Relaxed luxury is the newly-coined theme for Europa 2, and it was carried through to last night’s naming ceremony in Hamburg.
With the port en fete for its 824th anniversary, the ship slipped quietly down-river for the ceremony. Seven hundred guests watched as model Dana Schweiger took on the godmother duties and smashed a bottle of Champagne against the hull, before presenting the broken neck to Captain Friedrich Jan Akkermann.
A firework display and a performance by chart-topping rockabilly band Dick Brave and the Backbeats brought the evening to a rousing close before the guests no doubt continued their celebrations in the ship’s Sansibar night club.
Tonight Europa 2 sets out on its fully-booked 14-night maiden voyage to Lisbon. One passenger in particular has been looking forward to it for a long time.
He cruised on Europa a few years ago and enjoyed it so much that he said if ever Hapag-Lloyd built a successor, he wanted to travel in the biggest possible suite on its first trip.
He was as good as his word, and has probably shelled out more than £50,000 for the privilege (fares for the owners suite on this cruise have not been disclosed, but the cost per person in a grand suite is about £16,500).
What can he and the other 500 passengers expect? Does Europa 2 live up to its billing as the most luxurious cruise ship in the world?
I spent 24 hours on the ship when it visited Southampton earlier in the week and can testify that it is certainly sumptuous, and very, very spacious. Ultra stylish, too, in a rather clinical way.
More like London’s Bulgari Hotel than the Dorchester if you want to compare top-of-the-range accommodation ashore, and as far removed from mainstream cruise ships as Claridges is from a Premier Inn.
There’s more space per passenger than on any other cruise ship, a lot of it gained by having high-ceilinged public rooms. The central reception area is one example, but it seemed odd to reach it from the gangway by passing along a corridor that could have been part of a hospital; the Wow factor was delayed.
Europa 2 was built in France, and Julian Pfitzner, director of product management, was forthright about the problems Hapag-Lloyd encountered when trying to ensure the STX shipyard reached the high standards of quality expected.
Silver leaf had to be applied to the reception ceiling no fewer than five times before a satisfactory standard was achieved, and he was scathing about a team of sub contractors who came on board to fit some piping which then prevented doors from closing.
There are several striking examples of German efficiency throughout the ship, not least in the carpentry of what an American passenger would probably call the “efficiencies” in each suite.
The wooden door concealing the mini-bar is bevelled to millimetre-perfect precision and the cupboard above has shelves and drawers with a place for everything: espresso coffee-maker, crockery, glasses, cutlery, bottle-opener and Champagne-stopper.
The wardrobe doors are equally perfect, and one hanging section is the full height of the room – perfect for ballgowns and posh frocks, but perhaps unnecessary on a ship which insists on casual wear even for dinner. (I lost count of the number of times I read that ties were not required, and then nearly choked when I saw the sommelier wearing one).
There’s a confusing array of light switches by the suite door including one marked “Service” which I assumed indicated the room was ready to be made up, but which the stewardesses insisted was “Do Not Disturb.” Mmmm, must have been lost in translation.
More later on the ship’s eight restaurants, the aptly-named Belvedere and the other five bars aboard, and the somewhat underwhelming theatre.
I leave you for now with a few pictures taken around the ship. I can’t hope to compete with a comprehensive album compiled by Scott Anderson, of The Luxury Cruise Company, so if you want to see more, take a look at his collection on Flickr.