Jump to content

REVIEW, MS Europa, Baltic cruise, awesome music festival (6/25/23-7/8/23)


Catlover54
 Share

Recommended Posts

LauraS
This post was recognized by LauraS!

"Thank you for sharing your review with everyone at Cruise Critic. Please consider submitting it to the site for publication as well: Click: Write a Review."

Catlover54 was awarded the badge 'Great Review'

 

OVERVIEW: I have done multiple cruises with Hapag Lloyd's (HL) small luxury ships over the last eight years, the MS Europa (German is the on-board language) and the Europa 2 (German and English are on board languages).  This Baltic cruise was 12 days, and featured the annual Ocean Sun classical music festival. 

Amazingly, even since Covid, unlike on some other "luxury' lines, food, service, ship condition, and overall organization have remained outstanding on the Europa, nearly flawless.  They are not making "Blame Covid" excuses, as some luxury lines continue to do. Classical music offerings remain top tier, itineraries are interesting, and food/service are terrific.

 

DEMOGRAPHICS, GERMAN:

The ship has a capacity of about 400 guests, and was 85% full, overwhelmingly with older German, Austrian, and Swiss guests. 

The official on board language is only German (other than for emergency announcements and basics). But most frontline staff can speak and understand varying degrees of English (not just those higher up in the chain, but also the mostly Filipino cabin and restaurant crew and other staff who interact with pax). I am fine with a German language ship for various reasons (even though I am not German) but guest performers who do not speak German, as well as the handful of adventurous English-only guests on board, can be adequately accomodated for basics with some planning. There is no international hostess position anymore on the Europa.  HL steers "international" non-German speaking audiences (what little there is of them) to the "international" sister ocean ship the Europa 2, and its international luxury expedition sister, the Inspiration, where on board languages for all functions are both German and English.  

 

Though you can get by for food, cabin and general service, unless you understand at least high school level German, however, you will miss out on understanding enrichment lectures, German-only comedy shows,  non-emergency captain announcements, German-only excursions, and detailed colorful verbal musical and cruise director introductions. Certainly between English speaking waiters and an off-line translation app, and some planning, you can figure out what to eat, where, and when, you can go to the spa, the pool, the gym, and you could in most cases (depending on the port) organize independent shore excursions in English. 

The safety drill is, of course, offered in both German and English, as are no smoking warnings and emergencies.  The doctor also speaks English.

 

Quite a few (I won't say most) of the German passengers on the Europa understand and/or speak tourist English (or better), but they may be hesitant to tell you if they don't understand what you're saying in English, especially if you speak quickly and use slang. The older German pax way of interacting with strangers, even other Germans, (especially for those from certain parts of the country) is also a bit unfriendly (superficially polite, but generally stiff and not particularly outgoing, so don't count on making new BFF on this ship, you don't just go up to them and start trying to immediately get on a first name basis, as is often done on English luxury lines. 

 

For the handful of those on CC who are still interested despite the German barriers, read on.

 

AMBIENCE: PEACEFUL is one word that sums up the experience.

Sedate, reserved, conservative, calming, and quiet are other descriptors. There was only one young child on this Baltic cruise. This ship offers a perfect low pressure atmosphere for spending quiet time listening to the sea and mostly classical music, relaxing, eating, reading, drinking, and exercising (in the beautiful gym or on the deck walk loop), while touring scenic port locations, a place where you can just recharge in luxury.

 

BEHAVIOR: Germans usually respect rules, and I appreciated that they  were always on time (if not early) for everything, (especially concerts and excursions). They expect precision in information given to them by staff, (rather than wishy washy vagueness, which is what I often get from reception and other staff on other luxury ships). They mostly stick to the people they were traveling with, or have very limited attempts at interacting with others not in their group.  This suits me just fine, as I do not cruise to find new BFF and dislike contrived small talk and artifice. Friendly Americans seeking to socialize with the Germans who speak some English might find the we-mind-our-own-business and reserved style unfriendly and lacking in curiosity. 

