Travel Agent’s Dave Eisen is sailing aboard the MS Europa this week. This is his second report.
Forgive me if you have logged on hoping to read all about Tallinn, Estonia. In my haste, I forgot that day two of the itinerary is at sea, followed by Tallinn on Wednesday. Perfect: It allows me the opportunity to give you my first impressions of MS Europa, the luxury cruise ship, recognized as one of the most elegant and luxurious ships plying the seas today. That is without question. What is debatable is whether it’s the right ship for affluent American cruisers. Let’s debate.
First the pros, of which there are many. The ship itself is a study of superior class and luxury: flawless service, five-star cuisine, spacious and luxurious accommodations and top-of-the-line design with amenities to match. I can’t think that any other luxury ship does it better.
First, service. From the time you step aboard, personnel are there to cater to your every whim, whether it is your favorite drink served in a proper glass, a warm blanket while passing time by the pool or anticipating your want of an afternoon snack (waffles, yes waffles, are served poolside). The service is seamless from the chambermaids to the dining room staff.
And dining is where MS Europa really shines. On Deck 4, three restaurants are positioned next to one another: the larger main dining room and two smaller specialty restaurants, one serving Asian cuisine, the other Italian. Interestingly, unlike some other ships, the specialty restaurants do not carry an extra charge. If they charged $50 a head, I’d still recommend them, at least the Asian restaurant, where I dined Tuesday night.
A small menu sample: spring roll with Siberian caviar, swordfish sashimi, spiny lobster medallions, chili-marinated beef Paillard. It being our first evening, we were also allowed to choose items off the main dining room menu. Yes, please! How about the Siberian caviar served in a silver bowl with all the traditional garnishes? The kicker: a chilled glass of Russian vodka to complete the dish. And on it went: veal carpaccio and crispy chantarelles ravioli, fried foie gras on polenta and (my favorite) grilled lobster. When I say I’ve never had better food on a cruise or otherwise, it’s no exaggeration.
After dinner, the action moves updeck to the lovely Sansibar, which overlooks the water. What a watering hole. Its elegance is simple, with a lovely center bar and red leather booths. Again the service there is impeccable and drinks are always poured into the correct glass with (go figure?) actual ice chunks. We’re not talking about the shoddy ice most regular bars adhere to. This is the high life we are talking about.
Our accommodations are, of course, in line with the rest of the ship. I’ve never seen a bathroom in a regular stateroom that is so large and well appointed. There is a deep soaking tub along with a stand-up shower that is enclosed by a glass shower door (plastic shower curtains and shower rods need not apply).
The room itself is also well put together, with a spacious veranda and comfortable beds. It would be nice if the entertainment system included a DVD player, but the TV does offer CNN, pre-loaded movies and the ability to send and receive e-mails at no cost.
Here’s my only concern. Is this a ship for North Americans? Understand that close to 100 percent of the guests are German. Lovely as they are, it makes it difficult for an American, such as myself, to feel truly comfortable. Much of the staff does know English, but there still is that disconnect. Most, if not all, of the announcements are in German, though daily literature is also in English.
It really boils down to a different vibe. It’s a cruise, yes, but a German cruise. My masseuse, Doris, who gives the best deep-tissue massages this side of the ocean, said I was the first American she had ever plied her trade on. Fine, but it goes to show you that MS Europa has yet to tap the English-speaking market. It is too bad because avid cruisers are missing one of the best luxury ships around.
If your clients enjoy surrounding themselves in a foreign environment, I would recommend they try MS Europa. As I have stated, the ship’s presentation is flawless. Note: This is not a ship for young couples, though I did see a couple of families onboard.
However, if after you qualify your clients and they remark that they’d rather cruise where they aren’t the minority, MS Europa could be a tough sell. Hapag-Lloyd is trying to market a bit more to North Americans and I hope they succeed, as this is not a ship to miss out on.
It’s small (about 400 passengers) and is very serene and peaceful. If clients are looking for loads of entertainment and activities, MS Europa is not the ship. Remember, there is no casino. That said, luxury doesn’t get any better than this. Now excuse me while I polish off this Belgian waffle.
Tomorrow, Tallinn. I promise!
Read about Dave Eisen's visit to Copenhagen on Day 1 of his trip.