The Hotel Detective has never heard this line from a hotel general manager or the head of a cruise line.
“We are wasting space. That’s our concept.”
The speaker is Julian Pfitzner, the head of product development for Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, and to his baby, the Europa 2, Hapag-Lloyd’s top of the line ship and the only liner to get five stars from the 2018 Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships, considered the Bible of cruise guides. Specifically, he is referring to the fact that the ship offers one of the highest passenger-space ratios of any cruise ship, a key index of luxury at sea. Translation: Even when full, the ship never seems crowded.
The Europa 2 scored 1,863 points out of a possible 2,000, the most for a cruise ship in the 251-750-passenger category. (The Europa 2 carries 500 passengers.) The guide’s editor has called the ship “the benchmark of cruising.”
“It’s the best cruise line in the world that you’ve never heard of,” says Pfitzner, referring to the fact that the name is associated with the container-ship line. But Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is now an independent company based in Hamburg.
Here’s just one proof of how seriously Hapag-Lloyd takes maintaining the Europa 2’s luxury level. By law, it is only required to go into drydock every five years, but the ship goes into drydock in Hamburg every two years, just to maintain the standard–which this year included relaying 43,055 sq. ft. (4,000 sq. mtrs.) of carpet.
“That’s the spirit,” says Pfitzner. “Everything that looks silver,” he says, referring to the wagon-wheel chandeliers in the grand lobby, “is silver,” but in keeping with the ship’s spirit, it’s a bit brushed.
So the Europa 2 is a sea of superlatives, and its spell in dry-dock resulted in some significant cosmetic upgrades. The spa has been redesigned–and all of the eight treatment rooms are outside and have large windows. There is now a Finnish sauna (very hot), an herbal sauna (moderately hot), and a steam room with three heated chaises (one passenger told THD he fell asleep there), and a mineral steam bath. The L-shaped Belvedere Lounge, high up at the front of the ship, formerly an expanse of formality, has been revamped. There’s now a comfortable library-cum-den at one end (with some serious reading on the shelves as well as page-turners), a cocktail lounge in the center, and to the side of it, a cafe-bar furnished with arm- and easy-chairs.
So, fine. Hapag-Lloyd is keeping the ship young. But the real reason you sail on the Europa 2 is the fundamentals.
As part of the ‘wasting space’ concept, the Europa 2’s cabin ceilings are high (12-14 feet), the spa-fitness facility (10,764 sq. ft./1,000 sq. meters) is the largest for a ship in this category (two square meters per guest, if you want to get technical), and there are twice as many chairs in the public spaces as there are guests, so there’s no need to stake a claim. The passenger-crew ratio is 500/350 (1.4) and it shows in the service. (“But it also depends on how many nannies we are carrying,” says Pfitzner–look for a subsequent post on how the Europa 2 has meshed luxe and family travel.) And now, for a small detail to prove the point, the coffee beans used in the Belvedere Lounge are custom-roasted to account for the fact that the water used to brew it is desalinated. (The beans are freshly ground, BTW.) The golf pros in the simulator room have to have played the European or American tour to be hired–so they can accompany guests on courses they’ve played. Sakura, the Japanese restaurant, has its own rice consultant, and the three Steinway grand pianos on board were manufactured for the ship, right down to the lacquer.
Oh yes, the Europa 2 is one of the few passenger vessels to have dual-duct air conditioning–now, stay with me here–which means that every cabin gets fresh air. On many ships the intake air is blown down a pipe and recirculated, so if you’re the last cabin….let’s let it go at that.
“We don’t shy away from costs in planning itineraries,” says Pfitzner, who says he plans them on his kitchen table. As proof, he offers the fact that the Europa 2 was spending four nights in Manhattan, for a cruise ship, an eternity. He also gets itinerary input. Monopoli, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, is now a port of call because the captain of the Europa 2 spied the port through binoculars and e-mailed Pfitzner, “Why don’t we stop here?’
“There is one word that I don’t want associated with this vessel: average,” says Pfitzner. Which is why the art collection, 890 pieces, is one of the largest at sea, and includes works by David Hockney, Gerhard Richter, and Damien Hurst–but in keeping with the ship’s understated style, the artists are not trumpeted. In fact, the Richter is in a corridor on the way to Weltmeere–you could easily miss it.
The Europa 2 cruise price is not cheap–THD is the first to admit it–but the value is baked in. Meals, even in the specialty restaurants, (French, Italian, Asian, Sushi) plus the Yacht Club, the all-day restaurant, and Weltmeere, the semi-formal evening restaurant, are included in the price. (Caviar, served once a week, included.) At the Europa 2 address that each passenger receives, e-mail is free. On your laptop or mobile device, you get one hour free per day. There are lectures and on this cruise, lots of free fitness courses taught by a German Olympic-team member. Europa 2 has the largest gin collection (47 varieties) at sea, surely the cheapest bar prices (E1,60 for a beer, E5-6 for a cocktail), and a most memorable room-service charge: none. (Passengers from non-German speaking countries get a 200 Euro beverage credit, which carries you a long way, given those prices.) THD suggests that in the specialty restaurants, you look at the low end of the wine list, especially the German and Austrian labels. Good value–cheaper than retail in New York City. And if you book one of the owner’s suites, your welcome bottle is the 2006 Dom Perignon.
THD doesn’t know if the suite is a good value or not, but the Champagne is a nice overture. And clearly, if you’re here, you’re not asking, right?