Four Europe-Based Cruise Lines Targeting U.S. Travelers

Top suites on Europa 2 have butler service, while all suites come with 24-hour, in-suite service. Seen here is the Grand Suite on the ship.

Global cruise lines not based in the U.S. are increasingly promoting to Americans. Here’s a look at four of these cruise products — offering either ultra-luxury pampering, destination immersion, a yacht-style experience or in-depth enrichment. While agents may not be that familiar with these types of products, they’re great to have in the booking arsenal for just the right client, particularly as these lines are sailing more within the Western Hemisphere.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, a Germany-based company owned by TUI Group, has a highly rated ship, the 42,830-grt Europa 2, that exudes “casual luxury” (no tie or formal attire required) and offers big-ship space in an intimate aura with just 500 passengers. Best of all, it’s targeted specifically at the English-speaking market and was rated five-stars-plus by the Berlitz Cruise Guide 2017. Travel Agent sailed on the ship a year ago and found it spacious, friendly and laid-back.

Upscale accommodations range from 301 square feet to 1,227 square feet. In addition, families will appreciate the creatively designed two-room family suites with bunk beds for the kids and a kid-friendly second bathroom. Europa 2 also has a supervised kids’ club. Top suites have butlers, while all suites come with 24-hour, in-suite service, so if you get the munchies at 2 a.m., someone will deliver food. Yet, while it’s upscale, it’s not stuffy or formal. It’s luxury on a different scale.

In a fall drydock refreshment, Europa 2’s satellite systems will be upgraded with more bandwidth, allowing the line to provide one free hour of Wi-Fi daily for all guests starting in January. In addition, Herrenzimmer, the German name for the gin-tasting lounge, will be renamed Collins in honor of a favorite gin cocktail, Tom Collins, and Jazz Club will become Club 2. The spa will also be updated and receive a new electric fireplace.

Economically, the line has just completed the best year in its history, according to Karl Pojer, CEO of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises. The English-speaking market’s potential is clear, he says. “With the entry of Europa 2, we have been able to attract more international clients and, on average within the product, 10 to 15 percent [of overall guests] are non-German-speaking clients,” he adds.

Guest satisfaction scores are actually higher from English speakers than from the line’s core German market, according to Pojer, who adds that English-speaking guests truly like the international mix of guests onboard. Clients interested in sailing on Europa 2, though, should book well in advance. “Occupancies are high and Europa 2 is sold out until this September,” Pojer says.

Seventeen new destinations are planned for Europa 2’s 2018-2019 itineraries, including Alghero in Sardinia and Sao Vicente in Cape Verde. In summer 2018, the luxury ship will sail from Hamburg to Iceland and Norway before returning 19 days later to Hamburg. Plus, a 78-day combination cruise from January 2019 to April 2019 sails through South Pacific and Asia.

On the expedition side, the line just ordered two new expedition ships. “The potential in the expedition ship segment is more than three times higher than supply,” Pojer notes. One new vessel, Hanseatic Nature, will serve German speakers. The other, Hanseatic Inspiration, will welcome a global clientele, “so right from the beginning it will be an English-speaking ship,” Pojer says. And since North American customers typically book later than Germans, who will also sail on the ship, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises will maintain an allotment of accommodations for later-booking North Americans.

With an “inspired by nature” design concept, the identical expedition ships will each accommodate up to 230 passengers, or up to 199 passengers on Antarctic expeditions. They’ll have a PC6 ice rating, the highest for passenger vessels. The all-round deck in the upper deck forward (bow) ensures a genuine expeditionary feeling. Each ship will carry 16 Zodiacs and E-Zodiacs (electric drive propulsion) to allow for landings in remote expedition areas.

What’s nifty from the guests’ perspective? Passengers standing on two extendable glass balconies will have the sensation of floating over the ocean. In addition, the ships will have three restaurants, an extensive wellness and fitness area, and a marina for water sports activities. Environmentally speaking, the ships’ SCR catalytic converter will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by almost 95 percent.

While there’s been much hoopla this year about North American lines sailing new Cuba voyages, Kyriakos Anastassiadis, CEO, Celestyal Cruises, who also serves as CLIA Europe’s chairman, points out that his line — based in Greece — has been sailing to Cuba for four years. What’s special? For many, the seven-day Celestyal itinerary is as the 960-passenger Celestyal Crystal ship circumvents the island, with calls at Havana (staying two full days), Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

Celestyal Crystal circumvents the island of Cuba, with calls at Havana (pictured in the background), Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

Celestyal hires Cuban entertainers and crew members to provide an authentic Cuban experience. So guests enjoy a taste of Cuban cuisine, cooking demonstrations, Cuba cocktail clinics, Cuban music, cigars and shows. Optional evening excursions take guests to the Buena Vista Social Club or Tropicana cabaret. In terms of the U.S. government’s “people-to-people” requirement, Celestyal offers a full people-to-people program, including certification, so that travelers do not have to self-certify as with other cruise lines.

