Becky Wiggins is suitably impressed as she reviews Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2, widely regarded as one of the most sumptuous cruise ships in the world
We’re on the bridge listening to the captain talk about stabilisers, when one of the crew suddenly points towards the sea. My German is sketchy but I soon see what all the fuss is about: a pod of dolphins has appeared at the bow of the ship. They whirl and pirouette, leaping high above the waves – first singly, then in pairs – flashes of pale flank catching the sun. The captain, his thunder well and truly stolen by this dazzling display, shrugs and says “of course, we arranged this just for you”. It’s a perfect moment, and there are plenty more of these to come during our cruise on board Europa 2 as we sail from Lisbon, along the west coast of Morocco to Casablanca and Agadir, then around the Canary Islands.
Europa 2 is often described as one of the world’s most luxurious cruise ships, with more space per passenger than any other. High ceilings, bright, elegant areas and a view of the sea from everywhere on the ship (yes, even the lifts) means there’s certainly a sense of indulgence. The decor is modern, with strong use of colour throughout (the Jazz Club is purple with a bright pink neon ceiling) and original art featuring heavily, with nearly 900 paintings, photographs and sculptures including a beautiful Damien Hirst butterfly located in one of the 88 sq m Grande Penthouse Suites (price strictly upon application, and no, they wouldn’t give me a hint). Fixtures are high end: Murano glass chandeliers handmade in Italy, marble floors and Villeroy & Boch bathrooms.
The ship may be modern but the service is traditional, discreet but friendly. The majority of passengers on board are German, but every staff member speaks English and shows in the theatre are non-speaking, to appeal to all nationalities. Service in restaurants is white-gloved and unobtrusive with attention to detail akin to a Michelin-starred restaurant. Asking for a cheese plate after one meal in the French restaurant, Tarragon, we were presented with a selection so beautifully crafted, it seemed a shame to eat it.
The buzz words on board are ‘relaxed luxury’ and nowhere is this better reflected than in the 251 suites, all with large balconies. Even the entry level veranda suites have 28 sq m of floor space, plus another seven on the balcony. My Grand Ocean Suite is about as big as my first flat, and luxuriously appointed in blonde wood, muted violet and gold with thick, sculpted carpets and touches of pale leather. The bedroom area is separated from the lounge by an open wooden slatted partition and the bathroom, complete with touch screen steam room, shower and whirlpool bath, has a glass wall – meaning you can see all the way out to sea even while enjoying a bubbly bath (yes, I tested that too). There’s a huge cupboard with pull-out shelves containing china, cutlery and other essentials, plus a Nespresso machine with an assortment of coffee choices. The mini fridge is more of a maxi fridge, with an abundance of beer, soft drinks and water, all complimentary and restocked twice a day. There are so many soft-close drawers and shelves that my clothes take up barely two of them. There’s also a desk with tablet computer, a huge flat screen TV (another one magically appears in your bathroom mirror) and a corner sofa with coffee table. The wardrobes (three doubles) have full-length hanging space, long enough for ball gowns, not that you’d need one. Europa 2 has done away with formal nights and there’s no dressing up for dinner either.
My butler talks me through the lighting options – there are four pre-set moods plus you can go ‘off piste’ and create your own (this is slightly complicated and I do find myself alternately bumbling about in the dark or suddenly dazzled with bright light at various times during my stay). He also shows me how to work everything in the bathroom and how to turn the TV into a giant computer using the wireless keyboard. Exhausted after all this mental exertion I’m glad of the complimentary Champagne provided on arrival.