-and-true North American cruisers. Not only do we get to cruise to beautiful places, but we get to return to a German hotel each day. How much better could it get for culture-lovers?
There is even a small piece of Germany implanted on Europa. The Sansibar shares the same name as the popular restaurant/bar on the island of Sylt, an exclusive enclave situated in the North Sea. “You really must try to go there,” Europa Hotel Director Josef Gruber tells me. “But of course, you need to know someone.” On Europa, you simply need to trundle up to deck nine and enjoy the evening with everyone else. Sansibar is popular for sail-aways and late night. Hours are from 5 until “Open End,” as the program of events describes it.
The 10-year-old Europa is, as you might expect, immaculate and with attractive public spaces. Restaurants boasts fine tableware, such as the specially designed Meissen porcelain in The Oriental, an Asian restaurant. Dining certainly is an affair to remember in any of the four restaurants on board.
World’s best cruise ship? Certainly, in the minds of a few guide book writers and many devoted Europa fans. For me? I’ll let you know next week. Until then, Auf Wiedersehen!
Visit Ralph’s web site, www.avidcruiser.com, to contact him and for additional articles about cruising.