A Quick Look at the Ship and the Trip

Hapag-Lloy'd gorgeous EUROPA 2. Together with her sister EUROPA, she is the only cruise ship rated 5-plus stars by Berlitz. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Hapag-Lloy’d gorgeous EUROPA 2. Together with her sister EUROPA, she is the only cruise ship rated 5-plus stars by Berlitz. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Today, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ beautiful EUROPA 2 is at anchor in the rich blue seas surrounding Mytiline, Greece. My journey so far has been an impressive one, both in terms of EUROPA 2’s elegant styling and her dedicated crew, most of whom are young Germans eagerly participating in their first or second trip aboard this gorgeous ship.

In some respect, port calls like the one today in Mytiline have served as a sort of icing on the cake; the chance to visit and explore new places and other cultures while ashore. As a North American, though, I feel this way about EUROPA 2: she represents a more international, unique, and decidedly German style of cruising.

Now That's Cool: EUROPA 2's vibrant Jazz Club, Deck 4. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Now That’s Cool: EUROPA 2’s vibrant Jazz Club, Deck 4. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

It’s a style of cruising that I have truly come to both admire and appreciate over the past four days. There’s just one problem: my time aboard her is so short that I can’t seem to find the time to post my thoughts about her here each day!

On the Lookout: EUROPA 2 boasts nearly 900 pieces of original artwork - including this Deck 9 sculpture. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

On the Lookout: EUROPA 2 boasts nearly 900 pieces of original artwork – including this Deck 9 sculpture. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

With only one full day left onboard before I disembark in Kusadasi on Wednesday, I’ve decided to resume this Live Voyage Report aboard EUROPA 2 on Wednesday, once I’ve disembarked the ship. It will give me the time I need to properly experience everything that she has to offer onboard, as well as to experience our two Greek ports of call properly.

As a teaser: it’s been a unique, wonderful journey filled with many interesting experiences – and I can’t wait to share it all with you. Until then, here are some digital postcards from our journey so far:

EUROPA 2 seen off Mytiline, Greece this morning from our tender ashore. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

EUROPA 2 seen off Mytiline, Greece this morning from our tender ashore. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Of course, there was time for some scenic photographs of Mytiline...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Of course, there was time for some scenic photographs of Mytiline…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

...and no shortage of Ouzo! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

…and no shortage of Ouzo! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Taking in an exceptional performance by EUROPA 2's onboard cast. The shows onboard are like nothing I've ever seen before - and that's a very good thing! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Taking in an exceptional performance by EUROPA 2’s onboard cast. The shows onboard are like nothing I’ve ever seen before – and that’s a very good thing! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Also inviting by night: the gorgeous main pool. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Also inviting by night: the gorgeous main pool. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Part of the enormous Ocean Spa complex aft on Deck 5: the Kneipp Basin. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Part of the enormous Ocean Spa complex aft on Deck 5: the Kneipp Basin. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

One of my favorite spots onboard: the cigar-and-gin lounge known as Herrenzimmer. There are 35 kinds of gin and five tonics onboard. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

One of my favorite spots onboard: the cigar-and-gin lounge known as Herrenzimmer. There are 35 kinds of gin and five tonics onboard. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Sunset off Mytiline last night, as seen through the massive windows that border the midship staircase and elevators. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Sunset off Mytiline last night, as seen through the massive windows that border the midship staircase and elevators. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Sunset on Deck 9 forward. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Sunset on Deck 9 forward. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Evening turndown service. Check out those European duvets! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Evening turndown service. Check out those European duvets! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Yes, indeed. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Yes, indeed. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Stay tuned – our coverage from onboard Hapag-Lloyd’s EUROPA 2 will resume on Wednesday, September 24!

Our Live Voyage Report onboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 will resume on Wednesday, September 24! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

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.

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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.

 

Grosse Momente. Ganz Exklusiv. Great Moments. Truly Exclusive.

On September 20, we'll embark Hapag-Lloyd Cruises EUROPA 2 in Istanbul for a quick jaunt through Turkey and Greece. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

On September 20, we’ll embark Hapag-Lloyd Cruises EUROPA 2 in Istanbul for a quick jaunt through Turkey and Greece. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

Grosse Momente. Ganz Exklusiv. It’s German for “Great Moments. Truly Exclusive”, and it’s the motto of Hamburg-based Hapag-Lloyd Cruises. Tomorrow, I’m flying to Istanbul, Turkey for the start of another exciting Live Voyage Report aboard a very special ship: Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2.

The full itinerary, both here and onboard:

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
Friday, September 19, 2014Istanbul, TurkeyInternational Flight to Turkey; embark EUROPA 2. Evening touring of Blue Mosque and Hagia SophiaOvernight onboard ship
Saturday, September 20Istanbul, TurkeyOvernightEUROPA 2 departs at 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; transfer to IzmirOvernight stay in Izmir; onward journey home.

Of course, we’re going to take some time to visit some of the amazing sights in this itinerary, like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and the stunning ruins of Ephesus near Kusadasi. While we won’t be travelling all the way to Piraeus on this voyage (most guests will), I do have the good fortune to be embarking at the tail end of Voyage 1426, which affords me even more time in Istanbul – and gives me a chance to photograph EUROPA 2 without many guests onboard.

