Mike Gillender begins his cruising career on board the luxurious Europa 2… and has the time of his life!
My only previous experience of passenger ships was a claustrophobic cabin on a cross-Channel ferry. So coming aboard the new cruise liner Europa 2 was like stepping onto a different planet.
This, I was told, was like starting my cruising career at the very top. Its sister ship, Europa – which has a distinct German flavour – has topped the Berlitz Cruise Ship Guide ratings for more than a decade and Hamburg-based company Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is determined the 11-deck Europa 2 will surpass that.
All 251 suites on Europa 2 have sea view balconies and sliding windows. You can lie in the supersize bed, sip the complimentary champagne – in your suite on embarkation – and watch the moonlight sparkle on the sea. The ship was built for luxury – and space – with wide carpeted passageways and the best suites large enough to house their own whirlpools, saunas and big-screen pop-up televisions. It has more space per passenger than any other cruise liner afloat and plenty of floor to ceiling windows, with lots of light.
In my sun-blessed three-night hop from Ibiza to Barcelona, I was struck by how smooth this floating, five-star ship is. At the end of my mini-cruise, which also included daytime stops at Palma, the capital of Majorca, and Valencia, I was just about familiar with the ship’s layout, which boasts eight restaurants (food to die for), six bars, spa, pool, gym, cinema, two-tier theatre, cookery school, library and even an art gallery with works from £850 to £2,550.
The whole ship contains some 890 items of contemporary paintings, sculptures and artefacts. Works by David Hockney, Damien Hurst and Gerhard Richter are among them and an art tour is held on every cruise.
There is also a golf school, with two simulators and a PGA golf professional to help. Tee times and transfers to local courses, some being the swankiest in the world, can be organised for you when in port. If you are passionate about golf and cruising, this could be the ship for you.
I enjoyed three shore excursions to Ibiza town, Palma and Valencia. The only synagogue in Majorca is in Palma, just a five-minute cab ride from where our ship docked. Called simply Synagoga de Palma, it is the only one in the whole of the Balearic Islands. To find out more, visit www.cjibalears.org
Also, don’t miss the giant Gothic style La Seu cathedral , which towers above the old port. High in the roof of the cathedral is the largest stained glass window of its kind in the world. If you look carefully at the multicoloured rose petal pattern you can, amazingly, make out the shape of the Star of David. The theory goes that the window was made by Jewish workers who had been compelled to renounce their faith by the Catholic powers of the time – and this was their revenge.
Valencia is a charming city; the fascinating old part and the futuristically modern part containing the city’s iconic, eye-popping Opera House. Like Palma, Valencia’s 14th Century Cathedral also has a tale that intrigues. It houses what is reputedly the genuine Holy Grail, which is on display. Scientific studies have not been conclusive, but apparently lean towards it being the real thing.
Enjoyable as my excursions were, this cruise was about Europa 2 itself. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises resolved it would have a true international ethos. It can take up to 516 passengers but the only queue I can remember was for caviar at one of the buffets. The 370-strong crew can all speak English as well as German. While most of them are German or natural German speakers, there are also Brits, Aussies, South Africans, Romanians, Indians, Filippinos and many more nationalities.
I rather took a shine to the Cuban singer, Dayami, who belted out a string of good old numbers in her skin-tight white trousers. Not to forget the charming Slovakian pianist Magdalena, who tickled the ivories of a Steinway (worth almost as much as the ship!) in the piano bar, drawing ripples of applause. For this cruise rookie, my short time on the Europa 2 was surreal. The crew was unfailingly pleasant and efficient, and the service and surroundings were absolutely top notch.
- To book on the Europa 2, visit: www.hl-cruises.com
- SHORE EXCURSIONS: The Valencia guided tour was €89 (£76) and half that price for Palma. A 45-minute helicopter tour of Palma and its surrounds is €300 (£250).
- KOSHER FOOD: No problem. They just need prior notice.
- CHILDREN: There is the Knopf Club (ages two to three), Kids Club (four to 10) and a Teens Club (11 to 15), all staffed by qualified specialists. Babysitters can be booked, while seven family apartments are also available.
- COST: From €3,300 (£2,940pp) to €8,000 (£7,090pp) per week in the Med (excl.flights). Fares include full board; mini-bar in suite with soft drinks and beer; and gratuities.
- Children aged up to and including 11 years travel free if they share the adult accommodation.
JEWISH NEWS LATE TRAVEL DEALS – With Malcolm Ginsberg, Editor of BTNews.co.uk
- AMAWATERWAYS Arles to Lyon 19th June includes chateaux, towns and vineyards accompanying a constantly changing riverside vista. Clients can participate in a ghost walk through the town of Viviers, join a Van Gogh tour in Arles or a wine tasting in Provence. Prices from £2,169 including flowing wine, beer and soft drinks. www.amawaterways.co.uk
- CROISIEUROPE has come up with the new 24-guest Anne-Marie. In French, it is called a barge, but don’t be put off by the description. Air conditioning, Wi-Fi and twin bed cabins are provided and you will be well looked after by five crew. Bicycles also come with the package and excursions. Space is available on a 26 May seven-day hotel trip through Provence from Avignon to Sete. The cruise visits Beaucaire, Arles, Saint-Gilles, Aiges-Mortes and Palavas-Les-Flots. Wine is included for all meals. From £1,575. www.croisieurope.co.uk
- CRUISE AND MARITIME VOYAGES is cruising onto the rivers of Europe for the first time. Their ‘Signature’ cruise starts on 19 May with a seven-night departure from Nuremberg taking travellers along the Rhine and up to Amsterdam. Priced at £1,199pp and 50 percent for the second occupant. From Nuremberg it visits Bamberg, Würzburg, then on to Wertheim and Miltenberg, Koblenz and Cologne, before cruising to Kinderdijk and Amsterdam in Holland. www.cruiseandmaritime.co
- FRED is promoting an exclusive Paris – Normandy River Cruise, which departs on 5 June, from £1,989, on AmaLegro cruising along the river Seine. It visits the village of Giverny and Claude Monet’s famous gardens; Honfleur and Rouen with its grand cathedral. Make use of one of the 20 bicycles on board. Standard Eurostar rail travel from St Pancras International to Paris and including local transfers to/from ship. www.fredrivercruises.co.uk
- SAGA offers ‘Flemish Delights’ – seven days on Regina Rheni ll with 150 passengers from Arnhem via Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent and Rotterdam to Amsterdam. Complimentary wine, beer or soft drinks served with lunch and dinner, with tea and coffee available all day long. Prices from £928. http://travel.saga.co.uk
- SCENIC is very much upmarket and caters for an international clientele. With just 112 passengers, Scenic Tsar is more exclusive than most of the ships operating from Moscow to St Petersburg, with virtually every cabin having a balcony. Places are still available for 21 September at £4,395 and 2015 is now on sale. www.scenictours.co.uk
- VIKING is offering one of Europe’s most pristine destinations – Portugal. Spend two fascinating days and nights exploring the capital, Lisbon, then onto Porto at the mouth of the Douro River to embark your cruise ship. Included is a scenic ride into Spain to visit the medieval city of Salamanca before returning to Porto. Friday departures from £2,145. www.vikingrivercruises.co.uk