Sailing aboard the world’s highest-rated luxury cruise ship

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.

This September, I’ll be travelling to Istanbul, Turkey for a short stay – and the start of a very exciting Live Voyage Report.

Aside from the exotica allure of Istanbul, the primary reason for my trip is to experience Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 – the highest rated cruise ship in the world according to Douglas Ward’s well-respected Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships, 2014 Edition. The second most highly-rated ship in the world is actually EUROPA 2’s sister – EUROPA. I’ll be joining this sleek 500 passenger ship that was just launched last year for a short voyage around Turkey and Greece.

The full itinerary, both here and onboard:

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Designed to cater to a bilingual clientele of German and English-speaking guests, EUROPA 2 is unique amongst her fleetmates in that the vast majority of her voyages are roughly a week in length, and each one is offered in both English and German. In the past, the line had offered a selection of voyages catering to English-speaking guests, but these were operated on specific dates and destinations that may not have always meshed, particularly with interested guests who hail from the United States, where vacation time is a precious commodity.

EUROPA 2's interiors are elegant and modern. Shown here is the Reception Lobby on Deck 4. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

EUROPA 2’s interiors are elegant and modern. Shown here is the Reception Lobby on Deck 4. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

If a week isn’t enough time, itineraries can be combined to create a longer voyage, and guests have the option to embark and disembark at most major ports of call – pending government approval and the approval of the line.

The changes aboard EUROPA 2 aren’t just limited to the onboard language and itineraries. Despite being the highest-rated luxury cruise ship in the world, Hapag-Lloyd wisely caters to families as well, with separate kid and teen areas and dedicated programming and activities for both.

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

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

There’s also no official dress code onboard, though Hapag-Lloyd’s 2014 brochure does recommend a jacket during the dinner hours for gentlemen. It’s a move that the line’s bilingual clientele wants: a classy, elegant liner without the rigid formality that continues to define even mainstream cruises.

For example, you won’t find the Captain’s Dinner onboard – or a single large, cavernous dining room, for that matter. Instead, dining has been turned into one of ERUOPA 2’s strong suits, with seven different restaurants onboard. There’s no strict meal times, and each restaurant offers its own intimate design and beautiful colour palette.

The one venue I can’t wait to try is the Restaurant Tarragon – complete with dark pillars and upholstered green seating flanked by overheight windows, this French-oriented restaurant is designed to mimic a fine Parisian brasserie. Hapag-Lloyd says the cuisine here is “simple but refined”, and I don’t doubt them for a minute.

Other venues, like the clubby Herrenzimmer Bar, harken back to the 'golden age' of transatlantic travel. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

Other venues, like the clubby Herrenzimmer Bar, harken back to the ‘golden age’ of transatlantic travel. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

There are also other types of cuisine onboard, from Asian fare served up in Elements to Italian dishes paired within the bright and airy confines of Serenissima. Groups of up to 12 can even enjoy a private wine tasting experience in the Grand Reserve, EUROPA 2’s onboard wine cellar.

Most of the dining venues are located on Deck 4, where the overheight windows (this deck is actually taller than most standard cruise ship decks) harken back to the vast public spaces of the great German transatlantic ocean liners like the Deutschland (1900) and Vaterland (1923).

The emphasis on space – with a modern twist – is also apparent throughout the entire ship, which includes a soaring bank of glass-walled elevators just off the atrium that leads directly up to the ship’s abundant open-deck spaces.

EUROPA 2's expansive, magrodome-covered Pool Deck. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

EUROPA 2’s expansive, magrodome-covered Pool Deck. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

How do I know so much about a ship I’ve never set foot on? Credit has to go to Hapag-Lloyd’s extensive Virtual Tour of EUROPA 2 that can be viewed on their website. EUROPA 2 even has her own pretty darn awesome theme song, which you can download right from the Hapag-Lloyd Cruises website.

Interestingly, EUROPA 2 is not ‘all-inclusive’, as such. Alcoholic beverages are not included in the cruise fare, though beer and soft drinks can be enjoyed gratis from your suite’s mini-bar. Is that a make-or-break thing? I’ll reserve my judgement until I am onboard. You could make the argument that, at just over €4,400 per person for a guaranteed suite on my particular voyage, a half-dozen Euros here and there won’t set EUROPA 2’s clientele back much.

