EUROPA 2: Five-Star-Plus For a Reason

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 at her berth in Istanbul today. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Can you fall in love with a ship? I think so. Today, despite the over-tired, jet-lagged, caffeine-addled fog that enveloped my mind, everything sharpened to a point when I saw Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 at her berth here in Istanbul, Turkey.

Welcome Aboard! EUROPA 2 is an absolute feast for the senses, with some of the best maritime design I've ever seen. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Welcome Aboard! EUROPA 2 is an absolute feast for the senses, with some of the best maritime design I’ve ever seen. Shown here is the Piano Bar, just off the Reception Desk on Deck 4, facing port. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

A ship that inspires the same sense of longing as catching the eye of a beautiful woman, the 739-foot long EUROPA 2 joins a very small group of ships that I personally consider to be among the most striking vessels in the world. EUROPA 2 goes her own way. She does her own thing. She is, to quote the language of her German heritage, wunderbar. Framed by the Bosporus, she glittered in the warmth of the early afternoon at Berth 5 of the Salipazari Cruise Terminal in Istanbul’s Karakoy district.

Ships criss-cross the Bosporus in Istanbul today. The harbour is constantly busy and always entertaining. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Ships criss-cross the Bosporus in Istanbul today. The harbour is constantly busy and always entertaining. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Istanbul, of course, is one of the great cities of the world. Called Byzantum in 660 BC and Constantinople until 1930, over 13 million people call Istanbul home today. The sprawling city also has the distinction of being situated in both Europe and Asia; the Bosporus strait that separates the European and Asian continents literally runs through Istanbul.

There's no disconnect with the sea here! Witness EUROPA 2's massive, four-story high wall of glass that runs between Decks 4 and 8 along the midship staircases. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

There’s no disconnect with the sea here! Witness EUROPA 2’s massive, four-story high wall of glass that runs between Decks 4 and 8 along the midship staircases. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The city was named a European Capital of Culture in 2010, and its historic old town center is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Very much in the same vein as New York, London, or Paris, you might be surprised at how much you know about Istanbul or recognize. Films like From Russia with Love, Taken 2, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy have all been shot here. What might surprise you is that Midnight Express – which in reality took place in Turkey – was actually shot in Valletta, Malta.

Don't want to take the stairs? Try one of two elegant glass elevators. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Don’t want to take the stairs? Try one of two elegant glass elevators. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Istanbul also serves as a sort of living backdrop here onboard EUROPA 2. In fact, even after I walked up the gangway and swiped my keycard through security for the first time, Istanbul was never out of sight. Nearly every public space features massive windows that frame Istanbul like a painting come to life. Ships of all shapes and sizes zip across the harbour, from small cross-channel ferries to massive cruise ships, tankers, and cargo vessels.
In an era where many large, mainstream ships would seek to hide the ocean from view, EUROPA 2 bucks this trend, showcasing it at every opportunity. Only in the vessel’s interior passenger corridor is the deep, rich hue of the Mediterranean hidden from sight.

Reception, Deck 4 as seen this evening. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Reception, Deck 4 as seen this evening. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Although Hapag-Lloyd has been offering bilingual voyages for years now aboard their EUROPA, BREMEN and HANSEATIC, EUROPA 2 is the first Hapag-Lloyd vessel to be fully bilingual. All voyages year-round are conducted in both German and English, and all onboard materials are printed in both languages. Germany is one of my favorite European countries, and although my German is far from good, I still take a bit of pride in being able to say ‘Guten Tag’ as I pass the young, eager, and friendly crew here onboard. Of course, when I switch to English, their English is impeccable – and far better than my German.
EUROPA 2 is a masterclass of not only beautiful and elegant maritime design, but also of successful branding as both name and identity. I

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