There were some organized attempts to get guests to socialize more with strangers, e.g., there was an invitation for solo passengers, an invitation for a doctor/dentist/veterinarian passenger get-together, an offer to join a "socialization" table for dinners (new) and even a block party (also new), like on English language luxury lines.

 

Solos were not overtly discriminated against, which can sometimes occur on other lines  (e.g., no one ever tried to steer me to the table near the crew work area, and if I came early enough, I was given the window or other desirable seat I wanted, rather than seeing it unofficially reserved for couples, regulars, or people who secretly tipped). 

 

DISABILITY accomodation:

There were a few pax using canes, walkers and wheelchairs on this Baltic, port intensive voyage. The level of assistance they received from staff on board appeared to be comparable to other luxury lines (i.e., very little), but excursions level 2 effort or higher (on a scale of 1-5), will *not* allow significantly disabled pax to try and participate: cruise information specifically states that staff have the discretion to refuse to allow pax on an excursion who are clearly unfit to keep up with the group. Though I am no longer super fit and frisky, I appreciate not having the entire group signed up to do a "moderate" excursion over cobblestones and stairways slowed up by people with walkers who can barely move, as not uncommonly happens on non-German luxury lines.

 

DRESS CODE was officially  resort casual during the day, and this is what people stuck with.  Evenings people typically voluntarily took it up a notch for the MDR (though resort casual was still appropriate). On the two formal nights for the captains' welcome and good-bye, people dressed up even more in varying ways, but no tie was required. I only saw a couple tuxes even on formal nights. No one wore T shirts with provocative message writing on them, much less backwards or team sports caps, and only a couple people wore jeans during the day (unfaded and without holes). Middle-aged and elderly ladies, mostly with coiffed white or silver-grey hair and manicured nails, dressed with muted elegance, and had the good sense to rarely wear unflattering shorts except at the pool (this was when weather was in the mid to high 70's). The boutiques sold name brand casual cruising outfits, Wempe jewelry,  and varyingly priced purses (and some practical things behind the scenes, like batteries).

 

I didn't experience a single bus ride where anyone was rowdy or facetiming without headphones. I never saw anyone visibly drunk. This not a party ship. I saw small groups quietly talking in bars (there is even a smoking lounge, called Havana), and a few  people even sometimes laughed loudly, e.g., at the block party, at the "pool party" , at the Bavarian festival, and when free vodka was poured accompanied by a free portion of caviar ( usually alcohol has a charge).  People had a good time without being boorish or inconsiderate.

 

TEMPERATURE and physical comfort : The public areas run a bit warm for me (measured by me on my portable mini-thermometer, 73-75F, or more) by American standards.  This is because many  older Germans still worry greatly that they will get sick and die if AC is on strong (be it in a dining room or a bus). I brought my own little personal fans to help keep me cooler in venues, avoided sitting on the sunny side of dining rooms, and spent more time in my cabin with AC on max if a day was particularly hot. Most pax loved the sun, and many would sit for hours baking in it.  I would sit in the dining rooms with short sleeves, fanning myself, still sweating a bit, while many pax would have on long sleeves, vests, and designer scarves, and still be comfortable. 

 

SUITE:

I was in a basic very comfortable immaculate veranda suite which is very similar  in size and style to the veranda suites on Seabourn, Regent, and Silversea, low 300's square feet. The bathroom had a tub and separate shower, one sink, a walk-in closet, a small TV (which had several German stations plus CNN international), a sofa, chair, and a mini-fridge (stocked with in-room complimentary sodas, juices and beer, customizable). There was plenty of overall storage space and drawers, even for two heavy packers. Beds, which are *very* comfortable (I did not need a topper to sleep like I do on Seabourn) can be set up as twin or as a German style double (hemisected into two separate matresses-- many Americans do not like that).  