Guests can board the 14,330-grt Celestyal Crystal either in Havana (on Monday) or Montego Bay, Jamaica (on Friday). The line says Americans feel very comfortable embarking in Montego Bay. The “Celestyal Inclusive Experience” has fares that include cruise and the full people-to-people program, drinks and alcoholic beverages onboard, entertainment, gratuities, port charges and select excursions — all included in one price. Fares for the Cuba voyages start at $1,495.00 per person.

Also, Celestyal is offering new destinations and itineraries for Greece and the Greek Islands, its home waters. When North Americans come to the Mediterranean, Anastassiadis says it’s often a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip and his line’s itineraries don’t mimic those of other lines.

Instead, Celestyal sails on many three- or four-day itineraries that give clients a chance to see more destinations, as it doesn’t have days at sea. For example, a four-day cruise might call at five or six destinations.

In Crete, the line sails to three different destinations, and while it sails to such “marquis” destinations as Mykonos, Greece, it also calls at lesser known ones like Samos and Ios, Greece. For example, a four-day “Idyllic Aegean” itinerary operated by Celestyal Nefeli sails roundtrip from Athens with calls at Syros, Cesme (Turkey), Kos, Ios, Santorini & Athens (Lavrion).

“What we’re trying to do is to bring a couple more destinations, relieve congestion and open up the world to everything around Greece,” says Anastassiadis. “Our ships will never be big ships, we don’t believe in big…The ship is not the ‘hero,’ the destination is.”

New ships built by this line will continue to be small, as “it’s a strategic decision of the company to have new builds of a small size…We’re in the extensive process of finding an investor and we’re in the final stages of that process,” says Anastassiadis. New sailing regions on the horizon?

“We’ve done extensive work and we’d like to extend into the Arabian Gulf,” he says, adding that the line also hopes to extend its itineraries further into the western Mediterranean between Spain and France.

This year, Variety Cruises, a small ship operator also based in Athens, will sail to two new areas — Iceland and Spain/Portugal. Currently, its itineraries for a fleet of 11 yachts visit the Greek Islands, the Adriatic Sea, Costa Rica / Panama, Cuba, the Seychelles, the Canary Islands, the Cape Verde Archipelago and West Africa. Ships accommodate 44 to 72 passengers.

“We are constantly looking for destinations that fit our small-ship concept and deliver an experience which only a small ship can deliver,” says Yiannis Vontas, senior partner and vice president of development and marketing, Variety Cruises. “Iceland is getting to be a very popular destination for North Americans and we thought that our small ships will show it with a different perspective.”

For the new eight-day Iceland itinerary, “Journeys in the Land of Ice and Fire,” the elegant 34-passenger Callisto, the newest addition to the Variety fleet, sails between Reykjavik and Akureyri, both in Iceland. During the June through September voyages, guests will see glaciers calving, perhaps sight humpback whales, visit lava fields and steaming mud pools, plus enjoy Siglufjordur, Iceland’s northernmost city, and the capital Reykjavik.

In the eight-day “Glories of Spain and Portugal” program, Panorama II, a 25-cabin, two-masted motorized yacht sails the coast of Portugal to southern Spain. Operated between May and October, this itinerary covers Estoril and Andalusia and guests visit several UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Moorish palaces. The itinerary visits Seville, which has both Moorish and Spanish heritage; Grenada and the Alhambra Palace; Ronda, the birthplace of bullfighting; and Gibraltar, the British outpost on Spain’s southern tip.

Variety Cruises also explores secluded coves and off-the-beaten-path ports, and has overnights in some ports. Onboard dining is Mediterranean fusion cuisine with a strong local influence. Swimming platforms on the yachts allow guests to swim, snorkel and kayak. Variety also offers deck barbecues and private events ashore.

Voyages to Antiquity’s Aegean Odyssey, seen here visiting Bonifacio, Corsica, will sail on Caribbean itineraries this winter.

Last month, the line launched an enhanced version of its Variety Stars travel agent loyalty reward program, which allows agents to earn points faster and provides opportunities to earn larger commissions.

Agents may have booked archaeology or history buffs in the Mediterranean with UK-based Voyages to Antiquity, but now the specialty line — with a hefty focus on heritage, culture, archaeology and enrichment — sails in the Caribbean this coming winter. The 11,563-grt Aegean Odyssey sails to Mexico, Antigua, Barbados and Cuba.

Helping design the voyages was Dr Carrie Gibson, historian and author of “Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean From Columbus to the Present Day.” She’ll join the ship for “Passage to the Caribbean” departing November 19; “Eastern Caribbean & The Grenadines” departing December 5; and “The Cuba Experience I,” departing January 12. A signed copy of Gibson’s book mentioned above will await guests in their cabins.

Carrying an average of 350 passengers, Aegean Odyssey boasts open seat dining in the Marco Polo dining room and the indoor-outdoor Terrace Café. It’s mix of staterooms and suites includes “Balcony Class” accommodations in categories A through D; these are spacious staterooms with balconies and such perks as priority sightseeing and boarding.

For 2019, Voyages to Antiquity will have nine maiden port calls, including Geiranger and Flam (Norway) and Amsterdam (Holland), along with three extended overland tour itineraries. While history buffs and archaeological fans like this line, so do solo travelers, as it has dedicated single cabins and low supplements on double occupancy cabins. Coming in 2018, the ship’s solo space will increase to 39 single cabins.