It is worth noting that Hapag-Lloyd is introducing a new beverage credit for use while onboard EUROPA 2 and the line’s sleek expedition ship HANSEATIC. It will apply to all bookings made as of August 1, 2014 for departures on or after October 1, 2014.

On our journey, we'll visit the Greek port of Mytilene. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

On our journey, we’ll visit the Greek port of Mytilene. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

While EUROPA 2 could do circles in the Bosphorus and I’d still be quite happy, the itinerary on my portion of this short voyage is quite spectacular. After a midnight departure from Istanbul, EUROPA 2 sails for Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos.

In order to reach Mytilene, we have to first sail through the spectacular Dardanelles – a narrow stretch of water that connects the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara. It’s roughly 61 kilometres, or 38 miles, long, and Hapag-Lloyd has scheduled our departure from Istanbul such that we’ll make the passage of the Dardanelles Strait in the afternoon.

Guests can take an optional excursion to the Monasteries of Meteora, Greece. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Guests can take an optional excursion to the Monasteries of Meteora, Greece. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

In Mytilene, guests can explore the town on their own or set off on a shore excursion to the mountain village of Agiassos, or journey further after to Lesbos. Either way, I already know that I’ll be seeking out some good souvlaki and ouzo!

The next day, EUROPA 2 arrives at Volos, Greece, where we have more tough choices: do we explore Volos, hike Mount Pelion, ride a century-old narrow gauge steam Pelion Railway, or visit the fantasy-like monasteries of Meteora, which are perched precariously on the cliffside of the Greek mainland. It’s a tough call, though I doubt there will be a wrong choice.

The only place I have already been on this itinerary is Kusadasi (koo-shad­-assee), but it has been a good 14 years since my first visit as a high-school student traveling onboard a very different ship. My recollections, though, are vivid: being offered rose Turkish delight as we stepped off our ship, drinking apple tea in a local carpet factory, and of course, visiting the ancient ruins at Ephesus.

Our journey comes to an end in Kusadasi, Turkey - home to the nearby ruins of Ephesus. The ancient Library of Celsus is pictured here. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Our journey comes to an end in Kusadasi, Turkey – home to the nearby ruins of Ephesus. The ancient Library of Celsus is pictured here. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

My journey comes to an end in Kusadasi, but I am looking forward to experiencing all that EUROPA 2 and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises have to offer!

Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises EUROPA 2 kicks off on Friday, September 19 from Istanbul! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

5 Responses to Live Voyage Preview: Turkey and Greece onboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises Europa 2

  1. Kalle Id says:

    This sounds utterly fantastic, the Europa 2 is a thoroughly interesting ship and I’m very much looking forward to reading what it is like to travel on.

    As for the ports you’re going to visit, I was to Volos last year and opted to explore the town… If you have the chance, my recommendation is to go with an excursion. Volos, in my experience, offers little to nothing of interest to see and if you have a chance to hike Mount Pelion, try the Pelion railway or see the monasteries, I’d very much recomment taking up the option of doing so.

    On the non-inclusiveness of drinks… my experience of Germans is that they are quite cost-concious, and it could be that they are aversed to all-inclusive drinks for the same reason that I am: the presumption is that you’ll pay more for the all-inclusive cruise, and you might not end up getting your moneys worth, so it’s better to pay for things as you use them.

    • Aaron Saunders says:

      I do have to admit to liking the German style of vacationing; there’s something very practical to paying for what you use. Of course, I see the flip-side of the coin, too – I really like not having to sign for each drink. But Hapag-Lloyd is clearly on to something good with Europa 2; the number of international guests she attracts continues to increase with each sailing, and she’ll be headed to New York in December.

      Thanks also for the recommendations in Volos, Kalle! As you know, I’m into trains…so the railway is looking like it will win out.

      • Kalle Id says:

        As a fellow railroad afficiando I was kind of hoping you would choose the railway. 😉 That would have also been my choice for Volos, but I didn’t do my pre-cruise research properly and thus didn’t know the trains don’t start from Volos itself (come to think of it, we might have also been there during a day when the museum train don’t run anyway). But yes, if you do go there I very much look forward to reading about it!

        • Aaron Saunders says:

          Excellent – it’s settled, then! I did read that Hapag-Lloyd does offer the railway as an excursion, so I’ll be interested in finding out more about that once my pre-cruise documentation comes. I can’t pass up the chance to see part of Greece by rail…!

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