The spacious veranda had one chaise lounge, two upright chairs, cushions, and a small table. 

 

This is an old ship, and though very well-maintained, there was only one 240 charging plug in my suite, at the desk.  There were also a couple USB outlets.  There was no self-laundry (other than a drying line over the tub) but laundry fees (though higher than last year) were still reasonable e.g., 1.50 Euro, for underwear, and laundry service is good (2 day official turnaround though you usually got things back the same day, with nothing lost, shrunk or shredded). The bathroom is well-stocked with pleasant smelling though not hypoallergenic Hapag Lloyd brand toiletries, which are replenished even without request, and even includes dental floss and refresher wipes.  There was also a very welcome espresso machine.

 

FOOD:

 

There is a formal MDR (Europa) and a casual in/out Lido buffet (all open 3 meals a day every day) for dining with open seating, plus there are three specialty restaurants by limited reservation but no upcharge:  Venezia (upscale Italian), open most lunches, and dinner; The Globe (an 8 course creative small courses meal by specialty chef Kevin Fehling; and Pearls, a caviar-oriented indoor/outdoor venue.  I did not care for the fussy and Asian-oriented Globe or Pearls food menu, but the food in the MDR and the Lido by chef Tillman Fischer was generally very good, internationally oriented (i.e., not focussed on German cuisine though there was usually one special typical German dish each day), well-prepared, and well-presented, as it should be on a luxury ship. There were a few misses (e.g., the roast pig at the Bavarian festival was too dry, and some of the liver fegato in the Italian venue was a bit tough). I never had any food brought to me cold that was not supposed to be served cold, which was impressive.

Desserts were ok but the weakest courses, with the special cream desserts and gelatos the best choices. Croissants, sweet rolls and afternoon teacakes were sadly mediocre (not enough butter, sugar or overall flavor ).Though  the little rolls ( Broetchen) were still crisp and tasty, they only had them in the morning, and at lunch and dinner instead I saw mixed bread baskets with too many breads that had rubbery crusts, but also nice hearty country bread. But overall, food was excellent (especially given the competition) soups (cream or clear) were always hot and exceptionally flavorful, salads were crisp, misc. fish (some very fresh and never frozen , e.g., even purchased during the cruise at  local fish markets) were  very flavorful and well-prepared.  Consistency of proper food preparation and service was/is better on HL than I have ever seen on any luxury cruise line, even before Covid. 

 

The lunch meats offered at the breakfast buffet, with the exception of prosciuto equivalents,  were unfortunately a lot leaner  than on my pre-Covid sailings, (which is the trend everywhere), so I missed the older style.  Fruit, cereals, cheeses, yoghurts, and a variety of bread options, plus a "healthy choice" special plus made to order hot eggs and bacon, eggs benedict, and pancakes were also options. 

There was a special Bavarian lunch festival offering (once per cruise on a sea day) which was quite popular, with southern German traditional fare and free-flowing beer and spirits. Very little of the food offerings on other days were what you'd call "German food", though if you tire of the fancy  food, you can still get an excellent fluffy Wienerschnitzel with cranberrry or Frankfurter sausages with potato salad, either in the MDR or as part of  efficient 24 hour room service.

 

Drinks outside the suite (and alcohol anywhere other than beer in the suite) are not included in the base fare, and only beer is free alcohol in the suite. There are no come-on packages either. However, the mark-up is reasonable (e.g., most single shot cocktails were about 8 euros). For the food and beverage gourmet or zealot, there are hundreds of excellent wine and spirits offerings, both medium and high end, and you do not have to pull out the suite card to get served, you just verbally state your suite number.  At the end of the meal you are presented with a bill for the extra cost beverages, which you sign for (at lunch and dinner), with a line for an optional but not expected TIP (my understanding is that most people ignore it because tips are included in the base fare and are neither required nor expected -- HL pays their staff well). 