Our journey begins in Istanbul, where we will have the opportunity to visit the famous Blue Mosque. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Our journey begins in Istanbul, where we will have the opportunity to visit the famous Blue Mosque. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

This is also quite a unique Live Voyage Report in that as exciting as Turkey and Greece are, what really interests me is EUROPA 2. Don’t get me wrong – I’m terrifically excited to visit Istanbul for the first time, and to sail to a handful of Turkish and Greek ports that I’ve never been to before. But it’s Hapag-Lloyd’s latest beauty that I’m really going all this way to see.

Christened in Hamburg, Germany just last year, EUROPA 2 is the youngest member of the Hapag-Lloyd Cruises fleet. Her predecessor and fleetmate, EUROPA, is a tough act to follow: since 1999, she’s been the world’s highest-rated cruise ship in the world according to Douglas Ward’s Berlitz Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships. I’ve met Doug Ward on a number of occasions now, and he’s a super-nice guy. But I’ve never seen someone so meticulous at inspecting ships; nothing escapes his watchful eye.

How do you top a five-star ship? You match it: in September of last year, EUROPA 2 joined her fleetmate EUROPA with a Five Star Plus ranking from Ward and Berlitz. It’s the first time in the 29 year history of Berlitz that two ships have claimed top honours, and gives Hapag-Lloyd Cruises a rather prestigious claim to fame.

Elegant dining in the Restaurant Tarragon. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

Elegant dining in the Restaurant Tarragon. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

Carrying no more than 500 guests, the 739.5-foot long EUROPA 2 is Hapag-Lloyd’s first fully-bilingual cruise ship. All voyages are offered in both English and German, and although it’s a luxury vessel, it’s one that tries hard to appeal to a wide array of people – including those with families and those who can only get a week off of work at a time.

To that end, you’ll see some pretty cool kid’s facilities onboard EUROPA 2. What you won’t see, however, is stuffy, rigid routines: with seven restaurants, six bars, an onboard culinary school, 3D cinema, two golf simulators, a two-story pool area, a two-story theatre featuring acrobatic performances, a full-sized spa, and plenty of open deck space, boredom is not an option here.

EUROPA 2 even features dedicated facilities for kids and teenagers. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

EUROPA 2 even features dedicated facilities for kids and teenagers. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

Everything onboard EUROPA 2 is designed to be flexible. That means no assigned seating at meal times and open, ‘come-when-you-want’ dining. What is unexpected, however, is how much diversity there is: EUROPA 2 has restaurants featuring French, Italian, Asian, and casual European fare. There’s even the option of more exclusive dining for large groups in the Grande Reserve, where climate-controlled rooms feature vintage glasses of some of the world’s finest wines.

In short, EUROPA 2 is a vessel designed for younger cruisers – those who love cruising, still hold down a full time job, but who want the very best of everything. Older cruisers who have more time to spare aren’t left out, either: EUROPA 2’s voyages have been designed so that multiple weeklong journeys can be booked back-to-back-to-back with very little overlap in terms of ports of call.

The midship elevator bank aboard EUROPA 2. What could have been a mundane space is a work of art in its own right. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

The midship elevator bank aboard EUROPA 2. What could have been a mundane space is a work of art in its own right. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

What really interests me about EUROPA 2 is her distinctive interior design. It’s bold, vibrant, and entirely unique. Each public room has its own distinctive feel, colour palette and theme. Elevator banks are lined with walls of glass windows and railings made of sea-foam green glass. Some areas look decidedly modern, while others – particularly the raised, overheight windows on Deck 4 – recall the glory days of the great German transatlantic greyhounds.

A massive collection of artwork – 890 original works strong –  is featured throughout the ship’s seven passenger decks, with pieces so diverse that organized art tours are available onboard. Speaking of tours, you don’t have to fly all the way to Istanbul to get a glimpse of this amazing ship – check out Hapag-Lloyd’s supercool virtual tour or have a peek at her webcams.

Curious about EUROPA 2? Have a peek at Hapag-Lloyd's online Virtual Tour.

Curious about EUROPA 2? Have a peek at Hapag-Lloyd’s online Virtual Tour.

EUROPA 2 even boasts a fleet of 12 zodiac rafts onboard that enable her to land passengers in places that many ships simply cannot. These are in addition to the ship’s four standard tender boats.

Hapag-Lloyd’s documentation also impresses the heck out of me. Coming in a vibrant orange pouch, it includes a printed cruise guide that has absolutely everything you could ever want to know about EUROPA 2, including bar and amenity opening hours and features found in your suite. The booklet even includes an in-depth glossary of nautical terms and a guide to the epaulette insignia’s found on the shoulders of crewmember’s uniforms.

In an interesting twist, you also receive your stateroom keycard. Mine has a special barcode on the back that apparently has to stay intact so Istanbul port security can just zap me on through to the ship on Friday.

So come along with us as we experience the highest-rated cruise ship in the world and go cruising through Turkey and Greece with EUROPA 2 and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises!

Join us as we set sail from Istanbul, Turkey aboard one of the highest-rated cruise ships in the world: Hapag-Lloyd's EUROPA 2. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

Join us as we set sail from Istanbul, Turkey aboard one of the highest-rated cruise ships in the world: Hapag-Lloyd’s EUROPA 2. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

Our Live Voyage Report onboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 begins on Friday, September 19 and runs until Wednesday, September 24! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

 

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