Asian odyssey - heading east on Europa 2

As regular cruisers turn their attention to the east, Joshua Merrick heads on an Asian adventure with Hapag-Lloyd Cruises to see whether flagship Europa 2 deserves its title as the best ship in the

There’s nothing quite like waking up on a cruise ship. Not knowing what lies behind the curtains each morning is one of the simple joys of cruising. It was something to look forward to as I laid my head to rest each night on an Asian sailing on Hapag Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2. 

After being rocked slowly to sleep by the gentle motion of the ocean and enjoying a solid eight hours, I wake and stumble over to draw back my curtains. 

For a second I forget where I am, expecting to see another dreary London morning before me, but I’m met instead by beautiful views of the azure waters surrounding the ship. Each morning starts the same glorious way, with views of the sun bouncing off the ocean, or of equally stunning vistas of ports of call including Penang and Langkawi, but that sense of anticipation doesn’t fade. 

 

HIGH EXPECTATIONS 

My sailing started from Thailand’s second largest island, Koh Samui. As we approach the ship by tender, my expectations of the next week are extremely high. I’d previously sailed with other luxury lines, so I knew a luxury cruise was unlikely to disappoint, but in the lead-up to my trip, everyone I spoke to raised the bar higher and higher. 

 “You’re sailing on the most luxurious ship in the world” was a phrase I heard at least a dozen times from agents, cruise fans and fellow journalists. 

This isn’t a phrase thrown around without justification, because Europa 2 has been crowned the world’s most luxurious ship in the Berlitz guide to cruising on multiple occasions since the vessel launched in 2013. But does it match expectations? I was eager to find out. 

Welcomed by a smiling member of staff presenting a glass of bubbly certainly set us on the right course. The service is friendly and attentive. A preconception many have about Hapag-Lloyd is that there will be a language barrier, given the line’s German roots. While most guests do sprechen Deutsch, staff are multi-lingual and all ship announcements are in English as well as German. 

The atrium, where guests head on embarkation, is impressive. The classy and stylish decor is more aligned to a Soho House-style boutique hotel than a cruise ship. The suave look and design precision of Europa 2 certainly help support the age old cliché about German engineering. The heart of the ship is also home to the plush jazz bar where a pianist plays nightly for guests sipping delicious cocktails. 

Throughout the vessel light floods in through endless walls of windows. High ceilings, bright colours and modern styling and artwork run through the ship, making it a breath of fresh air in the cruising world. 

Carrying 516 passengers, this all- singing, all-dancing (or should that be all-suite, all-veranda) ship quickly begins to feel like home. It’s not long before I find myself cracking open a beer from my suite’s complimentary minibar before lounging on my veranda as the palm-fringed beaches of Thailand fade into the distance. 

 

RELAXATION AND INDULGENCE 

One of the biggest points of distinction onboard Europa 2 is the sheer amount of space it offers – the brand claims to have one of the highest space-to-passenger ratios in the industry. The width of corridors might sound like a minor feature, but I can’t stress enough how much of a difference it makes when exploring the 11 decks. The brand is keen to emphasise health and relaxation, and the ship’s ample space and peaceful nooks help encapsulate this. 

If the space isn’t enough to zen you out, then the Ocean Spa and fitness centre will do the job. Bleary-eyed, I dragged myself to a yoga session early one morning. As an inflexible yoga novice, I approached with apprehension, yet an hour later emerged feeling revitalised and peaceful. The struggle to perform the downward dog and warrior pose was worthwhile. I’m sure the perfect sea views helped me unwind too. 

My efforts were rewarded by the copious dining options. With seven restaurants serving cuisines such as French, Italian and Asian, I was spoilt for choice. 

The same goes for the extensive beverage offering, although it should be stressed that this isn’t included in the booking price. The line’s policy on alcohol is a little confusing. The aforementioned minibar is included in the price, but nothing else is on the drinks front, unlike most luxury lines. 

I’m sure guests paying a premium to sail on this ship can afford to put their hand in their pocket for drinks, but many British guests, who are used to the all-inclusive concept, would prefer the hassle to be taken away completely. 

That said, the array of alcohol is impressive, with 19,000 bottles of red and white wine originating from 14 countries. If that’s not enough, there are more than 20 vodka brands and 45 varieties of gin to work your way through. 

 

THE BEAUTY OF ASIA 

A particular highlight was an afternoon champagne tasting hosted by our very knowledgeable sommelier, Tobias. Sipping some of the world’s finest bottles of bubbly such as Krug, Ruinart, Dom Perignon and Bollinger was the perfect way to spend the afternoon as our floating boutique hotel manoeuvred along the Malacca Straits. The experience can be booked on board for €80. 

It also went a long way to mask the pain of this sunburnt passenger, who had spent the previous day lapping up rays by the pool. 

Our excursions on land to Penang and Langkawi gave us ample time to sample the bubbling culture and amazing views Malaysia offers George Town, Penang’s capital, has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2008 and it doesn’t take you long to see why. 

This place is best experienced on foot, allowing you to soak up the history, vibrancy and charm that greets you on every street corner. The street art and murals add another layer of appeal to this quaint place. 

As Malaysia’s only state to have a Chinese-majority population, George Town is a melting-pot of cultures, with Chinese heritage mixing with Thai, Indian and European influences. 

Our time spent in the landscape of Langkawi is the most memorable. The 99 islands making up this heavenly place produce a stunning backdrop. Our day in Langkawi started with a refreshing boat trip. The morning cobwebs were soon blown away as we sped through winding waterways surrounded by mangrove forests, the echo of wildlife filling the air. 

After an adrenaline-filled morning, it was time to relax in paradise. We headed to picture- perfect Naam Island. Lounging in my hammock, cold beer in hand, on the whitest of beaches while overlooking the crystal-clear water with not a cloud in the sky, I took a minute to soak in the tranquillity. This was one of those moments that we all seek – one of complete satisfaction. 

Back on board, as I drew back my curtains for the final time on the last morning, I felt my expectations of Europa 2 had definitely been matched. I’d have to sample them all to know whether it really is the best in the world, but it’s certainly up there. 

 

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