Several dozen good wines (many of them German) were offered by the glass (0.1 liter or 0.25 liter), for easy sampling and pairing. There was no "free" caviar other than as part of the two formal special meals, but you could buy several different brands at a reasonable price. I enjoyed their base offering, Prunier, 30 gram portion was 39 Euros, with all the usual sides, but other varieties were available.

 

In the base suite, I did not have a butler to cater to my whims like I did on Silversea, e.g., there is no server running back and forth with afternoon cocktails and canapes.  But  the front desk (which picks up almost immediately) was quickly responsive to requests I had. Penthouse suites, however,  have butlers. Ice and fruit can be regularly supplied by the stewardesses on request, or you can go pick fruit of your choice up at poolside.  

 

The Europa has several dozen fine cheeses on board (including some of my soft favorites). A sampling of one night's cheese board offer included

"L'Ami du Chambertin, Bleu des Basques, Brie, Geramont, Gorgonzola,

Morbier, Munster, Pont-l'Eveque, Reblochon, Scamorza, Stilton".

Another night offered Camembert, Comte, Epoisses, Geramont, Langres, Picandou, Scamorza. I frequently chose cheeses for dessert with specially paired wines.

 

SERVICE:  The suite was well-maintained by generally well-trained and competent international staff (Ukrainian and Filipina in my case, both of whom spoke both traveler German and traveler English -- the Filipina better than the Ukrainian.)

The diverse dining rooms' international staff workers (German, Filipino, Tunisian, and misc. east European) generally tried to be helpful and responsive and were usually successful.

There were no comical order errors or missed deliveries.  

There was a real sommelier on board, (guests are given information about key staff on their TVs when they board, and there is also a formal introduction), but  I usually did not see him around (I think he was mostly in the Globe supervising pairings). I mostly just made my own wine selections from the long wine list (I had pre-copied it to my iphone so I could study it in peace in my suite and while looking at the menus in advance, available on my ipad and TV) .  

My one dining service criticism was that there was sometimes a disconnect between the food server and the wine server (each had separate assignments), aggravated by some understaffing at busier meals. For example, getting my special champage served close to the same time as my special order caviar could be a challenge (I did not want to drink my extra charge champage that had gone flat due to standing around too long waiting for the caviar to come). And when I ordered a special wine, selected for appropriate pairing, it not uncommonly took longer to bring than was optimal, especially when the food courses were already coming. I managed to only partially train my busy servers to bring my wine in time so it would be there when the food came.  In hindsight, I should have spoken to the dining room manager about the issue earlier in the cruise.

 

Many of the wait staff I saw were new since Covid, some new even since 2022 when I was last on board, and were not native German (much less English) speakers. But all were still better trained and skilled in luxury service than the average waiter on Seabourn and Silversea I have encountered since Covid. They were also not intrusive, e.g., I witnessed NO plate-snatching, no asking questions right when I had put food in your mouth, and no awkward interruptions of pax conversations.

 

In contrast, the higher level positions and bridge officers were staffed by Germans (and a couple Austrians, plus one American "entertainment manager" , though he did not introduce the music groups, the German cruise director did that). 

The crew  manner was almost always friendly and polite without being overly chummy. 

 

ENRICHMENT 

There was a charming Austrian music expert on this classical music festival, and a less than charming "culture" historian on board who gave a couple lectures (in German, as previously noted ), and also led a couple excursions. The talks and accompanying slides were available on suite TVs.  As noted earlier, non-German understanders would totally miss out on the lectures. 

 

ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES 

The classical music offerings from the intense Ocean Sun Festival (on ship and on land) were of course the main point of this classical music festival cruise, and as noted above, were beautiful and usually well-organized.  No other cruise line has such a classical music lineup (though Ponant can come close on selected cruises). Artists this year included Jan Lisiecki (pianist); Chaarts (string group); Shira Patchornik (soprano); Niklas Liepe (violinist) with the Muenchner Rundfunkorchester and Nils Liepe (cembalo for the main on-land performance, directed by young Patrick Hahn; Duo Aliada (unique accordeon and sax); and Duo Circiu-Gologan (four-hand piano). 

. 

Other than classical music, for entertainment there was one pool party, a bar where a band played popular tunes and people could dance, two performances by talented dancers/acrobats, and two caberet shows (of course in German).  There is also a good-sized mostly empty well-stocked gym with a nice ocean view, a large popular lap pool with a jacuzzi next to it (that unfortunately is barely warmer than the pool water), and a 180 meter loop outdoor walking track, and an upper deck sun deck.

There was a young man offering various free fitness classes which I did not go to, and a spa and beauty shop with assorted offerings I also did not go to.  Passenger space (close to the highest in the cruise industry on HL, even when full) was abundant everywhere, so there were no chair hog issues on a full ship, but certainly on a sunny day, one should plan ahead. I liked the many chairs which faced out to sea. In-room TV offered a handful of airline quality non-controversial German language movies, and only a few in English (so BYO movies). There is a library, which was physically pretty but too hot for me to sit in.  The high deck forward view lounge called Belvedere was underutilized, e.g., it hosted a couple of the concerts, but during the day its space stood empty and was mostly wasted other than when artists rehearesed. The only bar area during the day other than at the pool was in the main reception area, not very cozy, or the smoking lounge.

Internet was slow but generally ok (pax got one free hour per day and an option to buy more data). I would not want to be on this ship if I absolutely needed good internet to get major work or conference calls done, and sadly this is true for most small luxury ships I have been on lately. 

There was an organized gin tasting and  a high end champagne tasting offered, for fees.  An "open bridge" morning was also offered. The last night of the cruise, there was a crew singing show, and a lottery benefitting the crew. 

 

PORTS

 

Ports visited (mostly new to me) included Gdansk, Visby, Riga, Tallinn, Helsinki (overnight), Turku, and Stockholm (overnight).  None of these ports had what I would call striking scenery, but they were rich in history and ambience and are worth visiting (we had warm weather and no rain, but there are plenty of museums and indoor restaurants if it rains). Private English guides were available online (with planning) everywhere except Visby and Turku, but the populace in those ports also mostly understands English and is friendly.  The ship provided excellent port maps, as well as specific DIY and dining suggestions (Seabourn and Ponant should take some lessons), and a concierge service was available for individualized planning (for a fee). 

Most German language port excursions I went on were  well-organized (sadly, other than those led by the brusk "culture" expert). Walking groups typically had 15-25 polite people who also valued being on time. Buses were comfortable and not packed like they typically are on SB. Just as on most other luxury line excursions, there never seemed to be enough time for having a relaxing local lunch after walking around a lot on a hot day.  All of these ports can be visited independently, in most cases by walking, some (like Gdansk) with a shuttle. 

 

IN SUM:  The MS Europa is a quiet small luxury ship which is very well-run, a real class act. It provides overall excellent food and service.  Nothing was broken and everything flowed smoothly. Negatives are off course that the on-board language is German, even though uninhibited English speakers can get by (especially with good planning).  The AC was often too weak for me (both on the ship and on the excursion buses chosen), and I wish they would get a better pastry chef and figure out a better way to time and coordinate special wine orders with foods.  I think the Europa is ideal  for couples who want to spend quiet time with each other in relative luxury, and solos who want to be left alone while going somewhere interesting or beautiful, (and on this cruise , listening to classical music in a small, comfortable venue). If the space, food, and good service of the Europa appeals to you, but the lone German language does not, Hapag Lloyd's Europe 2 ( which is bilingual German and English) may be a good choice as long as you don't expect to meet many English speaking new friends to have a good time (because even there, most pax are German). 

 

 

 

  • Like 4
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

thank you for sharing !!  lucky ( ?? )  you also noticed to quite heavy increase price of the drinks from 6 to 7,9 €  and some of the wines with 30 % 

I am back  since 3 weeks from Europa 2  and those prices were an unpleasant surprise 

my favorite Champagne by the glass went up from 15,90 to 19,90 

all the more Hapag Lloyd must go in competition with  the luxury market where all inclusive is the rule and some free caviar on some companies  - despite I am not a "caviar man" 

also the Italian restaurant is far from Italian anymore - dishes with Italian names is not Italian cuisine : the corporate ex chef simply does not have the feeling of Italian cooking at all  and the senior management is not willing to notice it.  They should get rid of him asap!! The chefs on board are better as that man. 

On the Europa 2 there were items from Belgian and Dutch cuisine as well in the Tarragon .  

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Great review, thanks. Good to hear that the food is still great on the Europa. Since the Europa 2 had pretty good food but not as outstanding as were we used to from the Europa, I was wondering whether it was still as good. While the Europa 2 is certainly the better choice when cruising with children, we do miss the more specialised cruises offered on the original.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...
1 hour ago, saminina said:

Nice, spot-on review.   Surprised just a slight word about smoking.  It would be the biggest warning, after language that I would note to a North American audience.

 

Yes, good point, I should have said something about the smoking, given North American fears  about even a whiff of smoke, even on outside decks (it is comparable to German concerns  about drafts).  I may just have been lucky this cruise, but I hardly noticed any ectopic smoke.  Either there were less smokers than typical (i.e., the tango group was not on board), or smokers were mostly hanging out in the comfortable and pretty smoking lounge (with a closed door -- unlike on Europa 2 where the door was not uncommonly and inappropriately left open).  Or my activities were such that I happened to avoid them (it was usually  too hot for me this cruise to sit outside, atypical for Baltics, so I had no exposure to the smoking area of the Lido or pool). 

I know the science on smoking risks, (first, second, and "third" hand) very well , and on personal risk assessment, and  am quite confident that odds are great my life will end due to medical problems other than occasional exposure to second hand outdoor smoke. I still try to avoid indoor exposure in confined spaces,  as it can trigger my usually stable asthma and I'd rather not carry mountains of inhalers.  Some people are truly exquisitely sensitive, and others are just disgusted by it as their main concern.  I had to spend  a lot of time as a young person in smoke-ridden environments that were often impossible to avoid (or desirable for other reasons).

One old guy on one excursion was a smoker, but he only lit up occasionally, while standing outside many meters away from the walking group, so I didn't even notice until I wondered why he was repeatedly always off on his own and I looked closer. From the looks of him he would have been better off becoming a non-smoker, like most Americans and Canadians and now refreshingly  even most Germans (especially luxury cruisers).

 

HL's expedition ship Spirit is, I believe,  supposed to be entirely no smoking, and has fascinating itineraries, but I have no bookings yet (Covid delays interfered with assorted plans, but I hope to get there). SB Venture was not supposed to allow outside smoking in Antarctica, but it happened anyway.

Have you or anyone reading been on Spirit, and know if the no smoking policy is enforced there?

 

 

Edited by Catlover54
Typo
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 5 months later...
On 8/9/2023 at 2:05 AM, Catlover54 said:

Have you or anyone reading been on Spirit, and know if the no smoking policy is enforced there?

 

I was on the Spirit last year. Smoking is allowed in an area on the pool deck, in the smoking lounge and on the balcony of the cabins.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

  • Forum Jump
    • Categories
      • Welcome to Cruise Critic
      • New Cruisers
      • Cruise Lines “A – O”
      • Cruise Lines “P – Z”
      • River Cruising
      • ROLL CALLS
      • Digital Photography & Cruise Technology
      • Special Interest Cruising
      • Cruise Discussion Topics
      • UK Cruising
      • Australia & New Zealand Cruisers
      • Canadian Cruisers
      • North American Homeports
      • Ports of Call
      • Cruise Conversations
×
×
  • Create New...